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.

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