THE SPIRITS’ BOOK

Allan Kardec

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CHAPTER V
IV. LAW OF PRESERVATION
Instinct of Self-Preservation - Means of Self-Preservation - Enjoying the Fruits of the Earth - Necessary and Superfluous Things - Voluntary Deprivations – Mortification

Instinct of Self-Preservation

702. Is the instinct of self-preservation a law of nature?
“Of course. Regardless of intelligence, it is given to all living creatures. In some it is purely mechanical, while in others it is associated with reason.”

703. Why has God given the instinct of self-preservation to all living creatures?
“God has given them the desire to live to carry out the designs of Providence. Furthermore, life is necessary for the improvement of beings. All living beings feel it instinctively, without understanding it.”

Means of Self-Preservation

704. In giving humans the desire to live, has God always provided them with the means of doing so?
“Yes, and if they do not always find the means, it is because they do not understand them. God would not instill the love of life in humankind without giving them the means to live, and God has created Earth so that it is able to produce sufficient means for all its inhabitants. Only that which is necessary is useful, while superfluous are never useful.”

705. Why is it that the Earth does not always produce enough to provide the human race with what is necessary to live?
“Because human beings are ungrateful and neglect to make fruitful use of Earth’s bounty! Nevertheless, she is an excellent mother. They often accuse nature of what is truly the direct consequence of their own nearsightedness. If human beings could simply be content with what is necessary, the Earth would always provide it. If it does not provide for all their wants, it is because humanity use Earth’s resources to supply luxuries when they should be setting them aside to supply necessities instead. Look at the example of Arabs in the desert. They always find enough to survive, because they do not create artificial needs. When half of the Earth’s products are squandered in gratifying impulsive wishes and demands, should humans be astonished when they run out, and do they have any reason to complain if they are poorly equipped when scarcity strikes? I repeat: nature is not careless, but humans do not know how to control their use of her bounty.”

706. Should we understand the ‘fruits of the Earth’ to mean the products of the soil?
“The soil is the fundamental source of all other products, which are only transformed versions of the products of the soil. As such, the term ‘fruits of the Earth’ should be understood to mean anything that human beings enjoy in their physical lives.”

707. There are always individuals who lack the means to survive, despite living surrounded by abundance. Who should be blamed for this?
“At the selfishness of humans, who too often prevents them to do what they need. Next, and most often, the individuals themselves are to blame. Christ said, ‘Seek, and you shall find but these words do not imply that all you have to do is look down on the ground to find anything that you may want. You must search for what you want passionately and with perseverance, without being discouraged by obstacles that are often only a means of testing your determination, patience, and resolve.” (See no. 534)

While civilization increases our needs, it also increases our resources and means of survival. However, we must confess that there is much that still needs to be done. Civilization will achieve its task only when human beings no longer lack the necessities of life, unless this is through no fault other than their own. Unfortunately, many individuals choose the wrong path and, because nature has not intended it for them, they fail – that is when they lack the intelligence to succeed. There is room for everyone, but each person must assume his or her own place, and not that of another. Nature cannot fairly be held responsible for the effects of a flawed social organization, nor for those of personal selfishness and ambition.

We would have to be blind, however, if we did not acknowledge the progress that has already been accomplished in this direction among the most advanced nations. Philanthropy and science have focused on the betterment of humankind and despite an increasing global population; they have managed to minimize the effects of insufficient production dramatically.

Today, the most unfavorable years of an economic cycle are far less disastrous than in the past. For example, hygiene, which is a critical point for public and individual health, and of which our ancestors had little or no knowledge, is a constant subject of scientific research and investigation. Likewise, refuge is provided for the unfortunate and suffering, and every new scientific discovery is made to contribute to the general well-being of all. May it be said that we have attained perfection? Oh, certainly not. But what has been accomplished is just a glimpse of what may be done, with perseverance. Human beings must focus on seeking practical improvements, instead of wasting their energy on idealistic projects that set them back rather than pushing them forward.

708. Are there any social situations in human life when the will is incapable of obtaining the means of existence, and in that case, the deprivation of the most fundamental necessities is a consequence of such circumstances?
“Yes, but this would be a trial that the spirit was aware of having to endure. The merit of individuals involved in such a trial will be based on their surrendering to God’s will, if their intelligence does not free them from their troubles. If death occurs, they should accept it without complaint, remembering that their hour of true freedom has arrived, and that yielding to despair at the last minute, no matter how little, may cause them to lose the reward of their prior resignation.”

709. When, during extreme crisis, where human beings are forced to consume the flesh of other human beings to survive, are they committing a crime? If so, does the fact their action is based on an instinct of self-preservation lessen the crime?
“I have already responded by saying that there is more merit in undergoing life’s trials with courage and resignation. In these cases, human beings resort to both homicide and commit a crime against nature. This results in dual culpability that receives dual atonement.”

710. In worlds where the physical makeup of living beings is purer than on Earth, do these beings need food?
“Yes, but their food matches their nature. Their food would not be enough for your basic stomachs and those beings could not digest your heavier food.”

Enjoying the Fruits of the Earth

711. Do all human beings have a right to enjoy the fruits of the Earth? “This right is a direct corollary of the need to live. God does not impose a duty without providing the means of carrying it out.”

712. Why has God made using material things attractive?
“For two reasons, first to motivate human beings to accomplish their mission, and second, to test them by temptation.”

a) What is the purpose of temptation?
“To develop human reason, so that it may safeguard humankind from excess.”

If human beings are pressed to use physical things based on their value or usefulness alone, their indifference could have compromised the harmony of the universe. For that reason, God has given humans enjoyable attractions that lead them to carrying out Divine plans. God uses these attractions to also test them with temptations that cause them to commit actions that their human reason should protect them against.

713. Has nature indicated the clear limits of pleasures?
“Yes, limits that coincide with your needs. Excess leads to gluttony and you end up punishing yourselves.”

714. What should we think of those who seek to enhance their pleasure in all sorts of excesses?
“Such individuals should be pitied rather than envied because they are very close to death.”

a) Physical or moral death?
“Both.”

Those who seek an enhancement of physical satisfactions in any kind of excess place themselves below animals, because even animals stop at the satisfaction of a need. They relinquish the reason given to them by God for their guidance, and the greater their excesses the more power they give to their animal nature over their spiritual nature. Diseases, illnesses and death itself are the consequences of excess. They also serve as atonements for transgressing God’s law.

Necessary and Superfluous Things

715. How can human beings know the limit of what is necessary?
“Wise men and women know by intuition, while many others learn through experience and at their own expense.”

716. Has nature outlined the limit of our needs in the requirements of our physical makeup?
“Yes, but human beings are insatiable. Nature has indicated the limits of their needs by their physical makeup, but their vices have changed their structure and created wants that are not real needs.”

717. What should we think of those who in order to secure excess, hoard the goods of the Earth to the detriment of others who lack what is necessary to survive?
“They overlook God’s law, and will have to answer for the poverty they have caused others to suffer.”

There is no finite boundary between what is necessary and what is superfluous. Civilization has created necessities that do not exist for savages. The spirits who have dictated the aforementioned principles are not saying that civilized human beings should live as savages do. Everything is relative, and reason must determine how things should be divided. Civilization develops both the moral sense and the sentiment of charity, which leads people to support one another mutually. Those who live at the expense of others, depriving them of even the barest necessities and hoarding the benefits of civilization for their own profit, only wear the mask of civilization, just as others only wear the mask of religion.

Voluntary Deprivations – Mortifications

718. Does the law of self-preservation require us to provide for our bodily wants?
“Yes, labor is impossible without strength and health.”

719. Are human beings at fault for seeking well-being?
“Well-being is a natural desire. God only prohibits excess, because excess is detrimental to survival. God has not made it a crime to seek well-being, if that well-being is not acquired at another’s expense and if it does not weaken your moral or physical strength.”

720. Are voluntary deprivations, meant to serve as a voluntary atonement, laudable in God’s eyes?
“Do good to others, and you will acquire more merit.”

a) Is any voluntary deprivation laudable?
“Yes, the self-deprivation of useless indulgences, because it weakens the hold that matter has on human beings, and elevates their soul. Resistance to the temptation that solicits excess or indulgence in what is useless is praiseworthy. Equally commendable is cutting back on your necessities so that you have more to give to those in need. If your deprivations are only a vain pretense, they are a derision.”

721. Throughout the course of time and among all populations, there have been those who have lived a life of ascetic mortification. Is an ascetic life ever praiseworthy?
“Ask yourselves to whom such a life is useful, and you will have the answer to your question. If such a life only serves the person who leads it and it prevents that person from doing good, it is a form of selfishness, regardless of the pretext it hides behind. True mortification, according to Christian charity, is to impose self-deprivation and work upon yourself for the benefit of others.”

722. Is there any virtue in abstaining from eating certain foods, as practiced among various religious or ethnic groups?
“Whatever you can eat without harming your health is permitted. Legislators may have prohibited certain foods for a useful purpose and portrayed them as emanating from God to give these regulations greater authority.”

723. Does the consumption of animal flesh by human beings contradict natural law?
“With your physical makeup, flesh nourishes flesh, and without this kind of sustenance human strength declines. The law of self-preservation requires humans to keep up their strength and health to fulfill the law of labor. They should, therefore, eat according to the requirements of their bodies.”

724. Is there any merit in abstaining from any particular kind of food when suffered as a form of penance?
“Yes, if suffered for the sake of others. However, God cannot regard any mortification as laudable if it is not a serious and useful deprivation. This is why we say that those who practice superficial self-deprivation are hypocrites.” (See no. 720)

725. What should we think of the mutilation of the bodies of humans or animals?
“What is the purpose of such a question? Ask yourselves whether something is useful or not. What is useless displeases God, and what is hurtful disappoints the purpose of creation. Rest assured that God only appreciates sentiments that elevate the soul. It is by practicing Divine Law, and not by violating it, that you can shake off your material envelope.”

726. If the suffering of this world elevates us, depending on how we bear it, are we elevated by that which we voluntarily create for ourselves?
“You can only be elevated by natural suffering, because they come from by God. Voluntary suffering is worthless when it is not useful to others. Do you think that those who shorten their lives by superhuman hardships, as practiced by the bonzes, fakirs, and fanatics of various religious groups, advance their progress by doing so? They should spend their time focused on doing good for their fellow human beings. They should clothe the naked, comfort those who cry, work for the disabled, and deprive themselves for the sake of the unfortunate, and then their lives will be useful and pleasing to God. When your experience voluntary suffering for yourself alone, it is selfishness. When you suffer for others, it is charity. These are the commandments of Christ.”

727. Since we should not create voluntary suffering for ourselves that serves no purpose for others, should we protect ourselves from that which we can anticipate or that which threatens us?
“The instinct of self-preservation has been given to all beings to serve as a safeguard against danger and suffering. Chastise your spirit and not your body, mortify your pride, and stifle the selfishness that like a snake devours your heart. By doing this, you will do more for your development than any amount of mortifications, which are no longer appropriate for the time period in which you are living.

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