Two Potent Educative Factors
The latent capacities of every being develop and mature when assisted by the various inner and outer agents in the course of its development. Man is also not an exception to this rule, with the difference however that the development of other creatures is confined to specific limits whereas the stages of man's development and growth are unlimited and unbounded. That is why he has a great need of basic and comprehensive education for developing and reaching the station worthy of his humanity. Hence several factors are responsible for his spiritual growth.
Two factors play an important and fundamental role in the growth of human faculties. One of them consists of the heavenly teachings of God-sent prophets which, like a sun, shine on all the domains of the human spirit and gradually liberate it from the darkness of unhealthy traits and qualities, giving the soul its brilliance and burnish.
The second factor which can assist man in reaching this goal and attaining the fulfilment worthy of him are the problems, hardships and difficulties of life. Until man is not reformed and refined in the shadow of the luminous heavenly teachings and the pressures of life and unless his spirit is purged of the impurities of animal traits, his spirit and will become subject to mundane things and he is swept away like a piece of straw by the waves of material gain and surrenders to everything except God. As long as his spirit remains confined in the darkness and veils of carnal desires which hold his being in their bondage, he cannot perceive the fruitful and critical role of hardship in bringing him to true independence and fashioning his human personality As a result the pressure of adversity produces a kind of anxiety and despair in him. The Qur'an says
Surely man was created fretful when evil visits him, impatient ... 70:19-20
As for man, whenever his Lord tries him, and honours him, and blesses him then he says: My Lord has honoured me. But when He tries him and stints him his provision, then he says: My Lord has humiliated me. 89:15-16
These states pertain to the condition of an unrefined human being. But when the human heart is revived with the religious urge, it attains the inner freedom which is the goal of all heavenly teachings Then, he becomes liberated from total reliance on fake materialistic values and becomes the master of his world. It is a freedom and liberty that is free from the traces of animal unruliness and free from all obstacles and hurdles that hinder man from development, perfection, and sublimity.
Fake values do not tempt a righteous and developed human being and do not overshadow his spirit and understanding. While explaining the philosophy of life's hardships and afflictions, which is human liberation, God says:
That you may not grieve for what escapes you nor rejoice for what has come to you. 57:23
Thus when man liberates himself from the servitude of everything other than God and does not submit to anything except the Truth, he finds a wonderful and extraordinary power within himself One who is trained in such a school of thought has a broad vision, an awakened heart and a piercing insight.
The principle that one should forget that which is lost and gone and not rejoice on attaining something has another educate result. It is that when the feelings of sorrow and grief felt over some loss preoccupy one's mind they make one's creative faculties and activities to become stagnant On the other hand, rejoicing over some achievement dwarfs one's efforts and goals making them limited and diverting attention from things which are better and higher. As a result one fails to advance further on the path of progress and edification.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau says :
The illusions of pride are the source of our greatest ills; but the contemplation of human suffering keeps the wise humble He keeps to his proper place and makes no attempt to depart from it; he does not waste his strength in gelling what he cannot keep; and his whole strength being devoted to the right employment of what he has, he is in reality richer and more powerful in proportion as he desires less than we A man, subject to death and change, shall I forge for myself lasting chains upon this earth, where everything changes and disappears whence I myself shall shortly vanish! Oh, Emile! my son! if I were to lose you, what would be left of myself And yet I must learn to lose you, for who knows when you may be taken away from me?
Would you live in wisdom and happiness, fix your heart on the beauty that is eternal; let your desires be limited by your position; let y our duties take precedence of your wishes; extend the law of necessity into the region of morals; learn to lose what may be taken from you; learn to forsake all things al the command of virtue, to set yourself above the chances of life, to detach your heart before it is torn in pieces, to be brave in adversity so that you may never he wretched, to be steadfast in duty that you will never be guilty of a crime Then you will be happy in spite of fortune, and good in spite of your passions You will find a pleasure that cannot be destroyed, even in the procession of the most fragile things; you will possess them, they will not possess you, and you will realise that the man who loses everything, only enjoys what he knows how to resign. 9
In one of his aphorisms, Imam 'Ali ('a) gives this lesson to human beings;
It is through severe adversity that one can attain through higher stations and lasting peace. 10
Emerson, the American philosopher, writes:
The changes which break up at short intervals the prosperity of men advertisements of a nature whose law is growth. Every soul is by this intrinsic necessity of quitting its whole system of things, its friends and home and laws and faith, as the shell fish crawls out of its beautiful but stony ease, because it no longer admits of its growth, and slowly forms a new house. In proportion to the vigour of individuals these revolutions are frequent, until in some happier mind they are incessant and all worldly relations hang very loosely about him, becoming as it were a transparent fluid membrane through which the living form is seen, and not, as in most men, an indurated heterogeneous fabric of many dates and of no settled character, in which the man is imprisoned. Then there can be enlargement, and the man of today scarcely recognises the man of yesterday. And such should be the outward biography of man in time, a putting off of dead circumstances day by day, as he renews his raiment day by day. But to us, in our lapsed estate, resting, not advancing, resisting, not co-operating with the divine expansion, this growth comes by shocks.
We cannot part with our friends. We cannot let our angels go. We do not sec that they only go out that archangels may come in. We are idolaters of the old. We do not believe in the riches of the soul, in its proper eternity and omnipresence. We do not believe there is any force in to-day to rival or recreate that beautiful yesterday. We linger in the ruins of the old tent where once one had bread and shelter and organs, nor believe that the spirit can feed, cover, and nerve us again. We cannot again find aught so dear, so sweet, so graceful. But we sit and weep in vain. The voice Of the Almighty saith, "Up and onward and for evermore!" We cannot stay amid the ruins. Neither will we rely on the new, and so we walk ever with reverted eyes, like those monsters who look backwards.
And yet the compensations Or calamity are made apparent to the understanding also, after long intervals or time. A fever, a mutilation, a cruel disappointment), a loss Of wealth, a loss Of friends, seems at the moment unpaid loss, and unpayable. But the sure years reveal the deep remedial force that underlies all facts. The death of a friend, wife, brother, lover, which seemed nothing but privation, somewhat later assumes the aspect of a guide or genius; for it commonly operates revolutions in our way of life, terminates an epoch of infancy or of youth which was waiting to he closed, breaks up a wonted occupation, or a household, or style of living, and allows the formation of new ones more friendly to the growth of character. It permits or constrains the formation of new acquaintances and the reception of new influences that prove of the first importance to the next years; and the man or woman who would have remained a sunny garden-flower, with no room for its rests and too much sunshine for its head, by the falling of the walls and the neglect of the gardener is made the banian of the forest, yielding shade and fruit to wide neighbourhoods of men. 11
In one of his letters to 'Uthman ibn Hunayf, Imam ''Ali ('a) likens those who grow in the midst of hardship and adversity to the tough trees that grow in dry mountains and those who live in comfort and ease to the delicate plants of a garden:
Indeed, the tree of the desert that is used to its harsh and waterless conditions has a tough fibre. The fire produced by its wood is stronger and more intense and enduring. But the trees Of an orchard have a delicate bark and weak fibre and are easily broken. 12
In his exhortations, he declares:
Be careful not to abandon your activity whether you may feel energetic or sluggish. 13
Be diligent in your efforts even if your body's strength does not assist you. 14
One who neglects his responsibilities and the opportunity to fulfil them will be helpless after the opportunity is lost. 15
William John Reilly, the well-known American writer, says:
Millions of people who ceased their efforts at the very dawn of success to relax have perished in that state of rest and immobility. Most of our thoughts are so spontaneous that we never get the chance to be aware of that which goes on in our minds. If we restrain our thoughts for a moment to see what we are doing, we would find that every day we take a number of decisions. At the end of every week, we would have taken several hundred decisions. But we do not notice that most of our decisions were a result of inattention and neglect. That is, we allow things to happen while we imagine that we have taken a decision, whereas, in fact, we have been negligent.
It is wrong, especially, to keep on putting off matters. Indeed, when we delay taking a decision we do actually take a decision. That is, we decide not to act and take the necessary decision regarding a matter, whereas postponing action is itself a kind of decision.
Delay and negligence are very easy, especially if you practically deceive yourself by saying that you will do better in the future and will be more successful. In this way you dope your mind and hypnotise it on the pretext that the future will be better than the present conditions and circumstances. You only deceive yourself by believing that the future will be without problems and hindrances and that hardships and difficulties are temporary and passing. But in fact all good and relatively important tasks are faced with problems. These is no magic in the future. It is the present success that is yours and present opportunities are more valuable than past successes and the hopes and promises of the future. 16
9. Rouseau, Emily, p. 547
10. al Amidi, Ghurar al Hikam, p. 337
11. Emerson, Compensation, The Social Philosophers, pp 445-6
12. Nahj al Balaghah, p. 418
13. Ghurar al Hikam, p. 480
14. Ibid p. 483
15. Ibid p. 653
16. William John Reily, Twelve Ways for Straight Thinking, pp. 103-5
Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"
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