8. Insight and Nobility
by James Allen
IN THE PURSUIT AND PRACTICE OF VIRTUE, there at last comes a time when a divine insight dawns upon the mind. It searches into the causes and principles of things, which, once attained, establishes its possessor firmly in virtue. It renders him invulnerable to the assaults of temptation, and invincible in his work for the world.
When the understanding is ripened by the culture of virtue, vicious inclinations disappear, and wrong-doing becomes impossible. When individual conduct is perceived as an unbroken series of causes and effects, the perceiving mind finally decides for virtue, and the lower selfish elements are just cast away forever.
Until a man perceives the just law which operates in human life, whatever virtue he may manifest at any given time, he is not firmly established in nobility of character, he is not fully armored with righteousness, and is not safely lodged in his final refuge. Not having acquired that perfect insight which knows good and evil and which perceives the effects of all deeds both good and bad, he breaks down when assailed by temptation at those points in his character which are not well fortified. Those which have, so far, dimmed his spiritual insight, and barred him from perfect vision. By thus breaking down, he discovers that within which has hindered him. And by setting to work to remove the hindrance, he ascends still higher in the scale of virtue, and approaches nearer to the perfect insight into the true order of life which makes a man divine.
Under certain circumstances a man, held in restraint by the influence of friends, by custom and environment, and not by his own inherent purity and strength, will appear to have, and may believe he possesses, a virtue of which he knows nothing in reality. And his lack of such virtue only appears when all outward restraints are withdrawn, and, under temptation, the concealed weakness and vice make themselves manifest.
On the other hand, the man of superior virtue will seem, in a familiar environment, to be much the same as his weaker fellows, and his virtue will not be apparent to those about him. But when he is suddenly brought in contact with great temptations or extraordinary events, his latent virtue appears in all its beauty and strength.
Insight destroys the dominion of evil and reveals the faultless operation of the Good Law. The man of perfect insight cannot sin, because he fully understands the nature of good and evil. And it is impossible for one who knows good and evil, in all their ramifications of cause and effect, to choose the evil and reject the good. Just as the sane man would not choose ashes in preference to food, so the spiritually awakened man would not choose evil in preference to good. The presence of sin is an indication of self-delusion and of ignorance; the spiritual vision is warped or undeveloped, and there is confusion of mind concerning the nature of good and evil.
In the early stages of virtue, a man arrays himself against the forces of evil which appear to him to be overpowering in their might, and almost, if not entirely, unconquerable. But with the advent of insight, a new light is thrown upon the nature of things, and evil appears as it actually is—a small, dark, powerless thing, a mere negation, and not a formidable force or combination of forces. The man of insight knows that the root of evil is ignorance—and not an intelligent power—and that all sin and suffering proceed therefrom. Thus, knowing evil to be merely a depravation of good, he cannot hate it, but manifests compassion for all sinning and suffering beings.
Indeed, he who has so far conquered the evil in his own heart, as to know the nature and source of evil, cannot possibly hate, dislike, or despise any being, no matter how far removed from virtue it may be. But, while fully perceiving the degradation of character, he understands the dark spiritual condition from which such degradation springs, and so he pities and helps where, without insight, he would hate and despise. Love ever attends upon insight, and pity waits on knowledge.
That insight which proceeds from self-purification and long acquaintance with virtue makes itself manifest in the form of ripeness of character. There is an unchanging strength and sweetness combined; a clearness of intellect, a virile strength of will and a gentleness of heart—a combination which denotes a cultured, mellowed, perfected being; one who has acquired sympathy, compassion, purity, and wisdom. Thus, while “Goodness gives insight,” insight renders goodness permanent, fixes the mind in the love and practice of all that is pure and noble, and stamps upon man’s brow the seal of divinity.
The man whose goodness is of the kind that does not alter with altered environment, or with the changing attitudes of those around him, has reached the Divine Goodness; he understands the Supreme Good. He is no longer concerned with evil as a thing that can harm, but he is concerned with good only. And so he ignores evil and recognizes only good. He perceives that men commit evil out of the mistaken idea of good, and, thus perceiving, no hatred against any can enter his peaceful heart.
The life of such a man is powerful, no matter how obscure it may be, for goodness is the most powerful thing in the world. The fact of his living and moving among men confers incalculable benefit upon the race, although during his lifetime this may not be perceived or understood. So powerful is goodness that the destiny of the world was, is, and will be in the hands of the good.
Those who are good are the guides and emancipators of humanity. In the present period of its development, they are taking the race rapidly along in its evolutionary journey; and this, not in any mystical or miraculous sense, but in a very practical and normal sense, by their exemplary lives, by the power of their deeds. The good men who help the world are not wonder-workers, though undeveloped minds have ever tried to make them such—but the workers of righteousness, servants of the Good Law.
The world never was, is not, and will not be, under the dominion of evil, for such a condition would mean non-existence, evil being merely the negation of good, as darkness is the negation of light. It is light, and not darkness which is the sustaining power. Evil is the weakest thing in the world, and cannot accomplish anything. The universe not only makes for good, the universe is good, and evil always falls short and fails.
Insight is seeing in the Light of Truth, that Light which is the revealer of all things. As the light of day reveals all objects in the world in their proper forms, so when the Light of Truth enters the mind it reveals all the things of life in their proper proportions. He who searches his own heart by the aid of Truth, searches all hearts. He who, by long searching, has perceived the Perfect Law which is operative in his mind, has revealed the Divine Law which is the stay and substance of the universe.
Insight disperses error and puts an end to superstition. Sin is the only error, Men attack each other’s beliefs and remain in ignorance. When they get rid of their own sins they will become enlightened.
Superstition springs from sin. Looking through darkened eyes, men see evil things which are delusions of ignorance; conceiving in their hearts unlawful things, their imagination is troubled with monsters and terrors which have no existence in reality. Where there is pure insight there is no fear. Devils, demons, wrathful and jealous gods, vampires and evil spirits, and all the hideous host of the ideological monsters, have vanished from the universe along with the feverish nightmare which gave them birth. And before the rapt gaze of the purified one there spreads a universe of orderly beauty and inviolate law.
The man of insight lives in the beatific vision of the saints, not as a fleeting experience in a moment of exceptional purity, but as a constant, normal condition of mind. He has completed his long journey through self and sorrow, and is at peace. He has conquered, and is glad.
He sees all the sin, misery, and pain that are in the world more plainly and vividly than other men. But he now sees it as it is in its cause, inception, growth, and fruitage, not as it appeared to him when he was blindly involved in it, and his mind was distorted by impurities.
He watches the growth of beings, from the immature to the mature, through periods of change and pain, with tender compassion and solicitude, as the mother watches the growth of her child through the helpless period of its infancy.
He sees justice operating in all things. While men are waxing wrathful over the triumph of wrong, he knows that wrong has not triumphed, but is brought to naught. He sees the overruling Right which, though concealed from worldly eyes, remains forever unshaken. He sees the littleness, the puny weakness, the blind folly of evil as compared with the majesty, the invincible power, and the all-seeing wisdom of Good. And thus, knowing and seeing, his mind is finally fixed in that which is good. He is devoted to Truth, and his delight is in the doing of righteousness.
When insight is born in the mind, Reality stands revealed; not a metaphysical reality distinct from the universe; not a speculative reality other than the things of life, but the Reality of the universe itself, the Reality of “things-in-themselves.” Insight is triumphant over change and decay, for it perceives the abiding in change, the eternal in the transient, the immortal in the things which pass away.
And herein is the meaning of that fixed nobility of character of the saints and sages, and superlatively, of the Great Teachers of the Race—that they perceive and abide in Reality. They know life in its completion; they understand and obey the Righteous Law. Having conquered self, they have conquered all delusions; have triumphed over sin, they have triumphed over sorrow; having purified themselves, they see the Perfect Cosmos.
He who chooses the right, the pure, the good, and clings to them through all misunderstandings, insults, and defeat, reaches, at last, the place of insight, and his eyes open upon the world of truth. Then his painful discipline is ended; the lower conditions no more affect him or cause him sorrow. Purity and joy abide with him, and the universe again rejoices in the triumph of good, and hails another conqueror.
Next: 9. Man the Master