Volume IX - The Unity of Religious Ideals
THE PROPHETIC SOUL
The soul of the prophet represents both the human and the divine. His feet on the earth and his head in heaven, he has to journey on the path of life, to respect and regard reason, and yet to cling to that rope which hangs down from heaven which he calls faith, two things quite contrary to each other. The world of variety with its numberless changes compels him to reason things out, while the world of unity promises to his unwavering faith the answer to every demand of life.
There is a Sufi expression, Akhlaq-i Allah, which means the manner of God, and this manner can be seen in the prophetic soul. No one knows the manner of God, since God can not be seen by earthly eyes, but if there is any sign of God to be seen, it is in the God-conscious one; and it is the fullness of God-consciousness which makes a prophetic soul.
The life of the prophet is like that of someone walking upon a rope: matter on one side and spirit on the other; heaven on one side and earth on the other; the imperfect self journeying towards perfection and at the same time bearing the burden of numberless souls, many of whom have not yet learned to walk even upon the earth. In the history of the prophets, at whatever time they have come on earth, one reads of their struggle being fourfold: struggle with self, struggle with the world, struggle with friends, and struggle with foes; and yet many wonder why a prophet should be a warrior! Most people know that the Prophet Muhammad was a warrior, but are unaware of the fact that Moses had the same experience; and very few know that the whole lives of the prophets of India, Rama and Krishna, were nothing but warfare from beginning to end. Their scriptures are full of the wars and battles that went on all through their lives, and if some prophets apparently did not have to wage war, then they had some other form of warfare to go through. The blood of the martyrs was the foundation of the Church.
The seers and saints, who live a life of seclusion, are happy when compared with he prophet, whose life's work is in the midst of the crowd. When he is known to be a prophet, jealousy and prejudice arise. If he is not known, he can do but little. When he goes into the world, the world absorbs him. When he thinks of God, God attracts him. Thus his spirit is pulled from both sides; and this is the meaning of the symbol of the cross. The prophet, representing God and His message, is tested and tried and examined by every soul. A thousand searchlights are thrown upon him; and he is not judged by one judge but by numberless judges. Every soul is a judge and has its own law to judge him with. The mystic is free to speak and act. What does he care what people think of him? The prophet, however, must be careful what they think, not for himself, but for those who follow him.
Besides all these difficulties, in the end he finds no comprehension of his ideal of service in the world except in God, who alone is his consolation. Many follow the prophet, but very few comprehend his ideal. It is this that made Muhammad say, 'I am knowledge; Ali is the door.' In the first place, to express a lofty thought in words or actions is the most difficult thing, because what is expressed in words and actions is only the surface of the thought. In the same way to express deep feeling in words and action is very difficult. And so is the message of the prophet. It is often difficult for it to be put into words. The best way of following a prophetic message, a way which has been known to very few, is to adopt the outlook of the prophet; for the point of view of any person can only be fully understood by seeing from that person's point of view.
What is asked of a prophet? The prophetic soul must of necessity rise so high that it can hear the voice of God, yet at the same time it must bend so low that it can hear every little whisper of human beings. Even the slightest lack of consideration or regard for those who wished to attract their attention has been noticed and remarked in the lives of the prophets. Being a prophet means to live in heaven and to live on the earth at the same time. The heart of the prophet is meant to be a harp, every string of it tuned to its proper pitch, in order that God may play His music upon it. And it is that celestial music which is called the divine message.
That is why many of the ancient scriptures were named Gitas, or Gathas, which mean the same thing: music. The gospel of Krishna is called Bhagavad-Gita, which means the Song Celestial, the Song of God; and the Parsis call their sacred scripture Gatha. The Jewish scriptures are chanted when recited; also the Quran is recited in the form of singing.
Every musician knows how difficult it is to keep his violin in tune, especially when it is shaken; but the heart is incomparably more susceptible and gets out of tune far more easily. It is for this reason that the seers and mystics sought solitude and kept themselves away from the crowd; but the prophet, by the nature of his mission, is placed in the midst of the crowd. It is the problem of life in the crowd which he has to solve; and yet not solve it intellectually, as everyone wishes to do, but spiritually, by keeping that instrument, the heart, in proper tune with the Infinite, so that he may get the answer to all the questions arising at every moment of the day.
Thus it is that even the presence of the prophet is the answer to every question. Without having spoken one word, the prophet gives the answer; but if a restless and confused mind cannot hear it, then that mind receives the answer in words. The answer of the prophet uproots every question; but the answer always comes from the heart of the prophet without his even having been asked a question. For the prophet is only the medium between God and man; therefore the answer is from God.
The Prophet does not answer a question because he reads the mind. It is the mind of the one who asks the question, which strikes, on the inner plane, that divine bell which is the heart of the prophet and God, hearing the bell answers. The answer comes as if words were put into the mouth of the prophet. Thus the prophet need not ponder upon the question he is asked. The question automatically draws the answer from him. This rule is applied not only to individuals, but also to the multitude. A thousand people may be listening to a prophet at the same time, each having a different question in his mind, and yet the question of each one of them will be answered. In the same way the true character of the sacred scriptures is such that even the book can answer the question if a person opens it automatically in order to find the solution to a certain problem. And if the book can give an answer, then one can expect more from the prophet for the soul of the prophet is the living book. His heart is the sacred scripture.
In the outer sense of the word religion is a form given to the worship of God, and law given to a community to help them to live harmoniously. In the inner sense of the word religion means a staircase, made for the soul to climb and reach that plane where truth is realized. Both these aspects of religion may be found in the words and in the soul of the prophet: his words, the law; his message, the wisdom; and his being, that peace which is the seeking of every soul. God has never manifested as Himself in this world of variety, where every thing and every being, although it is a divine expression, yet has its limitations. But if the world has been able to believe in God and to recognize God in any being, it is in the godly, it is in the soul which reflects God. With all the arguments for and against the divinity of Christ, no sincere believer in God can deny that God has been reflected in the personality of the Master.
There are two different conceptions of the prophetic soul. One is that of the Hindus, who called the prophetic souls Avatars, which means incarnations of God. They also distinguished the characters of their Avatars according to their claims. Some claimed to be the Avatar or the incarnation of Vishnu. Some claimed to be the incarnation of Shiva. It was easier for the people of India to grasp the idea of a prophet being a God incarnate than to accept him as another human being. The long line of prophets of Ben Israel were not called incarnations. They were called the godly, or the ones who were connected with God. Abraham was called Habib Allah, the friend of God. Moses was distinguished as Kalam Allah, the one who communicates with God. Jesus was called Ruh Allah, the spirit of God. Muhammad was called Rasul Allah, the messenger of God.
The difference between the prophets among the Hindus and those of Ben Israel, is that the Hindu prophets claimed to be God themselves. The reason was that owing to their philosophical evolution the people of India were ready to accept the divine in man; but in Arabia and Palestine on the contrary, even the prophetic claim aroused such opposition against the prophets that their lives were in danger and their mission became most difficult for them to perform.
After the claimants of godhead there have been many reformers in India, to whom people responded without much difficulty, but in the Near East it has always been difficult, and always will be so. It is for this reason that the ancient school of esotericism, the ancient Order of the Sufis, found it difficult to exist under the reign of orthodoxy. Many great Sufis have been made victims by the orthodox powers which reigned, until Sufism, that can be said to have been the mother of the coming reform in the religious world, was protected by Persia, and in the end found a still greater freedom in India, where the Hindus respected it and the Muslims followed it without the slightest hesitation. In the houses of the Sufis the followers of all religions met together in friendliness and in the feeling of brotherhood.
The Sufi message which is now being given in the Western world is the child of that mother who has been known for so many years as Sufism. It connects the two lines of the prophetic mission, the Hindu line and that of Ben Israel, in order that they may become the medium to unite in God and truth both east and west. It is the same truth, the same religion, the same ideal, which the wise of all ages have held. If there is anything different, it is only a difference of form. The Sufi message given now has adopted the form suitable for the age. It is a message without claim; and the group of workers in this message, and those who follow it, are called the Sufi Movement. Their work is to tread the spiritual path quietly, unassumingly, and to serve God and humanity. In this lies the fulfillment of the message.
A question, which is always asked, is how the prophetic soul receives the message of God; in what form. Does the angel Gabriel bring it, as it is said in the scriptures of Ben Israel? Does it come as a voice? Does it come in a form, which is visible? And the answer is, that everything, which has been said about it in the ancient scriptures, has much truth in it, but very often some of the symbolical ideas are misinterpreted by the uninitiated. The idea of Gabriel as a messenger is partly imagination. The real Gabriel is that Spirit of Guidance, which is the soul of the prophets. Its voice is intuition, but to the attentive mind of the prophets this voice is sometimes so distinct that it becomes much louder than what is heard through the ears. For in their hearts a capacity is produced; in other words, their hearts become like domes, which echo every word. The heart of the ordinary person does not give that echo, so the inner voice becomes inaudible to one's own soul. Just as a voice is necessary, so is hearing necessary also. Without hearing the voice is inaudible. The hearing is the capacity in the heart. When the heart becomes like an ear, then it begins to hear the voice that comes from within.
Then there is the question whether Gabriel manifested to the prophets in a certain form. That is also true. There is nothing in this world which is devoid of form except God who is formless, although the form of some things is visible, and that of other things invisible. Even thoughts and feelings have forms. One may call them results, but form is always a result. The heart, which can hear the inner voice louder than the spoken words, can certainly see the form, even the form which is not seen by every soul. In fact, the eyes of the prophet do see a form; for what the heart sees fully is also reflected in the eyes. It is not seen from without but from within, and yet it is seen. Not everyone can conceive of such an idea, for most are accustomed to see and hear only what comes from outside. But to the wise it is as clear as day that the eyes and the ears are not only the organs in which the impressions from the outer life are reflected, but that even impressions from the life within are also reflected in them.
It matters little to a prophet whether his ears hear or his heart hears, whether his eyes see or his heart sees. He knows that he hears and sees, and that is sufficient evidence for him of a living God. One may ask if this means that God is so personal that He speaks and manifests as a phantom to a certain soul, but if this were so it would only be limiting God. The limitless God cannot be made more intelligible to our limited self unless He is first made limited. That limited ideal becomes like an instrument, a medium of God who is perfect and who is limitless.
In the traditions of the ancients we find that there were many prophets of the past who, in a worldly sense, were not educated, among them the Prophet Muhammad. By many he was given the name Ummi, which means 'unlettered', although according to the ideas of that time the Prophet was very well versed in the Arabic language. This shows that worldly education does not make the prophet, though it may help to express in more intelligible form the spiritual message, which his heart receives.
We see in the world's scriptures four different forms in which the prophetic message was given: the ancient Hindu form, which can be traced in the scriptures of India and which was continued by Buddha; then the form of Ben Israel, which is to be found in the Old Testament, and which one can follow from the time of Abraham to the time of Muhammad. The third form is the form of Zarathushtra, which showed two aspects: the Gayatri of the Hindus and the prayer of Ben Israel; and the fourth form is the form of the New Testament, which gives the story and the interpretation of the teaching of Jesus Christ, and which has been made, with every new version, more intelligible to the mind of the people in the West. But the moment a soul dives deeper into these scriptures it begins to realize the one voice within all these outer forms, and that it is the same voice that has adopted these different forms to answer the need of every age.
What the prophet says is much less than what he really hears, and the sense of what he says is much deeper than what his outer words mean. For the task of the prophet is a most difficult one; it is trying to present to the world the whole ocean in a bottle. No one has ever been able to do it; yet they have all tried, for that has been their destiny. People have taken these bottles when given to them, and have said, 'See here is the ocean; I have the ocean in my pocket!' But through what the prophets have taught in the scriptures they have only tried to point out the way. They have not pictured the goal, for no one can put the goal into a picture. The goal is above all form and beyond the power of words to explain.
Those who have benefited by the life and message of the divine message-bearers are not necessarily the followers of their message, but rather the imitators of their life; for they have not only followed the teaching, but also the teacher, who is the living example of his teaching. All the ancient traditions of religious evolution tell us how those around the prophets have benefited by this imitation, rather than by following the strict laws and by arguing about the differences between the laws. There is no scripture in which contradiction does not exist. It is the contradiction, which makes the music of the message. The message would be rigid, like pebbles, if there were no contradiction. Even pebbles are not all alike. How can all words mean the same? The message is nothing but an answer to every question, every need, every demand of the individual and collective life.
Rumi has tried to explain in the Masnavi, from beginning to end, the nature and character of the heart of the prophet, and by this he has given the key to the door, which opens onto the prophetic path. Therefore in reading any scripture we must remember first that it is not the words we read which are so important, but what is hidden behind them. To the ordinary mind, which only sees the surface, the words of the scriptures are nothing but simple phrases, and sometimes the ideas appear simple, even childish. But the one who tries to discover what is behind them, will find out in time that there is a vast field of thought hidden behind every word that has come from the lips of the prophets. Verily the words of the prophets are like seals upon the secret of God.