Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan

The privilege of being human
The Art of Being
Chapter 2
Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan


What is character? Character is, so to speak, a picture with lines and colours which we make within ourselves. It is wonderful to see how the tendency of character-building springs up from childhood, just as one sees in a bird the instinct of building a nest. A little child begins to notice all kinds of things in grown-up persons and to adopt all that seems best to it: words, manners, movements, ideas. Everything that it grasps from the grown-up it attracts and gathers, and builds, so to speak, a building with it which is its character. It is being built all through life.


By this we understand that, when a person is absorbed in himself, he has no time for character-building, because he has no time to think of others: then there is no other. But when he forgets himself, he has time to look here and there, to collect what is good and beautiful, and to add it naturally to his character. So the character is built. One need not make an effort to build it, one has only to forget oneself. For instance, actors and actresses with great qualifications cannot act if they do not forget themselves. If the musician cannot forget himself when he is playing, he cannot perform music satisfactorily; the singer's voice will not come out. And so it is with the poet and all other artists.


Think then how the whole work of building oneself, and everything else, depends on how much one is able to forget oneself! That is the key to the whole life, material and spiritual, and to worldly and spiritual success. It seems such a simple thing, and yet it is so difficult.


During my travels, whenever I met with people great in art, science, thought, religion or philosophy, I found that whatever was their work they had touched greatness through this quality, the quality of forgetting themselves. It was always the same everywhere. And again I have seen people with great qualifications, but who remembered themselves so much that they could not do the best with their lives.


I have known a vina-player, a very wonderful musician, who used to play his instrument for six and nine hours daily. But whenever he came into an assembly he became nervous, because the first thought that came to him was himself, and then all the impressions of the people present would fall upon him. Generally he would take his vina, cover it up and run away and with all his qualifications he never had a chance of being great. Self-confidence is a great thing, but forgetting oneself is greater still.


I also have seen Sarah Bernardt singing a simple song, the national anthem of France; that was all. But when she came on the stage and sang that song she would win every heart, for at that time she was France (After the outbreak of World War I), she was able to be France because of her concentration and her forgetting herself.




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