Four Idols of the Mind

In our lives, we encounter people who no matter what you say to them, will interpret you through their own minds. You will say one thing, but they will understand another thing from your words. Why? Because their minds are not clean or purified. If their minds were pure, they would understand the speaker in its correct meaning. In other words, they can hear but they understand what their heart wants them to hear and they interpret according to that.

Unfortunately, these people worship idols. Not idols made of wood or metal, as they can be broken, but rather idols of the mind, which are very difficult to break. The idols of the mind keep the mind constantly occupied with distractions and false lenses, not letting a person grow out of their superficialness. To break the idols of the mind, we must first identify and then recognize them. Idols of the mind are of four types1:

1) Idols of one’s tribe: In the past, when someone was part of a tribe or clan, they would not accept the practices of any other clan or tribe except their own. They considered everything within their clan or tribe to be correct and everything outside of that would be deemed invalid.

Today, nation-states, political parties, and other similar organizations and groups have replaced traditional clans and tribes. These new entities are now idols that occupy our minds, and we restrict truth exclusively to our own nation, our own political party, or our own organization. Breaking these idols is not simple.

2) Idols of rituals and habits: Another idol our mind worships is the idol of rituals and habits. Fighting against day-to-day problematic habits is extremely difficult because they generally become idols for us. This idol of our minds also becomes a disposition and abandoning it is very hard. As some say, withdrawing from an addiction or a habit not only causes illness but can also cause death. In other words, withdrawing from rituals and habits is not easy and constantly keeps our minds occupied.

3) Idols of propaganda and deception: Another type of idol is when we take certain ideas or thoughts which are not true, but then decorate and embellish them to make them appear truer, and more important than they actually are. The media, news outlets, and other propaganda sources will often take something empty and vain, and blow it out of proportion or present it as true, usually to fulfill some agenda. These ideas and thoughts become idols for the mind and the mind constantly remains in the worship of these empty ideas.

4) Idols of ambiguity: Some people believe in things that are very ambiguous and unclear, yet they believe in them and think these beliefs are absolutely true. They will fight and die for these beliefs, but if you ask them a few questions about these beliefs, they will be unable to explain anything about it.2 The mind however sinks deep into this ambiguity and this thought becomes an idol of it.


  1. Taken from a talk by contemporary Iranian philosopher Gholam-Hossein Ebrahimi Dinani.
  2. This was something I experienced a lot in the seminary when conversing with people, and I myself only became conscious of the existence of this problem when I was put on the spot by some of my teachers regarding some ideas I held. Many times I would encounter students who would hold firmly to certain beliefs and views, speak about them, defend them with passion, and even be willing to excommunicate others for not holding on to those beliefs, but often a simple question or two asking them to explain their beliefs in a coherent and consistent manner would leave them speechless. It would seem as if they had never thought about this belief for even a minute during their entire time in the seminary.