Wednesday, 1 May 2013


How often does a spiritual book or talk these days discuss the matter of virtue to any great extent? With the modern tendency to put the emphasis on self-development as the principal aim of spirituality, I would say not nearly enough. And yet virtue is really all there is to the spiritual path. Everything else is peripheral to that which is why the Masters once told me to "Follow the path in humility and patience and all will unfold as it should". Simple, plain words that at first glance don't say very much but which, on consideration, give us the key to progress which is rarely dramatic and usually unnoticed.

Virtue is not morality because morality is a code that we live by, and so there is always a division between us and it. What we actually are and what we think we should be and try to be. I am not intending a criticism of morality when I say this because, until we have virtue, we do indeed need morality to keep us going in the right direction, and help us to conform our behaviour to the true nature of reality. But morality can change according to our position in time and space, that's to say our historical and geographical location, whereas virtue is unchanging and quite independent of fashion or mores. Morality is usually based on virtue to a greater or lesser degree so, even though it may be subject to change, its fundamental tenets are very similar wherever we may find ourselves. However, being virtue at least one remove from the source, it is heavily affected by culture, custom and sometimes prejudice as well. It is also largely dependent on majority opinion and the way that the society in which it is found views itself. But the most significant difference between the two is that morality is based on thought, whereas virtue, true virtue, springs spontaneously from the heart. A virtuous person is his virtue.

So, until we have virtue, we do need morality. Equally, though, once we have virtue we have no further need for morality anymore than we need the Ten Commandments when we have learnt to love God and our neighbour as ourself (though that does not mean we reject the Commandments since to go beyond something does not mean to deny it). This gives us a clue as to what virtue actually is. If we would seek its true basis then that is surely to be found in the love of God. Does this mean that only a person who loves God can be virtuous? I maintain it means precisely that. The love of God is at the heart of all goodness, and virtue is goodness. I am not saying that an unbeliever is a bad person but he cannot truly be a good person either unless, despite his unbelief, he loves God without knowing that it is God he loves. For this is possible, as an initial phase at least. If we love the good, the beautiful and the true then we are beginning to love God even though we may not call Him by His name.

But, as I say, this is a beginning and we must take it further. When Christ was called good, he replied 'Why do you call me good? None is good, save one, that is, God.' Christ had aligned himself with the source of all goodness and that is why he was wholly good and why he could deny personal goodness. In the same way, although a love for goodness may lead us onto the path of virtue, it is only when we have completely identified our will with the Will of God that we can truly be said to be a virtuous person. But then we know that our virtue is not our own. It comes simply from a recognition of the true nature of things. That is why I say that only a spiritual person can really be a good person in the fullest sense. Obviously this does not mean that those who believe in spiritual things are necessarily better than those who do not. They may be, they may not be. But only someone who has fully submitted his will to a higher power can truly be good. For goodness never comes from us. It can only come from going beyond the self.

This points to the fact, one always emphasised by the Masters, that the prime virtue is humility. The four cardinal virtues are temperance, prudence, courage and justice, and these are all excellent qualities, of course, and ones we should strive to cultivate, but theoretically they could be possessed by an egoist or even a bad person. Therefore they are not Virtue as I think of it in the singular and with a capital letter. The theological virtues are faith, hope and charity or love, and while I am sure much ink has been legitimately spilt defining, qualifying and specifying what these mean from a Christian perspective, I hesitate to include faith and hope as part of Virtue (with a capital V). I say this because I envisage a sanctified person to be the embodiment of Virtue, and such a person would have replaced faith and hope with knowledge. So faith and hope (which, again, theoretically could be possessed by a bad person) cannot be considered part of virtue as spiritual perfection.

This leaves us with love. Something I have learnt from the Masters is that humility and love are two sides of the same spiritual coin. Humility is the recognition of our nothingness before God. Love is what comes from that recognition. And if the fear of (as in reverence for) the Lord is the beginning of wisdom then the love of God is its end. All virtue comes from this.


Paul Hillman said...

Impeccably reasoned, William. Virtue is said to be its own reward,which fits in rather nicely with the idea of the primacy of the process, not working for reward. I have always liked the idea of following the "Path with Heart" (Castaneda?): the knowledge of the heart is more than intuition but it is intuitive,I feel.

Humility is a much undervalued quality in modern times, when children are encouraged,from a very early age, to develop self-esteem, with the kindest of motives but the wrong emphasis and not always the most happy results. To appreciate our own worth we must, perhaps, understand our nature and purpose better and move beyond the idea that "what I am now is good enough".
The Master Jesus is an excellent model in this respect but not an example to which many aspire.The dedication to plod on steadily upwards on the path, without demonstrable recognition from one's peers or higher entities proves too much for most of us and we are always ready to tear down the lofty souls who appear to accomplish it, and believe the worst of them. We can at least aspire to virtue.

William Wildblood said...

Speaking a someone who was very shy as a child I would say we do need to learn confidence in ourselves when we are growing up but then we progress to find that true confidence comes from self-forgetfulness and trust in a higher power. That's what Jesus demonstrated and that is why he had no fear.

Paul Hillman said...

I too was painfully shy and self conscious as a child, William. The term self esteem is the part I object to as it implies more of an attitude of self regard and congratulation than self confidence.
I think the roots of words in language can be very revealing. If I am self conscious I am literally conscious of my self, my persona and not comfortable with it. My youngest memories are of precisely that, not being comfortable in my body/mind, not at ease with myself.It is almost like a resistance to incarnation. Learning self confidence, again going back to the origins of the word in Latin, is learning to trust in one's self, in the vehicle for our soul, the body and mind, our earthly spacesuit, as it were. Am I over interpreting here , William, do you feel?
I did not feel at home , so to speak in my body in any way until my thirties and of course like everyone else I am not at home when I am in my body in the most important sense.

William Wildblood said...

Yes, I couldn't agree more. Self-esteem is just as you say, a sort of puffed up sense of one's own importance.

I like your phrase 'resistance to incarnation'. I think most people who are drawn to spirituality have that. We know that this is not our true home and we feel the weight of the body and the constriction of the mind. Those not so drawn have no idea what we mean if we say this and dismiss us as escapists, but in fact we are the realists and they are the ones who live in illusion. Previous times have understood this but now we live during a period when the material world is possibly the densest it's ever been, though there are signs that cracks are appearing.

I think what people who are resistant to incarnation have to learn (and, like you, it took me a while to appreciate this) is that, unpleasant as life in this world is for us, it is where we are meant to be at the moment and we have to live fully here whilst, at the same time, never losing touch with our true self. It's true, this is not our home, we are exiles, but we have a job to do here and lessons to learn. Would there was more guidance for us when we were growing up though!

I think your interpreation of self-confidence is quite right. There need be no contradiction between that and humility.

Paul Hillman said...

Thanks, William. Amen to the extra guidance when growing up!