Freeing the Heart from the Ego
If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother; but thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need in that which he wanteth. [Deuteronomy 15:7–8].
The material world often distracts our search for happiness and contentment. It detains our soul and imprisons our heart with possessions, fame and physical pleasures. Seeking tranquility, we lunge at illusions and grasp self-deception.
However, in your current condition you cannot experience such tranquility because this world is the abode of distress and plague. Therefore, it is imperative that you walk away and let your heart be free from it. Should your hand not be able to let go of it, then keep holding it, but get it out of your heart. Once you become stronger, then release it from your hand and give to the poor, the needy, and the indigent ones. Make it a gift to all the dependents of God Almighty…. What matters is the correct attitude of your heart and innermost being and their charity. They become pure and clear as you become … sincere in what you do, and become a truthful seeker of God Almighty. [Abdul Qadir Gilani, The Endowment of Divine Grace and Spread of Divine Mercy (Al-Fathu Rabbani) translated by Muhammad M. Al-Akili].
Our intentions follow our will. At the base of our intentions are our moral and spiritual beliefs. Given adequate authority, these beliefs control our actions and keep us from regrettable deeds.
Right understanding (or right views) is the grasping of true reality, as seen in the Buddhist teachings; it is not merely an intellectual understanding, although this helps. Rather it is a direct insight and penetration into the nature of things. Right thought (or right intentions) is that frame of mind which is selfless, detached and free of malice; that generosity of spirit which extends loving benevolence to all beings. [Age-of-the-Sage. The Origin and Teachings of Buddhism].
Only benevolence can turn our thoughts away from selfish motives and profane desires. We must harmonize our attitude, behavior and speech with the Divine Reality. We must concentrate our will on the pleasure of God.
And what brings God pleasure? The love of God and love of neighbor. Or in Wesley’s phrasing, “in two words, gratitude and benevolence; gratitude to our Creator and supreme Benefactor, and benevolence to our fellow creatures. Benefaction issues in beneficence. A grateful heart activates helping hands. [Leonard Sweet, The Greatest Story Never Told: Revive Us Again].
Converting the Heart
At the root of benevolence is volition, the using of our will to make a conscious decision. This comes from the classical Latin word voluntas, from volo, I wish.
We can add the prefixes bene or male to describe what’s in our heart. Benevolence — good will — is a conscious choice or decision to affirm the good, always disposed to kindness and generosity. Malevolence — ill will — is a condition of the heart that leads to unkindness, miserliness and selfishness.
Conversion is the process of changing our heart from malevolence to benevolence, from worldly thoughts to Divine thoughts. It means aligning our will with the Divine Will.
What is it to “convert the sinner from the error of his ways?” This error lies in his having a wrong object of life—his own present worldly interests. Hence to convert him from the error of his ways is to turn him from this course to a benevolent consecration of himself to God and to human well-being. This is precisely what is meant by conversion. It is changing the great moral end of action. It supplants selfishness and substitutes benevolence in its stead. [Charles Finney].
Inner Dimensions of Benevolence
Our good deeds have an outer and an inner dimension, a body and a heart. We physically give charity with our hand, but we need the heart to provide genuine good will and compassion.
In some sense, the most benevolent, generous person in the world, seeks his own happiness in doing good to others; because he places his happiness in their good. His mind is so enlarged as to take them, as it were, into himself. Thus, when they are happy, he feels it, he partakes with them, and is happy in their happiness. [Jonathan Edwards].
Without Divine involvement, our charity remains a commercial transaction, the bartering of one commodity for another. The economic benefit to us, or the moral obligation on the recipient, dilutes our generosity.
If the love of the world … is in any heart, there is no place for Divine Unity. Such hearts cannot discern gain and loss. In the heart, there is room for only one type of Love, either of the world or of God. The two loves cannot come together in the arena of the heart. [Abū Saʻīd ibn Abī al-Khayr, in Under the Sufi’s Cloak: Stories of Abu Saʻid and His Mystical].
Our lives are unaffected when we merely drop spare change in a can. When we give without the heart feeling a bond with the needy, we fail to remember our brotherhood and acknowledge our common human condition.
When I give alms, do I drop the coin without touching the hand (of the poor person, beggar)? And if by chance I do touch it, do I immediately withdraw it? When I give alms, do I look into the eyes of my brother, my sister? When I know a person is ill, do I go and visit that person? Do I greet him or her with affection? .. Don’t be ashamed of the flesh of our brother, it’s our flesh! We will be judged by the way we behave towards this brother, this sister. [Pope Francis].
When we feel no emotion or sympathy in giving, no bond is forged. When we injure the recipient’s dignity, we are doing more harm than good.
The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. [1 Timothy 1:5]
Divinely Minded Hearts
True benevolence follows a scriptural model. We are striving to imitate, on an earthly plain, the Divine beneficence of God. We are trying to implement His will on earth as it is in heaven.
Basic religious belief is a vote for some coherence, purpose, benevolence, and direction in the universe… I agree! Faith in any religion is always somehow saying that God is one and God is good, and if so then all of reality must be that simple and beautiful too. [Richard Rohr].
Benevolence swallows the unkind word, and harnesses the cruel remark. It silences the harsh wit and restrains the malicious urge to hurt or humiliate. A benevolent heart build a life based on pleasing God.
…indeed, true and sincere charity must be considered to proceed from a heart altogether pure and a good conscience and faith unfeigned, with which we love our neighbor as ourselves. [Bernard of Clairvaux].
Our physical, mental and spiritual conditions reach their peak through a benevolent heart that offers all its energy in service to God. Continually escalating our good will, we rise in virtues and grow in God-consciousness.
Could, then, one whose bosom God has opened wide with willingness towards self-surrender unto Him, so that he is illumined by a light [that flows] from his Sustainer, [be likened to the blind and deaf of heart]? Woe, then, unto those whose hearts are hardened against all remembrance of God! They are most obviously lost in error! [Quran 39:22].