Volume X - Sufi Mysticism
ART, YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
When one thinks deeply about the origin of drama, one finds that drama belongs to the origin of life itself; not only has man invented dramatic art, but God has produced a play in the form of this manifestation. Very often, inquiring souls raise the question of why, if God is kind and loving and merciful, must there be these tragedies in life – suffering, disappointments, and failures. And the best answer that could be given to this question is that He has arranged this play. Would we say that it is unkind to give someone the part of the victim in a play, or that it is wrong of the producer to give an actor the part of a murderer? But when we look at it as a play, we see that all these different parts are given in order to produce one effect, in order to get to the essence. For every character in the play, from beginning to end, the king and the slave, the murderer and his victim, the lover and the one who hates, the cruel one and the one who is kind-hearted, the one who is just and the other who is unjust – they are all helping to produce one ultimate effect, and it is for this effect that the whole play has been arranged.
It is the same with God and the Creation. The whole of manifestation is arranged, with all its desirable and undesirable aspects, with its right and wrong, and with all the kindness and cruelty that we see on the surface of this earth; all this produces in the end one single effect for which the whole play was made. One might say that if this is only a play then it is nothing, but if this is nothing, then there is nothing else that we can call anything. If anything exists at all, it is this manifestation; one may call it everything or nothing, as one wishes.
When we trace the origin of dramatic plays back to the Sanskrit age, we find that religious ceremonies and rituals first took place in order to give human beings the impression which they needed for their development; to console them, to bless them, to reveal the truth gradually to them. Everything that was necessary for their development was given to them in the form of ceremonies or rituals. Then the same tendency took another form, and the result was the putting on the stage of the palace, the court, the king, and the courtiers; and later the officers and soldiers of the army were added. It was all a production, but a production for a purpose. In life, drama is necessary; life is a drama and it needs drama.
When we consider our own individual life, is it not a drama? In the dream, a play is performed; for hours on end a certain life is experienced. But when the eyes are opened, the curtain has fallen and the play is over. That which was real at that moment becomes a dream, as soon as the eyes are open and the sun has risen.
The ancient drama was performed by reciting, singing, playing music, and acting. One man told a tale and acted it at the same time, helped by those around him, and in this way it developed into a form of storytelling. Man's artistic sense embellished it more every day, to make it as pleasing as possible to the eyes and ears. The great Hindu scriptures of Valmiki became most popular, because they presented philosophy and religion in the form of tragedy; and that tragedy was then performed by those who were capable of giving full expression to it. The dramas of Kalidasa, the great Indian playwright of the Sanskrit age, have always appealed to the Hindus as dramas of most wonderful character and ideal. As later, in the dramas of Shakespeare, we find in them great substance and the full expression of character.
In opera, much of the ideas and of the plot is sacrificed in order to make continual singing possible. The result is somewhat unnatural. On the stage, when a man is happy he sings, and when a man is sad he also sings. Whether a man is anxious or at peace, from beginning to end he is singing. No doubt it is most interesting to hear singing all the time, but it is also one-sided, it does not give one a full idea of the play; it only gives one an occasion to hear singing.
It seems that the more material humanity has become, the more superficial is the drama of today. And in comedy every attempt is made to amuse the man in the street. Imagine a play during which the audience has to laugh from the beginning to the end! What can a play like that teach mankind? There is a roar of laughter all through the play, and hundreds and thousands of people come to see it and to become hysterical in the end. That was not the idea of the theatre. The idea of the theatre was to awaken man from his intoxication of life, and to make him realize life's deeper aspects, showing him an aspect which was hidden from his eyes, so that his eyes might be opened and he might see it; that was the object of drama and the theatre.
There is a feeling, called vairagya in Sanskrit, which is produced by throwing a full light upon life, and this vairagya was the central theme of the ancient playwrights. Among the Greeks, there was a custom that in the midst of a feast a mummy was brought into the assembly. The idea was that when people were enjoying life, drinking, and playing, intoxicated with life, one brought before them something to distract their mind from the pleasure and joy of the surface of life, and to draw their attention to its beginning and end, and to its reality. That was the real purpose of drama; that men who are busy in their factories and offices and industries, or with their studies, might have an opportunity to look at life from another point of view. Thus, they might be able to see more clearly those sides of life which are veiled from their eyes because of their everyday occupations.
Nowadays there is not only the theatre, but also moving pictures; and they are only for distraction and to pass the time. And in that distraction the degenerate side of life is shown, so that very often children and young people get wrong impressions. Hundreds and thousands of people go to see these plays, but what do they gain? In fact it is a great loss. Life was already so material, and the cinema makes it even more so.
At the same time we see that the theatres and opera houses and music halls are built more splendidly than ever before in the whole history of humanity. The stage is so cleverly illuminated and the scenery is made to appear so real, that one can say, never in the world has there been such an advance in this field as today. It is wonderful to observe how anxious are the artists to do their best on the stage, and how far the talent of acting is developed. If only in the artistic world, and especially in the world of actors, a spiritual ideal could be introduced; if their interest could be drawn to the real side of life, they could render a very great service to mankind at this day when the stage is a central object of interest to humanity.
One cannot say what the future will be. But as today one sees such numbers of people quite satisfied with what they get at the theatre, and as very little effort, or none at all, seems to be made to deepen the dramatic ideal, it must obviously take some time to introduce a spiritual ideal. But with the development of art, literature, music, and poetry, drama will also develop in its own time. The development of drama will become a most important factor in the evolution of humanity.
The effort that a playwright makes today is to show the present condition of life to the world. But the present condition of life is already known; it need not be shown again. People see it from morning until evening: the street, the cafe, the station, the train, all these things they see and none of these are new to them. Giving the picture of life as everyone sees it all day long is not helpful. One should bring before the people the sides of life which are hidden from the generality, and which can help them in their evolution; then no doubt drama would take an important place in education.
When one speaks to people on this subject, they say, 'People do not like to have anything philosophical in a play, because if they want to learn philosophy they will read books. They do not want anything religious; if they want religion they will go to church.' Then what do they want? Pastime. But those who never open a book of philosophy, and yet for whom philosophy would be very helpful in their lives, can be benefited by a little touch of philosophy in the play. At the same time, whether it is the church or the stage, whenever wisdom is given it helps humanity. It does not matter in which way it is given.
Plays today are made as if in a mold, and if they are not made according to this mold, then it is not considered to be good playwriting. But an ideal is something that cannot be confined to a mold, that cannot be limited to a certain design or a certain form. The higher the ideal, the larger the scope it requires; it cannot be accommodated in a small design or form. Not only drama, but also music and poetry often suffer because of a fixed mold that is forced upon the composer or the poet. The production of art has become material. Whether it is poetry, music, or drama, it can only be true art, really inspired art, when it is made just as it comes, and when it is also completed in that way.