Volume IX - The Unity of Religious Ideals
THE SUFI MESSAGE
THE WORD Message in itself conveys a different meaning from that of an intellectual philosophy. There are two ideas prevailing in the world: one is that man has evolved through years and centuries, and the other that, as Solomon has said, there is nothing new under the sun. And this explains to us that divine truth has always been and always will be the same. No one can improve upon it, and nobody can give a new message. It is the divine tongue which at times has spoken louder, and at times in a whisper, and it is the consciousness of the divine spirit which made Christ say, 'I am Alpha and Omega.' Those who limit Christ to the historic period of the life of the Prophet of Nazareth surely limit the message, in spite of his open declaration that he is the first and the last.
According to this point of view, the message has been given each time in a form suited to the evolution of the people in that particular age. Man divides, God unites, humanity. Man takes pleasure in thinking and feeling, 'I am different from you; you are different from me' in nationality, race, creed, or religion. In animals this feeling is still more pronounced. But as man evolves, his tendency is to unite, to become one. Did Jesus Christ come to form an exclusive community called Christian, or Buddha to found a creed called Buddhism? Or was it Muhammad's ideal to form a community called Muhammadan? On the contrary, the Prophet warned his disciples that they should not attach his name to his message, but that it should be called Islam, the Message of Peace.
Not one of the masters came with the thought of forming an exclusive community, or to give a certain religion. They came with the same message from one and the same God. Whether the message was in Sanskrit, Hebrew, Zend, or Arabic, it had one and the same meaning. The difference between religions is external; their inner meaning is one.
If man had only understood this, the world would have avoided many wars, for war has mostly been caused by religion, religion which was given to the world to establish peace and harmony. What a pity that war and disaster should come from the same source!
The Sufi message is a reminder to humanity, not to any one nation but to all; not to one but to every creed. It is a reminder of the truth taught by all the great teachers of humanity: that God, truth, religion are one, and that duality is only a delusion of human nature. Think then what a great task lies before this message, at this time when nation is against nation and race against race; when the followers of one religion are constantly working against the followers of another religion, and class against class; competition, hate, and prejudice prevailing everywhere. What will be the outcome of it all? What can poison produce? Not nectar; only poison. The message is not for one nation, race, or community; it is for the whole of humanity. Its one and only object is to bring about a better understanding between the divided sections of humanity by awakening their consciousness to the fact that humanity is one family. If one person in the family is ill or unhappy, this must certainly cause unhappiness to the whole family. Yet even this is not the most appropriate simile. Humanity is one body, the whole of life being one in its source and in its goal, its beginning and its end. No scientist will deny this. And if part of the body is in pain, sooner or later the whole body is affected; if our finger aches, our body is not free from pain. Thus no nation, race, or community can be considered as a separate part of humanity.
Today in education, in politics, in all directions of life, there seems to be an individualistic view, but where will such a tendency end, where will it lead humanity? If each one thinks he must get the better of another, where will be the harmony and peace for which all are longing, no matter to what race or religion they belong?
No doubt this condition has been brought about by a long-continued materialism and commercialism, which have taught every soul the spirit of competition and rivalry, the whole life of each being absorbed in guarding his own interests, and in trying to take the best in life for himself. Life is one continual battle, and only one thing can ease this battle: consideration for others, reciprocity, unselfishness instead of selfishness.
With selfishness as the central theme, the world's progress will never lead to the soul's desire and aim. It must culminate in destruction. At one time the call was to guard self-interest; now the moment has come for mankind to be given a message of understanding and consideration for one another, since individual peace and happiness depend upon the peace and happiness of the whole of humanity.
What is missing in modern education, in art and science, in social, political, and commercial life, is the ideal, the ideal which is the secret of heaven and earth, the mystery hidden behind both man and God. With all he possesses in the objective world, man is poor in the absence of the ideal, and it is this poverty which creates irritation, conflicts, and disagreements, thereby causing wars and disasters of all kinds. Man's greatest need today is for the exploration of the human personality, in order to find there the latent inspiration and power upon which to build the whole structure of his life. For life means not only to live, but to ennoble oneself and reach that perfection which is the innate yearning of the soul. The solution to the problem of the day is the awakening of the consciousness of humanity to the divinity of man. The undertone of all religions is the realization of the one life which culminates in the thought of unity. It is towards raising humanity to this consciousness that the efforts of the Sufi Movement are directed.
Very often people divide the esoteric or inner part of life from the exoteric or outer form of religion. But although to divide them in a conception is possible, to divide them in reality is like separating the head from the body. As the head linked with the body makes the form complete, so religion together with inner life makes the spiritual ideal perfect. Nevertheless, the thoughtful and wise of all ages, with their philosophical minds, with their scientific tendencies, with their intellectual strife, often thought of separating religion from the inner life. But when they are separated, it is just like bread without butter, it is like milk without sugar, it is like food without salt. And the reason why this tendency often appears, especially among thoughtful people, is a natural one. When life leaves the body, even those who loved the one who died begin to think that they should bury the body as soon as possible; for the one whom they loved is gone from it, and what is left is only a corpse. And so when the inner life, which is just like the breath in the body of religion, departs from it, then the religion becomes like a dead body; then even its most faithful adherents begin to feel that it is a corpse.
In all ages and in all periods of history we notice that
there has been a limit to the number of years that a religion
has lasted. During that time the religion prospered and was
of benefit to humanity. Why? Because it had breath, it had spirituality.
But when that inner life departed it was left like a corpse.
Still the faithful kept to it, but those with intelligence could
not do so any longer.
The most important philosophical point in religion is that besides all the moral principles and ethics that religion teaches, there is the central theme which can be traced as the nature of life, of spirit, and that is to make the perfect Being intelligible to the limited mind of man. To do this the ideal of God is preached. The central theme of every religion the messengers have brought was the God-ideal, and every one of them has tried his best to make a picture of that ideal, in order that the people of that time could easily grasp it and benefit by it, to fulfill the purpose of spiritual perfection.
It is true that the different pictures that the great prophets of the world have drawn very often differ from one another. But one finds that in order to make one clear photograph there have to be many different processes; a plate has to be made and has to be developed, and then the picture is transferred to paper; then it is touched up, and all these different processes go to make a photograph complete.
And so it has been with those who have tried to make a picture of the Deity, a picture which cannot be made fully, because it is beyond man's power to do so. They have done their best; artists have painted that picture. When three artists paint the portrait of one person, the three pictures are different. They only differ because they are different artists; and so it is with the prophets, though all have one and the same motive: to make that picture intelligible to the limited mind of man, who only knows what he knows about himself and about his fellow man. Thus the best picture he can make of God is that of a man. In the ancient religions of the East, God was first pictured in the form of man; then in the pictures of later days man was pictured as God. After that came a reformation by which man and God were separated in order to break with the confusion caused by these two opposite ideas, that God was man and man was God.
But the present message, which comes from the need of humanity,
is that God is in man and man in God, and yet God is God and
man is man.