Volume VIIIa - Sufi Teachings
CONSCIENCE is a product of the mind, and the best that the mind produces. It is the cream of the mind. But the conscience of a person living in one country may be quite different from the conscience of someone living elsewhere, for it is built of another element. For instance in ancient times there used to exist communities of robbers, who considered themselves entitled to rob the caravans passing through their territory. Their morals and principles were such that if one of their victims said, 'All I possess I will give you, if you will only let me go', they would say, 'No, I wish to see the blood of your hand'. They did not let him go without hurting him; the idea was, as they said, 'We do not accept anything from you; we are no beggars, we are robbers. We risk our lives in our profession; we are brave, and therefore we are entitled to do what we do.' It was the same with some of the sea-pirates. They believed their profession to be a virtuous one; and from that thought they became kings. The same people, when small, were robbers; but when they became great, they were kings.
Conscience, therefore, is what we have made it. At the same time it is the finest thing we can make; it is like the honey made by the bees. Beautiful experiences in life, tender thoughts and feelings gather in ourselves and create a conception of right and wrong. If we go against it, it brings discomfort. Happiness, comfort in life, peace, they all depend upon the condition of our conscience.
The whole of life in this world is built on conventions and accepted ideas, and conscience is erected on this edifice. In order to develop, conventions need the exclusiveness of the environment. They are the cause of the diversity of humanity, and no civilization, however advanced, can quite avoid them. The progress of civilization creates necessities of this kind. People do not like to admit this, but they will live according to conventions all the same. The artist is not conventional because he lives in his own world, and the greater artist he is, the more he will do so; but the ordinary man cannot live in the midst of the world and ignore conventionality.
The best way to understand civilization is the spiritual way. Once a person understands spiritual morality, he does not need to learn man-made morality; it will come by itself. As soon as a man begins to regard the pleasure or displeasure of God in the feeling of every person he meets, he cannot but become most refined, whatever his situation in life. He may live in a cottage, but his manner will surpass the manner of palaces. Furthermore, once a man has begun to judge his own actions, fairness will develop in his nature, and everything he does will be just and fair; he does not need much study of outer conventionalities. And then there is the Sufi conception of God as the Beloved. When this conception – that, in a greater or lesser degree, the divine spirit exists in everyone – is practiced in everyday life and is considered in dealing with everybody, one will come to regard them all with the same devotion and respect, with the same thought and consideration, which one would give to the Beloved, to God.
In these ways the spiritual life teaches man what is best in conventionality; and when a civilization comes to be built on a spiritual basis, which is bound to happen one day, the conventionality of the world will become genuine and worth having.
Conscience is made from the cream of facts, but not from truth. For truth stands above all things; it has nothing to do with conscience. But the understanding of truth is just like a spring which rises and expands into an ocean, and then one arrives at such a degree of understanding that one realizes that all is true, and that all is truth. Of absolute truth there is nothing more to be said, and all else is Maya; when one looks at it from that point of view, nothing is wrong and nothing is right. If we accept right we must accept wrong. Einstein's theory of relativity is what the Hindus have called Maya, illusion; illusion caused by relativity. Everything exists only by our acceptance of it; we accept a certain thing to be right, good, beautiful, and once accepted that becomes part of our nature, our individual self; if we do not accept it as such, then it does not. A mistake, unless we accept it as such, is not a mistake; but once accepted it is a mistake. One might say that we do not always know that it is a mistake; but do we not know it from the painful consequences? That also is acceptance.
There are dervishes who work against accepted fact; for instance that fire causes burns. They jump into the fire and come out unharmed. They say that hell-fire is not for them. When they can prove that fire cannot harm them here, certainly there will be no fire for them in the hereafter.
The best way of testing life is to use one's conscience as a testing instrument with everything, to see whether there is harmony or disharmony. But in oneself there is also a constant action and reaction of conscience. The reason is that a human being has different phases of existence. In one phase he is less wise; if he dives deeper into himself he will become wiser. What he does in one sphere he would reject in another sphere. Man has so much to reject and to fight in himself, that he has that action and reaction even without contact with others.
Sometimes a person in a certain mood is a devil, and in another a saint. There are moods and times when a person is quite unreasonable; there are fits of goodness and fits of badness – such is human nature. Therefore one cannot say that an evil person has no good in him, nor a good person no evil. But what influences one's conscience most is one's own conception of what is right and wrong; and the next greatest influence is the conception of others. That is why a person is not free.
It is with conscience as with everything else. If it has become accustomed to govern one's thought, speech, or action, it becomes stronger; if it is not accustomed to do this, then it becomes weaker and remains only as a torture, not as a controller.
Conscience is a faculty of the heart as a whole, and the heart consists of reason, thought, memory, and heart itself. The heart, in its depth, is linked to the divine Mind, so in the depth of the heart there is a greater justice than on the surface; and therefore there comes a kind of intuition, inspiration, knowledge, as the inner light falls upon our individual conception of things. Then both come together. In the conscience God Himself sits on the throne of justice.
A person who is condemned by his conscience is more miserable than the one who is condemned by the court. The one whose conscience is clear, even if he is exiled from his country or sent to prison, still remains a lion, albeit a lion in a cage; for even in a cage there can be inner happiness. But when one's conscience despises one, then that is a bitter punishment in itself, more bitter than any court can mete out. Sadi says it so beautifully; he sees the throne of God in the conscience, and says, 'Let me confess my faults to Thee alone, that I may not have to go before anyone in the world to humiliate myself.'
As soon as we accept humiliation, we are humiliated whether we think so or not. It does not depend upon the one who humiliates us; it depends upon ourselves. Even if the whole world does not accept it, it is of no avail if our mind is humiliated; and if our mind does not accept it, it would not matter if the whole world did. When a thousand people come and say that we are wicked, we will not believe it as long as our heart tells us that we are not. But when our own heart says, 'I am wicked', a thousand persons may say, 'You are good', but our heart will continue to tell us that we are wicked. If we ourselves give up, then nobody can sustain us.
The best thing certainly is to avoid humiliation, but if a person cannot avoid it he is as a patient who needs to be treated by a physician. Then he needs someone who is powerful enough to help him, a master-mind, so that he can be attended to and get over that condition. When a person is a patient he cannot help himself very well; he can do much, but there will always be the need of a doctor. However, when the feeling of humiliation has entered the mind, one should accept it as a lesson, as a necessary poison. But poison is poison. What is put into the mind will grow there. It should be removed; if it remains it will grow. All impressions such as humiliation, fear, and doubt, will grow in the subconscious mind bearing fruit, and there will come a time when one is conscious of them.