by Sana Rezai
The concept of moderation is an interesting one, particularly since it bears upon the understanding of most, if not all, spiritual principles and qualities. In order to understand spiritual principles and how moderation affects them, one must first create a context. Considering the interconnectedness that governs the universe, we then realize that virtues do not exist in isolation – all these principles and qualities somehow interact. Perhaps we can then think about the concept of moderation has how varies virtues interact – they moderate each other.
With this understanding, moderation – albeit in some cases implies a desired balance against an absolute zero (ie, a moderate amount of breathing, a moderate amount of sleep) – more often means balancing (or moderating) two or more virtues, principles, or qualities together. In an absolute sense, when isolating any one quality, more is better – more love, more justice, more service. There is no lack of evidence of this fact when perusing the Writings. And yet the Writings mention repeatedly that too much can lead to excess, and that we must be on our guard less it leads to self-righteousness or fanaticism. How can this be reconciled?
It is not through balancing each spiritual virtue against an absolute zero that prevents the dangers of its excess, but rather balancing them against another spiritual attitudes and qualities that are likewise growing. In this context, we learn to distinguish moderation from mediocrity. We develop a sense of justice that is moderated by compassion, instead of a state of half-justice, half-compassion. A type of generosity informed by humility is cultivated, and not a calculated and cautious giving. Truth acting through love prevents it from being a negotiable commodity driven by convenience. In all these cases, the idea is the increase of both – justice and compassion together, generosity and humility together, truth and love together. And these are just pairs – imagine the complexity when you start to moderate multiple virtues together!
Speech, too, needs moderation. “Human utterance is an essence which aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation. As to its influence, this is conditional upon refinement which in turn is dependent upon hearts which are detached and pure. As to its moderation this hath to be combined with tact and wisdom as prescribed in the Holy Scriptures and Tablets.” It’s not the case that some set amount of speech is the moderate amount; nor are certain words the moderate words. Rather, speech is moderated by purity of motive, by unbiased investigation of truth, and by blending one’s words with Divine words. This resulting speech has a penetrating power that transcends mere sounds and syllables, that moves hearts in a way which ordinary speech one hears throughout the day could never.
At a foundational level, being and doing moderate each other. Instead of thinking that one seeks to tone down or limit one’s actions because of some desired artificial level; or to halt or stall one’s internal development for this same reason, consider how these two can moderate each other. We strive to serve more, to contribute to society more, to accompany others more; and we likewise strive to reflect more, to meditate on our actions more, to develop proper attitudes, approaches, and qualities more. There is no set amount. Both are meant to increase and advance together. Excess is a state where one completely dominates the other, and thus hinders the growth of both.
On an ontological level, only good exists – evil is the absence of good. Love exists, hate is lack of love. Action exists, passivity is its absence. In the physical world, and as an analogy, light exists, and darkness is lack of light. And the creation of light necessitates the creation of a shadow. It is not the moderation of light and shadow that we seek; not some arbitrary level of light against its absence. We seek the moderation of light upon light! The moderation of multiple shades and colors of light produces a beautiful white light. Tyranny and oppression exist; but they are the absence of justice – they don’t moderate justice. As we learn to moderate justice with compassion (and not with lack of justice) will we understand both of these principles more fully.