THE SPIRITS’ BOOK

Allan Kardec

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CHAPTER XII
MORAL PERFECTION
Virtues and Vices - Passions - Selfishness - Characteristics of a Virtuous Person ` Self-Knowledge


Virtues and Vices

893. Which is the most admirable of all the virtues?
“All virtues are admirable, as they all are signs of progress on the moral path. Every act of voluntary resistance to the seductive influence of temptations for wrongdoing is a sign of virtue, but the sublimity of virtue entails the sacrifice of self-interest for the good of others without having any ulterior motives. The most admirable of all virtues is that which is based on charity and is the most fair-minded.”

894. Some people do good spontaneously, without having to overcome any conflicting feelings. Is there as much merit in their action as in that of others who have to struggle to overcome the imperfections of their own nature in order to do good?
“Those who no longer struggle against selfishness have already accomplished a certain amount of progress. They have struggled and succeeded, and they no longer have to put forth any effort into behaving morally or justly. Doing good is perfectly natural to them, because kindness has become a habit that they have acquired. They should be honored as veterans are. They have earned their medals.”

“As you are still far from perfection, their behavior is astonishing to you because their action contrasts so strongly with that of the rest of humankind, and you admire it given its rarity. However, the exception in your world is the rule in more advanced worlds. Goodness is everywhere in those worlds because they are only inhabited by good spirits, and even a single foul intention would be considered an exceptional monstrosity. That is why these worlds are happy and it will be the same on Earth when the human race has been transformed, and understands and practices the law of charity in its true meaning.”

895. Besides the obvious faults and vices, what is the most characteristic sign of imperfection?
“Self-interest. Moral qualities are too often like gilding on copper that cannot withstand the acid test. Some individuals may possess good qualities that help them to appear to be virtuous, but those qualities, despite proving that they have made a certain amount of progress, may not be capable of standing trial. The slightest disturbance of their narcissism is enough to reveal their true nature. Absolute disinterestedness is so rare on Earth, that when you do encounter it you may very well view it as a phenomenon.”

“Attachment to material things is a sign of inferiority, because the more you care for the things of this world, the less you understand your destiny. Your disinterestedness, on the contrary, proves that you have a more elevated view of the future.”

896. Are there people who are indiscriminately generous and who dole out their money without doing any real good due to their lack of a reasonable plan? Is there any merit in their action?
“They have the merit of disinterestedness, but not that of the good they might do. While disinterestedness is a virtue, thoughtless spending reveals a lack of judgment, to say the least. Fortune is no more given to some individuals to be thrown away than to others to be locked up in a safe. This is a deposit for which they will have to render an account. They will have to answer for all the good they might have done, but also that which they failed to do. As well as all the tears they could have dried with the money they wasted on those who did not truly need it.”

897. Is it wrong if people do good in the hope that they will be rewarded in the next life, and that their situation will be better there for having done it? Will such an act have unfavorable consequences on their advancement?
“You should do good for the sake of charity, meaning disinterestedly.”

a) It is completely natural to want to advance to be free from this painful life. The spirits tell us to do good to reach this end. Is it wrong to hope that, through doing good, we may be better off than we are on Earth?
“Of course not. But those who do good impulsively, simply for the sake of pleasing God and providing relief to their suffering neighbors, have already reached a higher degree of advancement and are closer to reaching ultimate happiness than their brothers and sisters who, being more selfish, do good in hopes of receiving a reward, instead of being compelled by the goodness of their own hearts.” (See no. 894)

b) Should a distinction be made between the good we do for our neighbors and the effort we put forward to correct our own faults? We understand that there is little merit in doing good with the idea that we will be rewarded in the next life. Is it also a sign of inferiority to fx ourselves, conquer our passions, correct whatever flaws we may have, in the hope of bringing ourselves closer to good spirits and elevating ourselves?
“No, by doing good we merely mean being charitable. Those who count, in every charitable deed they do, how much they will be rewarded, in this life or the next, act selfishly. However, there is no selfishness in improving one’s self in the hope of getting closer to God, which should be everyone’s goal.”

898. Physical life is only a temporary stopover and our future life is what we should care about primarily. Is there any point in trying to acquire scientific knowledge that only refers to the objects and wants of this world?
“Of course there is. This knowledge enables you to benefit humankind. Also, if your spirit has already progressed in intelligence, it will rise faster in the spirit life and learn in an hour what it would take years to learn on Earth. No knowledge is useless since it all contributes to your advancement in one form or another. A perfect spirit must know everything and progress must be made in every direction. All acquired ideas help forward development.”

899. Out of two rich individuals who both use their wealth solely for their personal satisfaction, one was born into affluence and has never known want, the other earned his or her wealth by personal labor, which is more shameful?
“The one who knows suffering and does nothing to relieve it. He or she knows unrelieved pain Too often, this person no longer remembers the difficulties it has endured.”

900. Can those who constantly accumulate wealth, without doing good for anyone, find an excuse in the fact that they will leave a large fortune to their heirs?
“This is a compromise with a bad conscience.”

901. Imagine a scenario with two miserly individuals. One forgoes the necessities of life and dies in want surrounded by treasures. The other is self-indulgent and cheap with respect to others. This person winces at making the smallest sacrifice for others or serving a noble cause while the cost of indulging personal passions is inconsequential. This individual is always short on funds when kindness is asked for others, but has plenty of money to satisfy any of his own whims. Which of them is more disgraceful? Which one will be worse off in the spirit world?
“The one who recklessly spends money on personal pleasures, because he or she is more selfish than miser. The other is already undergoing a part of the atonement.”

902. Is it wrong to wish for wealth as a means of doing good?
“Such a desire is admirable when it is pure, but is it always truly disinterested? Don’t people first desire to do good for themselves?”

903. Is it wrong to study other people’s faults?
“To do so merely for the sake of criticizing or exposing them is wrong, because it demonstrates a lack of charity. To do so for your own benefit to avoid replicating those flaws may sometimes be useful but you must not forget that understanding the faults of others is one of the elements of charity. Before criticizing others for their flaws, you should look at yourself and see if others could criticize you for the same faults. The only way to profit by such a critical examination of other’s faults is by trying to acquire the opposite virtues. Are those you criticize cheap? Be generous. Are they proud? Be humble and modest. Are they callous? Be gentle. Are they cruel and petty? Be great in everything that you do. Basically, act in such a way so that it may not be said of you, in Jesus’ words, that you ‘see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not see the beam in your own.’”

904. Is it wrong to probe the plagues of society and revealing them?
“That depends on the motive behind this action. If a writer’s only purpose is to create a scandal, he or she obtains personal satisfaction from presenting images or situations that are corruptive rather than instructive. The mind perceives the evils of society, but those who take pleasure in portraying evil for the sake of evil will be punished for doing so.”

a) In this case, how can we judge the purity of intention and the sincerity of the authors?
“It is not always necessary. If authors write good things, you profit by them. If they write bad things, it is a question of conscience. However, if they want to prove their sincerity, do they do it by the excellence of their own example?”

905. There are great books that are full of moral teachings from which their authors have not derived much moral profit despite helping the progress of humanity. Is the good those authors do by their writings be counted to them as spirits?
“Professing the principles of morality without subsequent action is like having a seed without completing the sowing. What is the point of having the seed, if you do not make it bear fruit to feed you? These authors are even guiltier, because they possess the intelligence that enables them to understand. By not practicing the virtues they recommend to others, they fail to enjoy the harvest they could reap themselves.”

906. Is it wrong for those who do good to be conscious of the goodness of their deed, and to acknowledge that goodness to themselves?
“Since human beings are aware of the bad they do, they must also be aware of the good they do as well. It is only by this recognition of their conscience that they can know whether they have done good or bad. By weighing all their actions according to God’s law, especially the law of justice, love and charity, they can decide whether they are good or bad, and can approve or disapprove of those actions accordingly. Therefore, it is not wrong to recognize the fact that they have triumphed over evil and rejoice in having done so, provided that this does not turn into narcissism, because that would be as reprehensible as any of the faults over which they have triumphed.” (See no. 919)

Passions

907. As our passions are rooted in nature, are they bad in themselves?
“No, it is only their abuse or excess that is bad. The principle of all passions has been given to human beings for their own good, and these passions may spur them to accomplish great things. It is only their abuse that does harm.”

908. How can we define the limit at which passions cease to be good or bad?
“Passions are like a horse that is positive or useful when under control, but dangerous when untamed. A passion becomes wicked the moment you lose control of it, and when it causes harm to yourselves or others.”

Passions are switches that greatly increase your powers, and help you carry out God’s designs. If you allow yourself to be ruled by your passions instead of controlling them, you become a victim of excess. The same force that can be useful ends up annihilating you.

All the passions are rooted in a natural sentiment or want. They are not bad in themselves, since they constitute one of the God-given conditions of our existence. “Passion” usually signifies the exaggeration of a need or feeling, it lies in the excess and not in the cause, and such excess becomes evil when it results in some kind of evil. Every passion that brings human beings closer to an animalistic nature carries them farther away from the spiritual nature. On the contrary, every feeling that raises human beings above the animal nature demonstrates the dominance of their spiritual side over their animal side and brings them closer to perfection.

909. Are an individual’s own efforts enough to vanquish his or her bad tendencies?
“Yes, a very small effort is often all that is needed. It is the will that is missing. It is quite astounding how few of you make any serious effort!”

910. Can human beings obtain effective help from spirits in overcoming their passions?
“If they address a sincere prayer for such help to God, good spirits will help them as it is their duty to do so.” (See no. 459)

911. Are passions sometimes so fierce and irresistible that the will is powerless to withstand them?
“Many people say ‘I want to,’ but their will in only on their lips. They are not genuinely sorry when what they want does not happen. When people are unable to conquer their passions, it is because they take pleasure in yielding to them. Those who can control their passions understands their spiritual nature and know that every victory over them is a triumph of their spirit over matter.”

912. What is the most effective means of fighting the predominance of the corporeal nature?
“Practicing self-denial.”

Selfishness

913. What vice may we label as the root of the others?
“Selfishness, as we have repeatedly told you. Every wrongdoing can be traced back to selfishness. Study all the vices, and you will see that selfishness is at the root of them all. You will never succeed in eradicating them until, you attack them at their root, only then you have destroyed the selfishness that is their cause. All your efforts should be focused on this end, as selfishness is the plague of human society. All those who attempt to reach moral excellence must uproot every selfish feeling from their hearts, because it is incompatible with justice, love and charity; it offsets all other qualities.”

914. As it is rooted in personal interest, it seems to be very difficult to entirely remove selfishness from the human heart. Is it possible?
“As human beings become enlightened in regard to spiritual things, they attach less value to material things. As they free themselves from the shackles of matter, they reform the human institutions that foster selfishness. This is accomplished through education.”

915. As selfishness is inherent to the human race, will it not always be an obstacle to the reign of absolute goodness on Earth?
“Selfishness is your greatest evil, but it belongs to the spirits incarnated on Earth who are of an inferior nature and not to the entirety of the human race. Consequently, those spirits, in purifying themselves through successive lives, shed their selfishness like all their other impurities. Are there none among you who have rid themselves of selfishness, and who practice charity on Earth? There are more than you think, but they are not well-known because virtue does not seek to bask in the spotlight. If one individual like this exists, why should there not be ten? If there are ten, why should there not be one thousand, and so on?”

916. Selfishness increases with the civilization that seems to strengthen and intensify it. How can the cause destroy the effect?
“The greater the wickedness the more hideous it is. Selfishness has to do a vast amount of harm, so that you may understand how crucial the need is to eradicate it. When human beings overcome selfishness, they will live like brothers and sisters by mutually helping each other through a sense of solidarity. The strong will then support the weak, rather than oppress them, and no one will lack the necessities of life because everyone will obey the law of justice. This reign of good is what the spirits are responsible for preparing.” (See no. 784)

917. How can we overcome selfishness?
“Of all human imperfections, selfishness is the most difficult to uproot. It is influenced by matter, from which human beings, still too close to their origin, have not yet been able to break loose, as human laws, society and education all support it. Selfishness will be gradually weakened as your moral life gains dominance over your material life, through the knowledge that Spiritism gives you regarding the reality of your future life, stripped of allegories and metaphors. When Spiritism is properly understood and identified with beliefs and habits of humankind, it will transform all your customs, traditions and social relations. Selfishness is based on the importance you attribute to your own personality. Spiritism makes you look at everything from such an elevated standpoint that all sense of individuality is lost in confronting this immensity. Spiritism battles selfishness by destroying self-importance and revealing its true nature.”

“Human beings often become selfish by experiencing the selfishness of others, which makes them feel the need to put themselves on the defensive. Seeing that others think of themselves and not of you causes you to think of yourself rather than others. Charity and fraternity must become the basis of all social institutions, the legal relations between nations and individuals. Only then will individuals think less of their own personal interests, because they will realize that others have thought of them. Humankind will then experience the upright influence of example and contact. Amidst the present deluge of selfishness, considerable virtue is needed for human beings to sacrifice their own interests for the sake of others, and those who make such a sacrifice often receive little gratitude for such restraint. Those who possess this virtue are welcomed into the kingdom of Heaven with open arms, while those who have thought only of themselves will be cast aside on judgment day, and left to suffer in loneliness.” (See no. 785) Fénelon

Praiseworthy efforts are being put forward to help advance the progress of humanity. Kind and charitable thoughts are encouraged, stimulated and honored now more than at any other time in history, and yet selfishness continues to plague society. It is a social disease that affects everyone, of which everyone is more or less the victim, and should be fought like any other epidemic. To this end, we must emulate the methodology of a skilled physician and begin by tracing the disease to its origin. We must seek out, in every division of human society, from families to nations, from the hut to the palace, all the obvious and obscure causes and influences that sustain and foster selfishness. Once the causes of the disease are established, the remedy presents itself spontaneously through the combined efforts of all, and the virus is destroyed gradually. The cure may take a long time, because the causes are numerous, but it is not impossible. That being said, it can only be successful by getting to the root of the evil; that is, through education. Not the education that aims only to educate people; but the one that also aims to make them moral individuals.

Proper education is the key to moral progress. When the art of training the moral nature of human beings is as easily understood as the art of training the intellect, a corrupt nature can be straightened out just like a crooked sapling. However, this practice demands a great deal of tact, experience, and profound observation. It is a huge mistake to assume that possessing scientific knowledge alone is enough to enable the teacher to exercise it successfully. If we study, for instance, the lives of children, whether rich or poor, and note all the bad influences that act upon their weaknesses from the moment of their birth, taking into account the ignorance and negligence of those who are responsible for the upbringing of these children, and the improper means employed in moralizing them, it is no wonder to find so much wrong in the world.. If the same skill and care is given to the training of the moral nature as to that of the intellect, human beings would discover that if there are obstinate natures, there are also, in a greater number than you might think, those who require only the proper cultivation in order to yield good fruit. (See no. 872)

Human beings want to be happy and this natural desire prompts them to work tirelessly to improve their condition on Earth, and seek out the causes of their ills in order to address them. When they understand thoroughly that selfishness stimulates pride, ambition, greed, envy, hatred and jealousy and causes constant distress, that it brings trouble to all social relations, provokes conflict, destroys confidence, turns friends into enemies, and forces each individual to remain constantly on the defense against each other, then they will also see that this vice is incompatible with both happiness and security. The more they suffer from selfishness, the more intensely they feel the need to fight it, just as they fight diseases, dangerous animals, and every other source of disaster. They are compelled to act as such out of their own best interest. (See no. 784) Selfishness is the source of all vices, just as charity is the source of all virtues. Destroying one while developing the other should be the goal for all those who seek to guarantee happiness in the present life and in the next.

Characteristics of a Virtuous Person

918. Are there signs indicating that humans have achieved the progress that will raise them in the spirit hierarchy?
“The elevation of incarnate spirits is demonstrated by the compliance of all their actions in the physical life with God’s law, and by their understanding of spiritual life.”
Truly virtuous individuals are those who practice the law of justice, love and charity, in their purest form. If people question their consciences in regard to their actions, they will ask themselves whether they have violated the law or done anything wrong, whether they have done all the good in their power, whether no one has reason to complain about them, and whether they have done to others everything that they would wish others to do to them.

When people are overwhelmed by feelings of charity and kindness for all, they do good for the sake of doing good, without looking for a reward, and they sacrifice their interests for justice.

They are kind, compassionate and humane to all, because they view everyone as their brothers and sisters, regardless of race or creed.

If God has given them power and wealth, they consider them DEPOSITS confided to them for the general good. They are not arrogant because they know that what God has given God can take away at any time.

When society makes people dependent on them, they treat them with kindness and compassion, as equals before God. They use authority to elevate them morally, rather than crushing them with their pride.

They are indulgent in relation to others’ weaknesses, knowing that they too need indulgence, and remembering Christ’s words, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

They are not vindictive and follow the example of Jesus, forgiving all offenses, as they know that they will only obtain forgiveness as they forgive others and themselves. Finally, they respect the rights of others, as established by the law of nature, as they would want others to respect their rights.

Self-Knowledge

919. What is the most effective method for guaranteeing self-improvement and resisting the attraction of wrongdoing?
“A philosopher of antiquity once said, ‘Know thyself.’”

a) We fully admit the wisdom of this saying, but self-knowledge is precisely what is most difficult to achieve. How can we acquire it?
“Do what I myself used to do during my life on Earth. At the end of each day I would assess my conscience, review everything that I had done, and I would ask myself whether I had failed in some duty, whether someone might have reason to complain of me. It was thus that I arrived at knowing myself and in seeing what there was in me that needed to be reformed. If you review all your actions of the day every evening, asking yourself whether you have done good or bad, and praying for enlightenment from God and your guardian angel, you would acquire great strength for self-improvement because God would assist you. Ask yourself these questions, what you have done, what was your aim, whether you have done anything that you would find fault for in another, or whether you have done anything that you would be ashamed to admit. Also ask yourself: If God called me into the spirit life at this moment in time, where nothing is hidden, would I dread seeing anyone? Review what you may have done, first against God, second against your neighbor, and lastly, against yourself. The answers to these questions will either settle your conscience, or reveal some wrong that you will have to remedy.”

“Self-knowledge is the key to individual improvement. However, you may ask, ‘How does one judge one’s self? Aren’t all human beings subject to the illusions of arrogance, which diminishes their flaws in their own eyes and makes it possible to find excuses for them? Misers think that they are merely practicing economy and foresight, while proud individuals think their pride is dignity.’ This is true, but there is a way of proceeding that cannot deceive you. When you are in doubt regarding any of your actions, ask yourself what your judgment would be if it were done by another. If you would find cause for reproach in another, it cannot be less reprehensible when done by you because God’s justice is universal for all. Try to discover what others think and do not overlook the opinion of your enemies because they have no interest in disguising the truth, and God often places them in your life to serve as a mirror to warn you in a manner more frank than that of a friend. Those who are firmly resolved in achieving self-improvement must review their conscience in order to uproot their evil inclinations, just as they uproot weeds from their gardens. Every night they should settle their moral accounts for the day, just as businessmen account for their profits and losses. They can rest assured that the former will be a much more profitable operation than the latter. Those who can say that the balance is in their favor may sleep peacefully, and await their return to the spirit life without fear.”

“Ask yourself clear and precise questions, and do not hesitate to ask them often. You should devote a few minutes to guaranteeing happiness that will last forever. Do you not work every day so that you may rest when you have reached old age? Is this rest not the object of your desires, the aim that helps you endure your current hardships and deprivation? What comparison is there between a few days of rest, impaired by the weaknesses of the body, and the endless rest that awaits the virtuous? Is the latter not worth a slight effort? I know that many will say, ‘The present is certain, and the future uncertain,’ but this is precisely the error that we must erase from your minds by showing you your future in such a way as to leave no shred of doubt. This is why, having begun by producing phenomena designed to grab your attention by appealing to your senses, we now give you the moral teachings that each of you must in turn spread. This is why we have dictated The Spirits’ Book.” Saint Augustine

We commit many faults that go unnoticed. If we followed the advice of Saint Augustine and examined our conscience more often, we would see how many times we have failed without even realizing it, due to our lack of scrutinizing the nature and reason behind our actions. The interrogative form is more precise than a maxim that often is not applied. It requires “yes” or “no” responses that leave no room for interpretation. These are personal arguments and by the sum of the responses, we can estimate the sum of good and evil within us.

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