“Harmonising Virtues and Defects"


The Duality Between Virtue and Defect

VALUES COMPRISE THAT combination of virtues which society deems superior to others. They represent qualities which, in the best-case scenario, a society will try to spread, and, in the worst, it will try to impose on others.

Virtue and defect are the two sides of the same coin — together, they form a duality. What is a virtue for some is perceived as a defect by others, and what is a virtue in one situation can be a defect in another. For example, to be serene is a virtue, but achieving inner serenity can make us cold and unsympathetic. To be empathetic is also a virtue, but empathy is sometimes achieved by being sentimental and overemotional. Serenity and coldness therefore stand as the two sides in a duality, as do sensitivity and sentimentality.

How to express a virtue without manifesting its shadow ― the defect? In a duality, when we suppress the shadow, it will grow and eventually come to overpower us. One common way of suppressing our shadow is by claiming to possess only the positive aspect, projecting our darkness onto the ‘other’. When we do so, the ‘other’ becomes the evil that we must fight.

How do we harmonise a duality? The first step is to recognise that, in a duality, it is impossible to separate one aspect from the other. The two concepts behave like the twin poles of a magnet — even if we were to split a magnet in two, each of its parts would continue to express its positive and negative poles, so that we cannot be left with only one of the two. The Cheyenne writer Hyemeyohsts Storm expresses this with extreme lucidity when he writes:

These People (westerners) had been taught by the Black Ropes (the clergy) that good and evil existed as separate things. We talked with them about this philosophy and discovered their confusion. They had these two things set apart. But they are not separate. These things are found in the same Forked Tree. If One Half tries to split itself from the Other Half, the Tree will become crippled or die. These People we discovered were trying to split this Tree with their law. But you cannot split this Tree with law. Rather than taking this barren Way, we must tie together the paradoxes of our Twin Nature with the things of One Universe. (Seven Arrows, 1975 Ballantine Books. New York U.S.A. pg 125)

Instead of taking this rather barren approach, the best thing to do when faced with a duality is to harmonise it, by coaxing it into always showing its amiable side. It is much like the Moon, which always shows us the same face. That is not to say, however, that her hidden face has disappeared.

By Dylan Odonnell. Public Domain.

By Dylan Odonnell. Public Domain.

The Moon always shows us the same face due to a phenomenon called ‘tidal locking’. This ‘locking’ occurs when a celestial body loses its own rotation, owing to the pull of a heavier celestial body. The side of the smaller body carrying the greater mass will then end up continually pointing towards the larger one around which it revolves. It is a bit like tying a weight to a spinning wheel: at first the wheel will turn, but once it loses its inertia it will settle with the weight facing downwards towards the Earth.

The same can be done with dualities: we can harmonise them in such a way that they always show us their amiable side. But in order to do this, we need to find the complementary value of the virtue onto which we wish to tidally lock it. In this way, just as the Moon loses its inertia and locks onto her complementary celestial body (the Earth), we can make our defects lose their inertia by locking their counterpart virtues onto their complements.

How do we find the complementary value of a given virtue? There is a very specific formula that tells us:

The complement is the opposite of the shadow.

In the case of virtues, the formula shows us how that which complements a given virtue is the opposite of the defect associated with that virtue. For example, if the shadow of serenity is coldness, then its complement will be the opposite of coldness, which is to be warm, sensitive and empathetic.

If the shadow of caution is fear, and the opposite of fear is courage, then courage complements *caution *preventing both virtues from expressing their shadow.

To take a further example, if the opposite of optimism is pessimism, and the harmonious expression of pessimism is realism, then being realistic is the complementary state of being optimistic.

Why does the opposite of a defect allow us to avoid that defect? It allows us to avoid it because the opposite is, by definition, the negation of something, making it impossible to express the two opposites simultaneously. For example, we can be serene and cold at the same time, because that depends on one’s point of view (they form a duality), but we cannot be simultaneously cold and empathetic, or serene and sentimental. What opposites can do is alternate, and this is in fact what happens. This is the way they express balance, through alternation — by taking turns, one after the other.

As a result, the union of a virtue with its complement locks us into both virtues simply because each complement, as the opposite of the defect, prevents us from expressing this defect. Just like the Moon, which always shows us the same face, we will have succeeded in harmonising duality, thereby jumping to the next stage of evolution. Evolution is nothing more than the process of overcoming duality by combining the harmonious expression of something with its complementary virtue.

In our current stage of evolution as human beings, this process will allow us to transcend the fifth level, that of the ‘rational’ mind, in order to reach the sixth level, which is connected to the intuitive mind. In yoga, the rational mind is called manas or middle mind, while the intuitive mind is called buddhi or higher mind. Thus, we can transcend the human condition and rise into the next stage, which I call angelical.

Our current condition is already described in the word ‘human’: ‘Hu’ is an old name for God in many traditions. For example, in Ancient Egypt, Hu was the all-encompassing God of Gods expressed as the Word or divine utterance[1], while among the druids he was the mighty and all-pervading Sun-god[2] While ‘man’ comes from manas, the Sanskrit word for the rational or thinking mind. Since both Sanskrit and many European languages share a common Indo-European ancestry, the word manas gave rise to mentis (Latin) and from there to ‘mind’ (English), mente (Italian, Spanish and Portuguese), ment (Catalan), etc. This similarity is even more evident in the Spanish adjective humanas (humane in plural and feminine).

I call the technique that can help us in this process of evolution “The Art of Finding Ourselves”. It is a method for finding our inner HU (the Self), which remains hidden under the veil of MANAS (the middle mind). The first step towards this rediscovery of the Self is to transcend the middle mind and start thinking from the intuitive mind (also called Buddhi, higher mind or the Heart). The technique is described in a book of the same title, which you can start reading by clicking here.

The moiety – when complementary virtues unite

THE ABOVE EXAMPLES suggests that if we are able to harmonise the duality between empathy (virtue) and sentimentality (defect) by locking empathy into serenity (complementary virtue), we will be able to express a ‘serene empathy’, also known as compassion. Compassion is therefore a higher expression of empathy, an empathy without sentimentality. It is an expression of empathy at the level of the Heart or intuitive mind.

On the other hand, in transcending the duality between serenity (virtue) and coldness (defect), by locking serenity into empathy (complementary virtue), we are in fact expressing an empathetic form of serenity, also known as equanimity. Equanimity is therefore the higher expression of serenity: a serenity without coldness, one that also comes directly from the Heart.

This enables us to integrate two virtues pertaining to that sixth stage of evolution I call ‘angelical’. It allows us to be compassionate and equanimous, two complementary virtues that Buddhism considers to be the noblest of all human qualities, together with benevolence and sympathetic joy.

In The Art of Finding Ourselves, these qualities are attributed to the harmonious integration of the Water, element.. In a very inspiring cartoon series called “Avatar, the Last Airbender” domain over the Water element is called Water bending. Those cartoons make a very good introduction to the idea, however the real ‘bending’ of an element is not physical but takes place at a much deeper level. Bending is the result of the harmonious integration of that element at an emotional and mental level.

There are three further elements to bend (Earth, Fire and Air), plus a fifth element, a Quintessence, which can only be harmonised after the other four have been brought into balance. In the series, only the avatar has domain over the four elements, but we are all potential avatars. We all can gain this domain in order to open the gate of the fifth element, which I call Light and which includes the harmonious manifestation of the other four. The two harmonious complementary values of this Quintessence are ‘love’ and ‘detachment’.

Love also has its shadow: ‘*attachment’ and an opposite. *Many people believe that hate is the opposite of love, which just shows the level of confusion we are dealing with. The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. You can do this experiment for yourself. Take three plants that are alive. Give love to one, hate the other, and remain indifferent to the third one. The one you hate will not grow as beautiful as the one you love, but it will still grow because even hate is a form of attention, thus creating an energy exchange. It is like an amateur musician playing a melody dedicated to you. Perhaps the music is out of tune but they are playing it to you.

Only indifference denies all exchanges of energy. This is why it is easier to transmute hate into love than to make someone who ignores you either love or hate you.

With love as the harmonious expression of attachment and indifference as its opposite, to find the complementary value of love, we either look for the positive side of indifference or for the opposite of attachment. The concept that fits both definitions is detachment.

It is the moiety between love and detachment that prevents us from falling into attachment or indifference (their respective shadows), for where there is detachment, there can be no attachment, and where there is* love there can be no indifference. *It is only when this fifth essence has finally been brought into balance that we can establish ourselves in the Heart or higher mind.

The next stage of evolution, that which allows us to transition from the Heart to the Self, can only be understood once we get there, and since I have not quite reached this stage myself, there is not much else that I can say. What I can prove to you is how the three fundamental values of our contemporary western society lock us into the middle mind (5th level) without offering us a chance to evolve to the next layer of the Soul: the intuitive mind (6th level). I do that in my next article.

*I thank Will Darlington and Ruth Grant for revising the article English.


  1. Hart George, *A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses,* Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1986
  2. Hall Manly P., *The Secret Teachings of All Ages*, The Philosophical Research Society, Inc. Los Angeles, 1977