What Are the Highest Virtues and Most Dangerous Vices?


What are the top six virtues that we should line be and in what order? Love, Compassion, Patience, Justice, Honesty, and what are the others?

What are the top six and most dangerous vices which we should avoid?

How is cunningness different from being smart and clever? How do we make life simple and achieve what we want without facing much complications?


—Mona, India


Dear Mona,

Yogananda did not give a specific order for the highest virtues. I am pretty sure, however, that he would put “love for God” on the very top.

In fact he wrote in an article: “If you are true to yourself, if you love God above all, day and night wrapped in Him, that is the highest virtue in the world.”

What he is saying here is quite interesting:

First, “be true to yourself.” That is already a major virtue. Every soul is unique and can offer a unique divine fragrance to the world. Finding one’s own “divine fragrance” deep within, and living it fully, as a channel of God, might be coming close to our own “top virtue.”

Secondly Yogananda says “Love God above all”. Usually our heart pulls our consciousness everywhere, into all directions, always outward. But when our heart’s love pulls us to God, nothing can stop us from divine union.

Lastly he says to be “day and night wrapped in Him”: that implies constant God-remembrance during the day, which is certainly a practice of highest virtue. It also implies daily sadhana, prayer, meditation: without it we will hardly be “day and night wrapped in Him.”

Elsewhere Yogananda explains loyalty as being “the first law of God.” So here you have another top virtue.

A further supreme virtue is found in his Autobiography of a Yogi: humility. He tells the story how the great Mahavatar Babaji teaches: “By serving wise and ignorant sadhus, I am learning the greatest of virtues, pleasing to God above all others-humility.”

Another clue of which virtues Yogananda put on top of the list can be found in the same book, where he describes the virtues he taught to his school kids in Ranchi: “The boys daily practice their spiritual exercises, engage in Gita chanting, and are taught by precept and example the virtues of simplicity, self-sacrifice, honor, and truth.”

Of course Yogananda taught the other universal virtues as well. One very high on the list is self-control. Another one is certainly love for one’s fellowmen.

Swami Kriyananda has often mentioned that contentment (“even-minded and cheerful at all times”) is considered the highest virtue by yogis.

By now we must have a list of at least 10 major ones. But sorry, no definite list is available.

What, then, are the greatest vices? Again there is no official list, but Yogananda called sex, wine, and money the greatest tools of maya, which keep our consciousness bound to the external world, away from inner God-bliss. It’s not that money or sex are bad in themselves. They have a role to play (alcohol doesn’t), but once they get a hold of your heart, they are spiritually dangerous.

Yogananda called treachery the greatest sin, especially against one’s guru.

About your last question: “How is cunningness different from being smart and clever?”

Always ask yourself: “What is my real motive?” Cunningness is of the ego, its motive is to work against others, for personal gain. Being clever on the other hand can be a tool of the soul, when the cleverness is directed with wisdom.

“Clever” can for example mean playing tricks on ones own habits, to fool them. Clever can also mean knowing how to behave intelligently in all sorts of strange human situations and relationships. Cleverness can be used, as you write, to “make life simple and achieve what we want without facing much complications.”

However, one needs to be careful: being smart or clever in itself is not enough. It always needs to be directed into the right direction. Here again is a guideline from Yogananda’s Autobiography:

“Keen intelligence is two-edged. It may be used constructively or destructively like a knife, either to cut the boil of ignorance, or to decapitate one’s self. Intelligence is rightly guided only after the mind has acknowledged the inescapability of spiritual law.”

That is the sort of cleverness we are asked to develop.

God bless you and your inner understanding, jayadev