(A lecture given in Paris, 17 October 1924)
No doubt words such as wish, desire, love and their like mean the same thing, but the word will has a greater importance than all other words. The reason is that will is life itself. The Bible calls love God. Love in what sense? Love in the sense of will. The Creator created the universe. By what? By love? Love came afterwards. It is by will. Love is the will when it is recognized by its manifestation. Then it is called love, but in the beginning it is will.
For instance, the great building that was made in Agra in India and which is called Taj Mahal is said to be a token of the love that the emperor had for his beloved. At the same time, when you look at it with reason, you cannot call it an expression of love, but you can with great reason call it a phenomenon of will. At least for the beginning of the building you may call that spirit, that impulse which brought it about, a phenomenon of will. After it was finished, then you can say it was the expression of his love.
When a person says, "I desire it, I wish it", it is an incomplete will, a will which is not conscious of its strength, a will which is not sure what it wills. In that case it is called a desire, a wish. But when a person says, "I will it", that means it is definite. A person who never can say, "I will it" - that person has no will.
From this we may conclude that will is the source and the origin of the whole phenomenon. Hindus have called the creation the dream of Brahma, which means a dream of the Creator. But I may add to it that a dream is a phenomenon of an unconscious will, when the will works automatically.
There is a difference between the imaginative and the thoughtful person, and the difference is that the one thinks with will and the other thinks without will. When once a person knows the value of will, he then recognizes that there is nothing in the world which is more precious than will. Naturally, therefore, a question arises in the mind of the thoughtful, "Have I will in me? Have I a strong will? Have I a weak will?" And the answer is that no one can exist without will; so everyone has a will.
Now the question arises: How can we maintain our will? The nature of the life we live is to rob us of our will. Not only the struggle through which we have to go in life, but also our own self, our thoughts, our desires, our wishes, our motives weaken our will. The person who knows how our inner being is connected with that perfection of will, will find that all that makes the will smaller, narrower, limited, is our experience throughout life. Our joys rob us of our will, as do our sorrows; our pleasures rob us of our will as do our pains, and the only way of maintaining the power of will is by studying the existence of will and by analysing among all the things we have in ourselves what will is.
Furthermore, there is an English saying: Man proposes, God disposes. One is always faced with a power greater than oneself, which does not always support one's desire. And naturally a person with will, faced with a greater power, must sooner or later give in and be impressed by the loss of will. This is only one example, but a hundred examples can be given of how one is robbed of one's will without knowing it. Very often a person thinks, "By being active, by being determined I can maintain my will". But it is not true. Where there is a battle there is an advance and there is a retreat. By a retreat one is not defeated and by an advance one has not always succeeded. A person who exerts his will all the time strains it and exhausts it very soon. It is like being too sure of a string that one has in one's hand while rubbing it on the edge of a sharp stone. Very often one sees that people who profess great will-power fail much sooner than those who do not profess it.
Also there is always a battle between will-power and wisdom, and the first and the wisest thing there is to do is to bring about a harmony between wisdom and will-power. When a person says, "I wish to do this, I will do this," and at the same time his sense says, "No, you cannot do this, you must not do this", then with all his will-power he either cannot do it or he acts against his sense.
This also shows us life in another light: that the wise with their wisdom and without will are as helpless as a person with will-power without wisdom. There is no use keeping wisdom at the front and will-power at the back, nor is there use in keeping will-power at the front and wisdom at the back. What is necessary is making the two as one.
There is another enemy of will-power and that is the power of desire. This very often robs will-power of its strength and very often will-power, by a conflict with the desire, becomes strong. If self-denial is taught in the Bible, it means at times to crush desires. No doubt, this must not be taken as a principle, it must be taken as a process. Those who have taken it as a principle have lost, those who have taken it as a process have gained.
The enemy of sense, of wisdom, is the lack of tranquillity of mind. When the mind is tranquil it produces the right thought, and wisdom naturally springs up as a fountain. The Sufis, therefore, have taught different exercises in physical and in meditative form in order to make the mind tranquil, that the wisdom which is there may spring up as a fountain. It is not in disturbed water that one can see one's image reflected. It is in the still water that one can see an image clearly. Our heart is likened to water, and when it is still wisdom springs up by itself. It is wisdom and will, both together, that work towards a successful issue.
Question: What value do you give to imagination in comparison with will?
Answer: An automatic working of the mind produces imagination, and the value of imagination depends upon the cultivation of the mind. If the mind is pitched to a high pitch, then the imagination will naturally come to a high pitch. But if the mind is not pitched to a high pitch, then naturally the imagination will not come to a high pitch.
Imagination has its place and imagination has its value. But when? At that time when the heart is tuned to such a pitch that the imagination cannot go anywhere else but into paradise. When the heart is so tuned by love, harmony and beauty that, without willing, it begins to float automatically and in this automatic movement reacts to whatever it touches, and expresses it in some form - in the form of line or colour or notes, and art, painting or music or poetry is produced - it is then that imagination has value. But when it comes to business and science and all things which are connected with our everyday life and the world, it is better to leave imagination inside and work with thought.
As night and day both are useful, as resting and acting both are necessary, so thinking and imagination both have their place in our life. For instance, if a poet uses his will to direct his imagination, it will become a thought, and it will become rigid. The natural thing for a poet is to let his mind float into space. Whatever it happens to touch, let his heart express it, and then what is expressed is an inspiration. But when a person has to attend to a business affair, he must not let his heart float in the air; he must think of the things of the earth and think about figures very carefully.
Question: Recorded are confused words about imagination, thoughts and will.
Answer: There is one thing that is done by control, the power of will controlling it. The other thing is done without control, for if one controls it one spoils it. Nothing can move in the world, either in the sphere of the mind or in the physical plane, without the power of will. But in one thing the power of will is absolutely controlling it, in the other it is working automatically.
Question: What is the way of strengthening the will?
Answer: Practice is the most important thing to strengthen the will.
Question: It must be guided by wisdom?
Answer: One must always think of these two things in doing everything. One must not be carried away by will-power without listening to what wisdom says, and not be carried away either by what wisdom says.
Question: How to bring the two together?
Answer: By becoming conscious of the action of both in all one does. But at the same time one can practise in one's everyday life by depriving oneself of things one likes. If a person always has what he likes to have, no doubt he spoils his will, because the will has no reaction.
Question: Can one always will what one wants?
Answer: Yes, but that does not give a stimulus to the will. A stimulus to the will is given when one deprives oneself of what one desires. Then the will becomes conscious of itself, it becomes living, it says, "Why am I not to have this?". For instance, a person wants to have a flower from a plant. He is much attracted to it, the flower is beautiful, but at the same time the idea comes, "Why not let it remain on the plant?" Then the person says, "I will not pick it". This gives the will a stimulus, because first the desire wanted to take hold of it and then sense wanted to work with it. And as light comes from friction, so will comes as a flame from friction.
Question: The next time it is more powerful?
Question: Are there exercises one can make?
Answer: Of course exercises help; meditative exercises are most useful.
Question: There are instances when one finds that people with powerful imagination succeed, who have little will-power.
Answer: They have both their domain. If a poet wants to use his poetical imagination in business, he may by chance have some success, but a poetic inspiration will not help in counting figures.
Question: In both cases imagination is supreme?
Answer: I have distinguished these two as imagination and thought. Imagination where the will is acting automatically, and thought when the will exerts a direct control.