Home Insights and Teachings Self-admiration and lust: Factors that weaken the intellect

Self-admiration and lust: Factors that weaken the intellect

By His Eminence, the late Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra)
Translated by: Manal Samhat

 It is narrated that Imam Ali (a.s.) said: “The intellect and lust are opposite to each other; knowledge supports the intellect while the lust is supported by the passions and inordinate desires. Self is a battlefield where a war is waged between the intellect and lust; whoever becomes victorious in this fight takes control of the self”.

The battle between the intellect and lust

This Hadith by Imam Ali depicts the state of psychological struggle between the intellect and lust over the things that the mind is able to differentiate whether they are beneficial or harmful, according to its own measure of what is good and what is bad with regards to the things one takes or forsakes in comparison to the lust that his instincts arouse, that his body lustfully seeks and that his feelings are open to. As such, a strong struggle at the level of one’s freewill will break out. If this will is strong, then reason (intellect) will prevail, but if it is weak, lust will take over.

The Hadith also reflects that the educational heritage man acquires through contemplation, experience, reading and hearing things might support the intellect in terms of making choices, for it widens its horizons and identifies the points of disadvantage and advantages and good and evil, so it urges the will to follow the choice of the intellect. As for the whims that arouse the senses and create a craving for sensual desires, they support the lust and exert pressure on man to satisfy that lust unlawfully, which could make him unmindful of the repercussions that would come up. Therefore, man ought to recall his knowledge and let the mind be in control through a strong feeling of awareness that vanquishes or governs the lust in what establishes balance in the movement, thus, creating balance at the level of the spirit, matter, intellect and the body, and consequently establishing balance in man’s life.

In the same context, it is also narrated that Imam Ali (a.s.) says: “When one loves a thing, it blinds him and sickens his heart. Then he sees but with a diseased eye, hears but with unhearing ears. Desires have cut asunder his wit, and the world has made his heart dead, while his mind is all longing for it. Consequently, he is a slave of it and of everyone who has any share in it. Wherever it turns, he turns towards it, and wherever it proceeds, he proceeds towards it.” In this Hadith, the Imam is touching upon the lusts when they infiltrate into the mind and overwhelm it, thus, blurring one’s sight and insight and luring him into the kind of affection one holds for his lover, where he would see none but him in a state of complete obsession. Thus, it would blur his thoughts and he would look without actually seeing and listen without actually hearing, whereby he would imagine that he owns something while he actually does not, and he would accept or refuse something involuntarily, for he would be overwhelmed and no longer has any willpower; thus, rendering his refusal and acceptance under the control of his obsession… This is how the lust overwhelms the intellect, and how it confiscates it and places it inside endless mazes.

Self-admiration hinders the intellect

In another Hadith by Imam Ali (a.s.), he says: “Self-admiration of a person is one of the enviers of his intellect”. In the same context, he says: “Self-admiration of a person is proof to the weakness of his intellect”. These two Hadiths discuss the relation between self-admiration and the intellect in the negative context, for the former hinders the ability of the intellect to develop and open up to accurate and continuous pondering over the different issues related to man’s public and private life and over his relation with the others… It also impedes its ability to undergo continuous experiences that might be new or repeated, preventing man from knowing where he went wrong and where he was right with regards to the things he embarks on or forsakes on the basis of the developments that take place in life and in which how things are viewed differs, whilst keeping up and learning from the others’ experiences. Thus, self-admiration does not enable man to increase his knowledge, strengthen his reason (intellect) and improve his experience, which could not happen unless he knows what deficiencies and weaknesses he has. When man admires himself, he would imagine that he is perfect and that he has attained the highest levels. Actually, in this state of absolute confidence and self-conceit, he would see the beautiful ugly and the ugly beautiful, and he would deny the others’ accomplishments if they outdo him at the level of knowledge, intellect and actuality. Perhaps, this is what is intended by the following Ayahs: “Is he, then, to whom the evil of his conduct is made alluring” (35:08), and: “Say: ‘Shall We inform you of the greatest losers in (their) deeds?’(These are) they whose labor is lost in this world's life and they think that they are well versed in skill of the work of hands” (18:103-104).

It is also narrated that Imam Ali (a.s.) said in one of his short sayings: “Self-admiration prevents progress”, for one would consider that he has reached the utmost level of knowledge where there is no need for more whether that acquired by his own efforts or that of the others and that he has achieved his goal, thus, there is no need for anything more, imagining that he has achieved perfection: “He who asks for more than his merit is the one who feels lacking”. It is also narrated that he (a.s.) said: “The one who admires over his good condition becomes neglectful of good planning”. Moreover, it is narrated that Imam Ali Bin Muhammad, Al-Hadi (a.s.), said: “Self-admiration keeps (a person) away from seeking knowledge and brings about scorn and ignorance”, and perhaps the main cause of one’s self-admiration is his belief that he is worthy of a status that he is not actually worthy of.

As for how one’s self-admiration is one of the enviers of his intellect, it is because the envier envies you for anything good that might happen to you and tries to prevent you from actually having it and even tries to eliminate it. Moreover, self-admiration freezes and paralyzes the intellect and prevents it from developing, progressing and benefitting from any good. Thus, self-admiration would stand in the way between man and his ascension to the level of creativity, unraveling new horizons and introducing oneself to new ideas and thoughts. In sum, the relation between the intellect and self-admiration is a lot like the relation between the envied and the envier.

And this is what makes self-admiration a proof to the weakness of the intellect, for a strong and complete intellect leads its owner to what brings about good, progress and continuous work to reach the highest levels and urges him to attain more through his private experience at the level of knowledge and work and through acquiring the thoughts and experiences reached by the others. On the other hand, self-admiration constitutes a barrier to all that and limits one to the position he is at, thus taking a halt and not progressing anymore as a result of his deficient intellect that impedes his way towards perfection…

There is a myriad of sayings by Imam Ali (a.s.) dealing with the negative influence of self-admiration on man, for it is narrated that he said: “Self-admiration corrupts the intellect”, “your satisfaction with your self is the proof of corruption of your intellect” and: “A person’s belief that he can commit errors is a sign of his sound intellect and its enlightenment, whereas self-admiration of a person is a proof of deficiency of his intellect and an example of weakness of his mind”.

As for how to handle and treat self-admiration, there are several Hadiths by the Imams of Ahl El-Beit (a.s.) in this regard. It is narrated that Imam Ali (a.s.) said: “Should you be elated by power, and ever feel in your mind the slightest symptoms of pride and arrogance, then look at the power and majesty of the Divine governance of the Universe over which you have absolutely no control. It will restore the sense of balance to your wayward intelligence and give you the sense of calmness and affability”. It is also narrated that he (a.s.) said: “What has the son of Adam to do with self-admiration when his beginning is with a sperm, his end is a stinky corpse and he carries filth with him all the time?” Moreover, it is narrated that Imam Muhammad Al-Baqir (a.s.) said: “Blocking the way of self-admiration is through the true knowledge of one’s self”.

Clarity and reforming oneself

Thus, we have examined how the negative psychological inclinations influence the level and dynamism of the intellect, through a misunderstanding of one’s own self and the others. A sound intellect deals with the points of weakness embodied in how one regards and analyzes his self in a reform operation that puts things back on track and urges man to find out where his deficiencies lie; a process that constitutes the path upwards towards perfection…

Another saying by Imam Ali (a.s.) is: “The ultimate wisdom for man is to know himself; and so, the one who knows his own self attains wisdom and the one who does not shall be misguided”. There are wide horizons ahead of the intellect to acquire facts and know things that deal with life and the people, as well as the circumstances and situations that surround man, which enriches his culture and awareness of things. However, this is all associated with the outside and open to it in the image it depicts for the entire reality in its private and public diversities. Yet, knowing oneself remains the basis that governs one’s awareness of himself through the physical elements that maintains his life and produces his potentials at the level of the thought, emotions, feelings and movement in order to reach the aspired small and big goals. At the forefront of these elements comes the intellect that enables man to open up to his own humanity and the others’ and to any position of responsibility, following the openness to Allah Who created all that in a state of integration between the soul and the body and between the intellect and emotions… this is on the one hand.

On the other hand, knowing one’s self in its psychological, intellectual and dynamic dimensions reveals for man the practical plans that connect him with the others in how to deal with them, how to engage in a dialogue with them and how to take stands, for the relation of the self with the outside is related to the elements lying therein, considering that the outside is but a reflected image of the inside. Therefore, if man has a clear vision of the internal vital elements he enjoys and of his understanding of the reality, then he will actually be employing this clarity to follow the right path, for it shows him the good as good, suggesting to him to follow it, and it shows him the evil as evil, suggesting to him to forsake it. In this way, things will be settled and balanced, and their beginnings (causes) will be connected with their endings (results) in all their pros and cons. Therefore, man would know Allah better through knowing His creativity in His creations and creatures, thus, he would get as close as possible to Him… Perhaps, this is what is implied by the following famous saying: “Know yourself and you will know your Lord”. Moreover, the Ayah that touches upon one’s innermost and his external movement is: “Because Allah will never change the grace which He hath bestowed on a people until they change what is in their (own) souls” (8:53). The same applies in the following saying: “Change yourself and you will change reality; change yourself and you will change history”.

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