A mystic is an idealist in every sense of the word: one
who has no ideal cannot be a mystic. It would not be an
exaggeration to say that the one who has no ideal lives
without life. If there is anything in the world which we
can say we live for, it is one thing only – the ideal; and
when there is no ideal there is nothing to live for. In
Sanskrit religion is called Dharma, which literally
means duty. To give a definition of what religion is one
can say that it is an unswerving progress towards the ideal.
But then what is the ideal? Any ideal or every ideal that
we have before us is the ideal for that moment.
Ideal can be divided into five aspects, of which the
first is the ideal which one has for oneself. It might begin
to show itself as a whim, as a dream, as an imagination,
even as an expectation of a child. If a child says, 'When
I am grown-up I will have an elephant to ride upon, or a
beautiful horse', this is an ideal. And this first aspect
of the ideal can again be divided into three classes. The
first is when one says, 'I shall possess this or that –
so much wealth, so many gardens, so many palaces', or, 'I
shall surround myself with so much grandeur that I shall
appear quite different from anyone else.' The next is when
one says, 'I shall be the Prime Minister or the President
of the country or have a throne and crown'. And the third
class is when one says, 'I shall keep to this particular
virtue, I shall be pious', or, 'I shall be good in every
sense of the word', or, 'I shall be that which I consider
good and beautiful in myself'.
There was a young man in Indian history, whose name was
Shivaji, and whose story is an example of this first aspect
of ideal. He began his life by living on robbery, and one
day he came into the presence of a sage, to ask his blessing
for success in his robbery. The sage saw in his face, in
his eyes, in his voice that here was a real jewel, that
there was an ideal in him, although not yet awakened. The
sage asked him, 'How many men have you in your gang?' He
said, 'No one. I work alone.' The sage said, 'It is a pity.
You must form a small band and keep together.' He was glad
to take this advice, and he formed a small band of robbers,
and continued in his pursuit. He was more successful, and
when he visited the sage again the latter said, 'How many
are there now in your gang?' He said, 'Only four or five.'
The sage told him that this was too few, that he should
have at least fifty or a hundred men to do something really
worthwhile. And then Shivaji, by the charm of his personality,
gathered some more robbers to accompany him and they did
many really daring things. They attacked caravans, and they
risked their lives, and were very successful. And one day
the sage said to him, 'Do you not think that it is a great
pity that you, such a hero, who are willing to risk your
life and who have won all these friends and made them your
companions, do not try to throw out the Moguls [who were
occupying the country at that time] at least from our district?'
Shivaji agreed. He was prepared, he had drilled, this was
something for him to think about. The first attack brought
him victory. Then he made a second attack and a third, till
he was the chief of the whole province. And he went to the
sage to express his gratitude. 'Yes,' the sage said, 'be
thankful but not contented, for what you have done is not
enough.' And one reads in the history of India that this
man nourished the desire to form an Indian empire, but he
did not live long enough to achieve it, although during
his life he became a wonderful king and a splendid hero
whom India will always remember.
The second aspect is when a person makes an ideal out
of a principle. And when he succeeds in carrying out this
principle throughout his life, then he has accomplished
a great thing. If he has been able to live up to that principle,
then he has everything. And this aspect can also be illustrated
by the story of a robber. In the deserts of Arabia there
used to be a well-known robber, and when caravans passed
through there they were warned beforehand that there was
danger in that particular place where he lived. And once
when a caravan arrived near there a man who was very anxious
about his gold coins thought that it would be a good thing
if he could find someone to whom he could entrust his money.
He saw a tent at a distance, and when he came near he saw
a most dignified man sitting there smoking his pipe. He
saluted him and said, 'I am anxious. I have heard that in
this place there is danger of robbers, and I beg you to
keep my coins in your charge.' 'I will do it with pleasure,'
said the man, and he accepted them. And when the other rejoined
the caravan he heard that there had been an attack by robbers
and that they had taken all they could from everyone. He
said, 'Thank God for the inspiration He gave me to give
my money in safe keeping!' Then later he went again to the
tent to get his money back, and what did he see? He saw
that this dignified man was the chief of the robbers, and
that the other robbers were sitting before him dividing
the spoils. He stood at a distance, fearing they would perhaps
take his life now that his money was already gone. And he
thought how foolish he had been to have taken the trouble
to bring his money to the robbers himself! He turned to
go back, but the chief called him asking, 'Why did you come,
and why are you leaving?' The man said, 'I thought when
I gave my money to you that you would return it to me, but
now I realize that you belong to the robbers who have attacked
the caravan.' The chief said, 'What has that got to do with
the money you entrusted to me? The coins which you gave
into my keeping are your money. It was not robbed, it was
given into my charge. I give it back to you.'
This was a principle which the robber lived up to. He
is a historical person, and in the end this very man became
a great murshid, and those around him became his mureeds.
One can find his name among the Sufis of the past. This
shows how living up to one's principle makes a ladder for
a person to climb to the desired goal.
The third ideal is the idea of bettering the conditions.
Someone thinks, 'I should like my village to be improved.
I should like my town to have all comforts and facilities.'
Or he thinks, 'I would like my fellow citizens to be better
educated, to have more happiness,' or, 'My nation should
be honored in the world, and for the honor of my nation
I will give my life.' One may think of his race, another
of humanity, to better its conditions, to serve it, to be
its well-wisher, to bring to it all the good that is possible.
The great heroes who have saved their nation through their
lifelong service, who have given examples to humanity, who
have sacrificed their lives for their people, all had some
ideal, they all lived a life which was worthwhile.
As great as is a person's ideal, so great is that person.
It is the ideal that makes a person great, but at the same
time if he is not great his ideal cannot be great. Besides
life is a small thing to offer to the ideal, and if life
is a small thing, what else is more valuable? Nothing. It
is the one who has no ideal who holds on to everything and
says, 'This is mine, and I am very anxious to keep it!'
The one with an ideal is generous. There is nothing that
he will keep back, for his ideal he will give everything,
and it is that person who is a living being.
The fourth aspect of the ideal is when one idealizes
a person. One man sees his ideal in his child, in his mother,
in his father, ancestor, friend, in his beloved, or his
teacher. No doubt this ideal is greater than all others,
for in this ideal there is a miraculous power: it awakens
life and gives life to dead things. There are however difficulties
in following this ideal to the end, for when we idealize
a person, naturally he cannot always come up to our expectations,
for our ideal moves faster than the progress of this living
being. Besides, when one idealizes a person one wishes to
cover one's eyes from all his shortcomings. One wishes to
see only what is good and noble in him. But there come moments
when the other side of that person is also seen, for goodness
cannot exist without badness and beauty cannot exist without
the lack of it. Very often beauty covers ugliness and ugliness
covers beauty, very often goodness covers evil and evil
covers goodness; but both opposites are always present.
If not, man would not be man.
An idealist will see all that is good and beautiful in
the one he idealizes; yet he keeps the object of his ideal
before his eyes. His mind can idealize, but his eyes cannot
remain closed. His heart takes him to heaven, but his eyes
hold him fast on earth and there is always a conflict. And
when it happens that the person whom one has idealized falls
short of the goodness and beauty which one had expected
him to possess, then one becomes disheartened, and one wonders
whether there is anything in this world that could be ideal.
We see that emotional people are apt to idealize quickly,
but are also apt to cast down the object of their idealization
quickly. To keep up an ideal which is living on earth and
which is before one's eyes is the hardest thing there is,
unless one has such balance that one will never waver and
such compassion that one is able at one's own expense to
add to the ideal all that it lacks. This is the only way
in which one can hold on to a living ideal, otherwise what
happens is that one says during the waxing of the ideal,
'You are so good. You are so kind. You are so great,' and
during the waning of the ideal one says, 'But you are unjust.
You are thoughtless. You are inconsiderate. I am disillusioned.
You are not what I expected you to be.' It is so natural,
and at the same time it is not the ideal which has fallen.
The one who has fallen is the one who climbed the ladder
of the ideal and went too high, and then he has to come
down again till he stands on the same level as before.
Also belonging to this fourth aspect of the ideal is
the idealizing of a historical or legendary person, of a
dramatic character of the past, a personality who is not
before one. This one can maintain better, for it gives one
scope for adding all the goodness and beauty one wishes
to add. And at the same time it will never disappoint one,
because it will never appear different from that which one
has made of it in one's heart. The gods and goddesses of
the ancient Egyptians, Indians and Greeks were made to represent
certain types of character, and in order that a worshipper
might be impressed by a certain character these gods and
goddesses were held up as objects of devotion, as something
to keep before one, as an ideal. Besides the great prophets
and teachers and saviors of humanity have been the ideals
made for centuries by writers, by poets, by devotees, by
thinkers, as good and as beautiful as they could be made.
No doubt others have looked at them differently and have
held the ideal of someone else to be less than their own.
Nevertheless, the benefit that they derived from devotion
to such an ideal lay in the seeking of a character, of a
certain beauty, of a virtue, which would always help them
to arrive at that stage which is the desired goal of all
The fifth aspect of the ideal is God, the perfect ideal,
an ideal which cannot change, which cannot be broken, which
remains always steady for the reason that God is not within
man's reach. If God were within his reach then he would
try to test Him, too!. It is just as well that He is not.
It is in this ideal that one finds life's fulfillment, and
all other ideals are but stepping stones, steps towards
this perfect ideal, an ideal which shows no sign of imperfection;
for God is goodness, God is justice, God is might, God is
intelligence, all-knowing, God is all beauty, God is everlasting.
To a mystic the ideal is his religion, and he looks upon
every person's ideal as a religion. He respects it before
weighing and measuring and analyzing what ideal it is. The
ideal itself is sacred to a mystic, and thus it is the central
theme of his life; it is in the ideal that the mystic finds
both his way and his goal.