Volume VI - The Alchemy of Happiness
THE CONTINUITY OF LIFE
THERE IS a question which occupies every mind: sooner or later a person begins to wonder whether there is such a thing as continuity of life. There are many who, in their pessimism, believe that there will be nothing afterwards; and there are others who, owing to their optimistic attitude, think that no matter whether it is true or not, it is just as well to believe that there is something. Nevertheless it is most painful when a person thinks that there will be nothing after death; and however many reasons he may have in support of his belief, that belief is worse than death.
There are some who wish by various phenomena to gain proof of life in the hereafter; but they meet with ninety-nine disappointments and perhaps one reality.
The idea of the Sufi is that life lives and that death dies. In other words: to life there is no death, and to death there is no life. But this way of attaining to the certainty that life is continuous, is not only an intellectual one. For by studying all the philosophies and metaphysics all through his life, a man may prove to himself by reasoning that there is continuity of life. Yet this realization gained by effort of mind will still not give him the feeling of certainty which he would wish to have. The Sufi, therefore, practices the process by which he is able to touch that part of life in himself which is not subject to death; and by finding that part of life he naturally begins to feel the certainty of life. It makes him more certain of life than of anything else in the world, for he sees the changeability and limitation of all things. Everything that is constructed is subject to destruction; everything that is composed is subject to decomposition; everything born is subject to death. In finding that life he finds his own self and as that is the real life, everything else that he knows about life begins to lose its importance.
In what way does he discover that life in him which was never born and will never die? By self-analysis; but a self-analysis according to what mystics know of it, which means the understanding of what this vehicle which we call our body is to us and in what relation we stand to it. By understanding what the mind, that which we call mind, consists of. By asking oneself, 'Am I, then, this body, am I this mind?' There comes a time when man begins to see that he himself is the knower of the body and of the mind. But he only arrives at this realization when he can hold the body and mind in his hands, like objects which he uses for his purpose in life. Once he has done this, then the body and mind become like two floats which he puts on in order to swim in the water without danger of drowning. The same body and mind which cause man's mortality, at least in his thought, then become the means of his safety; they save him from drowning in the water of mortality.
In point of fact mortality is only our conception. Immortality is the reality. We make a conception of mortality because we do not know the real life. By realization of the real life and the comparison between real life and mortality, one learns that mortality is nonexistent. It is no exaggeration to say that the work of a Sufi is unlearning. What he is accustomed to call or recognize as life, he then begins to recognize as death. And what he is accustomed to call death, he then begins to recognize as life. Thus for him both life and death are not conditions to which he is subject, but conditions which he himself brings about. A great Persian Sufi, Bedil, says, 'By myself I become captive, and by myself I become free.' In simple language this means, 'By myself I die, and by myself I live.' Why does a Sufi say this? Why does not everyone say this? Because, for a Sufi, it is a condition which he brings about. For another person it is a condition in which he is helpless.
To bring about this realization, the first thing that one must learn in every little thing in life is the way of unlearning. In my own work I find it very difficult when a person comes to me and says, 'Now I have learned so far. Will you add more to my knowledge?' In my heart I say, 'The more you have learned, the harder it is for me. And if I wanted to add to it, it would not be adding. It would be taking away from what you have, in order that I may unburden you from all you have learned. You must be able to unlearn first. For through this unlearning will come the true learning.'
But, one might say, is it then quite useless for us to learn what we learn in life? And the answer is no, it is all useful. But for what? For the object for which one has learned it. But not everything is learned on account of the object for which one is searching. When one is searching for the secret of life, the first thing to unlearn is that which one calls learning. No doubt this is something which is difficult for everyone to understand. And yet when we read the lives of Rumi and his teacher, Shams-i Tabriz, the first lesson the latter gave to Rumi was to unlearn all that he had learned.
Is this unlearning forgetting all that one learns? Not at all. This unlearning means to be able to say with reason, logically, the contrary to what one has learnt. When one is accustomed to say: this is wrong, that is right. This is good and that is bad. This is great and that is small. This is higher and that is lower. This is spiritual and that is material. This is up and that is down, and this is before and that is after. If one can use the opposite words for each with reason and logic, one has unlearned naturally that which one had once learned. It is after this that the realization of truth begins. For then the mind is not fixed any more. And it is then that one becomes alive, for then one's soul has been born. It is then that one will become tolerant, and it is then that one will forgive. For one will understand both one's friend and one's foe. Then one never has only one point of view. One has all points of view. Is it not dangerous, one might ask, to have all points of view? Wouldn't that make one lose one's own point of view? Not necessarily. One may occupy one room in the house or ten rooms. One may use each as one likes according to how many points of view one can see, so large is one's point of view.
All this is attained by the meditative process, by tuning oneself, by bringing oneself into a proper rhythm; by concentration, contemplation, meditation, and realization; by both dying and living at the same time. In order to rise above death one must first die. In order to rise above mortality one must know what it is. But this is certain, that the greatest and most important thing that one can wish to accomplish in life is one and only one: to rise above the conception of death.
In order to rise above the conception of death, one should play death, and try to know what death is. And it is a great lesson to play death. What we do is a very false thing, for we play life when we are subject to death. If we played death it would be something real, and not a hypocrisy. It is through this that we shall discover life. For we experience death by playing life, and we experience life by playing death. What we call death is the death of this body, and if we attach ourselves to this body as our being, then it is death. A simple man asked a friend, 'How shall I know that I am dead?' 'Well,' the friend said, 'it is very easy. When your coat has become torn and worn out, that is the sign of death.' And when his coat was worn out and torn, this man began to think that he was dead, and he was weeping bitterly. Then some thoughtful person came along and told him, 'It is only your coat that is torn. How can you cry? You are still alive!'
This story illustrates exactly the mystical idea. To the mystic the body is a garment. But it is no use realizing this intellectually; for if one says intellectually, 'My body is my garment,' the next question is, 'But then what am I, and where am I?' It is by the meditative process that one finds where one is and what one is, and this does not remain as a belief. It becomes faith, and even greater than faith; it becomes conviction.
There was a king who thought that he would give up his kingdom and become a mureed. He wanted to give up all worldly things, and just lose himself in spiritual thought. And when he went to Bokhara, under the guidance of a teacher, the teacher gave him a probationer's work, and that work was to sweep and clean the whole house where all the pupils lived, and to collect the garbage and take it out of the village. No doubt the pupils were very much in sympathy with this man, and they were shocked that he, who used to sit on the throne and be a king, had to do this. They thought it must be a terrible thing for him. The teacher, knowing the object that he had before him, could not do otherwise. He said, 'He must do it, for he is not yet ready.' Once all the disciples came and said, 'Teacher, we are all in sympathy with this man, and we think he is so refined, so kind, and so cultured, and we would be so glad if you would relieve him of this duty.' The teacher said, 'We will have a test.' One day when he was taking his garbage pail outside the town somebody collided with him, and all was spilled on the ground. He looked up and said, 'Well, this would not have happened in the past, that I can tell you!' And when the report was brought to the teacher he said, 'Did I not say that the time had not yet come?'
After some time a test was made again. And when the same thing happened, this man looked at the one who had pushed him and said nothing. Again the teacher said, 'Did I not say that the time has not yet arrived?' But the third time when he was tested he did not even look at the man who upset his pail. He gathered up everything that had been spilled and carried it along. Then the teacher said, 'Now is the time, now he can play death.'
All the teachings of Christ, such as: if one should strike you on one side of the face, turn the other side. If one should ask you to go one mile, go still farther. If one asks you for your overcoat, give your cap also. When we think of it, what does it all mean? Is it not all teaching us how to play death? Therefore, if at any time the teachers of truth have prescribed for their pupils any process of behavior towards their fellow men, that process can be called nothing else but playing death. One might think that this is very hard, that it is very cruel on the part of the teacher. But the instructor had also to go through the same cruelty at a certain period of his life. Sometimes the greatest cruelty is the greatest kindness. It is hard, but the hardest path can be conquered in this way. And how many times do we take to heart unnecessary things. How many times do we cause, or take interest in, disharmony which could just as well have been avoided? How often do we refrain from evil which we could just as well have refrained from? This is all playing life, and the other is playing death. When we play death we arrive at life. When we play life we arrive at death.
Playing with death is rising above the sensible and the insensible, because what we call sensible and insensible belongs to a certain stage. One can rise above that stage; then all is sensible. Besides one will always find that those who play death or who have played death are the ones who are the most open and sympathetic to the pain of others. For while they are playing death, automatically they are playing life too. That is why they are alive to everything that can help them to aid others, although they are dead to all the wrong things that come to them.
What is the life of a mystic, of a man who has realized God, if it is not playing a part? The part is not one part; it is a thousand parts. He has to play the part of a servant, of a master, of his parents' son, of a friend, of the father of his child, of a neighbor; and yet in his mind he realizes unity. In all capacities he goes on playing the part and yet keeping that feeling of oneness alive. The further one advances on the spiritual path the more one will have to learn to play a part. The twelve Apostles could suddenly speak many languages, and from that day they were able to play many parts and to answer the questions of everyone in his own language. The inspiration that came to them enabled them to play the part.
If one wants to take part in the play produced before one, this can be accomplished by effacing oneself. One has to become separate from one's self; that is the whole secret: when one is no more what one thought oneself to be. Annihilation, which is such a frightening word, is in reality nothing but acting in a play with a different name, a different form, a different appearance. The annihilation of the self comes first by adoring another form or appearance. That annihilation never kills a person. It is Fana-fi-Shaikh, and later come Fana-fi-Rasul and Fana-fi-Allah; these are the three steps on the path of annihilation. One step is annihilation in the ideal of form, the next in the ideal of name, and the third step is annihilation in the nameless and formless.