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Case Studies of Virtue

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Throughout the history of humanity, many religious or spiritual traditions have believed that only one faith (theirs) should sit on the “throne” of spiritual superiority. This can be like one person claiming themselves as humble, and declaring that they are the only one who should be able to make such a claim, out of the belief that there is only one way (their way) to achieve a state of humility. When viewed side by side, we can see the apparent nonsensicality of such discriminatory beliefs. But we can recognize how such discriminations are often born in people and groups who started out, and still likely have—to a point, wholesome aspirations, which can gradually become warped, as the mind becomes corrupted—poisoned even, by the power, status, or toxic narrow-mindedness that can seep in and pollute even the most well-meant intentions.

With power, status, and influence comes increased temptations toward an inflated view of one’s own importance, often creating discrimination and separation between individuals and groups of people. To say that this only happens in religious or spiritual traditions is a gross understatement, but we are using spirituality as the example here because throughout history in all parts of our world, those offering the kinds of truths that only spirituality provides, have seen extreme highs and lows to how these “burdens of truth” are able to be held by the institutions and people doing the offerings.

Jesus Christ, and the Buddha before him, are two of the infrequent individuals, or “extreme highs,” who saw beyond the hooks that always reside in the baits of such power and influence, as they offered people genuine, selfless ways to be happy and at peace with themselves and all others in the here and now. Keywords and phrases—"selfless,” “all others,” and “here and now.” Jesus Christ did the ultimate selfless act by sacrificing his life for all others, even, and especially, those who felt it necessary to bring about his death. Despite all the fame and power that his truth-telling on how to be at peace in the here and now afforded him, the Buddha lived the entirety of his life in utmost simplicity, as but a simple monk till the day he passed as an elderly man.

The Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, to name another "top-tier extremity” in the realm of spiritual leaders, updated and offered the Buddha’s classic teachings in a way that could appeal to modern needs and times, so as to maintain resonance with modern forms of suffering. Thich Nhat Hanh also lived the entirety of his life as a simple monk, while truly living up to his ultimate teacher’s example (the Buddha), as he passed away after living a long life of selflessly helping people to genuinely suffer less in the here and now.

There is nothing wrong with having ambitions in life. Ambition motivates and gives us the energy to reach great heights. But we owe it to ourselves and our world to cultivate and maintain an ability to be mindful and look deeply into the impact of our lives to an equal measure of whatever power and influence we may achieve while our ambitions become reality. Luckily, there are many more examples than just the three remarkable figures briefly discussed here. We can use some of that mindful energy we have left over and apply it to our investigations into these incredible case studies of virtue. The insights we attain from our practice of looking into such depths can keep us grounded, while we continue to shoot for the stars.


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