By Hazrat Inayat Khan
Friendship as the average person understands it is perhaps little more than acquaintance; but in reality it is more sacred than any other connection in the world. To a sincere person, entering into friendship is like entering the gates of heaven; and a visit to his friend is a pilgrimage to a true loving friend.
When, in friendship, a thought arises, 'I will love you as you love me,' or, 'I will do to you as you do to me,' this takes away all the virtue of the friendship, because it is a commercial attitude, prevalent everywhere in the commercial world: everything is done for a return, and measure is given for measure. Friendship should be the contrary pole to the practical side of life; for when a person is tired by the selfish surroundings of the world he feels inclined to take refuge in the love and kindness of a sympathetic friend. But if there is a question of selfishness in friendship, where can a soul go who is tired and annoyed with the selfish surroundings of the world?
Friendship is just like recreation after the toil of the day. One can speak or be with someone who is different from all others in life. But difficulty arises because everyone thinks that his friend ought to prove worthy of his ideal, and this in the end disappoints him. For the law of beneficence teaches this: that goodness is worthwhile which can withstand even badness; that kindness is valuable which can withstand tyranny. Every soul is not ready to follow this ideal, and it depends to what extent one is strong enough to withstand. By having an ideal and keeping it before him, a person develops sooner or later into that ideal.
A friendship used to carry out one's aims and objects in life through the love and kindness of a friend is only business. The unselfish friend is the pure one, and it is such a friendship that will last; but a selfish friendship will vanish. For the selfish friend will create selfishness in the heart of his friend, and the unselfish friend will create unselfishness in the heart of his friend.
Everyone gets, sooner or later, what he gives, for the heart knows the condition of the heart. Therefore, there is no better principle than wishing good to the friend, speaking good of the friend, doing good to the friend, with all kindness and love; having no thought for one moment of the friend's deserving our goodness, kindness, or love.
Our love, kindness, service, and sympathy are due to people in the world, and especially to those around us, according to their expectation. A stranger naturally expects less than an acquaintance; an acquaintance expects less than a friend; and a friend, less than relations. Therefore, these have more right to ask for our love and service, and it is our first duty to give it to them. It does not matter if they do not give us the same, or if they do not prove worthy of our ideal. It is a mistake for wise people to expect the same from them or to expect everyone to prove worthy of their ideal, when it is so difficult even for ourselves to prove worthy of our own ideal.
However highly we may think of ourselves, in the end at the examination we fail. Therefore the wise thing would be to do all the good we can to those who expect it from us, and especially to those who consider it their right to expect it from us, without even thinking whether they will return it or whether they deserve it.
There are some who stand by their relations with pride. Taking the part of the relation and standing by the relation with pride is right, for this is the first step toward human brotherhood. A person cannot jump at once to universalism. There are some who have a sort of natural hatred of their relations, and they love those who have no connection with them. But they are mistaken, for a person who cannot love his own brother will never be able to consider another person as a brother, because he has neglected learning his lesson at home. Far from hating his relations, a wise man will not even hate his enemy. By hating relations for their unworthiness you make them more unworthy; whereas by loving them, some day you will be able to draw out the worthiness that you seek in them.
Harmony at home spreads out, and makes the world harmonious for us; and […] [disharmony] at home spreads out throughout the world, and builds an inharmonious world for us. For instance, a person who has quarreled at home and gone to China, and settled there to have peace, has taken the disharmony with him to China, and can never be at peace all his life.
However badly situated we may be in life, if we try our best to master the situation, it is far better and greater than wishing to change the situation, for this is nothing but a weakness. Among relations it is so wonderful when there is harmony between brothers and sisters, a link of love and harmony between husband and wife, and especially love and devotion between parents and children. Verily, there is no greater light than love.
We are so situated in life that whatever position we may occupy we are never independent, we are never self-sufficient. Therefore, every individual depends upon others for help, and others depend upon him for help; only the position of the person who is one among many who receive help becomes lower in the eyes of those who count themselves among the few who can help.
This makes every person a master as well as a servant. Yet everyone, in the intoxication of his mastership, forgets his place as a servant, and looks upon the one who helps him as his servant. The wise, whose feelings are awakened, think on this question deeply, and do their best to avoid every possibility of giving even an idea to a servant of his servantship, far less insulting him in any way or hurting his feelings. We are all equal, and if we have helpers to serve us in life we ought to feel humble and most thankful for the privilege, instead of making the position of the servant humble.
It is wise to avoid putting one's own burden on another, however exalted we may be in our position in life. It is right to share the work with the servant, however humble it may seem; for there is nothing in life too humble to do. If a man can do a certain thing, he need not leave it to a poor man to do because he is higher in position. It is necessary to take help; but it is right to do everything that comes in life, regardless of one's riches, power, or position.
The moral of the ancients was that a servant was considered as a child of the family, and he was never allowed to feel that he was lower in any way than the members of the family. One cannot commit a greater sin than hurting the feelings of the one who serves us and depends upon our help. Once the Prophet heard his grandson call a servant by his name. On hearing this he at once said to his grandson, 'No, child, that is not the right way of addressing elders. You ought to call him 'uncle.' It does not matter if he serves us, we are all servants of one another, and we are equal in the sight of God.'
There is a verse of Mahmud-i Ghaznavi: 'The Emperor Mahmud, who had thousands of slaves to wait on his call, became the slave of his slaves when love gushed forth from his heart.' Nobody appears inferior to us when our heart is kindled with kindness and our eyes are open to the vision of God.
It is natural for every person to have a master, from a beggar to a king. There is no soul on earth who has not someone under whose control and command he is expected to act: in school under the teacher, in the army under the commanding officer, in the workshop under the foreman, in a nation under the king or president. There is no aspect of life that exempts man from this. Thus it is wise to act towards one's own superior with the consideration one would expect from one's inferior.
Faithfulness, respect, good manners, sincerity, and attention should always be shown in our dealings with our superiors in life; and he who lacks them will find that they are also lacking in those from whom he expects them. A child who is insolent to his parents will always see insolence in his own children; a person who has been abrupt to his chief will always meet with abruptness in his servants. It is the law of nature. Therefore, a respectful manner and goodwill to one's master in any aspect of life are always worthwhile.
A man should always try to develop his acquaintanceship into friendship, at least where it is possible; but where it is impossible he should try at least to continue acquaintance, instead of going from acquaintance to estrangement. A man always wonders how he can make friends with everybody, for friendship is such a rare thing; and so he waits with his high ideal perhaps all his life and does not meet his ideal friend. And as he passes by all those with whom he becomes acquainted, in a way he avoids the chance of friendship with them, thinking they are not worth it. It is easy for anyone to say about another that he is not worth making friends with; but he does not know how much he is worth himself.
Therefore, the wise are thankful when they see anybody with a more or less friendly inclination towards them, and make the best of the opportunity by gaining three benefits from it: the first, that by being friends with someone a person develops in himself the spirit of friendliness; the second, that one adds one more to the circle of one's friends; and the third, the joy of exchanging love and kindly feelings, which is greater and better than anything in the world. There is nothing but benefit in widening one's circle of friends, and there is nothing but loss when one loses a friend from one's circle.
One ought to look upon acquaintanceship as the sowing of the seed of friendship, not as a situation forced upon one; for those who turn their backs on a man and look at him with contempt also do that to God. To think, 'That person is perhaps of no value; that person is of no importance,' is impractical, besides being unkind. As all things have their use, both flowers and thorns, both sweet and bitter, so all men are of some use; what position, what class, what race, what caste they belong to makes no difference.
Friendship with good and bad, with wise and foolish, with high and low, is equally beneficial, whether to yourself or to the other. What does it matter if another be benefited by your friendship, since you would like to be benefited by someone else's friendship? He is wise who treats an acquaintance as a friend, and he is foolish who treats a friend as an acquaintance, and he is impossible who treats friends and acquaintances as strangers; you cannot help him.
The word 'neighbor' is used traditionally for those who are around us at home, or at the office, or in the workshop. Tulsidas, the Hindu poet, says that the essence of religion is kindness. Those who are inclined to do kindness in life must not discriminate among the people around them, between those to whom they must be kind and those to whom they need not be kind. However kind and good a person may be to those he likes, to those he wishes to be kind to, he cannot for this be called kind by nature; real kindness is that which gushes out from the heart to the worthy and to the unworthy.
There are some people who are kind by nature and yet do not know how to express it; and therefore with all their kindness they prove in life to be unkind. There are different ways of expressing kindness, such as by being harmless, by being undisturbing, and by being considerate to those around us. These three are the first principles of kindness.
By harmlessness is meant that though man does not seem to harm man in the way the animals of the forest harm one another, yet by keen study one sees that man can harm man more than the wild animals harm one another. For man is the outcome of the development of the whole of creation; therefore the ego, which makes one selfish, is developed in him more than in any other creature. Selfishness keeps man blind through life, and he scarcely knows when he has caused harm to another.
By not disturbing is meant that even a little crudeness of thought, speech, or action can disturb another, and this man easily does in life without considering. And the sense of man has the delicacy of God. Crudeness on our part may disturb another very much although we do not even notice it.
By consideration is meant that man's life in the world is a life of poverty, poverty in some way or other even if he lives in a palace. In the Quran it is said, 'God alone is rich, and everyone on earth is poor.' Man is poor with his myriad needs, his life's demands, the wants of his nature; and when one keenly observes life, it seems that the whole world is poverty-stricken, everyone struggling for the self. In this struggle of life, if a man can be considerate enough to keep his eyes open to all around him and see in what way he can be of help to them, he becomes rich; he inherits the kingdom of God.
To be just and fair to our fellow men is not only a virtue but a benefit to ourselves, even from the practical point of view. Sometimes a man thinks, 'I have got the better of another, and thereby I have profited; so, at the loss of virtue, I have been benefited.' But the secret is that our benefit in life depends upon the benefit of others. We are dependent upon each other. The inner scheme of working is such that it gives to all a share of the mutual loss and benefit, though outwardly it does not seem to do this. Man is deluded and kept from realizing this fact, because he sees that one is in pain while another has pleasure, and he sees that one appears to be benefited by another's loss. It is true that this is so on the outer plane, but it is not so in the inner workings. The robber, after having robbed, is as restless during the night as the one who is robbed.
Christ's teaching that man should be kind and charitable, and that of all other teachers who showed humanity the right path, seems to differ from what one sees from the practical point of view which is called common sense; yet according to uncommon sense, in other words super-sense, it is perfectly practical. If you wish to be charitable, think of the comfort of another; if you wish to be happy, think of the happiness of your fellow men; if you wish to be treated well, treat others well; if you wish that people should be just and fair to you, first be so yourself to set an example.
A man is always ready to accuse another of having done something which he himself would not mind doing. There is another man who would perhaps not commit the same fault of which he accuses another, but he has committed it in the past. There is a third person who accuses another of doing something wrong, which, owing to circumstances, he himself is incapable of doing.
This is pictured by Hafiz in his poetry; he says, 'O pious one, I would listen to you if you were young, and if it were spring, and there were a garden and a fair one offering you a bowl of wine, and you refused it at that time.' It is easy to blame another for his wrongdoings, just as it is easy to examine and difficult to be examined. The words of the Bible, 'He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her,' refer to this.
Often a man attaches great importance to an action done by another which is only wrong by the standard of his own understanding; whereas the right and wrong of every person is according to his stage of evolution and according to his understanding. Often a man accuses another of having committed some fault without considering what has prompted him to commit that fault, what is the real condition of his life, whether he did it willingly or unwillingly, whether he was compelled to do it by his own self, or by someone else, or by some unforeseen circumstance. When a man accuses another person without even having seen his wrongdoing, but because he has been told of it by someone else, it is a still greater mistake; it is not even a fact known at first hand.
When we see with the brain we see so many faults in others; but when we see through feeling, we can only try to reason out how we can justify their having done as they did, or at least tolerate their having done so, through weakness or by mistake, which is natural to every man since Adam, the father of humanity, was liable to faults.
The more feeling develops in the heart of man, the more forgiving he becomes. For to him the world's inhabitants appear as little children, just as small as they appear to him who flies in an airplane; and as one is ready to forget the faults of children, so the wise are ready to forgive the faults of men.
The difference between the law of reciprocity and the law of beneficence is that in the former a person is justified in giving measure for measure, and in the latter one is supposed to tolerate and to forgive and to show kindness, so that the enemy may grow to be a friend. There are cases where one cannot show kindness; but yet one can be tolerant. There are cases where one cannot forgive; and yet revenge, for a humane person, is an unnatural thing. One can overlook the faults of another; and by that one will give less occasion for disagreement and still less occasion for enmity.
Then a person thinks, 'By being kind to our enemy we encourage him in his tyranny.' But so long as we have kindness in our heart, instead of hardening the nature of the enemy it will soften it, since we receive all that we give out. A kind word in return for a harsh word, a kind action in return for a cruel one, a kind thought in return for an evil thought, make a much greater impression than measure for measure.
The iron which cannot be broken by hammers can be melted by fire. Love is fire; kindness is its chief expression; and if a person has developed this sufficiently in his heart, he can sooner or later change an enemy into a friend. It is mostly unkindness on one's own part that causes enmity all around; and one blames enemies and becomes horrified at their number, then blames the world and its nature and its life; and when the creation has been proved blameworthy in a person's mind, then how can the Creator be kept free from blame? Then that man feels that he alone is blameless, and all else is blameworthy; and life becomes a torture to him; he thinks it is not worth living. He becomes self-righteous, and everybody seems to be against him.
It is always wise to avoid every possibility of causing enmity, and to make every effort to turn any enemy, even a person in the least degree offended, even a person who has slightly misunderstood you, or perhaps has felt vexed with you, into a friend again; nor for the sake of your own happiness or even of his, but for the sake of the good principle […] For however slight an enemy he may be, he can cause you very great pain or suffering, and however little friendship you have with a person, he may become most useful some day. And apart from all material benefits, to feel, 'That person is pleased with me, he is well-disposed towards me, he is no longer my enemy,' is in itself such a great benefit.
God is the ideal that raises mankind to the utmost reach of perfection. As man considers and judges his dealings with man in his conscience, so the real worshipper of God considers his dealings with God. If he has helped anybody, if he has been kind to anybody, if he has made sacrifices for anybody, he does not look for appreciation or return for his doing so to the people to whom he has done good; for he considers that he has done it for God, and therefore, his account is with God, not with those with whom he has dealt. He does not care even if instead of praising they blame him; for in any case he has done it for God, who is the best judge and the knower of all things.
There is no ideal that can raise the moral standard higher than the God-ideal, although love is the root of all and God is the fruit of this. Love's expansion and love's culmination and love's progress all depend upon the God-ideal. How much a man fears his friend, his neighbor, when he does something that might offend him whom he loves, whom he respects; and yet how narrow is his goodness when it is only for one person or for certain people! Imagine if he had the same consideration for God, then he would be considerate everywhere and in dealing with all people; as in a verse of a Sufi which says, 'Everywhere I go I find Thy sacred dwelling-place; and whichever side I look I see Thy beautiful face, my Beloved.'
Love for God is the expansion of the heart, and all actions that come from the lover of God are virtues; they cannot be otherwise. There is a different outlook on life when the love of God has filled a man's heart. The lover of God will not hate anyone; for he knows that by doing so he will hate the Creator by hating His creation. He cannot be insincere, he cannot be unfaithful; for he will think that to be faithful and sincere to mankind is to be faithful and sincere to God. You can always trust the lover of God, however impractical or however lacking in cleverness he may appear to be, for simply to hold strongly in mind the thought of God purifies the soul of all bitterness, and gives man a virtue that he could obtain nowhere else and by no other means.
(Excerpted from Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Art of Personality [The Sufi Message vol.3])