Volume VIIIa - Sufi Teachings
THE DIFFERENT STAGES OF SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT
IN SANSKRIT there are three distinct words: Atma, which means the soul, or a soul, an individual, a person; Mahatma, a high soul, an illuminated being, a spiritual personality; and Paramatma, the divine man, the self-realized person, the God-conscious soul. As it is said in the Gayan, 'If you only explore him, there is a lot in man', therefore man – and I mean every man – has a very wide scope of development in the spiritual spheres, a scope that an ordinary mind cannot imagine.
The term 'divine man' has always been chiefly connected with man, and very few realize that in fact it means God-man. The reason for this is that certain religiously inclined people have separated man so much from God that they have filled the gap between man and God with what they call religion, a faith that stands for ever as a dividing wall between God and man, and in which all sins are attributed to man and all purity to God. It is a good idea, but far from the truth.
Regarding the first word, Atma, mankind can be divided into three principal categories. In one category he is the animal man, in another he can be the devil man, and yet another he can be the human man. A Hindustani poet says, 'There are many difficulties in life, because even for a man it is difficult to be a person.'
The animal man is the one who concerns himself only with food and drink and whose actions are in no way different from those of an animal, who is content with the satisfaction of his natural appetites. The man who represents devilish qualities is the one in whom the ego, the self, has become so strong and powerful, and therefore so blind, that it has almost wiped out any sense of gentleness, of kindness, of justice. He is the one who takes pleasure in causing harm or hurt to another person, the one who returns evil for the good done to him, the one whose pleasure is to do wrong. The number of those belonging to this category is large.
Then there is the human man, in whom sentiment is developed. Perhaps he is not the physician's idea of a normal person. But from the point of view of the mystic, a person in whom there is a balance between thought and sentiment, who is awakened to the feeling of another, and who is conscientious in everything he does and aware of the effect that it produces on others, is beginning to become human. In other words, it is not an easy thing even for a man to be a man. Sometimes it takes a lifetime.
The Mahatma is an illuminated soul. He looks at life from another point of view. He thinks about others more than about himself; his life is devoted to actions of beneficence; he expects no appreciation or reward for all that he can do for others; he does not look for praise and he is not afraid of blame. On one side connected with God and on the other side connected with the world, he lives his life as harmoniously as possible. Why does he tread the path of righteousness and piety? Why does he spend his life teaching and preaching to humanity? He does it because it is natural; every loving and illuminated heart has a desire to see others partake of its vision of glory.
There are three categories of Mahatmas. One is busy struggling with himself and with conditions before him and around him. Why should he struggle? The answer is that there is always a conflict between the person who wishes to go upward and the wind that blows him downward. The wind that blows a person downward is continually felt by anyone who takes a step on the path of progress. This wind is conflict with the self, it is conflict with others, it is conflict with conditions; conflicts that come from all around, till every part of that Mahatma is tested and tried, till his patience is almost exhausted and his ego is crushed. It is a hard rock that is turned into a soft paste. Just as a soldier in war may receive many wounds, and still more impressions which remain in his heart as wounds, so is the condition of this warrior who walks on the spiritual path; for everything is against him; his friends though they may not know it, his foes, conditions, the atmosphere, the self. And the wounds that he has to experience and the impressions that he receives in the struggle, make him into a spiritual personality, a personality which is difficult to resist, which is overwhelming.
The next category of Mahatma is the one who learns his lesson by passiveness, resignation, sacrifice, love, devotion, and sympathy. There is a kind of love that is like the flame of a candle: blow, and it is gone. It can only remain as long as it is not blown out; it cannot withstand blowing. And there is a love that is like the sun that rises and reaches the zenith, and then sets and disappears; this love endures longer. But then there is a love that is like the divine Intelligence, that was and is and will be. The closing and the opening of the eyes will not take away intelligence; the rising and the setting of the sun will not affect intelligence. When that love is created which endures wind and storm, and stands firm through rise and fall, then a person's language becomes different; the world cannot understand it. When love has once reached the Sovereign of love, it is like the water of the sea that has arisen as vapor and has formed the clouds over the earth and then pours down as rainfall. The continual outpouring of such a heart is unimaginable; not only human beings but even birds and beasts must feel its influence, its effect. It is a love that cannot be put into words, a love that radiates, proving its warmth by the atmosphere it creates. The resigned soul of the Mahatma may appear weak to someone who does not understand him, for he takes praise and blame in the same way, and he accepts all that is given to him, favor or disfavor, pleasure or pain. All that comes he accepts with resignation.
For the third category of these highly evolved souls there is struggle on the one hand and resignation on the other. And this is a most difficult way to progress: to go one step forward, and another step backward, and so on. There is no mobility in the progress because the one thing is contrary to the other. On one side power is working, on the other side love; on one side kingliness, on the other side slavery. As the Emperor Ghasnavi said in a Persian poem, 'I as an emperor have thousands of slaves ready at my call. But since love has kindled my heart, I have become the slave of my slaves.' On the one hand there is activity, on the other hand passivity.
The first example of the Mahatma may be called the Master, the next the Saint, and the third the Prophet.
With the Paramatma we come to the highest stage of the awakening of the consciousness. An ordinary person gives greater importance to the world and less to God; the illuminated one gives greater importance to God and less to the world; but the Paramatma gives, and yet at the same time does not give, importance to God or to the world. He is what he is. If one says to him, 'It is all true', he says, 'Yes, it is all true.' If one says, 'It is not true', he says, 'Yes, it is not true.' If one says, 'All is both false and true', he says, 'Yes, all is false and true.' His language becomes gibberish and very puzzling to an ordinary person. For it is easier to communicate with someone who speaks our language, but as soon as the sense of someone's words is different, his language becomes different; it becomes a foreign language compared with one's everyday speech. Words mean nothing to the Paramatma, but only their inner sense. And one cannot even say that he understands the sense: he is the sense; he becomes that which others pursue.