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Volume VI - The Alchemy of Happiness


VERY often spiritual people in speaking about interest and indifference give preference to indifference; and many who have not reached that stage begin to wonder whether interest or indifference is preferable. Very often people even lose their interest because they think that in principle indifference is the better thing. It is however a subject that one should study: what is gained by interest, and what is accomplished by indifference, all there is to be gained by interest, and all there is to be lost by indifference. And one must find out if one wants to gain or lose. If one is hungering after gain one should have interest. But if one feels a relief in losing one should have indifference. In other words, either one should keep one's coins locked in the safe, or throw them away and feel relieved. Both ways are all right; it is simply according to one's wish.

Interest can be described as of four kinds. The first is interest in the self. Even if a person is not interested in anybody or anything he is certainly interested in himself. No person is loveless. When a person boasts that he loves no one then one can be sure that he loves himself. Love must be used somewhere; it can very well be used for oneself.

Then there is interest in another. It has a different character because it is chiefly based upon sacrifice.

The third interest is in science or art, or in the attaining of a material object, wealth or power or possessions. This interest has nothing to do with a special person. It is for something which is to be gained, and this needs sacrifice also.

And the fourth interest is interest in spiritual things. That brings one again to interest in oneself but whereas the one interest is lower selfishness, the other is higher selfishness.

Indifference can also be divided into four classes: indifference to oneself as when a person says, 'I do not care what people say; I am not interested in myself; I have other things on my mind.' That is one kind of indifference.

And the next indifference is towards an individual or towards individuals. One does not mind whether one lives or dies, one does not mind what happens to one. One does not mind if they love or hate one, whether one profits by them or not. If they are happy, or if they are unhappy, it is all the same.

The third aspect of indifference is when one says, 'What do I care whether I am rich or poor, whether my rank is high or low, whether I am this or that in the world. I am quite indifferent to it.'

Finally the person who attains to the fourth kind of indifference says, 'What does it matter whether I pray or do not pray. Whether in the hereafter it is good or bad, what does it matter? Whether I am received in paradise or not, it matters little.' That is the fourth kind of indifference.

Each person we see in everyday life has either the one or the other, interest or indifference: either one of the four kinds of indifference or one of the four aspects of interest mentioned above. One might ask which is desirable and which is undesirable. All that is natural is desirable, and all that is unnatural is undesirable. When one is interested in something but says, 'I do not want it. I do not like to take an interest in it although it captivates me, although I am attracted by it,' that is not right. Or when a person feels that he should look after himself, feed himself, look as nice as he can, and he says that in principle it is not good to pay attention to oneself, that also is wrong. When a person says that all earthly things are unimportant and valueless compared with spiritual ones and that one should not heed them, and yet at the same time is inwardly attracted by the world, then he should not say such things. His interest is preferable to his indifference. One should evolve naturally. One should not think that to take an interest in the things of the world is wrong because in principle it is greater to be without worldly interests. But if one is indifferent to them by nature, even if the whole world reproaches one for this it does not matter. One should say, 'I am indifferent to your opinion too.'

Sometimes interest is required, sometimes indifference is profitable. For instance you may be in a situation where you want to accomplish something, and people laugh at you. Or perhaps people do not like you or are apt to criticize you. If you are interested in all these things you will lose your way. In that situation you should be indifferent. But if you have a business, and in order to promote it you have to see someone to get connections, all this will only succeed according to your interest. If you are indifferent about it you will defeat your own ends.

I was very much amused once when visiting a certain town in India. I went into a shop to buy something, and the owner was sitting cross-legged on some cushions, smoking his pipe. I asked him whether he had a certain thing I wanted. He thought for a minute or two and said, 'I don't think so.' I asked, 'Where can one get such a thing?' He said, 'I don't know.' He would not budge. He remained sitting quite comfortably where he was. I saluted him and thanked him for his kind silence and indifference.

It is all right, indifference, when one sits in meditation in the forest. But if one has a shop what is needed is interest.

People often say that indifference is a philosophy. There are Yogis, ascetics, adepts, mystics who say that indifference gives great power. But interest also gives great power. The whole of manifestation is a phenomenon of interest. All that we see in this world of art and science, the new inventions, the beautiful houses, all this world that man has made, where has it come from? It has come from the power of interest. The power of interest is behind it all, and it is that power which has enabled man to create it.

To go still further, it is the interest of the Creator which has made this creation. Even the Creator would not have been able to create if there had been no interest. The whole creation and all that is in it is the product of the Creator's interest, the Creator as Spirit, or as human being, as a living being.

It is the interest of the bird which enables it to build its nest, and in the same way it is the interest of man which enables him to make all that he makes. If man did not have this faculty of taking interest the world would never have evolved. This is why the secret of manifestation and the mystery of evolution are to be found in interest. But at the same time I do not deny the power of indifference. The power of indifference is a greater one still, provided that the indifference is not an artificial one. When a person chooses indifference only because he thinks it is a good principle, then it is not a virtue. And also there will be no power, for such a man is a captive: on one side he is drawn by interest, and on the other side he wants to show indifference. It is a mistake on his part, for he neither accomplishes anything by the power of interest, nor does he gain the advantages that can be derived from indifference.

Seen from the point of view of metaphysics, why is the power of indifference greater than the power of interest? Because although motive has a power, yet at the same time motive limits power. Man is endowed at birth with much greater power than he ever imagines, and it is motive that limits this power: any motive and every motive. Yet it is motive that gives man the power to accomplish things. If there were no motive there would be no power. But when one compares the original power of man with the power of motive, one will find it is just like the difference between the ocean and a drop. The motive reduces the power to a drop. Without a motive the power of the soul is like an ocean. But at the same time that ocean-like power cannot be used without a motive, while as soon as one wants to use it for a purpose it becomes less.

Indifference releases that limitation automatically. The limitation is broken, and the power automatically becomes greater. One can see this even in worldly things. There are people who run after money, and there are people after whom money runs. And they are not necessarily spiritual people. Sometimes they themselves do not realize their condition.

Some people are worshippers of beauty. There are others before whom beauty worships. There are some who wish to wield power, what little power they can get. And there are others upon whom power is heaped though they do not want it. We also see many examples in this world of how interest often limits man's power, and how indifference makes it greater. But at the same time indifference should not be practiced unless it springs naturally from the heart. There is a saying in the Hindi language, 'Interest makes kings, but indifference makes emperors.'

During the reign of Akbar there lived a great sage in Delhi. One day the emperor heard about him and wanted to go and pay him homage. This sage was sitting on a rock with legs stretched out and arms folded. The emperor had Birbal, his friend and minister, with him. And the latter did not like the way the emperor was received by this sage, for though the sage knew quite well that it was the emperor, he remained in the same position. So Birbal asked the sage sarcastically, how long he had been sitting in this way. And the answer of the sage was, 'Since I folded my hands.' This means, 'As long as my hands were held out in need, my legs stood up. But since my hands do not ask for anything any more, my legs remain stretched out. It makes no difference if a king or emperor comes.' In other words, 'As long as I had interest, my legs were functioning, but since I have no interest any more I sit in the way I like to sit.'

That is the indifference of the sages. But how does this indifference come to them? How is it practiced? There comes a day in the life of a person, sooner or later, the day when he no longer thinks about himself, how he eats, how he is clothed, how he lives, how anybody treats him, if anybody loves him or hates him. Every thought that concerns himself leaves him. That day comes, and it is a blessed day when it comes to a man. That day his soul begins to live, to live independently, independently of fear. As long as man is bound by such thoughts as, 'I am treated badly or wrongly. People do not love me or like me. People do not treat me justly or fairly,' he is poor. Whatever his position in life, he is poor. The moment he begins to forget about it his power becomes great.

From a worldly aspect there may be a man who looks after himself, who is self-conscious, who thinks of himself, who concerns himself solely with himself. One can say that the ego counts in that person, but that is all that one can admire. Then there may be another person, who has outgrown that thought of self. You cannot help respecting him. The respect comes by itself, as soon as a person has emerged from that thought of self. And when a person has lost interest in holding, in possessing others, then his charm is such that without his holding or possessing all becomes his own. You can feel that person to be above the average in the world.

From the point of view of the sages no one really belongs to himself. In the East it is said that it displeases God when the parents think that their children are their own. God has created all creatures, and providence has brought about situations in which they are connected, as parents, as master, as servant, as friend, or in whatever relation it may be. And when we think that we possess, that we own or hold them, then God is displeased. And when human beings are not pleased either then they arrive at that stage where one does not possess or own anything or anyone. That also is a stage of indifference.

Besides this there is the stage of indifference where even rank and position and honor and power do not matter very much. For all these are also false claims. In order to occupy a certain position one has to deprive others of it. But when a position or rank no longer makes any difference then one has reached a still higher stage. And when one arrives at the stage where even paradise has no more attraction for one, when one is willing to meet whatever the hereafter may bring, then one's point of view becomes the point of view of the sage, of the master.

A great Persian poet has said, 'Be thou a friend within, and indifferent without.' This manner is very becoming and yet very rare. It really is the manner of the majzub, but one need not go as far as the majzub to find this manner. Very often one finds it among friends and relatives. There may be a father, full of affection for his children, with great kindness and love, but yet without any outward expression of it. It is never expressed in a form one recognizes. One often finds this manner too among friends, who may feel great friendship and warmth but yet it is never apparent.

The question arises, how can one learn indifference? By learning interest. If in our life we do not learn interest, we cannot learn indifference. A person who is born with no interest in life is only an idiot. The child which does not hold on to the toy in its hands gives no promise of progress. It is natural for the child to hold on to the toy and claim it as its own. That is the first lesson it should learn. It is normal for a child to say the toy belongs to it and to hold on to it. In that way one develops interest, interest in one's wellbeing and in one's progress in life, so that one can accomplish one's purpose in life. All this is natural and normal. It is interest in other people, in their affairs, in those one loves and likes, which develops the character.

By interest in things of the world one helps the world. By interest one contributes one's service to the world. If one had no interest one would not do so, one would not render service to the nation or to the cause of the world.

Evolution goes on step by step, not hurrying. Indifference is attained by developing interest, and by developing discrimination in one's interest. Instead of going backward one should go forward in one's interest. Then one will find that a spring will rise naturally in one's heart. When the heart has touched the zenith in the path of interest, then the fountain of interest will break up gradually, and when this happens, one should follow this trend so that in the end one may know what interest means, and what indifference means.

checked 27-Jan-2007