What people don’t understand about being virtuous

A holy man was sitting beneath a tree next to the crossing of two roads. Whilst deep in prayer, he heard someone running towards him. A young man approached him. His breath came in small spurts, hot and nervous. He wiped the sweat from his forehead, exhausted.

“Help me,” the young man said, “They have falsely accused me of stealing. There are people after me who want to chop off my hands.”

He kept glancing towards where he’d come from. The young man then climbed the tree and asked the priest not to tell on him in case the mob asked.

Through divine revelation, the priest saw that the young man was telling the truth. 

A few moments later, a crowd of angry villagers approached, baying for blood. They stopped by where the priest was seated and asked whether he had seen the young man pass by.

Many years earlier, during his initiation into the priesthood, the priest had sworn to always tell the truth. While he didn’t want to betray the young man, it conflicted with his vow to tell nothing but the truth. He then pointed up toward where the young man was hiding. The mob dragged the young man from the tree and chopped off his hands.

When the holy man died and stood before judgment, he was rebuked for what he did.

“But I always spoke the truth! It was my duty to act as I did.” He pleaded.

In his eyes, he had done the right thing. Yet, to preserve a virtuous image of himself, he had delivered an innocent person to his persecutors.

Sometimes, in our limited human wisdom, our concept of virtue can become a compelling force of evil. This false righteousness is driven by an attempt to gain praise, or show “how virtuous we are”, so that we may feel superior to others.

When Galileo proved the world was not flat, the “virtuous” members of the church condemned him by burning his books and imprisoning him for most of his remaining life.

So how can we be sure that our concept of virtue has not become a compelling force of hypocrisy and hatred?

Contrary to what people think, virtue is not something you wear outside yourself for public display. It is a delicate thing. No one can judge or measure your virtue, not even yourself. There is no competition in being virtuous. When you are truly aligned with virtue, there is no sense of arrogance, righteousness or superiority. It comes straight from the heart.

The Priest and The Prostitute

A priest lived across the street from a prostitute. Every day while leaving for prayer, the priest would see men enter and leave the prostitute’s house. He would ponder over the shameful acts done in the prostitute’s room. His heart would be filled with disapproval over the woman’s immorality.

The prostitute, on the other hand, would observe the priest in his spiritual practices. She thought of how pure he was and how beautiful it must have been to spend his time in prayer and meditation. But she consoled herself and vowed to ensure her daughter would not become a prostitute like her.

The priest thought he was living a pure life. But while his body was engaged in those holy actions, judgement consumed his heart and his soul ravaged by lustful imagination.

The prostitute, however, was born in a whorehouse, her circumstances were beyond her control. She’d sell her body to any man who could pay the price, but her heart was pure and forever fixed in the contemplation on the purity of the man’s prayers and meditation.

When you are truly aligned with virtue, there is no sense of arrogance, righteousness or superiority. It comes straight from the heart.

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