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Volume VIIIa - Sufi Teachings


THERE ARE two distinct paths by which one attains to the spiritual goal, and one is quite contrary to the other. One is the path of resignation; the other is the path of struggle. No doubt in the path of struggle there is also resignation, and in the path of resignation there is also struggle, but generally the one who is treading the path of resignation has only one thought: to be resigned, whereas to the one who strikes the path of struggle, struggle is the main object. Both paths are essential; it is not possible to ignore one of them or to accept only one of them. People often think Sufism means being passive, but it is not so; it is being both active and passive. It is the knowledge of the secret of man's life on earth, of what he needs for his character, for his condition.

When we reflect upon these principles, we find that there are things in life to which we can only be resigned. It is easy to be resigned to things one cannot help, but if one has the power to struggle it is difficult to be resigned. The one who is resigned in easy conditions may not find it difficult, but he does not know what resignation means. For instance a man may have poor relations who want a part of his capital because they are in great need, but in spite of this he cannot resign himself to let them have it; yet when during the night thieves come and break into his house and leave with his whole fortune, he may resign himself very quickly to his loss. This kind of resignation is no virtue. To resign oneself means to do so even when one has the power to resist. All the great ones have recognized the value of resignation and have taught it. Christ said that if someone wants us to walk a certain distance with him, we should walk with him farther still. What does this teach? Resignation. One might think that resignation is unpractical and that this selfish world will take advantage of one. This is true, but the loss is small compared with the gain, if only the heart can sustain the loss. Yet if one is not contented with what has been done, it is better not to be resigned.

If one can be resigned, so much the better; but one should not force one's nature. A man once asked another man to lend him his raincoat. It was immediately given but at the same time the giver was very much annoyed that the other should have asked for it, and when he himself was obliged to go out in the rain he was vexed at having to get wet. It would have been much better for him to have said at once that he was sorry not to be able to lend the coat. Once having given it, however, he should not have grudged it, but should have been glad to get wet having helped the other man; if he gave it he should have done so with his whole heart.

One who is really resigned does not show it. It is not easy. How many people in this world try to learn wonderful spiritual things! But this resignation which is such a simple thing is yet miraculous; this virtue is not only beautiful, it is a miracle. There is resignation in so many little things; we do not always recognize it but it is there. Those around us may ask us to do something which we do not like. Perhaps they say something to us that we do not wish to take in silence; we want to answer back. Then there are the little pin-pricks from all we meet in everyday life. If we were not resigned, we would feel irritated all the time. Therefore to be resigned is not weakness, it is a great strength. As one goes further, one finds that one can be resigned even to cold and heat, to places which are congenial or uncongenial, and all this resignation has a meaning and we benefit by it. We should form a habit of being resigned; not having resigned ourselves to an experience means the loss of an opportunity.

There are also two forces working: the collective power and the individual power. In Sufi terms the one is Qaza, the other Qadr. Very often the individual power will not surrender and consequently it is crushed. For instance if a man is called upon to fight for his country but says that he will not join the army, he is helpless before the might of the whole nation however fine his idealism may be. Here he must resign himself to the condition in which there is a conflict between a lesser and a greater power; here resignation is the only solution.

Of course everything must be understood rightly. Resignation preached foolishly is not profitable. A mureed, who was learning the lesson of resignation from a murshid, was once walking in the middle of the road engrossed in the thought of resignation when a mad elephant came from the other direction. A wise man told him to get out of the way, but he would not because he was trying to resign himself to the elephant, until he was roughly pushed aside by it. They brought him to his murshid who asked him how he came to be injured. He answered that he was practicing resignation. The murshid said, 'But did nobody tell you to get out of the way?' 'Yes,' he answered, 'but I would not listen.' 'But', said the murshid, 'why did you not resign yourself to that person?' Often fine principles can be practiced to great disadvantage. Nevertheless, resignation has proved to be the path of the saints, because it develops patience in man. And what is patience? It is all the treasure there is. Nothing is more valuable, nothing a greater bliss than patience.

A story is told about the Prophet when he was very ill; he had been suffering for many years. Through his trial his insight became clearer, but his suffering was so great that those around him could not stand it any more, and so he had to seek refuge with God in the forest, to spare them from seeing his pain. As his sight was keen and the ears of his heart were open, he heard a voice coming from the trees, 'I am the medicine for your disease'. The Prophet asked, 'Has the time of my cure come?' The voice answered, 'No.' He said, 'Why should I take you then?' Later he had the same experience. Again he heard the voice. But when he asked if the time of his cure had come, this time the answer was yes. But the Prophet still said, 'Why should I take you?' for he still could not resign himself.

When we think of an extreme ideal, we may wonder if it is not unpractical, especially at this time where there are so many treatments and so many mechanical things. But the thoughtful person will consider how many people have ruined their lives by going from one treatment to another, lacking the patience and resignation in which resides their complete cure. The remedy is not always the answer to the difficulty; often patience is the answer. It seems that man becomes more and more impatient every day owing to this superficial life. There is hardly any resignation to little things, even though it is so much better to be resigned than to worry.

When we throw the mystic light upon this subject, we find that by being resigned we form a harmonious connection with the Infinite. And how should we learn this? Should we do it by being resigned to God? No, that is a still greater lesson to learn. The first lesson to learn is to resign oneself to the little difficulties in life, not to hit out at everything one comes up against. If one were able to manage this one would not need to cultivate great power; even one's presence would be healing. Such a person is more precious than the branch of the rose, for that has many thorns but only few flowers.

Resignation is the outcome of the soul's evolution, for it is the result of either love or wisdom. The truth of this can be seen in the lives of a child and of a grown-up person. As soon as a child becomes attracted to an object, the only thing it knows is that it wants it; and if it is denied this object the child is dissatisfied. Yet as the child grows up and evolves in life it learns resignation. That is the difference between an unripe soul and a soul advanced on the path of wisdom; for the ripened soul shows in its nature the development of the power of resignation. Man certainly has a free will, but its power is very small in comparison with the all-powerful will of God, which manifests in the form of more powerful individuals, of conditions which cannot be changed, and in many other ways. Resignation does not mean giving up something; resignation means being contented to give it up. To be resigned means to find satisfaction in self-denial.

Self-denial cannot be a virtue when it is the result of helplessness and culminates in dissatisfaction. The nature of an unevolved ego is to resent everything that arises in life which hinders the accomplishment of a certain object; but when a person accepts being resigned in the face of a difficulty, and at the same time feels satisfaction, then even without having accomplished his object he has risen above it. In this way for the truly resigned soul even a defeat is really a success.

Resignation is a quality of the saintly souls. It is bitter in taste but sweet in result. Whatever a man's power and position in life may be, he has always to meet with a more powerful will, in whatever form it may manifest. In truth this is the divine will. By opposing the divine will one may break oneself; but by resigning oneself to the divine will one opens up a way. For resignation has the nature of water: if anything obstructs it it takes another course; and yet it flows on, making its way so as to meet the ocean in the end. This is what the saintly souls do who tread the path of resignation and yet keep their own will alive. That will has the power to make its way. A person who is resigned by nature becomes in the end a consolation to himself and happiness for others.

Resignation is not necessarily weakness or laziness or cowardice or lack of enthusiasm. Resignation is really the expression of mastery over one's self. The tendency to submit to the will of another or to certain conditions does not always work to the disadvantage of the resigned one. It may sometimes seem to be unprofitable, but in the end the benefit of such a virtue is realized. Lack of power of endurance is the cause of souls not being ready to resign themselves, for they cannot endure their pain or sustain their loss. Those who are resigned practice resignation even in the small things of everyday life. They avoid using their power of will needlessly in every little thing they do. Resignation is passivity, and sometimes it seems to be a disadvantage in the life of an active person who has an object to accomplish. But a continual activity kept up by power and energy very often results in disaster. Every activity should be balanced by passivity. One should be active when it is the time to be active, and become passive when the conditions ask for passivity. It is in this manner that success in life is attained and that happiness, which is the quest of every soul, is gained.

The symbolical meaning of the story of Christ riding on a donkey on Palm Sunday is that the donkey, which has a cross on its back to indicate that it has to bear all burdens, shows its resignation by submitting to the will of its master. That is the privilege of the one who serves: however humble he will have the privilege of serving God.