As one of his spiritual disciplines, Saint Francis of Assisi never ate meat. Once, however, because he was ill, he ate a little bit of chicken. When his physical strength returned, he entered the city of Assisi. When he reached the city gate, he commanded the brother who was with him to tie a cord around his neck and drag him through the whole city as if he were a thief, loudly crying out: “Look! See this glutton who grew fat on the flesh of chickens that he ate without your knowledge.” [1]

If we want to make real progress in the spiritual life, then we need to develop the attribute of integrity. Integrity deepens and strengthens us. It binds us more firmly to our soul. Saint Francis understood the importance of maintaining our integrity even at great cost to ourselves.

Sometimes integrity means doing what is right, and sometimes it means doing that which may seem wrong to others. In either case, it is only our integrity that must be our guide. Humility is needed to live in this manner, and also great courage.

Rebbe Nachman speaks of two levels of truth: Emet and emet l’amito. Emet is what appears to be the truth externally, and emet l’amito is the truth that we know in our heart. Sometimes we need to go against the truth as it appears externally in order to be true to the truth as we understand and believe it in our heart.

Sri Ramakrishna put enormous emphasis on being genuine. He told his disciples:

“No lie of any sort is good. A false garb, even though a holy one, is not good. If the outer garb does not correspond to the inner thought, it gradually brings ruin.” [2]

All of the great teachers have told us that our inside and outside must be one. When our thoughts, words and deeds become one, then we are living with integrity.

When Marie Louise Burke, later known as Sister Gargi, first came to Swami Ashokananda at the Vedanta Society of San Francisco, he asked her, “What do you want?” She thought of many lofty replies, but then answered simply, “I want to be a real person.” And he was satisfied with that. [3]

Integrity is the sign of a holy man or woman. Integrity is more than a sense of uprightness; it is when the essence of a person permeates all aspects of his being. A person of integrity does not have to make a display of truthfulness or uprightness, it emanates into everything that he does. He is truly himself, and this is clear to everyone who meets him. He may act as a wise counselor or as an innocent child, but whatever he does, it appears completely natural.

A holy person does not need to wear an elaborate religious garment or exhibit overt acts of piety. His holiness is an inner garment that needs no outer expression. If he puts on outer garment, it will be in accordance with the particular role which God has assigned to him.

Rebbe Natan of Nemirov teaches that he who lives by truth is given an angel of truth that will enable him to know what is true. If we live with integrity, then all our words will resonate with the power of truth.

A holy person is different than a person who is merely a powerful personality. A powerful personality may be a force in the world, but he or she will still have many personal imperfections – parts of themselves that are at odds with the strength and even greatness that they exhibit in their chosen field.

This is not so with a holy person, their greatness will permeate every aspect of their being, from the smallest details to the broadest expressions of life. The reason for this is because a holy person is not just a highly developed personality; he is a soul-saturated personality. What this means is that the whole of his being is saturated with the power of the soul. It has become the dominant force, overriding all personality traits.

This is why there is this sense of wholeness and naturalness to a holy person. The power of the soul draws all the disparate parts of him together into one single, integrated whole.  It is this sense of completeness, of shlaimut that distinguishes the holy person from other people. It is this wholeness that is responsible for the sense of peace that others feel in his presence. His inner balance and harmony is conveyed to whoever comes into the radius of his influence.

This state of wholeness is the culmination of a long process of spiritual development. When we first incarnate on this earth plane, we have a fragmented and undeveloped personality. At this point, our link with our soul is tenuous and fragile; a mere thread that keeps us connected to our source. Over many lifetimes, we develop our personality until it starts to become an effective instrument in the world.

As our personality develops in this way, there comes a life when the influence of our soul begins to pour in with greater force. Gradually, over many lifetimes, our soul begins to instill its energy and consciousness into every aspect of our personality. Then a great life comes when the link between soul and personality comes to final fruition, where the power of the soul floods into the personality and they become one. It is in such a life that we get the great saints and spiritual teachers of humankind. It is such a life that produces holy integrity.

It is this soul force which gives power and authority to their words. It is what makes everything they do seem so alive, because it is flowing forth from the Infinite and Absolute source of all that is. As Swami Ashokananda explains:

“The Atman is the All, and in It reposes infinite power and energy and resourcefulness. If you want to do the Lord’s work and if you want to behave like human beings, as Vedanta looks upon a human being, then you have to call out the power that is within you and stand upon the ground of that power.” [4]

A person with integrity is all-powerful. He can overcome incredible obstacles. He can stand up against a thousand who oppose him. He can defy great despots and kings.

The Dhammapada states:

“The gift of Truth conquers all gifts. The taste of Truth conquers all sweetness. The joy of Truth conquers all pleasures.” [5]

To live with integrity is to live with the gift of truth, the taste of truth and the joy of truth. This is a lofty goal that is worthy of our highest aspirations and efforts.


Copyright © 2010, by Yoel Glick


Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Francis of Assisi, Early Documents: Saint, Founder and Prophet, eds. Regis Armstrong, J. Wayne and William Short (New York: New City Press, 1999-2001)
  2. ‘M’, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, as translated by Swami Nikhilananda
  3. Sister Gargi, A Disciple’s Journal
  4. Sister Gargi, A Disciple’s Journal
  5. Dhammapada, as translated by Juan Mascaro