On the Spiritual Virtues
by Fr. D.R.C.
According to some schools of the Rosicrucian tradition, there are ten spiritual virtues along the mystic path. Each of these virtues corresponds to one of the sephirot of the Qabalistic Tree of Life. They are associated as follows:
- Malkut - Discrimination
- Yesod - Independence
- Hod - Truthfulness
- Netzah - Unselfishness
- Tipharet - Devotion to the Great Work
- Geburah - Courage
- ‘Hesed - Obedience
- Binah - Silence
- ‘Hockmah - Devotion
- Kether - Attainment
The virtues have received so much attention, especially in older works and those of a more conventionally religious nature, that one might conclude that the cultivation of virtues is the essential process or goal of all spiritual endeavours. While such work may be prescribed by one’s tradition, and might be an admirable pursuit under any circumstances, it should also be understood that the practicing of virtues does not itself ensure progress along the mystical path. In fact, an overemphasis on this aspect of spiritual development can become an “act-as-if” basis for the illusion or delusion of spiritual progress.
Getting more directly to the point, let us acknowledge that there is a very important difference between virtues grafted onto the surface of one’s personality and virtues that flow outward from the genuine understandings and heart-felt convictions associated with the stages of spiritual development. In the first situation, virtuous behaviour is most likely a façade erected to gratify one’s desires for the esteem and approval of others, to accomplish appeasement of the parental self-criticisms emanating from one’s own superego, and even to appeal to the mercy of an anthropomorphized deity. Even when such a pretence is rationalized by claiming that it eliminates bad karma or generates good karma, we still see the underlying motives of defence or aggrandizement for the personality.
One might protest that such behaviour is better than no virtue at all, and that is indeed true much of the time. However, there is always serious psychological and spiritual risk involved in virtuous behaviour that is forced and accompanied by refusal to acknowledge the truth of one’s secret fears, desires and motivations. At the very least it produces yet another layer of illusion and separation between one’s personality and soul. More commonly it can lead to the shame, guilt, anxiety and depression that naturally accompany the living of a lie, and frequently even leads to neurotic or psychotic collapse. In the very worst cases, the twisted psyche finds that it can justify all sorts of malevolent desires and actions in the name of morality, and it is thus that humanity has self-righteously embraced slavery, religious wars, torturous inquisitions and genocidal holocausts, not to mention the more common abuses that individuals and governments impose upon those who may be easily victimized.
It is not the author’s intention to claim that it is unwise to act with virtue despite social pressures and even one’s own desires to be less than virtuous. Rather, when such circumstances arise it is imperative to fully acknowledge and accept both the inner and outer challenges. The natural benefits of such a discipline include greater psychological and spiritual integrity. By following this course, great opportunities arise for discovering and working out one’s inner conflicts and insecurities. Furthermore, one does not have to work very hard at maintaining but a single virtue before it is discovered that society has very little interest in one’s success. Indeed, in its own interests society encourages each and every person to compromise his or her virtues on a routine basis. Squarely facing both of these challenges, the internal and the social, very nearly mandates that one seeks out the support that can only come from the spirit. If that support is not there one may realize the hollowness of one’s pretence, and thereby be released from the compulsion to behave in a manner that has been revealed as meaningless or misdirected.
It is truly admirable to follow a genuine soul-searching discipline of virtuous behaviour. In some traditions this practice is regarded as the highest form of morality. Even so, in the author’s understanding of the Rosicrucian tradition, essentially a Christian tradition, we are taught that good works alone are tragically inadequate for optimal spiritual progress. According to our tradition, the best of virtuous behaviour is a natural expression of wisdom, compassion and strength arising from an awakening to the Christ-consciousness within one’s heart. In other words, we are instructed to seek spiritual progress from the inside out, not from the outside in. When this occurs, there is no need for pretence, one behaves in a truly virtuous manner regardless of the situation or consequences, and does so simply because it has become as natural as breathing or sleeping. It is also unfortunately true that the virtuous motives of one’s behaviour may never be apparent to anyone else, and indeed may be misunderstood as foolish, misguided, or even evil.
Obviously, in this context the true master of virtue is almost certainly destined to become a martyr, but not because his or her death will offer others salvation from sin. Instead, society will force martyrdom upon the master of virtue simply because it has become impossible for him or her to betray that virtue. For the master of virtue such a betrayal would be an absurdity equivalent to a denial of existence itself. Society simply cannot accept such an unbending embodiment of virtue, for it naturally throws a beam of light upon the weakest and most corrupt aspects of society, and threatens to reveal the illusions that are the foundation stones of worldly power. Any salvation offered by the martyred master of virtue is therefore found only by those who have eyes to see the revelation, ears to hear the message.
Let us be thankful that not all of us are called to be masters of virtue. It is important that we accept ourselves as striving and less than perfect in virtue, and to realise that there are times for most of us when compromise may indeed be the wisest and most virtuous decision. Naturally, such decisions require an acute faculty of discernment, and this is undoubtedly one of the reasons that discrimination is traditionally considered the first virtue on the mystical path.