By Hazrat Inayat Khan
There is one thing: to be a man; and there is another thing: to be a person, a man, by completing the individuality in which is hidden the purpose of man's coming to earth. Angels were made to sing the praise of the Lord, jinns to imagine, to dream, to meditate; but man is created to show humanity in character. It is this which makes him a person. There are many difficult things in life, but the most difficult of all is to learn and know and to practice the art of personality.
Nature, people say, is created by God and art by man; but in reality in the making of personality it is God who completes His divine art. It is not what Christ has taught that makes his devotees love him; they dispute over those things in vain; it is what he himself was. It is that which is loved and admired by his devotees. When Jesus Christ said to the fishermen, 'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men', what did it mean? It meant, 'I will teach you the art of personality which will become as a net in this life's sea.' For every heart, whatever be its grade of evolution, will be attracted by the beauty of the art of personality.
What does mankind seek in another person, what does man expect in his friend? […] [A]bove all he expects from his friend the humane qualities which are the art of personality. If one's friend lacks the qualities which are the art of personality, all the above things are of but little use and value to him.
There is a question: how are we to learn it? We learn it by our love of art, by our love of beauty in all its less various aspects. The artist learns his art by his admiration of beauty. When a person gets an insight into beauty, then he learns the art of arts, which is the art of personality. A man may have a thousand qualifications, or rank, or position; he may possess all the goods of the earth, but if he lacks the art of personality he is poor indeed. It is by this art that man shows that nobleness which belongs to the kingdom of God.
The art of personality is not a qualification. It is the purpose for which man was created, and it leads man to that purpose in the fulfillment of which is his entire satisfaction. By this art man does not only satisfy himself, but he pleases God. This phantom play on the earth is produced for the pleasure of that King of the universe whom the Hindus have called Indra, before whom Gandharvas sang and Apsaras danced. The interpretation of this story is that every soul is destined to dance at the court of Indra. The art of personality is, in reality, learning to dance perfectly at the court of Indra. But the one who says, 'But how can I dance? I do not know how to dance,' defeats his purpose. For no soul is created to stand aside and look on, every soul is created to dance in the court of Indra. The soul who refuses certainly shows its ignorance of the great purpose for which the whole play is produced on the stage of the earth.
Gratefulness in the character is like fragrance in the flower. A person, however learned and qualified in his life's work, in whom gratefulness is absent, is devoid of that beauty of character which makes personality fragrant. If we answer every little deed of kindness with appreciation, we develop in our nature the spirit of gratefulness; and by learning this we rise to that state where we begin to realize God's goodness toward us, and for this we can never be grateful enough to His divine compassion.
The great Sufi poet Sadi teaches gratefulness as being the means of attracting that favor, forgiveness, and mercy of God upon ourselves in which is the salvation of our soul. There is much in life that we can be grateful for, in spite of all the difficulties and troubles of life. Sadi says, 'The sun and the moon and the rain and clouds, all are busy to prepare your food for you, and it is unfair indeed if you do not appreciate it in thanksgiving.'
God's goodness is something that one cannot learn to know at once; it takes time to understand it. But little actions of kindness which we receive from those around us we can know, and we can be thankful if we want to be. In this way man develops gratefulness in his nature, and expresses it in his thought, speech and action as an exquisite form of beauty. As long as one weighs and measures and says, 'What I have done for you' and "What have you done for me', 'How kind I have been to you' and 'How good have you been to me', one wastes one's time disputing over something which is inexpressible in words; besides one closes by this that fountain of beauty which rises from the depth of one's heart. The first lesson that we can learn in the path of thankfulness is to forget absolutely what we do for another and to remember only what the other person has done for us. Throughout the whole journey in the spiritual path the main thing to be accomplished is the forgetting of our false ego, so that in this way we may arrive some day at the realization of that Being whom we call God.
Every impulse has its influence upon the word and upon the action. Therefore naturally every impulse exerts its full power through words and deeds unless it is checked. There are two types of persons: those who have learnt to check their word and action when they exert their full power, and express themselves abruptly; the other kind of persons are those who mechanically allow this natural impulse to show itself in their word and deed without giving any thought to it. The former, therefore, is gentle, and the latter is man. Gentleness is the principal thing in the art of personality; one can see how gentleness works as the principal thing in every art. In painting, in drawing, in line and color it is gentleness which appeals most to the soul. The same we see in music. A musician may be qualified enough to play rapidly and may know all the technique, but what produces beauty is his gentle touch.
It is mainly gentleness which is the basis of all refinement. But where does it come from? It comes from consideration, and it is practiced by self-control. There is a saying in Hindustani: 'The weaker the person, the more ready to be angry.' The reason is that he has no control over his nerves; it is often lack of control over oneself which is the cause of lack of gentleness.
No doubt one learns gentleness by consideration. One must learn to think before saying or doing. Besides one must not forget the idea of beauty. One must know that it is not enough simply to say or do, but that it is necessary to say or do everything beautifully. It is the development of the nations and races which is expressed in gentleness. Also, it is the advancement of the soul's evolution which expresses itself in gentleness. Nations and races, as well as individuals, will show backwardness in their evolution if they show lack of gentleness.
At this time the world's condition is such that it seems that the art of personality has been much neglected. Man, intoxicated with the life of cupidity and the competitive spirit, is held by the commercialism of the day, is kept busy in the acquirement of the needs of his everyday life, and the beauty which is the need of the soul is lost to view. Man's interest in all aspects of life, science, art, philosophy, remains incomplete in the absence of the art of personality. How rightly the distinction has been made in the English language between man and gentleman!
Dignity, which in other words may be called self-respect, is not something which can be left out when considering the art of personality […] A person with self-respect will be respected by others, even regardless of his power, possessions, position, or rank; in every position or situation in life that person will command respect.
There arises a question: has light-heartedness then any place in life, or is it not necessary in life at all? All is necessary, but everything has its time. Dignity does not consist in making a long face, neither is respect evoked by a stern expression; by frowning or by stiffening the body one does not show honor; dignity does not mean being sad or depressed. It is apportioning one's activities to their proper time. There are times for laughter; there are times for seriousness. The laughter of the person who is laughing all the time loses its power; the person who is always light-hearted does not carry that weight in society which he should. Besides light-heartedness often makes a man offend others without meaning to do so.
The one who has no respect for himself has no respect for others. He may think for the moment that he is regardless of conventionalities and free in his expression and feeling, but he does not know that it makes him as light as a scrap of paper moving hither and thither in space, blown by the wind. Life is a sea, and the further one travels on the sea the heavier the ship one needs. So for a wise man, a certain amount of weight is required in order to live, which gives balance to his personality. Wisdom gives that weight; its absence is the mark of foolishness. The pitcher full of water is heavy; it is the absence of water in the pitcher which makes it light, like a man without wisdom who is light-hearted. The more one studies and understands the art of personality, the more one finds that it is the ennobling of the character which is going forward towards the purpose of creation. All the different virtues, refined manners, and beautiful qualities, are the outcome of nobleness of character. But what is nobleness of character? It is the wide outlook.
A noble-minded person shows, as something natural in his character, a respect for his word, which is called his word of honor. For that person his word is himself; and this reality can increase to such an extent that even his life could be sacrificed for his word. Someone who has reached this stage is not far from God, for many times in the Scriptures it is said, 'If you want to see Us, see Us in our words.' If God can be seen in His words, the true soul can be seen in his word. Pleasure, displeasure, sweetness, bitterness, honesty, dishonesty, all these are to be discerned in the words man speaks; for the word is the expression of the thought, and thought is the expression of the feeling. And what is man? Man is his thought and feeling. So what is the word? The word is man's expression, the expression of his soul.
The man on whose word you can rely, that man is dependable. No wealth of this world can be compared with one's word of honor. A man who says what he means proves his spirituality by this virtue. To a real person to go back on his word is worse than death, for it is going backwards instead of going forward. Every soul is going onward toward his goal; and the person who is really going onward shows it in his word. At the present time it is necessary to have so many courts and so many lawyers and hence so many prisons which are increasing more every day, that this all shows the lack of that virtue which has been valued by the noble-minded ever since the beginning of civilization; for in this quality man shows his human virtue, a quality which neither belongs to the animals nor is attributed to the angels […]
Many in this world have undergone sacrifices; sufferings and pains have been inflicted on them, but it was only to put their virtue of the word to the test, for every virtue has to prove itself by going through a testing fire. When it has proved itself in its trial it becomes a solid virtue. This can be practiced in every little thing one does in one's daily life. A person who says at one moment one thing and another moment another thing, even his own heart begins to disbelieve him.
Among the great ones who have come to the earth from time to time, and have shown a great many virtues, this virtue has been the most pronounced. Muhammad, before coming before the world as a prophet, was called Amin by his comrades, which means trustworthy. The story of Haris Chandra is known to the Hindus down the ages, the example he has set is engraved upon the mind of the whole race. The story of Hatim, a Sufi of ancient times, has been a great inspiration to the people of Persia. In whatever part of the world and in whatever period, by the thoughtful and those with ideals the word of honor will be valued most.
The desire to spare another, to have patience instead of trying his patience to the uttermost, is the tendency to economy, a higher understanding of economy. To try to spare another from using his energy in the way of thought, speech, and action, all saves his energy for the other and for oneself it is adding beauty to one's personality. A person ignorant of this in time becomes a drag upon others. He may be innocent, but he can be a nuisance; for he neither has consideration for his own energy nor thought for others.
This consideration comes to one from the moment one begins to realize the value of life. As a man begins to consider this subject he spares himself unnecessary thought, speech, or action, and uses his own thought, speech, and action economically; and by valuing one's own life and action one learns to value the same in others. The time of human life on earth is most precious, and the more one practices economical use of this precious time and energy the more one knows how to make the best of life.
Apart from one's own speech, even hearing another speak is a continual tension; it robs a person of his time and energy. The one who cannot understand, or at least does not try to understand something spoken in one word, and wants to put into a sentence what can be said in one word, certainly has no sense of economy; for economizing with one's money is much less important than the economy of one's life and energy and that of others. For the sake of beauty, grace, and respect, when dealing with others one must go so far and no further.
One cannot drive with the same whip a friend, an acquaintance, and a stranger. There again the question of economy must be considered. Without the sense of economy, one might try the goodness, kindness, generosity, and endurance of others to such a degree that in the end of the trial it would work out to the disadvantage of both. The person who is sensible enough to guard his own interest in life may be called clever, but the one who guards the interests of others even more than his own is wise; for in this way he does things without knowing to his own advantage also. It is the same sense of economy which one uses with little things in one's daily life at home and in business; the same sense used in a higher form, by thoughtfulness and consideration, makes one more capable of serving others, which is the religion of religions.
After having acquired refinement of character, and merits and virtues that are needed in life, the personality can be finished by the weakening of the sense of justice. The art of personality makes a statue, a fine specimen of art, but when the sense of justice is awakened that statue comes to life; for in the sense of justice lies the secret of the soul's unfolding. Everyone knows the name of justice; but it is rare to find someone who really is just by nature, in whose heart the sense of justice has been awakened.
What generally happens is that people claim to be just, though they may be far from being so. The development of the sense of justice lies in unselfishness; one cannot be just and selfish at the same time. The selfish person can be just, but only for himself. He has his own law most suited to himself, and he can change it, and his reason will help him to do so, in order to suit his own requirements in life. A spark of justice is to be found in every heart, in every person, whatever be his stage of evolution in life; but the one who loves fairness, so to speak blows on that spark, thus raising it to a flame, in the light of which life becomes more clear to him.
There is so much talk about justice, so much discussion about it and so much dispute over it; one finds two persons arguing upon a certain point and differing from one another, both thinking that they are just, yet neither of them will admit that the other is as just as he himself.
For those who really learn to be just, their first lesson is what Christ has taught: 'Judge not, that ye be not judged.' One may say, 'If one does not judge, how can one learn justice?' But it is the one who judges himself who can learn justice, not the one who is occupied in judging others. In this life of limitations if one only explores oneself, one will find within oneself so many faults and weaknesses, and when dealing with others so much unfairness on one's own part, that for the soul who really wants to learn justice, his own life will prove to be a sufficient means with which to practice justice.
Again, there comes a stage in one's life, a stage of life's culmination, a stage of the soul's fuller development, when justice and fairness rise to such a height that one arrives at the point of being devoid of blame; one has nothing to say against anyone, and if there be anything it is only against oneself; and it is from this point that one begins to see the divine justice hidden behind this manifestation. It comes in one's life as a reward bestowed from above, a reward which is like a trust given by God, to see all things appearing as just and unjust in the bright, shining light of perfect justice.
It is the continual inclination to produce beauty which helps one to develop art in the personality. It is amusing how readily man is inclined to learn outer refinement, and how slow many souls are to develop that art inwardly. It must be remembered that the outer manner is meaningless if it is not prompted by the inner impulse towards beauty. How God takes pleasure in man can be learned from the story of Indra, the king of Paradise, at whose court Gandharvas sing and Apsaras dance. When interpreted in plain words this means that God is the essence of beauty; it is His love of beauty which has caused Him to express his own beauty in manifestation, for it is His desire fulfilled in the objective world.
One must only try and develop beauty, trusting that the beauty in the depth of one's soul, and its expression, in whatever form, is the sign of the soul's unfoldment.
A friendly attitude, expressed in sympathetic thought, speech, and deed, is the principal thing in the art of personality. There is limitless scope to show this attitude, and however much the personality is developed in this direction, it is never too much. Spontaneity and the tendency to give, giving that which is dear to one's heart, is what shows the friendly attitude. Life in the world has its numberless obligations, towards friend and foe, towards acquaintance and stranger. One can never do too much to be conscientious in one's obligations in life and to do everything in one's power to fulfill them. To do more than one's due is perhaps beyond the power of every man, but in doing what one ought to do one does accomplish one's life purpose.
Life is an intoxication, and the effect of this intoxication is negligence. The Hindu words Dharma and Adharma, religiousness and irreligiousness, signify that one's duty in life is Dharma, and the neglect of the same is Adharma. The one who is not conscientious in his obligations in life toward every thing he comes in contact with, is indeed irreligious. Many will say, 'We tried to do our best, but we didn't know how', or, 'We don't know what is expected of us', or, 'How are we to find out what is really our due and what is not?' No one in this world can teach what is anyone's due and what is not. It is for every soul to know for himself by being conscientious in his obligations. And the more conscientious he is, the more obligations he will find to fulfill, and there will be no end to them.
Nevertheless, in this continual strife what might seem a loss to him in the beginning in the end is gain; for he will come face to face with his Lord, who is wide awake. The eyes of the man who neglects his duty to his fellow men, absorbed in life's intoxication, will certainly become dazzled and his mind exhausted before the presence of God. It does not mean that any soul will be deprived of the divine vision, it only means that the soul who has not learned to open his eyes wide enough will have his eyes closed before the vision of God. All virtues come from a wide outlook on life, all understanding comes from the keen observation of life. Nobility of soul, therefore, is signified in the broad attitude that man takes in life.
(Excerpted from Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Art of Personality [The Sufi Message vol.3])
URL of Part 49: http://www.newageislam.com/books-and-documents/the-sufi-message--excerpts-from-hazrat-inayat-khan’s-discourses-on-the-unity-of-religious-ideals--on-reciprocity-and-relating-with-others-–-49/d/34469