Volume VIII: The Art of Being
PART II. THE PRIVELEGE OF BEING HUMAN
by Hazrat Inayat Khan
Man the Purpose of Creation
IN EVERY SCRIPTURE it is mentioned that man is the ideal of creation. In the Qur’an it is said, “We have made man the Caliph of the whole creation”, in other words, the master of creation. The deeper we study life the clearer we see that life, under all its aspects, under all its names and forms, is constantly working towards the plane of the human being, helping the human being in his life’s purpose which is to become God’s instrument. One can see that camels, elephants and horses yield to the will of man. One sees that animals like dogs and cats, that birds like parrots and many singing birds, such as canaries, in time become satisfied even when imprisoned in a cage; in their captivity they can enjoy the companionship of man.
It is said that saints and sages in ancient times knew the language of animals. That was not only true in the ancient days, it is true in all times. One can hear what the animals say, one can understand their language. It is a matter of opening the heart, it is the ears of the heart that can hear their language, which cannot be understood in any other way. What one hears is a word, coming from the heart of the animals, which is expressed most in their glance that says not only, “I love you”, or, “I adore you”, but, ” I would like to be like you”. When the dog and the cat look at man, they do not only say, “I love You”, it is more than that; it is, really speaking, the prefect desire. Desire has its stages, there is a stage of desire where one wishes to be like another. That desire reaches its highest stage when one wants to become another, and herein lies the secret of the mystics and the mystery of life.
When a sculptor wishes to create an object he needs clay, and with it he makes different models in order to produce, to bring forth the perfect object he desires. So all God’s creation, in all its stages from animal and bird to man, and in all the different aspects of names and forms which we see before us, is a preparation to fulfil the desire of God which is man. God’s words in the Qu’ran are, “We have made man that he may enjoy the creation”. If there is any form of life that pleases God it is man.
No doubt man, through his ignorance, has exaggerated this ideal and has gone a little astray. He does not recognize divinity in man, he wants to separate the divine from man. Christ did not. He did not say, ” My father in heaven”; he said, “Our Father in heaven”. But when man in his ignorance separates Christ from God and Christ from man, man from Christ and man from God, he misinterprets that most beautiful idea of God given by Christ: the Fatherhood of God and the blessed sonship of man.
Through all the different processes of life evolution has progressed and man, as the ideal of creation, has risen higher than all, which shows that man represents divinity to the whole universe. For instance, the mineral is in man, the vegetable kingdom is in man, the angel is in man, and there is no being of the heavens and of the earth that man does not reflect. No one has ever pictured an angel as different from man; whenever man’s imagination produces an angel it sees the angel which is in man – as it also finds a devil in man. Man embraces in himself all the different classes of beings, and at every step he develops and becomes greater than those. If he develops the animal nature, he is more animal than the animals, if he develops devilishness he becomes greater than the devils, and in developing the angelic nature he becomes greater than the angels, for after all angels have bowed at the feet of man. Thus every spirit, every element throughout the whole world, is to be found in man – and yet man is puzzled as to the purpose of his life.
The moment man realizes this, the soul begins to open its eyes to truth, but until then, man is asleep. His soul is not yet born. No doubt the answer will explain something and yet something will be left unexplained. Every veil we lift gives an answer, yet not the answer. Another answer is still waiting to come in time.
When we observe the purpose of the lives of the different beings in the world we shall surely find a distinct purpose in the life of the human being. For instance, man is very much inclined to pleasure, food, drink and play. Now if he was born for that, how is it that the animals also have those tastes? They are also fond of food and play, but gaining those necessities of life-those animal necessities-causes great disturbance in the case of man, whereas with animals they cause very little of it. If food and sleep and free dwelling can give happiness, then the animal is much happier than man. Man, after the toil of the day, thinks, “How can I find the means to satisfy my desire for pleasure?” He can never be so peaceful, so contented as the animals. If food, drink and play were the purpose of the life of man, he would be the most miserable of human beings.
Then arises the question: is man born to cause all the falsehood, deceit, treachery and harshness that he inflicts upon others? The answer is that, no doubt, he makes life easy for himself by falsehood and by doing harm to others, but at the same time he is often very miserable and cannot avoid the result of everything he does. All the hurt and harm he causes to others must return to him some time or other a thousandfold.
If it were purposed that man should be an angel and lead a pious, good and retired life in the wilderness, in the forest, or in the caves of the mountains, there would have been no necessity to create him. The angels would have been sufficient, for through the very nature of his being a man cannot live a s pure, pious and spiritual a life as the angels who are not burdened with the material world. This shows that man was born neither to become an angel nor to be an animal, living the life of an animal. The whole universe is for man.
How can we find out the qualities which may be considered to be human qualities? They will be apart from the angelic, devilish and animal qualities, and there chiefly is one which can be called a distinct quality of man: sympathy. A great poet has said in Hindi, “Sympathy is the root of religion, and so long as the spirit of sympathy is living in your heart, it is illuminated with the light of religion”. This means that religion and morals can be summed up in one thing and that is sympathy, which in the words of Christ, as interpreted in the Bible, is charity. All beautiful qualities as tolerance, forgiveness, gentleness, consideration, reverence and the desire to serve – all these come from sympathy. Another poet has said in Urdu that it was for sympathy that man was created, and the day when man discovers this special attribute in himself, he is shown his first lesson of how life should be lived.
First we find how many things there are in life that we should be grateful for, but in our troubles and in the miseries around us the things for which we should be grateful are forgotten, and instead of thankfulness we develop an ungrateful nature. The more complaining a person, the less gratitude he shows in his nature, and the more his gratitude develops, the more he will begin to understand. Sa’adi says, “the sun, the moon,,, the planets, the air, the water and the earth are all serving you, aiding life’s purpose and preparing for your food. Yet you regard all this unthankfully, absorbed in your own little troubles which are as nothing before the great forces of nature, always working, night and day”. Our little troubles overwhelm and disorder our life, and by our absorption we are robbed of the knowledge of God’s perfection and greatness.
The first lesson given to man was to be grateful for his daily bread, because that was the greatest necessity of his life. Now that has become so simple and life has changed so much that man forgets to be thankful. He even thinks, “Why should I give thanks?” He forgets that behind his own personality he covers God. His own toil seems more to him than the toil of every atom of nature that is preparing blessings for him.
Self-pity is the worst poverty; it is the source of all unhappiness and blinds man to all he should be thankful for. The constantly complaining habit and the tendency to demand sympathy from others bring the greatest thorn into man’s life: he becomes dependent upon the sympathy of others. The best thing is to give sympathy. The food of which every soul is in need is the understanding and sympathy of another.
Man’s greatest enemy is his ego which manifests itself in selfishness. Even in his doing good, in his kind actions, selfishness is sometimes at work. When he does good with the thought that one day it may return to him and that he may share in the good, he sells his pearls for a price. A kind action, a thought of sympathy, of generosity, is too precious to trade with. One should give and, while giving, close the eyes. Man should remember to do every little action, every little kindness, every act of generosity with his whole heart, without the desire of getting anything in return making a trade out of it. The satisfaction must be in doing it and in nothing else.
Every step in evolution makes life more valuable. The more evolved you are, the more priceless is every moment; it becomes an opportunity for you to do good to others, to serve others, to give love to others, to be gentle to others, to give your sympathy to souls who are longing and hungering for it. Life is miserable when a person is absorbed in himself; as soon as he forgets himself he is happy. The more he thinks of himself, his own affairs, work and interests, the less he knows the meaning of life. When a person looks at another he cannot at the same time look at himself. Illness, disappointments and hardships matter very little when one can look at them from a higher standpoint.
Besides this moral point of view there is the mystical aspect, and when looking from the mystical point of view one sees that God’s greatest purpose is accomplished by man. In explaining this philosophy I should like to give you the simile of an artist who has produced a beautiful picture. The dogs have looked at it and the cats have looked at it, but that is not enough. When a man who has not understood the idea of the picture, the art, the feeling of it, comes, looks at it and says, “There is nothing in it”, then the purpose for which the artist painted the picture is not attained. At last some one else comes, looks at the picture and says, “Oh, what a beautiful idea! It suggests something to me, I can read something from it, it tells me something, it is living”. It means that this man has not only understood the picture, but has understood the soul of the artist.
The whole beauty of creation – the dogs have seen it, the cats have seen it, the peacocks and other birds have seen it and in their way they have been delighted, they have enjoyed it, they have danced and rejoiced over it. They have admired it in their own way, but man – besides admiring – sees beyond, his sight penetrates all he sees, and he touches God, the Creator. It is not only praising God, but it is knowing and understanding God which gives the greatest satisfaction to the Deity, because that is the purpose of the creation of man: that he may understand and know. And it is only by seeing the sublimity of nature’s beauty, by being impressed by it, by understanding it, by knowing its language, by hearing its voice, that this can be done. The man who is living, who can hear and see and whose heart can feel, has risen above ordinary humanity. It does not mean that man has to become and angel: he needs to live a fuller life, a really human life.
What a great thing is understanding! It is priceless. No man can give greater pleasure to his fellowman than by understanding him. The closest friend in life is the one who understands most. It is not your wife, brother or sister, it is the one who understands you most who is your greatest friend in the world. You can be the greatest friend of God if you can understand God. Imagine how man lives in the world – with closed eyes and closed ears! Every name and every form speaks constantly, constantly makes signs for you to hear, for you to respond to, for you to interpret, that you may become a friend of God. The whole purpose of your life is to make yourself ready to understand what God is, what your fellowman is, what the nature of man is, what life is.
Now coming to a still greater secret of life I want to answer the question: how can we grow to read and understand the message that life speaks through all its names and forms? The answer is that , as by the opening of the eyes you can see things, so by the opening of the heart you can understand things. As long as the heart is closed you cannot understand things. The secret is that, when the ears and eyes of the heart are open, all planes of the world are open, all names are open, all secrets, all mysteries are unfolded.
The question arises: what is the manner of opening the heart? The way to it is a natural life, the life of the child, smiling with the smiling one, praying with the praying one, ready to learn from everyone, ready to love. The child has enmity against no one, he has no hatred, no malice, his heart is open. It is in the child that you can see the smiles of angels; he can see through life.
When the grown-up person is made ready, when he has acquired the attributes of the child, then he creates heaven within himself, he understands. The child with his innocence does not understand, but when a man with understanding develops the childlike loving tendency, the purity of heart of the child with the desire to be friendly to all – that is the opening of the heart, and it is by that blessing that he can receive all the privileges of human life.
What is character? Character is, so to speak, a picture with lines and colors, which we make within ourselves. It is wonderful to see how the tendency of character-building springs up from childhood, just as one sees in a bird the instinct of building a nest. A little child begins to notice all kinds of things in grown-up persons and to adopt all that seems best to it: words, manners, movements, ideas. Everything that it grasps from the grown-up it attracts and gathers, and builds, so to speak, a building with it which is its character. It is being built all through life.
By this we understand that, when a person is absorbed in himself, he has no time for character-building, because he has no time to think of others: then there is no other. But when he forgets himself, he has time to look here and there, to collect what is good and beautiful, and to add it naturally to his character. So the character is built. One need not make an effort to build it, one has only to forget oneself. For instance, actors and actresses with great qualifications cannot act if they do not forget themselves. If the musician cannot forget himself when he is playing, he cannot perform the music satisfactorily; the singer’s voice will not come out and so it is with the poet and all other artists.
Think then how the whole work of building oneself, and everything else, depends on how much one is able to forget oneself! That is the key to the whole life, material and spiritual, and to worldly and spiritual success. It seems such a simple thing, and yet it is so difficult.
During my travels, whenever I met with people great in art, science, thought, religion or philosophy, I found that whatever was their work they had touched greatness through this quality, the quality of forgetting themselves. It was always the same everywhere. And again I have seen people with great qualifications, but who remembered themselves so much that they could not do the best with their lives.
I have known a vina player, a very wonderful musician, who used to play his instrument for six and nine hours daily. But whenever he came into an assembly he became nervous, because the first thought that came to him was himself, and then all the impressions of the people present would fall upon him. Generally he would take his vina, cover it up and run away with all his qualifications he never had a chance of being great. Self-confidence is a great thing, but forgetting oneself is greater still. I also have seen Sarah Bernardt singing a simple song, the national anthem of France; that was all. But when she came on the stage and sang that song she would win every heart, for at that time she was France, she was able to be France because of her concentration and her forgetting herself.
Character-building is much greater and more important than the building of a house, a city, a nation, an empire, a race. One might ask, “Why is it so important? It is only the building of our little self which is so small.” Shall I reply that many have built up an edifice, a nation, a race, and they are gone, no memory of them is left. The Taj Mahal is the most beautiful building in the world. Those who see it – artists, architects – have such a great admiration for it, but that is all. No one cares who made it, no one’s heart is moved on account of the builder.
To this day Hindus repeat early in the morning, “Ram, Ram.” The Buddhists call on the Lord Buddha, and the Christians on Christ. Why? –only because of their ideal personality, of their magnetism. The words of Christ spoken so many hundreds of years ago are remembered today because of his personality. It is not spirituality alone: there have been many madzubs; they were very spiritual, they were with God. They have gone and no one remembers them. It is not piety: there are many pious people sitting in mosques and churches turning their rosaries; their piety is for themselves, they cannot move the world. So it is not spirituality, it is not piety. What is it them? It is the development of humanity in us, and this concerns our intelligence, our heart and our mind.
It concerns the intelligence because, if we have love but not intelligence to know the pleasure of the beloved then we may be a great lover, but we cannot express our love adequately. It concerns the heart because, if we have love but not the intelligence but no feeling, no sympathy, we may speak very politely, we may be very polished in manner, but if there is bitterness within if within we do not feel what we say, it would be better if we had not spoken. It concerns the mind because, if we have intelligence and feeling but no thought, we have not the manner, we are ignorant. You may know all European manners and decorum very well, but if you are sent out to the court of an Eastern king you would be at a loss. Or you may know all the etiquette of an Eastern court, but if you come to Europe you know nothing.
It is so great a privilege to be human that we should develop our humanity, and be human in reality as well as in form. It is man who is the ideal of God. It is not the rock which does not know whether a king or a beggar stands upon it, whether a holy man or a wicked person. It is not the angels who have no heart to feel sympathy for one another; they feel the praise of God, they praise God. It is man who has been given a heart.
A Hindustani poet says, “To become nabi, ghawth, qutbis very difficult. What shall I tell you of the difficulties of life, since it is even difficult. What shall I tell you of the difficulties of life, since it is even difficult for man to become human?” to attain to spiritual grades is very difficult. We should first try to be human. To be an angel is not very difficult- to live as an angel without having passed through the stages of being human. To be material is very easy. To live in the world, in all the difficulties and struggles of the world, and to be human is very difficult. If we become that, then we become the miniature God on earth.
I have seen in my life that it is not difficult to have occult or psychic powers; to be virtuous, to keep our life pure, it is not very difficult. To be merciful, to be compassionate, is difficult: it is difficult to be human.
God has many names: the Great, the Powerful, the Mighty, the Sovereign, but he is always called Merciful and Compassionate. In these qualities we are never perfect, we shall never be perfect. As it has been said, “Go into your room at night and repent of what you have done, of all the thousand bad thoughts you have had of friends and enemies.” A Persian poet has said, “The whole secret of the two worlds is in these two words: With friends be loving, with enemies courteous.”
If you have understood that this world is nothing, if you have recognized that it is a passing thing, why not let others enjoy while you renounce? Why not let others put on the nice dress while you look at it? Why not let others eat the dinner while you be in the kitchen and cook it? Why not let others sit in the car while you drag it, instead of you sitting in the car and letting others drag it?
Keep your life noble; that is: be merciful and compassionate. It is the tendency of everyone to take the best of another. Even in friendship there is this tendency. All are seeking their own enjoyment and leave the worst for another. If you are a seeker of God, take the opposite way. Let all the world go one way, while you go the other way.
Since the world always oppresses the good, tramples upon the meek, and robs the generous, what conduct of life would be best?
There are three courses. The first is renunciation. This is the way of saints and sages: to follow the ideal and to accept whatever troubles and sorrows and ill-treatment. The second way is selfishness: to be more selfish than all the rest of the world. The third way is the greatest and the most difficult: it is to have all responsibilities, all the cares of life, to have friends and all, to be as unselfish, as good as possible, and just selfish enough to not be trampled upon.
Life in the world can be pictured as everyone pushing away the other who stands in his way, thus making his way towards his object. Man generally does not mind when he pushes another away, he minds when he is pushed away. When he becomes somewhat considerate then he tries to refrain from pushing others away, and for that very reason he feels hurt when he is pushed away by another.
If man who is gentle happens to be wise also, he – out of his gentleness – does not push anyone away, nor does he mind being pushed away; he goes on patiently in the pursuit of the object he wishes to accomplish. But when a man who is gentle and kind is void of wisdom, he stands still in life, blocking the way for others and putting himself in a place from where he will always be pushed away.
The first thing is to be man. It is not enough to have the form of man, we must be man. If we think that we eat and therefore are men – the animals and birds also eat. If we think that we sleep and therefore are men – the animals and birds all sleep. If we give way to our anger and passions – the animals all have their anger and passions. All that is not enough to make man human.
It is told in India that there were two madzubs at Lahore. Madzubs are those whose interest in spirituality is so great that they quite forget their physical self and even their garb. We in India know them and pay respect; if they pass, having forgotten their clothes, we just turn our eyes away. These two madzubs were a man and a woman; when they met in the street it was seen that the man tried to avoid the woman, and the woman tried to avoid the man, and they showed signs of confusion while usually they showed no consideration at all.
A priest walking behind the man madzub followed him for three days thinking, “I must find out why he behaves thus.” At last, after three days, the madzub said to him, “Why do you follow me? What is it you want from me?” The priest replied: “I saw that when you met the woman madzub you covered yourself. Why was it?” The madzub laid his hands upon the priest’s head and said to him, “now go and look at the world; and then come back.” The priest went into the city and, looking at every person, he saw upon the body of a man, the head of a dog, or upon the body of a woman the head of a cat or some other animal. Only the woman madzub had a human head. He went back to the madzub and told him what he had seen. The madzub said to the priest, “This must never be told, because the world would be offended. Now you have seen how the world is, and why it does not matter to me to appear as I am before the world. Do you wonder that I cover myself before the madzub only?” this shows us how careful we should be to become at least human first.
If we cannot be trustworthy with our surroundings, with those who rely upon us, we are not human. If we cannot be self-sacrificing with our surroundings, our relations, we are not human. If we compare ourselves keenly with the animals we surely shall see what we must be in order to be human. We must have tolerance; the animal has no tolerance. We must be true; the animal has no truth. We must keep our promise; the animal cannot do it. We must share with others; the animal does not share, it sits beside its plate of food and, even if it has eaten enough, it will not let others come near. We must be accommodating; the animal does not accommodate others. We must have sympathy; the animal has no sympathy. We should give up those actions that give us a momentary joy, but of which we repent afterwards. Sometimes we do things of which for the moment we are glad, and then for years we repent. We should check the animal passions that carry us away. There is a great reward for it; for every little attempt to overcome, for every little check, there is a great reward.
How many times do we become troublesome to ourselves and others by our lack of human qualities? How many times are we annoyed with our own self? To become human is the most difficult thing. Hali, a great Indian poet, says, “What can there be easy when it is even difficult for man to become man?” how much do we have to learn before we can say that we are truly human!
It is by his quality of sympathy, by his kindness to others that man becomes human. When the animal-self, which is called nafs is before him, he wants to take everything for his own benefit. When he develops his sympathy, when he can sacrifice his self for the benefit of another, he realizes that moral which the cross symbolizes. Then he becomes farishteh (an angel who is sent on earth), then he becomes God.
In order to reach the next stage, to become an angel, we must become a soldier and make another our colonel: we must make God, our self within, our colonel and thereby learn discipline. We must please Him. If we have a need we must ask Him. We must not ask anyone else; we must not tell anyone else. If we have a sorrow we must tell Him; if we have a joy we must tell Him. A listener is there for our sorrow and joy. Why should we humiliate ourselves by bringing our joy and sorrow and want before others? If we feel an obligation, let us be obliged to Him. If we want to complain, let us complain to Him. Why should we complain to others who cannot help us?
We must become a love and idealize God, our self within, as our Beloved, thinking of His mercy and compassion, admiring the sublimity of His nature, bowing most humbly before His almighty power, and considering Him at every move we make, lest He should be displeased with us. Then at every step astray we are warned from within, “This is not right for you.” At every right step we are cheered from within.
The higher we rise, the more particular we should be, for if one goes into society a very small impoliteness disgraces a person, while a man from the slums may fight and box in his eating house and the next day, when people meet, they say, “Hullo, good morning,” and are ready to be as before.
The day we think, “I am good, I am perfect,” our eyes are veiled. The day we think, “I am wise,” darkness has come upon us, and all the progress we have made is lost. We must always be ready to learn: from a child, from a drunkard, from a foolish person, from everyone, from all those who act differently.
Perfection does not lie in the innocence of a child, nor does it lie in being a jinn or a fairy; it lies in going through all the vibrations, from the highest plane to this one, in experiencing all. A child is friends with the enemy because it does not know that he is its enemy. To know that the enemy is an enemy and yet to be kind – that is to be truly kind. To know the badness of the world and then to become harmless – that is innocence.
In India there are many such holy persons. Their innocence is so great that it shines from them – much more than from a child. Their presence is peace and joy. I knew a sage who was very much revered. His humility was so great that when little boys came to see him, before they could bow to his feet as is the custom or kiss his hand, his head was on their feet and he said, “I am your servant, your slave.” You are much greater than me.” Those sages always think that every other is much greater than they.
It is very difficult for a person of a certain evolution to like those of another evolution. If a person goes and sits in a café and always speaks of God or Christ, and says, “Christ was great, Christ said this or that,” the other people would say, “Please go to the church if you wish to speak of God and Christ.” And if a person who wishes to drink goes to the church, they will say to him, “Go to the café if you wish to drink, this is not the place.” I myself have sometimes been told, “Please, do not mention the name of God in our society, or the name of Christ. Say what you please about science, about the planes, but do not speak the name of God here.
That is why the Sufi takes the other way. He sees the good in everything. He sees the face of God everywhere. He is in all companies. One Sufi always recognizes another, wherever he is, in whatever religious or social garb the other may be. That is the Sufi message of friendship. Unless each one bears this message into the world, peace can never come to the world.
Self-realization has been taught by all religions as it is their spirit. The underlying truth is the same in all, though their principles may differ. What is this self-realization, this knowledge of the self?
We all know the self that we see, we know: I am tall or short or of medium height, I am fat or thin. We know the name that has been given to us, whether John or Jacob or Henry. We know also: I have a temper, or: I have my clever ways, I have these merits and these faults, I have this work or this particular way of enjoyment in life, I have responsibilities and cares and sorrows and joys, I have friends and acquaintances and enemies. But all this is not enough. We should consider whether that which we are doing from morning to night, which we are striving after, to which we give a great importance, will remain with us – be it money, fame, name or whatever it may be. Does it make us happy? Does it give us the knowledge of what we were and what we shall be? We should know what we were before, whence we came and whither we shall go, from what all this world has come and into what it will turn.
If I were to explain from what all this manifestation has come, how it has been produced and into what it will turn, it would take a very long time. It is a long subject, but in a few words I can say: how could there be room on this earth for all the people that ever have been, if this matter remained as we see it? Even for the people living on earth where they are many, often famines come, diseases, plagues and wars. If all that matter did not return by various processes to the unseen from which it has come, there would be no room left on earth, nor in the water, nor in space. Matter is all destroyed, annihilated, and nothing can save it when the call of annihilation comes.
If you think that fame and name can live, I will say: do you suppose that Beehhoven and Wagner were the only musicians of their time? There have been many, many others who have come and gone about whom no one knows anything, and a day will come when those names that are known today will also be wiped off from the world’s memory.
The aim of all religions and philosophies is the understanding and the realization of unity., the Vedanta philosophy teaches advaita: there is no such thing as “two;” the whole is one and the same being. In the Bible it is said, “I and my Father are one,” which means unity, and then, “Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect,” which shows that in this unity lies perfection, amplitude. When we come to the Hadith we read, “By knowing himself, man can know God,” which means realizing himself he realizes God.
Supposing that there are some people who believe this and ask, “If we ourselves are the Whole Being, why should we not do whatever we please? Whom should we fear? Before whom should we pray? – I would say to such a person, “If I take all you possess, will you let me have it?” He at once will say, “No, it isn’t mine.” But then he is not the Whole Being, he is a limited being. He recognizes “you and I:” separate beings. By learning this philosophy of “I am all” intellectually people have many times been led astray. It is not enough to have read a few books of philosophy and to think, “Now I know all.” That is not mastery. By books one can learn intellectually that we are all one, but books cannot give us realization, the realization by experience in which we are sure, in which no doubt can remain in the soul.
Self-realization can be learned only in one way, in three grades. For this one needs no books, no study; one can learn it only from life. If a least little insult makes one vexed, and a least little praise makes one feel so flattered – if that is one’s condition – how can one call oneself God-conscious? The self-realized ones are those to whom insult or praise rise or fall are indifferent. They will deserve to be called so whom neither sin nor virtue can touch. Heaven and hell are the playgrounds of their imagination. They are, although on earth, yet above the earth.
It is then that self-realization comes, fana. When does it come? When there is no thought, no idea at all anywhere touching the breath of one’s existence as a limited being. When all idea of this external being is gone, then comes the consciousness of the unlimited Being, of God. This is annihilation, fana, which is shown by the cross. Christ’s words have always taught renunciation, annihilation. This can be learned by the three grades of which I have spoken: first to be man, then to be angelic, then union with the Divinity.
The Art of Personality
There is a difference between individuality and personality, just as there is a difference between nature and art. However much nature is near to man’s soul, art is closer to his heart. If it were not so, man would have preferred to live in the forest; he would have roamed about in nature and would have been quite satisfied in the wilderness; he would have found the greatest charm in what the wilderness fan offer and in the beauty to be seen in the forest. Instead of all this, man has created a world – a world which he has made for himself – and in that world he has made a nature of his own imagination, a nature which he calls art. If that is art then on this art much depends. People may say, “Is it not an imitation of nature?” Yes, it is an imitation of nature. You might say, “Then is it not as great as Nature?” But I say: both nature and art are made by the same Artist. Nature is made directly by the Artist. Art is the finishing of that beauty which begins to manifest itself in nature. A person who has not come to this conception of art does not yet know the divinity of art.
Now as to the question what art has to do with personality, personality is art itself, and the greatest art. Once a lady told me, “My parents brought me up just like a plant grows in the wilderness.” When I replied, “It is a great pity,” she was surprised. What is education, what is culture, what is self-development? It is all art, it is the way for individuality to culminate into personality.
In ancient times the religious education and human culture in every form mainly had the culture of the personality as their central themes. Today we are expected to learn mathematics, geography, history, and other things, but never the art of personality which is the greatest use in life. Apart from its spiritual significance, we see in our everyday life that a salesman who is pleasant, courteous and well-mannered is successful. If he lacks manner he will be repellent; he may have all kinds of beautiful things in his shop, he will have no success. If a clerk in an office, a secretary, an assistant, a supervisor has a charming personality, a kindly manner, a sympathetic attitude, he will win the affection of all; everything will be light, everything will go smoothly. If he lacks the art of personality, he may have all qualification, he may be a most capable person, yet things will not run smoothly. A person, whether man or woman, may be a barrister, a solicitor, a doctor, a most qualified individual, but the art of personality is not developed, he will be disagreeable and unpleasant – in his own home and in all walks of life. The art of personality is the main thing to develop; if not, a person misses a great deal.
The ancient people lived on tradition, and especially in the East they regarded their ancestors not for their titles or their great works, but for their personality. Today in modern civilization people have become regardless of this art which considers the equality of all men. Equality today is working in quite another direction: instead of rising upward toward the level of the best, people want to go downward and join the level of the worst.
When you hear the word equality it seems a beautiful thing. It sounds very nice, it seems a religious, a philosophical idea. But what is life, if it is not a symphony? And is not every persona a note in this symphony? Suppose that you want to hear music and that all the notes are the same. How would you enjoy that music? If all notes are equal, there is no music; if all persons are the same, there is no symphony. The way to understand equality is different: it is rising to the best, to the highest pitch. And everyone can rise to that pitch if he wants to rise. But since man takes the way of the least resistance, he falls to the level of the average person.
It must be remembered that disregard of the principle, which is called the art of personality, may lead the present generation , the modern civilization, there where it can find nothing but disappointment, especially when materialism is prevailing all over and there is nothing to think about but matter. This in itself keeps man away from the art of personality. If this art is not introduced, and if there is no love for it, what then happens is that the human being does not become any better than the lower creation.
Is a human being greater than an animal because he possesses wealth, or because he has read many books, or because he has learned much? Does that make him greater as a human being? No, man is greater when from an individual he has become a person. Very few of us distinguish between individuality and personality. Individuality is that which we have brought with our birth. We are born as a separate entity; that itself makes us an individuality. But personality is something that is acquired; it has not come with us, it is something we gain. If a tree grew in a garden in the same way as it grew in the forest, the gardener would say, “You are not welcome here; you should fit in with the surroundings. This is a garden, it is not a forest.” Besides this, the art of personality is not only something one should learn in order to become pleasant to others: the art of personality fulfills the purpose of life.
Now arises the question: “What is the art of personality?” Is it mannerism, putting on different airs of expression, a special politeness, a society rhythm? Not at all. It is falsehood, which people adopt by being unnatural and acting unnaturally. Instead of giving a better impression of themselves, they give a worse impression. The art of personality expresses itself spontaneously. One need not act in a certain way, one need not put on something: it is the expression of oneself which shows the art of personality.
Expressing the art of personality is the sign of the great. Knowingly or unknowingly a person may develop that manner in himself and it is wonderful to watch it. When in India I was very fond of seeing the celebrities known in our country. One day I heard that a great wrestler was visiting our town. I had never approved of something which made one person win and the other fail, but because this man was a celebrity I wanted to see him. One would expect very little from the personality of a wrestler, but in this personality, in spite of all muscular and nervous strength, there was such a kindly manner, such a sympathetic look, such an outgoing attitude and such a serenity that I thought, even a wrestler, who does the most material and physical work, can show that it is his personality, and not something material, which has made him great.
One may ask: If we have a personality, why must we develop it? But even a diamond must be cut! It has light in it, yet cutting is required to awaken it. It cannot show its glow and brilliancy before it has been cut. It is the same with personality.
Then one may ask: what are the different aspects of the art of personality? Its first aspect is action, or movement. Very often, before a person has spoken a word, he has achieved a movement which causes a jar upon the delicate sensibility of the one who sees it, and who may form an opinion about that person before he knows him – only because of that movement. In one movement a person can show his state of mind; unless he has the power to control it, he can show stubbornness, weakness, foolishness. All these things can be traced in a man when he walks, sits, or stands up. Those who can recognize a person in a twinkling of an eye need not study physiognomy: one movement shows them whether he is evolved or unevolved. When the science of movement has not been taught, has not been understood, and a person’s movements are not directed, these may be such that they impress themselves upon his spirit and turn his whole being into a wrong personality. Education has given very little attention to this.
Another aspect of the art of personality belongs to the realm of speech. The more we understand about this, the more we shall know that for every word there is a time, and for every word there is a place. Everything we say, which is in its own place and which is fitting, will be good; it becomes wrong when it is said in a place which is not its own. People generally do not think about it. Often they are outspoken; they do not mind when to speak, what to say, where to speak. A persona who has no control over his speech becomes a kind of machine that goes on and on and on without any will at the back of it. Remember that not only those persons do not gain the affection, the approbation of others, but they repel others. being talkative they cannot keep any secret. They have to tell it; they have the habit to speak, they have no control over it. The art of personality is not so difficult to learn; it is learning to be thoughtful. Those who speak too much, very often say so little; others who speak little say much. It depends upon the way in which things are said.
In the Bible it is said, “First was the word and the word was God.” This shows what power the word has. If we control our speech, if we know how to use a word, we know the chemistry of life and how to utilize it to the best purpose. Sometimes a person can change a situation by one word, which another cannot change by using a hundred hammers. One can hammer at a rock and break it – that is the way of the hammer. And there is the way of water. If the rock is in the way, the water will not hammer at it, it will surround it, will run over it and make its way over the top of the rock, and so will its waves proceed.
If someone is upset, among ten people who want to console him, there are nine who upset him more, and there is rarely one person who consoles him. This also belongs to the art of personality – if one only knew it!
Another aspect of the art of personality is sympathetic and right thinking. By right thinking all one naturally says and does becomes right, because the root of every speech and action is in the mind. So by right thinking one naturally speaks and acts rightly; one cannot do otherwise. But what generally happens is that one never considers it in connection with others: if there is any wrong it is in the other. And it is very wonderful that the one who is most in the wrong, is the one who sees the most wrong in others. You will see that the person who is full of wrong knows a thousand wrongs about a thousand people. Besides, our experiences make us so pessimistic that if anyone says, “I have seen someone who is such a nice, kind and good person,” we begin to doubt. Unconsciously our first thought is, “Can it be true?” No, it cannot be true; there is no such thing as good in the world.” And as soon as someone says, “I have seen such a wicked person,” everybody is interested, because people believe that. It shows that, as we always experience wrong things, we hardly expect that ever there can be something right.
The fourth aspect of the art of personality is feeling. The great drawback of modern civilization is that man today thinks that it is balanced and practical to think with the brain, to reason things out. But to feel with the heart he thinks is not practical, is not common sense. Therefore today is considered normal and balanced the person who lives in his brain, and whose heart is developed is called fanatic or unpractical. Imagine, after having read in the Bible the lesson that God is love, one comes to realize that he who has less God in him is more practical, and he who has more God in him is a good for nothing! When there is a discussion among intellectual persons, it is understood between them to keep sentiment apart: to discuss keeping to the point, just to recite facts, “that keeps reasoning clear.” But this takes away the beauty of life! The art of personality is in the profound, the deep feeling which directs every thought, speech and action of man.
When Jesus Christ told the fishermen, “Come hither and I shall make you fishers of men,” he said, in other words, to those who were absorbed in catching fishes at the seashore, “I shall teach you the art of personality which the prophets proved with their own lives to be of the greatest importance. The impression Buddha left upon millions of people in the East, who keep his statue in their temples, seeing the expression of God in Buddha – what is it? Is it the theories and dogmas and teachings he gave? No, it is his personality which made such a deep impression upon people that for centuries they held it sacred; it has proved to be more precious than anything else in the world. This is not a subject of which one can say that it is no better than any other. On the contrary, it is a subject of deep importance. There are millions of Muslims whose hearts are touched, whose eyes fill with tears on hearing the name of the Prophet. What is it that touches them? Is it the teaching that the Prophet gave? What touches them is the personality of the Prophet, his personality has made the deep impression which still remains, which never can be erased.
The art of personality, therefore, is a magic. The fishermen among whom Jesus Christ had to walk were incapable of knowing the greatness of the Master, and not ready to understand the message he brought. Yet they used to stand spell-bound in the presence of the Master; they used to be deeply impressed by the personality of the Teacher. What was it that impressed them? It was not the new teaching they received, it was the example before their eyes.
The Sufis of all ages considered the art of personality of the greatest importance. The Yogi principle of asceticism has nothing to do with it; it is another ideal. The wise ones of all ages thought that God manifested Himself in the form of man and, from an individual to a person, developed as a soul, and that herein lies the fulfillment of life’s purpose. Therefore this was not only the main purpose of education but also the central theme of religion and of life as a whole. What is religion taught for if to in order to make of man a personality? For every man is not a personality!
There is a metaphysical point to this subject, which distinguishes two aspects of man: the machine and the engineer. When man’s machine part covers the spark which may be called the engineer, man is subjected to all outer influences such as cold and heat, wind and storm. These all condition success or failure. The other part of man is a divine spark. It is that spark which makes him the engineer and gives him command over the machine. Instead of allowing the machine to be subjected to outer influences, the engineer part gradually gains his own influence over the instrument. Herein lies the secret of the art of personality. One condition is slavery, the other mastery. In the first condition one is place by nature, to the next one is brought through development of the personality.
Now you may ask: How does one learn the art of personality? In the same way as one learns the art of painting or drawing. First one learns how to draw a straight line, a horizontal line, a circle, a curve. In the same way, learning the art of personality, one learns how to say a thing and how not to say a thing, how to avoid saying a thing, and how to say a thing without saying it. Then one learns the art of light and shade. This art of light and shade is knowing how to hide a certain part in conversation and how to bring another part to prominence. Then there is the coloring. There is a great variety of colors. Every feeling, every thought, every idea has its particular color, and when a person knows how many of these colors there are, and when he composes with them all he says and does in life, then this becomes an art; the art of personality.
If a person has collected diamonds, or if he has got pearls or rubies, what is it if he has not developed in his personality that precious quality which makes a person precious? What is it all? All those things are nothing.
There are four grades through which one develops in the art of personality. The first grade is when a person becomes thoughtful, and so begins to observe his thoughts, to see his actions. The second grade is when he not only observes his thoughts and actions, but is able to control them. The third grade is when a spontaneous outflow of sympathy comes from that person, when it is natural that his attitude is outgoing, that his personality attracts and becomes a blessing. And the fourth grade is a grade where no effort has to be made by the artist to realize the art of personality. In this grade the artist becomes art itself, and whatever he does – it all becomes a beautiful picture.
Man is likened to the Light
Man is likened to the light: his soul the glow, his mind the flame, and his body the end of the flame. The heat that comes from the light is the atmosphere of man. The smoke that rises out of the light in reality does not belong to the light, it belongs to the fuel. As ignorance in man is troublesome, so the smoke rising out of the light disturbs.
As different lights differ in their degree of radiance, so do different souls. The substance of every man, however, is the same: it is light. We read in ancient scriptures that the angels were made of fire. It is not fire they were made of, it is light. But if we ask the question, “Were the angels made of light and no one else?” The answer will be that all, each and every one, were created out of light.
The difference between our soul and our body, which sometimes we consider as great as between earth and heaven, is not so great. Soul and body are one light, and therefore the external part of man is expressive of his inner being, and the inner being of man also is dependent in many ways upon his external being. “Inner and outer part of man’s being” is a term used for our convenience; in reality there is one being, there is one light. If a man lacks magnetism, if he lacks enthusiasm and courage, if he lacks power of accomplishment, it is all owing to the lack of that radiance which belongs to his being. The health of the body, the balance of the mind, the purity of the soul all depend upon the radiance of man’s being. Health of the body therefore is spiritual, balance of the mind is spiritual, and so is the purity of the soul. A good atmosphere is a sign of spirituality; the power of the word, courage without fear, fearlessness, self-confidence also are signs of spirituality; the capability of accomplishing something and the strength of struggling along all through life – all these are the signs of spirituality.
The purpose of the life of an individual is to perfect the light in him, which is his very being. Whatever may be the qualification of a person, whatever be his resources, position and rank, if the light within him is not brilliant, he cannot fulfil the purpose of his life. In the Bible, in the allegory of the ten wise and foolish virgins, the same idea is explained. The foolish ones did not keep oil in their lamps, the wise virgins kept it. The wise ones, therefore, answered the purpose on the day which was promised and the foolish ones repented. Ten means one, zero meaning nothing: a wise soul and a foolish soul. The wise soul collected all material in order to make his light more brilliant for that day which was the day of the promise. The foolish soul wasted it, and found it absent at the time it was needed.
When we think of our life in the world, in our material strife, in our spiritual struggle – what do we need? We need that light the spark of which is within us, which is our being. Every time when we are without it, when we lack it, it causes us all failure and distress in life, since our health, our balance and the clearness of our vision, all depend upon the light that is within.
As every light needs fuel, so the light which is ours, which is ourself, needs fuel also. The fuel for the physical part of our life is what we call food, but for the life of the mind intellectual sustenance is necessary. If the body is fed and the mind is not, then naturally that light becomes less. The sustenance of the soul is the divine ideal, which is both love and light. If the soul does not receive that nourishment which is necessary for it, then the soul is starved. The body may be nourished, but it is not sufficient. That is why we see before our physical eyes many famine-stricken souls, but if we saw with the spiritual eyes we would see still more famine in humanity.
What do we learn in Sufism? We learn in Sufism that mysticism which teaches us how to collect the fuel which is necessary not only for the body, but for our mind and soul. By concentration, by meditation, by all other ways of contemplative practices, the purpose accomplished by the Sufi is that purpose which is the longing of every soul.
Question: What are the means, except concentration and meditation, to develop and strengthen that light within oneself?
Answer: Right living.
Question: What is right living? Is it doing what everyone thinks is right?
Answer: If each person would have his way of right living there would be anarchy. I would consider right living that which is right for oneself and others. If not, those who do good or who do wrong can all justify themselves by thinking that what they do is best. Reason is the slave of man, it always comes and sympathizes with him. One asks, “Have I not done right?” or “Have I not done wrong?” and reason says, “Yes, you have.”
Question: How can one live so that it is approved by others?
Answer: It is impossible to live the life that one considers best and that others consider best. But one can do one’s best.
Question: One sees people in whom the divine spark of light is more or less extinguished and who still live an apparent virtuous life.
Answer: An apparent virtuous life is something different. Right living in my sense is not only virtuous living. Right living has a still deeper meaning, for what I call a right life is the first step to that which may be called true life. The third step is truth itself. The mystics say that there are three steps to the goal: right life, true life and truth. A person who loves to live a right life and who tries to do it, even if he is not a contemplative or meditative or religious person, must certainly arrive at that high stage, at that goal which is the ideal goal. For within man there is truth, and the seeking of man is truth. Therefore right living helps him to realize truth.
If I were to interpret the words of Christ, “Straight is the gate and narrow the way,” I would say that there is a path in life, a path of going straight, and that path is like walking upon a wire. In the circus they make a show of it. It is exactly the picture: at every step one takes there is fear of falling either to one side or to the other. Jugglers in India even make a better picture of it. They take two very light bamboo and tie a rope on the top of them. The juggler stands on the rope in a brass tray and his task is to go from one point to the other. While he is travelling thus, his colleagues from below beat drums and sing horrible songs in order to distract his mind. He has to keep his concentration and secure his balance in spite of all the music calling him from below. That is the picture of right living.
Question: But once one is falling…?
Answer: Truth is merciful. One cannot fall but on truth; if one falls, one will only fall in the arms of truth. A seeker after truth has no loss. If apparently he loses something, it is not a loss in the end.
Question: What does it mean to fall into the arms of truth?
Answer: If a fall is caused in a certain struggle one has fallen in the arms of that particular struggle. If it is in the struggle for love, then it is in the arms of love that one falls. If it is in the struggle for righteousness, one falls into the arms of righteousness. Just as they say that in a holy war a person gives his life for a holy purpose, and is therefore in the arms of that holy object. So if a person has fallen in the struggle for truth, he has fallen in the arms of truth.
Besides, the hopeful never falls: both his rise and fall mean success. Failure is the loss of hope. As long as there is hope there is no failure.
Question: And what of those who do not hope any longer?
Answer: Then that is the end of success.
Question: Is there nothing that can help them?
Answer: A miracle can do something; nothing is impossible. Nothing is more painful than the loss of hope. A hopeless person is a dead person. A person who is dead with hope is living. But a person walking on the earth without hope is as dead.
Question: How can one revivify a soul?
Answer: By imparting one’s life to him, just as a candle can light another candle which is put out. When the fire has gone out in the stove one must bring some other fire to light it again. One has to give from one’s own hope; therefore the one who gives must be powerful enough to give it.
Question: When can one consider oneself powerful enough to give?
Answer: One can judge it by one’s own self-confidence, because that life one gives from one’s own life to another comes from self-confidence. In the Sufi terminology it is called iman. It is the most sacred thing in the whole religion; self-confidence is the secret of all miracles.
Question: Is love for one’s neighbor not sufficient to help?
Answer: Love is the substance, by self-confidence one makes that substance, and by the power of self-confidence one is able to impart it. For instance, if one sees a person who is very ill and one thinks, “What can I do, how can I do something?” Then one can do nothing. For healing, it is all self-confidence that is needed, for healing oneself or for healing another. Not only for healing, but for all things – in business, in industry, in all work – self-confidence is necessary.
Question: How can self-confidence, confidence in oneself, in one’s own affairs, help another person?
Answer: Self-confidence gives the power to manage one’s affairs better and to help others too. Suppose a doctor comes to see a patient who is in a bad condition and says, “Oh you have called me too late. This person has gone very far. Still, as you have called me here, I shall write a prescription.” But another doctor may say, “It is never too late. I am sure that all will be well. I shall do my very best, and certainly the patient will recover.” He may give the same prescription as the first doctor, but his prescription will be of much greater value. Why? Because besides the medicine, he has given his self-confidence which is a million times greater in healing power than prescriptions.
It is the same in all things. A person may start a business, an enterprise, and someone may come along and take away all his strength by saying, “What a fool you are to have begun this. Have you thought of this and that?” Then all the power and radiance the man has can be lost in a moment’s time. Another person may say, “It is a noble undertaking; I am sure you will succeed. Therefore, my prayer, my thoughts are with you. I shall do all I can to help your enterprise. I wish you success.
Question: In order to be quite sure to be able to give to another, should one not have a great deal of vitality oneself?
Answer: Vitality also comes from self-confidence. Very often one will see a person with no extraordinary strength and vitality having more strength than a Sandow.
Independence is the sign of self-confidence. It is just like a wealthy person who has wealth enough for himself and who always can give to others. A person with limited means, after one day of generosity, the next day will be broken.
We generally confuse truth with fact, and we often use the word fact for truth. When we look at it from the mystic’s point of view we find that words are too intricate ever to explain what is truth. All that is given to man as truth and that he has received as truth in all ages has been a kind of re-echo of the realization of truth, which language has always limited and made subtle. In reality everything is subtle and complex, but nothing is simpler than truth. Things are complex and difficult because man makes them so. Truth is simple and plain.
In the Sufi terminology there is one word, Haqq, which means God and also truth. This term itself explains that God is truth and truth is God. Truth is that which cannot be pointed out, because all things that can be compared have their opposite, but neither God nor truth has an opposite. Names are to point out forms, and words are to distinguish one thing from another, while definitions come from the pairs of opposites or at least from differences. That which is all-pervading and is in all things and beings, that which every word explains and yet no word can explain, is God and is truth.
Men have differed in all ages because they have called their Deity by different names. There have existed wars, fights and family feuds for ages, men dividing themselves merely for the difference of the names given to their Deity. Man always sees just what he sees; he cannot see beyond it. With the ideal of his Deity, with the separate names of man’s Deities, with all the different attitudes of worshipping his Deity, man remains separate from God, for God is truth and truth is God.
In past ages people have founded new religions, formed in the name of God; they have built churches, founded in the name of God and Truth; they held their scriptures in esteem and honor, and revered the names of their leaders, of the prophets and seers of the religion to which they belonged. And with all his progress man does not seem to have progressed any further than the religions as known today. Bias and bigotry exist in the followers of different creeds, in their temples and churches, in the houses of their prayers, in their congregations of particular communities. The consequence is that religion and the religious spirit has been enfeebled. This even has reacted upon the minds of others who stay away from religion and yet partake of that tendency towards difference, definition and separation which divides mankind into different sections called nations, races or communities. The reaction culminates into results still worse than the action. All wars, disasters and unhappy experiences that humanity has seen, are the outcome of this spirit of intolerance, division and separation, which naturally comes through lack of wisdom and understanding and through the ignorance of truth.
Then the question arises: what is the way to attain the truth? Can it be attained through study? The answer is that the source of realizing the truth is within man. But man is the object of his realization. There are words of Hazrat “Ali, saying that the one who knows himself truly knows God.
Man, absorbed from morning till evening in his occupations which engage his every attention to the things of the earth and of self interest, remains intoxicated. Seldom there are moments in his life, brought about by pain or suffering, when he experiences a state of mind which can be called soberness. Hindus call this state of mind sat, which is a state of tranquility. Man then begins to become conscious of some part of his being which he finds to have almost covered his eyes. When we look at life from this point of view we find that an individual who claims to be a living being is not necessarily living a full life. It is only a realization of inner life which at every moment unveils the soul, and brings before man another aspect of life in which he finds fullness, a greater satisfaction, and a rest which gives true peace.
Can he speak about this to his fellowmen? And if he does, what can he say? Can he say, “I am purer,” or “more exalted than you” or “I understand life better than you?” As life unfolds itself to man the first lesson it teaches is humility; the first thing that comes to man’s vision is his own limitedness. The vaster God appears to him, the smaller he finds himself. This goes on and on until the moment comes when he loses himself in the vision of God. In terms of the Sufis this is called fana, and it is this process that was taught by Christ under the name of self-denial. Often man interprets this teaching wrongly and considers renunciation as self-denial. He thinks that the teaching is to renounce all that is in the world. But although that is a way and an important step which leads to true self-denial, the self-denial meant is the losing oneself in God.
Then the question arises: How can one lose oneself in God? The body is a person, the mind is active, there are feelings of joy, pleasure, love and hatred, and there is the existence with which we identify ourselves and which we call by a certain name and where we feel pain and pleasure. How can one deny oneself and lose oneself in God?
There is also another question which arises from the heart of the intellectual: “How can I lose myself in someone whom I do not know and cannot point out?” by reasoning with oneself and by trying to study oneself analytically it is possible to get nearer to the true knowledge of one’s being. If we consider that every part that constitutes our being has its own name- the hand, the foot, every part of our being has a different name, quality and purpose, and even a separate form – what is it then in man which says “I
and identifies itself with what it sees? It is not our head or foot which says “I
nor is it in the brain. It is something that we cannot point out which identifies itself with all these different parts and says “I” and mine and knows itself to be the person who sees. This in itself is ignorance, and it is this which the Hindus have called avidya.
How can you be that which you possess? You cannot be the horse and rider at the same time. Herein lies the secret of mortality and immortality; it is the mortal being that, through illusion claims immortality.
It is more important to find out the truth about oneself than to find out the truth about heaven and hell, or about many other things which are of less importance and are apart from oneself. However, every man’s pursuit is according to his state of evolution, and so each soul is in pursuit of something but he does not know where it leads him the first sign of realization is tolerance towards others. There are the words of Christ: “In the house of my father are many mansions” and those of the Prophet: “Each soul has its own religion” This means that according to his evolution so man knows the truth and the more a man knows, the more he finds there is to learn.
The mystics have in all ages recognized the virtue of purity which is represented by innocence. A man filled with earthly knowledge and what he calls learning, is often only the knowledge of names and forms and has no capacity for the knowledge of truth or God. It is the innocent and pure soul who has a capacity for learning. When a person comes to take a lesson on any subject, and he brings his own knowledge with him, the teacher has little to teach him, for the doors of his heart are not open. His heart that should be empty in order to receive knowledge is occupied by the knowledge that he already had acquired. In order to know the truth or to know God earthly qualifications and earthly wisdom or learning are not necessary. What one has to learn is how to become a pupil.
We often start our lives as teachers, and then it is hard to become a pupil. From childhood on we start to teach our parents. There are seldom souls who have more inclination for pupilship than for teaching, and there are many whose only difficulty in life is that they are teachers already. Man thinks that perhaps his ready or study of different religions and doctrines has qualified him and made him capable to understand the truth and to have the knowledge of God, but he forgets that there is only one teacher, and that is God Himself. We all are pupils, and what we can do in life is to qualify ourselves to become true pupils.
It is the receptivity of our heart and the passivity of our mind, it is the eagerness, the thirst and hunger after truth, it is the direction of our whole life to that Ideal from who all light and truth come, that alone can bring us truth and the knowledge of God. All knowledge of the earth is as clouds covering the sun. it is the breaking of these clouds and clearness of the sky, or in other words the purity of heart, which give the capacity for the knowledge of God.
The question may be asked: Is any effort required for realizing the truth? The answer is yes. There is a work that one can do which is as the work of a farmer it is to cultivate the heart. But where man makes a mistake is that, when he cultivates the heart he wishes to sow the seed himself instead of leaving the sowing of the seed to God. As to the way how to cultivate the heart, the first condition is explained in a story. A young man went to a great seer in Persia and asked him for guidance on the spiritual path. The seer asked him, “Have you loved in your life?” “No” he said, “not yet.” The seer answered, “Go and love, and know what love is. Then come to me.”
According to the belief of a Sufi the heart is the shrine of God, and when the doors of the shrine are closed it is just like a light being hidden under a bushel. The pupil sees that God is Love. If He is love He does not stay in the heavens. His earthly body is the heart of man. When that heart is frozen and when there is no love but bitterness, coldness, prejudice and contempt, unforgiving feelings and hatred (which all come from one source: want of tolerance) the feeling I am different and you are different comes. Then that spirit and that light of God, that divine essence that is in the heart of man, is buried as in a tomb. The work that one has to do is to dig it up, as one would dig the ground until one touched the water underneath.
What the Sufi calls riyazat, a process of achievement, is nothing else than digging constantly in that holy land which is the heart of man. Surely in the depth man will find the water of life. However, digging is not enough. Love and devotion, no doubt, help to bring out frequent merits hidden in the soul, as sincerity, thankfulness, gentleness and forgiving qualities, all things which produce an harmonious atmosphere, and all things which bring men in tune with life, the saintly life and the outer life. All those merits come, no doubt, by kindling the fire of live in the heart. But it is possible that in this process of digging one may only reach mud and lose patience. So dismay, discontentment may follow and man may withdraw himself from further pursuit. It is patient pursuit which will bring the water from the depth of the ground; for until one reaches the water of life, one meets with mud in digging. It is not love, but the pretence of love, that imposes the claim of the self. The first and last lesson in love is, “I am not – Thou art” and unless man is moved to that selflessness he does not know justice, right or truth. His self stands above or between him and God.
There is a well known Eastern legend giving the idea of a soul who had found truth. There was a wall of laughter and of smiles. This wall existed for ages and many tried to climb it, but few succeeded. Those who had climbed upon it saw something beyond, and so interested were they that they smiled, climbed over the wall and never returned. The people of the town began to wonder what magic could there be and what attraction, that whoever climbed the wall never returned. So they called it the wall of mystery. Then they said, “We must make an enquiry and send someone who can reach the top, but we must tie him with a rope to hold him back.” When the man they had thus sent reached the top of the wall, he smiled and tried to jump over it, but they pulled him back. Still he smiled, and when the people eagerly asked, “what did you see there?” he did not answer, he only smiled.
This is the condition of the seer. The man who in the shrine of his heart has seen the vision of God, the one who has the realization of truth, can only smile, for words can never really explain what truth means.
The nearest explanation one can give is that truth is realization. At every step of man’s evolution his realization changes, but there is a stage where man arrives at the true realization, a realization which is a firm conviction that no reason or logic can change or alter. Nothing in the world can change it any more, and that conviction is called by the Sufi’s iman.
The realization which is attained is that there is nothing to realize any more. The process of this attainment is a sincere research into truth and life, and the understanding of what I am the other is, together with the contemplation of God, a selfless consciousness, and a continual pursuit after the receiving of the knowledge of God.
Question: Is suffering beneficial?
Answer: Suffering is always a blessing. If it is for higher ideas, for God, for an ideal, it takes a person at once to the highest heaven. If it is for lower ideas, for the ego, for pride, for possessions, it takes a person to the lowest depth of hell. But there, after much suffering, after a long, long time, he loses these ideas and is purified. That is why the Christian religion shows the symbol of the cross, of suffering. How high our ideal may be, how low our ideal may be, in the end each pain has its prize.
Selflessness – Inkisar
Selflessness does not only beautify one’s personality, giving grace to one’s word and manner, but it also gives a dignity and power, together with a spirit of independence which is the real sign of a sage. It is selflessness which often produces humiliation in one’s spirit, taking away the intoxication which enriches the soul.
Independence and indifference, which are as the two wings which enable the soul to fly, spring from the spirit of selflessness. The moment the spirit of selflessness has begun to sparkle in the heart of man, he shows in his word and action a nobility which nothing earthly – neither power nor riches – can give.
There are many ideas which intoxicate man, many feelings there are which act upon the soul as wine, but here is no stronger wine than the wine of selflessness. It is a might and it is a pride that no worldly rank can give. To become something is a limitation, whatever one may become. Even if a person were to be called the king of the world, he would still not be emperor of the universe. If he were the master of earth, he would still be the slave of Heaven. It is the person who is no one, who is no one and yet all.
The Sufi, therefore, takes the path of being nothing instead of being something. It is this feeling of nothingness which turns the human heart into an empty cup into which the wine of immortality is poured. It is this state of bliss which every truth-seeking soul yearns to attain. It is easy to be a learned person, and it is not very difficult to be wise. It is within one’s reach to become good. And it is not an impossible achievement to be pious or spiritual. But if there is an attainment greater and higher than all these things, it is to be nothing. It may seem frightening to man, the idea of becoming nothing; bot human nature is such that it is eager to hold onto something. What man holds onto most is his person, his individuality. Once h has risen above this, he has climbed Mount Everest, he has arrived at the spot where the earth ends and heaven begins.
The whole aim of the Sufi is, by thought of God, to cover his imperfect self even from his own eyes, and that moment when God is before him and not his own self, is the moment of perfect bliss to him. My Murshid, Abu Hashim Madani, once said that there is only one virtue and one sin for a soul on the path: virtue when he is conscious of God and sin when he is not. No explanation can fully describe the truth of this except the experience of the contemplative to whom, when he is conscious of God, it is as if a window facing heaven were open, and to whom, wherein he is conscious of the self, the experience is the opposite. For all the tragedy of life is caused by being conscious of the self. All pain and depression is caused by this, and anything that can take away the thought of the self helps to a certain extent to relieve man from pain, but God-consciousness gives perfect relief.
Indifference – Vairagya
The word, vairagya comes from the Sanskrit and means indifference. By Sufis it is called fana, and it is shown in the cross, the symbol of the Christian religion.
This indifference comes to every being and is the first step to his annihilation, because not one atom can have its evolution without annihilation. The lower beings, the mineral, vegetable and animal, evolve towards the higher beings, and as man is the highest creation, there is nothing for him to evolve to but this indifference, when it comes, opens a way for him to God from whom he came.
This indifference comes to the child when she realizes that her doll is not so interesting as she had thought and that it would be more interesting to play with other children who at least are alive. So first the child takes the doll and loves it. She carries it about and if the dolly’s hand is hurt the child wants some remedy. A bed is needed to put the dolly in and a carriage is needed to take the dolly out. But when the nature of the doll is understood it is thrown away. And the child realizes that to play with children her own age is better than to play with dolls which never speak.
So it is with us, the children of the world. Our likes and infatuations have a certain limit; when their time has expired the period of indifference commences. When the water of indifference is drunk, then there is no more wish for anything in the world. The nature of the water one drinks in this world is that one’s thirst is quenched for a certain time and then comes again. When the water of divine knowledge is drunk, then thirst never comes again.
This indifference comes when the nature of the world is understood; it is the higher knowledge. Then it is understood that all those objects to which one attached so much importance, which one strove to attain, to achieve, are not important. Before reaching that stage a person attaches too much importance to his joys, to his sorrows. If he is sad the whole world is full of sadness. If he is a little joyful the whole world is full of joy – as if the sun would rise and set according to his joy and sadness.
Indifference, however, must be reached after interest has taken its course; before that moment it is a fault. A person without an interest in life becomes exclusive, he becomes disagreeable. Indifference must come after all experience – interest must end in indifference. Man must not take the endless path of interest: the taste of everything in the world becomes flat. Man must realize that all he seeks in the objects he runs after, that all beauty and strength, are in himself, and he must be content to feel them all in himself. This may be called the kiss of the cross: then man’s only principle is love.
Vairagya means satisfaction, the feeling that no desire is to be satisfied any more, that nothing on earth is desired. This is a great moment, and then comes that which is the kingdom of God.
Why is God satisfied with the world whereas even man, when he reaches a certain grade of intelligence, is not satisfied? Or is God not satisfied? There are two sorts of dissatisfaction. The first is felt when a man has so much given in to the external self that the world can give him no more satisfaction. The other comes when the desire for more experience, for more enjoyment ceases. This is called Vairagya, this is indifference. Such a person is not unhappy. He is happier than others. He has only lost his intense interest in the world.
There is a story of a comedian who every day disguised himself in order to fool the king, the Badishah, at whose court he lived. But the king recognized him in all his disguises. The comedian then thought that he would disguise himself as an ascetic. He went to a cave in the mountains and lived there with two disciples, also comedians. He fasted for long periods thinking that in this way he disguised himself well. After forty days people, seeing his disciples, began to speak of the sage living in the mountain. They brought him presents: one hundred, two hundred dirhams. But he refused all saying, “Take it away. “The sage does not want money or presents.”
His fame spread more and more. The king heard of him and became anxious to see him. So he went to the cave, but for a long time the disciples would not let him enter. At last he was allowed to come into the presence of the “sate.” The king said, “I have been kept waiting very long before I could see you.” The sage replied, “The dogs of this world are not allowed to enter the house.” The king was very much insulted. He thought, “This must be a very great person.” He gave him a paper saying, “This parveneh for the support of your disciples.” A parveneh means a grant of land, but the word has two meanings, it also means moth. The “sage” said, “if it is a parveneh its place is in the fire.” And he put the paper in the fire which was burning before him.
The king went away and the comedian got up thinking, “Now I must tell the king how I have fooled him.” Then a voice came saying, “Your feigned indifference has brought the king before you. If it had been real indifference, We Ourselves would have come before you.
Independence and Indifference
Does happiness depend upon the conditions of life or upon our outlook on life? It is a question that is often asked and most difficult to answer. Many who have some philosophical knowledge will say that this material world is an illusion and its conditions a dream; yet there are very few who can make themselves believe it. To know a thing in theory is different from practicing it. It is most difficult in this world to rise above the effects that conditions produce. No doubt, there is only one thing that helps us to rise above conditions, and that is a change of outlook on life. This change is made practicable by a change of attitude.
In the language of the Hindus life in the world is called sansara. It is pictured as life in a mist. One thinks and says and does and feels, and yet one does not fully know shy. If a person knows one reason for it, another reason is hidden behind it which he does not yet know. Very often conditions in life show a picture of captivity. Often it seems as if one had to walk between water and a pit. To rise above conditions, one needs wings attached to the soul: one is independence and the other is indifference – which not everyone has got. Independence needs a great deal of sacrifice before one can feel independent in life. Indifference is against one’s nature of love and sympathy. It is like cutting one’s heart asunder before one can practice indifference throughout life. No doubt once the soul is able to spread it s wings, one sees the conditions of life as far removed. Then one stands above all conditions that make man captive.
There is no difficulty which cannot be surmounted sooner or later. But even when a person has achieved something he desires in life, something else seems to be unfinished. So if he goes from one thing to another, achieving all he desires, the objects of his desire will multiply and there will never be an end to his desires. The more he has to do in life the more difficulties he must meet with. If he keeps away from the life of the world, then his being here will be purposeless. The more important the task, the more difficult is its accomplishment. So evening follows every day, and this goes on till eternity.
For a Sufi, therefore, not only patience to bear all things is necessary but to see all things from a certain point of view: that can relieve him for that moment from difficulty and pain. Very often it is his outlook which changes a person’s whole life. It can turn hell into heaven, it can turn sorrow into joy. When a person looks from a certain point of view, every little pin-prick feels like the point of a sword piercing his hear. If he looks at the same thing from a different point of view, the heart becomes sting proof. Nothing can touch it. All things which are sent forth at that person as bullets drop down without every having touched him.’
What is the meaning of walking upon the water? Life is symbolized as water. There is one person who drowns in the water, there is another who swims in the water, but there is still another who walks upon it. The one who is so sensitive that, after one little pin prick he is unhappy throughout the day and night is the man of the first category. The one who takes and gives back and makes a game of life is the swimmer. He does not mind if he receives on knock, for he derives satisfaction from being abode to give two knocks in return. But the one whom nothing can touch is in the world and yet is above the world. He is the one who walks upon the water; life is under his feet, both its joy an its sorrow.
Verily, independence and indifference are the two wings which enable the soul to fly.