The heroic approach through WILL and COURAGE is one of the seven ways of self-realization according to Roberto Assagioli.
By Roberto Assagioli, undated, A revised copy, From the Assagioli Archive in Florence.
Spiritual realization, as we said earlier, is generally conceived in terms of religiousness or as a purely inner experience, and therefore the fact that it can be attained through heroic action is seldom recognized. In our opinion, an unbiased observation of the facts shows that it is primarily and predominantly through selflessness and self-sacrificing action that a certain number or category of men rises to great heights. In their case, their reality and potency of the spirit is demonstrated through the overcoming of the major and most deep-rooted instinct existing in natural or biological man: the instinct of self-preservation. The inner quality or energy required for such an attainment is: COURAGE
Hermann Keyserling has clearly seen and expressed the spiritual value and function of courage: ” Courage is the original conqueror of original Fear… Courage is the absolute, anti-natural: from the point of view of original Fear, Courage is absolute Non-Sense, because original Fear requires security at any price, the refusal to expose oneself to danger. But Courage does not coincide either with original Hunger (greed), because its significance is the mastery of the instincts. It’s essence is self-mastery as opposed to self-indulgence. Courage is something real and positive in a substantial sense. Nothing acts more directly than Courage on everyday being. Its intervention changes all preexisting relationships; and gives a new meaning and a new direction to the subsequent course of events. In this sense, Courage itself is the magical power par excellence… Courage is in a wide sense the prototype of spiritual power… The Latin word animus means both Spirit and Courage.’ “(1)
Perhaps this fact h:s been intuitively realised by the mass of humanity more clearly than by the philosophers. The myth of the Hero has always been prominent in popular consciousness and a source of inspiration to the young. One of its more definite and more developed images is that of Hercules. Others include Siegfried, David, the ideal Knight, etc. In the Orient we find the same appreciation of the hero type, with a far keener awareness of its spiritual quality.
Acoording to the Hindu convention – the men who belonged to the Kehlatrya or warrior caste were not inferior to the Brahmanic or religious caste; their way of Spiritual achievement was different, that was all. The spiritual ethics or Dharma, of the warrior, is beautifully illustrated in the Bhagavad Gita, the Song of the Lord, which forms part of the great epic poem, the Mahabarata.
In Japan, the same ideal is upheld both in the Shinto, and in some respects, in Zen Buddhism.
In order to understand the specific nature of this approach we should consider the points of similarity as well as the points of difference existing between this and the other approaches.
In the type of realisation we are considering, we find a central attitude that is the common prerequisite in every kind of spiritual realization: the overcoming and the surrender of the small and egotistical personal self. The difference lies only in the method and in the direction. In this case, the overcoming of the personal self with its limitations, attachments, fears and inhibitions, is achieved not through introversion and ascent, rising above it, but through extra-version, the dedication to an external cause or mission to which supreme value is attributed, a dedication demonstrating by means of self-sacrificing action which may go as far as self-immolation for the trumph of that cause.
Such heroes consider themselves, more or less consciously but factually, as instruments of a higher and wider impersonal principle or value. In this, they show their close similarity; to the mystics. Their devotion to the cherished cause is a form of love, oven if it is not felt and manifested in the emotional or sentimental way generally associated with Heroes, no less than the mystics are willing to and undergo physical hardships, and often treat their bodies in stern and DRASTIC ways, which can be considered a form of asceticism. But whereas religious asceticism is deliberately self-imposed as a means of purification and of release from attachments, the hero does not seek for hardships; he accepts them in the measure in which he considers them the necessary means for the achievement of his task and the attainment of his purpose.
From a philosophical or theological point of view, one can say that the hero too reveals, expresses, and to some extent embodies, a divine quality. In this case it is the quality of Will Power, the Father Aspect, while the mystic reveals and expresses the Love or Son Aspect of Divinity.
The causes or ideals to which heroic men and women dedicate themselves are many and various, the chief ones being patriotic, social and scientific. The first named is the oldest and has received throughout the ages the dedication of countless men. In ancient Rome it was closely associated with the religion, which had a stern and virile character. It is significant that the word or virtue, virtus derives from vir, man, and had for the Romans the primary meaning of “energy”.
The dedication to social humanitarian causes inspired in more recent times a number of men and women to heroic deeds and the lives of some of them demonstrated such a continuous self-sacrifice that they well deserve the name given them of lay-saints. Such to mention just a few, were Florence Nightingale, Josephine Butler, Jane Addams, Abraham Lincoln, etc.
In the scientific field, the personal self-sacrifice and the heroic qualities are less conspicuous but in many cases, no less real. In the XVII century it required an exceptional courage to proclaim, as did Galileo, scientific findings that were opposed to the prevailing doctrines upheld by the church.
Among the many seekers for truth who surrendered their lives and chose to endure poverty, hardship and difficulties for many years, two of the best known are the Curies. In the field of technical invention (in a sense, the most earthy) men like Edison and George Washington Carver spent practically a lifetime experimenting in laboratories. Others, such as the first aviators, risked their lives in order to give humanity new powers over nature.
The spiritual value of those who have followed this way of realisation varies greatly from case to case (the same variations that we observe among religious persons and mystics). Here too we find mixed motives, different levels, exaggerations, and deviations…
- H. Keyserling, Meditations Sud-Americaines, Stock, Paris, 1932, p. 270.