Art of the Personality
Pir-O-Murshid Hidayat Inayat Khan
Sufi Movement International
For a Sufi, God is not only a heavenly ideal, but God is also a Friend, a Beloved, with Whom one’s dealings are as with Lover and Beloved. This explains why all praise is offered to God in thought of the wonders of Creation; and when dealing with one’s fellow humans, all actions of kindness and consideration are offered as though to God. However, the wise take care not to pride themselves upon their good deeds, keeping in mind that vanity is a veil which hides the presence of God from sight; whereas love for God in the absence of the self results in the expansion of the heart, in the light whereof every action becomes a virtue.
If God is love and if love is sacred, one avoids degrading the value of that sacredness through vain utterances. Love is in itself a revelation for which no study, no concentration, no meditation and no piety is required, once a spark has been kindled. To seek for spirituality without love is a vain search because if spirituality is to be found anywhere it is in the heart, once that kindling spark has grown into a glowing flame, throwing light upon the path once darkened by the shadow of the false ego.
Under the fascination of worldly power, one overlooks the greatness of those inner powers which can be discovered when “I” is replaced by “Thou art”. However, self-denial does not mean renouncing life’s duties nor nature’s sources of happiness. Self-denial means to deny that little self which creeps forward upon every possible occasion to eclipse the bright light of the Divine Presence. In self-denial, happiness is more intensely appreciated because one has risen above the notion of wanting while respecting one’s duties toward the accomplishment of the purpose of one’s life, which is in truth only an infinitely small part of all Creation.
Happiness, which is obviously the longing of every soul, reveals its secret in the knowledge of the True Self, a knowledge forgotten from the first day when at the moment of birth the soul was moulded into shape and found itself caught in the net of the false self. Happiness means making the right use of those means which have been granted for the purpose of accomplishing the duties that are expected of us; unfortunately, our vision of right and wrong is not always correct, nor does it always correspond to the vision of others. Happiness means understanding the wants and needs of our physical body, discovering the many mysteries of the mind, and seeking enlightenment of the spirit.
How few realise that the heart is like a dome within which all is re-echoed, whether good or bad, creating thereby either uplifting or disturbing influences that become in time the characteristics of one’s personality. The mastery over all impulses is portrayed by the Hindus as a dance at the Court of Indra; every movement of the dance is offered to the Divine Presence. That art which the Sufis call the Art of Personality resides in polishing the rough edges of one’s vanity, since vanity is in fact the hidden source from which both virtue and sin arise in one way or other. It is in the practice of this art that the character is ennobled.
The art of personality is like the art of music, wherein ear and voice training are indispensable in discerning the pitch of a tone and its interval from another for the purpose of establishing harmony. When relating this same ideal of harmony to our fellow humans, it is obvious that the beauty of the personality shines out in such tendencies as a friendly attitude in word and action, spontaneity in the art of offering one’s love without any expectation of return, and in the awakening of the true sense of justice, all of which are the expressions of the music of the personality.
The art of personality is a precious secret in one’s life. This art is manifested in all feelings for beauty and for sincerity in thought, speech and action. It is revealed in a considerate attitude toward others and in being aware of the re-echo of all that one does in life, and for which one shall have to account sooner or later.
A human being cannot excuse a negative behaviour, saying, “I was only born as a thorn, so how could I be a rose?” because, unlike a plant, we are all granted the gift of free will. The beauty, fragrance and colour latent in the root are expressed in the rose rather than in the thorn, although flower and thorn are both part of the same plant and have the same root. In the same way, the angelic qualities latent in the human being can be revealed in the beauty and
charm of the personality, notwithstanding one’s human origin.
The charm of the personality which is expressed in beauty is also deeply felt in the tone of sincerity, and the secret of this art resides in a perfect balance between sincerity and beauty, since a polished manner without sincerity is not really beautiful and frankness without beauty does not reveal the truth in all sincerity. All disputes and disagreements, all misunderstandings fall away the moment that one’s spirit has become noble. It is the sign of the noble spirit to comprehend all things, to assimilate all things, to tolerate and to forgive. What use is religion, philosophy or mysticism if these do not awaken in one that very spirit which is Divine? A flower proves to be genuine by its fragrance; a jewel proves to be genuine by its radiance; a fruit proves to be genuine by its sweetness; a person proves to be genuine by the beauty and sincerity of the personality. When Jesus Christ said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” that message revealed the true secret of the art of personality, understood as the effacement of one’s own ego. Knowing that for others it is one’s own ego which is most disturbing, one therefore offers them a service when willingly working on oneself. The words, “poor in spirit”, illustrate the softening of the ego, which then has a certain charm. This same charm is also seen in persons who have experienced suffering and disappointment. Nevertheless, the true virtue in the softening of the ego lies in one’s own initiative taken on the path of self-denial.
It is the gratification of the ego which builds up its strength, and the more satisfaction acquired, the greater the desire. In this way, one becomes enslaved by one’s own ego, although one is of Divine origin. Really speaking, one should have the liberty of being king or queen in one’s own kingdom, but through gratifying the ego, not only does one awaken the fighting spirit of others whose egos are thereby disturbed, but one falls from sovereignty to slavery, becoming finally a burden even to oneself.
The great battle that the wise fight is a battle with the self, whereas an unthoughtful person fights with the egos of others. In these contests, the victory of the unthoughtful is a temporary one, but the victory of the wise is permanent. Nevertheless, when battling with one’s own ego it is very difficult to know with whom one is really fighting, because one sees only the limited aspects of the self which together form the illusion of one’s own individuality, but when digging deep within the limitations of the self, one might perhaps discover the truth of the real self. It is then that the annihilation of the false self becomes a clear answer to the inner call.
The finer becomes the ego, the less disturbing it is to others, but life’s trials become that much harder to endure. A thorn does not harm its likeness, but it can destroy the frailty of a delicate rose. Nevertheless, life is more profoundly lived as a rose, with its beauty, colour and fragrance, rather than as a thorn among thorns. The training of the ego does not necessarily require a life of renunciation, but it is rather a test of balance and of wisdom. Such a training implies the understanding of the reason behind a desire, of what might be the consequences of obtaining satisfaction, of whether or not one can afford the necessary price, and of whether it is a righteous or an unjust desire. Under the spell of a desire, one’s senses of justice, logic and duty are muted by the grip of the ego, and in that state of mind one judges according to one’s perceived best interests, one reasons from the point of view of selfishness, and one’s feelings of duty are darkened by one’s all-pervading image of self.
No doubt it is difficult to discriminate between right and wrong, between that which is natural and that which is not, between that which is really necessary and that which might be avoided, between that which brings happiness and that which leaves sorrow, but here again the answer is found in the training of the ego, by which one comes to realise that one’s worst enemy as well as one’s best friend, which is wisdom, are both within oneself.
Self consciousness has endless manifestations, some reflected in inferiority complexes such as the need for praise and admiration, and others seen in such superiority complexes as finding satisfaction in humiliating and dominating others in an unquenchable thirst for self-assertion. Yet, the more one tries to dissimulate one’s weakness behind the mask of appearances, the more one’s self-confidence collapses like a sand castle under the waves of the rising sea, whereas the softened ego harmonises in all circumstances like the little bubbles which float along with the waves even in a stormy ocean.
Life could be pictured as a building with doors smaller than one’s stature. At every attempt to go through, one knocks one’s head against the door-frame, leaving no other device than bending the head when passing through the door. Modesty is not necessarily weakness, nor is it the same as humility, if that is founded upon self-pity. Modesty is a feeling which rises from the living heart secretly conscious of its inner beauty, while at the same time veiling itself even from its own sight.
The Hindu word for religion is Dharma, which means Duty. It could also be understood as consciousness of one’s most noble obligations. When attuned to this deep interpretation of religion, one realises that to be religious means to accomplish those duties which have been entrusted to us by Destiny as the purpose of our lives. Therefore, as workers in the cause of Love, Harmony and Beauty, it is our most religious duty to practice the art of personality, so that we might some day become living examples of those ideals, while dancing the sacred dance at the court of Indra, the temple of the Divine Presence found within our heart.