Does happiness depend upon circumstances or upon our outlook on life? It is a question that is often asked, and is most difficult to answer. Many with some philosophical knowledge will say that this material world is an illusion and its conditions a dream, but yet there are very few who can make themselves believe it. To know a thing in theory is different from practicing it. It is very difficult to rise above the effect that conditions produce. No doubt there is only one thing that helps us to rise above conditions, and that is a change of outlook on life; and this change is made possible by a change of attitude.
Happiness is a flourishing condition of the soul. A child which has started by being ill-mannered, hurtful, and destructive, will attract the same power, and the same things will happen to it. Whatever the child gives out will rebound. How many people are acquainted with this fact? They never think that they can be hurt by their own words, their own action, thought, or feeling; they go on, and then in time it all comes back to them, sweeping them off the ground of happiness.
In Sanskrit, life in the world is called Samsara. It is pictured as living in a mist. One thinks and says and does and feels, yet all the time one does not fully know why. If a person knows one reason for it, there is another reason hidden behind it which he does not yet know. Very often conditions in life give the effect of captivity; sometimes it seems as if one has to walk between a river and a precipice; and to rise above conditions one needs wings, which not everyone has got.
Two wings are attached to the soul: one is independence, the other indifference. It needs a great deal of sacrifice before one can feel independent in life, and indifference is against one’s nature of love and sympathy; it is as if one has to cut one’s heart in two before one can practice indifference throughout life. No doubt when once the soul is able to spread its wings one sees the conditions of life as being far removed; then one stands above all conditions that make man captive.
There is no difficulty which cannot be surmounted sooner or later, but even if one has achieved something one desires in life there always remains something else that seems to be incomplete; and so if a person goes from one thing to another, achieving all he desires, the objects of his desire will multiply and there will never be an end to it. The more he has to do in life the more difficulties he must meet with, and if he keeps away from the life of the world then his being here is purposeless. The more important the task, the more difficult is its accomplishment.
And so the evening follows the day, and this goes on till eternity. For a Sufi (mystic), therefore, it is not only patience to bear all things that is necessary to relieve him momentarily from difficulty and pain, but also seeing all things from a certain point of view. Very often it is the outlook which changes a person’s whole life. It can turn hell into heaven; it can turn sorrows into joy. When a person looks from a certain point of view, every little pinprick feels like the point of a sword piercing his heart, but when he looks at the same thing from a different point of view the heart becomes sting-proof; nothing can touch it; all the things which are thrown at him like stones drop down without having touched him.
What is the meaning of walking upon the water? Life can be symbolized as water: there is one who drowns in the water, there is another who swims in it, but there is still another who walks upon it. The one who is so sensitive that after one little pinprick he is unhappy all day and night, is the man of the first category. The one who takes and gives back, making a game of life, is the swimmer. He does not mind if he receives one knock, for he derives satisfaction from being able to give two knocks in return. But the one whom nothing can touch is in the world and yet above the world. He is the one who walks on the water; life is under his feet, both its joy and sorrow. Verily, independence and indifference are the two wings which enable the soul to fly.