Rafed English

The Means of Perfection

Steadfastness and struggle in the face of problems are the means of achieving perfection and a prelude to prosperity. Difficulties play a decisive and undeniable role in personal growth and development. Had there been no tests and tribulations in life, piety, human merit and worth would not have any value, and self-discipline and self-restraint would have been irrelevant.

Similarly, if difficulties did not exist and were every effort to lead to spontaneous success, there would not have been any motive for struggle and advancement would have come to a standstill.

Accordingly, the pinch of difficulty and failure is not only not harmful, it brings dormant capacities into action and completes man's moral character and makeup, sometimes becoming even the biggest source of his strength.

One should form a correct picture of life in his mind so that one is not confounded and baffled by events or swept away by life's vicissitudes like a piece of straw in a violent stream. Rather, he should prepare himself like an expert swimmer who is able to swim as he chooses in the shoreless sea of events, and confront all the various factors that affect different aspects of life. If the barrier of obstacles does not allow one to advance and the conditions become too complex, the path of patience is always open, and the intelligent man takes this path under unfavourable conditions.

There are many people who fall victim to unrealistic fancies and build castles in the air. Their great expectations find a place only in the world of imagination. Their ideas remain unfulfilled and never reach the stage of realisation through steady effort and patience. There is a great distance that separates the world of imagination from the world of action. Hence one should enter the active arena of life with a realistic approach to its constructive elements, making patient effort to reach the goal and without neglecting the effort to increase one's energy and zeal. One author writes:

It is a waste of one's life to build castles in the air. Of course, nothing is more enchanting than these fancies wherein one builds for himself high castles in the boundless space of his imagination. But if these wishes are to be transported from the world of imagination to the world of reality, these castles should he built on the ground not in the air. 4

Most people do not make realistic judgements about themselves. Whenever they face a defeat, they invent excuses to prove that they have not made any mistakes. In such situations, instead of reproaching themselves they hold others responsible for their failure. Only rarely do success and advancement come to a capricious and unsteady person who, as it might happen, is carried a long distance, like a wooden log driven by the river's flood. But even such rare victories are followed by setbacks or defeat. In many cases, such people, when viewing the progress made by others, forget the hard work and toil undertaken by them in attaining their goal and the perils and dangers faced by them.

A European man of arms who felt that his friend was being envious of him said to him:

If you are envious of my laurels, position, and rank, you can obtain them more easily than I did. Come, let us go into the yard. I will shoot twenty bullets at you from a distance of thirty strides. If none of them hits you and will decline my proposal. Very well. But remember that I did not get my present rank and position without becoming the target of bullets a thousand times, each time with death in front of my eyes. 5

Some people learn only in the shadow of defeat. They discover what they should do in order to be victorious and the things they must avoid. A setback or loss does not upset them, for they have found out that a sustained and steady effort is necessary to compensate for the past setbacks. They learn that losses and setbacks must be made good for in other ways, for the simplest and cheapest way to avoid them in the future is to learn from one's past mistakes and failures. Similarly, one can learn beneficial things from the study of the causes of others' progress and success. A study of life and experience simplify many difficulties.

The facts of history show that all kinds of arms and military equipment-which are by themselves lifeless objects-fetch victory and triumph in the hands of those who possess fortitude. Such men are undefeatable; they preserve their initiative on the battlefield and overpower the enemy, for often the difference between the winner and the loser is no more than a few minutes of fortitude and resistance.


4. Ibid p. 7

5. Samuel Smiles, Akhlaq e Samuel, vol. 2 p 185

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

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