Volume IX - The Unity of Religious Ideals
SEEKING FOR THE IDEAL
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 immortality itself. As life has no experience, it has no proof. If there is a proof, it is life itself. Coming to immortality 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 one's 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 with 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.