Why we need to be spiritually heroic

Photo by Bastien Junod on Unsplash

In Dharma, we become heroic when we betray our harmfulness.

For instance, when we abstain from indulging in anger, arrogance, and impatience.

Or when we don’t give in to unhealthy eating habits, excessive drinking, or drug use.

We’re heroic when we don’t succumb to sexual urges that lead to unwholesome consequences.

Heroism also rises when we forego opportunities to play the victim to manipulate or humiliate others when they make mistakes.

This practice isn’t easy because betraying our harmfulness isn’t in our nature. Quite the opposite. For humans, it is easier to continue being ill. This is because going against our nature always feels unpleasant. 

Hence, those who do dare to be sane are rare. They are extraordinary because the norm is to remain unchanged. They are willing to endure the unpleasantness of improving themselves and thus they are heroic.

How to be heroic

To begin, we have to become mindful of our ill habits. But we can’t just decide this. An awareness of our ill ways comes from external help. We need assistance from those who were already brave enough to see their ill habits.

As clingers to pleasant sensations, we have unconsciously built complicated mechanisms to avoid seeing our true nature. Unless a very traumatic event forces us to see our harmfulness, an external guide will be the only way to discern it.

These guides know all kinds of self-deception because they have been self-deceivers too.

Addicts don’t fool recovered addicts. Liars don’t fool ex-liars. So the first heroic step is to approach people who have mastered self-honesty and ask them to help you see your ill habits. 

It takes guts. Very few dare to ask for help even when in the lowest moments of their lives.

To be heroic you need to build up self-honesty

After that first decision, the next heroic step is to begin being honest. Everyone says they’re already self-honest but that’s not true. It’s impossible. 

How can we be honest about aspects of our personality that we aren’t even aware of?

The moment a spiritual friend reveals our shortcomings, the heroic act is to admit them. We must do this many times until being honest becomes automatic.

When we cannot fool ourselves any longer, and we can’t hide the fact we’re being harmful, the opportunity to act differently will rise.

Heroism in action

When behaving wholesomely for the first time, it will not feel good. You will not feel safe. You’ll feel very unsafe, vulnerable, and naked. This is because the heroic action doesn’t match who you currently are. 

Things might not even improve right away. If you usually are an aggressive person, not giving in to anger might even have undesired results. For instance, if others are used to your aggressive remarks, it is expected they’ll continue being defensive even when you aren’t violent anymore. 

Give them time. Perhaps you’ve been violent for many years so, it’s only natural for them to be aggressive too. But if you remain firm, that is, non-violent, they will also subside. You will feel the need to teach them a lesson, to prove to them you’re stronger, that you’re more powerful. But not giving in to such need will make you heroic.

If you’re usually impatient, learning to relax and wait for things to unfold will feel unnatural. The urge to lose control and be desperate again will be strong. Riding it out makes you heroic.

Spiritual heroism benefits others

In time your behavior will become admirable. Others will be able to look up to you. Your own spiritual heroism helps others see it is possible to be wholesome. We need more of this kind of evidence, especially for those with reversible ill habits.

Your harmfulness ends and your wholesomeness begins. You are now ready to train to become a noble one.

“Rise up, O hero, victor in battle!

O caravan leader, debt-free one, wander in the world.

Teach the Dhamma, O Blessed One:

There will be those who will understand.”

Veneration of the Buddha, SN 11.17

May you become heroic.