A society’s morals are like its teeth: the more decayed they are, the more it hurts to touch them.
Epictetus said almost 200 years ago: “You are a distinct portion of the essence of God and why are you ignorant of your noble birth? You carry God with you everywhere and knowing nothing about it, go in search of him wandering and reaching nowhere.”
The motive behind action is as important as the rightness of the act itself. Unless the action is motivated by respect of the moral law, it cannot be virtuous in the true spiritual sense. If, for example, a person tells truth because he is afraid of being punished by God for uttering a lie, he is certainly doing right, but the motive is not the highest motive. The classic illustration of this present is the famous woman Sufi saint, Rabia Basri, who wanted to destroy both heaven and hell so that people would learn to act morally without the hope of reward or the fear of punishment.
Men seldom bridge the gulf between practice and profession, between doing and saying. A persistent schizophrenia leaves so many of us tragically divided against ourselves. We proudly profess certain sublime and noble principles, but our practices embody the very antithesis of them.
To seek is to find, because what is being sought is the highest truth within us. Divine grace too operates in a similar fashion. We recognise it only when we become spiritually mature. Truth has many sides. No one can say which facet is more honest to life. This makes life such a great mystery. The enlightened souls through the twilight of history were those whose hearts were kindled by a divine flame, the light of which gleamed through their lives and their preachings.
During the history of or world, 21 civilisations have risen and fallen because they carried the seeds of their own destruction. These seeds were the baser urges and satanic instincts of those who presided over these civilisations. The present industrial age too cannot escape a similar fate because the same urges continue to plague it. One is reminded of the lovely words of Goldsmith:
“Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay”
We come to this world to experience our own reality — to learn who we are by being what we think would be best for us. Life is intended to be lived here with great wisdom. A society’s morals are like its teeth: the more decayed they are, the more it hurts to touch them.
Our material pursuits keep tearing away the seams that bind human values. We say: “Love thy neighbour as thyself,” but the urge to “get ahead” is sometimes so strong that it involves stamping on thy neighbour, an action that is bound to create bitterness.
We must guard our character so that it does not get sullied by the evil forces around. Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
“For the sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds:
Lilies that fester smell far worse than deeds.”
Our first identity is human, and our first allegiance is to humanitarianism. In whatever work we do, we must do so without a sense of malice in our heart. If we remain calm and honest in our desire to serve, we will be able to make a meaningful difference to our world that would be the most lasting legacy we must strive to leave behind.