The moral character of a person expresses itself in terms of qualities like courage, compassion, kindness. This article describes the basic principles and methodologies for developing any quality.
The first step is clarity on the meaning. We must understand clearly what is the meaning of these qualities. For example, two management thinkers, Boyatzis and McKee regard compassion as a core leadership quality. They define compassion as “empathy and caring in action” and elaborate further its components “understanding and empathy for others feeling and experience” “caring for others” and “willingness to act on these feelings of care and empathy.” This may not be the only definition of compassion. There can be a deeper or a broader definition of compassion. But we must have a definition which gives clarity to the mind for action and practice.
The clarity on the meaning sows the seed of the idea in the mind. The next step is to make the idea dynamic and living to feelings and emotions. The idea has to be converted into concrete images through stories and examples of role models who are living embodiments of these qualities. The other educational aids for making the qualities emotionally evocative are thoughts, poetry or quotes which express the meaning of these qualities with an emotional intensity or aesthetic beauty.
But even stories and literature may touch only the surface emotional being. For a deeper assimilation of qualities in our consciousness we have to pursue an inner discipline based on the principle of cultivation and rejection. The first principle is a constant, deliberate and conscious cultivation in thoughts, feelings and actions all that are in harmony with the quality we want to develop. The second principle is a similar rejection of all that are contrary or hostile to the quality. For example, if compassion is the quality which we want to realize, we have to consciously cultivate in thought, feeling, will and action, generosity, kindness, forgiveness, tolerance, understanding, patience, helpfulness, sensitivity to others feelings and genuine concern for the well-being of others.
Conversely we have to reject all that is contrary to compassion like jealousy, anger, violence, resentment apathy, indifference. This discipline of cultivation – katharsis has to be put into practice with an untiring persistence, patience and vigilance in every moment, activity and relationship. In the field of training and education, learner has to be exposed to situations and opportunities where he or she can express the quality in action. An illustrative example of this part of the discipline, for developing the quality of compassion is described in another article, “Cultivating Compassion” in this issue of FDI.
Imagination can be a great help in the path of quality-development. For example inwardly visualizing the highest potential of a quality in a symbolic figure and meditating on it helps manifesting the potential. This type of meditation is an important part of the path of Mahayana Buddhism. In Mahayana meditative practices, the seeker is asked to visualize the image of a god in his heart, inwardly meditate on it with intense devotion and concentration, and finally identify with the god. We must note here that in Mahayana Buddhism gods are not divine or cosmic being or forces as in Hinduism. They are personified symbols of spiritual potentialities within every human being.
And finally, the most potent and direct way of awakening a quality is to live with and under the guidance of a living mentor who embodies that quality in his or her consciousness, life and action. For qualities are expressions of consciousness. When a student lives and learns in close proximity with his or her mentor there is a silent transfer of consciousness from the mentor, with whatever manifest qualities in it, to the consciousness of the student.
The author is a student and practitioner in the path of integral yoga.