Volume VIIIa - Sufi Teachings
THE PRIVILEGE OF BEING HUMAN
MANKIND is so absorbed in life's pleasures and pains that a man has hardly a moment to think what a privilege it is to be human. Life in the world no doubt contains more pain than pleasure; and that which one considers to be pleasure costs so much that when it is weighed against the pain it costs it too becomes pain, and since man is so absorbed in his worldly life he finds nothing but pain and grievance in life. Thus until he changes his outlook he cannot understand the privilege of being human.
Yet however unhappy a person may be in life, if he were asked if he would prefer to be a rock rather than a human being, his answer would be that he would rather suffer and be a human being than be a rock. Whatever the condition of a man's life, should he be asked if he would rather be a tree than a man, he would choose to be a human being. And although the life of the birds and beasts is so free from care and troubles and so free in the forest, yet if a man were asked whether he would prefer to be one of them and be in the forest, he would surely prefer to be a man. This shows that when human life is compared with the various other aspects of life, it reveals its greatness and its privilege; but when it is not compared with those other forms of life, then man is discontented and his eyes are closed to the privilege of being human.
Another thing is that man is mostly selfish, and what interests him is that which concerns his own life; not knowing the troubles of the lives of others, he feels the burden of his own life even more than the burden of the whole world. If only man in his poverty could realize that there are others whose sufferings are perhaps greater than his; in his troubles that there are others whose difficulties are perhaps greater than his! Self-pity is the worst poverty. It overwhelms a man, and he sees nothing but his own troubles and pains; and then it seems to him that he is the most unhappy person, more so than anyone in the world.
Sometimes we find satisfaction in self-pity. The reason is that it is our nature to find satisfaction in love; and when we are confined to ourselves we begin to love ourselves, and then self-pity arises because we feel our limitation. But the love of self always brings dissatisfaction, for the self is not made to be loved; the self is made to love. The first condition of love is to forget oneself. One cannot love another and oneself at the same time, and if one says, 'If you give me something I will give you something in return', that is another kind of love, it is more like business.
Man's ego is the false ego, God's ego is the true ego. But what is the ego? Ego is part of a line: one end of the line is God's ego, the other end is man's ego; and the latter is false because man has covered it by his illusion, calling it himself. Therefore, when that ego is broken by love or by wisdom or by meditation, then the clouds that cover it are dispersed and the true ego, the ego of God, manifests itself.
Sadi writes in the account of his life, 'Once I had no shoes and I had to walk barefoot in the hot sand, and I thought how very miserable I was; and then I met a man who was lame, for whom walking was very difficult. I bowed down at once to heaven and offered thanks that I was much better off than he, who had not even feet to walk upon.' This shows that it is not a man's situation in life, but his attitude towards life that makes him happy or unhappy; and this attitude can even make such a difference that one man would be unhappy in a palace while another would be very happy in a humble cottage.
The difference is only in the horizon that one sees. There is one person who looks only at the circumstances of his own life; there is another who looks at the lives of many other people: it is a difference of horizon.
Besides, it is the impulse that comes from within which has an influence on one's affairs. If there is an influence always working from within, if there is discontent and dissatisfaction in life, one finds its effect in one's affairs. For instance a person impressed by an illness can never be cured by a physician or medicines. A person impressed by poverty will never get on in life. A person who thinks that everybody is against him, everybody ill-treats him, and everybody has a poor opinion of him, will always find that it is so wherever he goes. There are many people in the world, in business, in professions, whose first thought before they go to their work is that perhaps they will not be successful. The masters of humanity, at whatever period they came to the world, always taught faith as man's first lesson; faith in success, faith in love, faith in kindness, and faith in God. And this faith cannot be developed unless man is self-confident, and it is essential that man should learn to trust others. If he does not trust anyone, life will be hard for him. If he doubts, if he suspects everyone he meets, then he will not trust the people nearest to him, even his closest relations; and he will soon develop such a state of distrust that he will even distrust himself.
The trust of someone who trusts another but does not trust himself is profitless. But someone who trusts another because he trusts himself has the real trust; and by this trust in himself he can make his life happy whatever his conditions may be.
In the Hindu traditions there is a very well-known concept, that of the tree of the fulfillment of desires. There is a story in India of a man who was told that there was a tree of the fulfillment of desires, and he went in search of it; and after going through forests and across mountains he arrived at last at a place where he lay down and slept under a tree without knowing that it was the tree of the fulfillment of desires. Before he went to sleep he was so tired that he thought, 'What a good thing it would be if I had a soft bed to rest upon and a beautiful house with a courtyard around it and a fountain, and people waiting upon me!' And with this thought he went to sleep. And when he opened his eyes he saw that he was lying in a soft bed and there was a beautiful house and a courtyard and a fountain, and there were people waiting upon him; and he was very much astonished, for he remembered that before going to sleep he had thought of all this. But as he went further on his journey and thought deeply about his experience, he realized that he had actually slept under the tree he was looking for, and that the miracle of that tree had been accomplished.
The interpretation of this legend is a philosophy in itself. It is man himself who is the tree of fulfillment of his desire, and the root of this tree is in the heart of man. The trees and plants with their fruits and flowers, the beasts with their strength and power, and the birds with their wings, are unable to arrive at the stage which man can reach; and it is for this reason that he is called 'man', which in Sanskrit has the same root as the word 'mind'.
The trees in the forest await that blessing, that freedom, that liberation, in stillness and quiet; and the mountains and the whole of nature seem to await the unfoldment, the privilege of which is given to man. That is why the traditions tell us that man is made in the image of God. Thus one may say that the most fitting instrument for God to work with is the human being; but from the mystical point of view one may also say that the Creator takes the heart of man through which to experience the whole of creation. This shows that no being on earth is more capable of happiness, of satisfaction, of joy, of peace, than man. It is a pity when man is not aware of this privilege of being human, for every moment in life that he passes in this error of unawareness is wasted and is his great loss.
Man's greatest privilege is to become a suitable instrument of God, and until he knows this he has not realized his true purpose. The whole tragedy in the life of man is his ignorance of this fact. From the moment that a man realizes this he lives the real life, the life of harmony between God and man. When Jesus Christ said, 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you', this teaching was in answer to the cry of humanity; some were crying, 'I have no wealth'; others, 'I have no rest', or, 'My situation in life is difficult', or, 'My friends are troubling me', or, 'I want a higher position'. And the answer to them all is what Christ said.
One may ask how we can understand this from a practical, a scientific point of view. The answer is that external things are not in direct connection with us, and so they are often unattainable by us. We can sometimes attain our wish, although frequently we fail; but in seeking the kingdom of heaven we seek the center of all, both within and without, for all that is in heaven or on earth is directly connected with the center. In this way we are able to reach all that is on earth and in heaven from the center; but whatever we seek which is not at the center may be snatched away from us.
In the Quran it is written that God is the light of the heavens and of the earth. Besides the desire to obtain the things of the earth there is that innermost desire, working unconsciously every moment of life, to come into touch with the infinite. When a painter is painting, or when a musician is singing or playing, if he thinks, 'It is my painting, my playing, my music', he may have a certain satisfaction, but it is like a drop in the ocean. If, however, he connects his painting or his music with the consciousness of God, if he thinks, 'It is Thy painting, Thy music, not mine', then he connects himself with the center, and his life becomes the life of God.
There is much in life that one can call good, there is much to be contented with, and there is much that one can admire, if one can only adopt this attitude; this is what can make a man contented and give him a happy life. God is the painter of all this beautiful creation, and if we do not connect ourselves with the painter we cannot admire his painting. When one goes to the house of a friend whom one likes and admires every little thing is so pleasant; but when one goes to the house of an enemy everything is disagreeable. Our devotion, our love, our friendship for God can make the whole of creation a source of happiness. In the house of a dear friend a loaf of bread, a glass of milk, is most delicious; but in the house of someone we dislike even the best dishes are tasteless. And as soon as one begins to realize that the mansions in the house of the Father are in this world with its many religions, races, and nations, which yet are all in the house of God, then, however humble and difficult the situation in life, it must sooner or later become happier and better; for we feel that we are in the house of the one we love and admire, and all that we meet with we accept with love and gratitude because it comes from the one we love.
For all his claims to civilization and progress, man seems to have fallen into the greatest error. For centuries the world has not been in such a state as it is now, one nation hating the other, looking with contempt on another. What do we call it? Is it progress or is it a standstill? Or is it worse than that? Is this not the time when thoughtful souls should awake from sleep, and devote themselves to doing whatever good they can to humanity in order to better the conditions of the world, instead of each one thinking only of his own interests?