Volume IX - The Unity of Religious Ideals
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 man, the joy of humility is never known by the proud. The effect produced upon a man's 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 one's 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 one's 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 one's fellow man, 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. Man's 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. They 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 man's 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 attention 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 which 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 men's 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 a 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 soul's purpose in coming on earth.
The meaning of the word Nirvah is the repetition of thankfulness and bringing one's own vision to one's 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, Muhammad, We would not have created the whole world.' One might think that this is meant as a partial compliment to Muhammad, but it is not Muhammad 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 God's 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 one's duties, keep to one's 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 everyone's 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 he was taught by someone to do it, or 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 a 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 Sadi's 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 fellow men 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 their 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 grumblingly, 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 person's 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 one's 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 man's 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 one's 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 to demand that our fellow man 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 infant's 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. Perhaps another man could 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 room he saw the king absorbed in prayer; and when 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 God's servants; they work for Him and they always obey Him!' (Mathnawi I, 838) 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.' (Mathnawi I, 846) 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 Muhammad, 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 inharmonies 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 man's 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 man's 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 behold 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 man's 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. God's 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 one's 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 Muhammad 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 person's 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 he invokes the names of God man 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 life's 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 man's soul, with
that the soul becomes endowed, and that the soul will become.
If the devil impresses himself on a man's soul, he will become
a devil; if God impresses Himself on a man's soul, he will turn