Here an important question arises. It may be asked with so many encouragements towards a life of virtue and so many discouragements towards a life of vice, and so much room for improvement, how does vice manage to enter the life of man?
I can only briefly indicate the answers to this important question. The main causes of sin are the following. (1) Ignorance. Sometimes a person allows himself no time for reflection while trying to satisfy his natural impulses and allows a passing interest or pleasure to determine his action. The excitement of the moment removes from his view the more permanent and the more solidly happy ends of life.
Why should this happen? Why are the more permanent ends of life ignored?
First, because of ignorance which may be permanent or passing. Permanent ignorance is a thing apart. Temporary ignorance is ignorance despite knowledge. This sort of ignorance can have many causes:
- Greed – too much greed blinds a person to many important matters
- Intense need
- Bad health
- Excessive fear
- Excessive love
- Excessive optimism
- Excessive pessimism
- Excessive insistence on anything
- Excessive desire
- Excessive lack of desire
- Hereditary tendencies
These are the twelve sources or circumstances which produce or promote ignorance.
Besides ignorance, the second big source of sin is social contacts and companions. Man is a born imitator. He tends to do as others do, without weighing and considering the consequences of what he is doing. These social influences include the influence of parents and other relations, playmates, teachers, social institutions and customs.
One source of sin and sinning we have said is ignorance. But ignorance can be just ignorance or it can be wrong knowledge which makes it different from sheer ignorance. Wrong knowledge is not unoften accepted as knowledge and spurious generalisations as authentic principles.
Another source of sinning is bad habits. Knowing very well what truth is and that merit attaches to telling the truth, when the crucial moment arrives a person tends not to tell the truth. An addict makes up his mind not to drink any more. He knows all about drinking and not drinking. But when the party sits down to drink he allows himself to join and cannot resist the temptation. At the slightest call his resolve not to drink is broken.
Sinning is also caused by habits of laziness and lack of organised hours of daily life. A person tends to take things easy. He is carefree. He has no inclination to work. When the time comes, he tends to make light of what he has to do. Time passes and he suddenly finds himself drinking. Once a sincere companion of the Holy Prophet — on him be peace and blessings — was all but ready to go to the battlefield but he made no preparation for it. He had persuaded himself that when the time came he would be able to join the party with ease. He continued to leave his preparations to the end. The result was he was left behind and could not join the army. Laziness, therefore, is often the cause of sin. Man is lazy and easy-going and is incapable of commanding himself to get up and go.
One source of sinning is lack of comparative judgment. Out of two alternative courses of action, a person cannot decide which is the better of the two. It also becomes a question for such people how different emotions are to be applied to different situations and is made by two parties, but how far does one go with one party and how far with the other? A man loves his wife but also his mother. Both have a similar title to love. This gives rise to difficult situations which are largely self-created. Similarly many people become convinced of the truth of the Promised Messiah but hesitate to join the fold. They say they owe allegiance to another saint whom they do not want to leave. These difficulties are due to an incapacity to judge.
Another source of sin are the many invisible influences which criss-cross one another in our lives. They exert a kind of hypnotic influence, unknown to the person affected. No argument is given nor is any appeal made, but the presence of influences which ideas generate is undeniable. This needs some explanation. Let a decent person live in close proximity to nine others not so decent, who nurse evil thought without any overt communication. He will soon begin to feel the evil influence. This reminds me of a Sikh student who had great affection for the Promised Messiah. On one occasion he sent a message to him — through Hazrat Maulvi Nuruddin Sahib — that his mind was being affected by agnostic thinking. The Promised Messiah suggested that this young man should change his seat in the classroom and sit away from his classmates who sat close to him. The change proved the cure for his agnosticism. No argument had passed between them, but unexpressed thoughts were being communicated in some mysterious way.
Thoughts are like waves and have a power of their own. The Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet — on him be peace and blessings — endorse this. Animal life also bears out this point. For example, two cats confront each other in an imminent fight. After an exchange of the usual mutual threats and noises, one of them is found to lower its tail and leave as if worsted. There is no visible fight; yet there was some kind of a contact.
Animals communicate without words or signs. Let four or five lions be brought together. Before long, only the strongest of them will be left standing as the master of the scene. Others will have lowered their tails and slipped away. If meat is thrown up at them, none will dare eat except the strongest; the rest will just stand by and watch as if paralysed with some secret fear.
Hypnosis: Under hypnosis too we can observe similar phenomena. I was once experimenting with hypnotic influences. I had some questions raised by agnostics which I wanted to answer experimentally. Our grandmother who was an amused spectator and was standing nearby, pooh-poohed the whole idea. She thought animals could not be influenced. She said: Here is a sparrow. Catch it if you can. I took her at her word. As I gazed into the eyes of the sparrow, I went close to her. She did not move. But when I proceeded to catch her, my hand intervened between her eyes and mine. This broke the spell and she flew out of my hand.
One traveller writes. I saw a squirrel running mad. Round and round she went gravitating to the same spot from which she had started. When I went near the spot I saw a snake protruding out his neck. The two were eventually very close to each other. The snake was about to make a morsel of her. I too went closer. The snake was still intent on eating her up. I hit the snake and scared it away. It is obvious, the squirrel was aware of the presence of the snake and wanted him to run away, before she did.
Another traveller writes: In an African jungle I saw a bird fluttering for life. I looked closer and saw a snake looking intently into the eyes of the bird. I killed the snake but later I found the bird too had died, possibly out of the fear of being caught.
In England they performed another kind of experiment. Two insects of the same species were placed apart at a distance of five miles from each other. In course of time, they both found each other. Something intangible must have exerted its pull to join them together.
An American biologist built an ant-house and sealed it carefully from the outside. After a while, whole colonies of ants were found sticking to the outside of a wall of the ant-house. On closer examination, it was discovered that the ants were sticking on the outside of the wall exactly on the spot where another colony of ants had collected inside. The experiment was repeated in another house, with the same result.
From these examples it is obvious that even at the animal level waves of some kind shoot out which are more mental than physical. Their impact on intercommunication and mutual relations is undeniable. They do affect our modes of behaviour. It is said that whenever the Holy Prophet — on him be peace — mixed with groups of people, he would invoke God’s forgiveness and protection seventy times. Not that he was afraid of physical contagion, though it is true Prophets love to be clean and that was one reason why he sought God’s protection. But the other and the more important reason was that he cared for people who were clean in their own right but were likely to be affected by unclean thoughts and their evil influence.