header pic header text

Volume XIV - The Smiling Forehead

Part II - The Deeper Side of Life

Chapter X
Questions and answers

Question: What is the origin of conscience?

Answer: Conscience is the cream of the mind. The best that the mind has produced is conscience. It is a product of the mind, and therefore the conscience of a person living in one nation is quite different from the conscience of a person in another nation: it is built in another element. For instance, in ancient times there were communities of robbers. Now there are nations. The robbers used to think that they were entitled to rob the caravans passing by; they had a moral principle and an ideal. If a person said, 'All I have I give you, let me go', they said, 'No, I wish to see blood from your hand'. They did not let him go without hurting him. What was their principle? They thought, 'We do not accept anything from you, we are not beggars, we are robbers. We risk our lives for our profession, we defend ourselves risking our lives, we are brave, we are entitled to it, we are courageous'. It was the same with the sea pirates; they thought what they did was virtue, and from that thought they became kings. The same people when small were robbers, when great became kings.

Conscience therefore is what we have made. At the same time it is the finest thing we make; it is like the honey made by bees. Beautiful experiences in life, tender thoughts and feelings gather in ourselves and make a conception of wrong or right. If we go against it, it brings and produces discomfort. Happiness, success, comfort in life, peace – they all depend upon the condition of our conscience.

Question: Does not each person make his own law for his necessity?

Answer: That would be nice, but we are living in a community; we are not entitled to live in a community and to disregard its laws. If we wish to benefit, to entitle ourselves to all its advantages we must adhere to its laws. No doubt if we have better ideas than the community has produced, we can make them see that our principle is the right one, but we must not disregard the principle in which the whole community lives, saying, 'We make our laws for our individual being'. We can go to the mountains and forests saying, 'We live according to our own law'; then we can be entitled to do so. In ancient times there were spiritual people who went into the caves of the mountains and into the forest and lived according to their own laws. But if we say, 'As members of the community we must have its privileges', then we must also adhere to the laws of the community.

Question: Is not the disapproval of the conscience due to the soul's memory of unpleasant consequences of actions in the past, added to conventionalities and accepted ideas as to what is right at the present time?

Answer: Does 'past' mean yesterday or the day before yesterday, this life or the life before? If no more explanation is given I might say that the whole life of the world is built of conventionalities and accepted ideas, and nothing else. Therefore I do not mean to say that conscience is truth. When we come to the absolute truth there is nothing to be said – but the conscience is made of accepted ideas. The world is maya and nothing else. If we accept something as being right, to another it is wrong. What the modern German philosopher Einstein says about relativity is the same thing which many years before the Hindus have called maya, illusion: illusion caused by relativity, for everything exists by our acceptance of it. We accept a certain thing to be right, good, or beautiful; once accepted it becomes our nature, our individual self – it is all acceptance. If we do not accept it then it is not. A mistake, if we do not accept it as such, is not a mistake, but once accepted it is a mistake.

Question: But we do not always know if it is a mistake.

Answer: Do we not know it from the painful consequences ensuing? That also is acceptance.

There are dervishes who work against accepted facts, for instance the accepted fact that fire burns. They jump into the fire and come out unharmed. So they give a proof to the religions, saying, 'hellfire is not for us. When we can prove that here for us it does not exist, certainly for us in the hereafter it does not exist'.

Question: Is not the conscience really the result of the soul's respect for the accepted ideas of a community? If left to oneself would there be any reaction in one's conscience?

Answer: But there is action and reaction in oneself. The reason is that a human being has had different phases of existence. In one phase he is less wise; if he dives deeper in himself he is wiser; if he dives still deeper in himself he is wiser still. What he does in one sphere he would reject in another sphere. Therefore a man has so much in himself to combat and to reject that he has action and reaction even without contact with others.

Sometimes in his mood a person is a devil, sometimes a saint. There are moods, there are times when a person is quite out of reason; there are fits of goodness and fits of badness – that is human nature. Therefore one cannot say that an evil person has no good in him, nor a good person no evil. But what concerns the conscience most is one's own conception of what is right and wrong, and the second influence is the conception of others. Therefore a person is not free.

Question: Is not the role of the conscience very difficult?

Answer: The best way of testing life is to have conscience as a testing instrument with everything – whether it is harmonious or inharmonious. If it is inharmonious, then to think that it will upset the whole environment; if it is harmonious then to think that it is all right.

Question: How can a feeling be controlled by the conscience?

Answer: The conscience – like everything else – if it has become accustomed to handle one's thought, speech or action becomes stronger. If it is not accustomed to do this then it becomes weaker and remains only as a torture, not as a controller. The conscience is a faculty of the heart as a whole which contains reason, thought, memory and heart.

Question: But who is it in the conscience who judges?

Answer: In the sphere of conscience the soul of man and the Spirit of God meet and become one.9

Question: In what manner do the soul of man and the Spirit of God meet in the conscience and become one?

Answer: The heart in its depth is linked with the divine Mind. Therefore in the depth of the heart there is a greater justice than on the surface, and a kind of intuition comes, inspiration, knowledge as the inner light falling upon our own individual conception of things, and both then come together. In the conscience is the throne of God; there God Himself sits on the throne of justice.

A person condemned by his conscience is more miserable than the one who is condemned by the court. A person whose conscience is clean, if he is exiled from his country or sent to prison, still remains a lion – even in a cage, for even in a cage there is his inner happiness. But when his conscience despises a person then that is a bitter punishment, more so than any the court can give.

Sadi says it very 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'.

Question: Why can we only have knowledge of God through the heart? What part of the mind does the heart represent?

Answer: The heart is the principle center – not the heart in the body, but the heart which is the depth of the mind, for the mind is the surface of the heart. The heart and the mind are one, as one tree: the root is the heart, the branches, the fruits and the flowers represent the mind.

Question: What is the relation between conscience and truth?

Answer: I distinguish between truth and facts. Conscience is made from the cream of facts, but not from truth, because truth stands above all things; it has nothing to do with conscience. It is facts which have to do with conscience. When we come to understand truth, the understanding of truth is just like a spring which rises and expands into an ocean, so that we come even to such a degree of understanding that we say, 'All is true, and all is truth'.

9. This Question-and-Answer is added here in order to introduce the next one. It is extracted from a lecture on 'Conscience' published in Volume XIII of this series: Gatha Metaphysics, III, No. 6. The question as well as the answer are Hazrat Inayat Khan's own words.

checked 10-Nov-2006