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Volume VI - The Alchemy of Happiness


IF anyone asked me what is the life of life, and what is the light of life, what gives one interest in life, I should answer him in one word, and that is: the ideal. A man with wealth, with qualifications, with learning, with comfort, but without ideal to me is a corpse; but a man without learning, without qualifications, without wealth or rank, but with an ideal is a living man. If a man does not live for an ideal what else does he live for? He lives for himself, which is nothing. The man who lives and does not know an ideal is powerless and without light. The greater the ideal, the greater the person. The wider the ideal the broader the person. The deeper the ideal the deeper the person, the higher the ideal the higher the person. Without an ideal, whatever a man may be in life, life for him is worthless.

What do I mean by an ideal? However insignificant the object may be which one loves, which one looks up to, for which one is ready to sacrifice oneself and all one possesses, yet that is an ideal. I prefer the fanatic who says, For this idol of stone I will give my life, I worship it as a god,' to the one who says, 'I do not know, I just live on from day to day.' A sincere ideal, however slight, is an ideal. Even to have a slight ideal, and yet to understand it and to be sincere about it, is something worthwhile. We do not reach the ideal when we go from one ideal to another.

There is an old story of Haris Chandra, a king, whose principle was to be faithful, to be truthful, to be true to his word. At one time, having been taken prisoner, he was sold into the house of a person who made him a keeper of the graveyard. And one day he saw his wife coming there, from whom he had been separated many years. His wife was bringing his son who had died to be buried there. A great struggle went on in his mind when he saw that it was his own child and his own wife, whom he had not seen for so many years. She was so poor that she could not pay the money that was needed for the burial, and here he was appointed by his master to ask money for the work he had to do. But though he recognized his wife, he never said, 'I am your husband.' He recognized his child, but never allowed his heart to show his deep sadness. He did not allow her to enter without paying, for he was appointed for that purpose. He went through a sorrow which was worse than death. Yet he kept to his principle. The ideal will always appeal to one; however fanatical it may seem, however unreasonable, however it may seem to lack logic, yet an ideal is an ideal. It has a life of its own. An ideal is living, and it makes the one who is an idealist alive.

There may be someone who will go through any sacrifice to serve his nation: he has his ideal. There is another who in order to keep up the dignity of his family, of his ancestors, will endure troubles and difficulties, and yet will keep his honor; he has some ideal. However narrow he may seem to be, however conservative, yet he has a virtue which should be recognized. The records of the world's history show that those who have been able to maintain their virtue have very often been able to do so because their parents or their ancestors had maintained their dignity; therefore they could not do otherwise. A person who does not consider these things will go on living, and may even have a profitable life, but it will be an ordinary life, a life without depth, without value. There is nothing in life which can make it worthwhile except an ideal.

There are others who have a racial ideal. They value certain qualities of their race and maintain them, and in order to maintain them they are willing to go through any sacrifice. There are others who have the honor of their word; once they have given their word it is for ever. There are other idealists who have the honor of their affection, the honor of their love, the honor of their friendship. Once they have given it, it is given; to go back upon it is the greatest disgrace to them. Both in giving their heart and in accepting a heart there is character, there is honor. The loss of that stability is worse to them than death. All these things, however small and childish they may appear, have great value. They are really the only things worthwhile in life. The following story is an example of an extreme ideal.

Once in the Punjab some little girls were playing together when Maharaja Ranjit Singh passed by. He was taking a walk, disguised as an ordinary man. One little girl said, 'I am going to marry a millionaire.' Another little girl said, 'I am going to marry a general.' Then a third little girl who was a Rajput, a caste which is known for its pride and chivalry, said, 'I am going to marry the king of this place, the Maharaja.' Ranjit Singh, who was old enough to be her grandfather, overheard this and was greatly amused. He told the parents of that girl that when the time of her wedding came they should apply to him, and then a dowry would be given to her by the state so that she could be happy all her life.

Years passed and the king died; and the time came for the parents to think about arranging their daughter's marriage. When the question was put to the girl she said, 'How can it be? I have been married already. Did I not give my word? Is it not enough?' They said, 'It was a word given in your childhood, it meant nothing at all. It was play, and the Maharaja is now dead.' She said, 'No, I will not hear another word about it. I am the daughter of a Rajput, I have given my word and I will not go back on it.' This is an extreme ideal. It has a fanatical aspect, but nevertheless it is an ideal.

There is another story of a Rajput Raja, a man with a fine nature and high ideal, and who was also very fond of poetry. He waged war against the Mogul Emperor of Delhi, and the struggle continued for a long time. While the war was going on, other princes gave in and came to the emperor's court and did homage, but that one Raja said that as long as he lived he would never bow to the emperor. And at last, when the emperor became disheartened after a long battle, he told the warriors of his court that there would be a very large prize for the one who would bring him the head of this Raja who had caused such great trouble and expense.

No one seemed to want to undertake this task except one man, a great poet at the court of the emperor. All the brave warriors laughed at him, but the poet went to the camp of the Raja, and his great talent made such an impression upon the Raja that he said, 'Ask, O poet, for I really do not know what to give you. There seems to be nothing worthy of you in the treasury.' 'No,' he said, 'do not promise what will be difficult for you to keep.' He replied, 'My promise is a promise.' The poet then said, 'I feel very embarrassed at asking you, but it is your head I want. Will you keep your promise?' The Raja at once unsheathed his sword and put it in the hand of the poet and said, 'It is a very small thing you have asked, it is not greater than my word.' The people, his children, the ministers, were all very upset; but he was not upset at all.

Then the poet said, 'As you have promised me your head, why not give me your body also? Why should not this body also come with me?' The Raja agreed and left with the poet, the poet first and the Raja behind him; and thus he was brought alive to the camp of the emperor. And there was great excitement, and in order to satisfy his vanity the emperor asked the Raja to come into the court where all the nobles were gathered. After the poet had brought the Raja into the court, the emperor looked at him, at that enemy with whom he had been at war for so many years, and he said, 'You have come after all, after so many years, but it does not seem that your pride is gone, for you do not think even now of bowing before me!' The Raja answered, 'Who should bow, a dead person?' No doubt that ironhearted emperor did not see the beauty of that soul for he ordered that he should be beheaded. But the poet exclaimed, 'No, if he is to be killed, then I must be killed first. I must be beheaded also, for I shall never find anyone who will appreciate my music as he has.' So this poet died together with the Raja. And the sons of the poet, his whole family, all came and recited the most wonderful and inspiring poems, which were just like the salt of the earth. Each one said one poem and died, for the merit of that Raja and the great wisdom he had shown.

Everyone must die one day or other. The Raja died because he would not break his word. If the earth were above and the sky below, he would keep it just the same.

In the history of nations one finds a great many examples of idealism like these. One might say that these people lack wisdom, that they lack balance, reason, logic; and yet they stand above logic and reason, they stand above what one calls practicality and common sense. Many practical people with common sense have come and gone. But if we remember the names of any who have made a lasting impression upon the world they are the idealists.

It is very difficult to distinguish between a false and a true ideal. It is not only difficult, but it is impossible. For if something is false, then it is as false as it is real. And if it is real, it is as real as it is false. The best way is just to take as true that which at the time appears true to us. But we should not always discuss it with others, nor try to defend it. We do not know. We do not know if what we find true today will not appear false to us tomorrow. For all these terms, good or bad, right or wrong, virtue or sin, false or true are relative. And according to differences of time and space they change, which means that it depends from what height we look at it, from what position we see it. In other words, what seems right in the morning, may seem wrong in the evening, and what may seem wrong in the day, may seem right at night. Another example is that if we stand on a certain step of a staircase when looking at things, the right things will seem wrong by looking at them from another step. And the wrong things will seem right by looking at them from a higher or lower one. Therefore whatever we consider at the time to be right, just, good, and virtuous, that is the thing we ought to do. But we should not impose or urge what we consider right or good or true upon others who do not consider it in the same way as we do.

The ideal is such that one can go to extremes, but as they say in Sanskrit, extremes in all things are undesirable. Yet at the same time it is not generally so. Mostly one does not consider the ideal enough. For instance one cannot be too good and one cannot be too true. The way to practice this is in one's everyday life. If one would only keep in mind that what one has said one must do, even if it is a very small thing.

This whole question is very delicate, because it is said that in the beginning was the Word. So breaking one's word is breaking God. If man begins to realize, 'In my word there is God,' then he will keep his word.

Some wonder if it is better to keep one's word even if one finds later one was mistaken in giving it. This depends upon one's discernment. Keeping one's word is like a promise. Besides this, a person may speak without thought and later he will have to change. But if he will always try to speak without mistakes, then in time he will be able to avoid mistakes.

To say, 'A promise is a promise' might seem somewhat rigid, but it is not; for a promise is one's word, one's honor, one's ideal. As high as one's ideal is, so important is one's promise. If one's word can be kicked about like a football it is nothing. One's word is like a pearl mounted on the crown of a king. There are men with such high ideals that once their word is broken they do not wish to live. There is something very high, very wonderful, in this, for it is the divine spark within which gives one the sense of the word. If there is anything by which one can test a person, what he is, his personality, his greatness, his goodness, it is by his word.

No doubt the ideal by which we all feel that we come from the same source and return to the same source is the greatest. For in that ideal we unite with one another, serve one another, and feel responsible for being sincere and true to one another. Even if a man has learned some virtues, he cannot very well practice those virtues if he has no ideal. Ideal teaches virtues naturally; they rise from the heart of man.

There is a story of a king who judged four persons for the same misdemeanor. The wise king said to one that he must be exiled, to the other that he would be put in prison for some time, to the third that he should have a life sentence, and to the fourth he said, 'I am surprised. I never expected that such an offense would be committed by you.' And what was the result? The one who was sent to prison was quite happy with his comrades there. The one who was exiled built up his business outside the country. The one who was sentenced was sentenced, and that was that. But the fourth one went home and committed suicide.

It is the ideal which prompts man to sacrifice, and the most important thing he can sacrifice is his own life. A man without ideal has no depth, he is shallow. However pleased he may be with his everyday life, he can never enjoy that happiness which is independent of outer circumstances. The pleasure which is experienced through pain is the pleasure experienced by the idealist. But what of the pleasure that has not come out of pain? It is tasteless. Life's gain, which people think so much of; what is it after all? A loss caused by an ideal is a greater gain than any other gain in this world.

The true ideal is always hidden behind a man-made ideal, which covers it. For instance the fragrance is hidden in the petals of the rose, and when one wants to extract the spirit from them one has to crush them; but thereby the same rose that could have lasted for only a few days has been turned into spirit, into essence, which can last a whole lifetime. That is what is meant by the saying from the Gayan: 'The ideal is a means, but its breaking is the goal.' The ideal can also be pictured as an egg: its breaking is the fulfillment, as with the egg when the chick comes forth. It is necessary for the ideal to break; if it is not broken then the ideal is not used.

The ideal recedes when one approaches it, but the keener one's sight becomes, the greater becomes the beauty of the ideal. In this way one is not removed further from the ideal; one is brought closer to it.

checked 18-Oct-2005