One example of this can be found in a wonderful Sufi book that I have read and reread, Personality - The Art of Being and Becoming, by Hazrat Khan. It is one of the main texts that inform my spirituality and knowledge of my true self.
However, in a section I recently reread, he states that if one does not please those around you then you have not done your spiritual duty. That one should seek to please people in every way. This is how you act out the God-essence within you.
When I read that this time around, I knew there was something wrong. What pleases people is rarely founded in spirituality. It’s usually a result of their cravings and insecurities. Thus to please people is not skillful because it is feeding their unskillful desires. This is not helping them in any way. It may be being selfless, but it is not helpful.
There is no question in my mind that Khan would never have chosen this wording if he understood the English language better. Instead he would have probably used the phrasing other spiritual teachers use when expressing this teaching, “offer joy.”
One can truthfully say that our main purpose in life is to offer others joy. That expresses the true Buddha nature inside us; it is profoundly spiritual. When you offer someone joy, you offer what the person needs to experience spiritual joy. When you instead act to please someone, you offer what the person needs to experience temporal or samsaric joy.
There’s another problem with using the word “please.” If you want to please someone then the end result, pleasing them, is inextricably bound with the purpose of the act. And if the person isn’t pleased, then you cannot help but be disappointed.
However, if you offer someone joy, the very phrasing makes clear that all you are doing is offering something to someone. If the person doesn’t accept it or doesn’t find joy in it, it doesn’t reflect on you at all; it doesn’t take anything away from the quality, the intent, of your action. You are only disappointed if your ego-mind attaches to your action, looking for a positive reaction; if it is seeking applause.
It doesn’t matter how good a book is. My experience is that there are a few places in most books where words are not chosen carefully and if you don’t catch the discordant nature of the words you can be led astray by what the author seems to be saying. Keep you awareness sharp while you are reading.