Virtue is not just a quality of goodness but a vast science of personal perfection.
When we approach virtue the right way, we can understand ourselves and who we truly are on a deeper level.
The spiritual seeker who doesn’t appreciate the importance of virtues will be farther away from the journey which he seeks.
Social Morality vs Virtues
Many people think that virtues comes from accepted social morality.
Morality is a code of conduct which society all agrees.
It’s a community based shared understanding of what’s good and bad.
For example, killing is wrong. It’s good to be honest. Don’t cheat and steal. And always do the right thing.
Morals are highly subjective and the more we conform to thoughts, words, and deeds of the moral code, the more we appear to be virtuous.
But…virtues are not the same as morality.
While morals are superficial and imperfect social code, virtues is more than the shallowness of social context.
Now this doesn’t mean that we should throw away every moral code of conduct.
Morality helps us to refrain from exercising lower energies and lower consciousness behaviors.
Virtue, on the other hand, comes from the Greeks ethics meaning “excellence.”
Virtue is Divine Excellence, the Character Ideal
From Plato to Aristotle and Stoics, “Arete” means excellence.
Virtue is associated with words like goodness, success, beauty, nobility, excellence, perfection and divine law.
These concepts are derived from the highest conclusion of reason and intuition to justify these judgments.
In other words, virtue needs no social acceptance and its quality comes from the sake of virtue itself (It is what it is).
The reason why the color red is red is because it has redness, goodness is good because of goodness itself, etc.
For example, courage is a noble and virtuous quality not because it’s what everyone should do, but because everything in the universe has its excesses and deficiency. Courage lies between the excess of rashness and deficiency of cowardice.
To know courage is to be in balance, perfection, and divine.
…for virtue is the perfection of souls” – Proclus
7 Fundamental Spiritual Virtues
The Buddhists have their virtues and so does the Sufi’s and the Jewish tradition.
Many traditions do not agree on how many number of virtues considered to be fundamental. You may find plenty of examples of some traditions listing 4, 6, 7, or even 12 virtues in total.
Most traditions will place their emphasis on certain qualities at the top while others are not so important.
For example, Sufi tradition emphasizes humility while Jewish tradition emphasizes justice. Christians emphasizes love while Greek emphasizes self-control.
The western tradition comes from 2 major influences: The Greeks and Christianity.
Thus, the 7 fundamental spiritual virtues here comes from the Greeks and Christianity although most of the virtues can be cross-examined in other traditions.
The Greeks considered to have 4 fundamental virtues: prudence, fortitude, justice and moderation.
Christianity added 3 more: Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love). Love is the most powerful of all other virtues.
Here are the 7 fundamental spiritual virtues:
1. Prudence (Wisdom)
Prudence includes knowing, understanding, wisdom, cautiousness, common sense and right judgment.
Unlike worldly wisdom where you learn from your experience, wisdom is right understanding made applicable.
For example, any science that is a fact can be called wisdom because it is an objective understanding.
But without experiencing and put understanding into practical works, we don’t have wisdom.
While we wish not to judge others, there is a virtue in having discernment.
Discernment, to certain degree, is judgment which allows the virtuous to tell the difference between higher and lesser virtuous people.
Without this understanding, you will be victimized by illusionary values and other’s moral codes.
To be able to see a situation so that we may know who to avoid, how to stay in harmony, and make critical decisions will help save your life.
If one can’t discern the difference between true and false doctrines, he will be liable to believe in anything.
Be wise by knowing what is real, factual, and an objective understanding made practical.
2. Fortitude (Courage)
This includes patience because patience is the test of courage and character.
Courage is the strength to face the pains and challenges in our life.
Wherever there is fortitude, there is chance to grow stronger.
Will you be brave enough to walk through bitter sorrow and come out victorious?
Let courage be your witness which guides you through all troubles and tribulations.
Be firm when in difficulties.
So that when the storms subsided, you are alive and well to see the sun shining forth.
“… ’tis justice which maintains peace and balance in the soul; she is the mother of good order in all communities, makes concord between husband and wife, love between master and servant.” (Mead)
This also includes law, truth, integrity and righteousness.
However, justice is not a man-made law as a result of a court’s decision.
It is doing what is right. But what makes something right?
Justice is the result of the basic concerns and treatments of each sentient beings.
It’s wrong to be cruel to animals not because of our sentiments or because someone else says so but because it violates the understanding of basic concerns and treatment to sentient beings.
We already know intuitively what is right and what is not.
There was once a doctor who was performing surgery on a local patient. The supervisor wanted him to drop his operation so that save the town’s mayor who was severely injured. He offered to double his paycheck.
The doctor was conflicted between saving one important and recognized person or a random family. He knew that the right thing to do was to save the local patient.
Follow the golden rule: treat others as you would treat thyself.
Do what’s right in your heart at the right time.
4. Moderation (Self-Control)
Moderation is the road to balance and self-control.
If we go to the extreme spiritual route where we become a religious fanatic and despises our own body while doing weird spiritual exercises hoping to attain enlightenment, we don’t have balance.
On the other end, we may become a hedonist and indulges in every passions to our liking while ruining our health for wealth, power, and selfish goals, we don’t have self-control.
There are no hard and fast rules where you should avoid drinking alcohol, eating meat, must eat only vegetarian foods, no partying, no sex, always be serious, etc.
Everything is done in moderation. Go above moderation and there will be consequences.
Even a good thing when taken to extremes can be a bad thing.
Is it easy to attain balance? A thousand times No.
Inner balance is a work of a lifetime.
Our Higher Self (Superconscious) and Lower Self (Subconscious) are fighting each other like the good and bad angel on our shoulders.
As long as the lower self dictates your behaviors, you are not in control. You are moved like storms and violent tempests.
You’ll need to overcome your passions and desires so that you can become the master instead of the servant.
We commonly believe “Faith” to mean expressing our deeply held beliefs or teachings of a religion.
You can see this example when we say “Hindu faith” or “Anglican faith”.
It’s usually used to mean believing in something without proof.
To truly understand Faith is to recognize the sense of Knowing without any need for doubt.
When you are confident in something that you do very well, you just know that you can approach the next project without doubt.
Think of a strong relationship with your significant other. You know that, no matter what, your significant other will always be by your side.
It’s an inner knowings. You don’t need proofs and outside validation because there is an intuitive or direct understanding.
For Faith, there is a knowing of the existence of a Higher Existence (God, Cosmic Consciousness, the Lord, Universal Mind, The All, Allah, etc.)
It goes beyond our intellectual reasoning and floods our awareness where it becomes obvious to us that it is there.
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding”. – Proverb
Most people understand hope as wishful thinking such as “I hope it will rain” or “I hope I get the job”.
But Hope in the Christian’s virtues means to be certain of a blessed future.
In this way, we may assign hope in correspondence with optimism (but not blindly).
It is to expect with confidence more so than a disappointed outlook.
When you look for positive things, you will find more positive than negatives.
Thus, by hoping you are focusing on the brighter future, the positive side of life, and the best of the best.
7. Charity (Love)
We hear it many times, especially in the spiritual community, that the greatest power of all is Love.
Love is not one’s passionate obsessio but an unconditional sense of compassion for someone or something.
It is the dog’s love for its owner or our love for our babies.
Some of the acts of love includes kindness, caring, compassion, nurturing, gratitude, joy, happiness, healing, forgiveness, acceptance, etc.
Love is pure, unconditional, and everlasting.
We intuitively wish to love and to be loved.
Thus, it is virtuous to practice love and mercy.
True love is unforgettable and unforgotten.
It will always stay with you like wings embracing upon your heart.
Virtuous Being is in Harmony with the Universe
Underlying these virtues are about man’s relationship with each other, with nature, and with God.
Because the virtuous one is in harmony with himself, he is also in harmony with others, with nature, and with the Divine.
The ancients believed in the Principle of Correspondence, that the microcosm is the same as the macrocosm.
So that by practicing the virtues, one is also practicing being in harmony all within the universe.
Mystics and sages emerged from their meditations to tell us that the virtues are the ruling powers of the spiritual self – the higher self, the inner self, the real self.
It is through the virtues where we heal and overcome the passions of the lower self along with all its other unruly behaviors.
When our virtues are strong, it attracts the good and repels the bad.
It draws us towards the spiritual and puts a protective energy field around those whose influence are less than spiritual.
What makes virtues so virtuous? It is the truth of the virtue that makes a virtue virtuous.
Virtue is what makes our mind wise, our hearts good, and our body healthy and beautiful.