Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Training of the Ego: Vanity

Another of the Gathas of Inayat Khan:

"Man has the desire to do good and to refrain from doing evil because to do so feeds his vanity. Among one thousand good and virtuous people there is scarcely one who does good and refrains from evil because that is his natural inclination. The majority of those engaged in art, science, religion, or politics are conscious all the time of the opinion of others and they can only work upon the lines they are following if appreciation comes from some quarter; the least antagonism or opposition discourages them and  often kills their desire. Among thousands, it is one great soul that can keep firm and strong in his purpose through life, unshaken and unweakened by opposition from any side. It is the person who wins in the end and accomplishes things that are worthwhile."

This paragraph is a wonderful remark on our actions vis-a-vis outer influences versus inner knowing. Do we do good deeds and works because that comes from our hearts, or is it, for better or for worse, social, religious, or familial upbringing or conventions that pressure us into learned behaviors, even if they are positive ones?

We know that public opinion and polls may certainly have an influence on politicians - might this also lead to the content of sermons and homilies, what research scientists may pursue or what art might be deemed acceptable and pleasing (the National Endowment for the Arts comes to mind)? Do we take the time to check into the depth of our hearts to hear what its voice is saying? Khan says that few people have this inner connectedness, and, if they do, they are not at all swayed away from this Spirit of Guidance and their purposefulness in life when the winds begin to blow.

"In the lives of all the great souls who have accomplished wonderful deeds in life, you will surely find this mystery hidden. Those souls have not learned it, it happens to be their nature, and the thinker will see in this a philosophy which teaches that it is the ego that chains man's feet, keeping him from progress in all paths in life. The ego not only makes man self-conscious, but it makes of him a coward and renders him helpless. He is timid because he sees his own limitations and he is helpless because everything stronger overpowers him as he confines his being within a certain limit. Besides all the other disadvantages that self-consciousness brings with it, there is about all else one thing it does, it prevents man from realizing that the thought of self keeps him away from God. In the heart of man, there is room for one only, either for himself or for God."

The greatest of souls have learned, or have perhaps always understood innately, that if we let go of the ego, which is always worried about its appearance and concerned about its vanity in the eyes of others, then the true miracle of life happens: we allow the Divine to flow through us at all times. Not only does this way of surrender give us fearlessness and tenacity, it provides us with the opportunity to create what is uniquely ours, however grand or humble that may be.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

When the Violin

The violin
Can forgive the past

It starts singing.

When the violin can stop worrying
About the future

You will become
Such a drunk laughing nuisance

That God
Will then lean down
And start combing you into

When the violin can forgive
Every wound caused by

The heart starts

Hafiz  (1320-1389)
trans. Daniel Ladinsky

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Training of the Ego: Constant Battle with the Ego

Hi Friends,

This is a continuation of commentary on the Gathas of Inayat Khan. Even though these lectures and writings were collected in the early part of the 20th century, I am continually amazed at how they remain relevant for us in this century. The reading follows below in blue:

"For the person who walks in the path of God, the only struggle is a constant battle with the ego. It is the ego which forms the cover on the light of the soul, and the light hidden under the ego is the "light hidden under a bushel." Man's sense of justice, his logic, his reason, his intelligence, his affection, all is covered by the ego. If he judges anyone, it is from the point of view of his own interest, if he reasons, his selfish mind produces the result, in his affections, he puts self first, his intelligence is darkened by self; and this is the condition of the average man. In proportion, as man takes away the covering from the soul, so much more just, truer, more sincere, more loving does he become. Selfishness develops the sense of self-interest, and very often a person may gain earthly prosperity because of it. But as all things in the world are subject to change, death and decay, he remains in the end empty-handed; while the unselfish man, who has perhaps been debarred from the earthly good by his lack of self-interest, at least remains possessed of his sense of reason and is rich in the qualities of love, justice and intelligence."

This section above gives an insight into how our ego works. When it is out of control, it darkens the innate light we carry within, thereby coloring all our interactions with other human beings. However, our senses of justice, reason, logic, intelligence and affection can shift from being guided by mere self-interest to that of gradually being relieved of the burden of the ego and gathering together the components of our true self.

The proof of this is in the pudding as Inayat Khan correctly points out. Even more so today than when this was written, we live in a society strongly focused on worldly attainment above all else. Not only are we seeing the unraveling of this impulse in the financial markets today, we are coming back to the age-old question that is hinted at here in this discussion, the question many folks come to at some point in their life: Is this all there is? And, then, the true inner work may begin and the freedom from the ego may commence, if we take up the challenge to the ego.

"The whole  tragedy of life is in losing sight of one's natural self, and the greatest gain in life is coming into touch with one's real self. The real self is covered by many layers of ego; those which preponderate above all others are hunger and passion, beneath these are pride and vanity. One must learn to discriminate between what is natural and what is unnatural, what is necessary and what is not necessary, what brings happiness and what brings sorrow. No doubt it is difficult for many to discriminate between right and wrong; but by standing face to face with one's ego and recognizing it as someone who is ready to make war against us, and be keeping one's strength of will as an unsheathed sword, one protects oneself from one's greatest enemy, which is one's own ego. And a time comes in life when one can say, 'My worst enemy has been within myself.'"

Once again, we come to the issue of discernment: what is natural or unnatural? What brings happiness or sorrow? What do I truly need in life, what is the chaff? What have my hungers, passions, pride and vanity brought me and those around me? Only by deep self-inquiry can we come to conclusions that are the correct ones for ourselves. Once we stop being our own worst enemies, we can begin to engage ourselves from the inside out to produce the joy and happiness we so truly desire and is our natural birthright.

If you would like to make this a practice, choose an issue where you know you are still attached to an egoic response. Then, breathe fully and rhythmically into and out of the heart, asking the heart to answer, "What is my first step in letting go of this pattern?" Take some time - let yourself be surprised by the heart's answer!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Training of the Ego: What the Ego Needs and What It Does Not Need

This is another commentary on one of the Gathas writings of Inayat Khan. This has to be one of his most concise, clear and beautiful writings.

"In order to train the ego, it is necessary that one should distinguish what is the right of the ego and what is not its right. The ego has a tendency to want what it needs and also what it does not need. The first is its natural appetite and the second is greed."

This first comment requires that we have discernment about ourselves. This might be simple with regard to certain tendencies we have already conquered or that have come into our awareness, but it proves more difficult when we are unaware of certain behavioral patterns or our shadow tendencies which may be eluding us.

"This is like the nature of the dog, that after eating the flesh off a bone, still guards the bone against another dog. Besides this, the ego has a tendency to want more and more of what it likes, regardless of right and justice, also regardless of the after-effect. For instance, a person may eat and drink more and more until this makes him ill. Every kind of gratification of desires or appetite gives a tendency to want more and more. Then there is the desire for change of experience, and when a person gives in to it, it never ends. Excess of desire in appetites or passions always produces an intoxication in man. It increases to such an extent that the limited means that man has, become insufficient to gratify his desires. Therefore, naturally, to satisfy his desires he wants more than what is his own, wants what belongs to other people. When this begins, naturally injustice begins. Then he cannot get what he wants, then there is pain and disappointment."

What can be most difficult is when one of our bad habits gets the most of us: we can become so entrenched in a behavior or position, that it takes over entire areas of our lives. This might not only be issues of food or drink, but excessive anger, manipulation, victimhood, insisting on our point of view...the list can be quite long. We can even see this ego beyond into a regional or national level.

"When one person gratifies his desires more than other people, the others who see this want to take away the gratification he has. One naturally expects a thinker to understand this and to relieve his ego of all that is unnecessary."

So, how do we begin to do this? We begin by practicing moderation.

"The training of the ego is this, to eat to live and not to live to eat, and so with all things one desires. The nature of desire is such that nothing will satisfy it forever, and sometimes the pleasure of a moment costs more than it is worth. And when one's eyes are closed to this, one takes the momentary pleasure regardless of what will come after. The training of the ego is not necessarily a sad life of renunciation, nor is it necessarily the life of a hermit."

We don't need to run away from life at all. Here is the key to how we escape the suffering we encounter when the ego is runaway in our lives:

"The training is to be wise in life, and to understand what we desire and why we desire it and what effect will follow, what we can afford and what we cannot afford. It is also to understand desire from the point of view of justice, to know whether it is right and just. If the ego is given way to in the very least in the excess of its desires, it becomes master of one's self. Therefore, in training the ego, even the slightest thing must be avoided which may in time master us. The ideal life is the life of balance, not necessarily the life of renunciation. Renunciation must not be practiced for the sake of renunciation, but it must be practiced if it is necessary for balance. Verily, balance is the ideal life."

I invite you to take an area of your life that may be challenging , and to place your awareness there. Let your inhalation breathe this issue into your heart and let your exhalation let go of it, bringing insight and solution. May balance in life become your forte.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Sense of Beauty and Sincerity

Inayat Khan writes: "There are two things needful in the development of personality: the sense of beauty and the preservation of sincerity." (View the full text here:   http://www.hazrat-inayat-khan.org/pl/views.cgi?opt=&m=&h1c=43&h2c=5&h3c=1&r=1&print=1  ).

He defines the sense of beauty as the ability to incorporate all that appears beautiful in thought, word and deed. He points out that we readily respond to those people who treat us respectfully and in a humble manner , but that we may look the other way when we ourselves fail to behave in this appealing way.

The two basic reasons for this are: One, that we tend to look outwardly rather than inwardly, and so we see the other person before we "see' ourselves. The other is that we are selfish by nature, wanting what is good for ourselves but not wanting to give that goodness so readily to others.

If we focus on others, it is always much easier to blame them for our failure, unhappiness or the like. What is more difficult is to look inside and to see where we may be unwilling to face our own contributions to what is mucking up our own lives. Probably the vast majority of our projections onto other people are not about their faults; rather, it is about some issue of our own that we have not yet embraced. What we may see as pushy and arrogant may be a disowned reflection back to our hearts about how we would like to be more assertive or confident in our work or personal lives as the person we dislike is doing so successfully! The list could rife with possibilities for development of a beautiful personality if we abandon our false ego to learn from what is in front of us.

Khan's reference to the rose is also illuminating, since we have the choice at all times to be either the rose or the thorns, both of which spring from the same root. Perhaps this is that choice to succumb to the nafs, or the pain body, as Echardt Tolle calls it, or, to elect beauty in manner by recognizing when this choice of thorns or rose is arising, and then, hopefully, choose the path of fragrance, color and unique form.

Lastly, another aspect, sincerity, is necessary to beauty. There is a tremendous difference between developing polish and having true sincerity, which rises from the inner essence. A good example of this might be the sales person who has a pleasing manner  on the outside, but has the agenda to close the sale, whether to the other person's benefit or not. We can also see this in the current political posturing where candidates are very polished in manner or speech, and may even have a level of physical attractiveness, but, depending on your viewpoint, you may see them as also having an agenda, not emanating from a true place of sincerity. This is where Inayat Khan correctly assesses that we must have sincerity in our beauty and beauty in our sincerity, otherwise it is nothing other than dross, and the true emanation of the heart cannot occur.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Teresa of Avila

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) was  a Spanish mystic, Carmelite nun and reformer. She led an extraordinary life during the period of the Spanish Inquisition, and was not immune to their pressures. Notwithstanding, she established numerous convents and was a prolific writer.

Teresa's self-described stages of realization are discussed very well at (in the Mysticism section):
This description of her series of four stages clearly indicates the depth from which she not only wrote but lived.

Her poetry is written from her experience of Divine Love, but, today I have chose two selections which reflect her sense of humor:


Just these two words He spoke
changed my life.

"Enjoy Me."

What a burden I thought I was to carry -
a crucifix, as did He.

Love once said to me "I know a song,
would you like to hear it?"

And laughter came from every brick in the street
and from every pore
in the sky.

After a night of prayer, He
changed my life when 
He sang.

"Enjoy Me."


How did those priests ever get so serious
and preach all that

I don't think God
tickled them 

Beloved - hurry.

trans. Daniel Ladinsky