Volume VII - In an Eastern Rose Garden
It is not only the human race that has evolved as time has passed, age after age, but an individual also evolves in his lifetime. In other words, humanity evolves gradually during a world's lifetime, while an individual, if he evolves at all, does so during his life. It is possible that the human race may take an opposite course; instead of evolving it may go back, and so it is with individuals too. But a person who is really evolving will not go back. If he did go back some steps he would feel uneasy and discontented, and he would go forward again. Perhaps he will go back a hundred times, but then a hundred times he will go forward again, for a person who has once experienced the joy and happiness of evolution will not be content with going back; feeling the discomfort of it he will go on.
No doubt the rhythm of every person's evolution is different. One can read in the Vadan that one soul creeps, another soul walks, another soul runs, and another soul flies; and yet they live on the same earth, under the same sun, and they are all called human beings. How strange it is that at the present time a new spirit has awakened in humanity, and one does not recognize the evolution of personality any longer! What one does distinguish is the nationality; whatever country one enters the first thing they ask for is one's passport. It does not matter what evolution one has, and it does not matter what one's soul is experiencing; as long as one has a passport which distinguishes one as the subject of this or that country, that is the important thing. And very often people make a great virtue of saying, 'I am as good as you.' But imagine the insolence of it! The better one is the less one considers oneself to be. The one who is really better could not say, 'I am as good as you.' This means that the consciousness of the present-day man is inferior; he says, 'I am as good as you,' because unconsciously he feels inferior in his mind.
Whose fault is it? One might say it is the fault of nations, of races, of education, and one might give many other excuses. But it is the times, it is the spirit of the times. It is no one's fault; yet at the same time it is not necessary to go through a condition in a kind of intoxication; it is better to awaken to the knowledge of that condition. It is better to become acquainted with the real condition of humanity today. When we study human nature from a metaphysical point of view, we shall see that the origin of human nature is the same as the origin of all other things; and the central theme of that origin is intolerance. Without reason, man's first feeling is that another must not exist. Later that feeling becomes modified, and man becomes more sympathetic, more harmonious and considerate; but the first feeling he has is that another should not exist.
Where does this feeling come from? In reality there is one life and there is one being; this world of variety is made of one being; it is the manifestation of the One. But at the same time in this world of variety, in this manifestation, the one Being loses that consciousness of being one, and there arises the consciousness of being many; in that way one being comes to stand against another being. Friendship, sympathy, harmony, attachment, devotion, all these come afterwards as man evolves, but they are not his first tendencies. The first tendency is a kind of jarring influence. For instance, how happy one feels when one is sitting in the train alone; but as soon as another person enters, one thinks that this is a great crime! One would rather he had gone to the other compartment and left one alone. It is a natural feeling when in a restaurant one is eating at a table alone, and a stranger comes to sit at the same table; he may be an angelic person, but as soon as he comes, one thinks, 'Why? Have they not got any more tables?' And this feeling comes even to harmonious people; I am not speaking of the inharmonious ones.
Is there then anything to be surprised at if in the history of the world there have been so many wars and battles? And for what? For nothing. Man is more fond of war than of peace. He likes peace after a war, but if he had loved peace before the war there would never have been a war.
What is the soul? If there is any explanation that can be given of the soul, it is the feeling of 'I am.' The feeling of one's existence, this is the soul; that part of one's being which feels that one exists. And what is the ego? Ego is what is gathered around the soul, and that is the knowledge of oneself. When a person says or feels, 'I exist,' that is the feeling of the soul. But he goes further and says, 'I exist as what? I exist as a physical body, as hands, as feet, as head, as a tall person, as a short person, as a thin person, as a stout person.' It is that feeling of being a tangible and visible being, it is that knowledge surrounding the soul, which makes the ego, the Nafs. There are many friends in this world and there are many enemies; but the best friend and at the same time the worst enemy is our own ego. It is our best friend when it becomes a friend; but first of all it is the worst enemy. Every time a person takes offense at something, every insult that a person feels, every impulse to do something, it all comes from the Nafs.
The ego is like the rose and also like the thorns which surround the rose. It takes the place of the thorns when it is not cultivated, and it becomes a rose when it is refined. And the way to make it refined is to humble oneself and to crush one's desires. It is by the process of crucifixion that a person refines the ego. It is a hard grain, and it must be ground till it becomes a fine powder, out of which a paste is made.
When the ego remains in the condition of a thorn, more thorns come; and more and more, till it increases its thorns to such an extent that everyone who touches that person is dissatisfied. We all have friends to whom we should be most grateful if they would keep away from us. We love them, we like them, but we would be very glad if they would keep away. What is it? It is the thorns that hurt.
In what way do these thorns manifest? They manifest in the form of words, of actions, of desires, in the form of manner. Why does one feel annoyed with certain people in life, even before they have uttered one word? Because the thorn is pricking. Perhaps that person will say, 'But I have not said anything, I have not done anything,' but he does not know that he has thorns; there are perhaps so many that even before he utters one word, before he moves, his presence pricks us. It is a natural outcome of the ego. Either the ego develops thorns, or it develops into a rose; and when it develops into a rose, then everyone is attracted to it because of its beautiful petals, its delicacy, its fragrance, its color, its softness, its structure. Everything about it is attractive, appealing, and healing.
For every soul there are four stages to pass through in order to come to the culmination of the ego, which means to reach the stage of the rose. The first stage is that a person is rough, thoughtless and inconsiderate. He is interested in what he wants and in what he likes; as such he is naturally blind to the needs and wants of others. In the second stage a man is decent and good as long as his interests are concerned. As long as he can get his wish fulfilled he is pleasant and kind and good and harmonious; but if he cannot get his wish and cannot have his way, then he becomes rough and crude and changes completely. And there is a third stage, when someone is more concerned with another person's wish and desire, and less with himself; when his whole heart is seeking for what he can do for another. In his thought the other person comes first and he comes afterwards. That is the beginning of turning into the rose. It is only a rosebud, but then in the fourth stage this rosebud blooms in the person who entirely forgets himself in doing kind deeds for others.
In Sufi terms the crushing of the ego is called Nafs Kushi. And how do we crush it? We crush it by sometimes taking ourselves to task. When the self says, 'O no, I must not be treated like this,' then we say, 'What does it matter?' When the self says, 'He ought to have done this, she ought to have said that,' we say, 'What does it matter, either this way or that way? Every person is what he is; you cannot change him, but you can change yourself.' That is the crushing.
When a thorn shows itself and you crush it as soon as you notice it, that same thorn by being crushed will turn into a rose, for the thorn also belongs to the rose bush. And when a person says, 'I will not occupy this position, I will not eat this, I hate it, I despise it, I cannot bear it, I cannot look at it, I cannot endure it, I cannot stand it,' these are all little thorns. A person may not know it, but they are thorns, and when they are crushed, then the rose comes out of it. How easy it is for people to say they want to know about mysticism and occultism. If there were an even bigger name, they would like to take an interest in that, and they believe that by reading books one can understand it, by learning lessons one can learn it, or by doing certain practices one can know it. But it is the everyday life that teaches us from morning till night. Every moment of the day and night we are up against something that our Nafs rebels against; and if we took that opportunity to crush it, to put it down, in some years' time our personality would become a rose.
Is it then always wrong to be what is called an egoist? There are many kinds of egoists. There are good points and there are bad points in an egoistic person. The egoist is selfish, and selfish men can produce cruelty and dishonesty. But there is another side to it, and that is pride and independence and indifference, which give him contentment; besides when the real egoist, whose ego stands before him like a statue of rock, watches that ego, then after some time that ego becomes a living being. It comes to life and becomes the very being that one is seeking. Therefore the right egoist is right and the wrong egoist is wrong.
For whom shall we build a throne of soft cushions? For our own vanity's sake, thinking that we are better than others? No, for the pleasure of others, and not for our vanity. As soon as the question arises, 'Am I not better than others, am I not more spiritual or wiser than others?' then there is 'I'. That is wrong. What does it matter what we are as long as we are able to give pleasure to others, to make life easy for others? For this is the world of woes; there is no end to the troubles; from the king to the pauper, from the richest to the poorest, there are endless troubles hanging over the head of every individual. And if we can be of some little use to anybody, we can more easily learn what mysticism is; for the only real mysticism is when a person realizes that he pleases God by pleasing mankind.
It is only in this way that we can crush our ego. Every time that we notice its pinprick, every time that its thorns appear before our eyes, we should crush it and say, 'What are you? Are you not thorns, are you not the cause of unhappiness for others and myself as well? I do not want to see my own being in such a form, in the form of thorns! I want my being to be turned into a rose, that I may bring happiness, pleasure, and comfort to others.' If there is anything needed in spiritual teaching, in seeking truth, in self-realization, it is the refinement of the ego. For the same ego which begins by being our worst enemy, will in the end, if developed and cultivated and refined, become our best friend.