Volume VIIIa - Sufi Teachings
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 already in childhood, just as one sees in a bird the instinct of building a nest. A child begins by noticing all kinds of things in grown-up people, and then it adopts whatever it likes most and whatever attracts it. By this we understand that when a person is absorbed in himself he has no time for character-building, for he has no time to think of others. For instance, if even the greatest actors do not forget themselves on the stage, they cannot act. The musician, if he cannot forget himself while playing, cannot play well. As with everything else, the whole task of building oneself depends entirely on forgetting oneself; and this is the key to the whole of life. I have met people distinguished in art, science, philosophy, religion, in all fields, and found that they had all reached greatness by means of this quality, the quality of forgetting themselves; and again I have seen people with great qualities but who could not bring out the best in their lives because they did not possess this one quality.
I remember a vina-player, a very wonderful musician, who used to play and study many hours a day, but whenever he had to play before an audience he became self-conscious. The first thought that came to him was himself; and when that happened all the impressions of the people there would fall upon him. Generally he would then take his vina, cover it up, and run away. But on the other hand I have heard Sarah Bernhardt simply recite the Marseillaise, that was all; but when she appeared on the stage and recited this poem, she would win every heart in the audience, for at that time – it was during the war – she was France. What enabled her to be France was her concentration, her way of forgetting herself.
Character-building is much greater and more important than the building of a house, a city, a nation, or an empire. One might ask why it is so important, as it is only the building of our insignificant self, but many have built an edifice, or even a nation, and they are gone and there is no memory of them left. The Taj Mahal is one of the most wonderful buildings in the world. Those who see it – artists, architects – have 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 the Hindus repeat, early in the morning, 'Ram, Ram'; the Buddhists call on the Lord Buddha and the Christians on Christ. Why? Only because of the personality of these holy ones, of the magnetism that was theirs. The words of Christ spoken so many hundreds of years ago are remembered today simply because of his personality. It is not spirituality alone: there have been many majzubs who were very spiritual. They were united with God, but they have gone and no one remembers them. It is not piety: there are many pious people sitting in the mosques and the churches telling their rosaries. Their piety is for themselves; they cannot move the world. So if it is not spirituality and not piety, what is it then? It is the development of humanity in us.
This development concerns our intelligence, our heart, and our mind. It concerns the intelligence because if we have love, but no intelligence to know the pleasure of the beloved, then we can be a great lover, but our love will be of no avail. 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 we do not feel what we say, it would be better if we had not said anything. It concerns the mind, because if we have intelligence and feeling but no thoughtfulness, no sense of what is appropriate, we are ignorant. One may be well acquainted with European manners and decorum, but if one is sent to the court of an Eastern king, one will be at a loss. Or a person may know all the etiquette of an Indian court, but if he comes to Europe he knows nothing about Western ways.
It is a great privilege to be human, so that we can develop our humanity and be human in mind, in reality as well as in form. The privilege consists in being man, who is the ideal of God.
It is not the rock, which does not know whether a king or a beggar, a holy man, or a wicked person stands upon it. It is not the angels, who have no heart to feel with and for 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, a saint or prophet, ghaus, Qutb, is very difficult. What shall I tell you of the struggles of their life, since it is even difficult for man to become human?' Indeed, to attain to spiritual grades is very difficult. We should first try to become human. To become an angel is not very difficult; to be material is very easy; but to live in the world, in all the difficulties and struggles of the world, and to be human at the same time, is very difficult. If we become that, then we become the miniature of God on earth.