With this post we commence a series of teachings by Hazrat Inayat Khan on the subject of friendship. He begins by observing that although we all approve of friendship, it is surprisingly difficult to be a friend.
Friendship is a word which we all use in our everyday language, and yet it could take one’s whole life only to realize its meaning. However learned a person may be, however pious, spiritual, or experienced, if he has not learned the nature and character of friendship, he has not learned anything. This is the first and the last thing we have to learn. We so often use this word lightly, calling every acquaintance a friend, or professing to be somebody’s friend; but the more we realize the meaning of it, the less we are able to claim friendship. For everything in life we are tested, examined, and tried, but to pass this examination of friendship is the most difficult thing in the world.
What is the reason for this? Why is it so difficult to be a friend? One would think that it was the easiest thing there is! The reason is that there is something in ourselves which is always against our being friendly. It is the self, the ego, which the Sufi calls nafs. As long as this ego is standing and lives, a man cannot claim to be anybody’s friend. And when he is not somebody else’s friend he is not even his own friend, for one learns friendship by being a friend to another. A selfish man may seem to be a friend to himself, but it is on the surface, not in reality. He has not yet learned how to be a friend to another, so he cannot be a friend to himself. In our pursuit of truth we want to learn a great many things: the nature of life, the secret of life, the character of life; and to understand the meaning of friendship seems so easy and simple that we never trouble to think about it, nor about the responsibility of being a friend.
The great error we make in our lives is that we begin to claim friendship before we have learned the meaning of friendship. In this world of illusion, where at the end of the examination we find everything to be of little importance, of little worth, if there is a sign of reality, of something that one can depend upon, and in which one can recognize a sign of eternity, it is in the constancy of friendship. Man, absorbed in the active life of this world, has a desire for friendship, though he never practices it. Yet this tendency to friendship can be found even among the animals. There is a story of a hunter who was shooting birds one day in the forest, and saw two birds sitting on a branch of a tree. He shot one bird and it dropped to the ground. As this man was at a distance it took him some time to arrive at the spot, and while he was walking towards it he saw that the other bird had come down to look at its mate. It touched it with its beak and found that it was dead, and by the time the man arrived he found both birds dead. ‘From that day,’ he said, ‘I gave up shooting, for I had seen a friendship among birds which one cannot find among mankind.’
It is a simple lesson, and it is a lesson that we have to learn; today when nations are against nations and races against races, when communities are against communities, and one religion against another, it is now that friendship is so much needed. Besides, friendship is the first lesson of spirituality that one can learn. One may think that friendship, a personal friendship, means nothing; that one does not become spiritual through a personal friendship – but one does. A person begins his spiritual accomplishment by learning how to be a friend. For one who is really treading the path of friendship need not go anywhere to learn morals. Friendship itself teaches him sincerity, gratitude, sympathy, tenderness, appreciation; all these things that we must learn in this world, friendship teaches us. And once a man begins to learn these things through friendship with one person, he will naturally show to others the same virtues which he has acquired by going along this path; just as someone who has learned how to sing beautifully will naturally sing every song that is given to him beautifully. The one who has cultivated his heart through friendship will naturally be inclined to be friends with others.
It is not belief in God which leads us to the goal, nor is it the analysis and the knowledge of God that bring us there. It is the friendship of God. For someone who learns the lesson of friendship in this world, this lesson develops in the end into friendship with God. But when a person exacts in return from his friend all that he does for him, then it is not friendship, it is business. It only means: I give you a shilling and you give me twelve pence. When a person judges his friend, then the spirit of friendship is not awakened in his heart, for a friend never judges. When a person talks to another about his friend, when he blames him, when he criticizes him, he does not know what friendship is. The meaning of friendship is too sacred to realize. All other relationships and connections in this life are empty if friendship is not at the back of them to strengthen them. The relationship between mother and daughter, father and son, brother and sister, husband and wife, teacher and pupil, all these connections need a spirit behind them; and this spirit is the spirit of friendship.
When a daughter says, ‘I am friends with my mother’, there is something beautiful about it. It makes the connection between a mother and a daughter a different thing, it makes it living. In every relationship it is the same. When there is friendship to bind the relationship, it makes it secure, it gives it life. Love is life, and life is symbolized by water. When one wants to bring water up out of the ground, one has to dig for it, and the first thing which one finds is mud. And if one is disappointed by that, one has fooled oneself, for beneath the earth is water; it can be found but one must have patience to dig for it, to dig deep enough to find the water.
To be continued…