Letters to Tom — Vanity

Dear Tom,

I posted yesterday that we would continue the discussion I began this week about jarring the ego and what the Sufis call the spirit of vanity. Your Sufi mystic Hazrat Kahn says without the spirit of vanity working in every being, there would be no good or bad. That all virtues and every evil are the off spring of the spirit of vanity.

This dichotomy puzzles me. The solution seems difficult to fathom as well. I recognize a person expects others to see him/her as he thinks he is. We wish to be admired and often we accumulate material things and positions in society merely to be admired. The desire for things that gratify our vanity is endless, and the more we accumulate the more we desire. As this desire increases we can become blind and lose sight of right and justice. I also understand that this same vanity can make us look at others as inferior to oneself and culminate in prejudice and hatred. Sometimes a person even is generous not for the sake of kindness but to satisfy vanity.

If it’s true that a person’s satisfaction comes from the opinion others have of him, not from his own opinion of himself. Where does the virtue come from vanity? How do we train ourselves to temper this spirit that seems to grow like kudzu in our souls? We need a little help here.

As I think about it, the answer may lie at one of the most basic premises of our spirit. Who is at the center of our heart and in our lives? If the center is our self, we are in danger of vanity growing like possession vine and taking over and dominating our being. If on the other hand, God is at our core there is no room for vanity or self, so there’s nowhere for the kudzu and possession vine to take root. These are simple analogies my friend. What do y’all think? Webb

About the author

Webb Hubbell is the former Associate Attorney General of The United States. His novels, When Men Betray, Ginger Snaps, A Game of Inches, The Eighteenth Green, and The East End are published by Beaufort Books and are available online or at your local bookstore. When Men Betray won one of the IndieFab awards for best novel in 2014. Ginger Snaps and The Eighteenth Green won the IPPY Awards Gold Medal for best suspense/thriller. His latest, “Light of Day” will be on the bookstands soon.


  1. Dear Webb,

    I agree… this is a perplexing perspective, and I find it somewhat complex to sort through as well. Here’s how I think it works for Vanity to be considered as the central theme of life: Kahn taught that there are two natures that comprise humans. The first is “furishtagi” or the angelic which is the source of a person’s kindness, love, sympathy, and desire for knowledge. A person’s divine characteristics derive from furishtagi. The 2nd is called hayvanat, or animal. It is associated with the body, and the needs for food, drink, sleep, and satisfaction of passions. Anger, jealousy, ego, and envy derive from hayvanat.

    Vanity, as I understand this, is found in every person. Experiencing and tasting life through our inner mind (or heart) is called divine vanity. This form of vanity is the pleasure one derives in being in this life as a unique part of the Divine.

    The cruder part of vanity can manifest as satisfaction of pride, and if this becomes a dominant drive, it can lead to cruelty and tyranny. However, to the degree one struggles with one’s animal vanity and pride, it becomes possible to connect with the more beautiful part of vanity, the part connected with divinity. But that struggle is difficult, as vanity is a core part of every person’s ego and makeup. Which, I believe, is part of what is meant in the Sufi exhortation, “May we die over and over to who we think we are.”

    I’m not sure this helps, Webb, but it might feed more discussion???

    Your friend

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