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Spiritual Topic for December 2023 & January 2024 - Spiritual Virtues

Updated: Mar 27


Overview

In the next series of topics we take a break from exploring the mysteries of the universe...but don’t worry, we’ll get back to those intriguing topics soon! In this month’s topic and the following two, we explore virtues and values. This month we delve into virtues and values from a spiritual perspective. In the next topic, we look at values from a personal perspective, and in the last topic, from a cultural point of view.

We believe contemplating virtues and values is a wonderful, reflective way to end the year and an inspiring way to start the new year.

These topics can help us gain a deeper understanding of ourselves as individuals and of others. They allow us to better understand our motivations as individuals and groups and how our childhood, beliefs, cultures, and values influence who we are.

Merriam-Webster defines virtue as “conformity to a standard of right: morality; a particular moral excellence.” (1)

Cambridge Dictionary defines values as “the beliefs people have, especially about what is right and wrong and what is most important in life, that control their behaviour”, (2) and a Code of Conduct as “a set of rules that members of an organisation or people with a particular job or position must follow; a set of rules about how to behave and do business with other people”. (3)

While virtues and values are often used interchangeably, there are subtle differences. Virtues are broadly held qualities that are generally considered to be good, desirable, and constitute high moral value. Even so, there are differences in ‘universal’ virtues between different religions, cultures, countries, organisations, etc.

Values, on the other hand, are principles or qualities that an individual considers to be important or desirable. Values are more subjective and depend on the beliefs of an individual. While virtues are of high morals, not all values are. For example, an individual could have a value of dishonesty or misleading others because of their belief that ‘the ends justify the means’.

Put together, the virtues and values one aligns with include moral traits, key qualities, and standards of what is right and good.

While exploring this topic, please keep in mind that there is no ‘one size fits all’ golden standard. Yet in contemplating various traits, we may find opportunities to dig deeper, revisit some of our beliefs, and experience personal growth. Because of this, we will present this series of topics using many questions for one to contemplate. *** In this first topic of the series, we cover spiritual virtues, including why it can be beneficial to look at virtues, a review of four different spiritual virtue philosophies, and meanings of the most commonly presented virtues.

Throughout history, all around the world, humanity has raised certain human traits as having spiritual qualities or values.

In the book Shankara’s Crest-Jewel of Discrimination, a classic Vedanta text that offers seekers of self-knowledge a path to realise God, one is encouraged to meditate on the meaning of truth to lead to the highest illumination and to destroy the misery of the world. This text touches upon the importance of understanding one’s truth and the necessary qualities to achieve this. “Faith, devotion, and constant union with God through prayer—these are declared by the sacred scriptures to be the seeker’s direct means of liberation. To him who abides by them comes liberation from that bondage of physical consciousness which has been forged by ignorance.” (4)

In other words, it is important to focus on one’s personal virtues, values, and truths in order to rise above physical consciousness and into higher levels of consciousness. The concept of virtues has been studied throughout time. The Japanese offer the 7 Virtues of the Bushido; Native Americans, the Seven Grandfather Teachings; Christianity offers 7 Virtues, and Hindu scriptures provide 25 Divine Traits. We selected these four to highlight in more detail below; however, note that there are many other teachings that include virtues and moral codes. Please do your own research and study/contemplate other virtue philosophies that resonate with you.

7 Virtues of the Bushido The Bushido code was developed by Inazo Nitobe, who verbalised the moral code and the beautiful, noble nature of the Samurai, which was deeply rooted in Japan. Although this code was written in 1899, it continues to be a fundamental part of today’s Japanese philosophy and culture.

The 7 Virtues of the Bushido are:

  1. GI: Righteousness; Human righteousness; Integrity

  2. YU: Valour; A spirit that will not be moved by anything

  3. JIN: Compassion and consideration for others

  4. REI: Show Courtesy through your actions

  5. MAKOTO: Sincerity, always be honest

  6. MEIYO: Honour and to improve oneself

  7. CHU: Loyalty and serving others

In the Bushido code, it is understood that these virtues are only meaningful when acted upon. In the words of Inazo Nitobe, author of the Bushido code, “Bushido is a way of valuing action over knowledge”. (5) Worldwide, many cultures recognise this perspective and have created their own similar adages such as, “Actions speak louder than words”; “Put your money where your mouth is”; “It’s not what you say, it’s what you do”; “It’s one thing saying it, it’s another thing doing it”. Here, we recognise that actions and deeds are more important than words.

Seven Grandfather Teachings Many Native American communities embrace the Seven Grandfather Teachings, which represent principles of character for one to live by. They provide moral guidance and a way to enhance one’s life while at the same time maintaining respect for and living in harmony with all of creation.

These teachings began within the Neshnabék/Anishinabek tribe, indigenous people located in the Great Lakes region of Canada and the United States. A long time ago, the Creator (God/Source) sent a messenger to the Neshnabék tribe to see how they were living their lives. The messenger found that many lived in a negative way, displaying hatred, disrespect, fear, dishonesty, pride, shame and other negative emotions. The messenger chose a child and brought him to the grandfathers. The Seven Grandfathers (divine light beings in spirit) taught the child how to live a good life through lessons of Love, Respect, Bravery, Truth, Honesty, Humility, and Wisdom. The grandfathers advised that these qualities are dependent on one another and must be used together. After they had finished their teachings, they sent the child/young man back to his tribe to share what he had learned. (6)

The Seven Grandfather Teachings (7) are:

  1. Debwewin—Truth

  2. Dabasendiziwin—Humility

  3. Manaaji’idiwin—Respect

  4. Zaagi’idiwin—Love

  5. Gwayakwaadiziwin—Honesty

  6. Zoongide’ewin—Bravery

  7. Nibwaakaawin —Wisdom

7 Christian Virtues In Christianity, 7 virtues are offered:

  1. Prudence

  2. Temperance

  3. Fortitude

  4. Justice

  5. Faith

  6. Hope

  7. Love

The first four Christian virtues have origins with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, while the last three are considered to be theological virtues. (8)

The three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love are referred to in the Bible by the apostle Paul in his letters. Although it is Thomas Aquinas who provides the most thorough and influential philosophical theory on these virtues. “According to him (Thomas), faith, hope and love are virtues because they are dispositions whose possession enables a person to act well to achieve a good thing – in this case, the ultimate good of salvation and beatitude. Without them, people would have neither the awareness of nor the will to strive for salvation.” (9)

Hindu Divine Traits The Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Hindu scripture written in 400 BC outlines Divine Traits as: Fearlessness, Purity, Steadfastness, Charity, Control of Senses, Sacrifice, Study of Scriptures, Purification, Straightforwardness/Integrity, Noninjury, Truthfulness, Absence of Anger, Renunciation, Equanimity, Not Slandering, Compassion, Not Coveting, Gentleness, Not Fickle, Vigor, Forgiveness, Fortitude, Cleanliness, No Hatred, and No Pride. These traits are communicated as cardinal virtues and tendencies that reveal the true nature of human beings and their divinity. (10)

There are many commonalities between the virtues offered above, even though they come from different cultures and traditions. Some of the common virtues include:

  • Wisdom/Prudence

  • Integrity/Honesty/Truthfulness

  • Bravery/Valour/Courage/Fearlessness

  • Strength/Fortitude

  • Compassion/Respect

  • Love

In the next section, we look at the meaning of these commonly held virtues. Reviewing these, we found similarities, fluidity, and some overlap among the different categories. This is why most ancient, sacred teachings indicate that virtues are most beneficial when practiced together.

Wisdom/Prudence Wisdom is often thought of as knowledge and intelligence, but it’s much more than that. Wisdom entails applying knowledge, knowing when to act, and knowing how to apply one’s intelligence for the best effect.

Dictionary.com defines prudence as “the quality or fact of being prudent, or wise in practical affairs, as by providing for the future.” (11) We combined prudence with wisdom because sources indicate early philosophers influenced the first four Christian virtues, which include prudence. In this context, prudence is considered to be ‘practical wisdom’. Based on this, below are several ancient philosophers’ quotes about wisdom.

Perfect wisdom has four parts: Wisdom, the principle of doing things aright. Justice, the principle of doing things equally in public and private. Fortitude, the principle of not fleeing danger, but meeting it. Temperance, the principle of subduing desires and living moderately.”— Plato

I am wiser than this man; it is likely that neither of us knows anything worthwhile, but he thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas when I do not know, neither do I think I know; so I am likely to be wiser than he to this small extent, that I do not think I know what I do not know.”—Socrates

These are the signs of a wise man: to reprove nobody, to praise nobody, to blame nobody, nor even to speak of himself or his own merits.”—Epictetus

The Seven Grandfather Teachings share that wisdom is a gift from the Creator, and it is to be used for the good of all. Wisdom includes using one’s discernment and considering how one’s actions will affect Mother Earth and future generations.

How can you consider future generations, all of humanity, and Mother Earth when using your discernment and wisdom?

Integrity/Honesty/Truthfulness Integrity is about being honest and truthful. It’s standing in one’s truth and choosing to live in accordance with one’s principles and moral standards, even when it’s not popular or accepted by others. A person with high integrity “walks the talk”; it’s not just about saying the right words, it’s also taking right action. A person acting with integrity consistently displays good character and, therefore, is not swayed by peer pressure, group thinking, bribes, or involved in corruption.

Author C.S. Lewis aptly defined integrity as “Doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.”

Part of the Bushido code is to live an honest life, even when facing fear or failure. One does not have to be perfect to maintain integrity. We are human beings, and we all make mistakes. Those with high levels of integrity own up to their mistakes and have a sincere desire to apologise, learn, and make things right.

Challenging times are often the greatest test of a person’s integrity. Do you believe there are situations when it is okay to compromise your integrity (honesty/truthfulness)? Under what circumstances and why?


Bravery/Valour/Courage/Fearlessness Bravery is an important virtue taught in the Japanese and many other cultures and expressed through martial arts, such as Kendo. The concept of ‘Zanshin’ means not letting your guard down until the very end, not becoming complacent, and remaining mindful even when facing death. These are all components of valour. The Bushido Virtues indicate valour is “the spirit of not being moved by anything.” It is following one’s virtues with courage. (12)

Bravery or valour can be thought of as having the courage and mental, moral, and spiritual strength to face challenges. Acts of bravery, valour, courage, and fearlessness can be big or small.

It takes bravery for a military man or woman to step into battle or go into a dangerous situation to save a life. It also takes bravery for a child to walk into the classroom for his or her first day of school. It takes bravery and moral courage to stand in one’s truth instead of following the crowds and buckling under peer pressure.

The Bushido Virtues call valour “the spirit of not being moved by anything.” What do you think this means? Can you think of times when you have applied this concept in your life? How does this differ from stubbornness?

Strength/Fortitude Strength can be thought of in terms of physical, emotional, mental, and/or spiritual strength.

Fortitude is strength along with the added component of courage, as in one having the strength and courage to endure something over a long period of time or going through pain or adversity with bravery. It’s about endurance and continuing on one’s chosen path, even when all hope feels lost. Ralph Waldo Emmerson said, “Patience and fortitude conquer all things.”

People who display strength and fortitude do not vacillate or falter when adversities arise. Instead, they move forward with their mission. Standing in one’s truth, including staying true to one’s virtues, requires physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual strength.

Hardship, in forcing us to exercise greater patience and forbearance in daily life, actually makes us stronger and more robust. From the daily experience of hardship comes a greater capacity to accept difficulties without losing our sense of inner calm. Of course, I do not advocate seeking out hardship as a way of life, but merely wish to suggest that, if you relate to it constructively, it can bring greater inner strength and fortitude.”—Dalai Lama

How can one display strength and fortitude when going through challenging and/or painful times?

Compassion/Respect Wisdom, compassion, and courage are the three universally recognised moral qualities of men.”– Confucius.

Compassion is so important that we devoted a previous spiritual topic to “Empathy and Compassion”. See the January 2022 topic, and as a teaser, we added more information to this topic in our forthcoming book, Sacred Wisdom with Connecting Consciousness—A Personal Journey Through Spirituality.

Empathy is identifying with or vicariously experiencing the feelings of another, whereas compassion is the deep feeling of sympathy and sorrow for the suffering of others, along with a strong desire to help ease their suffering.

Compassion is showing kindness and understanding the plight of other people. People with compassion help others without judging them or their circumstances. Compassion involves appreciation; appreciating another being, their specific situation and what they are going through. It includes respecting others even when their thoughts, beliefs, and decisions differ from your own. It’s about respecting the chosen path of others and remembering that there are many paths up the mountain. It’s about remembering that at our core, we all want the same thing—love and respect. In the Bushido Virtues, offering Jin (compassion and respect) applies to everyone, including one’s adversaries. Warriors are trained to show respect and gratitude toward their opponents, even during battle.

The Seven Grandfather Teachings indicate that one way to honour Creation is by showing respect, and that includes every part of Creation.

In what ways can one show honour and respect toward each other, humanity, and all of Creation? Love ­ Love comes in many sizes, shapes, and forms. One can experience love in a relationship, love for a spouse/partner or child; love for a pet; love of God/Source, love for Mother Earth, love for one’s country, etc. Love can be conditional (consciously or unconsciously) or unconditional.

Many traditions consider love to be the most important virtue. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”—Holy Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:13 (13)

The only way to reach this immortal state is through love, through unswerving devotion to Me (the Divine) alone. As the individual wave does not have any existence independent of the sea, the separate soul does not have any real existence apart from Me, the Universal Soul.”—Jack Hawley, the Bhagavad Gita—A Walkthrough for Westerners (14)

Love is woven into all aspects of love that we think of, such as physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual love. Love is the glue that binds everything together.

It is the embodiment of understanding and being deeply connected to all of creation and knowing we are all a part of God/Source. When one sees him or herself in another and as we learn to love ourselves as the other, we build a critical mass of this unbounded love in the collective...a kind of love that is unconditional, non-judgmental, and all-encompassing.

To give and not expect return, that is what lies at the heart of love.” —Oscar Wilde What are the different kinds of love you experience in your life? What are the qualities of each (conditional/unconditional, judgmental/non-judgmental, etc.) *** All around the world and throughout the history of humanity, human beings appear to innately have an understanding of what are desirable attributes and ‘good/beneficial’ behaviour and what are negative attributes and ‘poor/detrimental’ behaviour. There is an appreciation that ‘no man is an island’, what truly benefits one benefits the whole, and that living a virtuous life (applying all of the virtues we’ve discussed above) not only benefits the individual but also those around them and humanity as a whole. This applies at a practical level in everyday life and is also vital when considering spiritual development, not only of the individual but also of humanity as a whole.

The virtues shared above have stood the test of time. Do you believe that we as human beings chose these? Were they created based on conversations with our Higher Selves or God/Source? Do you believe that humanity as a whole values these virtues today? Which of the virtues (from any of the above lists) resonate the most with you, and which do you find the most challenging? Which are a part of your own moral code? Are there some qualities you are striving to develop, and if so, why are these important to you now? Have your virtues changed over time, and if so, why do you think they evolved?

Thank you to JiiaSen, Hideki, and the CC Japan group for their assistance with developing this topic. Discussion Questions Note: For this topic, discussion questions are included above in each applicable section of the overview. For your convenience, a summary of the questions is provided below.

  1. Which of these virtues resonate the most with you, and which do you find the most challenging? Which are a part of your own moral code?

  2. Are there qualities you are striving to develop, and if so, why are these important to you now?

  3. Have your virtues changed over time, and if so, why do you think they evolved?

  4. The virtues shared above have stood the test of time. Do you believe that we as human beings chose these? Were they created based on conversations with our Higher Selves or God/Source?

  5. Do you believe that humanity as a whole values these virtues today?

  6. How can you consider future generations, all of humanity, and Mother Earth when using your discernment and wisdom?

  7. Challenging times are often the greatest test of a person’s integrity. Do you believe there are situations when it is okay to compromise your integrity (honesty/truthfulness)? Under what circumstances and why?

  8. The Bushido Virtues call valour “the spirit of not being moved by anything.” What do you think this means? Can you think of times when you have applied this concept in your life? How does this differ from stubbornness?

  9. How can one display strength and fortitude when going through challenging and/or painful times?

  10. In what ways can one show honour and respect toward each other, humanity, and all of creation?

  11. What are the different kinds of love you experience in your life? What are the qualities of each (conditional/unconditional, judgmental/non-judgmental, etc.)?

Footnotes

  1. “Virtue”, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, date accessed 5 September, 2023, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/virtue.

  2. “Value”, Cambridge Dictionary, date accessed 5 September, 2023, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/value.

  3. “Code of Conduct”, Cambridge Dictionary, date accessed 5 September, 2023, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/code-of-conduct.

  4. Translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, “Chapter III” in Shankara’s Crest-Jewel of Discrimination – Timeless Teachings on Nonduality Viveka-Chudamani, (Vedanta Press, Hollywood, CA, 1947, 1975), 39.

  5. Kosuke Kakimoto, “What kind of man was Inazo Nitobe? His life and the bible of the Japanese people, Bushido, are explained!”, Life & Mind+, 2023.06.20, https://life-and-mind.com/nitobe-inazo-50194, Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version).

  6. “Seven Grandfather Teachings”, Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, accessed on 5 September, 2023, https://nhbp-nsn.gov/seven-grandfather-teachings/.

  7. “Seven Grandfather Teachings”, Seven Generations Education Institute, 3 February, 2021, https://www.7generations.org/seven-grandfather-teachings/.

  8. “Virtue”, Britannica, accessed on 25 August, 2023, https://www.britannica.com/topic/virtue-in-Christianity.

  9. William E. Mann, “Theological Virtues”, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, Date Accessed 8 September, 2023, DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-K101-1, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/theological-virtues/v-1.

  10. Jack Hawley, “The Two Destinies: Divine or Degenerate” in the Bhagavad Gita—A Walkthrough for Westerners, (Novato, California, New World Library, 2001), 137 – 138.

  11. “Prudence”, Dictionary.com, date accessed 6 September 2023, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/prudence.

  12. Kosuke Kakimoto, “What kind of man was Inazo Nitobe? His life and the bible of the Japanese people, Bushido, are explained!”, Life & Mind+, 2023.06.20, https://life-and-mind.com/nitobe-inazo-50194, Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version).

  13. “1 Corinthians 13:13”, BibleGateway, date accessed 27 October 2023, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Corinthians%2013%3A13&version=NIV.

  14. Jack Hawley, “The Imperishable Godhead (Akshara Brahma Yoga)” in the Bhagavad Gita—A Walkthrough for Westerners, (Novato, California, New World Library, 2001), Chapter 8:22, page 81.



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