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Volume VIII - The Art of Being

The Privilege of Being Human

Chapter XXIV

This whole manifestation has ambition as its underlying motive and, as everything in the world has two swings, it also has a forward swing and a backward swing. When a race or a nation has reached the furthest point of the forward swing, it recognizes that all is valueless, and it begins the backward swing which means annihilation, the return to God.

We can see this in the East. The wish of every person there is to do without. They will rather eat with their fingers than with fork and knife; they will rather eat on the floor than at a table; they will rather go bareheaded than to wear a hat, and they will rather go barefoot than wear shoes. All their present backwardness is because they have lost the ambition for advancement. When they had ambition they too progressed and at one time they were first in civilization.

When the wise people had reached that point the time of renunciation began, and the reflection of the wise fell upon the foolish. Not only the wise men who had some reason for it practiced renunciation, but also the foolish. They had no reason for it, but the influence of the wise affected them. They are all in a dream, without ambition, lazy. If one would say to them, 'You are always dreamy and lazy. Have some ambition, be active!' They would answer, 'I am happy in my dream. What else could you teach me?' If anyone wishes to walk over their head, they allow it; they say, 'There will be a third one, stronger than he, who will one day walk over his head.' There are many in India who do not kill insects, as the Jains. A Brahmin does not kill a snake. How then could he take a weapon in his hand and stand against a man?

I have met a Brahmin, a great musician, and I was much astonished for he was in his dhoti wearing only a towel, which covered his back. But when he began to speak it was evident that his knowledge was so great that he was the greatest musician of his time. In the West the ambition for worldly things drives a man so far that he often forgets his parents, he neglects his duties. His self is always before his eyes. I have seen that it is always so in the life of business, of commerce, of trade. The worldly ambitions are so strong that a man has no time for spiritual knowledge. Very often he would have a tendency to realize the truth through his intelligence, but the ambitions of the world are too strong.

If one says, 'Shall we renounce and become as they are in the East, living in a dream, and rather lazily? Shall we allow whatever nation to walk into our country?' – I shall answer that there cannot be one principle for everyone, because everyone is not in the same stage of evolution. Therefore the Sufi prescribes no common principle for all. He does not say, 'Renounce. Do not be cruel.' The Sufi has been blamed for this many times, because to have no principles in ordinary language means to be very bad. We recognize that what is a right principle for one is not always right for another. To a lord who has so many millions of pounds we shall not say, 'Do not give a great dinner or a ball in your house.' He would say, 'All the other lords do it.' He cannot have the same principles that a Murshid prescribes for himself. My Murshid once refused the initiation to the Nizam of Hyderabad because the Nizam could not follow the principles that the Murshid would prescribe.

A person must not choose the way of renunciation as long as any ambition within him remains unfulfilled. Vairagya, the thought of renunciation, comes to every wise person, to every righteous person. Sometimes a man thinks, 'I want to renounce all, because I am disgusted.' Another time he thinks, 'But if I were given a little bungalow and a little garden, I would not renounce it.' Sometimes he thinks, 'I will renounce the whole world,' and another time he thinks, 'But if I were Mr. Asquith 1 or Mr. Asquith's secretary, I would not renounce.'

If one says, 'I have renounced the Tsar's throne,' what does that mean? Only the Tsar may say, 'I renounce the throne that has been given to me.'

It is only when every ambition has been satisfied that a person should take the way of renunciation. Until then let him use his power. Whilst any desire remains he must not renounce it; it is not right. You might ask, 'Then shall we never renounce?' Yes, when your ambition is unjust, when it is cruel, then renounce.

1. Former Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War One.


checked 30-nov-2015