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The Domain and Role of Conscience

Conscience seldom makes any error in its judgements. The various errors of human beings in their social life either result from the errors of reason and the senses or are a consequence of the conscience losing its power of resistance against violent impulses.

Therefore, the numerous errors observed in the different walks of human life are not related to any weakness or misjudgement on behalf of conscience, because this innate faculty does not play any role outside its domain of activity. Conscience examines the conclusions and data provided by reason and the sensory faculties and its judgement is based on these.

A person with a pure and wholesome nature is repelled by crime and sin. Nevertheless it is possible that under the influence of certain factors he may become tainted by sin and vice and these may cast a shadow of shame and guilt over him. But after the offence has been committed once man turns to himself and consults the sublimest light within him, he realises the vicious character of that which happened and a burning flame leaps up from the depths of his being. A painful feeling of guilt and shame envelops his entire being. This is what is called conscience, which censures the offender even after he has been punished and torments him continually with the lashes of regret.

Conscience is not only a reliable guide in the course of life, it is a just and honest witness over man's conduct that keeps a watch over it and declares what it observes. A person may say with the tongue something which is the opposite of that which is in his heart, or he may hide his secret thoughts by controlling his apparent movements. But he has no power to silence the voice of his conscience or to stop it from reproaching him. Conscience cannot be deceived. It may be possible to elude it through some mental deception or trick or even to put it to sleep for a time. But once it wakes up and studies the sinful record of one's deeds, it declares with perfect candidness the ugly character of his vicious conduct and flogs him severely with the whip of guilt and regret.

A human being loves nothing more dearly than its own 'self'. One who suffers the most painful torture of guilt is in fact one who has been disowned and abandoned by his own 'self'. He comes to feel as if his crime and sin were a fire that consumes his being in its fierce flames. Hence conscience is the most effective agent in avoiding crime and sin.

If the intensity of the pangs of conscience that he suffers were beyond his power and tolerance, a feeling of anxiety and agitation fills all his conscious state, overshadows all other feelings of satisfaction. The tormenting pressure of the conscience in some cases disturbs the normal course of the person's psychic activities and give rise to pathological conditions. The study of psychic tensions in some cases of dementia that have been studied show that such persons are those who lost their sanity and rational faculties as a result of the shattering torment and pressure of conscience resulting from commission of crimes and sins and have fallen into the furnace of guilt and regret.

At times one's improper wishes and impulses are so strong that man wants to deceive his conscience and to stall its activity. It is a marvellous characteristic of the conscience that it can put up a steadfast resistance against powerful impulses and fight against them. As long as there occurs no failure in its resistance to the pressure of instincts, it carries on its effort and does not neglect its duty.

Henri Baruk says:

Conscience is strong in its persistence, and even when its light becomes so dim that it ceases to be visible it remains more or less vigilant and aware. And even at times when its light can be perceived with difficulty, it can, all of a sudden, begin to shine with a dazzling brilliance. 7

Ultimately, everyone who has disobeyed his conscience and deviated from the course of nature has always faced mental torment and anxiety. On the contrary, one who heeds the warnings of the conscience and obeys its commands finds mental peace and tranquillity, the peace and tranquillity in whose search the misguided run after every mirage.

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7. Baruk, Henri, Psychoses et nervroses, Pers. trans., Bimariha-ye ruh wa sasabi (Tehran, 1343) by 'Abd al-Husayn Mirsipasi, p. 73.

Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"

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