Before I met my Guru, many people — students of acting in the theater where I was studying to become a playwright — tried to convince me that nothing mattered except “getting to the top.” It didn’t matter, they insisted, how many people I trampled down in the process. Nothing mattered except my own self. I alone had to be pleased. Those people had absorbed too much modern existential “philosophy,” which had led them to believe that the only honest attitude in life is to be wholly subjective. It was this line of reasoning, among other things, that drove me almost headlong to the spiritual path.
For it was obvious to me even then that, if I trampled on others in my efforts to “get to the top,” I would also be trampling on myself. The attitudes that I projected onto others would become imbedded in my own consciousness. If I was indifferent to the feelings of others, I would lose my own sensitivity to feeling itself as a fundamentally important part of human nature. And if I lost my sensitivity, I would cease to be a human being, and would become a mere automaton of flesh and blood.
What I must do, I decided, was exactly the opposite: I must deepen my own ability to feel, my sensitivity to life and to everything and everybody around me. Some of those theater friends paid me a visit after my conversion to the spiritual path, and departed afterward with the same cynical smiles of inner emptiness.
A fundamental reality we all share is our egos. Reality, as far as each of us is concerned, is centered in ourselves. Yet we know that there is a vast reality out there to be explored, and if possible, to be understood. Some of us reach out to embrace it. We want to know how this little ego of ours relates to the vastness around us, how our realities fit in with those of other people. Others, however, seek protection from what they perceive as a threat in all that vastness: not just the vastness of the universe, but the vast diversity of human customs, attitudes, desires, and ideas; in short, other people’s realities.
Although born with egos, all of us are part of, and belong to, a universal reality. We are self-fulfilled to the degree that we partake of that reality. And we offend against our own deepest nature when we divorce ourselves from that reality.
The following suggestions will help you to recognize and affirm your broader reality, which dwells within everyone. As you adopt them in your daily interactions with others, your understanding of yourself and others will deepen. As you begin to understand others more deeply as extensions of your own self, harmony follows automatically. These suggestions are therefore helpful also as a checklist for how well you are succeeding in your efforts to live in harmony with others.
A checklist for living in harmony with others
1. Never judge anyone. Accept all as they are.
2. Realize that each person has a duty to change and improve himself. Whether or not he does so is not your responsibility.
3. Develop a sense of humor, first as regards your own foibles, and second as regards the foibles of others.
4. Don’t accept error when you see it, but accept simply that people do make mistakes. (Haven’t you yourself made a fair share of them?) Thus, love people not for their faults, but in spite of them, and because everyone is trying, each in his own way, to find his way out of his own pits of error.
5. Look upon other people as friends and acquaintances of yours whom you may have known in past incarnations, and some of them perhaps closely and dearly. It is, indeed, probable that you have known many of them before, for we live a vast number of lives on earth.
6. Whether or not they are your friends from before, God in His infinity is omnipresent. He therefore resides in everyone—as everyone! See all whom you meet as expressions of our one common Father/Mother God.
7. Be strict in practicing the moral principle of ahimsa, or harmlessness. Never wish harm to anyone or to any creature—nor even (if you are deep in this practice) to any thing. Automatically, as you continue this practice, you will find yourself wishing everybody well.
8. Never covet another’s property. Wish everybody happiness in their possessions, and in their ideas and inspirations.
9. Dismiss from your mind the thought of personal attachment to anything. Thus, when dealing with others, you will find you have no ulterior motives to warp your understanding of them.
10. Never view anyone with the thought of needing or desiring anything from him. Give him perfect freedom, mentally, simply to be himself, and to be complete in himself.
11. Be ever truthful and sincere—first of all with yourself, and then with everyone you meet.
12. Never tell yourself, regarding anyone else’s shortcomings, “I could never be like that!” The sad fact is, you could be. We all have the potential to be like anyone on earth, from the most debased to the most saintly. Be compassionate, therefore. Pray inwardly to God never to let you fall into that error again. For who knows what mistakes you may have committed yourself—perhaps in the far distant past.
13. Smile at others when it seems right to do so. Smile with them, not only at them. Let your smile be not only with your lips, but from your heart. Let it rise from there to shine out through your eyes.
14. Laugh with others, never at them.
15. When others grieve, never withhold your sympathy from them, but, instead of grieving with them, try to give them your heartfelt joy.
16. When others tell you of their troubles, try gently to steer them in the direction of finding possible solutions to them.
17. Try to love people as extensions of your own self. We may think of each person as specializing, on behalf of the whole human race, in being, simply, himself!
18. Live in the thought of God’s loving, blissful presence within you. Next, try, when in the company of others, to share with them His inner bliss.
As you follow the above principles, your own inner understanding may suggest to you countless other ways of recognizing and affirming your own broader reality, which dwells within other people also. Seek ways, then, to befriend and help them. All creatures, indeed, each in his, her, or its own way, are parts of your own one, greater Being.