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Volume VIII - The Art of Being

The Privilege of Being Human

Chapter II
Character Building


What is character? Character is, so to speak, a picture with lines and colors, which we make within ourselves. It is wonderful to see how the tendency of character-building springs up from childhood, just as one sees in a bird the instinct of building a nest. A little child begins to notice all kinds of things in grown-up persons and to adopt all that seems best to it: words, manners, movements, ideas. Everything that it grasps from the grown-up it attracts and gathers, and builds, so to speak, a building with it which is its character. It is being built all through life.

By this we understand that, when a person is absorbed in himself, he has no time for character-building, because he has no time to think of others: then there is no other. But when he forgets himself, he has time to look here and there, to collect what is good and beautiful, and to add it naturally to his character. So the character is built. One need not make an effort to build it, one has only to forget oneself. For instance, actors and actresses with great qualifications cannot act if they do not forget themselves. If the musician cannot forget himself when he is playing, he cannot perform the music satisfactorily; the singer's voice will not come out and so it is with the poet and all other artists.

Think then how the whole work of building oneself, and everything else, depends on how much one is able to forget oneself! That is the key to the whole life, material and spiritual, and to worldly and spiritual success. It seems such a simple thing, and yet it is so difficult.

During my travels, whenever I met with people great in art, science, thought, religion or philosophy, I found that whatever was their work they had touched greatness through this quality, the quality of forgetting themselves. It was always the same everywhere. And again I have seen people with great qualifications, but who remembered themselves so much that they could not do the best with their lives.

I have known a vina player, a very wonderful musician, who used to play his instrument for six and nine hours daily. But whenever he came into an assembly he became nervous, because the first thought that came to him was himself, and then all the impressions of the people present would fall upon him. Generally he would take his vina, cover it up and run away with all his qualifications he never had a chance of being great. Self-confidence is a great thing, but forgetting oneself is greater still. I also have seen Sarah Bernardt singing a simple song, the national anthem of France; that was all. But when she came on the stage and sang that song she would win every heart, for at that time she was France, she was able to be France because of her concentration and her forgetting herself.


Character-building is much greater and more important than the building of a house, a city, a nation, an empire, a race. One might ask, 'Why is it so important? It is only the building of our little self which is so small.' I Shall reply that many have built up an edifice, a nation, a race, and they are gone, no memory of them is left. The Taj Mahal is the most beautiful building in the world. Those who see it – artists, architects – have such a great admiration for it, but that is all. No one cares who made it, no one's heart is moved on account of the builder.

To this day Hindus repeat early in the morning, 'Ram, Ram.' The Buddhists call on the Lord Buddha, and the Christians on Christ. Why? Only because of their ideal personality, of their magnetism. The words of Christ spoken so many hundreds of years ago are remembered today because of his personality. It is not spirituality alone: there have been many majzubs; they were very spiritual, they were with God. They have gone and no one remembers them. It is not piety: there are many pious people sitting in mosques and churches turning their rosaries; their piety is for themselves, they cannot move the world. So it is not spirituality, it is not piety. What is it them? It is the development of humanity in us, and this concerns our intelligence, our heart and our mind.

It concerns the intelligence because, if we have love but not the intelligence to know the pleasure of the beloved then we may be a great lover, but we cannot express our love adequately. It concerns the heart because, if we have intelligence but no feeling, no sympathy, we may speak very politely, we may be very polished in manner, but if there is bitterness within if within we do not feel what we say, it would be better if we had not spoken. It concerns the mind because, if we have intelligence and feeling but no thought, we have not the manner, we are ignorant. You may know all European manners and decorum very well, but if you are sent out to the court of an Eastern king you would be at a loss. Or you may know all the etiquette of an Eastern court, but if you come to Europe you know nothing.

It is so great a privilege to be human that we should develop our humanity, and be human in reality as well as in form. It is man who is the ideal of God. It is not the rock which does not know whether a king or a beggar stands upon it, whether a holy man or a wicked person. It is not the angels who have no heart to feel sympathy for one another; they feel the praise of God, they praise God. It is man who has been given a heart.

A Hindustani poet says,

'To become nabi, ghaus, qutb is very difficult.
 What shall I tell you of the difficulties of life,
since it is even difficult for man to become human?'

To attain to spiritual grades is very difficult. We should first try to be human. To be an angel is not very difficult. 1 To be material is very easy. To live in the world, in all the difficulties and struggles of the world, and to be human is very difficult. If we become that, then we become the miniature God on earth.

1.  to live as an angel without having passed through the stages of being human.

checked 3-Apr-2006