Volume VII - In an Eastern Rose Garden
GAIN AND LOSS
To the view of a mystic a gain is not a gain nor is a loss a loss; for that which appears to be a loss at one time may appear at another to be a gain. The more deeply we think about it, the more we see that in every gain there is a loss, and in every loss there is a gain. That which seemed to be a gain yesterday may prove to be a loss tomorrow, and that which is a loss at one time proves to yield a gain at another. Consequently the mystic realizes the joy of the gain and the sorrow of the loss in their right aspect; he discerns what it is that turns a gain to a loss, or converts a loss to a gain. The more deeply we consider the subject, the more do we discern that there are certain gains which are only transient, because material, and that to attain them we may have sacrificed a greater gain. Of course if we do not see that greater gain, we do not mind the loss. We can only see what we have lost or what we have gained after we have discovered whether the gain we have sacrificed really was a greater one or not.
Every experience in life has three aspects: that in which it is in the state of a motive; that in which it is in the process of achievement; and that in which the experience is an accomplished fact. In the first aspect, where the experience is as yet only in the form of a motive, we can have no clear conception as to whether it is a gain or a loss. We start out, for instance, with the thought, 'I wish to start a business; in this business I shall make a profit'. That represents the initial motive. The next step will be the actual building up of the business. It is now that the gain or the loss becomes more clearly perceptible. But the gain or loss is most clear after the business is accomplished. The experience is now realized. Hitherto the person has not realized the benefit or otherwise, but in the final stage he is able to form a true estimate as to whether the idea of his life has led to gain or loss.
In life we discriminate between two things: the real and the false. We think more of the real and less of the false. We discriminate between imitation gold and real gold; we pay more for the real gold because it is more lasting. The two samples of gold may be equally bright; hence it is evident that the value we attach to things is in proportion to their lasting power. Similarly, if we could see what things in life are lasting or passing, we should discriminate between real loss and false loss, real gain and false gain. The gain or loss which is momentary is not real. So, too, joy or sorrow is a momentary state; the joy over a gain today may tomorrow prove to be a sorrow. If we knew the realities, we should never grieve over the loss of things which experience shows to be only of a transient character.
On the one hand we are working for our own individual benefit and interest; but on the other hand there is a universal power which is more mighty than ourselves, and more just in its working. When these two powers, the Qaza, or universal, the Qadr, or individual, are working harmoniously, things come right. But when they clash, that which is thought right by Qaza will happen without regard to what Qadr may think right or wrong. Those who know this, and harmonize their will with Qaza, the universal Will, begin to experience divine impulses, and they begin to feel every time what is and what is not harmonious in the Qadr also. To such as these there come fewer failures in life. Life is easier because they swim with and not against the tide.
Our sense of justice is partial, because it is obscured or shadowed by our likes and dislikes, by our personal interest and lack of interest in people and things.
In the Bible it is written, 'Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also'. If our gain is only in objects of a passing nature, our heart will find no gain in this life or in the hereafter. Those who trust in transitory gain must accept the inevitable disappointment, both here and in the hereafter. Everybody in this world is selfish; for is it not true that the sages who renounce that which is valued by worldly people, after all only take up that which they understand to be really the greater gain? The only difference between their action and that which seems entirely selfish in those who are not sages, is that they sacrifice what they perceive to be a false gain. For anyone to do otherwise is to be like the dog which was running after its own shadow.
The privilege of having life on earth in this delicate human vehicle is too great to risk wasting it on something which will leave one the loser in the end, however rich and ample the false gain may appear. What gain is it to have the object we have gained snatched from our hands in the end? What gain is it to have an object which as to be constantly guarded and watched against the rapacity of others? Everyone is on the watch to take our gain away and make it his; and this he can do with any transient gain. We always desire dependable objects and friends. It is our nature to long for something we can depend on for life. Our own nature teaches us that if we realize our life's desire, that which we consider important, we realize only transient things. Has not this war shown us how artists lose their art, poets their poetry, kings their thrones and many a man falls from his heaven to the earth, all in a moment's time? What, then, is there in this world that can be depended upon? Have we not seen how parents have even sacrificed their lives in order to give the desired happiness to sons and daughters? Have we not seen that friends whom one relies on, in their turn depend on someone else and are disappointed?
When we really think about these things we are bound to see that after all we are only like children in understanding. We think ourselves clever and wise, and yet we do not really think deeply about life. Someday we begin to think, and then we see ourselves as a parent sees his children's acts. The child thinks its sand and toys are such important things, things that we grownups attach no importance to. And we too begin to see how childish our own life is when we can assess at their true value these actions and desires which seemed so important to us yesterday. We think little things so important: dignity, ill-treatment, insults, reputation; and what do they matter in the end? Do we not see people praised and raised up high in vanity and greatness one day, and next day they are quite forgotten? Before the revolution every shop in Moscow had a picture of the Czar in one window, and of Jesus with the Virgin in the other. Within three years, what a change there was! Even a whole race will change its attitude in a moment's time.
Praise, honor, love, kindness, are they lasting, are they dependable? Are we not seeking after wealth, or fame, or love, or kindness, or some help from morning until evening? However evolved we may be with our education and experience, yet what are we really seeking? Things from which we cannot derive any lasting gain. From these false things we gain the experience that the things to which we have hitherto attached importance and which we have valued are things that do not last. We learn at length that it would be wise to remember that all these objects and ideals and aspirations which we have in life should be judged according to whether they are dependable or not, lasting or not. After we have perceived the truth that this or that is not to be depended upon, we find that it is not necessary to renounce them all, to give up everything in life. We can be in the crowd just as well as in seclusion in the wilderness. We can have all good things, wealth, friends, kindness, love to give and love to take, once we have learned not to be blinded by them, learned to escape from disappointment, learned to escape from repugnance at the idea that the things are not as we would want them to be. A man can still attend to business, he may attain wealth, he can carry out all those things, but now his eyes are wide open; before, they were blind. This is the teaching of life. Thus it is that when we study life in the East, we will find that a Sufi may be a king or he may be faqir. A Sufi may be a seer; and a Sufi may still be a king. It is not the actual literal renunciation which counts, it is the personal abandonment of belief in the importance of transient things.
A person who pretends to be unselfish is generally foolish-selfish. It is the wise-selfish who are right; they are selfish, it is true, but they are selfish with true wisdom. They think out what it is in life that will benefit them most. The foolish-selfish man never puts money by, and thus never has any to give away. The wise-selfish man will obtain money in order that he can express his generosity with what he has collected. He who remains a pauper all his life has never achieved anything for anyone. Therefore he is wise who not only understands what is real gain and what is false, but also understands the price there is to pay for the gain. What determines our success is weighing whether one's gain is of more value than the price one has to pay for it, or whether the price one has to pay is greater than the gain one can obtain. He who perceives this clearly has learnt the true business of life very well.
For every gain, however, there is a need for sacrifice. To gain anything we have to sacrifice something; to pursue two gains is to lose both. Therefore it is necessary to decide once and for all what is false, and then to follow the real and leave the false.
If there is such a thing as saintly renunciation, it is renouncing small gains for better gains; not for no gains, but seeing with open eyes what is better and what is inferior. Even if the choice has to lie between two momentary gains, one of these would always be found to be more real and lasting; that is the one that should be followed for the time. When we take the torch of wisdom to show us our path through life, we will end by realizing what is really profitable in life and what is not.