An individual has two parts, his spiritual, or divine nature, and his self, or lower nature. His spirit is manifested by the soul, and his self, within the material body.
The aim of religious is to perfect the individual, but this means the whole person: where self becomes wholly subordinate to the spirit. If spirit is a light, then self is the cold and crude lantern which encases this light. It can also protect and nurture its flame; choice decides whether it will hide or reveal the inner realities.
Because the lantern is the tangible thing, so self is the most direct thing we can operate on. This can caused the goal of “perfecting the individual” to become “perfecting the self”.
For example, in the pursuit of knowledge, it seems most natural and accessible to increase the knowledge of the self, through discipline and learning. But this does not necessarily make the individual more wise. In fact, it can seem in every way to be like wisdom – to give every appearance of it – but it may still not be real wisdom.
The path of knowledge for the individual is to learn, as well as knowable things, also the immensity of the unknown, of mystery, of God’s inscrutable Will. This knowledge must increase until the self utterly abandons any feeling that it possesses real knowledge. At that point, knowledge comes from its acquiescence before God, and dawns in the heart through spiritual inspiration. “Fear God, and God will give you knowledge”.
So the individual is not perfected through enriching the self, even though it seems that the self can acquire virtue and learn humility. Instead, its humility must come from its awe of the Creator, and trembling before His majesty. Whatever it may seem to possess is as nothing, and this cannot be in thought alone. If he hold a cup full of water, he must contemplate the Sea at all times.