Volume VIIIa - Sufi Teachings
RESIST NOT EVIL
OFTEN ONE wonders at the phrase in the Bible, 'Resist not evil', and it is not always given the right interpretation. To interpret it one should first explain what evil means. Is there any particular action or thing which one can point out as being evil? No doubt man is always apt to do so, but nothing can be evil according to a fixed principle. Then what is it? It is something which is devoid of harmony, it is something which lacks beauty and love, and above all it is something which does not fit into the accommodation of life. What fits into the accommodation that life offers cannot be evil.
Evil may be likened to fire. The nature of fire is to destroy everything that lies in its path, but although the power of evil is as great as the power of fire, yet evil is also as weak as fire. For as fire does not endure, so evil does not last. As fire destroys itself, so evil is its own destruction. Why is it said, do not resist evil? Because resistance gives life to evil; non-resistance lets it burn itself out. In the form of anger, passion, greed, or stubbornness one sees evil, and also in the form of deceit and treachery. But the root of evil is always one and the same: selfishness. In one person the evil is perhaps manifest on the surface, in another person it is hidden in the depths of the heart.
There is a saying in the East, 'Do not invoke the name of Satan, or else he will rise from his grave'. An inconsiderate or thoughtless person often falls into the error of awakening that devil even if he is asleep, for he does not know the music of life. In order to live in the world one should become a musician of life. Every person therein is a note; and when one feels that way, then one has an instrument in one's hand. The whole world is like an orchestra by which a symphony is to be played.
Even in small things one can observe the same law. Very often the greatest trouble that one has in life is not because of the difficulties others make, but because of one's own lack of comprehension of human nature. If one knew human nature one would realize that the first and the last lesson to learn is not to resist evil. For resistance becomes fuel to the fire. If we say to someone, 'Do not do that', if we ask someone, 'Why did you do it?' if we re-reproach someone, saying, 'You have done such and such a thing', in all these ways we only make the evil stronger, we only fix him firmer in his fault.
Everyone in this world can be a kind of teacher, but not a real teacher, for a real teacher is the one who always teaches himself; and the more he teaches himself, the more he realizes that there is so much to be learnt that a whole lifetime would not be enough. And the more one learns the more one overlooks the evil in others. It does not mean that the evil is greater or less in others, it only means that one has realized that the enemy which one saw in others is really in oneself. The worst enemy one was faced with in outer life one finds to be in one's own heart. It makes one feel humiliated, but it teaches the true lesson: of finding in oneself the same element which one wished to resist in another.
Life is a place where it is necessary to move gently. Whether it be in thought, speech, or action, the rhythm must be controlled; the law of harmony must be observed in all that one does. One should know that even walking barefoot on thorns will not make one free from accusation: the thorns will accuse one of having trampled upon them. If living in this world is as delicate as that, can anyone say he has gained sufficient wisdom? Or can anyone think he can afford to live in this world without giving a thought to this problem?
I was once asked how anyone at the head of a business or institution could possibly keep to the rule of not resisting evil. I said that I had seen people at the head of certain factories who had won the hearts of everyone working there, while there were other directors against whom every worker in the factory was speaking. It may be that the latter made a greater profit than the former, yet in the end they would find the gain of the former to be more enduring than their own. The ways of wisdom and tenderness cannot be made into a restricted principle for people to follow. A brush can never take the place of a knife, and therefore we all have to use every method and activity according to the circumstances. Nevertheless, the thought of not resisting evil should always be in the background.
The problem of evil is great. Many cannot bear even to hear it mentioned, although they are faced with it every moment of their lives, and to leave this problem unsolved does not help. Everyone is ready to judge, to observe, or to take notice of the evil in another, not realizing that sometimes the surface of a thing is quite different from its depth. Perhaps that which seems evil has something good underneath; or what appears good may contain a spark of evil. And by what standard can we determine evil and good, and who can judge the evil and good of anyone else? If one can judge at all, it is one's own evil and good. No one except God has the power to judge another. The sense of justice that is given to man is in order that he may judge his own actions; it is for this purpose that the sense of justice has been given to him.
When we look at life we shall see that it is nothing but a struggle both individually and collectively. And it seems that if there is anything worthwhile in this life it is that which is other than this struggle, the give and take of kindness and love, and the doing of any action of selflessness. However well qualified a person may be in the things of the world, his qualifications reach only to a certain point; they do not go beyond it. But what is really required is qualification in the understanding of life, the understanding of the law which is working behind it. It is this qualification alone which will diminish man's continual struggle, for it will give him less to resist. It will make him more tolerant of the natural condition of human beings. As soon as one realizes that one cannot expect from anyone something of which he is not capable, one becomes tolerant.
The difficulty is that everyone demands more of another person in the way of thought and consideration, of kindness and love, than he does of himself. Man wants more justice and fairness on the part of another than he is himself prepared to give; and his standard may be so high that another person cannot keep up to it, which in turn makes him disappointed. What generally happens is that one does not just remain quiet after being disappointed but one resists, and so the struggle of life continues. One should not expect the pear-tree to bear roses, nor the rose-bush to produce jasmine. Every person is like a certain plant, but not the same plant. We may be fond of roses, but every plant does not bear roses; if we want roses we should seek only the plant on which roses grow, and we must not be disappointed if what we find is not the rose-plant. In this way we can correct our own deception. When people say that someone is bad it really means that the surface has become bad. The depth cannot be bad, however bad a person may seem. For goodness is life itself; and a person who would be all bad could not live. The very fact that he is living shows that there is a spark of goodness in him. Besides just as there are various objects so there are various persons; some show softness outside, hardness inside; some show hardness outside and softness inside; some are very good in the depth and evil on the surface; and some are evil on the surface and good in the depth, for there are as many different varieties as there are souls.
What education, what point of view, what attitude in life is the best and will give the greatest happiness? It is the attitude of overlooking evil instead of resisting it. There are three ways of living one's life, which can be compared with struggling in the sea whose waves are rising and falling all the time. The first will struggle as long as life will permit; but the rising and the falling of the waves in the sea continue for ever and ever, and in the end he will be drowned. And so it is with man. Man struggling on, intoxicated by his struggle, will go on as long as his energy will permit it. In this struggle he may seem powerful, he may seem to have conquered others, he may seem to have done greater things than others, but what does it amount to? In the end he will be drowned. But there is another person who knows how to move smoothly through the water, and he understands the rhythm of moving his arms and legs; he swims with the rising and falling of the waves. He is not struggling. This man may hope to arrive at the port if it is near. If his ideal is not too far distant, then he is the one to fulfill it. And the third person is the one who walks on the water. It is this which is the meaning of Christ's walking upon the waters.
Life is just like waves, it is making its way continually. The one who allows himself to be disturbed by it will be more and more disturbed every day; the one who does not take any notice of it will keep inwardly serene. The one who sees all things and yet rises above them is the one who will walk over the sea. No one can reach the highest summits of life, of wisdom, in a moment: even a whole lifetime is too short. Yet hope is necessary, for the one who hopes and sees the possibilities climbs towards the summit, but the one who has no hope has no legs to ascend the hill of wisdom, the summit of which is the desired goal.