Life In God
'In Him we live, and move, and have our being.' This teaching
of the Bible describes the nature of God: that God is the ocean,
the waves of which are all its activities, small or great. The
Quran says in support of this that not a single atom moves,
groups, or scatters without the command of God. Rumi explains
it still more plainly: 'Air, earth, water and fire are God's
servants; to us they seem lifeless, but to God living.' In those
who are conscious of this knowledge, and to the extent of their
realization of this truth, there arises the spirit of renunciation
which may be called the spirit of God.
He who wants anything becomes smaller than the thing he wants;
he who gives away anything is greater than the thing he gives.
Therefore, to a mystic each act of renunciation becomes a step
Forced renunciation, whether forced by morality, religion,
law, convention, or formality, is not necessarily renunciation.
The real spirit of renunciation is willingness; and willing
renunciation comes when one has risen above the thing one renounces.
The value of each thing in life – wealth, power, position, possession
– is according to the evolution of man. There is a time in his
life when toys are his treasures, and there is a time when he
puts them aside; there is a time in his life when copper coins
are everything to him, and there is another time when he can
give away gold coins; there is a time in his life when he values
a cottage, and there is a time when he gives up a palace.
Things have no value; their value is as man makes it; and
at every step in his evolution he changes their value. Certainly
there is no gain in leaving home, friends, and all affairs of
life, and going to the forest and living the life of an ascetic;
and yet who has the right to blame those who do so? How can
the worldly man judge and understand the point of view of the
one who renounces? Perhaps that which seems of the greatest
value to the worldly man is nothing to the one who has renounced.
The Sufi makes no restrictions and has no principles of renunciation,
nor does he teach renunciation. He believes that to sacrifice
anything in life which one does not wish to sacrifice is of
no use, but that renunciation is a natural thing, and grows
in one with one's evolution. A child which cries for its toy
at one stage of its childhood, comes to an age when it is quite
willing to give away the toy it once cried for.
There are three stages of morals. The first stage is the
moral of reciprocity. This moral is natural to the one who sees
the difference between himself and another, who recognizes every
man as such and such.
The second stage is the law of beneficence, where man, recognizing
himself as an entity separate from others and recognizing others
as distinct entities themselves, yet sees a cord of connection
running through himself and all, and finds himself as a dome
in which rises an echo of good and evil; and in order to have
a good echo he gives good for good and good for evil.
But the third stage is the moral of renunciation, where the
difference of 'mine' and 'thine' and the distinction of 'I'
and 'you' fade away in the realization of the one Life that
is within and without, beneath and beyond; and that is the meaning
of the verse in the Bible, 'In Him we live, and move, and have
Those in the East who have renounced pleasure, comfort, riches,
possessions, from a mystical point of view, have not renounced
because they were too weak to hold them or because they did
not desire them, but because they wished to renounce them before
they passed from their hands. All things one possesses in life
one has attracted to oneself; and when one loses them, it shows
that the power of attraction is lost; and that, if one can renounce
them before that power of attraction is lost, one rises above
All things that are in a person's hold are not really his
own, although for the moment he may think so; when he loses
them he realizes that they were not his own. Therefore, the
only possible way of everlasting happiness is to realize that
what one possesses is not one's own, and to renounce in time,
before all that one possesses renounces one. The law of renunciation
is great; and it is the only way of happiness there is.
When one looks deeply into life one sees that there is no
gain which is not a loss, and that there is no loss which is
not a gain. Whatever man has gained, he has also lost something
with it, which he often does not realize; and sometimes when
he knows it he calls it the cost if he considers it a lesser
loss. But when he does not know, the loss is great; for every
gain is after all a mortal gain, and the time that is spent
in its acquisition is a loss, and a greater loss in comparison
with the gain.
The loss of every mortal thing is a gain in the immortal
spheres; for it wakens the heart which is asleep both in the
pursuit and the pleasures of the gain. When man closely watches
his own life and his affairs he finds that there has been no
loss that is to be regretted; that under the mantle of every
loss a greater gain was concealed; and he also notices that
with every gain there has been a loss, and when this gain is
compared with the loss it has proved to be a greater loss.
In the eyes of the world people who renounce their pleasures,
comforts, and happiness seem to be foolish; but there is nothing
that man has renounced without receiving a greater gain. And
yet renunciation for gain can be called nothing but greed; renunciation
for the pleasure of renunciation is the only renunciation that
GREED AND GENEROSITY
When a person has in view an object he wants to attain, he
is smaller than the object; but when a person has attained the
object, he is greater than the object. And as he holds the object
which he has attained, so he diminishes his strength, and the
value of the object becomes augmented; but when he renounces
the object he has once attained, he rises above the object,
he takes a new step in life and a higher step.
As with every step taken in climbing a mountain one goes
higher and higher, so in life one progresses in attainment of
any kind, be it spiritual or material. For instance, when a
person has a desire to have a hundred pounds he is smaller then
the hundred pounds; when he has earned them he is greater than
the sum he has earned. But when he holds them the value of a
hundred pounds increases more and more in his eyes, and may
increase to that of a million pounds; and he himself becomes
smaller and smaller in his estimation as if he would never be
able to earn those hundred pounds again. But when a man has
earned a hundred pounds and has spent them, he has risen above
them; his next ideal will be a thousand pounds.
So it is in any aspect of life. The moral must be remembered
that what we value we must attain, but once attained, instead
of being crushed under it, we must freely rise above it and
take a further step in life. Those who have made progress in
life have made it with this view; and those who come to a standstill
in life are the ones who hold fast to that which they have attained,
never being inclined to renounce it; and in that way they have
met with failure. Therefore greed, however profitable it may
seem, in the end is weakening, and generosity, though at times
it may seem unprofitable, in reality is strengthening.
THE NECESSITY OF RENUNCIATION IN LIFE
The saying, 'There is no gain without pain,' when rightly
interpreted would mean that everything costs something and has
its price; and it is this law of nature that teaches one that
for every kind of attainment in life, from the highest to the
lowest, renunciation is necessary. It may be in the form of
patience, in the form of service, in the form of modesty, it
may be in the form of sacrifice; in whatever form it happens
to be, it has to be for some purpose. When attaining something
in life one always risks or meets with some loss. It does not
appear loss in the presence of an immediate gain; but in things
that take time to gain and conditions that want patience for
their attainment, an immediate and seeming loss means a bitter
Therefore, it is justifiable if a person shows a tendency
to find a reason before renunciation of any kind. But his difficulty
is that he will not be able to attain things that are abstract
and things beyond ordinary comprehension, for he will not risk
renouncing anything for such gains. And those who renounce without
reason lose also; for they renounce and yet may not gain anything.
That is why the success of renunciation lies in the renunciation
itself; to be pleased with renunciation, not to renounce for
gain. That renunciation alone is the renunciation which may
be called virtue.
There are four desires that man may pursue: pleasures, wealth,
duty, and God; and every one of these attainments cost something,
and nobody should deem it possible to attain any one of these
without renunciation. Therefore, though renunciation is the
last lesson, one must begin to learn it from the beginning.
THE RELATIVITY OF GAIN
Life consists of a continual struggle for gain, of whatever
kind it may be. Gain seems to be the purpose of life and it
is accomplished by mastery, and this proves that one naturally
must try to gain whatever seems to be good and attainable in
life or whatever one needs in life; when one is able to attain
it, it shows mastery, and when one is unable, it shows the lack
of it. But by a still deeper insight into the subject one sees
that every gain a person has in view limits him to a certain
extent to that gain, directs his activities into a certain channel,
and forms the line of his fate. At the same time it deprives
him of a still greater or a better gain and of the freedom of
activity which might perhaps accomplish something still better.
It is for this reason that renunciation is practiced by the
Sufis; for with every willing renunciation a person proceeds
a step towards a higher goal. No renunciation is ever fruitless.
The one who is looking for a gain is smaller than his gain;
the one who has renounced a thing has risen above it. Every
step towards progress and ascent is a step of renunciation.
The poverty of the one who has renounced is real riches compared
with the riches of the one who holds them fast. One could be
rich in wealth and poverty-stricken in reality; and one can
be penniless and yet richer than the rich of the world.
RENUNCIATION AND LOSS
There are two different renunciations: one is renunciation,
the other is loss. True renunciation is that which a person
makes who has risen above something that he once valued; or
whose hunger and thirst for the thing are satisfied and it is
no more so valuable as it once was; or who perhaps has evolved
and sees life differently, no longer as he saw it before.
Renunciation in all these cases is a step forward towards
perfection. But the other renunciation is one which a person
is compelled to make when circumstances prevent his achieving
what he wishes to achieve or from getting back what he has lost
helplessly; or when, by weakness of mind or body, by lack of
position, power, or wealth, he cannot reach the object he desires.
That renunciation is a loss; and instead of leading towards
perfection it drags man down toward imperfection.
The wise therefore renounce willingly what they feel like
renouncing; but they are constantly in pursuit of what they
feel like gaining. One or two failures will not discourage them;
after a hundred failures they will rise up again with the same
hope, and will gain the thing desired in the end.
But there is another weakness, and that is holding what has
been gained, and indulging in what has been attained. That limits
man to his gain, deprives him of a greater gain, and even prevents
him in the course of time from holding the gain he already has.
This philosophy was lived in their lives by the ascetics
who traveled from place to place. The happiness, comfort, and
good friends they made in one place, they enjoyed for a short
time and then left it lest it might bind them forever. This
does not mean that this kind of life should necessarily be an
example for a wise person; but our journey through life's experience
is also a continuous journey, and the good and bad, the right
and wrong, the rise and fall of yesterday one must leave behind,
and turn one's back on them, and go forward with new hope, new
courage and enthusiasm, trusting to the almighty power of the
Creator in one's spirit.
THE LEARNING OF RENUNCIATION
People think that renunciation is learned by unselfishness.
It is the onlooker who sees renunciation in the form of unselfishness,
as a dog might see renunciation when a man throws away a bone:
it does not realize that the bone is only valuable to it and
not to the man. Every object has its peculiar value to every
individual; and as a person evolves through life so the value
of things becomes different; and as one rises above things so
one renounces them in life. And when the one who has not risen
above them looks at someone else's renunciation, he calls it
either foolish or unselfish.
One need not learn renunciation; life itself teaches it,
and to the small extent that one has to learn a lesson in the
path of renunciation, it is this: that where in order to gain
silver coins one has to lose the copper ones, one must learn
to lose them. That is the only unselfishness that one must learn:
that one cannot have both, the copper and the silver.
There is a saying in Hindi, 'The seeker after honor dies
for a name, the seeker after money will die for a coin.' To
the man to whom the coin is precious the name is nothing; to
him who considers a name precious money is nothing. So one person
cannot understand the attitude of another unless he puts on
his cloak; and sees life from his point of view. There is nothing
valuable except what we value in life; and a man is fully justified
in renouncing all that he has, or that may be offered to him,
for the sake of that which he values, even if it be that he
values it only for this moment; for there will never be a thing
which he will value always in the same way.
Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under dust to lie
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and – sans End!
THE NATURE OF RENUNCIATION
From a practical point of view life is like a journey started
from the unmanifested state of being and going to the manifested
state; and from manifestation returning again to the unmanifested
or perfect state of being. As man, life has the fullest privilege
of knowing about the journey, and of directing to a certain
extent the affairs on the journey; of making this journey comfortable,
and arriving at the destination at the desired time. The mystic
tries to make use of this privilege, and all spiritual wisdom
teaches the manner in which this journey should be made.
As man comes from the unmanifested, it is evident that he
comes alone, no one with him and with nothing. After coming
here he begins to own objects, possessions, properties, even
living beings. And the very fact that he came alone, without
anything, necessitates his being alone again in the end to enter
his destination. But once man has owned things of the earth
he does not wish to part with them, and wishes to carry the
weight of all he possesses on this journey; these things weigh
him down, and naturally make his journey uncomfortable. As nothing
and no one really belongs to him, it must all fall away in time
and he is made lonely against his desire. It is only willing
renunciation which can save man from this burden on the path.
It is not necessary that this renunciation should be practiced
by indifference to one's friends. No, one can love one's friends
and serve them, and yet be detached. It is this lesson which
Christ taught when he said, 'Render therefore unto Caesar the
things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are
God's.' He has renounced who gets the things of the world, but
gives them to the world; but the one who does not know renunciation
gets the things of the world, and holds them for himself. Love
is a blessing, but it turns into a curse in attachment; admiration
is a blessing, but it turns into a curse when one tries to hold
the beauty for oneself.
The way of those who renounce is to know all things, to admire
all things, to get all things, but to give all things; and to
think that nothing belongs to them and that they own nothing.
And it is this spirit which will liberate man from the earthly
bondages which keep the generality of mankind in captivity throughout
the whole of life.
THE FINAL VICTORY
The final victory in the battle of life for every soul is
when he has abandoned, which means when he has risen above,
what once he valued most. For the value of everything exists
for man only so long as he does not understand it. When he has
fully understood, the value is lost, be it the lowest thing
or the highest thing. It is like looking at the scenery on the
stage and taking it for a palace. Such is the case with all
things of the world; they seem important or precious when we
need them or when we do not understand them; as soon as the
veil which keeps man from understanding is lifted, then they
Do not, therefore, be surprised at the renunciation of sages.
Perhaps every person in the spiritual path must go through renunciation.
It is not really throwing things away or disconnecting ourselves
from friends; it is not taking things to heart as seriously
as one naturally does by lack of understanding. No praise, no
blame is valuable; no pain or pleasure is of any importance.
Rise and fall are natural consequences, so are love and hatred;
what does it matter if it be this or that? It matters so long
as we do not understand. Renunciation is a bowl of poison no
doubt, and only the brave will drink it; but in the end it alone
proves to be nectar, and this bravery brings one the final victory.