header pic header text

Volume XIII - The Gathas

Part V
Saluk: Morals


1.   The Training of the Ego:
Necessity and Avidity

In the satisfaction of bodily appetites there are two things: necessity and avidity. A satisfaction which is necessary for existence is one thing, and ever-increasing joy in the satisfaction of bodily appetites is another thing. When man acts regardless of this, in either way, in satisfying the appetites or in abstaining from satisfaction, he makes a mistake. In order to train the ego it is not necessary that cruelty be done to nature; discrimination is necessary, to understand how far one should satisfy the appetites and how far one should refrain from being addicted to such satisfactions.

Intense desire for bodily satisfaction has a bad influence on one's mentality, which acts, psychically, unfavorably on oneself and one's surroundings. It produces jealousy, envy, and greed in the nature, and if the thought-currents are strong, it produces psychically poisonous effects. There is a belief in the East which is know by the name Nazr, a belief that any food or drink can have a poisonous effect upon the one who eats or drinks it if it has been exposed to an evil eye. This superstition is known in almost all parts of the East in some form or other, and the psychical idea behind it is that the intense feeling of envy produces a thought-current which must surely spread its poison, which causes harm to the one against whom the feeling works.

When we consider the whole unrest of the present time in the world, we find that it is caused by the physical ego. The wars and revolutions seem to have the desire for comfort and pleasure and for more earthly gain behind them. And, since the happiness of the world depends upon the moral standard of the majority, it is upon the education of the human being in the psychic law of happiness that the peace of the world depends.

2.   The Training of the Ego:
Training by Abstinence

There is no better way of training the ego than denying it what it wants for the satisfaction of its vanity. It is painful sometimes, and it often seems hard, to deny the ego all it demands, but it always results in great satisfaction. Spirituality may be called a capacity; plainly explained, it may be called a depth. In some people naturally there is this capacity, this depth; and in some it may be made. In order to collect the rainwater people dig the ground and make a capacity for the water to collect. So in order to receive the spiritual life and light, one must open oneself a capacity. The egoistic has no capacity, for it is his ego which makes the heart, so to speak, solid, giving no accommodation to the essence of God. The more one denies the demands of the ego, which satisfy its vanity, the more capacity one makes to be filled by the life of God.

When the will is able to rule one's life, and not one's bodily appetites and mental fancies, then there is the reign of the Golden Age, as the Hindus say; there is no injustice and there is no reward. When man finds disturbance in his life, a lack of harmony in the external life, he must take refuge under the reign within, which is the kingdom of God. To a Sufi this body is the Temple of God and the heart His shrine; and as long as man keeps God away from His temple, from His shrine, his limited ego reigns, and that reign is called Iron Age by the Hindus. A person who has not opened his heart to God to abide in may yet be a good person, but as his life will be involved in the activities of the world, his ego will turn from bad to worse, culminating into the worst state of mind, and it is that condition of mind which is personified in the religious term 'Satan.'

In order to learn to realize 'I am not, but God is', one must first deny oneself for his fellow men. Respecting another, enduring a person or an action which is uncongenial to oneself, tolerating all, overlooking the faults of others, covering the weaknesses that one finds in one's fellow men, willing to forgive, all these things are the first lessons in self-denial.

3.   The Training of the Ego:
The Two Sides of the Human Ego

The human ego has two sides to its nature; one side is to strive for its nature's demands, and that side of the ego may be classed as the animal ego; but there is another side which manifests when the ego shows its agitations for no other reason than intolerance. This feeling is a kind of blindness, or intoxication, and it arises from an excess of energy coming out from the soul quite unrestrained; it covers, so to speak, the light of the soul as the smoke may cover the light that comes from a flame. In order to allow the Divine spirit to guide one's life one must clear the soul of its smoke part, leaving there only the flame to illuminate one's life. It is the nature of the ego during its period of ignorance that all that is very beautiful or powerful and all that is below the standard of its ideal agitates it. This sensitiveness may increase to such an extent that all that does not bring any comfort or joy or happiness to the ego may become repugnant to it. It is this ignorant stage of the ego which in the Sanskrit language is called by the wise Ahamkara, and the whole method that the wise have taught in any age and in any part of the world has been for recognizing and understanding this ignorance which is the primary nature of the ego, and then for purifying one's ego from this, by gentleness, humility, by self-control, by tolerance and by forgiveness.

Man can dissimulate this ignorance, but that is not enough; often, outward manner may become a mask over something ugly hidden behind. There is only one thing that can free the ego from this ignorance and that is the love of God, the contemplation of God and the knowledge of God. Love of God comes from belief in God. Belief is the first thing necessary, but belief needs support. It can be kept up by the belief of others around one or by learning or study which will strengthen it. But he to whom the love of humanity is unknown can never know the love of God; as you can see the painter in his picture, the poet in his poem, the musician in his music, so in humanity you can see God.

4.   The Training of the Ego:
Training Is As Well a Science As an Art

It is a science and an art to understand the nature of the human ego and to train it. One can understand the nature of the human ego by a study of human nature; but one can learn the way of training it by training one's own ego. Man can train his ego by being patient with all around him that has a jarring effect upon him. For every jar upon the soul irritates the ego. When man expresses his irritation he develops a disagreeable nature; when he controls it and does not express it, then he becomes crushed inwardly. The idea is to rise above all such irritations.

Life has a jarring effect by its very nature which every sensitive soul can feel. If a person wishes to keep away from all jarring influences, he had better not try to live, for life is a constant jarring. Life is motion, and it is the nature of motion to strike against something. It does not require strength to stand against the jarring influences of life – there is no wall of stone or of iron that can always stand against the waves of the ocean – but a small piece of wood, little and light, can always rise and fall with the waves, yet always above them, uninjured and safe. The lighter and the littler man's ego becomes, the more power of endurance he has. It is two strong egos that strike against one another. The little ego, the light ego, just slips over when a powerful wave of a strong ego comes for it to knock over itself against a stronger wall that may throw it over.

The art of dealing with egos of different grades of evolution is to learn gentleness, tolerance, and forgiveness, which all come from charity of heart. When man stands on the same plane as the other, then he is subject to the influence of the other ego. But if he rises above it, then every effort of the other ego falls flat. There is a poem in Hindustani, the verse of Ghalib: 'the world seems to me a playground of children. How constantly busy the infants seem with their toys!'

Verily the secret of peace is hidden under the cover of the ego.

5.   The Training of the Ego:
Training by Refraining from Free Impulses

The wise, knowing the nature of the ego is to rise and to move and to disturb the atmosphere, practice in their lives to restrain the ego from its free impulses. The tendency of the ego to rise shows itself in the desire of standing when others are sitting, and running when others are walking, and dancing when others are standing. In the mental plane, the desire to be proud, the desire to be vain, to show conceit, to show one's superiority over others, all come from the ego. The wise, therefore, by learning the lesson of humility, of gentleness, and of mildness, make their spirit, as it is called in the Bible, 'poor' – 'Blessed are the poor in spirit.' These manners are sometimes taught, but if one does not feel them within oneself they become forms and conventions without spirit or life or effect in them. It is only love which can teach these manners that keep the ego under control. If one does not learn them from love, then one learns them from suffering. Pain naturally crushes the ego, and if one has had much pain in one's life it has a softening influence on the ego. Wisdom is a great teacher, it shows man what he is when he lets the ego be free and uncontrolled and what one gains by control of the ego. Imagine a rider sitting on a horse without reins in his hand, letting the horse go free wherever it likes. He risks his life at every moment. The happiness is his who rides on the horse and controls it and has the reins in his hand, and he is the master of his journey.

6.   The Training of the Ego:
The Ego Is Trained As a Horse

The ego is trained by a Sufi as a horse is trained by man. A bridle is put upon it and man holds the reins in his hand. This training is called by the Hindus hatha yoga, which means to gain the control of one's self by means of abstinence. Often, when man does wrong, it is not that he likes to do wrong, but that he is not able to prevent himself from acting in that way. In the first place wrongdoing is almost always the consequence of the appetites and passions, or for the gratification of vanity. Fasting and special postures are often practiced by the mystics for the same reason. The more man gives way to the appetites and passions the more he is enslaved by them, until he reaches a state where he speaks and acts against his own conscience. Such faults as treachery, flattery, falseness, and all others of the kind come from lack of will power and from giving way to the passions.

For training the ego it is not absolutely necessary to abstain from all physical desires; the idea is to master the desire instead of allowing it to master one. The complaint of every soul and the remorse of every soul is always of the same thing, the enslavement of man through yielding to his desires. One allows the desire to master one when one identifies oneself with the desire; and one pities oneself, which makes things worse. And the desire for the momentary joy becomes an excuse for having given way. For instance, a person who gets up late makes the cold an excuse; he had to, he says, because it was cold. Reason always supplies an excuse for everything. But one cannot escape the consequences, and the remorse that follows proves that a fault has been committed. And once a person has accustomed himself to his faults, the sense of his fault becomes less keen; then he no longer troubles about them. Then he becomes a slave to his faults, he is like a worm, and his faults become his life. That is why in the language of the Hindus the word for hell means a place full of worms. In other words, he feeds on his faults and his faults find their nourishment in him. To a keen sight such cases are not rare. There are some cases that everyone can see, others are hidden.

Those who know its value consider the training of the ego the most important thing in life. The first lesson in this training is to ask, 'Why must I have a certain thing? Why must I not have it? If it is not good for me why should I have it? And if it is good for me why should I not have it?' When a person has acquired the habit of speaking with his ego in this way about every physical appetite, he will always be able to do what he ought to do.

7.   The Training of the Ego:
Training by Not Gratifying Vanity

The first form of the ego is that which the body helps to form and the next is that which is formed by the mind. This aspect of the ego lives for vanity, which causes a person to do good and also to do evil. Its desire is always the satisfaction of its pride, and when this increases, in the end it results in tyranny and cruelty. A person expects others to see him as he thinks he is, and often his self-esteem is excessive and it is impossible for others to admire him as much as he wants. One wishes to be admired for his clothes, his jewels, his possessions, his greatness and position, and naturally when this desire increases it makes a person blind and he loses sight of right and justice. It is natural that the desire for things that gratify vanity should have no end; it increases continually. The tendency to look at others with hatred and prejudice, to consider them inferior to oneself, and all such tendencies come from this ego. There are even cases when people spend money in order to be able to insult another. To make someone bow before him, to make him give way, to put him in a position of inferiority, to make him appear contemptible, sometimes a person will spend money. The desire for the satisfaction of vanity reaches such a point, that a person would give his life for the satisfaction of his vanity. Often someone shows generosity, not for the sake of kindness, but to satisfy his vanity. The more vanity a person has the less sympathy he has for others, for all his attention is given to his own satisfaction, and he is as blind toward others. This ego, so to speak, restricts life, because it limits a person. Coldness, pride, jealousy, all come from this ego. There is nothing so displeasing to the surroundings as conceit in whatever form, and what is the use of an opinion that is pleasing to us and unpleasing to all our surroundings? In reality a person's true satisfaction comes from the opinion that others have of him, not from his own opinion of himself. There is nothing more repellent than a thorny ego. The outward manner cannot hide an ego that is not soft, even if the manner is very humble. It shows itself suddenly, unconsciously, in a word or an action that jars upon another.

The training of this ego requires more care than the training of the other ego, for it is more difficult and a subtler matter to be aware of the desires of the mind and to weigh them than to be aware of and to weigh the desires of the body. No doubt vanity is natural to the ego and the ego is natural to every human being. But there are desires of the mind that are necessary and there are desires of the mind that are not necessary. And the more one controls the ego the more one allows the virtues and merits that are in one's heart to manifest. This ego gives a false idea of greatness, but the effacement of this ego results in the true greatness.

8.   The Training of the Ego:

Humility is the principal thing that must be learnt in the path of training the ego. It is the constant effort of effacing the ego that prepares man for the greater journey. This principle of humility can be practiced by forgetting one's personality in every thought and action and in every dealing with another. No doubt it is difficult and may not seem very practicable in everyday life, though in the end it will prove to be the successful way, not only in one's spiritual life, but in one's everyday affairs. The general tendency is to bring one's personality forward, which builds a wall between two souls whose destiny and happiness lies in unity. In business, in profession, in all aspects of life it is necessary that one should unite with the other in this unity, in which the purpose of life is fulfilled.

There are two forms of effacing the self, which in other words may be called giving in. One way is by weakness, the other is by willingness, the former being a defect, the latter a virtue. One comes by lack of will, the other by charity of the heart. Therefore in training the ego one must take care that one is not developing a weakness, presuming it to be a virtue. The best way of dealing with the question is to let life take its natural course, and at the same time to allow the conscience to keep before it the highest ideal. On one side life taking its natural course, on the other side the conscience holding its highest ideal, balancing it, will make the journey easy. The words of Christ, which teach man to walk with another two miles if the other wanted him to walk one, prove the great importance of harmony in life. And his words, 'Resist not evil', show still more the importance of harmony in life, namely that if you can avoid evil, in other words keep it away, that is better than to want to fight it. And the idea of Christ's teaching of giving in is also expressive of harmonizing with the wishes of another person. No doubt in this discrimination is necessary. That harmony is advisable which develops into harmony and culminates in a greater harmony, not that which may seem in the beginning to be harmony and would result in greater inharmony. In training the ego, balance must be taken as the most important principle.

9.   The Training of the Ego:

In order to learn forgiveness man must learn tolerance first. And there are people whom man cannot forgive. It is not that he must not forgive, but it is difficult, beyond his power to forgive, and in that case the first thing he can do is to forget. The first step towards forgiveness is to forget. It is true that the finer the man is the more he is subject to be hurt by the smallest disturbance that can produce irritation and inharmony in the atmosphere. A person who gives and takes hurts is capable of living an easy and comfortable life in the world. Life is difficult for the fine person, for he cannot give back what he receives in the way of hurt, and he can feel it more than the average person. Many seek protection from all hurting influences by building some wall around themselves. But the canopy over the earth is so high that a wall cannot be built high enough, and the only thing one can do is to live in the midst of all inharmonious influences, to strengthen his will power and to bear all things, yet keeping the fineness of character and a nobleness of manner together with an ever-living heart. To become cold with the coldness of the world is weakness, and to become broken by the hardness of the world is feebleness, but to live in the world and yet to keep above the world is like walking on the water. There are two essential duties for the man of wisdom and love; that is to keep the love in our nature ever increasing and expanding and to strengthen the will so that the heart may not be easily broken. Balance is ideal in life; man must be fine and yet strong, man must be loving and yet powerful.

10.   The Training of the Ego:
'Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit'

Jesus Christ says, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit.' Why is not the word 'ego' used instead of 'spirit'? Man's glance, expression, posture, etc., all speak of his ego, and tell to what extent it is hard and to what extent soft. People seek to disguise the true nature of the ego by diplomatic language and by good manners, but this does not really hide the ego, which is expressing itself in everything they say and do. Every particle of man's body and every atom of man's mind is controlled by this ego. If there is anything that is meant by the word 'spirit', as used above, it is this. The least word spoken against it rouses man's anger; praise tickles his vanity and goes to the heart of the ego.

And now the question arises: 'If this ego is the chief thing in man's development, why should we fight against it?' 'Is it not the essence of man?' the answer is that there is the spirit of man and the spirit of God. These two are different and yet the same. Think of the sea and of the bubble, how vast the one, how small the other! How dare man claim that he is God! Only the emptiness in which the echo is noise is found in a heart that can claim such greatness as that. The true emptiness is filled by the divine light, and such a heart it is which in humility is turned to nothingness, so that that light shines out. Man's ego is a globe, and the spirit of God is the light. 'Poor' is said in the sense of thin; and when the ego is poor, or thin, the spirit of God shines out. 'Rich in spirit' would mean thick, or dense, in the ego-nature, which would stand as a wall against the divine light hidden in the heart.

checked 18-Oct-2005