By Hazrat Inayat Khan
The best way of working in all ways of life, at home or outside, is noiseless working, a thing which is so little thought of by many and which is so necessary in creating order, harmony, and peace in life. Very often a person does little and speaks much about it. In doing every little thing he makes a noise, and thereby very often, instead of finishing something successfully, he attracts difficulties.
The first thing to be remembered in character-building is to understand the secret and character of human nature. We must know that every person in the world has his own object in life, his own interest and his point of view, and that he is concerned with himself. His peace is disturbed when you wish to interest him in your object of interest. If you wish to force upon him your point of view, however near and dear he may be to you, he is not pleased with it. Very few consider this; and they wish to pour out their own troubles and difficulties upon someone near to them, thinking, 'Everyone has the same interest in my subject as I myself and everyone has the same point of view as myself; so everyone will be glad to hear my tale.'
There is a story told that a person began to speak before a new acquaintance about his ancestors. He continued so long that the patience of his hearer was thoroughly exhausted. In the end the acquaintance interrupted the story by asking, 'If I do not care to know about my own ancestors, what do I care to know about yours?' There are many who are very keen to let their neighbors know about every cold and cough they may have; every little gain or loss, however small, they would be glad to announce with drums and bugles. This is a childish quality; this tendency shows a child soul. Sometimes it frightens away friends and helps the foes. People who work noisily accomplish little, for they attract by their noise ten more people who come and interfere and spoil the work which one person could easily have finished.
Noisiness comes from restlessness, and restlessness is the sign of Tamas, the destructive rhythm. Those who have made any success in life, in whatever direction, have done so by their quiet working. In business, in industry, in art, in science, in education, in politics, in all directions of life, a wise worker is the quiet worker. He tells about things when the time comes, not before. The one who talks about things before he has accomplished them is like a cook who is announcing dishes before they are cooked, to the whole neighborhood.
There is a story told in the East of an enthusiastic servant. The master had a headache, and he told the servant to go and fetch some medicine from the chemist. The servant thought it would not be sufficient only to fetch medicine from the chemist; so he also made an appointment with the doctor, and on his way home he visited the undertaker. The master asked, 'Why are you so late?' The servant said, 'Sir, I arranged everything.' Enthusiasm is a great thing in life. It is creative and it is a key to success, but too much of it sometimes spoils things. The more wise a person, the gentler he is in everything he does. A gentleman, in the English language, is the quiet man.
There is such a great difference between the quiet person and a noisy person. One is like a restless child, the other like a grown-up person. One constructs, the other destroys. A quiet way of working must be practiced in everything. By making too much ado about nothing one creates commotion, disturbance in the atmosphere; useless activity without any result. One also finds noise in the tendency to exaggeration, when someone wants to make a mountain out of a molehill. Modesty, humility, gentleness, meekness, all such virtues are manifest in the person who works quietly through life.
There is something which belongs to human nature, and its origin is in curiosity; curiosity which gives a desire for knowledge. When the tendency is abused it develops into inquisitiveness. It is wonderful that the root of all defects is a right tendency, and it is the abuse of the right tendency which turns it into a defect. If we considered how little time we have to live on this earth, we would see that every moment of our life is precious, and that it should be given to something which is really worthwhile. When that time is given to inquisitiveness, wanting to know about the affairs of others, one has wasted that time which could have been used for a much better purpose. Life has so many responsibilities and so many duties, and there is so much that one has to correct in oneself, there is so much that one has to undo in what one has done, and there is so much to attend to in one's affairs to make one's life right, that it seems as if a person were intoxicated who, leaving all his responsibilities and duties, occupies himself, occupies his mind with inquisitiveness and engages his ears in it.
Free will is given to attend to one's own duties, to gain one's own objects, to attend to one's own affairs, and when that free will is used in trying to find out about others, the weaknesses of others, the lacks of others, the faults of others, one certainly abuses free will. Sometimes a person is inquisitive because of his interest in the lives of others, but very often a person is inquisitive because it is his illness. He may have no interest in the matter at all; it is only because he wants to satisfy himself by hearing and knowing about others. Self-knowledge is the ideal of the philosophers, not the knowledge of lives of others.
There are two phases in the development of a man, one phase when he looks at others, and another phase when he looks at himself. When the first phase has ended and the next phase begun, then one starts one's journey to the desired goal. Rumi says, 'Trouble not about others, for there is much for you to think of in yourself.'
If there is anything that should be discovered first, it is the self. The time that one spends in discovering others, their lives, their faults, their weaknesses, one could just as well spend in discovering one's soul. The desire to know is born in the soul. But man should discern what must be known, what is worth knowing, There are many things not worth troubling about. When one devotes one's time and thought to trying to know what one need not know, one loses that opportunity which life offers to discover the nature and secret of the soul, in which lies the fulfillment of the purpose of life.
It must be remembered that one shows lack of nobleness of character by love of gossiping. It is so natural, and yet it is a great fault in the character to cherish the tendency to talk about others. One shows a great weakness when one makes remarks about someone behind his back. In the first place it is against what may be called frankness, and also it is judging another, which is wrong according to the teaching of Christ, who says, 'Judge not, that ye be not judged'. When one allows this tendency to remain in one, one develops love of talking about others. It is a defect which commonly exists, and when two people meet who have the same tendency, they gossip together. One helps the other, one encourages the other. And when something is supported by two people of necessity it becomes a virtue, if only for the time being.
How often man forgets that although he is talking about someone in his absence, yet it is spoken in the presence of God. God hears all things and knows all things. The Creator knows about His creatures, about their virtues and faults. God is displeased by hearing about the fault of His creature, as an artist would be displeased on hearing bad remarks made by anyone on his art. Even though he acknowledged the defect of his art, he would still prefer finding it himself, and not anyone else. When a person speaks against someone his words may not reach the other, but his feelings reach him. If he is sensitive he knows of someone having talked against him; and when he sees the person who has been talking against him, he reads all he has said in his face, if he be sensitive and of a keen sight. This world is a house of mirrors, the reflection of one is mirrored upon another. In this world where so many things seem hidden, in reality nothing remains hidden; everything some time or other rises to the surface and manifests itself to view.
How few in this world know what an effect it makes on one's personality, talking ill of another; what influence it has on one's soul! Man's self within is not only like a dome where everything he says has an echo, but that echo is creative and productive of what has been said. Every good and bad thing in one's life one develops by taking interest in it. Every fault one has, as long as it is small, one does not notice it; and so one develops the fault till it results in a disappointment. Life is so precious, and it becomes more and more valuable as one becomes more prudent; and every moment of life can be used for a much greater purpose. Life is an opportunity and the more one realizes this, the more one will make the best of this opportunity which life offers.
The spirit of generosity in nature builds a path to God, for generosity is outgoing, is spontaneity; its nature is to make its way toward a wide horizon. Generosity, therefore, may be called charity of heart. It is not necessary that the spirit of generosity be shown always by the spending of money; in every little thing one can show it. Generosity is an attitude a person shows in every little action that he does for people that he comes in contact with in his everyday life. One can show generosity by a smile, by a kind glance, by a warm handshake; by patting the younger soul on the shoulder as a mark of encouragement, of showing appreciation, of expressing affection. Generosity one can show in accommodating one's fellow man, in welcoming him, in bidding farewell to one's friend. In thought, work, and deed, in every manner and form one can show that generous spirit which is the sign of the godly.
The Bible speaks of generosity by the word 'charity', but if I were to give an interpretation of the word 'generosity' I would call it nobility. No rank, position, or power can prove one noble; truly noble is he who is generous of heart. What is generosity? It is nobility, it is expansion of heart. As the heart expands, so the horizon becomes wide, and one finds greater and greater scope in which to build the kingdom of God.
Depression, despair, and all manner of sorrow and sadness come from lack of generosity. Where does jealousy come from? Where does envy, aching of the heart come from? It all comes from lack of generosity. A man may not have one single coin to his name, and yet he can be generous, he can be noble, if only he has a large heart of friendly feeling. Life in the world offers every opportunity to a man, whatever be his position in life, to show if he has any spirit of generosity.
The changeableness and falsehood of human nature, besides lack of consideration and thoughtlessness for those whom he meets through life, and furthermore the selfishness and grabbing and grafting spirit that disturbs and troubles his soul, all these create a situation which is itself a test and trial through which every soul has to pass in the midst of worldly life. And when through this test and trial a man holds fast to his principle of charity, and marches along toward his destination, not allowing the influences that come from the four corners of the world to keep him back from his journey to the goal, in the end he becomes the king of life, even if when he reaches his destination there is not left one single earthly coin to his name.
It is not earthly wealth that makes man rich. Riches come by discovering that gold-mine which is hidden in the human heart, out of which comes the spirit of generosity. Someone asked the Prophet, whose virtue was the greatest, that of the pious soul who prays continually, or that of the traveler who travels to make the holy pilgrimage, or of the one who fasts for nights and days, or of the one who learns the Scripture by heart. 'None of them', said the Prophet, 'is so great as the soul who shows through life charity of heart.'
(Excerpted from Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Art of Personality [The Sufi Message vol.3])