How to Avoid Self-conceit and Vanity
This is another vice of the Power of Anger—a condition in which a man thinks highly of himself because of some advantage, real or imagined. On the other hand, he fails to acknowledge the attributes of perfection of God, Who is the source of all things. A great number of traditions point out the evilness of this trait. One quotes the Prophet (S) as having said:
Even if you do not commit any sins, I fear that you. May fall into something, which is worse: conceit! Conceit!
The evil products of self-conceit and vanity are: arrogance; forgetfulness; negligence of one’s faults, and, therefore, failure to correct them; falling of the worth of one’s deeds in the eyes of men and God; absence of gratitude for God’s blessings, and thus risking their loss; failure to ask questions about the things one is ignorant of, and, therefore, remaining in ignorance; and finally, holding and proclaiming of incorrect and unfounded opinions.
In order to cure an individual of this disease, it is necessary for him to turn his attention towards God and to know Him. When he realizes that only the omnipotent Creator deserves worship and praise, and that he is nothing in comparison with the majesty of God, and that there is absolutely nothing which he may call his own, and that even beings far more superior to himself, such as the prophets and angels, are nothing in comparison with God, he shall awake to the fact that it is absurd to be conceited and vain, and that he must consider himself what, in truth, he is: an insignificant creature of God.
When man contemplates his humble beginnings as a sperm-drop, his certain end as a handful of dust, and the brief interval of his life as a wretched creature prone to disease and dominated and driven by lust and instincts, he will forget not only his vanity but his very self, and devote his entire being to the worship of God. The Quran says:
Perish man! How unthankful he is! Of what did He create him? Of a sperm-drop. He created him, and proportioned him, then the way eased for him, then makes him to die, and buries him; then, when He wills, He raises him. (80:17-22)
And we have the following couplet from a Persian poet:
Do not boast of your riches, vigor and elegance, since thieves can take one of them away in one night, and the other can vanish at a single stroke of fever.
It must be kept in mind that vanity and self-conceit may also be caused when one is favored with such—Divine blessings as knowledge, devotion, piety, faith, courage, generosity, patience, an honorable ancestry, beauty, wealth, strength, high position, intelligence, and so on. In order to avoid such an outcome, one must always remember one’s weaknesses and shortcomings; such remembrance will help him to avert conceit.
The opposite of self-conceit and vanity is modesty, which is a most worthy trait that brings about edification of the soul and man’s perfection.
Muhammad Mahdi ibn Abi Dhar al-Naraqi, Jami' al-Sa'adat, The collector of felicities, P. 82-83