(Chapter XIII, The Principles, from the book The Inner Look and the Book of The Community)
Even in the most remote historic testimonies that have come down to us there seems to have been a vital interest in distinguishing right and wrong, good and bad, thought and conduct that are correct and incorrect. In short, every culture has given a lot of care to define for its members what could be considered the correct moral code. Moral codes are not a theme reserved only for philosophers, they are vital for our existence. Our point of view about right and wrong has a direct effect not only on our present situation but also on the direction of our life.
For those of us who are interested in internal growth, it is very important to have a set of values, a moral code that resonates with the laws of life and does not go in a direction that opposes them –universal guidelines that are valid for all human beings. For us these guidelines are The Principles.
The Principles help us choose the most appropriate attitude and action in facing the different situations life offers us, in order to keep improving ourselves, to improve our daily relationships, and to build a world in harmony with our deepest aspirations.
“Different is the attitude toward life and things when inner revelation strikes like lightning. Following the steps slowly, meditating on what has been said and what has yet to be said, you may convert the non-meaning into meaning. It is not indifferent what you do with your life. Your life, subject to laws, is open to possibilities among which you can choose. I do not speak to you of liberty. I speak to you of liberation, of movement, of process. I do not speak to you of liberty as something static, but of liberating yourself step-by-step, as those who approach their city become liberated from the road already traveled. Thus, “what one must do” depends not upon distant, incomprehensible, and conventional morals, but upon laws: laws of life, of light, of evolution. Here are the “Principles” which can help you in your search for internal unity."
To go against the evolution of things is to go against yourself.
When you force something toward an end, you produce the contrary.
Do not oppose a great force. Retreat until it weakens, then advance with resolution.
Things are well when they move together, not in isolation.
If day and night, summer and winter are well with you, you have surpassed the contradictions.
If you pursue pleasure, you enchain yourself to suffering. But as long as you do not harm your health, enjoy without inhibition when the opportunity presents itself.
If you pursue an end, you enchain yourself. If everything you do is realized as though it were an end in itself, you liberate yourself.
You will make your conflicts disappear when you understand them in their ultimate root, not when you want to resolve them.
When you harm others you remain enchained, but if you do not harm anyone you can freely do whatever you want.
When you treat others as you want them to treat you, you liberate yourself.
It does not matter in which faction events have placed you. What matters is that you comprehend that you have not chosen any faction.
Contradictory or unifying actions accumulate within you. If you repeat your acts of internal unity, nothing can detain you.
You will be like a force of Nature when it finds no resistance in its path. Learn to distinguish a difficulty, a problem, an obstacle, from a contradiction. While those may move you or spur you on, contradiction traps you in a closed circle with no way out. Whenever you find great strength, joy, and kindness in your heart, or when you feel free and without contradictions, immediately be internally thankful. When you find yourself in opposite circumstances, ask with faith, and the gratitude you have accumulated will return to you transformed and amplified in benefit.
Recommendations for working with The Principles:
First, we suggest reading the Introduction and becoming familiar with all of the Principles. Then, approach the Principles one at a time and meditate on them over a period of time (at least one week). Of course, interchange with others about the Principles is of fundamental importance.
Examples of Reflections
1. Examining moments in our lives when we were unaware of a Principle and therefore acted against it will illustrate its meaning very well.
2. It will be even more interesting to reflect on the current situation we live in and to study the consequences of suffering in us and those closest to us when we do not keep this Principle in mind.
3. When you work with a Principle, starting in the weekly meeting for example, try to reflect on it for a few minutes each day, before falling asleep. Think about the difficulties you had during the day and try to relate them to the Principle that you are working on. In this way you will remember the Principle in future situations when the same problem appears, and you will surpass it more effectively. Also, think about the positive elements of the day and see whether you put one of the Principles into practice.
4. In the measure that you advance in your understanding of the Principles, you can take a given situation and reflect upon it in the light of all the Principles, focusing more on those that best clarify the situation.
1. The Principle of Adaptation “To go against the evolution of things is to against yourself.”
This Principle emphasizes that when we know clearly beforehand the outcome of a situation, the correct attitude is to accept it as completely as possible, trying find opportunities even in this unfavorable situation. What we are saying is that we should not oppose things that are inevitable. However, if the human being had believed, for example, that illnesses were something unavoidable, then medical science would have never advanced. Humanity progresses thanks to the need to solve problems and to the possibility of doing so. If a person becomes stranded in the desert, is it inevitable that they will die? This person will do everything they can to get out of the predicament. And it will be more likely that they will find an oasis or be rescued if they use all possible resources to make themselves visible at a distance. Thus, to be applied correctly this Principle is used only in situations that are truly inevitable.
2. The Principle of Action and Reaction “When you force something toward an end, you produce the contrary.”
This Principle explains that all things and people have their own characteristic behavior, and that they will resist or facilitate our projects, depending on how we act. When we are moved by irrational impulses and pressure something against its own behavior, we will find that although initially it may yield to our demands, sooner or later consequences will return that are different from those we wanted to achieve. Human beings are forgers of events, they define directions for things, they plan and carry out projects. That is, they aim toward goals. But the important question is: How should we move toward these goals? Suppose a problem comes up; how can we make the other person understand the way to solve it? Do we use violence or do we use persuasion? If we use violence, sooner or later there will be a reaction. If we use persuasion, sooner or later our strengths will add together.
Many people think “the ends justify the means,” and they tend to force everything around them. And they may often achieve successful results. But if they do this, difficulties will surely follow. They achieve their goal, but they will not be able to maintain it for long. The Principle we are discussing refers to two distinct situations. In one, the goal is achieved, but the consequences are opposite to what was hoped for. In the other case, by forcing situations, there is an unfavorable “rebound.”
3. The Principle of Well-Timed Action “Do not oppose a great force. Retreat until it weakens, then advance with resolution.”
Note that this Principle does not recommend that we retreat when faced with the little inconveniences or problems we run into every day. We should only retreat, the Principle explains, when facing a force that is too strong, one that will surely overwhelm us if we confront it. Retreating before little difficulties weakens people, it makes them timid and afraid. Not retreating before great forces, in contrast, inclines people toward all kinds of failures and accidents.
The problem appears when you do not know ahead of time which has more strength, you or the difficulty. This leads people to try little “tests,” to try small confrontations with the difficulty which don’t completely commit them. This leaves room to change their position if it turns out to be unsustainable. In earlier times people used to speak of “prudence,” and this is very close to the idea we are explaining. There is also another key point: When should we advance? When has the difficulty lost its strength, or when have we ourselves gained enough strength to advance? Here we can use the same idea of trying little “tests” every so often to check, without committing ourselves completely.
When we do find that the balance of strength is in our favor and the inconvenience has weakened, then this is the time we should advance with everything. To hold back reserves in this situation will endanger our success, because we are not advancing with all the energy we have available.
4. The Principle of Proportion “Things are well when they move together, not in isolation.”
This Principle means that if, in striving toward a goal, we disrupt our whole life, then we may in turn be subject to numerous accidents that make it hard to reach our goal, and even if we do reach it, this result will have bitter consequences.
For example, if in order to gain wealth or prestige we harm our health, sacrifice our loved ones, or give up other values, we may have accidents that will keep us from reaching our goal. Or we may obtain it, but no longer have good health to enjoy it, or loved ones to share it with, or other values that give us meaning.
“Things are well when they move together.” This is so because our life is a whole that requires balanced, not partial, equilibrium and development.
Since some things are more important than others, everyone should have a true scale of values so that first, second, and third level priorities can be taken care of in proportion. If energy is applied according to the importance given each priority, everything will truly work together.
5. The Principle of Acceptance “If day and night, summer and winter are well with you, you have surpassed the contradictions.”
This Principle deals, in a figurative way, with situations where there are opposites. However, such apparent opposites can be reconciled if one changes one’s point of view about the situation or the problem. The excessive heat of summer makes us think of the cold of winter as a compensation, and then the excessive cold of winter makes us think of the warmth of summer. Every difficult situation make us remember or imagine an opposite one. But once we are in this opposite situation, discontent again arises. Then this new compensation leads us back to the opposite point. Whenever suffering appears, a compensation begins. But this compensation does not itself overcome the suffering.
A person who is oriented by a well-defined meaning in life will have a very different point of view and behavior when facing difficult situations from someone who does not. If a person believes that their life has meaning and that everything that happens to them serves for their learning and self-improvement in this direction, then they will not simply try to avoid the problems that arise by compensating in the usual way. Rather, this person will take on these problems, trying to discover some usefulness in them. The cold of winter can be made use of, as can the heat of summer, and when each arises this person will say, “How do these different seasons oppose each other, if both are useful to me?”
6. The Principle about Pleasure “If you pursue pleasure, you enchain yourself to suffering. But as long as you do not harm your health, enjoy without inhibition when the opportunity presents itself.”
This Principle may seem shocking the first time you read it, because you may think it is saying, “enjoy yourself, even if you harm others, because the only thing you need to worry about is your own health.” But this is not what it is saying. Indeed, this Principle explains that it is absurd to harm your health through excessive indulgence in pleasures, or through directly harmful pleasures. In addition, this Principle stresses that if, because of beliefs or prejudices, you negate or deny pleasure, this also produces suffering. It also means that participating in pleasure while you have problems of conscience is harmful.
In summary, the main idea is not to pursue pleasure, but simply to enjoy it when it presents itself. To search for a pleasurable object when it is not present, or to deny it when it does appear, are both actions that are always accompanied by suffering. This Principle (like all the others) should not be applied separately from the other Principles, nor should it be interpreted in ways that oppose the other Principles. For example, there is another Principle which says, “When you treat others as you want them to treat you, you liberate yourself.” Therefore, the meaning of each Principle changes when they are all exercised together, and not only as single, isolated Principles.
7. The Principle of Immediate Action “If you pursue an end, you enchain yourself. If everything you do is realized as though it were an end in itself, you liberate yourself.”
This Principle teaches us to obtain benefit from all the intermediate steps and situations that lead to the achievement of an objective. It doesn’t tell us that we should not have goals, since planning any activity is carried out on the basis of goals. It explains that given any goal, all the steps leading to it must be approached in the most positive way possible. Otherwise, all of the activities previous to achieving the goal produce suffering, and therefore, even if the goal is achieved, it loses meaning because of the vital cost represented by the suffering invested in those steps.
8. The Principle of Wise Action “You will make your conflicts disappear when you understand them in their ultimate root, not when you want to resolve them.”
This Principle invites us to avoid improvisations motivated by irrational impulses. It doesn’t say that we shouldn’t do something about a problem, but that, at the same time that we take action, we should comprehend what we are doing. Almost everyone becomes anxious when faced with a conflict, and tries to solve it without comprehending the root of the conflict. In this way, the problem can become even more complicated and give rise to new problems in a never-ending chain.
9. The Principle of Liberty “When you harm others you remain enchained, but if you do not harm anyone you can freely do whatever you want.”
This Principle begins by explaining that if you create problems for others, as a consequence others will create problems for you. But it also says that there is no reason not to do whatever you want if no one is harmed by your actions.
10. The Principle of Solidarity “When you treat others as you want them to treat you, you liberate yourself.”
This Principle has important consequences because it leads to opening, to positive communication with other human beings. We know that isolation and self-enclosure generate problems that can be serious. What is called “selfishness” can be reduced precisely to a problem of self-enclosure and lack of communication. This Principle gives importance to the act of going positively toward others, and it complements the previous Principle that recommends: “Do not harm others,” although there is a great difference between the two.
11. The Principle of Avoiding Opposition “It does not matter in which faction events have placed you. What matters is that you comprehend that you have not chosen any faction.”
This does not mean that you have to abandon all factions. Rather, it suggests that you consider your position as being the result of factors that have little to do with your own choice: your education and upbringing, your surroundings, etc. This attitude makes fanaticism recede, and at the same time permits you to understand the factional affiliations and the positions of other people. Clearly, this way of considering the problem of factions contributes to a freedom of the mind, and opens a fraternal bridge toward others, even when they do not agree with your ideas, or even appear to oppose your ideas.
This Principle, at the same time that it recognizes the lack of freedom in the situations one has not created, affirms the freedom to deny that there is true opposition if others are also part of involuntary situations.
12. The Principle of Accumulating Actions “Contradictory or unifying actions accumulate within you. If you repeat your acts of internal unity, nothing can detain you.”
This Principle is saying that every action one carries out remains recorded in one’s memory, and from there it influences the other two pathways (senses and imagination). Therefore, repeating acts that give internal unity, or generate contradiction, will shape behavior that conditions further unifying or contradictory actions in the future.
To repeat acts of internal unity means to practice the Principles in daily life. This twelfth Principle also helps us understand that this does not mean repeating just one action (or Principle) in isolation, but rather repeating a whole set of actions that give internal unity.
Without question, by practicing all of the Principles together we find an integrated discipline which is capable of transforming our condition of suffering into a new way of life, one of growing internal unity, and therefore of growing happiness.
Sometimes the life of a person or a whole human group is built upon an accumulation of contradictory actions. And this person or group may even obtain very successful results for a time. But sooner or later, catastrophe will result, because the basis of their entire life is false. Many people see only the successful anecdotes, without realizing the process this life will have over time and, above all, its final absurdity.