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Volume XI - Philosophy, Psychology and Mysticism

Part II: Psychology

Chapter XVII

Nature is born, character is built, and personality is developed. If nature is such, then it is not easy to change a person's nature. Neither can a dog be made into a horse nor can a cat be made into a cow. Sadi says, 'The kitten in the end proves to be a kitten. Even if it were kept on the queen's sofa, petted and kissed and loved and cared for, when the mouse came it would show that it was a cat.'

It is very easy to talk about equality, and it is very easy to consider all kinds of excellent points of view. It is also easy to talk about wonderful moral principles; but if we see the difference there is between one soul and another, which is sometimes as wide as the distance between earth and sky, we stand helpless before natures that cannot be changed. If we say that horns can be turned into hooves and that hooves can be turned into horns it may be believed, but if we say that a person has changed his nature it will be doubted.

Where does man's nature come from? What is it made of? How does a person get his nature? Man's nature comes from that which the soul has borrowed. It is not the being of the soul; it is that which the soul has added to itself. Just as innocence in someone shows an angelic nature, so intelligence shows the nature of the jinn, and a good manner or a sympathetic attitude shows human nature.

The nature of a person is not the same as his false ego, but the false ego is obsessed by his nature. Everyone has brought with him on earth a certain nature, and it is not always easy to get rid of it. A lion may be trained by his keeper and may work under a certain discipline for twenty years But one day his predisposition may be awakened and he will turn on his keeper, thus showing his nature that had been hidden; it will show that he is a lion. With all the training he has received and all the humility and surrender he has displayed, he is still a lion.

Besides a man's nature is what he has inherited from his earthly parents, either from his mother's or from his father's side; it may not be from his parents but from his grandparents, and if not from his grandparents then from his great-grandparents, or perhaps five or six generations back. There is some part of his nature that he has brought with him and it is there. It is no use denying it.

When those who are peaceful and calm think that another person who is active and enthusiastic should also be calm and peaceful like them, when those who are thoughtful and considerate think that another person who is impulsive and adventurous should be like them, when those who have patience and endurance think that another person who is quickly aroused and temperamental should be like them – it is all impossible. The modest cannot be bold nor can the bold be modest. Every soul has its nature, and if one tries to bury it, although it will remain covered for some time, it only needs digging. Anyone can dig and find what is beneath. There may be a good nature hidden, and there may be a bad nature hidden, though for the moment one does not see it. A soul may seem to be a saint until one has spoken with him. Another soul may seem to be quite the contrary until one has investigated him, and then he may prove to be totally different.

Some show their nature outwardly, others have their nature covered, covered under what is called character. Character is something quite different. Nature is just like the light, and character is just like the globe. If it is a yellow globe the light seems yellow; if it is a green globe the light seems green. The light seems to be of the same color as the globe; but it is the light which is the principal thing. It is either a bright light or a dim light, and that is according to the degree of light there is. That is its nature; what covers it is its character.

Then one might ask where and how the character is built. The character is built by habit, by whatever habit one forms from childhood; and as the habit stays with one so the character is molded. If there is a habit of answering back, of interfering, of being curious, sarcastic, or ironical, or if there is a habit of being respectful, gentle, humble, or modest, if there is a habit of being proud and conceited and boastful, of pushing oneself forward, or if there is a habit of being thoughtful and considerate – according to this habit one's character is made. It is the same electric light which one sees in the most ordinary shop and in the most beautiful palace. What is the difference? It is not the difference of light. It maybe the degree of light, but very often it is the difference of the globe. Sometimes the globe is so beautiful and so costly that it changes the whole light. And it is the same with a beautiful character: it changes the whole person, so that he can be called noble or something else according to the globe that covers him.

When we form a habit we never think about it. If it is undesirable we think that it does not matter, that it is nothing, just taking a little liberty; what is it after all, do we not seek freedom? And so by trying to seek freedom we develop habits which become our enemies. It is like finding a little hole in a garment, and then thinking that it is not necessary to mend it. It is such a small hole, nobody notices it! But one does not realize that the hole will expand, it will become larger and larger until everybody will see it.

Another thing is that if someone has developed an undesirable habit people, as a rule, do not mention it to him. They are polite. They are kind. And so one goes on, and one believes that everything is all right because nobody says anything. Besides there are always many to welcome an undesirable habit. The one who has taken to drink will find many friends who will welcome him in their society, and the one who has formed a habit of gambling will also find sympathetic comrades to encourage him.

Whatever path a man takes, he will find encouragement to go further on that path. Naturally, therefore, if a man is not careful as to where he is going he may end up anywhere. He may fall into any pit, any hole; and nobody comes to pick him up once he has fallen. The deeper he falls, the less people will look at him, for everyone, either consciously or unconsciously, is looking for someone who is going upward. No one is anxious to associate with someone who is going downhill. Even his best friends will leave him some day. Therefore, to study the mystery of character, to think about it and to build it, is life's main purpose; that is the chief education.

There are some people who are interested in building their character, but at the same time there is always a conflict between their character and their nature; for the character is made by a certain habit, but the nature says, 'You must not make this a habit. I will fight with you about it.' For instance, a coarse person may have formed the habit of being very polite, but we can usually find him out if we speak with him for a little while, for then the conversation may end in impoliteness. It begins with politeness, it ends with impoliteness, because then the nature conquers the character, proving thereby that there was rudeness in the nature and that politeness was only an outer cover.

Then there is always a struggle going on between principle and nature. Sometimes the principle subdues nature and nature surrenders, and sometimes nature subdues the principle and the principle surrenders; and there comes a great conflict. A person may seem to be very modest, and he remains modest as long as one does not know him, but when one gets to know him he may appear to be quite the contrary. Nature will clash with the character under certain conditions. A man who is lazy by nature may be in a situation where he must work. The moment he sees that nobody is looking he will sit down in a chair and doze. He will only work as long as he is watched, for by nature he is lazy, and only the conditions have made him work.

There is another person who is told, 'This is the king's palace, you may not speak.' But he is very talkative, and when he sees that nobody is looking and that he is out of earshot, he will begin to talk as soon as he has found someone who will listen to him. He is only silent because he is obliged to be silent, but it is his nature to talk; and when he wants to change his nature it is very difficult.

There are some who have built a character just like a cherry: outwardly soft, but inside there is hard stone. There is another character which is like a grape: it is outwardly soft and inwardly soft. There is also a walnut character, which is outwardly hard and inwardly soft. And there is a character like a pomegranate: outwardly hard and inwardly with hard pips. These differences come from both nature and character.

An effort made to change someone's character does not always meet with success. People who want to develop a certain aspect in another's character frequently produce a kind of confusion in his soul, and very often parents and guardians who want to change the character of their son or daughter make a great mistake; they spoil the character instead of making it better. One sees thousands of cases where such mistakes have been made. There was a Maharaja in India who was a great educator. To all classes of his subjects he gave the most wonderful education, even to the very lowest. One would imagine that a ruler who was so interested in the education of every youth in his country would naturally make a success of the education of his own children, but every son of his died a drunkard, every single one of them. This shows that to wish to change the character is one thing, but to try to change it and to know how to change it is another thing.

Sometimes a person has a tendency to exaggerate, and this develops from childhood. It is a very interesting tendency, because it gives an opportunity for the imagination to express itself; and if a person is poetical and wants to express himself, he will always show a tendency to exaggerate. It is a good tendency, but at the same time it can be carried too far, and then the virtue can become a sin. Therefore, guardians should not encourage a child in this tendency; but if it is kept under control and if the child is told that it must not exaggerate, that it may just say so much and no more, and if the child is corrected whenever it goes on doing it, then this will help the child very much.

It is easy to help children, but it is most difficult to help the grown-up. One may change snow into water and water into ice, but to try to change a character is the most difficult thing one can ever imagine. Therefore, it is usually vain to try. But what one can do is to build one's own character; that is in one's own hands. Only, what people are most occupied with is the character of someone else; they are always thinking of the other but they never want to change themselves.

Lastly there is personality. Personality is the finishing of character. Personality is like a cut diamond: when the character is cut all round, then it becomes like a cut diamond. As long as the personality is not developed, however much goodness and virtue a person possesses he remains an uncut diamond. Personality is the harmony of nature and character; that is what makes personality. When the nature harmonizes with the character, when there remains no conflict between these two, then a personality is born.

Personality also has an influence on the other planes, just as character and nature have. If Farid 1 could change himself into a cow by concentration, there is nothing in this world which cannot change; but only if we want to change. The one who does not care to change will never change. But the power constantly working from within can no doubt change the nature to anything, right or wrong. The life of humanity is not only nature, it is an art, and art is an improvement on nature; through art God finishes His creation. That is why the building of the character and the developing of the personality is an art, an art by which the purpose of life is fulfilled.

It is all right for a man who goes into a mountain cave or into the forest and says that he does not care to develop either his character or his personality. It is just as well that he should go there and not take the trouble to develop his nature. He need not change, he need not worry, he can live just like the trees and plants in nature which just grow; they do not develop themselves. But if he has to live in the midst of the crowd in this artificial world, then he must know the art of developing the character, and how to produce beauty in life.

Among all the different schools of esotericism and mysticism the Sufi school has concerned itself most with the development of personality. As a Sufi poet says, 'If you have a diamond, if you have a ruby, what is it? If your self is not developed into a precious spirit, the diamond and the ruby are nothing.' And another Sufi poet says, 'In order to worship God angels were made. In order to eat, drink, and sleep animals were made. Why was man created? Man was created in order to develop into a person, that he may be an image of God.' Image in this verse means God's spirit, God's tendency, God's outlook, God's nature. It means that there is divine nature in man, if only he can develop it. And when that nature is developed, then personality becomes a phenomenon; such a personality spreads harmony, peace, thoughtfulness, and consideration.

How did Sufis help their pupils, their mureeds, to develop their personality? Was it by telling them that this is right and that is wrong; or this is good and that is bad; or you must do this or you must do that? No, it was by establishing that current of sympathy through which the spirit of the teacher is reflected in the pupil, and the mureed begins to show forth his teacher in his thought, in his speech, and in his action. This training was considered most valuable among the Sufis of all ages, a training which is not given in words. For if a teacher has to correct his pupil in words it is perhaps only a scratch on the pupil, but on his own spirit it is a cut. Putting their feeling into words is the greatest pain for souls that live in the higher spheres. Subtle souls never say things that they should not say. It is not their desire to speak. The sympathetic mureed has to grasp, to feel what the teacher wishes to convey, what the teacher feels, how the teacher can be pleased, and what the teacher will be displeased with. And if the teacher has to descend to earth, so low as to have to tell it in words, then this means that there is no current. There is only a difference of two letters between worthiness and unworthiness.

Besides it is not the teacher's responsibility to make his pupil an occultist. The Sufi teacher never wants his pupil to be come an occultist or a great psychic or a man with great power. This does not mean that he will not become powerful, but the responsibility of the teacher is to develop the personality of the mureed, that it may reflect God, that it may show God's qualities; and when that is done then the responsibility of the teacher is over. Then he can only pray for the pupil, for his well-being.

If a person does not wish to develop his personality, he may not even develop his character, he may not develop anything; and yet he may advance, and when the time of his progress has come he will progress just the same. But we should always try to find the shortest way, and the shortest way is the development of the self.

There are also many people who show a very beautiful tendency and nature, and yet no tendency towards the spiritual ideal. The reason is that they have not yet reached the spiritual ideal, but they are on the way, and the proof of this is that they show a beautiful character in their nature. All those teachings that are given to say and repeat, 'I am God,' are the teachings of insolence. Christ did not teach such things. Read the Beatitudes in the Bible. Has Christ not taught the development of personality? Did he not teach the building of the character? Did he not show in his life the innocence which proves the angelic heritage of man? Did he say, 'Be ye occultists,' or 'Tell people their fortunes,' or 'Correct people of their errors?' Never. What Christ taught was, 'Make your personality as it ought to be, that you may no more be the slave of the nature which you have brought with you, nor of the character which you have made in your life; but that you may show in your life the divine personality, that you may fulfill on this earth the purpose for which you have come.'

1 - For the story of Farid, see 'Mental Purification,' The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan, Vol. IV, p. 109.

checked 03-Sep-2006