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Volume XI - Philosophy, Psychology and Mysticism

Part II: Psychology

Chapter VIII

It is upon one's attitude that one's whole life depends; by attitude one achieves desirable or undesirable results. Generally, the whole difficulty in the life of a person is that he is not master of his own attitude. And however learned, however intelligent, or however spiritual a man may appear to be, if he has no control over his attitude and no insight into the result of that attitude, he has not gone very far on the path.

Although a right attitude is an inborn quality, it can be changed and developed. A right mind has a right attitude, a wrong mind has a wrong attitude. Sometimes the mind gets into a crooked or awkward position, it is not in its right place, and then whatever a person sees seems wrong to him, and whatever he does turns out to be wrong. In some people's lives this happens very often, in others' only at times.

In Sanskrit there is a saying that when a bad time comes in one's life, the mind changes its attitude. But he who looks at the mind as a compass which always points in the right direction, and who continues to believe in this, will always find the right attitude. And once a person has a key to his attitude in life, then everything can be of use to him, as for instance, humility and pride. The one who has humility as his principle is incapable of pride, and the one who has pride as his principle is incapable of humility: one lacks the right leg, the other the left, and in both cases something is missing. There is a time when humility wins, when humility raises one's position, when it melts hearts, when it is the greatest virtue in a man's life; and at such times it is a serious fault if humility is missing. But then there is a time when pride has its place, when pride has to perform a role, when it raises a person, or when it sustains him; and at that time he is lost if he practices the principle of humility. Therefore, it is not the principle, it is making use of the principle which is the main thing.

When we tell a composer, 'The music you have composed is wonderful,' and he answers, 'It certainly is,' it is as if his whole composition has become out of tune. In such a case he would have harmonized his music by having humility. But when a person is urged very strongly by his friends to come and have a drink in a cafe, which may be all right for his friends, but not for him, if his pride at that time helped him and he said, 'I am sorry, I cannot come,' that would be much better than humility or showing courtesy to them by saying, 'I will come.'

It is the same with optimism and pessimism. There are people who obstinately hold on to optimism, and there are others who think it is wise to be always pessimistic. Both of these make a mistake. Optimism has its place and so has pessimism. If one looks at every sign of misfortune with pessimism, maybe one will be able to avert a coming misfortune. If for instance a young violinist, among whose audience there are perhaps fifty people who he himself feels do not appreciate him, is pessimistic in regard to that feeling, in time he will find that everyone in the audience will appreciate him. But if this pessimism develops too much he will find in the end that everyone in the audience is against him.

There are some things about which we must be pessimistic, and others about which we must be optimistic, and both are necessary in life. If someone says, 'Your friend is unkind to you. He does not love you. He is not a true friend to you,' and we keep an unbelieving attitude towards this criticism, this criticism will remain negative, and will have no effect either upon us or upon our friend. Whereas, if we believe it, our belief in time will allow the same attribute to manifest in our friend. When a man says, 'I am going to fight, but I doubt if we shall win,' he had better not fight. But the one who notices all the signs which show that there cannot be a victory and yet feels that he will succeed, will surely win in the end. To have a pessimistic attitude towards all that should not happen and to have an optimistic attitude towards all that one wishes to be, is a great thing. Very often a person, blinded by facts, falls flat because of them, and sometimes the truth is hidden by facts; but he should rather ignore the facts and keep to his optimistic point of view. The latter is like standing in space, and the former is like creeping on the ground. There is a saying in India, which everyone there knows: 'If the attitude is right, then all will become easy,' and by right attitude is meant the proper attitude towards life.

Then there is the question of hopefulness and resignation. Resignation is the attribute of the saints, and hopefulness is the attribute of the masters; but in all illuminated souls there is a balance. The preferable resignation is the resignation to the past. We should be resigned to all that we have suffered, to all the pain we have gone through, to all that has gone wrong, to all that we have lost; but we should not continue that resignation for the things of the present, because the present should be met with hopefulness. By being hopeful one is sometimes able to change one's life, while by being resigned one allows conditions to continue throughout life.

Even such a great and wonderful attribute as contentment, which is the sign of the saints, could sometimes prove to be disadvantageous in one's life. When a person is contented with his life's conditions this will affect his enthusiasm, and in time his enthusiasm will become paralyzed, whereas his discontented heart emits an enthusiasm which becomes a battery enabling him to go forward. Very often contentment proves a fault in people who may show harmony, calmness, peace and kindness in their nature, but who at the same time do not go forward. But with things that cannot be helped, situations that cannot be changed, conditions that will always remain the same, one may just as well be contented. Besides, if one has risen above certain things in life one does not attach any more importance to them; to be contented in that case is the contentment of the sages, of the wise. But if one wishes to obtain things which one considers to be of great importance to one, one should not be content, one should not practice contentment but enthusiasm. One should let enthusiasm grow so that the will power may use that enthusiasm to produce the desired results from it.

There are two different dispositions. There is the person who feels that he must do something outwardly, that he must finish it; but although he is busy with it he has no hope of success. He may be studying for an examination or he may be working with his hands or with his brain, but at the back of his mind he holds the thought that perhaps it will not be successful. I knew a writer who had this disposition. She was most gifted and there was every opportunity for her to be successful, but that unfortunate disposition was so strong that every time she wrote something she asked herself, 'Will it really be accepted? Will it really take, I wonder?' Her first thought was denial. And what happened? She would finish splendid articles and essays and books, but when they were sent to a publisher they were never accepted. It was not the fault of her essay or article. It was her attitude. The influence she put into it destroyed it all.

And then there is another disposition, the disposition of a person who will not accomplish anything, who will not do anything but will only be hopeful. He will be disappointed too, for he is hopeful about nothing. He hopes for wonderful things to happen, but he does not move, he does not work for it.

Of these two kinds of people it seems that the one has the body but not the mind, and that the other has the mind but not the body. Both are lacking in something. It is balance that brings about desirable results: on one side hopefulness, on the other perseverance. Then again, there are some who are very keen on perseverance, but at the same time they do not have anything except perseverance. They are just like a machine that can produce or make something; but first there must be an engineer to make it work. The machines cannot do it alone. This makes a person very dependent.

In conclusion, the right attitude is to keep a balance between reason and hopefulness. There must be facts, and there must be will together with the facts. Hopefulness should be built upon a ground which is solid and strong. And if a person has a hopeful attitude firmly built upon the ground of reason, he will no doubt achieve success.

checked 03-Sep-2006