The Value of an Ideal
From A Study in Consciousness
By Annie Besant
An ideal is a fixed mental concept of an inspiring character, framed for the guidance of conduct, and the formation of an ideal is one of the most effective means of influencing desire. The ideal may, or may not, find embodiment in an individual, according to the temperament of the man who frames it, and it must ever be remembered that the value of an ideal depends largely on its attractiveness, and that which attracts one temperament by no means necessarily attracts another. An abstracted ideal and a personal one are equally good, regarded from a general standpoint, and that should be selected which has, on the individual choosing it, the most attractive influence. A person of the intellectual temprement will usually find an abstract ideal the more satisfactory; whereas one of the emotional temprement will demand a concrete embodiment of his though. The disadvantage of the abstract ideal is that it is apt to fail in compelling inspiration; the disadvantage of the concrete embodiment is that the embodiment is apt to fall below the ideal.
The mind creates the ideal, and either retains it as an abstraction, or embodies it in the person. The time chosen for the creation of an ideal should be a time when the mind is calm and steady and luminous, when the desire- nature is asleep. Then the Thinker should consider the purpose of his life, the goal at which he aims, and with this to guide his choice, he should select the qualities necessary to enable him to reach that goal. These qualities he should combine into a single concept, imagining as strongly as he can this integration of the qualities he needs. Daily he should repeat this integration process, until his ideal stands out clearly in the mind, dowered with all beauty of high though and noble character, a figure of compelling attractiveness. The man of intellect will keep this ideal as a pure concept. The man of emotional nature will embody it in a person, such as the Buddha, the Christ, Shri Krishna or some other divine Teacher. In this latter case he will, if possible, study His life, His teachings, His actions, and the ideal will thus become more and more strongly vivified, more and more and more real to the Thinker. Intense love will spring up in the heart for this embodied ideal, and desire will stretch out longing arms to embrace it. And when temptation assails, and the lower desires clamour for satisfaction, then the attractive power of the ideal asserts itself, the loftier desire combats the baser, and the Thinker finds himself reinforced by right desire, the negative strength of memory which says:
"Abstain from the base", being fortified by the positive strength of the ideal which says: "Achieve the heroic".
The man who lives habitually in the presence of a great ideal is armed against wrong desires by love of his ideal, by shame of being base in its presence, by the longing to resemble that which he adores, and also by the general set and trend of his mind along lines of noble thinking. Wrong desires become more and more incongruous. They perish naturally, unable to breathe in the pure clear air.
It may be worth while to remark here, in view of the destructive results of historical criticism, in the minds of many, that the value of the ideal Christ, the ideal Buddha, the ideal Krishna, is no way injured by any lack of historical data, by any defects in the proofs of the authenticity of a manuscript. Many of the stories related may not be historically true, but they are sent spiritual facts, whether the physical incidents be or be not true historically true.
The though may shape and direct desire, and turn it from an enemy into an ally. By changing the direction of desire, it becomes a lifting and quickening instead of a retarding force, and where desires for objects held us fast in the mire of earth, desire for the ideal lifts us on strong wings to heaven.