Meditation on Virtues

Exercise 17.
The way to meditate on a virtue is simple. First of all make concrete pictures of the virtue in action. For each virtue make a number of pictures; compare them and try to find what is the essential of the virtue and what is the feeling of the virtue in action. Do not be satisfied with mere pictures, as though they were being played before you on a stage. Step up on to the stage and merge yourself in the action, thinking and feeling at the same time. Thirdly, go beyond this and find yourself to be the internal spectator of the virtue, in which condition you witness it as in the “you”, not in the “I”, of yourself. Fourthly, return to your meditation on the virtue as such, but seeing how it would apply in many different circumstances, and in each case putting yourself into the scene and action.

Should one practice meditation for the removal of faults? It is not good to meditate on faults. Faults are to die, not to be killed. They arise from unbalance of virtues. If you must dwell on your faults, observe that they arise from the lack of some virtue, and meditate upon that. Our ideal life is active, loving and thoughtful — all three together — and the corresponding faults are laziness, selfishness and thoughtlessness. When something goes wrong, find out which of these faults has spoiled the work of the other two virtues, and then meditate upon its opposite virtue; all faults are due to deficiencies. There is no evil in any man.

In writing on meditation on virtues I wish to safeguard the student on the point. It is not our aim to form a habit of thinking about ourselves as virtuous, but to establish the virtues in our minds and hearts so as to forget them when they have sunk into the subconscious, and become spontaneous or reflex. It is quite analogous to that attention to the body which gives it, through suitable exercises, balanced musculature and good ways of breathing, eating, sleeping, talking, standing, sitting and walking. In both body and mind these functions (habits of the body, and virtues of the mind) are intended to permit the work of life to go on well. This is the real meditation — that work-meditation which makes us receive and attend to the world in a proper spirit and manner and carry on our own work with the skill and perfection that a good body and mind must inevitably achieve.

Do we not all value this kind of life and work, which automatically and unconsciously presents and produces harmony and beauty, and do we not instinctively avoid and dislike (I) livelihoods which are characterized by cunning planning to obtain the fruit of others’ work, and (2) living to be good, which is merely self-gratulation and is not true living? If we find these two faults in our lives, let us with all speed flee them by full attention to the work of living, which lies in the true meeting of what is without and what is within, wherein both the world and the man are spontaneously improved. Virtues are really attained only when they have gone into the subconscious.