The goal of spiritual progress is to transcend the ego in the realization that separateness from other selves, and from God, is the one great delusion from which all other delusions derive. The sense of individuality is rooted in infinity. There is no other reality but God, the Self of all. In Himself He is ever-conscious, ever-existing, ever-new Bliss. No one created Him: He is self-existent.
A godly quality, therefore, is one that can lift us toward that awareness. Among such qualities are the following:
1. Fearlessness and non-attachment
Fearlessness comes with perfect non-attachment. It is a natural attitude for those who feel they have nothing to protect. The instinct of self-preservation is, of course, the basic motivation for fear. Ego—the sense of having a separate individuality, and of being distinct from all others—gives rise to the instinct of fear.
Ego-consciousness is born of attachment to the body. Fear arises from anxiety to protect the body, and cannot be conquered so long as attachment to the body lingers. The more a person’s body-consciousness expands to include such things as a sense of possessions, a concern for one’s own reputation, and a sense of personal power or importance, the greater the likelihood of fear. Fearlessness comes from releasing those attachments.
The fast and sure way to develop fearlessness is to love God. By loving Him, you feel yourself ever protected by a force far greater than your own.
2. Absence of self-conceit
Absence of self-conceit may be translated as humility, or the absence of pride. Humility, however, is often taken as self-abasement and as a consciousness of personal inadequacy—not before God, which is right, normal, and in fact obvious—but before other people. Humility is not an inferiority complex! Self-conceit is often present, moreover, where pride is absent. It is the fertile soil in which the seeds of pride, given enough fresh circumstances, can sprout, grow, and flourish.
Self-conceit means to entertain, and not merely possess, certain feelings about oneself. A famous singer, for example, would be deficient in something if he didn’t know he was good at singing, and was famous for it. If he entertains that thought, however, and lets it feed his self-definition and make him think it matters in the great scheme of things: that is self-conceit.
3. Purity of heart: no malice towards others
Purity of heart comes when you have removed from your heart any feelings that are foreign to your true nature. This includes all the motivations for fear listed above. Included also must be any selfish or “ulterior” motive.
A person who is pure of heart is without guile, and never harbors the slightest wish to make use of anyone without that person’s willing consent. He bears no malice toward others. Indeed, with the heart’s purity alone he automatically manifests spiritual qualities such as absence of malice, harmlessness, forgiveness, and truthfulness.
4. Perseverance (in the acquisition of wisdom and the practice of meditation)
Perseverance (in the acquisition of wisdom and in the practice of meditation) is a distinct quality, demanding the continuous reapplication of will power to whatever cause you believe is right and worthy. Perseverance, in its ever-newly creative outlook, is different from stubbornness, which is a refusal to reexamine the facts, or to reappraise your position with regard to them. Perseverance means not to allow yourself to be dissuaded or diverted from your worthwhile goals, but to meet every difficulty creatively, with new solutions, until your ends have been achieved.
Thus, perseverance means to be willing to reexamine your position and, if necessary, to correct your first assumptions, thereafter seeking ever-new avenues by which a worthwhile goal may be achieved. It means to be firm in the faith that what is right and true must, eventually, come to pass, provided you hold firmly to high principles.
5. Sattwic charity (including helping others materially)
Sattwic charity means many things besides alms giving. It means being generous in the opinions you hold of others, owing to the simple realization that all people are basically motivated by the same desire: for divine bliss. Although most people seek this fulfillment in wrong ways, they do so out of simple ignorance.
When giving alms or helping others materially, make it an important point never to convey the impression that you are placing the other person under an obligation. He, too, must be allowed, in his receiving, to preserve his sense of dignity and self-worth. Indeed, his dignity should be placed on a par with your own. Otherwise, to receive gifts can be demeaning, and can create at least a sense of having been placed under an obligation, and can sometimes create a certain resentment against the giver.
6. Self-restraint leads to effortless control of the senses.
Self-restraint means retaining always, even during times of sense enjoyment, the feeling that you are centered inwardly in the Self. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy good things, but you should realize that the source of that enjoyment is not in anything outer, but in your own heart.
Thus, in any sensory experience—the enjoyment of food, or sex, or of anything at all—never give in completely to the sensation. Remain somewhat restrained in every expression of feeling. In this way, self-control will gradually come to you easily, and you’ll develop effortless control over the senses.
7. Freedom from anger and faultfinding
Freedom from anger comes from not desiring anything, whether specific things or “right” behavior in others. Anger creates a disturbance and an unsettling influence in the brain. Righteous anger, of course, can be a virtue, especially if directed with calm will power through the spiritual eye. Because the point between the eyebrows is the seat of will power in the body, energy directed through there can help to set the wheels of necessary change turning.
A disinclination toward faultfinding is, again, a willingness to accept situations and people as they are. This does not mean you should never try to improve things, or to help others to improve themselves. Whatever good you do in the world, however, will be more effective if all of your efforts are directed positively, and not in mere reaction to anything. Indeed, once you have removed the ego’s natural impulse to wrest what it wants from life, you are able to achieve your goals effortlessly, often with willing help from others.
8. Straightforwardness harnesses your power.
Straightforwardness means to be completely honest and truthful in all your dealings. Any corners you “cut” in this respect will only weaken your powers of accomplishment and your ability to persevere to final success in any worthwhile undertaking. Both honesty and truthfulness harness one’s power to the infinitely greater power of the universe.
Truthfulness has the further connotation of not wishing reality to be other than it is. Be truthful with yourself. Don’t try to pretend even to yourself that your motives have been better, perhaps, than they may actually have been. If you have spoken rudely, for instance, you can only become gentler in your speech after you’ve faced frankly the fact that you have sometimes spoken harshly.
9. In kindness there is no pride.
Kindness to all is not compassion, as some people translate the Sanskrit word “daya.” It would be a distortion of genuine feeling to feel compassionate toward someone who had treated you unkindly, for it would imply condescension—as though you looked down on him from above.
In kindness there is no pride, but in compassion there might be, especially if you saw to it that others realized how very compassionate you were. Kindness means the simple acceptance of others, and the recognition that they are all, like you, striving for self-improvement.
10. Forgiveness: giving a person a chance to reform
Forgiveness, often, is merely verbal. You may want to forgive, but the thought of the offense demanding forgiveness may continue to rankle in your heart. Forgiveness should therefore be coupled with the word, forget.
Even forgetfulness, however, can be a mistake if what is forgiven is an act that might recur. If, for example, a person’s behavior has revealed a flaw in his character—betrayal, for example, or disloyalty—it would be wise to keep that flaw in mind during future dealings with him, until the flaw has been convincingly corrected. You may accept that person even as a friend, and as such forgive him, but you should also bear in mind his potential until adequate proof has been given of full eradication.
Forgiveness means, in the last analysis, giving a person a chance to reform, but also recognizing that an apology is not in itself the same thing as reform.
11. Renunciation is primarily of the heart.
Renunciation has been defined as the transcendence, especially, of selfish or otherwise ego-inspired motive. Thus, it means also nishkam karma: action without personal desire for the fruits of action.
Renunciation means giving up all one’s attachments. The man who said, “My children died, my wife left me, I’ve been fired from my job, and my house just burned to the ground. I’ve decided to renounce the world,” hadn’t quite the right idea of renunciation. As my param-guru Swami Sri Yukteswar remarked wryly, “That man hasn’t renounced the world: The world has renounced him!” Renunciation must be primarily of the heart.
12. Remain ever tranquil in the Self.
Tranquility means in all circumstances to be centered calmly in the Self within. When others are agitated (and you might be, too), tell yourself, “Things will be normal again in a few hours, or days, or another week—or another month—or another year.” However long the period, it will end.
The reason hell itself is described in some religions as eternal is that when suffering comes, it seems everlasting. Nothing is permanent, however. All is flux. All is change. The wise man, in the face of both fulfillment and disappointment, remains unaffected and ever tranquil in the Self.
The ways of God are ever rooted in godliness.
The ways of God are ever rooted in godliness. God may on occasion be a “refining fire,” destroying evil and restoring virtue to its proper place in order to bring back a balance again to the affairs of the world, but His vengeance is never motivated by wrath, hatred, or vindictiveness. What seems so to those who are afflicted with these faults is only a projection of their own nature.
The person of strong ego-consciousness sees only God’s wrath when he is punished—a fate he has, however unwittingly, willed upon himself. God does not will our suffering. His will, which manifests personally in all of us, is for our eternal freedom in Him.