“Those who seek spiritual knowledge with much labor, but do not succeed in finding it, fail either through lack of faith or perhaps because in their stupidity and jealousy they have in mind to attack those who possess knowledge, just as the people of old once attacked Moses. … He who pursues spiritual knowledge for the sake of display and fails to attain it should not envy his neighbor or be cast down. On the contrary, … through the practice of the virtues, by working hard with his body, he will prepare his soul for that knowledge.
“Those who truly and devoutly aspire to an understanding of created beings, and have no thoughts of self-display, will find that they are granted lucid insight into such beings, and that through the insight they attain the knowledge they seek.” ~The Philokalia
Hard Work and Progress
Hard work is necessary for progress on our spiritual journey, as with most any journey or task. But hard work doesn’t necessarily mean you are making progress.
If my goal is to travel from Paris, France to Rome, Italy by bicycle, I can get on a stationary exercise bike at a fitness center and pedal very hard for many days, yet I will have made no progress on the goal intended. If the goal was to exercise my legs, the stationary bike works. For actual movement towards a specific location, it doesn’t. Even if I am on a good, fast bicycle, if I haven’t made a plan, if I don’t have a map or a GPS navigator, I am likely to travel forever and not reach Rome. I will have worked very hard, but not toward the desired goal.
Spiritual progress requires hard work that is directed toward that goal, not just random hard work. Also, as the quote indicates, even if you are working hard toward the correct goal, your reasons for wanting to achieve that goal will also affect your spiritual progress. Even doing good deeds like feeding the poor or providing shelter to the homeless doesn’t necessarily help. While those are good things to do, they are not aimed towards spiritual progress.
The Philokalia says that if you are seeking spiritual progress because you are jealous of those who already have made such progress, you have the wrong motivation. Likewise, if your intention is to use such knowledge to lord over people, your motivation is wrong. If your goal is to be superior to other people, your motivation is wrong. Even if your goal is just to learn so you can write a book and make a lot of money, your motivation is not acceptable. Such improper motivation will also prevent significant progress, no matter how hard you are working.
Your motivation for seeking spiritual enlightenment, spiritual progress must be:
- To improve yourself so that you can better serve God
- To gain knowledge so that you can help your fellow man
- Assist God, the angels, and the other awakened individuals in transforming the planet back to its original spiritual state.
You may initially have only one of those motivations, usually the first. Eventually, you must develop all of them if you are to make great and continued progress on your journey to spiritual enlightenment. You also need a plan, a clear goal to achieve spiritual progress. If you can’t decide what you want or have an unclear picture of it, you are unlikely to achieve the goal.