The will-power plays a great part in character-building, and the will-power becomes feeble when a person yields to every little tendency, inclination and fancy he has. When a person fights against every little fancy and tendency and inclination, he learns to fight with himself and in this way he develops will-power. When once a person's inclinations, fancies, tendencies have grown stronger than his will-power, then he experiences in his life several enemies existing in his own self and he finds it difficult to combat them; for inclinations, fancies and tendencies, when powerful, do not let will-power work against them. If there is anything as self-denial it is this practice, and by this practice in time one attains to a power which may be called mastery over oneself.
In small things of everyday life one neglects this consideration because one thinks, "These are my tendencies, my fancies, my inclinations. By respecting them I respect myself; by considering them I consider myself". But one forgets that what one calls "my" is not one's self. It is that which wills that is one's self. In the Christian prayer, therefore, it is taught, "Thy will be done", which means: Thy will when it works through me will be done. In other words, my will which is Thy will, be done. It is this illusion of muddling one's possessions with one's self that creates all illusion and keeps man from self-realization.
Life is a continual battle. Man struggles with things which are outside of him and so he gives a chance to the foes that exist in his own being. Therefore, the first thing necessary in life is to make peace for the time being with the outside world in order to prepare for the war which is to be fought within oneself. Once peace is made within, one will gain by that sufficient strength and power to be used through the struggle of life within and without.
Self-pity is the worst poverty. When a person says, "I am ..." with pity, before he has said anything more he has diminished to half what he is, and what is said further diminishes him totally; nothing more is left of him. There is so much in the world that we can pity and which it would be right for us to take pity upon, but if we have no time free from our own self, we cannot give our mind to others in the world. Life is one long journey, and the further behind we have left our self, the further we have progressed towards the goal.
Verily, when the false self is lost, the true self is discovered.
Question : Do you mean by false self the ego?
Answer : By the false self I mean the false ego, the deluding ego, someone who has taken the guise of the ego. Man's ego is the false ego. There is a line which connects God and man. One end of that line is man, the other end is God. That end which is man's ego is false, because man has covered it with the false ego. The ego is true, it is divine, it cannot be anything else, but man covers it with illusions and calls it "me", "myself". When this wrong conception is broken by knowledge, love, wisdom or meditation, then it is just like when the clouds that cover the sun are broken and the true ego comes out, the only ego that is.
Question : What is really the character?
Answer : The character is, so to speak, a picture with lines and colours that we make within ourselves. It is wonderful to see how the tendency of character-building springs up from childhood, just like one sees in a bird the instinct of building a nest. A little child begins to note everything in the grown-up people and begins to adopt all that seems best to it. A word, manner, movement, idea, everything that it grasps from the grown-up, whatever seems best to its own mind, it attracts it and it builds, so to speak, a building which is its character. It is being built all through life.
By this we understand that, when a person is absorbed in the self, he has no time to see the other. Then there is no other. But when one forgets oneself one has the time to see here and there and add naturally to one's character. So the character is built. One need not make an effort in building the character, if one only forgets oneself. For instance, great actors and actresses with great qualifications, if they do not forget themselves, they cannot act. A musician, when he cannot forget himself at the time when he is playing, cannot perform music to satisfaction. So it is with the poet, with the artist. Think then how the whole work of building oneself and everything else depends on how much one is able to forget oneself. It is the key of the whole life, material and spiritual, and the key of success. It seems such a simple thing, and yet it is so difficult.
During my travels, whenever I have met very great people in anything, art, science, thought, religion, philosophy, whatever be their work, I found that they had touched that greatness with this quality, the quality of forgetting themselves. It was always everywhere the same. I have also seen people with great qualifications but who remembered themselves so much that they could not make the best of their lives. I have known a vina player who exercised to play his instrument for six or nine hours a day. But whenever he went into an assembly he became so nervous because he thought of himself, that all the impressions of the people would fall upon him, and he took his instrument, covered it and ran away. With all his qualifications he had never a chance of being grand. I have seen Sara Bernard singing a simple song, the national anthem of France. When she came on the stage she won every person. At that time she was the nation, she was France at that time, because of her concentration. She forgot herself.