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Volume III - The Art of Personality

Part III - Character Building and the Art of Personality

Chapter III


In dealing with another we ought first to consider in what relation we stand to him, and then to consider what manner of dealing would please us on the part of another who is related to us in the same way as we are to him. In all favorable actions we ought to do more than we should expect another to do for us; and in unfavorable actions we ought to do less than what we should expect on the part of another.

Duty must first be borne in mind, to consider in what relation we stand with regard to our relatives, neighbors, fellow-citizens, the people of our nations and of our race, and with the people in the world at large. For instance, favor shown to a neighbor and disregard to a relative in the home, sympathy shown to a foreigner while we feel bitter towards our own nation, these dealings, however unselfish and broadminded they may appear, are undesirable. It is just like trying to make a sketch of a human face before even having learned how to draw a straight or a parallel line.

Charity begins at home. We should first begin to practice our sympathy with those who are related to us, for we are in duty bound to look after them and their interests. But instead of widening our sympathies, we keep within our own small circle; thus we may perhaps never progress in life or advance to the higher standard of humanity. This is one of the drawbacks to modern civilization, which confines itself to the thought of nationalism and advances no further. Yet even this is better than the broadmindedness which makes one favor the outsider, and neglect and even disfavor those related to us.

The best way would be gradually to widen our sympathies, with a consideration of our duty and relationship to others, gradually expanding them from those who are nearest to us to those who are most remote. A sense of generosity and willingness should go hand in hand with duty; if not, instead of a blessing it becomes a curse.


In friendship we must realize that a friend inferior in position or poorer in life than we are should not for one moment be regarded as such. When he is a friend, in whatever condition he may be or whatever position he may occupy, he must be considered our equal; and the same spirit of equality should be borne in mind in dealing with a friend, however high his position may be. Convention should not be more than is necessary for his evolution. The sense of difference must be avoided in every aspect of dealing with a friend. There must be no secrets between true friends.

The use of friendship for a selfish motive is like mixing bitter poison with sweet rose-syrup; and it is necessary to be ready, without the least hesitation, to serve a friend attentively, in every capacity of life, not expecting for one moment any thanks or return from him.

A friend, in the true sense of the word, is nearer and closer than our own family, relations, neighbors, nation, and race. The secret of the friend should be kept as one's own secret: the fault of the friend one should hide as one's own fault; the honor of the friend must be considered as one's own honor; an enemy of the friend should be regarded as our enemy; a friend of the friend must be considered as our friend. One must not boast of friendship, but must practice it, for the claimants are so often false. In the despair of the friend, consolation must be given; in the poverty of the friend, support is necessary; in the shortcomings of the friend, overlooking is necessary; in the trouble of the friend, help should be given; with the joy of the friend, rejoicing is right.

To be today friendly and tomorrow unfriendly cannot for one moment be called friendship; the value of friendship is in its constancy. Forbearance, patience, and tolerance are the only conditions which keep two individual hearts united. There is a saying in Hindustani, by Seman, on friendship, 'Stand by your friend in his time of need, like the reed on the bank of the river.' When a man is sinking in the water and catches hold of a reed, it will save him if it is strong; and if not, it will sink along with him.


Our dealings with our enemy should be considered with more delicacy than our dealings with a friend. This fact is generally overlooked by man, and he deals in any way with an enemy, while he is considerate to a friend. Sometimes one insults one's enemy, spoiling thereby one's own habit, and making the enemy still more insulting. Sometimes by constantly dwelling on the faults of the enemy one impresses one's own soul with the same faults, and focuses them upon the soul of the enemy; if he lacks these faults, they may by reflection develop in him and cause him to become a still more bitter enemy.

It is as unwise to underestimate the enemy's bitterness and power to do harm as it is to overestimate them. Very often a man, blinded by his ego, fails to estimate the power of the enemy and he says, 'Oh, what can he do? What do I fear?' giving way to an impulse when driven to it by the enemy. This is a defeat; keeping steadfast and calm under such circumstances is a victory. Complaining about the harm caused by the enemy is a weakness; avoiding it by taking precautions, facing it with strength and checking it with power are the things worth doing. It is wise to take advantage of the criticism made by an enemy, for it can help to correct us; and it is foolish when one laughs it off, considering oneself to be too good to be like that.

In the case of revenge, an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth is right when one is sure that kindness and forgiveness will have no power whatever upon the hard heart of the enemy, but on the contrary will make him worse. But so long as there is a chance of meeting the enemy's revenge by kindness the above law must not be practiced. It is better to suppress the enemy before he can rise against us; and it is right to throw him down when he has risen against us.

It is wise to be watchful of the movements of the enemy, and to safeguard oneself against them; and it is foolish to allow oneself to be watched, and to let the enemy safeguard himself against us. It is right to decrease the power of the enemy in every way possible, and to increase one's own power and make it much greater than the enemy's. It is right to know the secret of the enemy; and it is more than right to keep our secret from him.

Precautions must be taken that nobody should become our enemy; and special care must be taken to keep a friend from turning into an enemy. It is right by every means to forgive the enemy and to forget his enmity if he earnestly wishes it; and to take the first step in establishing friendship, instead of withdrawing from it and still holding in the mind the poison of the past, which is as bad as retaining an old disease in the system.


We find two tendencies working through different individuals: recognition of grades, and non-recognition of the same. The first may be seen when a person says, 'He is my chief; he is my professor; she is my mother; he is my father's maternal uncle; therefore, I have to consider him or her.' And the other tendency we see when someone says, 'What do I care if he is the head in my office? I do not care if he is older in age; I do not care if she is my aunt; what do I care if he is my mother's grandfather?' We see gentleness in one and spirit in the other, and prefer them according to our nature. If we are spirited we like the spirit of independence, and if we are gentle we prefer gentleness.

A Sufi does not believe in one-sided tendencies. He says spirit is needed and gentleness is needed; both are required on suitable occasions. The question arises of how we are to act: when we should show spirit and when we should consider gentleness.

Spirit should be shown when we are forced by circumstances, by a situation, to be in subordination; there spirit is needed to free oneself and be independent. But the use of spirit is not a simple matter. The flame of a match cannot stand up to the air; to stand up to the air you must have a torch. Therefore, it is the foolish spirited ones who rebel against their life's conditions and fall because their spirit lacks strength and power. For them patience and gradual perseverance, with courage and thoughtfulness, are necessary. But when we are morally won by someone's love and kindness, such as the care of a mother, the protection of a father, the advice of an aged friend, the sympathy of a neighbor, by the one who shows us the right path through life, by the one who may have guided humanity to light, it can never be subordination, but only generosity on our part to consider their greatness, to revere them, to respect and to obey them. However, all this may not be dealt with by the same words nor all treated in the same manner. The Quran says, 'We have created among jinns and men individuals of all grades'. In this way we must distinguish to what extent gentleness may be shown to deserving souls.


God to the Sufi is not only a heavenly King or an ideal of worship, but a friend, a beloved, nearer and dearer than all others in the world; and our dealings with Him must be as the dealings of an earnest lover with his beloved. When it is the time of worship, we must worship Him as the soldier saluting his king, as his duty; but at the time of communion we must commune with Him as a lover would with his beloved.

All things we do that are pure, ideal, and satisfactory to others, we must attribute to God; and for all things we do which are not our ideal, nor satisfactory to others, we must blame ourselves. Because all that comes from perfection is ideal and satisfactory, therefore its praise belongs to Him who alone is praiseworthy; that which is not ideal but unsatisfactory comes from imperfection, which our imperfect self represents. Every action of kindness we do to another, we must do for God; and then there will be no disappointment. For if we do it for a person whom we love or trust, but who after a time may prove unworthy of our love and undeserving of our trust, we become disappointed and are discouraged in doing kindness to another or in placing trust in another.

We must give our every day's account to God, our divine Ideal; lay before Him our shortcomings, humbly repentant, without missing a day, and ask for help from Him who is almighty, to give us strength and courage to do better tomorrow.

We should never pride ourselves on good deeds, for His goodness is greater that the greatest good we could ever do. It produces in us false vanity, the only veil which hides God from our sight. We must begin to feel His presence in this manner; and surely after some time He will become a living entity before our sight, and all will seem dead save He alone, the living Being. When this stage is reached, then begins divine communion.


By the constant study of life the Sufi realizes that mankind, which claims to be the most just in all creation, is found in the end to be the most unjust. Man is generally just when he judges another, but he is unjust when the thing concerns himself, though he is not conscious of it. He calls it justice, too. Therefore, the lesson that the Sufi learns in the law of reciprocity is to consider it a natural thing when injustice is shown by others; but he tries in every dealing with others to be as just as he can. He tolerates the injustice of others as much as his state of evolution permits; but when he sees that more than this is intolerable, he resists it with explanations, with persuasion, even with threatening. But the tolerance with which he overlooks the injustice of others is for others only; when it comes to his dealings with others, he does not tolerate even the slightest injustice on his own part. The sense of justice is not the same in everybody; it is according to a person's evolution and his ideal.

Gracious conduct in others must be graciously received; harsh conduct in others we should take smilingly, pitying them in our mind that they are not evolved enough to be gentle in their dealings. When doing a kindness to others the first thing that must be considered is that it should be unselfish, and not for the sake of appreciation or a reward. He who does good and waits for a reward is a laborer of good; but he who does good and disregards it is the master of good. He has engraved good upon the universal consciousness, and its echo will be no other than good.


It is always confusing to the thoughtful person to decide upon the right way of action when in contact with people of different temperaments and at different stages of evolution; and to the right-thinking man it is puzzling when in friendship he has to put up with ill dealings on the part of friends. The first essential one must understand in friendship is to be slow in making friendship, and slower still in breaking it. Children become friends a thousand times in a day; and a thousand times they fight over little things and become unfriendly. If grown-up people do the same, it shows at once to the seer the grade of their evolution.

The consideration of the dealings of others with us must not be weighed against our dealings with them; for the self is always dearer to everyone, and when weighing our dealings with others we naturally give them more weight, and do not give the dealings of others with us the same weight. Therefore, in order to make a balance, we must always consider that a kind action, a good thought, a little help, some respect shown to us by another, are more than if we did the same to our friend; but an insult, a harm done to us, a disappointment caused to us by a friend, a broken promise, deceit, or anything we do not like on the part of a friend, should be taken as less blameworthy than if we did the same. Every good and kind action of a friend we ought to appreciate very much; and the same done by us to a friend we should think is not enough. We should blame a friend less for his dealings that are blameworthy; but for doing the same ourselves we ought to blame ourselves more.

This makes the balance; and this is true reciprocity. A person who goes on making friends every day and breaking friendship every other day, remains friendless all through life; but the one who is charitable to a friend and strict with himself in his dealings will prove to be the true and good friend worth having in life.


When dealing with our enemies one must bear in mind that there is a possibility of exaggerated imagination; for the least little wrong done by an enemy seems to be a mountain of wrong, while the least little right done by a friend seems to be a mountain of right. It is timid to estimate the enemy above what he is; and it is stupid to estimate him at less than his real power.

According to the law of reciprocity, to allow the enemy to insult or harm is a fault; paying back insult for insult and harm for harm is the only thing that balances. In dealing with the enemy one must first compare him with one's own self in intelligence and power; and consider whether it is possible to stand against him and his enmity or not. In the case where this is possible, with strength and courage and intelligence we should bend him down before he does so to us, for in enmity the first blow is to the advantage of the giver. Where we find ourselves weaker or less than the enemy, the best thing would be not to show enmity until we have developed the power of withstanding him; to wait with patience and trust until that time comes and until then to keep peace and harmony. This is not deceit in the sense of reciprocity.

It is against wisdom to allow anybody to become our enemy if we can possibly help it. We should always refrain from this, and be cautious in all affairs of life lest we cause anybody to become our enemy; for the enemies we have in life are enough. But weakness should never be shown to the enemy; always show him your strong side. Never give him a chance to prepare a blow and we should see that he gets if from us before he prepares.

But equally there must not be a moment's delay on our part in the effort to harmonize and to be friendly should the enemy desire it; nor must we lose one moment in becoming friends with him if it is in our power. A man must always be ready to become a friend to the enemy, and try his best to do it, unless by doing so he adds to the vanity of the enemy.

It is most undesirable to be the first to start an enmity. The one who does so is the more blameworthy, and from his side the effort of harmonizing should come.

Sometimes by thinking bitterly of someone we produce enmity in his heart that may not have been there before; it only sprang from our imagination. The same rule applies to friendship. If we think strongly with love of someone, even of an enemy, our power of mind will turn the enemy into a friend.


The dealings of others differ in their nature according to our relation with them. For instance, when a close companion has said something to tease us, we should take it as a jest; whereas the same words spoken by our servant, or by a person who is not so intimate as to joke with us, we should take as an insult. This shows that it is not the dealing that makes the effect, but the relationship with another that changes the effect. Dictating on the part of parents, teachers, elderly people, or a superior in office, business, wealth, position, or sense, is not so hard as when it comes from a younger person, inferior in position, or devoid of sense.

It is always wise to associate with one's equals in thought, position, and power, trying always to progress and enter a still higher circle, not merely through ambition, but because we are fitted for it. In every capacity of life self-respect must be preserved; and by thought, speech, and action we must guard ourselves against humiliation.

If another person treats us badly without reason or justice, we must fight against it, and prove by doing so that the dealing was unjust. But if we ourselves are at fault, we should blame ourselves before resenting bad treatment on the part of the other. If someone deals with us much better than we deserve, we should not become oblivious of the fact that we do not deserve his good treatment; we should count it as a kindness on his part. If we find that we have deserved the good treatment given us by another we should not take it as something on which to pride ourselves or something to be vain about; but we should take it as a strengthening of the hope to become still better, so that the goodness of God may manifest itself through us.


It is generally the case that as man attributes his pleasant experiences in life to his own worthiness, and unpleasant experiences he considers to be the wrath of God. The right way to consider this matter is that every pleasant experience should be counted as His great mercy for one's very small goodness, which cannot be compared with God's mercy, and as an encouragement to increase the goodness in oneself; and every unpleasant experience should be considered as God's small wrath for our great evil, to teach us the lesson to refrain from it; and one should see His mercy in both; in the former evident, in the latter hidden.

A wise man is he who keeps an even balance between faith and fear: such faith in God's mercy that he says, 'If the whole virtuous world were drowned, I with my faith in His mercy should be saved, like Noah in his ark'; and such fear that he says, 'If the whole wicked world were saved, I might be taken to task by the wrath of God'. Those who do not understand this moral are apt to go astray by seeing the wicked enjoying themselves, and by looking at the suffering of the virtuous.

The world and its life is an illusion to the untrained eye. It deludes, puzzles, and creates confusion in man's sight; and the first step in the right direction is to watch the pleasure and displeasure of God by closely watching life; and constantly to endeavor to walk in the path of His pleasure, and to refrain from taking the path of those who act to His displeasure.

checked 18-Oct-2005