If you are the master of a great factory, and all the machines work by your will, are you happy, restful and peaceful when you come home? You may be the master of a whole army, or of a whole nation, or of many nations - when you are at home, are you peaceful and happy? The answer is "no", and this shows us that another mastery is needed.
A man may be the master of a whole army, but if he has a stroke of paralysis all his mastership is gone and he can do nothing. It shows us that this mastership is passing. Mastery of the self is needed. It is not more difficult to gain than the other mastership, but a man will never give as much will-power and spend as many years to master the self, as he does to master a factory, because the results are much less tangible. A factory means: so many pounds to-morrow. The results of the other mastery are much subtler, much less perceptible.
This mastery is taught to those who are born to be masters, to those who are inclined this way; it is taught by repose and by control of the activity which keeps everything in this universe in movement.
This mastery is difficult to gain in the world. At every step it becomes more difficult, but you cannot run away to the caves in the mountains; you must stay where you are. If you ran away and lived in the caves in the mountains, the attractions of the world would draw you back again. In running away there is no safety; you would try to be content in the mountains, but your eyes would long to see the world again, your taste, which was used to different food, nice food, would not be satisfied with leaves and fruits.
Life in the world, which brings a person into contact with all sorts of undesirable people and affairs, makes spirituality more difficult, but at the same time it affords a test of the will and of spirituality. One may be more spiritual in a cave in the mountains, in silence and in solitude, but there one will never be able to test one's spirituality: whether it is strong enough to bear the contact of a contrary environment. To be ready for all responsibilities and all activities, to have a family, friends and cares, to pay attention to friends, to serve friends and enemies, to say to the worldly person, "I can do all that you do, and more than that", and at the same time remain spiritual - that is the greatest spirituality.
To be without cares or occupations may make spirituality easier, but when the mind is not occupied, very undesirable thoughts and desires come. It is mostly those who have no work and no occupation who lead an undesirable life. Those who have an occupation, or who have a master whom they must please, have less opportunity of following what is not desirable.
Reading the life of Shiva, the Lord of all the Yogis, one will see that after a long, long time of Yoga he was tempted. Likewise Vishvamitre Rishi, after a very long time of Yoga in the wilderness, was tempted by the fair ones from Indra, the decree of whose court has always been to hinder the advancement in spirituality of the rare ones. Though Machandra was a very great Yogi, he also was tempted and taken away from the desert by Mahila, a Hindu queen. Brought to her court he was married and made king, and among the flattering surroundings and luxurious environments he lost all his great powers achieved in the heart of the wilderness.
It is easier to gain mastery in the wilderness, away from all temptations, but the mastery you gain in the world is of much more value; for the former is easily thrown down by a slight stroke, while the latter, achieved in the crowd, will last for ever.
The world will always call you away, because whatever a person does he wants to take his friend with him. If he drinks, he will say, "Come and drink with me". If he gambles, he will say, "Come, let us gamble together, and enjoy ourselves". If he goes to the theatre, he will say, "Come with me, let us go to the theatre, we shall enjoy it". So the world, busy with its selfish, unimportant occupations, will surely drag you towards itself. This can only be overcome by the will. A person must have a will, and he must have confidence in his will. This idea is pictured by Hindu poets as a swimmer swimming against the tide. They picture the world as Bhavasagara, the sea of life, and the swimmer in it is the mystic, who attains perfection by swimming against the tide, who in the end arrives on the shore of perfection.
In all our business and occupations we should keep our thought fixed upon God. Then, in all our business, whatever it is, we shall see only God. Our mistake is that we take responsibility for the sake of responsibility, and recognize cares and business as ours - losing the thought of God.
The Sufis, considering their life as a journey toward the spiritual goal, recite in order to awaken their group to this idea,
"Hosh bar dam, nazr bar gadam, khilwat dar anjuman"
let the breath be God-conscious at each swing;