The throne of Virtue is in the heart, its scepter is righteousness, and its sway is in the realm of thoughts and deeds. It has no place in the outward accretions of a man—his clothing, money, possessions, and acts of conformity. It is a living power within, and not a something put on from without, and as such it can thrive under all conditions, even as far as the two extremities of beggary and pomp.
This is made plain by a consideration of the lives of those men of surpassing Virtue who have lived in the past, and whose names and words and deeds are so dearly cherished by mankind. Epictetus, the slave, and Marcus Aurelius, attended on by slaves, are seen today to be clothed in the same resplendent Virtue. We do not think of one as greater than the other. Great is the solitary slave, not because of his simple cloak, but because of his superior Virtue. Great is the solitary emperor, the grandeur of whose Virtue far outshines those perishable trappings of state and appurtenances of worldly power with which he is surrounded.
Confucius, the ceremonialist, faultlessly and sumptuously arrayed in the courtly garments of his office; and Buddha, the disapprover of ceremonial, clothed in the habiliments of a beggar, are alike today the adored of untold millions for the faultless and transcendent Virtues which they manifested.
Socrates, the polygamist, is called "Master" by Plato the celibate, and who dare say that the master was less pure, less master of himself and his passions, than the divine pupil?
George Fox, the condemner of "Steeple-houses," wandering and poor, and clothed in leathern breeches, is one in virtue with High Latimer, the cathedral preacher, living in a palace, and rich, and adorned with priestly vestments.
Thoreau in his cabin in the forest, and Emerson in his well-equipped residence, and surrounded with all refinements, practiced the same Virtues and lived the same truth.
Not only do the words of the sages and the acts of the wise ceaselessly and unerringly point to the inward independence of Virtue, but the whole ethical history of the race demonstrates the truth (which men should train themselves to perceive and comprehend) that Virtue and vice have no actual existence in any external thing; in any custom, contrivance, condition or circumstance, but that they subsist in the heart, and in the heart only.
A man is defiled or made clean by what he is and does from within, and not by what he uses and adopts without. The man who, having become master of his mind and detached his heart from everything but Virtue, will, in pursuing his particular mission for the good of mankind, use and adopt those things and conditions by the employment of which he can best accomplish his high purposes. If by riches, then he will use riches; if by poverty, he will adopt poverty; if by a mean between the two, he will take the middle course. If by being well-clothed, he will clothe himself well; if by mean clothing, he will see that he is meanly clad. If by preaching to the world, he will so preach; if by remaining obscure, then he will so remain. If by writing, he will write; if by not writing, he will not write. If by conforming to established rites and customs, he will conform; and if by abandoning such rites and customs, he will not conform. Whether to be rich or poor, known or unknown, public or private, a householder or a celibate, a governor or a mendicant a dignitary or a servant, is, to a Master of Virtue, of no primary importance, all such outward conditions being merely accessorial.
Not by money, nor marriage, nor food, nor raiment, nor possessions, nor poverty, nor position, nor servitude, is a man defiled and made vicious; but by the lusts, desires, and follies of his heart. It is covetousness, not money; lust, not marriage; self-indulgence and gluttony, not diet; vanity, not clothing; selfishness, not possessions; ignorance and indolence, not outward poverty; arrogance, not position; and meanness of spirit, not servitude, which constitute vice.
Outward things have in them no life, and their possession or absence, their use or nonuse is no part f Virtue or vice. These conditions exist only in the heart.
Between the poplar misquotation, "Money is the root of all evil," and the true rendering, "The love of money is a root of all kind of evil," the discriminating mind will perceive a vast world of difference. Between the wise and generous use of money, and the greedy love of it for its own sake or for the selfish uses to which it may be put, is the gulf which divides wisdom from folly.
He who says in his heart, "this man is rich and therefore selfish, and this other man is poor and therefore virtuous;" or, "this man is poor and therefore vicious, and this other man is rich and therefore virtuous," confuses the outer with the inner, the false with the true; and doe not escape hatred, false judgment, and suffering.
He who is given up to the love of externals will judge from externals only, and, not knowing the realities within himself, will not perceive them in his fellow men. To judge from appearances is to judge false judgment; to understand the hidden motives of the heart, is to know men as they are.
Plato, the philosopher, invited, one day, a number of his friends to dine with him, and Diogenes, the cynic, hearing of it, entered the house of Plato, and unbidden guest, having first smeared his bare feet with slime and mud with which, before the host and his assembled guests, he proceeded to defile the beautiful floors and delicate draperies, exclaiming as he did so: "Thus do I trample on the pride of Plato!" The philosopher's dispassionate retort: "Ay, and with greater pride than that of Plato's, O Diogenes!" reveals the wisdom and Virtue of which Plato, as the world has now acceded, was an accomplished master, and forcibly illustrates the truth that pride, and not external possessions, is the great evil.
To be proud of one's renunciations, and to obnoxiously intrude them upon the notice of others, is to be in the same wretched condition as to be vain of one's material accumulations. There is pride of poverty, and pride in riches; pride of sin, and make a vanity of confession, is of the same unregenerate kind as to boast of Virtue and insinuate personal superiority. Both are alike attitudes of pride, and boasting is folly and vice. He who understands what Virtue is, will banish pride from his heart, and will put away boasting for ever.
Seeing that it is neither possible not necessary to avoid the use of external things, the wise man, while using them becomingly and in their proper place, will stand aloof from them in his mind, unmoved by them, and with heart detached and free from all love of them. With his mind fixed only upon the eternal Verities, following Truth only, and not following selfish desire, he will stand fearless and serene amid all the fleeting shows by which he is surrounded, unpolluted by the lust for things, untarnished by their rust, and untroubled by their inevitable decay.
He who knows himself is enlightened.
He is strong who conquers others.
He who conquers himself is mighty.
Perfect peace can dwell only where all vanity has disappeared.
And without that the conqueror is naught
But the first slave.
—Jesus (John 7:24)
More from James Allen
James Allen was a little-known philosophical writer and poet. He is best recognized for his book, As a Man Thinketh. Allen wrote about complex subjects such as faith, destiny, love, patience, and religion but had the unique ability of explaining these subjects clearly and in a way that is easy to understand. He often wrote about cause and effect, sowing and reaping, as well as overcoming sadness, sorrow, and grief. For more information on the life of James Allen, click here.