Chapter Eleven: Attributes of the Enlightened
We need to be the change we wish to see in the world.
-Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
The previous chapters have explained the common teachings about the Divine Spark and the mental method for harnessing this omnipresent potential. We shall now discover what the holy texts say about the outward characteristics of those who can utilize their inner perfect nature and live an enlightened life. There are three essential characteristics of the sincerely spiritual. Every tradition teaches that the enlightened amongst humanity are fearless, self-controlled, and compassionate. The three crucial hallmarks of ultimate wisdom are found in all six texts, providing yet another verification of their common source and purpose.
Verses eight and nine of first chapter of the Dhammapada provide the foundational framework for examining the external attributes of the genuine seekers on the path to the Divine:
Just as a storm throws down a weak tree, so does Maya [illusion] overpower the person who lives for the pursuit of pleasures, who is uncontrolled in one's senses, immoderate in eating, indolent and dissipated.
Just as a storm cannot throw down a rocky mountain, so Maya can never overpower the person who lives meditating on the impurities, who is controlled in one's senses, moderate in eating, and filled with faith and earnest effort.
Self-control and correct action are the necessary deeds of a genuinely sensible individual. The Buddha teaches us that these sages have nothing to fear from the storms of this world, because they are aware of the perfection within themselves. Such a person will not be overcome by the transient illusions of the physical realm. Instead, he or she will rely upon the knowledge of the Eternal within. The wise control themselves, and always act with knowledge and compassion.
Chapter sixteen, verses four and five of the Dhammapada further describe the fearlessness of those who renounce desire and enter Nirvana:
From lust springs grief, from lust springs fear. For those who are wholly free from lust there is no grief, whence then fear.
From craving springs grief, from craving springs fear. For those who are wholly free from craving there is no grief, whence then fear? People hold dear one who embodies virtue and insight, who is principled, has realized the Truth, and who oneself does what one ought to be doing.
Grief, fear, and indeed all suffering, are rooted in material greed. Those who have embraced their Buddha Nature, the inner immutable Divine Spark, leave such imperfections behind. Their illumination is made manifest not only by their knowledge of the Ultimate Truth, but also through the performance of good deeds. Thus true faith and correct action are one and the same. In the state of liberation, fear and material desire become entirely unnecessary. The most diligent followers of the Buddha, like the genuine disciples of all paths to the Divine, are unceasingly compassionate, self-controlled, and fearless.
Confucius' descriptions of those who embrace virtue closely mirror the words of the Buddha and the other founders of spiritual traditions. Verse seven of the first chapter of the Analects of Confucius offers a description of those who manifest their Divine potentials:
If a man withdraws his mind from the love of beauty, and applies it as sincerely to the love of the virtuous; if, in serving his parents, he can exert his utmost strength; if, in serving his prince, he can devote his life; if, in his intercourse with his friends, his words are sincere:-although men say that he has not learned, I will certainly say that he has.
Confucius tells us that setting one's mind upon "the virtuous" is superior to musing over "the love of beauty", just as the Buddha taught that "meditating on the impurities" is worthier than obsession with Maya. The truly knowledgeable act with sincerity in service to others and are self-controlled. Virtue must be manifested in compassionate deeds, not self-important trivialities, and beneficence must be practiced indiscriminately. All people who come into contact with the individuals who tread the Way of Heaven will be treated with love and respect. An upright person should even be willing to sacrifice his or her bodily life in service to others. Compassion, self-control, and fearlessness are the indispensible merits extolled by each all spiritual teachings.
The enlightened always consider what is right, rather than their own material self-interest. As Confucius states in verse sixteen of the fourth chapter of the Analects:
The mind of the superior man is conversant with righteousness; the mind of the mean man is conversant with gain.
Those who seek only superficial advantage and comfort fail to utilize the opportunities presented by human life. On the other hand, those who seek the Eternal Virtue continuously embrace perfect morality. They recognize the Timeless in all creatures by acting in accordance with what is fundamentally right. The enlightened set their minds upon the good, rather than wasting their lives in an ultimately unsatisfactory pursuit of the pleasant. Essentially, they seek to control themselves.
Fearlessness, along with self-control and compassion, is an essential characteristic of spiritual seekers found in all religious teachings. Chapter twelve, verse four of the Analects emphasizes the absence of fear as an essential characteristic of the fully virtuous:
Sze-mâ Niû asked about the superior man. The Master said, 'The superior man has neither anxiety nor fear.'
'Being without anxiety or fear!' said Niû;– 'does this constitute what we call the superior man?'
The Master said, 'When internal examination discovers nothing wrong, what is there to be anxious about, what is there to fear?'
The inescapable laws of the Divine ensure that those who act correctly will ultimately prevail in this realm or the next. For one who completely trusts in the hidden realities of Divine Justice, and who acts in accordance with such trust, there truly is nothing to fear. Notice the emphasis placed in the above verses on "internal examination." We all, by virtue of our possession of the Divine Spark, have the knowledge of right and wrong. When people listen to their sense of right and wrong, and act in selfless devotion to others, they can rid themselves of imperfections and unease. Thus, fearlessness, compassion and self-control are the seeds, and the fruits, of ultimate knowledge.
The traits of selflessness, material restraint, and compassion are extolled in many passages of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. The language used to describe the enlightened in the other Divinely-inspired religious texts is paralleled in sura two, verse sixty-two of the Qur'an (quoted earlier in the chapter on Divine Justice):
Those who believe (in the Qur'an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
This important verse from the Qur'an reveals to humanity that all those who have faith in Divine Justice and the Ultimate Judge, regardless of the semantic specifics of a particular religion, have nothing to fear from the universe. Naturally, faith must be coupled with correct action in order to harvest the promised bounty of the All-Knowing. True compassion and unwavering fearlessness, in the light of ultimate knowledge, are one and the same. Understanding the nature of the Divine and the purpose of the material world encourage compassionate actions and please the All-Merciful.
Good deeds and fearlessness are to be coupled with detachment from material longings. An explanation of the inherent dichotomy between good deeds worked in faith, and attempts to bring about personal satisfaction through material means, is found in verses twenty-six through twenty-eight of sura thirty-eight:
O David! We did indeed make thee a vicegerent on earth: so judge thou between men in truth: Nor follow thou the lusts, for they will mislead thee from the Path of Allah: for those who wander astray from the Path of Allah, is a Penalty Grievous, for that they forget the Day of Account.
Not without purpose did We create heaven and earth and all between! that were the thought of Unbelievers! but woe to the Unbelievers because of the Fire!
Shall We treat those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, the same as those who do mischief on earth? Shall We treat those who guard against evil, the same as those who turn aside from the right?
King David of the Israelites was instructed to exercise his authority impartially, and to not heed the lusts that lead away from the journey to the Eternal. The above passage reiterates the true significance of this transient realm as a test for individual souls. Materialism is always ultimately unsatisfactory. If we allow our base desires to flourish, and forget the reality of their impermanence, then our cravings will become insatiable. Enlightened human beings are those who remember the inevitability of Divine Justice and in their dealing with others live in a way that demonstrates such remembrance. Enlightened human beings live in constant awareness that this world is a trial. Those who master themselves and act benevolently have nothing to fear.
Last, we come to the universal command for impartial kindness. Verses thirty-three and thirty four of Sura forty one describe the indiscriminate compassion of those who condition themselves to seek the Divine within all people:
Who is better in speech than one who calls to Allah, works righteousness, and says, 'I am of those who bow in Islam'?
Nor can goodness and Evil be equal. Repel (Evil) with what is better: Then will he between whom and thee was hatred become as it were thy friend and intimate!
Recall once more that "Islam", in Arabic, literally means "submission." The Divine Message invites us to let go of our worries and fears about this transient realm, and attune our thoughts and actions to the will of the Deathless. A vital sign of this self-surrender is for one to always acknowledge the Divine Spark within all others - even those who act immorally. Wrong action can be defeated with right action, violence conquered with peacefulness, hate overcome with love, and ignorance dispelled with truthfulness. By ceaselessly appealing to the Higher Nature within and enemy, such an individual may overcome their antipathy and become a confidant and companion. The Qur'an, just like in the foundational scriptures of all religions, describes the mutually-dependent traits of enlightened fearlessness, self-control, and compassionate action as the necessary attributes of a holy life.
The central importance of universal beneficence, fearlessness and anti-materialism are found throughout the New Testament. A Biblical reference to the limitless compassion of one who seeks the Divine can be found in chapter thirteen of the Book of John, verses thirty-four and thirty-five:
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
Jesus instructs humanity to emulate the Ultimate Divine through an all-embracing sympathy and love. This love is a testament to one's perception of the omnipresent Divine Spark, and must be manifested in selfless acts that refute personal bias or worldly aims. As for the fearless nature of those who posses true wisdom and live a holy life, Jesus tells his followers in verse four, chapter twelve of the Book of Luke:
Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.
Such fearlessness of corporeal force rests upon a constant awareness of the Divinely-ordained realities of Ultimate Justice. Jesus' life provides a powerful testament to such awareness. To be condemned to death by earthly authorities on account of his teachings show Jesus' faith in a Power beyond and above the mighty Roman Empire. Those recognize true nature of the temporary and the eternal, and act in accordance with such awareness, have nothing to fear from this world.
The superiority of living a life that acknowledges the Divine Spark within each individual over a life spent in selfish materialism is further explained in chapter eight, verses thirty-four through thirty-eight of the Gospel of Mark:
And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it.
For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
Jesus preaches the unambiguous message of all the holy messengers; one should be more concerned about the welfare of his or her soul than a world full of pleasures and riches. Indeed, as all religions teach, the Essence within us is eternal, whereas the entire material universe will someday cease to be. The impartial way of universal love and service is the route we must travel in order to fulfill our Divine potential. This path will often be painful and difficult, but the rewards of faith and compassion will be beyond measure. The select among humanity, who live a life of service to the Divine through compassion to other human beings have no occasion for greed or fear.
The attributes of fearlessness, selfless compassion, and the rejection of worldly excess possessed by those who live a holy life are present throughout the verses of the Bhagavad Gita. Many passages in the sacred dialogue describe the characteristics of those who genuinely work to better themselves and attain union with Brahman. In verse twenty-five of chapter three of the Gita, Krishna informs Arjuna:
As the ignorant perform their duties with attachment to results, the learned may similarly act, but without attachment, for the sake of leading people on the right path.
Once free from attachment to material rewards, humans can perform their duties in a completely calm and selfless manner. The truly enlightened will work for the spiritual betterment of all humanity. This verse invites the wise to lead by example the path to union with the Ultimate Divine. Benevolent action is unbreakably intertwined with the knowledge and self-control earned through seeking and worshiping the Supreme Being.
One who seeks the path to liberation must act compassionately to all people. Chapter five, verse eighteen of the Gita reads:
The humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana [the scholar and priest caste of traditional Hindu society], a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater.
Social prejudice must be overcome in order to fully harness one's Divine Potential. Earthly ranks, honors, and class distinctions are meaningless when compared to the universal realities that bind us together. Even an individual’s personal emotional biases can dampen the recognition and manifestation of the perfect Spirit within us. The admonition to embrace complete impartiality is further discussed in chapter six, verse nine of the Gita:
A person is considered still further advanced when he regards honest well-wishers, affectionate benefactors, the neutral, mediators, the envious, friends and enemies, the pious and the sinners all with an equal mind.
Equanimity and selfless service are the traits of those who live a spiritual life. True kindness makes no distinction between friend and foe, because Brahman, the Ultimate Divine, is within us all. This fundamental teaching is found throughout all holy books of humanity.
Anti-materialism is the final universal commandment for a holy life. Krishna informs Arjuna of this attribute of the truly enlightened in verses twenty-two through twenty-seven of the fourteenth chapter of the holy dialogue:
O son of Pandu, he who does not hate illumination, attachment and delusion when they are present or long for them when they disappear; who is unwavering and undisturbed through all these reactions of the material qualities, remaining neutral and transcendental, knowing that the modes alone are active; who is situated in the self and regards alike happiness and distress; who looks upon a lump of earth, a stone and a piece of gold with an equal eye; who is equal toward the desirable and the undesirable; who is steady, situated equally well in praise and blame, honor and dishonor; who treats alike both friend and enemy; and who has renounced all material activities -- such a person is said to have transcended the modes of nature.
One who engages in full devotional service, unfailing in all circumstances, at once transcends the modes of material nature and thus comes to the level of Brahman.
And I am the basis of the impersonal Brahman, which is immortal, imperishable and eternal and is the constitutional position of ultimate happiness.
An individual seeking to emulate the Divine within is detached from and not swayed by various material circumstances. Such detachment should not be misinterpreted as apathy. In the spiritual mindset, worldly pleasures and pains are simply recognized as temporary, and thus inconsequential. Individuals must be passionate in their quest to serve and worship the Divine through service to others. Complete and eternal joy is promised to those engaged in true devotional service to the Divine present in all beings. Because this temporary world of illusion is impermanent, one who has full knowledge must be calm and self-possessed throughout its inherent trials. The imperfections intrinsic to this material realm can and will be consumed by the perfection of true knowledge. Ultimate happiness is available to all beings who embrace the timeless pursuit of true knowledge, and act with the universal compassion that such knowledge commands. The wholly enlightened are impartially beneficent to all creatures, unattached to material temptations, and free of sorrow and fear.
The common teachings of the Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, Muhammad, and Krishna on the attributes of the truly pious are also found in the venerable teachings of Lao Tzu. Section sixty-seven of the Tao te Ching further corroborates the common message of the outward features of the inwardly peaceful:
The whole world says that my way is vast and resembles nothing.
It is because it is vast that it resembles nothing.
If it resembled anything, it would, long before now, have become small.
I have three treasures
Which I hold and cherish.
The first is known as compassion,
The second is known as frugality,
The third is known as not daring to take the lead in the empire;
Being compassionate one could afford to be courageous,
Being frugal one could afford to extend one's territory,
Not daring to take the lead in the empire one could afford to be lord over the vessels.
Now, to forsake compassion for courage, to forsake frugality for expansion, to forsake the rear for the lead, is sure to end in death.
Through compassion, one will triumph in attack and be impregnable in defence.
What heaven succours it protects with the gift of compassion.
“The world" misunderstands the teachings of Lao Tzu. This misconception is based on the ignorance of materialism. Conversely, the sage manifests spiritual wisdom through altruism, frugality and placing others above oneself. Those who know the true value of acting considerately and carefully can be fearless, and those who do not dwell on material goods can wisely utilize their means. By abasing ourselves we can serve others wholeheartedly. Of the three aspects, “compassion" is the most important. The victory of compassion is ensured by the nature of all that is. The compassionate and self-controlled never have an occasion for fear. Even tremendous violence cannot overcome benevolent virtue, for gentleness is victorious even in the face of violence. Heaven will for all eternity protect those who fully embrace gentleness. Transient illusions, no matter how powerful, are impotent when arrayed against the Eternal Tao. The truly wise and holy are forever compassionate, and are never frightened by the violence and trials found in this realm.
Section seven of the Tao te Ching offers a further explanation of the attributes of the enlightened that fully confirms the teachings of other holy texts:
Heaven and earth are enduring.
The reason why heaven and earth can be enduring is that they do not give themselves life.
Hence they are able to be long-lived.
Therefore the sage puts his person last and it comes first,
Treats it as extraneous to himself and it is preserved.
Is it not because he is without thought of self that he is able to accomplish his private ends?
Those who live in full awareness of the Divine realities seek to conform their own existence to eternal ideals. In other words, it is best to emulate Heaven, and live beneficently without concern for personal gain. Moral virtue and Heaven itself are eternal, whereas material lusts are but a passing phenomenon. The enlightened, realizing this essential truth, and trusting in the Will of Heaven, act throughout their lives with unceasing compassion. The similarities between the teachings of Lao Tzu and the words of the other divine messengers quoted in this chapter are telling. By putting oneself last, an individual trusting in Divine Justice shall be first. Thus the wise and the compassionate never have an occasion for greed, envy or fear.
Fearlessness, ceaseless compassion, and freedom from material desire are the universal attributes of the wholly enlightened. One can find the same descriptions in the Gospels, the Tao Te Ching, the Analects, the Dhammapada, the Qur'an, and the Bhagavad Gita. Thus all six texts extol common virtues that direct their adherents to a common goal. The holy scriptures' unity of thought, purpose and Source, should be readily evident to the unprejudiced. Furthermore, these traits of the enlightened are desirable antidotes to the present ills of the human condition. Altruistic individuals shall work for the betterment of all mankind. People who are self-controlled and overcome their insatiable lusts can lead lives conducive to the preservation of our natural environment. The fearless will always act in accordance with their principles, even if living in agreement with the higher morality entails suffering, persecution, or material loss. When these three inter-related traits are encouraged in all human individuals societies, we shall bequest a much-improved world to our children and grandchildren.