Volume VI - The Alchemy of Happiness
Life, An Opportunity
When we look at the world today and at the condition it is in, we begin to wonder if we understand any better than those who lived before us the idea that life is an opportunity. In spite of our present stage of evolution and the scientific advancement of the world, the war which humanity went through not long ago shows that never in the history of the world was such a great catastrophe caused by mankind. It seems as though the whole evolution of humanity had been intended to prepare and to create such means of destruction that the greater part of humanity has been ruined by it. And when we think of the distrust that exists today among nations and how one nation has allowed another nation to be ruined, we begin to feel that we understand the idea much less than those who lived before us that life is an opportunity.
Regarding education, year by year the study in the schools and colleges is becoming more difficult; to pass their examinations the students have to work so hard that it seems that by the time they have got a degree their nerves and finer forces are shattered, and that they are then unable to make full use of their qualifications.
When we look at the political world we see the same: each political party is striving for its own welfare just as each individual is trying to get the better of another; and nations follow the same principle.
Domestic life seems to be declining every day. Life is becoming more and more a hotel life. Very few in the world today experience and enjoy home life, or are even capable of appreciating it, for they do not know it. Those who lived before us were much happier, for they knew the simplicity and affection of home life and the joy and the pleasure of a home. The pleasures today are not like the enjoyments of the more intelligent and wise in ancient times. They used to enjoy poetry and higher music; today jazz has become more popular. It is the same with all the other entertainments. When we go to the theater we find the plays more and more limited in scope; there is no depth, no height, no ideal. They show life as it really is, but that does not inspire or uplift mankind. What is needed is to show life better than it is so that man may follow that example. Besides the tendency of the writer, of the poet, of the artist, of the musician, is now to appeal to the most ordinary person, to the man of the lowest evolution, 'the man in the street'. If everything that should educate man, theater, books, poetry, and art, pull him down to his lowest stage of evolution, it means going downward instead of upward. When a person writes good music or poetry with more lofty themes, there is no market for it. Whenever a person brings something higher he is told that it is not wanted. It seems that education, higher ideals, everything, is becoming commercialized; and by being commercialized it is lowered. And at the same time, if we stand in the midst of the crowd and look at the people hurrying by, we would think that never before have people tried so hard to make the best of life's opportunity.
But the opportunity of life should be considered from a different point of view. The wiser we become the more our outlook changes. There are four different stages in life: childhood, youth, middle age, and advanced age; and each of these four stages shows a great opportunity. For instance in childhood the consciousness is in paradise. The child living in the same world of woe, treachery, and wickedness as the grown-up is happy because it is not yet awakened to the other aspect of life. It only knows the better side of it, the beauty of life. And therefore that same world is the Garden of Eden for the child till it grows and is exiled from the Garden. Before that it enjoys paradise on earth; it is unaware of the wickedness and the ugliness of human nature. It still maintains in itself the heavenly air and angelic innocence and the tendency to appreciate all beauty and to love every being.
As it grows it begins to lose that tendency; nevertheless the child shows by its words and actions and by every tendency the angelic essence in its soul. This is the opportunity for every child to experience kingliness in life; and this opportunity is taken away by parents who send the child to school too early and burden it with study. We need not be anxious to prepare the child for its studies so that it will be able to answer in school. That kingliness that God has given to it, that joy and beauty for which it is born and which it longs to have, are thus taken away from it. This period of its life should be made free of anxiety and worry. The parents burden the child with studies, but after all what do these studies lead to? The child's strength and intelligence are only lessened, when it is burdened with unnecessary studies before the mind is developed; and this tendency is increasing more and more.
People also want to teach a child concentration; but they have forgotten that a child is born with concentration. It is the grownup whose concentration is weak. Every soul is born with concentration; it loses this faculty as it grows up.
Once I was traveling in England and someone invited me to see a school where concentration was taught. They brought before me ten or fifteen children, and each child was asked to look at a blank curtain, and say what was there. One child looked and looked and said, 'A lily'. Another child said, 'A rose'. The teacher asked a third child to tell her what was there. The child answered, 'I don't see anything!' I thought, 'That is much better; at any rate he says what he sees!' And so the teacher asked ten or twelve children questions about what they saw. It was a lesson in hypocrisy, in exciting the imagination. It could never help a child, for the child's concentration is already there; if the child is kept a child that is enough. We want to make the child into a grown-up person, but it is only happy when left to run about or to be cheerful. The child should not have this burden. We have made it for ourselves; it is not born with us.
If life were not so complex there would have been no need of war and of such difficulties as we have today. Because we have spoiled ourselves we want more and more; and yet we make it so difficult to get what we want, that in the end we cannot get it at all. And at the same time by wanting more than is necessary we make life miserable, and the life of others also.
The amount of study with which a youth is loaded, is the greatest wrong done to him today. But the culture of the youth seems to have disappeared and inspiration is lacking. We have not realized what is necessary for young people; they are not given the inspiration of lofty ideals, nor those impressions which make them do great things. Today there seems to be a kind of uniformity in all youths. Youth has no admiration for a hero; no stimulus is given to youth to become a wonderful or an inspired person, a great poet or musician. Because of this uniform education the child does not get the nourishment for its soul which it needs to become that for which it was born.
Besides youth is an opportunity during which time a beautiful manner, a high aspiration, and lofty ideals can be taught. And it is youth which has the enthusiasm to take everything that comes, assimilate it and express it in return. But when the time of a youth is spent only in working hard all day long and trying to pass examinations, and little time is left for recreation or for other things, that does not suffice for his life's purpose.
Those who understand these ideas realize that youth is the greatest opportunity that comes in life; it never comes again. Life's spring-time never returns; it comes only once; and when that opportunity is taken away and the youth has not been inspired as he should be, it is just like keeping a plant without watering it. For that is the very time it should be watered, that is the time for it to be reared; and that time should not be neglected. There are thousands and millions of young people in the colleges who have had no good manners taught to them, and no inspiration given to them. When they are grown-up they can show that they have passed examinations, that they have gained a lot of knowledge; yet the knowledge which enables the soul to develop, has been neglected during their youth, during the time when the mind is receptive, and when the child with all its enthusiasm and capacity for concentration can grasp everything that is good and beautiful.
The inspiration of the musicians and poets who have done great work in the world was created during their youth. Either they saw an example, a living example which impressed them, or they were told or they studied something that was just like sowing the seed in their heart. For youth is the only time which destines the child to become great in life; and if this time is past it will never come again. Whether a person wants to be a business-man or a politician, a professional man, a scientist or a musician, it is in youth that he should start and that he should be inspired with that ideal. At that time the ground is fertile. But when that time is gone the chance does not easily come again.
Besides the training for various professions and occupations, there remains another capacity which is neglected in youth: the cultivation of the heart-quality. Today there is hardly one person in a hundred whose heart-quality has been cultivated. Although instinctively the heart-quality is always there, every effort is made to blunt it. What is meant by the heart-quality? There is intuition, there is inspiration, and there is revelation. All these come from the culture of the heart, from the heart-quality. A person may be most cultivated, may have studied much, and yet may not be intuitive.
A person may learn all the techniques of music and poetry without having the heart-quality. Heart quality is something which must be developed within oneself; and when no attention is given at the time of youth to developing that particular quality, what happens when a person is grown-up? He will be selfish, proud, mannerless and not ready to sacrifice. He believes that these characteristics guard his interest best, and one calls such a person a man of common sense or a practical man. But if everybody were like that, what could one expect of life except constant conflict as there is today? Religion or the devotional side of man's nature is also dying out for the reason that the heart-quality is lacking. Even if people go to church or to another place of worship, their piety is intellectual. People can only enjoy something intellectual. When there is a mathematical explanation of something it is wonderful; but when it comes to feeling blessed and uplifted, to feeling the raising of the consciousness towards the higher spheres, that they cannot experience for they live in their intellect.
There are two principal experiences of life: one experience is called sensation and the other exaltation. What is generally known and experienced by the average man today is what is called sensation: all the beauty that one sees, of line or color, all that one sees with the eyes or that one tastes and touches. It is living in sensation that makes man material, and after some time he becomes ignorant of the spirit.
Exaltation, which is a greater bliss, a higher pleasure, and which makes man independent of the outer life for his happiness, does not seem to be known by the majority. What is exaltation? The soul can go through four different experiences which are all in reality the longing of the soul. Mistakenly man does not seek those four experiences but instead he experiences something else. For instance it is a constant yearning of the soul to experience happiness, and instead of that it becomes connected with what one calls pleasure; but pleasure belongs to sensation and happiness to exaltation. Pleasure is only the suggestion; happiness is reality.
After that comes knowledge. Every soul yearns for knowledge, that knowledge which will give exaltation. But the soul cannot be satisfied by the knowledge one gathers from books, by learning, or by the study of outside things. For instance the knowledge of science, the knowledge of art, are outside knowledge. They give one a kind of strength, a kind of satisfaction, but this does not last. It is another knowledge that the soul is really seeking. The soul cannot be satisfied unless it finds that knowledge, but that knowledge does not come by learning names and forms. On the contrary it comes from unlearning. Do not be surprised therefore if you read in some books of the East that Mahatmas went into the mountains and sat there for many years. I do not say that we should follow their example, but we can appreciate what they have brought from there. They went there to explore life, that aspect of life which is unseen and remains unexplored. They sat there for years in meditation. They lived on leaves and fruits, on what they could find in the forest. They contemplated. What they have thus gathered is not a knowledge learned from this world, but a greater knowledge which can be learned from within.
One can see pictures of Buddha, with closed eyes, sitting cross-legged. What does that symbol convey to us? That there is a knowledge that can be learnt by closing not only the eyes but also the mind from the outside world. Closing the eyes does not make the concentration any greater. Most people go as far as closing the eyes, and no further; but if the eyes are closed and the mind is pondering over things, that is not concentration. Those who can concentrate can do it without having to close the eyes. I once saw, when traveling in the East, a person working in a telegraph-office; and however busy he was, his concentration continued. I said, 'It is very wonderful, that with all this work you can go on concentrating.' He smiled and said, 'That is the way of concentration.'
The third thing one experiences in life and for which the soul yearns is happiness. That can be gained also by getting in touch within oneself. And the fourth thing is peace. It cannot be gained by outer means, by outer comfort and rest alone. It can only be gained when the mind is at rest.
After youth comes the stage of middle age. Middle age is the time when one has gathered knowledge, when one has experienced life, when one has gone through joy and sorrow, when one has learnt lessons from one's profession, from one's occupation, from one's home, from every side of life. It is the opportunity? to make the best use of what one has gathered by experience. But what generally happens is what Sadi, the Persian poet says, 'O my self, you have come to middle age, and yet you are no better than a child!' If a person has not learnt by that time all he ought to learn, he has indeed lost life's opportunity. Because it is that age during which he earns not only money, but experience and knowledge; and the more he has learnt, the richer he is at that time, and the better he knows how to make use of what powers he has, the more successful and fruitful he becomes.
Besides that is the age when one begins to know life's obligations, and if one does not know them even then, one has not learnt anything. To know one's obligation towards those who look up to one, who surround one, who expect some help, some advice, some service from one, that is the time when one must be conscious of these things. It is the beautiful age when the tree comes to full maturity, when it begins to give fruit to the world. Not only is this the time for the singer when his voice is in full blossom, not only is this the time for the artist or the thinker when he can express himself fully, but for every person that age is the promise of the ripened mind expressing itself to the best advantage; and if that opportunity is not taken then man has missed a great deal in life.
Advanced age too has its own blessings. People do not appreciate the blessings of every period of life; therefore they appreciate one and dislike another. In the East, especially in India, great respect is given to age; and it would be good if that ideal were more widespread. Old age is the time when man is the record of his whole life; whether he has been sympathetic, kind, wise, foolish, or whatever he has been, whatever he has done, advanced age brings the record of it. One can read it in his face, in his features, in his atmosphere. He has a greater opportunity to inspire, to bless, and to serve those who want his service or who want to be directed. He can show them a better way of looking at life. But when man does not realize his opportunities, he will act like a child in middle age, while in childhood he was given the work of an old person, and in youth he was burdened like someone of middle age.
If we only understood that every moment in life, every day, every month, and every year, has its particular blessing; if we only knew life's opportunity! But the greatest opportunity that one can realize in life is to accomplish that purpose for which man was sent on earth. And if he has lost that opportunity, then whatever he may have accomplished in the world, whether he has gathered wealth, possesses much property, or has made a great name for himself, he will not be satisfied. Once man's eyes are opened and he begins to look at the world, he will find there is a greater opportunity than he had ever thought before.
Man is as poor as he is, as limited as he is, as troubled as he is; yet there is nothing in this world which could not be accomplished by man if he only knew what thought can do. It is ignorance which keeps him from what he ought to accomplish. Man should know how to operate his thought, how to accomplish certain things, how to focus his mind on the object that should be accomplished. If he does not know then he has not made use of his mind but has lived like a machine. If man knew the power of feeling, and realized that the power of feeling can reach anywhere and penetrate anything, he could achieve whatever he might wish.
There is a Persian story of Shirin and Farhad. Once Shirin, the girl whom Farhad admired, in order to test his love said, 'Farhad, do you love me? If you love me, you will have to make a way through the mountains'. Farhad said, 'Yes, I was waiting for that test.' He went to the mountains full of the feeling of love he had for her. Every time he broke the rock with his hammer, he said the name of Shirin, and the strength of his hammer became a thousand times greater because it was joined by the feeling of his heart.
Today man has forgotten the great power there is in feeling. It can break rocks. There is nothing that cannot be accomplished by the power of feeling. But generally there is no feeling; feeling has become drowned, it no longer exists. To realize the power of feeling and to express it is a great opportunity which life offers; but a still greater opportunity of life is to free oneself from the captivity of limitations. Every man is a captive in some form or other; his life is limited in some form or other; but one could get above this limitation by realizing the latent power and inspiration of the soul.
Kabir, the great poet of India says, 'Life is a field and you are born to cultivate it. And if you know how to cultivate this field you can produce anything you like. All the need of your life can be produced in this field. All that your soul yearns after and all you need is to be got from the field, if you know how to cultivate it and how to reap the fruit.' But if this opportunity is only studied in order to make the best of life by taking all that one can take and by being more comfortable, that is not satisfying. We must enrich ourselves with thought, with that happiness which is spiritual happiness, with that peace which belongs to our soul, with that liberty, that freedom, for which our soul longs; and attain to that higher knowledge which breaks all the fetters of life and raises our consciousness to look at life from a different point of view. Once a person has realized this opportunity he has fulfilled the purpose of Life.