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
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.
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.