Volume XII - The Divinity of the Human Soul
Part I: The Vision of God and Man and other Lectures
THE DIVINE PRESENCE
OUR relation to God can be understood in five different ways: in idealizing God, in recognizing God, in communicating with God, in realizing God, and in attaining Perfection.
Every sincere and earnest believer in God experiences this stage. It is the stage in which he stands before God in humility and gentleness or with repentance for his sins and faults, or looking up to heaven and asking for pardon. Whether the Being or Person he idealizes is much greater or only comparatively greater than himself, he understands that he is a mere drop in comparison with the ocean, that he is a most limited being as against an unlimited God, that he is most feeble while the other is almighty. He realizes that there is a Being filled with all the virtues and goodness and justice and mercy and compassion imaginable. Everyone, whatever his religion, experiences this first stage during which he is a faithful believer in God.
This is the ideal taught from childhood even in ancient times. Today some teach it, and some do not. Education has taken a different turn, with the result that the idealization of God has been disappearing from the stage of life. However, in the East this ideal is still taught to little children by instilling in them a respect for the father and mother, and they are also taught to consider their elder brother or sister as well as the friends of their parents. In this way the child is brought up with a feeling of respect; he is given a kind of ideal to look up to and to understand. He will be shown that he must not contradict his father, because he is not yet old enough to understand the full meaning of his father's words. For instance he would not understand that it may be better to say an untruth rather than a truth in a case where the former would make for harmony and the latter for disharmony. Many things seem to be untrue for the moment, yet as we grow up to understand things better we find that from another point of view they may be true. Therefore a child should show consideration for his elders. The Prophet rebuked his grandson for not calling the servant 'uncle'; the servant, being older, must know more than he.
Gentleness, sense of respect, and veneration make man different from the animals. If men did not behave like animals the past war would not have been possible. Dogs bark at each other. Not only one but all of the prophets have brought the message that man should show himself higher than the animals in this respect, and that they should give way to one another instead of barking at each other. The first lesson imparted to humanity has been that of idealizing. It is not only the Bible that calls the humble, the gentle, and the meek blessed; the Quran and other sacred books say so too. It was even taught in ancient Rome. Each nation which has arrived at a certain point of understanding and acts according to true humanity has come to realize that man is different from the animals only to the extent of his idealizing. This is greater than art, greater than religion, greater than anything; and it is the source of great joy. Before we can enjoy life we must become delicate, sensitive, and evolved. When this is attained a person experiences a kind of joy in bowing his head such as is not experienced by ordinary people.
If we study the lives of the prophets, saints, and sages we notice that however exalted a position they might occupy, their manner was most humble. The customs, the forms and ceremonies and dogmas taught in temples and mosques and other places of worship and prayer were all for the express purpose of increasing the knowledge of this first lesson in approaching God. All the various modes of expressing veneration and respect and worship were given to one Being, in recognition of the fact that there is only one Being worthy of such expression. By practicing this continually we succeed in reproducing the same attitude in ourselves.
But if this were the end of our way of life, then what should we think of those who took the other four steps? For truly, this Shariat, as the Sufis call it, is only the first step.
This is the second step; it is called Tariqat. At this stage the believer in God thinks of Him not only as in heaven where all praise, worship, honor, and respect are due to Him, but he recognizes that God is on earth also. If you take a man called John, and you ask him the name of each part of him, he can give a certain name for each, for every part of his body has a name. But which is John? Which part of his being is John? How shall I recognize John? If I recognize him from his head, why not call his head John instead of 'head?' If I recognize him from his hand, then why do we not call his hand John; why call it 'hand?' If I recognize him from his body, why not call his body John, instead of 'body?' But if the body is John, and the body dies, then where is John? There where the dead body is, is John there? No, surely John is different from his body, yet at the same time he represents himself with his body. It is his inner self that is really John, yet it is not his inner self that he shows to our external eyes, which are limited; it is his limited self, which we call John, that he shows us. John is behind his limited self. Our eyes are only the vehicle for seeing, but we can see something beyond our eyes; and the ones who see thus are the seers.
If we study this more carefully we come to realize that God is the Creator, and that therefore He must have something to create from. When a sculptor sets to work he has something in his mind before he starts; he has to have a piece of wood or stone to work on. Every worker has a certain thing besides himself to create from. So we may ask: was there anything besides this world for God to make it from? Where did God get the things to make the universe from? If he created it out of something already made then this substance out of which He made the universe must have been made by some other god, or perhaps by thousands of gods and even then we may not have come to the end! But this cannot be. The whole of creation derives from one Being whose wisdom is unlimited; one Being whose art is unlimited, whose power is unlimited. He creates of Himself with His own power; therefore the creation and the Creator are not two, just as man and his body are not two. Or rather, they are two but at the same time they are not. When we recognize a man we do not recognize him only from his body but from his spirit as well. If we recognize God we recognize Him not only in heaven but also on earth. Those who recognize Him see Him in all.
A Hindustani song expresses it thus:
But if, you might say, all the worldly is the presence of God, then what is in heaven? I do not say that the body is John; I say that behind the body is John, even though the body too is John. Thus God is in heaven, but His manifestation is also God.
Think of how the followers of all the different religions have fought one another! Some were convinced that there are a thousand or numberless gods, whereas others were convinced that there is but one. To the mind of the Sufi both are right, although both are each other's opposite in knowledge, One religion wishes to teach that all these infinite varieties are just one God, and to impress the idea that this is God. Those who have learned that there is one God cannot conceive the idea of many gods, so they have fought throughout all their lives, without every recognizing who really is their God. They teach that someday they will actually be taken before Him for judgment, when in fact they are before Him all the time, all day log, all night long! Once one understands this a great change of outlook will develop; one's thoughts about God will change so much that one's entire moral standpoint will change.
The following story will illustrate the manner of this change.
A great king of Persia, named Jamshed had a certain wrestler named Rustam. He was the greatest of all wrestlers in the kingdom, and he became so proud of his strength and power and bravery that the king thought he would humble him in some way. But he could not find anyone who could be trained so as to be capable of matching Rustam: he was the only one of his kind in the whole land. Then it happened that Rustam went to Arabia and during his absence a son was born to him, who was given the name of Kushtam. The child's mother died soon after, and this was the opportunity the king sought. He took the child into his palace, and no one knew he was Rustam's son. In the course of time the youth became a great fighter, so strong and powerful that no one in the land could match him. And then, after many years, Rustam returned. Jamshed did not tell the youth that Rustam was his father; he only said that a powerful wrestler had come from Arabia, and that he must fight him.
Now it was the custom for every wrestler to wear a dagger with which to kill a vanquished opponent if he refused to surrender. Everybody went to see the wrestling match in the arena. The king felt sure that Kushtam, the son, would conquer his father, and indeed, with great energy and strength, the young man brought Rustam down. But Rustam, being so proud of his great power throughout his life, did not wish to surrender, so he must be killed. Kushtam unsheathed his dagger, whereupon Rustam said, 'It does not matter, some day when my son grows up he will vanquish you.' The youth asked, 'Who is your son?' Rustam then said, 'But who are you?' and then the secrets came out that this youth was his own son. There was no end to Kushtam's sorrow. He made obeisance at his father's feet, saying, 'Father, I would rather be the one to be killed than be your conqueror.' His father replied, 'Do not let it grieve you, for now I am happy to know that at least I have not been vanquished by anyone but my own son, who is my own self.'
This was the cause of great tragedy to the son, and the same tragedy and the same attitude come into the life of everyman from the time that he begins to discover his heavenly Father on earth. He cannot subscribe to the command 'love thine enemy' unless he first recognizes in him his Father in heaven. He may recognize his own father in a friend, but when he recognizes him also in the enemy, then he can love him too. This is the lesson. We flee from God as Cain did till we discover that He is actually here. Just think what a change there would be in the attitude of a man if once he realized his heavenly Father, the only one to whom reverence is due, in his fellow men!
The life of a Sufi in the East is the life of a true disciple of Christ. People may recognize the teachings of Christ in scripture, in a church, or in a chapel, yet to the Sufi none of this is Christ. The only true disciple of Christ is the one who sees God as Father, as Mother, in all his Fellow men. Thus in India, Arabia, and Persia they call a faqir, a sage, a dervish, Bawa or Baba, that is 'father', and a lady 'mother', seeing both aspects of God in all things. Certainly, there are degrees; these are called Fana-fi-Shaikh, Fana-fi-Rasul, and Fana-fi-Allah; but they recognize their teacher in everyone. This is the first step.
One day I was walking in a city and met a dervish with a wonderful personality. He was dressed in a patched robe, but his speech, his voice, his thought, his movement, his atmosphere, were all most winning. At that time I was very young in the pursuit of philosophy. Youth is a time when pride has full play. So as we were walking along, and he called me 'Murshid', I was very glad. He addressed me as Murshid every time he spoke to me! Presently we met another person, who seemed to be without any education, without any knowledge of philosophy or religion or anything out of the way, but he called him 'Murshid' too. My pride was hurt, especially when next he came across a policeman whom he also called 'Murshid.' So then I asked my teacher what could be the meaning of all this, and he said, 'Your dervish showed you the first step towards recognizing God: to recognize all beings as your teacher. A foolish person can teach you, a wise person, a learned person, a student, a pious or wicked person, even a little child; everyone can teach you something. Therefore have this attitude towards everybody, then it may be said that you recognize God.'
There is a Hindu saying, 'when the chela is ready, the guru appears', which means that when you are ready to discern it, you will find your teacher beside you.
We can even learn love from doves and faithfulness from dogs.
Communicating with God:
When an ordinary or an illiterate person meets a poet, he sees the man-part and not the poet-part. But if he is told that this person is a poet he may see the poet-part when he meets him. He now sees that he is a poet in his actions and in his words; in everything about him he sees the poet, whereas otherwise he would not have been able to see this. Thus a great poet may go among a crowd and the people will only see the man in him; they do not see the poet, and they do not know how profound his thoughts are. So once a person begins to recognize God in man he does not see the man any more but God. The man is the surface, while God is deep within him. Such recognition brings a person into touch with everyone's innermost being, and then he knows more about people than they know themselves. He will know their sorrow, their joy, and their secrets. Such a person is called a seer.
The seer sees God with his own eyes and also recognizes his divine Beloved in every form, in every name. He reaches Him and touches the God-part in every being, however limited this individual appears to be on the surface. From now on a softness develops in his nature, a magnetism, a winning quality, a beauty rarely to be found. Those who have attained to this stage are able to meet people with awakened minds, and when a person meets them he wants to stay with them forever. A very well known seer, the great Shams-i Tabriz, went to see Jalaluddin Rumi when the latter was teaching at the University of Konya. He was a dervish, and he approached Rumi appearing like a savage. The first thing he did was to seize Rumi's manuscripts and throw them into a nearby tank. Rumi looked at him, wondering at his action in throwing away all that knowledge, and he asked him the reason for it. The seeming vagrant said, 'Because you have been reading all your life and you should now do something more. You should understand what you are and where you are. Everything in front of you is spelt out in letters, if only you could read them; then you could read life, which is greater than any scripture, better than any tradition that you can be told. It would disclose the secret of all being.' Rumi, studying him and his expression and hearing all he said, was so won by him that he wrote down in his diary, 'The God whom I have been worshipping all my life has today appeared before me in the form of a man.'
It is said, 'By the vision of God, their self will become God.' This happens when we come to see God in everybody. We develop goodness in our actions; our words become God's words because we are impressed with all that reflects only goodness and is mirrored around us. Then we become a museum or a picture of goodness. We reflect it from morning till evening, we reflect forgiveness, we reflect tolerance, and we reflect all these lovely qualities. As it is said, 'If my Beloved is in every kind of man, how considerate I ought to be towards all!' The lover is always very careful when he is with his beloved; he becomes thoughtful and tender.
It is after feeling the presence of God and after being in communication with Him that we come to realize Him. When we can touch God in everyone then God tells us about Himself, because He sees that we have no hate, no prejudice. We have seen our Beloved, and our Beloved tells us all. Still, realization is difficult, for it involves discerning the difference between you and me. What is this difference? It is a great question, a great problem. Our 'I' and 'you' are just like a pair of compasses with which we draw circles on paper. The one point of the compass is the 'I', the other point is the 'you', and where they join there is no 'I-you.' The 'I' and 'you' only remain as long as we see ourselves; but when we rise above them or beyond them, the thought brings us nearer and nearer to God in that consciousness in which we all unite.
Self-realization is not self-expression; it is not work; it is not an art; it is not realization of a mental or artistic self. It is realizing God, it is union with God. It is not a matter of creating something to live forever as Shakespeare or Beethoven did. It is an attainment.
Self-realization is where the word is silent. The object of the Sufi is to enter into the silence, to learn to leave the form and the external world with all its attributes, to cease striving for anything but the goal. God is not in time; therefore He is in the silence. Sound is part of the world of time. The sage cannot say more than this, for the subject is so vast; when we come to this conception we find that it is altogether too subtle, too vast, to express.
Divine perfection is perfection in all powers and mysteries. All these are manifested without specially striving for them. Perfection and annihilation is that stage where there is no longer 'I' and no longer 'you', where there is what there is.