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The Rare Quality of Integrity

Buddha on Integrity

A continuation of “Who Is the Worthy Person?”

“The man who wears the yellow-dyed robe but is not free from stains himself, without self-restraint and integrity, is unworthy of the robe. But the man who has freed himself of stains and has found peace of mind in an upright life, possessing self-restraint and integrity, he is indeed worthy of the dyed robe” (Buddha from the Dhammapada 9, 10).


Integrity is the third necessary trait of the worthy. In an era where the drive for “getting ahead” and for material gain and personal power are so prevalent–even obsessive–the idea of integrity as more important than any of them is not only shunted aside it is mocked and despised. I cannot think how long it has been since I even heard the word “self-respect” come up in a conversation, book, or lecture. Egotism and arrogance under the label of “self-esteem” are tacitly considered virtues, whereas self-effacement and humility are looked upon as marks of either weakness, stupidity, or Oriental craftiness.

Frankly, although I do not hesitate to write on metaphysical subjects of cosmic significance or of mystical and esoteric arcana, I find myself stymied when confronted with a need to expound the simple virtue of integrity.

I just do not know where to begin in addressing those who, like myself, live in a society that has been stripped of nearly all virtue in every aspect of public and personal life. Those once-cited historical models of virtue are busily being “debunked” and besmirched by the fabrications of revisionist “historians” who are frantic to prove that virtue is not only non-existent but impossible except in the minds of fools who live in fantasy. The “real world” they present to us is not only devoid of divinity, it is also devoid of genuine humanity.

Is there anything more inhuman than contemporary “humanism”?

Some translators use “truthfulness” or “truth” rather than integrity to underline the ideal of living true to our true nature. But rather than expound at great length on what integrity means, I will tell you how to get it: turn within and evoke it from your own essential being. It will put you out of step with much of “life” but that is the idea, is it not? At least it is Buddha’s idea and, I hope, it is yours.

Peace of mind

According to Buddha, those who possess purity, self-restraint, and integrity will find “peace of mind in a upright life.” There is no other way for individuals, associations, nations, and the world. And peace does exist only in the mind, not in the uneasy cease-fires or political apathy that the world means by “peace.”

Those who speak or act for world peace do good, but those who become peaceful do best. For peace, like unrest, is contagious, and is an inward state. The meditator does more for peace and “world order” than any other. If we look at the great peacemakers and world teachers we will see that every one of them without exception was firmly rooted in the consciousness of Spirit.

Gandhi’s Integrity

Gandhi's Integrity

This is why Gandhi was called Mahatma: Great Soul. He was manifesting his spirit through his life. And we can do the same. I lived for some time with Sri Kaka Sahib Kalellkar, who was Gandhi’s personal secretary and his personal attendant in jail. He told me that Gandhi spent his nights in meditation so intense that each morning he could see the change that had been produced in him by the previous night’s meditation.

Meditation was the secret of Gandhi’s personal holiness and power for social transformation. Setting the inner life right, he perfected the outer life, seeing God in all–even in his murderer. Longfellow was right:

“Lives of great men all remind us we may make our lives sublime, and in passing leave behind us footprints on the sands of time.”

If we follow in the footsteps of Buddha and Gandhi we shall do the same.

Grow your spiritual library:

This is an excerpt from The Dhammapada for Awakening: A Commentary on Buddha’s Practical Wisdom, by Swami Nirmalananda, available as an ebook and in paperback at Amazon and other online retailers.

Further Reading:

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