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Fidelity

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by Sangharakshita

... In fact I have been coming to the conclusion, little by little, that fidelity is one of the qualities of the True Individual, or of one who is trying to become a true individual; trying to become, that is to say, a truly human being.

Most of you - well all of you I think - will be well aware that this concept of individuality, of True Individuality is absolutely central to the spiritual life, at least to the earlier stages of the spiritual life; and in the FWBO, right from the beginning we have been very much concerned with this particular concept of individuality or True Individuality. And we've been concerned, therefore, with those qualities, those characteristics, which are qualities or characteristics of the individual. Those of you who've been with us a long time, those of you who've been involved in the FWBO for twelve, thirteen, fourteen years, will remember that to begin with, we saw that the individual was aware - even that the individual was one who was aware, one who was self-conscious. You may remember that we saw, in some very early lectures of mine, that the individual was one who was aware of self, that is to say aware of the physical body, its position, its movements. Aware also of emotions, whether positive or negative, and so on, and aware also of thoughts - aware of ideas, concepts, reflections, reasonings and so on. So this was awareness of self.

And then the individual - the True Individual - was one who was at the same time aware of nature, aware of his or her material surroundings, aware of the environment. And then thirdly, the individual was one who was aware of other people, other human beings, other individuals. And fourthly and lastly the individual - the True Individual - was one who was one who was aware, however distantly, of Reality itself. Thus in this way we spoke of these four different kinds of awareness - we called them `dimensions of awareness' - awareness of self, of nature, of other people and of Reality. So the individual was one who was aware.

But at the same time we saw that the individual was more than just one who was aware. The awareness of the individual was more than just an awareness. The individual was aware of being aware, so that the awareness that characterized, the characterizes, the individual, is what we call a reflexive awareness. The individual is self-conscious not in the ordinary colloquial sense, but in the sense in which self consciousness is tantamount to reflexive consciousness or reflexive awareness. Now this is all very familiar ground, or at least it should be very familiar ground, so I've covered it very very rapidly. I don't want to spend much time going over it. For in this way we saw, at the very beginning, that the individual was aware- the individual had self-awareness, self-consciousness or reflexive consciousness.

We also saw that the individual - the True Individual - was emotionally positive. That he was characterized by emotions of friendliness, compassion, joy, faith, devotion. And later on - perhaps even a few years later - we saw, as our understanding of the nature of individuality grew and developed, we saw that the individual was responsible. He was aware that actions had consequences. He was aware that he was responsible for his actions, and therefore responsible for the consequences of his actions. We saw too that the individual was sensitive, independent or autonomous, and receptive. And more recently we've come to see that the individual is characterised by imagination. And in this way, little by little, year by year, our list of qualities of the individual, our list of the characteristics of the individual - the True Individual - has increased, so that it's now quite a long list. There are several qualities in fact that I haven't mentioned.

While I was preparing this talk, while I thinking about this talk, I just jotted down all the qualities or characteristics that I thought could be described as qualities or characteristics of the individual. There were altogether about twenty of them - so clearly there are quite a few that I haven't mentioned - but which it Page 3 of 11 isn't necessary on this occasion to mention.

Now these qualities or characteristics of the individual - of the True Individual - are not mere attributes of individuality. They are not something, so to speak, external to it in the sense of having been added on to it from the outside. These qualities, these characteristics, represent different aspects, even different dimensions, of individuality itself. And our list of qualities or characteristics of the individual, is increasing because our understanding of the nature of individuality is gradually deepening. And now, on this occasion, it's deepening or broadening, if you like, to include what I've chosen to term `fidelity'.

Fidelity is a quality or characteristic of the individual.

Now, the literal meaning of the word is not difficult to understand. According to that indispensable companion of every speaker and writer, the dictionary, fidelity means the quality of being faithful. It means faithfulness. It means loyalty, but this assuredly does not really help us very much. We have to ask ourselves what fidelity is as a quality of the individual. What is it that makes it a quality of the individual? We have also to ask what the objects of that fidelity are? Also, what the obstacles to that fidelity are, or if you like the enemies to fidelity? And perhaps also, we have to consider what the tests of fidelity are? This will gave us a rough framework for our discussion of the subject. But you should not think that I am going to give you this evening, the first and the last words on the subject and all the words in between.

Individuality, we may say, is incommensurable; it cannot be measured, cannot be weighed, cannot be estimated. It's unfathomable and inexhaustible. And that applies, no doubt, to the qualities or characteristics of individuality. So I am going to simply offer you some ideas on the subject of fidelity, ideas that you will have to work on or work out yourselves. Ideas that you'll have to relate to your own experience and your own behaviour.

Now, I spoke of a framework for discussion, and framework is of course a sort of spatial image. It doesn't suggest any particular temporal or logical sequence. The contents of a framework, of any framework can be enumerated, can be deployed in any order, provided that the enumeration or deployment is complete.

So I shall not be dealing with the questions that I have raised in connection with fidelity in quite the same order in which I actually did raise them.

I am going to start with what seems to be the easiest question - or at least the most accessible - which is "What are the objects of fidelity"? The objects of fidelity. In other words, who or what is one faithful to? The objects of fidelity, so far as I can see, are three in number - or rather perhaps, there are three headings under which all the different kinds of fidelity can be included. First of all, there is fidelity to oneself.

Secondly, there is fidelity to ideals. Thirdly, there is fidelity to other people. I did think of enumerating fidelity to one's given word separately, but on reflection I decided to include it under fidelity to oneself, though it could be also be regarded as a form of fidelity to oneself and others. So we've just three objects, or three kinds of objects of fidelity. I may have something to say about fidelity to one's word later on.

Probably you all have some idea at least about what is meant by fidelity to oneself. This can also be expressed in terms of being true to oneself. Im sure most of you know those lines of Polonius to Laertes in Hamlet where he says, "This above all, to thine own self be true, and it will follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man." So being true to oneself means consistently acting, speaking, and thinking in accordance with what is best, what is highest, in oneself - or in accordance with one's own best or highest interests. It involves seeing oneself as it were objectively, though not in any sort of cold-blooded fashion. It consists in being consistently faithful to one's own real interests, in the highest and fullest sense. This is fidelity to oneself.

Page 4 of 11 Fidelity to ideals is not so easy to explain. Fidelity to ideals does not mean necessarily fidelity to ideas.

So what then is the difference between the two; between idea and ideal? Some of you no doubt will know, that D.H.Lawrence very vigorously denounced ideals. He denounced ideals as opposed to life and opposed to creativity. But he seems to have confused ideals with just ideas. An ideal may be defined as a regulative model for human existence. But - and this is the important point - this model is not imposed upon human existence from without - its derived from human existence itself. An ideal brings the basic trend or, if you like, the true nature of that existence more clearly into awareness, more clearly into consciousness, and thus it intensifies that trend - that basic trend. It raises it, we may say even, to a higher power of itself. And in this way, ideals are instruments of human development, instruments of human evolution. Ideals can of course - or human beings holding ideals can of course - lose touch with the concrete human situation, lose touch with concrete experience, and when that happens of course ideals cease to function as ideals, they become, we may say, dead ideals, and dead ideals we are not really ideals at all. Dead ideals are simply ideas, and it's then right that we should rebel against them and reject them.

So fidelity to ideals means consistently acting, speaking, and thinking in accordance with the regulative model, or models, of human existence. It means being ...

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