Volume IX The Unity of Religious Ideals by Hazrat Inayat Khan
We often confuse unity with uniformity. In reality it is the spirit of unity which creates uniformity for the sake of its beauty and protection it gives. Through out all ages both have existed: unity as the inner nature of every soul and the only purpose of life, and uniformity to help to fulfil that purpose. Unity is the goal and uniformity the means to reach that goal, but often the means has obscured the purpose. All through the ages the different religions, which have been given to man for his spiritual development with the sole idea of unity, have gradually become a kind of community or nationality. Many people who belong to a Church accepts its dogmas, claim a certain name for their religion, and consider all other children of God as separate; by doing so they lose the very seed of wisdom for whose development that religion was given. This error has existed from the beginning, so that instead of touching the true spirit, people have lost reality by seeking a false objective.
Religious differences have caused endless wars and disasters for the human race. The reason of this is that the spirit of unity has not been recognized, while undue regard has been paid to uniformity. In the present age, when the spirit of religion is at its lowest ebb and only the uniformity remains, divisions of classes and discords of all kinds spring up; one party, one class against another, the spirit of rivalry, jealousy, and destruction everywhere. The effect of this has been to keep man away from the consciousness of God. Very few indeed recognized Him; all humanity is laboring under a great unrest; and yet man thinks he is progressing while all the time he only progresses towards still greater unrest.
There can never be true progress when nations and kingdoms and peoples are divided; for when the races are divided then subdivisions come, and classes and parties also become divided. The same spirit of destruction is at work all the time, and even families become separated. Unity seems to be rooted out from the hearts of men. Examples are not necessary; those who will notice it can see this state of humanity, this condition of life, all over the world.
When we seek a reason for this we find a right principle wrongly worked out. Uniformity if not a fault, indeed it a is a great virtue. There is nothing wrong, for instance, in a uniform desire to help, to give service in time of need; but when the God-ideal is removed then it remains as a body without a soul, a corpse, and in the end it decays and causes foulness. However alive and prosperous the world may seem, life belongs only to the living and when the living being is forgotten it is like a light under a bushel. Man becomes so absorbed in the pursuit of money that he becomes intoxicated and regardless of the harmony and happiness of others, and even of the harmony of his own being; and then he causes destruction. We have only to think of the wars humanity has gone through, and of this latest horror, to see the truth. It all proves that progress is in the wrong direction, and that everywhere unity is lacking. The scripture given to the Jews, the Muslims, Parsis, Hindus, Buddhists, all have as their central truth the message of unity, but man has been so interested and absorbed in the poetry of these scriptures that he has forgotten their inner voice.
If only we could recognize the inner voice, we would see that the different scriptures all contain words spoken by one and the same voice. Some hear the voice, others only hear the words, just as in nature some see only the branches and others the roots of the tree; but all these different scriptures and ways of worship and of contemplating God are given for one purpose: the realization of unity. In unity resides the happiness and illumination of man, and his guidance in life. We all know unity by name, but most of us think of it as uniformity. The Vedanta for thousands of years in all its prayers and mantrams voiced this central theme: unity, the oneness of all. The Qu'an with all its warnings expresses in one essential sura the Being of God: that not only in the unseen, but in all that is seen there is one underlying current; and the Bible say that we live and move and have our being in God.
Of all the millions of believers in God perhaps only one makes God a reality, and that is because the picture man makes of God is as limited as himself. The knowledge of God is beyond mans reason. Man only perceives things he is capable of perceiving. He cannot raise his imagination above what he is use to, and he cannot reach beyond his imagination to where the being of God is. The secret of God is hidden in the knowledge of unity. Man thinks, 'What can unity give me? Can it bring me happiness? What is there in it?' He can get the answer by observing and studying life more closely. See what an atmosphere the harmony of ten people can create; the power of love and the influence created by ten people is much greater than that created by one. Think then what would be the blessing for humanity if nations, races, and communities were united!
No doubt uniformity can teach the lesson of unity, but its purpose must not be for worldly gains; then it is destructive. The wise in all ages have dived deep into life in order to attain unity in themselves, and in order to spread unity. In the life of the world every man has some complaint to make. He lacks something; he is troubled by something. But this is only the external reason; the real truth is that he is not in unity with his own soul, for when there is disharmony in ourselves how can we spread harmony? When mind and body are at war the soul wants something else, and soul and mind are pulled by the body, or the body and mind by the soul; and so there is disharmony. When a man is in harmony with himself, he is in harmony with all; he produces harmony and gives harmony to all, he gives it out all the time.
This is a question that can be answered by understanding our relationship with God. The innermost being of man is the real being of God; man is always linked with God. If he could only realize it, it is by finding harmony in his own soul that he finds communion with God. All meditation and contemplation are taught with this purpose: to harmonize one's innermost being with God, so that He is seeing, hearing, thinking through us, and our being is a ray of His light. In that way we are even closer to God than the fishes are to the ocean in which they have their being. It is mostly interest in worldly things that unites one man with another in order that they can make profit. How great would be this power if man would unite in true brotherhood! As long as this teaching is hidden under a bushel the methods of uniformity cannot be beneficial; they have no life. The world, in spite of any success it may seem to have today, is suffering from the wrong application of a right principle.
True life cannot be ours until unity is achieved. It is the work of religion to promote the spirit of unity, in the knowledge and love of God to whom all devotion belongs. Man often seeks for psychic, occult, and magnetic powers. This is not the purpose of religion; these developments come of themselves. Where there is life and love, there is magnetism; love itself is the healing power and the remedy for all pain. All occult powers belong to the divine life, but man should live a natural life and realize the nature of God. The only studies which are worth accomplishing are those which lead to the realization of God, and of unity first with God and then with the self, and so with all. It is not necessary for us to be told that we have progressed; we ourselves will know when our hearts go forward; and by loving, forgiving, and serving, our whole life becomes one single vision of the sublime beauty of God.
In life everybody followers either the way of free choice of action, or the way of Dharma, of duty. For example we may take a child who sees the fire, wants to touch it, and does so; this action will produce a certain disagreeable result which teaches the child something. This same teaching might also have come to the child as a warning from the parents, telling it that the result of its action would be painful. The child may thus refrain from a certain action because it accepts the warning of the parents before burning its hands.
Every child is born a pupil, one who is willing to learn and willing to believe. As the Prophet Mohammed has said, every soul is born on earth a believer, and it is only later that a man turns into an unbeliever. If he had not been born a believer he would never have learned the language of his country, for if someone had tried to teach him the words and he had refused to accept the teaching as true, he would never have learned the names and characteristics of beings and things. A child is born with the tendency to believe and to learn what it is taught.
The divine life has the ability to give life; and it gives this life as teaching to the children of the earth; it is this teaching that is Dharma, which means both duty and religion. Religions are many and differ from each other, but only in form, like water which is always the same element and formless: it only takes the shape of the channel or vessel that holds it and that it uses for accommodation. Thus the water changes its name to river, lake, sea, stream, or pond; and it is the same with religion: the essential truth is one, but its aspects are different. Those who fight about external forms will always continue to fight, but those who recognize the inner truth will not disagree and will thus be able to harmonize the people of all religions.
Dharma has been given from time to time to the world, sometimes quietly and unobtrusively and sometimes in a loud voice; but always it is a continual outpouring of the inner knowledge, of life, and of divine blessing. Those who stick to the old forms, closing their eyes to the inner truth, paralyze their Dharma by holding on to an old form and refusing the present stream, which is sent. In so far as life is the source of activity, such people lose their activity; they remain where they stand as if dead. And when a man has been thus paralyzed and shut out from further spiritual progress, he clings to outer forms which do not help him to progress. There was a time when the message was given while the people were waiting for a messenger to come, as happened in the time of Jesus Christ, when they were thousands and thousands waiting for a messenger from above. The Master came, and gave his service to the world, and left again. Some realized what had happened then, and some are still waiting. But the one who claimed to be Alpha and Omega is never absent; sometimes he shows himself, sometimes he keeps in the background.
When directed by the new spiritual inspiration, all aspects of life such as law, morals, and education come to new life; but if the spiritual current is lacking then there is no further progress in the different forms of life. People mostly think that the spiritual message must be something concrete and definite in the way of doctrines and principles; but that is a human tendency and does not belong to the divine nature, which is unlimited and is life itself. The divine message is the answer to the cry of souls individually and collectively; the divine message is life and it is light. The sun does not teach anything, but in its light we learn to know all things. The sun does not cultivate the soil nor does it sow seed, but it helps the plants to grow, to flower, and to bear fruit.
The Sufi message, in its utter infancy, strikes the note of the day, and promises the fulfillment of the purpose for which now and then the blessing descends from above, the purpose of spreading love and peace on earth and among mankind.
A person may belong to the best religion in the world; he does not live it, perhaps, but merely belongs to it. He says that he is a Muslim, or a Christian, or a Jew. He is sure it is the best religion, but at the same time he does not care to live it; he just belongs to it and thinks that belonging to a certain accepted religion is all that is needed. And people of all the different religions have made this to appear to be so, owing to their enthusiasm and forced by their mission in life. For they have made facilities for those who belong to their particular religion, saying that by the very fact of their belonging to it they will be saved on the Day of Judgement. While the others, with all their good actions, will not be saved because they do not belong to that particular faith.
This is a man-made idea, not God-made. God is not the Father of one sect; God is the Father of the whole world, and all are entitled to be called His children, whether worthy or unworthy. In fact it is mans attitude towards God and truth which can bring him closer to God, who is the ideal of every soul. And if this attitude is not developed, then whatever mans religion be he has failed to live it. Therefore what is important in life is to try and live to religion to which one belongs, or that one esteems, or that one believes to be one's religion.
But one should always keep in mind that religion has both a body and a soul. Whatever body of religion one may touch, one touches the soul; and of one touches the soul, one touches all its bodies, which are like its organs. All the organs constitute one body, and this is the body of the one religion, the religion of Alpha and Omega, which was and which is and which always will be. Therefore on the path of religion, the dispute about who is right and who is wrong is not necessary. We do not know what is in the heart of a man. If outwardly he seems to be a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, or a Buddhist, we cannot be the judge of his religion, for every soul has a religion peculiar to itself, and no one else is entitled to judge it. There may be a person in a very humble garb, without any appearance of belief in God, or of piety or orthodoxy, and he may have a religion hidden in his heart, which not everybody can understand. And there may be another person who is highly evolved, and yet his outward conduct, which alone manifests to people's view, may appear to be altogether contrary to their own way of looking at things. They may accuse him of being a materialist or an unbeliever, or someone who is far from God and truth. And yet we do not know; sometimes appearances are merely illusions; behind them there may be hidden the deepest religious devotion or the highest ideal, of which we know very little.
For the Sufi, therefore, the best thing is to respect a man's belief, his idea, his way of looking at life, whatever it may be, even if it is quiet different from his own way of looking at it. It is this spirit of tolerance which, when developed, will bring about the brotherhood which is the essence of religion and the need of the present day.
To say, 'You are different and I am different, your religion is different and my religion is different, your belief is different and my belief is different,' will not unite, it will only divide humanity. Those who, with the excuse of their great faith in their own religion, hurt the feelings of another and divide humanity which has the same source and goal, abuse religion, whatever be their faith. The message, at whatever period it came to the world, did not come just to a certain section of humanity; it did not come to raise only some few people who perhaps accepted the faith, the message, or a particular organized Church. No, all these things came afterwards. The rain does not fall in a certain land only; the sun does not shine only on a particular country. All that comes from God is for all souls. If they are worthy, they deserve it; it is their reward; if they are unworthy, they are the more entitled to it. Verily, blessing is for every soul; for every soul, whatever be his faith or belief, belongs to God.
If anybody asks what Sufism is, what kind of religion is it, the answer is that Sufism is the religion of the heart, the religion in which the thing of primary importance is to seek God in the heart of mankind.
There are three ways of seeking God in the human heart. The first way is to recognize the divine in everyone and to be considerate towards every person with whom we come in contact, in our thought, speech, and action. Human personality is very delicate. The more living the heart, the more sensitive it is; but that which causes sensitiveness is the love-element in the heart, and love is God. The person whose heart is not sensitive is without feeling; his heart is not living, it is dead. In that case the divine Spirit is buried in his heart. A person, who is always concerned with his own feelings, is so absorbed in himself that he has no time to think of another. His whole attention is taken up with his own feelings. He pities himself, he worries about his own pain, and is never open to sympathize with others. He who takes notice of the feelings of another person with whom he comes in contact, practices the first essential moral of Sufism.
The next way of practicing this religion is to think of the feelings of someone who is not with one at the moment. One may feel for those who are present, but one often neglects to feel for someone who is out of sight. One speaks well of someone to his face, but it is better to speak well of him when he is absent. One sympathizes with the trouble of someone who is with one at the moment, but it is more praiseworthy to sympathize with one who is far away.
The third way of realizing the Sufi principle is to recognize in one's own feeling the feeling of God, to realize every impulse of love that rises in one's heart as a direction from God, to realize that love is a divine spark in one's heart, to blow that spark until a flame may rise to illuminate the path of one's life.
The symbol of the Sufi movement, which is a heart with wings, denotes its ideal. The heart is both earthly and heavenly. The heart is a receptacle on earth of the divine Spirit, and when it holds the divine Spirit, it soars heavenward; the wings picture its rising. The crescent in the heart symbolizes responsiveness. It is the heart that responds to the spirit of God, which rises. The crescent is a symbol of responsiveness because it grows fuller as the moon grows fuller by responding more and more to the sun as it progresses. The light one sees in the crescent is the light of the sun. As it gets more light with its increasing response, so it becomes fuller of the light of the sun. The star in the heart of the crescent represents the divine spark which is reflected in the human heart as love, and which helps the crescent towards it fullness.
The Sufi message is the message of the day. It does not bring theories or doctrines to add to those already existing and which puzzle the human mind. What the world needs today is the message of love, harmony, and beauty, the absence of which is the only tragedy of life. The Sufi message does not give a new law; it awakens in humanity the spirit of brotherhood, with tolerance on the part of each for the religion of the other, with forgiveness from each for the fault of the other. It teaches thoughtfulness and consideration, so as to create and maintain harmony in life; it teaches service and usefulness, which alone can make life in the world fruitful, and in this lies the satisfaction of every soul.
There are many prophecies and several beliefs concerning this subject, but what is most needed is to understand what religion means. The present religion, the coming religion, or the past religion is for those who divide the truth, which is one, into many. In point of fact what was is, and what is will be. Was this idea not supported by Jesus Christ, who said, 'Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil'? If Jesus Christ said this, who else can come forth and say, 'I will give you a new religion'? There cannot be a new religion; one might as well say, 'I wish to teach you a new wisdom.' There cannot be a new wisdom; wisdom is the same, which was and is and always will be.
One may ask what, then, is this variety of religions which has engaged humanity for years in conflict with one another, so that most of the wars and battles were fought in the cause of religion. This only shows the childish character of human nature. Religion, which was given for unity, for harmony, for brotherhood, was used by childish human beings in order to fight and dispute and engage themselves in battles for years and years. And to a thoughtful person the most curious thing is to see how in the past men have given a most sacred character to war, calling it a sacred or holy war. And the same tendency of making war against one another, which began with religion, persisted in the time of materialism; the same tendency turned into war between nations. Yet the differences and distinctions between the different faiths and beliefs still remain, and the prejudices and differences and bigotry between nations still exist to a greater or lesser degree. What does this show? It shows that the meaning of true religion has not been understood by the majority, and therefore that mission which religion has to fulfil in connection with humanity still remains to be fulfilled. Jesus Christ hinted at that fulfillment when he said that he come to fulfill the law, not to give a new law.
Religion can be considered from five different points of view. The first is the aspect of religion, which is known to us as certain dogmas, laws, or teachings. And when we think of the conditions prevailing in the world today we see that the law is now given by the nation; every nation is now responsible for the order and the peace of its people.
The second aspect of religion is the church and the form of the service. In this there are differences, and there will always be differences; it is a matter of temperament, of tendency, and it also depends upon the customs and beliefs of the people who have inherited that tendency from their ancestors. Some have in their house of prayer different forms and ceremonies, which help them to feel elevated; others have a simple service since that appeals to them more.
No doubt the world is moving towards uniformity, and just as now we see no very great difference between the forms of everything, of different customs of greeting, of dressing, and many other things, so people too are coming to certain uniformity. At the same time, when we look at it from a different point of view, we shall find that uniformity very often takes away the beauty of life. In the countries which are civilized and advanced, where the architecture and houses are all on the same plan, where all are dressed in the same way, one becomes so tired of them that one likes to go to a different country and see houses which are different from the other, and people also.
The method of writing music and the form of notation is the same for the whole western world, but the distinction between the music of the French, Italians, Germans, and Russians gives a stimulus to the lover of music; and so it with the distinctions of all forms. To want to make all people live alike and to act alike means to turn all people into the same form and give them the same face, and what would happen then? The world would be very uninteresting. It would be like tuning all the keys of the piano to the same note. It is not necessary to change the notes of the piano; what is necessary is to understand harmony, to know how to create harmony among the different notes.
The third aspect of religion is the religious ideal, the Lord and Master of religion, the Lord and Master that a soul esteems as its ideal. It is something that cannot be discussed, something about which one cannot argue. The less it is spoken of, the better it is. It is the outcome of the devotion of a sincere heart, which gives birth to an ideal too sacred to mention, an ideal, which cannot be compared or explained. And when the followers of different religions come to this question and dispute over their ideals, the sacred ideals which they have not known but have only heard about, and wish to prove one better than the other. They merely waste time and they destroy that sacred sentiment which can only be preserved in the heart.
The religious ideal is the medium by which one rises towards perfection. Whatever name a person gives to his ideal, that name is for him, and is most sacred to him. But this does not mean that giving it a name limits the ideal. There is only one ideal: the divine ideal. Call this Christ if we will, and let the same Christ be known by different names, given to him by various communities. For instance a person who has a great devotion, a great love and attachment for his friend, may speak about friendship in lofty words. He may say what a sacred thing it is to become friends; but then there is another who says, " Oh, I know your friend and what he is; he is no better than anybody else."
The true answer in such cases, is given by Majnun, in the story told by the ancients. When someone said to Majnun, "Leila, your beloved, is not so beautiful as you think," he said, " My Leila must be seen with my eyes. If you wish to see how beautiful Leila is, you must borrow my eyes." Therefore if we wish to regard the object of devotion of whatever faith, of whatever community, of whatever people, we have to borrow their eyes. We have to borrow their heart. It is no use disputing over each historical tradition; they have often sprung from prejudice. Devotion is a matter of the heart, and is offered by the devotee.
The fourth aspect of religion is the idea of God. There will always be fights and discussions about this, as people are wont to say, " The God of our family is one, and the God of your family is another." In ancient times there was a dispute between the people who said that the God of Ben Israel was a special God; and so every community and every Church made its God a special God. If there is a special God, it is not only a special
God of a community, but a God of every individual. For man has to make his own God before his realizes the real God, but that God which man makes within himself becomes in the end the door by which he enters the shrine of his innermost being, the real God who is in the heart of man. And then one begins to realize that God is not a God of a certain community or people, but that God is the God of the whole Being.
Next we come to the aspect of religion which is not the law or the ceremony or the divine ideal or God, but which is apart from all these four. It is something living in the soul, in the mind, and in the heart of man; its absence keeps man as dead, and its presence gives him life. If there is any religion, it is this. And what is it? The Hindus have called it Dharma, which in the ordinary meaning of the word is duty. But it is something much greater than what we regard as duty in our everyday life. It is life itself. When a person is thoughtful and considerate, when he feels his obligations towards his fellowman, towards his friend, towards his father or mother, or in whatever relation he may stand to others, it is something living, it is like water which gives the sense of living to the soul. It is this living soul which really makes a person alive. And the person who is not conscious of this, this tenderness, this sacredness of life, may be alive, but his soul is in the grave. One does not need to ask a man who is conscious of this what his religion or his belief is, for he is living it; life itself is his religion, and this is the true religion. The man conscious of honor, the man who has a sense of shame, a feeling of sincerity, whose sympathy and devotion are alive, that man is living, that is religious.
This is the religion, which has been the religion of the past and will be the religion of the future. All religion taught by Christ or any other of the great ones, was intended to awaken in man that sense which is awakened when religion is living. It does not matter then into which building one goes to pray, for every moment of ones life has become religion- not a religion in which one believes, but a religion which one lives.
What is the message of Sufism? Sufism is the message of digging out that water-like life which has been buried by the impressions of this material life. There is an English phrase: "a lost soul." But the soul is not lost; the soul is only buried. When it is dug out, then the divine life breaks forth like a spring of water. And the question is, what is digging? What does one dig in oneself? Is it not true, is it not said in the scriptures that God is love? Then where is God to be found? Is He to be found in the seventh heaven or is He to be found in the heart of man? He is to be found in the heart of man, which is his shrine. But if this heart is buried, if it has lost that light, that life, that warmth, what does this heart become? It becomes like a grave. In a popular English song there is a beautiful line, which says, "The light of a whole life dies when love is done." That living thing in the heart is love. It may come forth as kindness, as friendship, as sympathy, as tolerance, as forgiveness, but in whatever form this living water rises from the heart, it proves the heart to be a divine spring. And when once this spring is open and is rising, then everything that a man does in action, in word, or in feeling is all religion; that man becomes truly religious.
If there is any new religion to come, it will be this religion, the religion of the heart. After all the suffering that has been brought to humanity by the recent war, man is beginning to open his eyes. And as time passes he will open his eyes and know and understand that true religion lies in opening the heart, in widening the outlook, and in living that religion which is the one religion.
Religion is a need of the human soul. In all periods and at every stage of the evolution of humanity there has been a religion which people followed, for at every period the need for religion has been felt. The reason is that the soul of man has several deep desires, and these desires are answered by religion.
The first desire is the search for the ideal. There comes a time when man seeks for a more complete justice than he finds among men, and when he seeks for someone on whom he can rely more surely than he can on his friends in the world. There comes a time when man feels a desire to open his heart to a Being who is above human beings and who can understand his heart. Man naturally desires to meet someone who is greater than himself, and when he has sought his ideal in the world of mortality, he is naturally inclined to turn towards someone who is higher than man, since the human soul cannot come up to his ideal. He wants to feel that there is someone who comes to his aid, someone who is near him in his loneliness. He feels the need of asking forgiveness of someone who is above human pettiness, and of seeking refuge under someone stronger than he. And to all these natural human tendencies there is an answer which is given by religion, and that answer is God.
Every living being on earth loves life above all else. The smallest insect, whose life lasts only an instant, tries to escape from any danger in order to live a moment longer. And the desire to live is most developed in man. As intelligence awakens in man, he begins to wonder whether life is merely transitory, and if after this life all is ended. To him the thought that after his short life the world will continue is more terrible than death. And if life had not an intoxicating effect, this thought would kill many people. The man who thinks that after this life there is nothing more, cannot dwell very long on that thought. Dwelling on this thought and meditating upon it gives the same feeling as standing on a great height and looking down. It terrifies a man. The belief that our life will continue after we have gone through death is a most comforting idea for every soul. The man who has not received the reward of his efforts, of his goodness; who has not met in his life with an answer to his sense of justice; who has not found complete satisfaction, and who has not been able to attain his desire in life; his hope is in what will come after. This is what religion promises him.
Thus the desire to live, if not on the earth then in the hereafter, exists in every person. And the one who looks at it with pessimism and argues against the possibility of the hereafter, does so only to establish in his mind a conviction that there is a hereafter. He will not admit it, for he thinks it is intelligent to deny it; but he is not willing to die, he is not willing to deny that there is a continual life.
The mission of devotion, of religion, of spirituality has been to bring to man that conviction which intellectual reasoning denies, but belief and faith alone can give. Is there one person in this world who would like his existence to cease for good? -Not one. But everyone, whether he seems to be doing so or not, is in pursuit of some thread, some link, in order to be sure that there is a life in the hereafter. It is not true that there is no proof of the hereafter; only those who want a proof look for that proof in the wrong direction. How can a proof of immortality be found in mortal existence? The proof of immortality is immorality itself. As life has no experience, it has no proof. If there is a proof, it is life itself. Coming to immorality from the limited conception of mortality is just like awakening from unconsciousness and becoming conscious. Has not every religion tried in its own way, by some means or another, to bring man to the realization that there is a life in the hereafter?
It is the present age, which objects to believing something which can only be understood in its culmination; and thus it refuses to believe it at all. Belief when developed is faith, and it is in that faith that one will find a seal: through opening it, there comes a revelation of the continuity of life. No one but ones own self can convince one of the life in the hereafter; but if one can give oneself a belief to begin with the conviction will come by itself. Many have applied wrong methods in order to convince man of the hereafter; and by trying to play with phenomena, instead of giving a new belief they have taken away the belief of the intelligent people and built a wrong belief in the simple ones.
The work of the Sufi message, therefore, is to use any of the different methods, devotional, religious, spiritual, which will suit the particular grade of a person's evolution, in order to prepare his heart for that conviction which is called the life immortal.
Man also has a desire of exaltation, the exaltation that is afforded him by cleanliness of body and purity of mind. Man longs to feel exalted both by the power of words and by his surroundings, and strives for exaltation by thought, by action, and by feeling. The nature of life in the world is such that it constantly drags man towards the earth. His senses, and the crudeness of human nature which jars continually, draw man towards the earth, bearing constantly the heavy burden of human responsibilities, and realizing in the end that these responsibilities are not of great importance. And the only change he can bring about to rid himself of material responsibilities is achieved by praying, either alone or joining with others in religious rites and ceremonies that afford him that means of exaltation in answer to his desire.
With the maturity of his soul, a man desires to probe the depths of life. He desires to discover the power latent within him. He longs to know the sources and goal of his life. He yearns to understand the aim and meaning of life. He wishes to understand the inner significance of things, and he wants to uncover all that is covered by form and name. He seeks for insight into cause and effect. He wants to touch the mystery of time and space, and he wishes to find the missing link between God and man- where man ends, where God begins. And this desire also finds its fulfillment in contact with the spirit that religion gives.
Finally it is a most natural desire of the human soul to seek for happiness and comfort. Man desires principles to guide his life, and he wishes for a moral standard to regulate the life of the community. He wishes for a balance of activity and repose; he desires union for the one whom he loves; he wishes for the security of all that belongs to him, a settled reciprocity, a fixed give-and-take, and all things that bring about happiness and peace at home and in the nation.
In the world today many people think that one can do without religion, and that they themselves have outgrown religion by reason of their evolution. Many have no religious belief, and therefore the world has never been in a more chaotic condition. No doubt one finds in tradition and in history that in the name of religion the selfishness and ignorance of mankind have been given free reign. This is the reason why man, revolting against this state of things, has forsaken religion and forgotten that spirit which, in the name of religion, has also played its part in the world. And now, in the absence of religious influence, the selfishness and ignorance, which in the name of religion played a part in history, continue to do so under the name of modernism. In spite of the separation that man tries to make between himself and others, he has always felt something lacking in himself, even at home and in his own country. This can be seen today among materialists, who would not for one moment allow themselves to have a religious belief, but who yet are not satisfied. And the reason is that they lack something very great and important, something which they cannot attain to because they have built a wall around themselves.
"Think not that I come to destroy the law I am not come to destroy but to fulfill," said Christ. This suggests two things. One is that to give a law is one of the principal objects of the coming of the messenger. In the traditions of the past we see that it was the divine law as it is called which governed the nations. And even now the law is necessarily based on a religious principle, which shows us that in earthly things also the divine guidance has always been considered most essential. The worldly wise do not know about spiritual things, whereas the spiritually wise are wise in earthly things also. And Christ, whose life was free from every earthly thought, and who was even withdrawn from the world, nevertheless gave to the people of his time the divine law. Krishna, with all his philosophical and mystical ideas, speaks of the law of worldly life. Today a Muslim follows most respectfully the law given by his Prophet, and recognizes with pride that his Prophet in his life experienced military service and political responsibilities, and that his Prophet was at the same time a man of the world and a man of God.
To whatever extent the world may evolve, a thoughtful man will never be able to deny the fact that it is not for everyone, for every mind, to touch the depths of thought. Whether there is aristocracy or democracy, there will always be a few souls who will have influence over many. We see that all men are different. Each has his own way to follow, and each his own purpose in life, and no one can fill the place of another. If it happens in worldly affairs that there is what is called the man of the moment, then even in spiritual affairs there may be the soul of the age. The messengers who have brought the law have been the messengers of their time, but since man today only knows about earthly affairs, he concerns himself little with the affairs of the soul. He is therefore largely unaware of what happens in spiritual conditions. Nevertheless the work of God and of creation pursues its course just the same. The Spirit, which is called Alpha and Omega, is always present and is always doing its work, recognized or unrecognized.
There are five principal aspects of the law. Firstly, the institution of marriage and of divorce is most important for the peace of the world. This law is necessary to safeguard the rights of woman, whose position is more delicate than that of man. The recognition given to marriage by the law makes an impression upon the two people involved, pointing out that they are united by law and by religion. Divorce, which is sometimes necessary to put an end to the capacity of two persons who cannot agree in living together, is also a part of the law. If there were not a religious influence, if one had not the impression that one's marriage was made before God, it would very much lessen the seriousness with which marriage is regarded. For instance today there is a way of marrying which has nothing to do with religion, and then marriage often becomes simply a matter of the law-courts. One can imagine how man considers this question when it is something that can be settled in the court. Nothing in the world can take the place in marriage of what religion gives to it.
The second aspect is the division of property and the manner of safeguarding property. The law of religion, with the justice of God, teaches man to regard the rights of others as well as his own rights. Besides, religion teaches what one may rightfully call one's own, and what ought not to belong to one. It teaches also how one should earn money, and how one should spend it. The serious aspect of religion, the thought of God and truth, which is behind all this, creates that spirit of honesty in life which religion is meant to create.
Thirdly, there is birth and there is death. When a child is born, a foundation for its spiritual development is laid if the family, to welcome it on earth, keeps in mind the thought of illumination in one form or another. They should also feel that it has come as a gift from God and remember that they, the parents, are not the only ones responsible for this child's life, but that behind them there is God who shares their responsibility.
At the death of a person, the performing of a religious ceremony gives strength to the one who is passing from this world into another world. It is also a consolation to those who think of him with love; for it brings the thought that the one who has died is called towards the source whence he came. And added to the thought which comes with death, the religious ceremony creates also in the minds of those present the thought that they are not here permanently, that life is like a caravan, and that all have to go along the same road. One goes first. The others follow in their turn. Think what benefit this thought brings! It makes pale the face of this illusory world, which yet keeps so many engaged day and night in its pursuit. It offers man an opportunity to be still for a moment and consider life, man who is always absorbed in the affairs of this world of illusion.
The fourth aspect of the law of religion concerns social life. For people meeting in a church, at a service or a religious ceremony, there is naturally the opportunity of joining together in the thought of God and of religion. Places of pilgrimage and sacred places all unite humanity in the love of God and in the feeling of unity. Think of people gathered together at an exhibition, a fair. The feeling that animates them all is only gain: to get the best of the bargain. What an incomparable difference when one meets in sacred religious thought!
The fifth aspect is political and comprises all that concerns the community or the country. It is a law, which with divine justice concerns itself with the affairs of the community and the affairs of the country. A problem, which cannot be solved otherwise, can be solved by spiritual enlightenment. Man is naturally selfish, and justice cannot exist in the heart in which there is the thought of self. Only he can look at things from a just point of view whose heart reflects God absolutely, God who is above nation, race, caste, creed, or religion.
No doubt, where there is truth there is also untruth. Where there is day there is also night. It is natural that the religious authorities should often have abused the law. When a spiritual man concerns himself with the things of the world, it is extremely difficult for him not to allow them to throw their shadow on his heart. Men, revolted by the abuse of religion, have often given up religion itself, and it is this that has made man ignorant of the divine source of the law that rules the affairs of the world.
Today man thinks that it is the work of intellectual people to make laws. This brings constant disappointments both to nations and to communities. The lack of order and peace throughout the world today may be said to be caused by the want of that law which must come from God, from the divine source. Man is too small to be able to find the solution to the problems of this world. That is the work of the perfect wisdom which is found in a Personality without limitations, and with which the human personality cannot be compared, just as one cannot compare a drop with the ocean.
The first aspect of prayer is giving thanks to God for all the numberless blessings that are bestowed upon us at every moment of the day and night, and of which we are mostly unconscious.
The second aspect of prayer is laying our shortcomings before the unlimited perfection of the divine Being, and asking His forgiveness. This makes man conscious of his smallness, of his limitation, and therefore makes him humble before his God. And, by humbling himself before God man does not lose any virtue. God alone has the right to demand complete humility.
There is another side to this question: although humility is painful to the pride of humans, the joy of humility is never known by the proud. The effect produced upon a persons own feeling is as if, by his very humility, he had opened the doors of the shrine of God which is in the heart of man. He who asks forgiveness of his friend, feels a joy that the friend does not know. And it must not be forgotten that it is not pride that gives joy, but humility, which gives a special joy. It is told that a Maharana of Udhaipur was mourning for the death of his mother, and for a long time his grief was so great that he could not overcome it. His ministers and friends tried to console him, telling him how fortunate he was, how great was his influence and power. He answered, Yes it is true. But one thing grieves me. I have everyone to bow before me, to give way to me, to salute me, to obey; but there was one, when I came into the palace before whom I could be humble. My mother was the one before whom I could humble myself, and I cannot tell you the joy that was to me!
Humility has several forms, and these are observed according to the customs of different peoples. There exist all kinds of forms of respect, towards parents, teachers or masters; but after examining and studying life keenly, one finds that it is to God alone that all forms of respect are addressed. It is this lesson that the various religions have taught to different peoples according to their needs.
The third aspect of prayer is to tell God ones difficulties and troubles, and to ask Him for what one needs and wants. And who else deserves this trust but God? It is true that we have relations and friends who love us and wish to help us; but they are only human beings, traveling in the same boat on the same sea, subject to all the same difficulties and limitations. Man can only be helped by man to a certain extent. The more one studies human nature, the more one feels inclined to bring ones troubles, difficulties, and sorrows, before God alone, and this is a part of what is taught in the form of prayer.
The fourth aspect of prayer is like the call of the lover to the beloved. No doubt this is a higher form; and to be able to pray in this manner man must rise above the ordinary level of life. Just as it is difficult for a human being to love man, whom he sees, so it is more difficult to love God, whom one has never seen. Loving ones fellowman, yes; but not everyone is capable of loving the formless, the God-ideal, and of evolving by the lesson of love. For in this love there is no disappointment, and only the love of God can fulfill the desire of the human soul, and all other forms of love are only steps that lead to the love of God. But who can explain the love of God to one who has never felt it? God is the perfect ideal. His love is the perfect love. There is love of the mate, of parents of friends, of children, but in the love of God all is found combined. Therefore its joy is perfect. The love of God is living and everlasting and is the love of the true Beloved.
The fifth aspect of prayer is to know God, and in this way to draw nearer to God. This is the real meaning of the expression at-one-ment, which means complete union. It cannot be learned. It is a natural tendency; it is the attraction of the soul to God. It is like the negative pole of the electric wire, which is attracted, to the positive. It means that the happiness of man depends on his nearness to God, and this too has been taught in the form of prayer.
It is these five aspects of prayer which constitute the form of religious worship. Every religion, at whatever time and in whatever country, has given prayer as its method. But man has always shown his childish nature. He has always fought with his neighbor because he does not pray in the same way. Man has taken the outer form of prayer. He has used the outer form to satisfy his vanity and the consequence has been that, revolted by this state of things, he has given up prayer. For instance Protestantism is among other things a sort of protest against the Catholic form of prayer. Many people, between the two, have given up prayer; and giving it up is not satisfactory, for nothing can take its place.
The chaotic conditions at the present time are caused by the lack of religion. Mans soul needs religion but the mind fights against it. We find that most wars in history have been caused by disputes about religion. In the East, no one dares to say that he does not believe in God, whereas in the West, there are people who are proud of not believing in God. Hey say that a force, or forces are the origin of life. It is the greatest tragedy if man deprives himself of God, because there cannot be any other means of rising to a higher consciousness.
But an inquiring mind will ask, "If God is within man, then all our troubles and difficulties, our feelings and our attitudes towards Him and also our faults, are known to Him. So what need is there to express them in prayer?" It is like saying, "Because I love a certain person, why should I show it?" Expression is the nature of life. When every part of mans mind and body expresses his feeling, his thought, his aspiration, then it produces its full effect. And there is no doubt that the fact of meeting together for prayer makes the effect still greater. The blessing that one can receive through prayer is multiplied a thousand fold when received by a few united in the same thought and praying together. And as to the psychological effect, the world can be described as a dome in which every word that is uttered resounds. Through the resonance in this dome, an echo is produced, and what comes, comes as the answer of God.
The question whether God has time to give answer to our prayer is answered by the mystic, who says that it is through the medium of man himself that God hears his prayer. In the East, the head of man is called the dome of God, which means that it contains the greatest secret, and is also the highest place; for outwardly it is the head that represents the eternal abode. As it is said in the scriptures, God has created man in His own image.
Prayer has been taught by all religions in different forms: by bowing, by prostrations, by recitation or chant. As soon as man begins to feel the immanence of God in nature, he begins to prostrate himself before that Being, calling his limited self helpless before Him, bowing before Him, worshipping Him.
Although in the Christian religion man kneels before God and in Czarist Russia one could still see both rich and poor prostrating themselves even before the Czar, today mens pride has grown so much that many think, Why should I pray, why should I prostrate myself before anybody?
Worship is a resignation, an acknowledgement, a recognition. Worship has many meanings. By worshipping we acquaint ourselves with a certain power. Acquaintance is understanding; and understanding is a great thing. We often suffer because we do not understand. Many conditions and many people are difficult to tolerate because we do not understand them, but once we understand we can tolerate almost anything.
When Brahmins worship by putting rice at the feet of the deity, this means that they would like to spread in the world all the love and light that they receive from the deity as the seed is sown on the farm.
One might ask what effect prayers can have upon the soul, which is pure and aloof from everything. The soul, when it sees the external self bowing before God, rejoices and is glad. Prayer gives nobility to whoever prays, be he rich or poor. The attitude of a prayerful person towards God is that of a lover towards his beloved, of a child towards its parents, of a servant towards his master, of a pupil towards his teacher, of a soldier towards his commander.
If one asks why God should create beings in order that they should sing His own praise, the answer is that God does not wish to receive praise. The praise of God is prescription for man, in order that by this prescription man can come to that understanding which brings him nearer to God. In other words, by praising God man completes the action in which lies the fulfillment of the souls purpose in coming on earth.
The meaning of the word Nirva is the repetition of thankfulness and bringing ones own vision to ones soul; and the voice echoes again before God who is within ourselves. That is why the singing of a prayer is more powerful than only reciting the prayer in thought. It is the same difference as there is between thinking a song and singing it. By singing a song one obtains a satisfaction which one does not get by only thinking of it.
It is said in the Quran If We had not made thee, Mohammad, We would not have created the whole world. One might think that this is meant as a partial compliment to Mohammad, but it is not Mohammad the personal individual being that is meant. It means, If we had not made the seer, the admirer of our being, We would not have created the world.
The divine Being sees to it that each person admires one particular being; he singles out one part of the whole, admires and praises it, and calls it his own. By this he learns to put his trust in God, and he learns resignation when he prays the second kind of prayer, the petition, because if his desire is not granted, if he is left in misery, he learns to accept that this is Gods will.
After this comes the prayer of realization. This is the prayer of the dervishes and the saints. They are ashamed of asking God for anything; they are contented with whatever comes. If they have food, whatever it is, it is all right. If they have no food it is all right too. If they have nothing to cover themselves with it is all right. By this contentment they become greater than kings. Sitting under a tree in rags they are greater than the richest who own all the Earth and yet are needy, for they have the kingdom of God. But about what they see their lips are closed. They do not speak of it. They never tell.
At the present time people say, I see such and such things; this color and that light; I hear that sound, in order to excite curiosity and wonder, and to gain notoriety. They make a trade out of spirituality. It is a very great misfortune, and if this goes on, even spirituality, the knowledge of God, which is the purest knowledge there is, will be debased and lost.
Is a person, then, who communicates with God for many hours a day, nearer to Him than the one who is mostly concerned with earthly things? One must fulfill ones duties, keep to ones religion, and yet find a means of communicating with God in everyday life. If the Sufi message has to bring anything to the world it is this. The meditations and concentrations given to those wishing to advance on the spiritual path are not meant to be the only means of communicating with God. They are a way, a way that one can develop in order to learn how one should communicate with God. Every moment should be devoted to this.
There are many virtues, but there is one principal virtue. Every moment passed outside the presence of God is sin, and every moment in His presence is virtue. The whole object of the Sufi, after learning this way of communicating is to arrive at a stage where every moment of our life passes in communion with God, and where our every action is done as if God were before us. Is that within everyones reach? We are meant to be so. Just think of a person who is in love: when he eats or drinks, whatever he does, the image of the beloved is there. In the same way, when the love of God has come, it is natural to think of God in everything we do.
What makes some people unable to pray is the reflection of the mineral kingdom, denseness. For instance, when the sky is thickly clouded the light of the sun does not reach the earth, and it is the same with the soul which is divine and which is all light, but which sometimes may be clouded.
The difference between the diamond and an ordinary stone is one of denseness. The diamond reflects the light, which falls upon it, but the stone is so dense that it will not allow the light of the sun to be reflected in it.
There are three kinds of people among those who offer prayer. One person in praying feels he is fulfilling a certain duty, which he considers to be one among the other duties of life. He does not know to whom he is praying; he thinks it is to some God. If he is in a congregation he feels obliged to do as the others do. He is like one of a flock of sheep which goes on not knowing where and why. Praying, to him, is something that he must do because he is in a situation where he cannot help it. In order to fall in with the custom of the family or community, and in order to respect those around him, he does it like everybody else. His prayer is mechanical and if it has any effect it is very little.
The second kind of person who offers prayers is the one who prays because he has been taught to do so, and yet is uncertain as to whether there is any God and whether his prayers are really heard. He may be praying, and yet at the same time his mind may be full of uncertainty, so that he wonders whether he is doing right or wrong. If he is a busy man, he may think, Am I giving my time to something really profitable, or am I wasting it? I see no one before me. I hear no answer to my prayer. He does it because it might perhaps benefit him in some way. His prayer is a prayer in the dark. The heart, which should be opened to God, is closed in by his own doubt, and if he prayed in this way for a thousand years, it would never be heard. It is this kind of soul who loses his faith, in the end, especially when he meets with disappointment. He prays, and if his prayer is not answered, that puts an end to his belief.
Then there is a third person who has imagination, which is strengthened by faith. He not only prays to God, but he prays before God, in the presence of God. Once imagination has helped a man to bring the presence of God before him, God is awakened in his own heart. Then before he utters a word, it is heard by God. When he is praying in a room, he is not alone. He is there with God. Then to him God is not in the highest heaven but close to him, before him, in him. Then to him heaven is on earth and earth is heaven. No one is then so living, so intelligible as God; and all names and forms disappear before Him. Then every word of prayer he utters is a living word. It not only brings blessing to him, but to all those around him. This manner of prayer is the only right way of praying and in this way the object that is to be fulfilled by prayer is accomplished.
Not only belief, but faith too is necessary. Belief is a thing, but faith is a living being. We rise by treading the path of faith. Some day we shall realize what God is, but that only comes after the first lesson has been learned. Faith is the ABC of the revelation of God, and the way to faith, is begun by prayer.
There are several kinds of prayer. One prayer is thanksgiving to God for His great goodness, for all that we receive in our life; asking God for His mercy and favor and forgiveness; asking God to grant our desires and wishes. This is the first lesson that man has to learn. The other kinds of prayer can only be used as man develops.
In thanking God for all that He has given us, we develop the very thankfulness which man usually forgets. If we could only reflect upon the many things in our life for which we should be thankful and appreciative! But we scarcely ever think about them, whereas we so often think about what we have not got and thus we keep ourselves continually unhappy when we might be thankful to have even a few pennies in our purse. Instead of that, we think we should have a few shillings! The consequence is that man forgets to develop thankfulness in his nature. He is ungrateful to everyone, and whatever is done for him he remains ungrateful.
It is the same with all the troubles and struggles that there are in the world. It is his neglect of all that is done for him that causes the spread of ingratitude. Having forgotten the prayer of thanking God, how can he thank man?
It is a great pity that the beautiful custom of saying grace before meals is disappearing. This custom is no longer to be found at fashionable tables, only in simple homes; for when fashion comes the things that are helpful, moral, and spiritual are forgotten.
But what a beautiful thought it is to say grace before even a humble dinner! When thanks have been given to God, however simple the dinner may be it becomes delicious because of the feeling of thankfulness, the feeling that this is a gift that has been bestowed upon us.
When Sadi was traveling to Persia, foot sore because he had to walk with bare feet in the hot sun, it was so painful that he was thinking there could be no one in the world as wretched and miserable as himself. But two minutes later he came across a person whose feet were both useless, so that he was crawling along the ground and only progressing with great difficulty. This caused a prayer to rise in Sadis heart, and he became thankful he was not afflicted like that. He realized that though he had no shoes, at least his feet were healthy and sound.
It is when we are only aware of our own difficulties or unhappiness, and blind to the goodness, kindness, sympathy, service and help which our fellowmen give to us, that we become discontented. There is so much to be seen in our lives to arouse the feeling of thankfulness in us.
Then there is the mystical meaning of thankfulness. The one who is always grudging is so much the more in need of prayer. If he prays he will prepare influences which will remove the miseries and wretchedness in his mind, for all this misery is created by his mind during the act of grumbling and while he nurses a grudge. The person who is thankful and contented, and appreciative of all that befalls him in life develops the sense of goodness. The more appreciative he is, the more thankful he becomes and the more he receives. Thankfulness and appreciation inevitably attract more of them like to themselves. All that we give is also given to us. But grumbling and grudging also attract their like. If the person to whom we give a reward or gift receives it grudgingly and while grumbling, will we give him more? Indeed, the fact that we do not give him more gives him still more to grumble about. But when a person is glad and thankful and appreciative of what is done for him, we at once feel that he is good. It gives us such a feeling of happiness to see him happy and appreciative and contented that it encourages us to do more, and it also encourages others to do good.
Besides thankfulness there is the request for forgiveness and mercy. The effects of this are also to be seen in our daily life. A servant or child or young man who is rude, will push into us and never say he is sorry. But another person says, I am sorry, and at once we have forgotten the harm that he has inadvertently done to us. That is the effect, which his request for forgiveness has produced.
A person who does wrong and prides himself on having done so is stubborn, foolish and ignorant. There is no way for him to develop, to progress, if he is not sorry for what he has done. His finer senses become blunted, by doing wrong, and so he loses something of his own conscience by the continual impression of wrongdoing. Because there is something bad in him, although he may be walking on the earth and living in the sun, that life which gives a fuller experience and joy is gone.
As well as other people being hard on him, the wrongdoer already has his own wrong as his worst enemy. From the conditions, the circumstances, the people he meets, from every side he will sooner or later receive trouble and hate. Besides, these people may be making a mistake; they do not know what is hidden behind a persons action; and therefore should be tolerant and forgiving. We have no right to judge unless we have become spectators. It is only then that we begin to learn how to judge, but as long as we are in the center of the struggle we cannot.
The one who always does right need not be here. This is the place in which to do both wrong and right. But the one who does wrong and repents, who wants to do better next time, his conscience is sharpened by every wrong he has committed. Perhaps the wrong has done him more good than if he had done right; he has become more awakened to the right, and yet he has been humbled in his conscience. Therefore repentance is a privilege and to be able to be sorry for all that one thinks was not right makes one live and feel more fully. It awakens justice in the heart of man.
To tell another person of ones wrong only means to extend the wrong vibrations still further. One gets nothing out of it but the contempt of the other. The one who offers his repentance to God, in whom he sees perfection and justice, and who goes with his sorrow to Him who is love itself, who is forgiveness itself, will experience a phenomenon and see the wonderful results coming from it- an upliftment, an unfoldment. Something breaks in one. It is the wrong, which is broken and something comes into the heart of man that is the love of God, the forgiveness of God. One feels fortified and uplifted and more capable of avoiding the same mistake another time.
When we have hurt someone there comes a reaction, and this reaction is that we feel sorry and wonder why we did it. A conscientious man, after having done some harm, has a strong desire to ask forgiveness. Forgiveness will bring him a great relief and comfort and as long as he has not asked it he will always feel uncomfortable. If we only knew how amply we are provided with good things that even money cannot pay for! Everything we do may seem wrong in the eyes of the Creator, but His favor is such that we cannot repent enough of our follies and mistakes. But apart from our mistakes towards the Creator, there are those around us with whom we are connected outwardly, to whom every moment of the day we do something that is not right, something we might have done better. The more conscientious we are, the finer our feelings, the more we realize that we are full of follies and mistakes in regard to all those who surround us.
The natural way of consoling ourselves or of bringing comfort to ourselves is therefore to ask forgiveness. And the one who most deserves to be asked is God. It breaks a congestion in the heart and in the spirit, and it brings great comfort. The more we ask forgiveness, the better we begin to feel and think; and we are guided in this if we continue to ask forgiveness. Sadi says in the first couplet of his great poem the Gulistan, Lord, I have made many mistakes and I have many shortcomings, but let them not be known to mankind but only to Thee who are so compassionate. It is the beauty of human nature to repent.
In some countries and among some people, for instance in France, there is a custom that when a person meets another at the door or on the stairs he takes off his hat and says, Pardon. There is no reason why he should do so except that he chanced to meet him, and he thinks that perhaps he should be forgiven. We find that the sensitiveness of mans heart is so delicate that even the presence of a stranger jars on him. But by saying, Pardon, that uncomfortable feeling is at once removed, and in its place the good feeling of friendship is introduced. However great a fault may be, if the one who has committed it only comes and says, I am very sorry; I will never do it again; pray forgive me, the friendship will be restored at once. On the other hand, however trivial and slight the fault may have been, if pride prevents the man from asking forgiveness and pardon, perhaps he will lose that friendship for the rest of his life. His pride prevents him from asking pardon. The fault may have been very small and he may pretend not to care about it, and yet the friendship is broken. How many there are who would be ready to forgive if only the person came and said, I am sorry. But it is not everybody who will do it. People do not like to admit they have been at fault.
To ask forgiveness of another produces a proper sense of justice in ones mind. A man recognizes the need for asking God to pardon his faults. When he asks for forgiveness, that forgiveness develops in his own nature too, and he becomes ready to forgive others. Christ says in His prayer, Forgive us...as we forgive those that trespass against us. The virtue, the secret, is in that. By asking forgiveness of God, we give up the desire demand that our fellowman should ask our forgiveness, and instead we want to forgive him. We see this with the Arabs and Bedouins in Mecca and in the desert. They are forever ready to fight one another and kill each other. They may be fighting and actually have their knives drawn to kill one another, and yet if a third person comes and says, Forgive, for the sake of god and the Prophet! as soon as they hear these words they both throw away their knives and shake hands. And the handshake is the seal of friendship. Though the Bedouin has no education, yet he has such devotion to God and His Prophet that no sooner does he hear these words than he at once offers his hand, and from that day there is no spite nor evil thought in his heart.
If we only had that spirit! With all our education and learning, with all our claims to civilization, we are not as good as this. We retain the bitterness in our hearts. We never consider what a poison it is. The very person who would shudder at the idea of having something in his body that is decayed and offensive, something that should not be there but should be cut out or removed, will tolerate that poison of bitterness in his mind. He will not remove it; he will foster it. Had he not lacked the sense of forgiveness, and had he not neglected to cultivate the habit of asking forgiveness, he would have become ready to forgive and forget.
Have you ever had the joy of seeing two friends who have quarreled asking forgiveness of one another? It is as if there were no more possibility of ill feeling. It is the most delightful experience. It feels as if the doors of heaven were opened for both. When the bitterness has gone, it is as if a mountain had gone, and the heart was free again.
Another kind of prayer is to ask for help in need. This is a delicate thing, and yet it is a great virtue. What a beautiful nature it is that will refrain from asking relief from trouble, from difficulty and suffering, except from the one Friend! This is a virtue and not pride. The door of faith is kept open for that Friend whom we can call upon and ask and obtain ease from. There is One to whom I can go in my trouble and distress and despair. Thou art the One, the only One. Thou art He from whom nothing is hidden. If I desire to unburden myself of this trouble, Thou, O Lord, art He to whom I will go."
Often people argue, saying, If God does not know our needs, then how can He be God? And if He knows our needs, it is foolish on our part to mention them to Him. To mankind we speak about our needs because they do not know what is in our heart, but as God knows what is in our heart, there is no necessity to speak of our needs. And then there are others who think that if God knows our needs and still does not satisfy them, this shows great cruelty on the part of God. Many have given up their belief for this reason.
The answer to this question is that indeed there is nothing in this world that is not known to God; only, it is known to Him in the way that we know it, in the way that another person knows it, and in the way that He knows it Himself. Our needs are known to us, as we see them, but to God they are known as we see them, as someone else sees them, and as God Himself sees them. God can see in all the different ways, but we cannot see or understand in the way God does.
Nevertheless, perfection is the desire of every soul. There is a continual yearning to reach perfection in every form. What are lacks and needs in life? They are all limitations, imperfections; and to desire perfection is the birthright of every soul. A man is not to be blamed if he prays to God to give him what he feels to be his present need. It is not an infants fault if it cries for food. The mother knows when the infant should be fed and when not; but it is no fault on the part of an infant to cry when it is hungry. Nor is it a fault on the part of a grown-up person if he asks for something that he is lacking. His asking influences the conditions of his life. In a way it is creative. And when the asking is given the form of a prayer, it is the best and noblest way of asking; for then he asks it of nobody but God.
What a great thing this is! What a sense of honor it is that causes a man to refrain from telling his suffering to anyone but God, believing that He will help more than anyone can help. But it will not bring the satisfaction that comes when it is God that has given the help. What a great pleasure, what a great honor God has done to give him help! This is what happens when some problem, such as comes into the life of every noble person, everyone with tender feelings, with inherited good and religious sentiments, has been solved by deciding that there is no one of whom he will ask help, in his poverty and trouble and need, but only God.
There is a story of a king who was traveling and hunting in the woods, and the king was hungry and stopped at the house of a peasant, who did not recognize him but treated him very kindly and shared his simple meal with him. When the king was leaving this peasant, he was so touched with his kindness, that without telling him that he was a king, he said to him, Take this ring and if ever you are in difficulty, come to me in the city, and I will see what I can do for you. After a time there was a famine. The peasant was in great trouble, and his wife and child were dying; and he set out to go and find this man. When he showed the ring, he was brought to the king. On entering the king approached him, he asked, What were you doing? Praying for peace and love and happiness among my subjects, said the king. So there is one greater than you, said the peasant to whom you must go for what you seek? Then I will go to him who is greater and on whom even your destiny depends! He would accept no help; but, unknown to him, the king sent what was needed to his home, with the message that it was sent by the King of kings.
What honor, what a spirit it brings when a man fixes his trust on Him who is almighty. Rumi says, Though fire, air, earth, and water all seem dead things and only elements, yet they are Gods servants; they work for Him and they always obey Him! And he goes on to say in another part of his Masnavi, Man, when he becomes intelligent, begins to see causes. But it is the superman who sees the cause of causes, the source of causes, God is the Cause of causes, the primal cause. One who looks at the primal cause sees in Him the cause of all. A person may study causes all his life, and yet never come to understand the cause of causes. All causes before that cause become effects. That Cause is the same as that which is call the Word which then became light. When the Word was spoken, says the Quran, all things came into existence, Without Him, says St. John, was not anything made that was made.
What is this Cause? It is that inner divine impulse, which has made itself active in every direction, and has accomplished whatever was its purpose. It is that which has accomplished all things. The one cause behind all things is the cause, which we call the Power of God.
When people have evolved further they begin to use a still higher form of prayer. That prayer is the adoration of the immanence of God in the sublimity of nature. If we read the lives of the prophets and teachers from Krishna to Buddha, Moses to Mohammad, Abraham to Christ, we see how they dwelt in the jungles, and went into the forests, sat beneath trees and there recognized the divine immanence in all around them. It is a prayer, not to a God in heaven, but to a God living both in heaven and on earth.
What does praise of God, praise of His creation, praise of His nature, develop in man? It develops in him such an art that nothing can compare with it, a sense of music with which no music can be compared. He begins to see how natures are attracted to one another and how they harmonize; he sees how disharmonies are produced. The causes of all such things become clear to him, when once he begins to see into nature, to admire the beauty of its construction, its life, its growth; when he begins to study nature and its causes.
Those who have praised nature through their art appeal directly to mans heart. Those who praise nature in their music become artists in music, and those who have expressed their praise in poetry and verse are acknowledged as great poets. All of them appeal to the heart of man because they have seen God. They have seen Him in nature and in everything on earth. They have turned earth into heaven. That is the next, the higher step.
Zoroaster has said, Look at the sun when you pray, at the moon when you pray, at the fire when you pray. People therefore call his followers sun-worshippers or fire-worshippers, when all the time this worship was merely a way of directing mans attention to the witnesses of God which express His nature. The one who cannot see any trace of God anywhere else, can see Him by looking at all these beautiful things, and observing their harmonious working.
From beginning to end, the Quran points to nature, showing how in the sun that rises in the morning, in the moon that appears in the evening, and in the whole of nature there is God. Why does the Quran always express it this way? If one wishes to have some proof of God one should look at nature and see how wisely it is made. Man with his learning becomes so proud that he thinks there is nothing else worthy of attention. He does not know that there is a perfection of wisdom before which he is not even like a drop in the ocean. Man looks at the surface of the ocean, yet he is so small that he cannot even be compared with one of its drops, limited as he is in intellect and knowledge. He seeks to find out about the whole of creation, whereas those who have touched it have bowed before God, forgetting their limited selves. After that God remained with them and spoke through them. These are the only beings who have been able to give any truth to the world.
As Amir says, He who has lost his limited self, he it is who has attained the High Presence. Do we not forget ourselves when we hold the vision of beauty? If we are blind to beauty we cannot see it, and then we cannot forget ourselves in the beauty and sublimity of the vision. But when we perceive the beauty of nature, we bow our head in love and admiration. As a poet said of nature, I cannot study you, for you are too great, you are too beautiful. The only thing left for me to do is to bow my head in prostration at your feet.
If we could only see this perfect beauty around us, if we only had our eyes opened to it, we should first bow our heads in all humility before ever attempting to make a study of it. No pride could find a place in our heart. Without any doubt we should bow our heads before this beauty, this wisdom of the Creator, the art of the Creator, and His skill which is apparent in the flowers, plants and leaves, in the construction of man- his birth, and all other things in life.
It would suffice did we but once ask how all these things have come. Where there are no teeth, milk is given. When the teeth come, the food suitable for the teeth comes also, the poet says. The eyes are delicate, and so an eyelid is formed for them, to cover them and protect them. How well all the organs of mans body are fitted and suited for the purpose for which they are made! With all this there is also the beauty of the art with which everything is created, and the height of beauty is attained in the skill shown in the making of mankind.
Whoever has seen beauty, has found that beauty cannot exist without wisdom. Wisdom is behind all creation. The one life, which has created the rocks, trees, plants, animals, birds and all things, is both one life and one wisdom. The flower, the leaf, the fruit, and the branches all come from one root, even though they have different names. It is all one. It might be called he or she; yet it is both. When we see that life with wisdom is both he and she, we realize that wisdom which is behind all things that we see; and then we find that what is behind all things is a Person whom we call God.
There is another kind of prayer, which is greater still. It is the way followed by philosophers and mystics. Advancement on this spiritual path is gradual. One cannot use this way without first having practiced the other kinds of prayer. This way is that of invocation of the nature of God, of the truth of His Being. These are symbolic names, and in their meaning there is a subtlety. Gods nature is explained in this form of prayer; He is analyzed. The benefit of this prayer is perceived when a person has arrived on this plane. The benefit is that he has passed from being a human being (as in the prayers of thanksgiving, for forgiveness, and for ones needs), through being a holy being (as in the prayer by which one praises God), to become a God-conscious man. Why? -Because this kind of prayer is meant to bring man still closer to God. Not only does this prayer draw him closer to God, but it makes him forget his limited self until it is entirely forgotten in the end, leaving only the Self of God; and this has been the only ideal and aim of all teachers. Man can not arrive at his ideal goal until he has used prayer to help him to this stage.
By this prayer he tries to get near to God, to become one with God, and to forget his false personality, in other words to deny his false identity and to establish the identity of God in its place. This prayer is a miracle. It can turn a bubble into a sea; it is this prayer which brings perfection to the imperfect one.
It is the work of the teacher, the guide on the spiritual path, to give people a certain prayer to repeat. But there have also been prayers belonging to each of the prophetic cycles. Thus when Moses or Christ or Mohammad or Krishna gave a prayer, that prayer was intended for humanity collectively at that particular time. Saying that prayer lifted the souls up and gave them all that was needed during that particular cycle. But it is of course not the scrupulous repetition of prayer but the faith and devotion that one puts into it that counts.
There was a preacher who addressed some peasants, and he told them about a wonderful prayer which, when one repeated it, gave one the power to walk on the water. One of the peasants was very interested in this prayer, and after saying it he walked across the river and back again, and he was very happy. So he went to this preacher and asked him in all humility to come and dine with him, he was so grateful for what the preacher had given him. The preacher accepted. When he went to dine with the peasant there was a river to cross. The preacher said, Where is the boat? The man said, I have listened to your lesson, and since then I have not used my boat any more. We shall say the prayer and walk on the water. Since you told me of it, that is what I have done. The preacher watched him doing it and felt ashamed. He had only talked about it; but now he realized that it is not knowing but believing that counts.
A thousand people may say the same prayer; but one persons prayer said with such faith and belief is equal to the prayers of a thousand people, because that prayer is not mechanical. Man is mechanical and he generally says his prayers mechanically too. If he is genuine and if he has faith and belief and devotion, all he says has an effect; and that effect will perform miracles.
When we look at things from a mystical point of view we shall find that there is one single straight line, which is called aim. That line represents the line of the life of any being; the upper end is God, the lower end is man. The line is one. Though that line is one to the mystic and the philosopher in the realization of the truth, yet the line is unlimited at the upper end, and limited at the other. One end is immortality, the other is mortality.
The innermost yearning of life is to see the ends brought together. It is this prayer which draws the end which is man near to the end which is God. When one invokes the names of God one forgets his limitations and impresses his soul with the thought of the Unlimited, which brings him to the ideal of limitlessness. This is the secret of lifes attainment.
Man is the picture or reflection of his imagination. He is as large as he thinks himself, as great as he thinks himself, as small as he thinks himself to be. If he thinks he is incapable, he remains incapable; if he thinks himself foolish, he will be foolish and will remain foolish; if he thinks himself wise, he will be wise and become wiser every moment; if he thinks himself mighty, he will be mighty. Those who have proved themselves to be the greatest warriors, where did their might come from? It was from their thought, their feeling; I am mighty. The idea of might was impressed on their soul, and the soul became might. The poet had poetry impressed on his soul, and so the soul became a poet. Whatever is impressed on mans soul, with that the soul becomes endowed, and that the soul will become. If the devil impresses himself on a mans soul, he will become a devil; if God impresses Himself on a mans soul, he will turn into God.
When Belief culminates it turns into faith, but before that happens there are different stages through which belief develops, and when a person says that he has no belief this does not mean that he is not capable of believing. Belief is something with which a person is born; it is something, which one acquires when coming on earth. There is a saying of the Prophet that every person is born a believer and only becomes an unbeliever when on earth. For instance, when a child begins to learn to speak, the mother says, This is called water, so it repeats, Yes that is water. The mother says, This is light, so it says Yes that is light. Every word the mother teaches, the child learns; it never refuses to lean. But when a person is grown-up, then he has preconceived ideas; he has learned something by reason, logic or experience. And if he meets someone who has more knowledge, and he cannot reach him through his own way of looking at things, he says, I do not believe it. This means that although he was born with belief, he has now arrived at a point where he cannot believe, because his belief clashes with that reason which he has made for himself.
To believe in God is easier for some than others, but at the same time it is a natural thing. If he had not believed, Columbus could not have discovered America. Every soul is born with the tendency to believe. It is by believing that a child learns to speak; it is only afterwards that disbelief comes as a reaction.
Man need not believe in God because it is a virtue; he should believe in God because it is of his seeking. He may not know it, yet his perfect satisfaction lies only in the God-ideal. Nanak, the first Guru of the Sikhs, gives a very beautiful example of this. In describing a mill with which women grind the corn, he says The grains, which take refuge in the center of this mill, are saved.
Once when I was sailing in a boat, a sailor gave me some interesting advice. I asked him if he knew any remedy against seasickness, and he said, No they have tried for a long time to find something, but nothing is any good. You must fix your eyes on the horizon that will keep you from being seasick. I was greatly benefited by that advice, and it was a stimulus to my imagination, showing that the wider the outlook the less are our troubles in life. If we fix our eyes on the horizon as far as we can see, then we are saved from the little things, which make our life unhappy. God is the horizon, as far as we can see and even further, for we can neither touch the horizon nor can we touch God.
Some people say, I do not believe in a soul, I have always heard about it but I have never seen it. All that touches his senses a man can believe by touching, feeling, or seeing it; but with something he cannot touch or feel or see he says, It is not within my reach. What is not intelligible does not exist for me. In other words man acquires his own knowledge first and all that comes afterwards he wants to fit in with his own knowledge.
Often, when people have asked my opinion about something and have noticed that it was different from what they thought, it was as if immediately a wall was raised, for it is the nature of man to hold on to his knowledge. His knowledge may be of false or of true experiences. He may believe that on such and such a mountain a fairy descended on a certain night, that beautiful colors appeared and that one should go there in order to become illuminated. Or he may believe that in the heart of Tibet, in remote places, people sit with closed eyes perhaps for a hundred years and that when a person goes there he will be exalted. Or he may have heard that near Persia is a country where there are martyrs tombs and that that is the best place in which to become illuminated. It is only as he believes; whether higher or lower, it is belief all the same, and if a person has formed a certain belief in himself he cannot easily change it.
There are many others who are bigoted in regard to their own belief. They stand on a certain belief, and instead of keeping it in their head they keep it under their feet. They stand there; their belief has nailed them to a certain spot, and they cannot progress because of that belief.
Belief is like a staircase; it is made in order to go upward, but if one remains standing on one step then there is no progress. One belief after another comes to a person as he goes further on the path of spiritual progress, each one greater or higher than the last, and therefore the wise, the illuminated ones, go from one belief to another until they reach the ultimate belief. The further a person goes on the path of belief the more tolerant and compassionate he becomes. The one who says I am advanced, I cannot believe in your limited belief; it is too narrow, in that way prevents his own progress. He does not know that belief does not depend on saying that one has a greater or a higher belief, but that it depends on realizing and living that belief.
Very often people dispute over their beliefs, and generally none of them is convinced. Each has his own point of view and they dispute in vain. Besides a person does not always argue because he knows; more often the reason is that he does not know. If a person knows he does not need to dispute; he can hear a hundred things said against his belief and yet remain convinced and happy.
There are four stages of belief. The first stage is the belief of the follower. This belief reminds one of sheep; where one goes, all the others follow, and that is the belief of most people. If a person stays in the middle of the street looking at the sky, in ten minutes time a hundred people are also looking at the sky. Four people will attract four hundred, and four hundred will attract four thousand. That is why the number of believers at this stage is so great; there is no limit to it. Whether it is a right or a wrong belief, they are only attracted by someone else and they all follow.
The second stage of belief is faith in authority. A person believes because it is written in such and such a book, and said by such and such a person. This is a slightly better belief, because if a man of this kind is not sure of himself, he is at any rate sure of some personality, of a certain sacred book or scripture. It is a more intelligent belief, and the one who refuses to believe in this way makes a great mistake, for it is the second step on the path of belief. If one cannot believe in someone who is better acquainted with certain things, one will never learn anything. And no doubt, belief in a person is greater than belief in a book. Very often a man says, "How wonderful! I have read it in a book, so I believe it." He believes it to such a degree that even if someone else says that it is not so, he will still remain convinced that what is written in the book is true.
The third belief is that of reasoning, which means that everything one believes one reasons out within oneself. This is a still greater belief; but how few there are who reason it out! There are also many who begin to reason before arriving at this third stage, and then they cannot progress as they should because two stages are left out. Some begin to reason in childhood, and if they have no proper guidance, reason will lead them astray. It is a great problem today how to bring up children. Parents think nowadays that by giving the children the belief that has been held in the family they may make them narrow, yet at the same time they have no substitute, no other belief to give them in its place. In this way, children grow up without belief and to believe later on is very difficult.
During my travels in Europe and elsewhere I have seen the great difficulty of this question, for there are many who say, We were not taught any particular belief, we have not been taken to church. We have not got any direction in that line; and now we begin to feel a longing to have some belief, but we do not know how to believe. We are too old now to take to a belief.
Belief should be sown in the heart in childhood. It is just like a person who only starts playing the violin at thirty years of age. If he had begun at five years of age, in twelve years time he would perhaps have developed the faculty of music, whereas now it is too late.
When a person has reached the age of thirty or forty and has already made an ego for herself, when he has learning and knowledge and has become centered on material thought, it is too late to begin to believe in something. By that time, he should have gone from one belief to another in order to arrive at a high belief. No doubt, for a person who really wants to seek for truth, it is never too late, yet loss of time is a great loss; no other loss can be compared with it. Life is an opportunity, and if this opportunity is lost it is a great pity.
Now the difficulty of the belief of reasoning person is this, that if reason leads and belief follows, belief will never have a chance to take root. Reason will always crush it. But if belief leads and reason follows, the belief will be purified and carried very far because reason supports it. Thus reason can either crush belief or support it, and if reason supports belief it becomes a great belief; no one can change it. But if reason crushes it then belief cannot exist. This is why it is the custom among the Arabs to give belief to a child even before it knows how to speak. Then later reason springs up and crushes undesirable elements in a belief and raises it to a higher grade of knowledge.
But there is another stage of belief, the fourth stage, in which ones belief can be called conviction. It cannot be changed when it has culminated in conviction. Where does this belief come from? It comes from the divine element in man, known both as love and as intelligence. It is known in these two different aspects but in reality they are one in their essence. If there is no intelligence there is no love; if there is no love there is no intelligence. Love springs from intelligence and intelligence lives from love. And thus they are two aspects of the same thing. Unbelief comes from lack of intelligence and lack of love. A person has belief in accordance with the extent to which he shows these two aspects.
A sympathetic person is inclined to believe what one says and to trust; an unsympathetic person is inclined to disbelieve and distrust. In order to trust there must be sympathy. It might be that a person is sympathetic and not intelligent, but intelligence will be there just the same, although it may be hidden by what one sees, because in reality these two things are one.
Taking these four stages of belief; the man who has the first kind of belief, like the sheep, will say, Yes, I believe in a soul because they say there is a soul. I believe in God, and I believe in a hereafter because people say that when they die, they will go on living somewhere.
The man who has the second kind of belief will say, I believe in a soul because it is written in the book, I believe in a hereafter because the Master has said there is a hereafter. I believe in God because the Prophet has taught us to worship and to pray to the Father in heaven.
When the third person is asked, How can you believe in the soul? he says, Nothing comes out of nothing, there must be something for something to emerge. If my individuality is only a body, then where has it sprung from, where is its source? Do not sense, intelligence, consciousness, all show that I am not only an earthly being, but that I am something different, something larger and greater and higher than matter? I have been told of a being, which is unseen, which is called the soul. Just as the eyes cannot see themselves, but others can see them, so it is with the soul. The soul cannot see itself; as the eyes can see everything but themselves, so the soul sees all things but not itself. And if one asks him, But do you believe in the hereafter? he will say, I cannot have been non-existent before coming on earth, it is only the existent which can exist. As I have existed before, then afterwards too, I shall exist. This is only a phase, a phase we call life. An individual is known by a certain name when in a certain form, a form in which he has perhaps followed some profession. But at the same time I must have existed before. I cannot be born only for a certain time and cease to exist when I die. That is why I think there is a life in the hereafter. And if a person asks him, Do you believe in God? He says, Certainly. There are different parts of ones being: hands, feet, and head. They each function, yet they are all called myself; it is one being. If this is true, then the whole universe is nothing but particles of ones life, and the whole universe is nothing but particles of Gods life. And the Absolute is one Being. God, therefore is all, and all is God. All comes from God and all returns to God, who is the source and goal of all things. Then God is the ideal towards which I direct my concentration, I am trying to reach perfection by means of that perfect ideal which I call God.
But when we come to the man who has reached the fourth belief, which is faith and conviction, not everyone can understand his language. If one asks, Have you a soul? he says, I am the soul, God is only my cover. If one asks, Do you believe in a hereafter? he says, The hereafter I see here; it is not afterwards. I see the past and present and future all at the same moment.
That man lives in eternity. His language cannot be understood by everyone, reason cannot perceive it, because it is beyond reason. The past is for those who cannot see it. But the one who lives in eternity, when he looks back, he looks forward. The future to him is another past, a past which is eternal. And if one asks him, Do you believe in God? he will answer, Do not ask me about my conception of God. I live in God, I am in God, and more than that, I cannot say.