By Hazrat Inayat Khan
Any efforts made in developing the personality or in character-building must be not for the sake of proving oneself superior to others, but of becoming more agreeable to those around one and to those with whom one comes in contact. Conciliation is not only the moral of the Sufi: it is the sign of the Sufi. This virtue is not learned and practiced easily, for it needs not only goodwill but wisdom. The talent of the diplomat consists in bringing about such results as are desirable with mutual agreement. Disagreement is easy. Among the lower creation one sees it so often. It is agreement that is difficult, for it needs a wider outlook, which is the true sign of spirituality. Narrowness of outlook makes man's vision small. The person with a narrow outlook cannot easily agree with another. There is always a meeting-ground for two people, however much they differ in thought. But the meeting-ground may be far off, and when that is so a man is not always willing to take the trouble to go so far in order to come to an agreement. Very often this is due to his lack of patience. What generally happens is that each wants the other to meet him at the place where he is standing. There is no desire on either part to move from the spot.
This does not mean that in order to become a real Sufi one should give up one's own ideas in order to agree with someone else. And there is no advantage in always being lenient towards every thought that comes from another, nor in erasing one's own ideas from one's heart. That is not conciliation. The one who is able to listen to another is the one who will make another listen to him. The one who finds it easy to agree with another will have the power of making another agree easily with him. Therefore, in doing so one really gains in spite of the apparent loss which might sometimes occur. When a man is able to see both from his own point of view and from that of another, he has complete vision and a clear insight. He so to speak sees with both eyes.
No doubt friction produces light, but light is the agreement of the atoms. Two people having their own ideas and arguing about them can be a stimulus to thought, and then it does not matter so much. But when a person argues for the sake of argument, the argument becomes his game. He has no satisfaction in conciliation. Words provide the means of disagreement and reasons become the fuel for this fire. But wisdom is found where the intelligence is pliable, where it understands all things, even the wrong of the right and the right of the wrong. The soul who arrives at perfect knowledge has risen above right and wrong. He knows them and yet knows not. He can say much and yet what can he say? Then it becomes easy for him to conciliate each and all.
There is a story of two Sufis who met after many years, having traveled their different ways. They were glad to meet each other after many years of separation as they were both Mureeds of the same Murshid. One said to the other, 'Tell me, please, your life's experience. After all this time of study and practice of Sufism I have learned one thing: how to conciliate another. And I can do it very well now. Will you please tell me what you have learned?' The other one said, 'After all this time of study and practice of Sufism I have learned how to master life. And all that there is in this world is for me, and I am the master. All that happens, happens by my will.' Then came the Murshid, whose Mureeds both of them were, and they spoke to him of their experience during their journey. The Murshid said, 'Both of you are right.' In the case of the first it was self-denial, in the right sense of the word, which enabled him to conciliate others. In the case of the second there was no longer any of his will left. If there was any, it was the will of God.
In human beings one finds millions of qualities. Every quality has its origin in the heredity and is in reality a mixture of different qualities, a kind of solution. So every person will have different qualities unlike those of others, and every person is unique in his way; in this lies the secret of the oneness of God. Not only is God one, but man is one too.
One should never be discouraged or disappointed in life. Man has the key of his own life in his hand, if he only knew it. It is absurd to say, 'I have not got that quality.' There is no quality in the world that man has not got, either good or bad. And the soundest psychology is to say to oneself that one has the quality one thinks most desirable, most attractive; and not that quality which one does not think desirable.
There is infinite variety in personality. The law of variety comes from the nature of manifestation. Every current taking a different direction becomes different and manifests differently. Variety is also caused by time and space. Every personality differs because of time and space. A person born in one year will be different from a person born in another year. A person born in one month or on a certain day will be different from a person born in another month, or on another day. Every moment makes a difference because of the difference in people's breath. But not only this; the difference of personality comes also through the difference in the direction of one's thought. One's personality depends on the direction in which one's thought goes, and also on one's action, motive, expression. All these things cause difference in personality.
There is a story of a dervish who was standing in the middle of the street when the procession of the king was approaching. First came the pages who ran before the procession and they pushed him and said, 'Don't you see, the king is coming! Go away!' And the dervish smiled and said, 'That is why.' And he remained in the same place. Then there came the horsemen, the bodyguards. They said, 'Get out of the way, the procession is coming!' The dervish smiled and said, 'That is why.' Next the courtiers came and saw the dervish standing there. And instead of telling the dervish to go away, they moved their horses a little away from where he stood. And again the dervish said, 'That is why.' Finally came the king, and when the king saw the dervish standing there, he greeted him first; and the dervish in reply said, 'That is why.' An intelligent young man asked him, 'What is it you mean by this remark?' The dervish answered, 'You can see, that is why he is what he is.'
This ideal people have wiped away from their minds. Where is democracy? The kingliness of greeting the dervish that is democracy. But the man who is not evolved, who is pulling the most evolved down to his level, has a wrong conception of democracy. It is going downwards instead of upwards. If lack of manners and consideration can be democracy, it loses its real ideal and true spirit. Democracy is the result of aristocracy. When the spirit of aristocracy has evolved sufficiently, it becomes democracy. Then a person thinks, 'I am the equal of any person in the world. There is no person lower than I.' But if a person says, 'There is no person higher than I', that is not democracy.
In Burma one finds Buddhists of a very wonderful kind. It is the only race which for centuries has believed that there is no religion that is not as good as their own. Imagine, today, when the followers of most religions look down upon the followers of another! These people say, 'Whatever be the religion, Christian or Muslim or Jewish, it is not worse than ours. Perhaps it is better.' They all had this same thought, and even today they still have this belief. That is something wonderful. But when a person says, 'Nobody is better than I am', it is no democracy. It is sinking lower, because it means closing one's eyes to what is greater, higher, and better. If one cannot appreciate or see it one cannot rise to it. One can only rise towards that which one values and towards which one aspires.
If I were to speak before the world today about occult power, psychic power, spirit-communication, breathing practices, people would be glad to listen, but if I say simple things like this, it means nothing to them. Yet suppose one did not develop personality, what about spirituality? A person must be a person first, and spiritual afterwards. If he is not a person, then what is the use of being spiritual? It is going back instead of going forward. Man is born to fulfill the purpose of his life. He is made to be a man, to prove he is a human being. A man who can be relied upon, a man whose word carries authority, who uses thought and consideration, whom one can trust with one's secret. A man who will not humiliate himself under any conditions, […] who will not deceive or cheat anybody, who will never go back on his word. A man who will carry through what he has once undertaken. All these qualities make a man a human being. Today our condition is such that we cannot believe in one another's word. We have to have a stamp on a contract. Why are we in such a condition? Because we are not evolving towards the ideal the ancient people had. That is why we cannot trust each other individually. That is why nations cannot trust one another.
Human beings live only from day to day, striving and working for a loaf of bread. That is all. But is that all, to earn a loaf of bread? In that case we do no better than the animals in the forest, and even they appear better than we. Rich and poor, all are wretched, in every walk of life whether it be a business, a profession, or politics, because there is nothing but competition between individuals, nations, parties, and communities. We have made our lives wretched. What are we here for? If we were born only to meditate and to be spiritual, then we had better go into the forest and into the caves of the mountains. Then it would not be necessary to be in the world. If we only had to live as the animals do, we could do as the worldly person is mostly doing today, and accomplish nothing. Therefore, the first necessity for those who are seeking after truth is to develop the spirit of personality. Gold and jewels are worthless if one has no personality. Nothing is valuable then. Personality is more valuable than wealth. How strange it is that there is such a large population in this world and that there are so few personalities! Think of that Greek philosopher who went about with a lighted lantern in daytime. People asked, 'What are you looking for?' He said, 'For a human being.'
Very often when I speak of the development of personality, people ask me 'What about annihilation?' But it depends on what form of annihilation they mean. One can only be a spendthrift if one has wealth. One cannot annihilate what one does not possess. When an individual has no personality he can annihilate nothing. There must be something first. If a person started in life with self-effacement he would never become a self. What would he efface? Effacing comes afterwards. First he must be a self, a real self that is worth being.
One makes one's nature by one's likes and dislikes, by what one favors or disfavors. When a person says, 'I don't like this food,' he has built something into his nature. And then that food, when eaten, will often disagree with him. It is not that it was meant to disagree with him, but he made it disagree by disliking it. By control, bravery, endurance, steadiness, by all such qualities one makes one's nature either agreeable or disagreeable. Either one makes one's nature as hard as a rock, a rock that will not allow anything to pass, or one makes one's nature as pliable as water.
One may ask if it is not conceit to try to be better than others. There are many thorns and few flowers. We should not try to become a flower in order to feel ourselves superior to a thorn, but only for the benefit of others. All that trouble and pain and difficulty should be suffered for others. If among so many thorns we turn into a flower, it should be for others. That must be the idea. Besides, it is not an easy task to become a flower. It is far easier to become a thorn. For one is naturally born a thorn and one has to become a flower. It is easy to say, 'You have hurt me, insulted me, disturbed me, troubled me.' But one does better to ask oneself if one has not harmed or disturbed someone else. One never thinks enough about this. Therefore, to develop personality one learns self-effacement. It is an annihilation, a continual unconscious annihilation which turns the self from a thorn into a flower.
What Omar Khayyam has called wine is the amusement one gets by looking at the phenomena of life, which lifts one above the worries of life. One will always find that the most evolved sages can be amused. That is why they are pleasant to meet and to speak to. Worrying comes from self-pity and fear. And fear is made of the clouds of ignorance. The light will dissolve it. Humor is the sign of light. When the light from above touches the mind it tickles the mind, and it is the tickling of mind which produces humor.
The one who develops his personality enriches and ennobles himself in manner, principle, and ideal. This subject has been much overlooked. It is not that man is not capable of it. Man is more capable of it than ever before because he has to suffer so much. This life as we live it is a most painful life. It crunches and grinds a person and in that way can make him a better man. If he gave his thought to it he would profit by it and become a better person. In ancient times, people willingly went through different sufferings, trials, and tests. We today do not need to do so. We have other trials today. We do not need to look for them if we only learn how to profit by them, otherwise this experience is lost. Nowadays, man can make use of all the skin and bones and nails of every animal in some way or another, and yet we do not use our own life's experience which is more precious than anything else. When people hear of an oil-well or of a gold-mine they are all interested in it. But they are not interested in this gold- and silver-mine, this mine of jewels and gems, the cultivation of which will produce all that can be produced. What is most valuable they do not even think about.
There is, however, no need to scorn a rich man. Sometimes, the rich man is poorer than the poor. With all the money in the bank his condition is sometimes much worse than that of the poor man. It is a mistake to say a person is rich because he has money or high rank. Besides, the question whether a person is poor or rich has nothing to do with personality. One can develop personality regardless of being rich or poor. Neither poverty nor riches necessarily draw one back from spiritual progress, for all that exists in the world is there for our use. If one has it, so much the better. If one does not have it, it is better still.
The great gurus and teachers of all times have taught that to give one's thought and mind to the development of personality is of the greatest importance for those who wish to seek for truth.
Where does the difference between religious faiths come from? From looking superficially. People argue about things which in essence are the same. The difference is only in words. A keen observation of life in time awakens us to the fact that when once the light is thrown upon life, life begins to reveal itself. As Sadi has said, 'Even the leaves of the tree become as pages of the sacred Book once the eyes of the heart are open.'
Excerpted from Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Alchemy of Happiness [“The Sufi Message”, vol. VI
URL of Part 69: http://www.newageislam.com/books-and-documents/hazrat-inayat-khan/the-sufi-message--excerpts-from-hazrat-inayat-khan’s-discourses-on-the-unity-of-religious-ideals--69---the-art-of-personality/d/98811