Values are moral and ethical codes of conduct that are regarded as good and right by all people. The three core values of a spiritual seeker striving to evolve are truthfulness, non-injury, and self-control. They are the cornerstones of spiritual living.
Truthfulness—the first of the three values of a spiritual seeker
The first value is truthfulness. Truth is to be cultivated in the intellect as it is here that we hold our ideals and goals in life.
When we stay true to our ideals and act on them through difficulties, delays, obstacles, or criticism, we practice truthfulness.
Your personal ideal may be something big, such as raising public awareness of the need for educational programs to prevent childhood poverty. Or your ideals may be simpler and smaller, such as respecting and assisting your elderly parents, or to never miss your daily meditation practice.
Staying true to our ideals in life despite the challenges that arise requires courage of conviction, determination, and integrity. It’s not easy, and we often compromise on our ideals. We adhere to them in the beginning and then slowly become less vigilant and start to make compromises.
For instance, Tina decides to do thirty minutes of yoga every day after work. Things are going well for a couple of weeks, until one day, she gets a little lazy and decides to skip her yoga practice. She tells herself, “It’s okay, missing a day will not hurt.” An inner voice softly reminds her that she has gone against her resolve. She brushes it off and tells herself that she’ll get back on track the following day. She picks up her iPad and goes out to her patio to watch a few online videos.
The next day, things get busy at work, and she isn’t able to leave early, so she misses another day. On the third day, her body is really feeling tight, and some yoga stretches would be a great help. She looks forward to going home and getting her exercise. But her friend calls to remind her that there’s a big basketball game that evening that she just can’t miss. So she goes over to his place and watches it instead.
By the fourth day, Tina has lost the momentum of her resolve. She tells herself, “Yoga wasn’t really for me anyway.” And she drops the practice.
When we allow our emotions and impulses to dictate our actions and compromise on our ideals, we are living in untruth.
Truth is also expressed through the words we speak. What we say and how we say it reflect who we are. Integrity of character comes when our speech and actions are in alignment with what we know to be true in our intellect.
There are times when we say things that we don’t mean or make promises that we don’t have any intention of keeping or can’t fulfill. Sometimes, we mean it when we say it, then change our minds after realizing that it is too difficult or troublesome to fulfill. Or we forget that we said it in the first place. A person who fulfills his promises is admired, respected, and trusted.
When we lie, we know what we did isn’t right, and this causes inner agitations or fear of being found out. This in turn gives rise to more agitations, more lies, and a disintegrated personality. Over time, these erode our self-esteem and courage to face other challenges in life.
To grow in inner strength and integrity, learning what, when, and how to speak is a skill to be cultivated. Right speech benefits both the speaker and the listener.
The ancient writings of the Bhagavad Gita give us three guidelines for expressing the truth through our speech:
- Speak the truth.
- Speak in a kind or pleasing manner.
- Speak for the good of others.
There are times however, when telling the truth can cause more harm than good. Read What is nobler than the truth? for a story that illustrates this point.
Non-injury or Ahimsa
Non-injury is not causing harm or hurt through one’s bodily actions, words, or thoughts.
It is the second of the three values of a spiritual seeker. It is also often referred to as non-violence or ahimsa in Sanskrit.
When someone or something stands in the way of our desires or expectations, we often retaliate in hurtful ways. Unexpressed negative thoughts, unkind words, and angry emotional reactions that are expressed physically, or even irritation and annoyance are all expressions of ahimsa.
When we harm others, it backfires on us because we are sowing bad karmic seeds, which we will have to reap and suffer for in the future.
A person living ahimsa makes every effort to maintain a caring, benevolent attitude toward others even in the smallest of things. For instance, we may not say anything in anger but if we give someone an angry look, even that can hurt.
There are times however, when practicing ahimsa means doing an action that causes injury to someone. But this would only be to benefit the other person. For example, a surgeon’s job requires that he cut open a patient’s abdomen to remove a ruptured appendix.
Ahimsa is to be practiced not only with other people but with all living things. Is this realistic? Is it possible to live without physically harming another living being? The fact is, every creature feeds on another life form to survive, and humans are no exception.
Animals’ diets, however, are preprogrammed by nature. They don’t have the free will to choose what to eat—they only need to find their food. Humans, on the other hand, have the intelligence and free will to choose what to eat and to eat what causes the least harm.=
A discussion on practicing ahimsa to help promote spiritual growth would be incomplete without bringing up vegetarianism. J.P. Vaswani, a modern-day saint fondly addressed as “Dada” by his followers, tells us that animals are our younger brothers and sisters. He reminds us that they breathe the same air we do. Like us, they too don’t want to die. We know this is true because if they are chased, they run. And when they are caught, they struggle and cry.
While it’s obvious that we also injure or kill plants when we eat them, since their intelligence isn’t as evolved as in animals, they don’t perceive a threat to their lives. Therefore, they don’t resist or struggle when we cut them. What’s more, many plants and trees don’t have to give up their lives when we take their fruit and leaves. These parts can regrow. So, eating plants does not do as much harm as eating meat and seafood.
Here’s another reason to consider a vegetarian, or even better, a vegan diet. I say a vegan (plant-based) diet because for those of us living in cities, most of our eggs and milk come from factory-farms which subject the chickens and cows to extremely cruel conditions and treatment. Eggs are products of pain, as Dada Vaswani has said. Milk is also produced through the pain and suffering of cows and their calves.
The food that we eat consists of tangible and subtle aspects. The tangible aspect is the bulky, physical aspect of food that fills our bellies, nourishes the cells, and builds the body.
The subtler aspect of food is made up of its energetic vibrations. These contribute to constructing our mental makeup. The vibrations of fear and pain of animals being tortured or slaughtered remain in their flesh. We take in these negative vibrations when we eat them. They affect how we think and feel. On the other hand, plants have high, positive vibrations. They give us energy, strength, and peace when we eat them.
Practicing ahimsa as a spiritual discipline helps us develop a sensitivity to the needs, feelings, and rights of other living beings who have a common existence with us. Read How to practice ahimsa in your daily life.
The third of the three values of a spiritual seeker is physical self-control. Spiritual masters advise us to intelligently enforce some self-restraint when it comes to satisfying our senses.
What’s wrong with indulging in your favorite things, especially if they are harmless little things like ice cream, chocolate, coffee, watching TV, or playing computer games? Well, it depends on your perspective. From a worldly standpoint, they are perfectly okay. There’s no denying that these things are pleasant.
The spiritual masters of Vedanta, however, caution us against excessive indulgence. “A life of seeking sense gratification must dissipate all the vital energies and make the individual weak in body and disturbed in mind.”
We can enjoy everyday, simple pleasures while being careful to not allow ourselves to become dependent on them. Dependency will make us slaves to our senses.
The masters tell us, Enjoy the world, but let not the world enjoy you. Eat food, but let not the food eat you. Drink, but let not the drink drink you.
Moderation is the key.
Cutting back on unnecessary indulgences can be easier if you take some time to think over whether you want temporary joy or long-term happiness.
If long-term happiness is your goal, then you will realize that indulging in pleasurable things doesn’t give you what you’re looking for. The joy you gain from indulging in things is short-lived and lasts only as long as your senses and mind are in contact with the objects of your pleasure. Once they are no longer available, your joy diminishes very quickly.
It’s also beneficial to reflect on the fact that things savored in moderation allow us to enjoy them better. Habitual over-indulgence creates a desensitizing ennui that slowly robs us of the ability to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.
While trying to be careful to enjoy things in moderation, it’s also important to not completely deny ourselves the pleasures of the senses. Forceful denial is suppression, and this is never healthy.
Suppression is like putting a tight lid on a vigorously boiling pot of water. The pressure of holding down the steam can cause messy over-spills and sometimes, dangerous burns.
Similarly, suppression of desires withholds their outer expression, while the mind continues to brood over the sense pleasures within. When suppression is continued over time, it leads to a “sense of bitterness, frustration and cynicism.”
A seeker on the path must strive to maintain a positively healthy, cheerful mind. And so, self-control is to be thoughtfully practiced and it doesn’t mean total self-denial.
The time freed up from our preoccupation with looking for things to enjoy can be channeled into pursuing higher goals in life. No significant achievement in life, material or spiritual, is possible without the ability to practice some self-control.
Blossom beautifully with these three values of a spiritual seeker
Living truthfulness, non-injury and self-control will help your whole personality blossom naturally and beautifully. They are foundations of a spiritual life. The path to your evolution becomes clear when you practice these three values of a spiritual seeker.
- Chinmayananda, Swami. The Holy Geeta: Commentary. Mumbai: Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, 1996.
- Chinmayananda, Swami. Self-Unfoldment. Piercy, CA: Chinmaya Mission West and Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, 2007.
- Dayananda, Swami. The Value of Values. Saylorsburg, PA, U.S.A.: Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, 1993.
- Vaswani, J.P. The New Age Diet, Vegetarianism for You and Me, Pune, India: Gita Publishing House, 2012.
- Vimalananda, Swamini. Tat Twam Asi, Notes on Chandogya Upanishad Chapter Six, Mumbai, India: Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, 2000.
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