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Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

Blessed Are Those Who Hunger And Thirst For Righteousness: The Fourth Beatitude

Today, we’re diving into the fourth Beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

This is the fifth post in a series on The Beatitudes, 8 keys to happiness that Jesus gifted to the world in his Sermon on the Mount. This series is meant to be read in order, so if you have not read the first four, I suggest you do so and then circle back to this one.

This one is interesting because it’s not “Blessed are those who are righteous” but “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Remember, the Beatitudes are there to help us navigate difficult times in our lives, gain strength from those moments of adversity, and guide us to happiness. So, this Beatitude is not just saying, “Good for you for living righteously!” Instead, it’s saying, “If there are circumstances in your life that make you yearn for a sense of righteousness that feels far away or out of reach, hang in there—as long as you keep that hunger and thirst alive, you will be filled with that which you seek.”

In this post, we’ll explore:

  • Where the hunger and thirst for righteousness springs from
  • How to turn these yearnings for righteousness into a constructive vision
  • How to put your vision for righteousness into action
  • What it means to eventually be filled by your hunger and thirst for righteousness

The Hunger And Thirst For Righteousness

Righteousness is basically all about trying to live virtuously and advocating for a more just, virtuous world at large. So, there are two types of hunger/thirst here. The first is hungering for one’s own righteousness—there are certain virtues or values that you know are important but which you find difficult to live up to. The second is the hunger for a more just society that lives up to those values. In both cases, cultivating righteousness starts from within.

Mahatma Gandhi’s life and teachings were centered around this idea of righteousness in the world starting from within the individual— “Be the change you want to see” is the famous quote often attributed to him. Confucius, who served as a military and political advisor, taught those in power,

“Just desire the good for yourself and the common people will be good. The virtue of the gentleman is like wind; the virtue of the small man is like grass. Let the wind blow over the grass and it is sure to bend.”

Confucius’ Analects
Confucius and righteousness
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Similarly, the Buddha taught that change in the outer world comes from within because those who cultivate righteousness in themselves are the best equipped to help others.

What Triggers Hunger And Thirst?

There’s a beautiful translation of this Beatitude from Aramaic to English: “Blessed are those who wait up at night, weakened and dried out inside by the unnatural state of the world, they are the ones who are encircled by a new society.”

There are plenty of injustices in the world that keep people up at night: war and genocide, oppression, systemic racism, political corruption, environmental destruction, and so on. These are just a few examples of global ongoing injustices, but there are many other smaller, local, isolated instances of injustice that affect us. These things fill us with feelings of anger, and sorrow and compassion for those who are suffering. And those are the feelings which trigger the hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Mystics and deeply spiritual people feel this hunger more than most because, as Spinoza observed,

“The good which every man who pursues virtue aims at for himself he will also desire for the rest of mankind, and all the more as he acquires a greater knowledge of God.”

Baruch Spinoza, 17th century Enlightenment philosopher

The anger and sorrow may feel messy and tumultuous but they are your body’s natural mechanisms for pointing your internal compass in the direction of the Divine Will. The hunger that they trigger is what stirs the Divine within you to correct injustices with acts of loving kindness.

Intention And Action

The first step is to recognize and acknowledge those feelings of hunger. The more self-aware you are, the freer you are to consciously create your life. When you allow yourself space to feel things like anger and sorrow, those feelings will eventually give way to a clearer state of mind that allows you to follow your inner compass and set a vision to pursue.

In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, one of the most important Hindu scriptures, it is said,

“As your desire is, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.”

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Hindu scripture

So, that hunger for righteousness you feel will help you set intentions shaped by a particular vision of who you want to be and what kind of change you want to see in the world. Righteousness enters the world through actions that arise from those clear intentions.

So, what does the hunger and thirst for righteousness look like for you? For me, I believe we live in a world where no one feels free because not everyone is free. That’s why we feel collectively unsettled. I believe we can feel the suffering of others, even if we don’t know that’s what we’re experiencing, because we are all connected. Tapping into the desire for everyone’s wellness is radical compassion. It’s the art of loving-kindness. And that’s what fuels my hunger.

Cultivating Righteousness From Within

Central to Christianity and the teachings of Jesus is the concept of “loving your neighbors as yourself.” Oftentimes, this precept gets shortened simply to “love your neighbor.” But the “as yourself” part is really important. We must love and respect ourselves before we can really love our neighbors. After all, if we can’t love ourselves, do we really know what love is? And if we don’t truly know what love is, how can we form clear views and intentions about righteousness for others? We need to have a hunger for inward-facing righteousness before moving on to the outward-facing righteousness.


When His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama began teaching Tibetan Buddhism to Westerners, he was confused and a little bit horrified to learn that many Westerners don’t love themselves. The basis of all Tibetan spiritual practice is opening your heart and having compassion for others, as you would with yourself.

The Christian mystic Meister Eckhart taught this as well:

“If you love yourself, you love everybody else as you do yourself. As long as you love another person less than you love yourself, you will not really succeed in loving yourself, but if you love all alike including yourself, you will love them as one person and that person is both God and man. Thus he is a great and righteous person who, loving himself, loves all others equally.”

Meister Eckhart, medieval Christian mystic

We get so caught up in the news stories that make us painfully aware of all the monstrous injustices and suffering in the world. It’s important to be aware of those things and to acknowledge the resulting feelings of anger and sorrow and compassion, as I mentioned before. But not at the expense of forgetting that you yourself are just as worthy of love and compassion and even justice.

It’s easy to see those horrific headlines and feel like your own problems don’t matter as much–that it would be selfish of you to focus on correcting the more minor injustices that assail you. But if you fall into that line of thinking, you are constraining your view of righteousness. Don’t devalue yourself. The righteousness that the fourth Beatitude speaks of is universal. It only exists when it applies to ALL people. And that includes you!


Self-respect and hunger for righteousness
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Righteousness begins by fostering deep self-respect. You have to know that you are worthy of living a peaceful, harmonious life. All your thoughts and behaviors will flow from how you respect yourself and how you protect your inner peace.

That’s why this beatitude is “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” You are blessed when you’re in touch with what’s important to you, for then you will be fulfilled. You are fortunate when you stand up for respect for yourself, for cosmic justice will then be achieved for ALL.

Self-respect comes from having deeply held principals that act as a compass by which you guide your actions, decisions, and interactions. Adhering to your principles may not always be the easy path. It might require you to stand alone, or to face disapproval. However, in the long run, the way you stick to your principles (or not) shapes your identity, earns you respect from others, and most importantly cultivates a sense of self-worth.

Speaking up is a potent way of nurturing your relationship with yourself. If you respect yourself, your life will overflow with good things. And that’s because your core belief that you are worthy will drive your actions and lead to a meaningful, fulfilling life—a life that sprouts out of adhering to your principles, even in challenging circumstances—this is a truly righteous life.

Righteousness In Action

Finding love and justice for ourselves is not just a way of escaping from the larger problems in the world by solving something easier. We’re not just filling up on bread at the table to appease our hunger but to stimulate it, preparing us for the main course.  

Most religions and spiritual paths place a great deal of emphasis on cultivating love—and for good reason—but the ultimate goal is righteousness for ALL. And this does, indeed, mean tackling the injustices that affect others. James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” And the Baha’i leader Abdu’l-Bahá taught that, “Service in love for mankind is unity with God.”

Many of us feel powerless on this topic. We turn on the news and feel like the overwhelming injustice in the world is just way too much for us to take on. But here’s the thing: you don’t have to tackle the world’s problems all at once. And you don’t have to do so alone. Righteousness is a collective project. Allow me to share a story to show you what I mean.

My Hunger For Righteousness

Do you remember the Syrian Refugee Crisis of 2016? The news was saturated with heart-rending stories of families and children risking their lives on flimsy lifeboats to cross the treacherous Mediterranean. They were desperately seeking a safer life. Tragically, many of them didn’t make it.

When I first heard about all of this, a disturbing realization struck me. If I’d been born 50 years earlier, I would have been a child in Hitler’s Austria, subject to cruel and unfathomable conditions like the Syrian children adrift in their lifeboats. It’s a sobering thought. By sheer coincidence, I was born into a safer world. I didn’t do anything to earn my good fortune, just as those Syrian children hadn’t done anything to deserve their fate.

My mind kept coming back to this Beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” And I made the decision to do something about this injustice.

I rallied my friends and neighbors, and together, we formed the Victoria Refugee Initiative. Partnering with the United Nations Human Rights Council, we raised the necessary funds to sponsor a Syrian family and bring them to Canada.

The first glimpse of their new life was us, their sponsors, waiting at the airport with a hand-painted sign bearing a simple “Welcome” in Arabic. The father of the family approached me, confusion etched on his face. He asked something in Arabic, which I didn’t immediately grasp. But soon, I understood. He was asking: “Why are you helping us?”

Righteousness in action
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Righteousness In The Community

The answer is simple. There are enough people in the world who hunger and thirst for righteousness to make a real impact in the lives of others.

In response to my social media posts asking for help, people showed up with kitchenware, food, handmade quilts, electronics, books, clothing, and more. One little girl handed me her teddy bear in hopes that it would comfort another child. Day after day, strangers arrived at my door, their arms laden with gifts intended for the incoming family.

Their hope, their belief in a better world, was a force that moved them to act. When people believe their actions can genuinely make a difference in another person’s life, it sparks a powerful desire to be of service.

We all have to start somewhere. By sponsoring Ali and his family in Canada, my community and I didn’t end the Syrian refugee crisis. We didn’t change the world. But for one family, we changed THEIR world.

Becoming Filled By Righteousness

So, what dries you up inside? What makes you hunger and thirst for righteousness? And what will you do about it, my friend? Can you smile at someone today? Call up your dad and tell him you love him? Buy your girlfriend flowers, or listen to a friend in need? Can you buy an extra Danish at the cafe and give it to the homeless man outside? Try to perform these acts of kindness from a place of self-love and self-respect.

Such acts do not just help to gradually restore the balance of justice and righteousness in the world. They also further fuel your own feelings of self-love and self-respect. You come to view yourself as an agent of the Divine Love. The hunger fueled by anger and sorrow softens and melts into a feeling of deep peace and happiness. That is what the Buddhist monk Shantideva was getting at in this beautiful verse:

“When you look at others think
That it will be through them
That you will come to Buddhahood.
So look on them with Frank and loving hearts.”

—Shantideva, Buddhist monk

That hunger and thirst for righteousness is your inner compass pointing you in the direction of helping others. But the path toward your own happiness and fulfillment lies in the very same direction.



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