Volume VI - The Alchemy of Happiness
THE SECRET OF LIFE
MAN'S attitude is the secret of life, for it is upon man's attitude that success and failure depend. Both man's rise and fall depend upon his attitude. By attitude I mean that impulse which is like a battery behind the mechanism of thought. It is not man's thought which is man's attitude; it is something behind man's thought pushing it to the fore; and according to the strength of that impulse the thought becomes realized. Behind every word one speaks, the attitude is the most important factor in bringing what one says to its successful accomplishment.
There are three different aspects of this subject which one should observe. One aspect is one's attitude towards oneself: whether one treats oneself as a friend or as an enemy, whether one is in harmony with oneself or in disharmony. Not everyone is in harmony with himself, and not everyone treats himself as a friend, although he may think so. For man is generally his own enemy. He does not know it, but he proves it in his doings. One reads in the Quran, 'Verily, man is foolish and cruel.' Foolish because he does not even know his own interest, and cruel because he very often proves to be his own enemy. Apart from cruelty to others, man begins by being cruel to himself, and that cruelty is the cause of foolishness. Man may consider himself very practical and clever, yet he often proves to be his own enemy.
As Sadi says, 'My cleverness, very often thou provest to be my worst enemy.' Worldly cleverness without faith and strength and trust is usually nothing but a delusion. It is the development of trust in the heart, the development of faith, that first gives a man a friendly attitude to himself. And he becomes his own friend by bringing his external being into harmony with his inner being. For it is when the inner being seeks one thing, and the external being does something else, that there is disharmony in the self. When the higher self desires to go one way, and the lower self another way, then there is disharmony, the result of which is like a volcanic eruption. The two parts of his own being which should unite together in love, clash together and the result is fire. What causes people to commit suicide? What brings illness and depression and despair? Very often the conflict which exists within oneself, and therefore the attitude towards oneself must first be friendly, kindly, and harmonious. Even in spiritual matters one should not go against oneself. I remember that when beginning to get interested in spiritual matters I once asked my teacher, 'Murshid, do you approve of my staying up most of the night for my vigils?' 'Whom do you torture?' said my murshid, 'Yourself? Is God pleased with it?' I had not another word to say.
When one thinks about one's dealings with friends, with relatives, with those with whom one comes in contact in everyday life, one will see that one attracts them or repulses them according to one's attitude. Whether a person is in business, in commerce, or in any other walk of life, he either repulses or attracts them, and on that depends his success or failure in life. The secret of magnetism depends on whether one considers oneself to be a friend or an enemy, a stranger. To him who considers everyone else to be a stranger, even a friend is a stranger, while to him who considers everyone else to be a friend, even a stranger is a friend. If one is afraid of someone who may harm one, then one inspires that person to do harm. If one distrusts someone, and thinks that one day that person will deceive one, he will certainly be inspired to do so. But if one has trust, the power of that trust may some day turn even an enemy into a friend.
Honesty and dishonesty are reflected in the same way in everything one does. If the attitude is not right then this wrong attitude is reflected upon whatever work one does or whomever one sees, and that person will respond in the same way. Therefore right and wrong doing is not only a religious teaching, something forced upon people. It is a scientific and logical truth. For with a wrong attitude nothing right can be accomplished, and with the right attitude nothing can go wrong, even if there are difficulties.
There is hidden in our heart a wonderful power. It is a divine power, a sacred power, and it can be developed and cherished by keeping our attitude right. No doubt it is not always easy to keep our attitude right. The influence of this life on earth, so full of changes, of temptations and of falsehood, continually upsets the steadiness of our attitude. Nevertheless the strength still lies in the steadiness of the attitude, and any lack of steadiness is the cause of every failure and disappointment. There is a Hindustani saying, 'A steady attitude secures success,' and when we enter the spiritual realm the same rule applies. It is not the prayer that a man says, it is not the house where he prays, it is not the faith that he claims, it is the attitude that counts in religion. It is just like the ticket one is asked to show at the railway barrier. They do not ask what position one has, what property or what ancestors. No, they say, 'Ticket please!' and if one has it one is admitted. That ticket is man's attitude. In order to enter into the spiritual spheres that right attitude is needed, and it shortens the path.
Now the question is how to know the right attitude from the wrong. To know the right attitude from the wrong is as easy as seeing things when the eyes are open. When one does not realize the attitude is wrong it means that at that time one closes one's eyes. The eyes do not fail one. One closes them. Man does not like to admit his wrong attitude to himself. He is afraid of his own faults. But the man who looks his own error in the eye, the man who criticizes himself has no time to criticize others. It is that man who will prove to be wise. But human nature is generally such that one does something quite different. Everyone seems to be most interested in criticizing another. If one would criticize oneself there are endless faults, however saintly or wise one may be. There are no end of faults in a human being. And the consciousness of correcting one's faults, of making oneself better, of taking hold of the right attitude, is the only secret of success, and by it one attains to that goal which is the object of every soul.
According to the Sufi point of view there is only one teacher, and that teacher is God Himself. No man can teach another man. All one can do for another is to give him one's own experience in order to help him to be successful. For instance if a person happens to know a road, he can tell another man that it is the road which leads to the place he wishes to find. The work of the spiritual teacher is like the work of Cupid. The work of Cupid is to bring two souls together. And so is the work of the spiritual teacher: to bring together the soul and God. But what is taught to the one who seeks after truth? Nothing is taught. He is only shown how he should learn from God. For no man can ever teach spirituality. It is God alone who teaches it. And how is it learned? When these ears which are open outwardly are closed to the outside world and focused upon the heart within, then instead of hearing all that comes from the outer life one begins to hear the words within. Thus if one were to define what meditation is, that also is an attitude: the right attitude towards God.
The attitude should first be to seek God within. And, after seeking God within, then to see God outside. In the story of Aladdin in the Thousand and One Nights we read that Aladdin went to look for a lantern. That lantern is the divine light within, and it is very difficult to find. Once a person has found that lantern the next thing is to throw that light on the outer life, in order to find God both within and without. Prayer, night vigil, any form of worship, all these things are helpful. But if a man is not inclined to make peace with his brother, to harmonize with his fellow men, to seek to please those around him, then he has not performed his religious duties. For what can a man give to God who is perfect? His goodness? His goodness is very little. His prayers? How many times will he pray? The whole day he spends for himself. If he prays two or three times, it is not much. If a man can do anything to please God, it is only to please His creatures, to seek their pleasure. There cannot be a better prayer and a greater religion than being conscientious in regard to the feelings of other men, being ready to serve them, to please them in every way, to forgive them, to tolerate them. And if when doing wrong he would realize that he was doing wrong to God, and in doing right that he was doing right to God, then his attitude would be right.
The end and the sum total of all mysticism, philosophy, and meditation, of everything one learns and develops, is to be a better servant to humanity. Everything from the beginning to the end in the spiritual path is a training to be able to serve mankind better, and if one does not do it with that intention, one will find in the end that one has accomplished nothing. There are many, who seek wonder-working or great power to accomplish things. They may perhaps try and gain some power or other; but their soul will never be satisfied. The true satisfaction of the soul is in honest, humble service to another. If there were two people before me, one with great power of wonder-working who could perform miracles, and another humble and kind and gentle and willing to do anything he could for his fellow men, I would prefer this last man. I would say: the first is wonderful; but the other is a sage.
The soul of man is goodness itself, if only he begins to love goodness. This is not something which is acquired. It springs up of itself. Right attitude towards God is a direct response to God. For His voice is continually coming as an answer to every call. The ears of the heart should be open and focused on that source whence the voice is coming. When that is done then the teacher within is found. Then there is continual guidance, and one is guided to the extent that one keeps close to it. Then one needs no other guidance. But first the guidance of a spiritual teacher is necessary in order to come nearer to it.
Attitude forms a channel for an effort, and a right attitude makes a channel for a right effort. The world is the place of tests and trials. If one did not live in the world one would have no chance of doing good or bad. And even if one lived a very spiritual life in the wilderness it would do no good to anybody, not even to oneself. For one would not have gone through the tests and trials of the world. One can neither praise the life of a hermit, nor can one condemn it. If he is happy it is good. Everyone knows his own life, and if he is happy he will give happiness to others also.
Sometimes a man is born to live a hermit's life. In living that life he will not find any torture or trouble. Let him live it. In that way he will prove to be his own friend. At the second step he takes he will be the friend of another. If someone asked me if the hermit's life is ideal, I would say it may be ideal for him, but you need not follow it. Is a hermit's life selfish then? If we observe life it is very difficult to say who is selfish and who is not. The life of a hermit is not a life for which one should sacrifice everything in order to follow it. I would be the last to recommend it to anyone. But if one followed it for one's own pleasure and found happiness in it, I would not prevent it. For a Sufi maintains from first to last the freedom of the soul.