We love our body and identify ourselves with it to such
an extent that we are very unhappy to think that this body,
which is so dear to us, will some day be in the grave. No
one likes to think that it will die and be destroyed. But
the soul is our true self. It existed before our birth and
will exist after our death. That which holds the conception
of 'I', a living entity, is not the body but the soul deluded
by the body. The soul thinks that it is the body. It thinks
that it walks, sits, and lies down when the body does, but
it does not really do any of these things. A little indisposition
of the body makes it think, 'I am ill.' A slight offense
makes it dejected. A little praise makes it think itself
in heaven. In reality it is not in heaven, nor on earth.
It is where it is. The soul's dwelling in the material body
deludes it so much that it thinks, 'I can live only on material
food, can stand only on earth, can enjoy only material surroundings.
Without these I am nowhere, I am nothing.'
There is a Persian saying: 'Do not build a house on the
ground of another.' This is what the soul does. Whatever
it sees, the consciousness recognizes as itself. Its purity
makes it reflect whatever is before it, and then it thinks,
'This is I,' just as clear water reflects our image. The
soul then wants everything to be very nice and pleasant
for its comfort and vanity. It wants to see its objective
self well dressed. Then it wants very good things about
it. It sets up a good house, and all through this life it
is in pursuit of these things. Then when death comes this
building raised on the sand is blown away. Its collected
property is taken from it. This is a very, very great disappointment.
It loses all that it took interest in. Its withdrawing into
its pure self, and the scattering of all earth's deluding
environment from its sight impresses it with the idea of
death, to its greatest horror. This horror and disappointment
are the only death there is, for the body is nothing but
a covering put over our soul, and when it is gone we are
not dead; just as we do not think that we are dead when
our coat is worn out, or if someone tears our shirt.
The moment when a person dies is the only moment when
he feels that he is dead. The impression of his dying condition,
the hopelessness of the doctor, the sorrow and grief of
the family, all make up this impression. After death, as
he recovers from this impression, he gradually finds himself
alive; for the life which kept him alive in his physical
garb, of course feels strange in the absence of that garb.
Yet it is not dead. It is even more alive, for that great
burden has been removed which for a time had made him think
that the physical garb was his life.
The soul by its power has created the elements from itself,
and has attracted them from outside. It has collected them
and it holds them, but through use they are gradually worn
out and last only for a certain period. The soul holds the
body composed of all these elements as long as it has interest
in the body, and as long as the magnetism of the body holds
it and its activity keeps it engaged. As soon as its interest
in the body is lessened, or the elements that form the body
have lost their power, by feebleness or some irregularity
in the system, the body loosens its hold, and the soul whose
innate inclination is to free itself, takes advantage of
this opportunity given to it by bodily inability. The result
of this is death.
The elements begin to disperse even before death, but
after the death of the body they return straight to their
affinity, earth to earth, water to water, and so on, each
to its affinity. And they are very glad to return. Each
thing is glad to be with its like. If there is gas near
the fire, the flame will go out to the gas, because there
is much of the fire element in the gas.
One might think that this is all, and that after death
there will be nothing left for the ordinary person who has
thought of himself as this body, so tall, so broad, so heavy,
so many years old; that when the physical body is gone all
is gone. But it is not so; when the physical body is gone
the mind remains, the finer part of man's self, composed
of vibrations. The elements exist in the vibrations as well
as in the atoms, otherwise a person who is angry would not
get red and hot. In dreams, when the body is asleep, we
see ourselves walking, speaking, acting, in certain surroundings
with certain people. It is only by contrast with the waking
condition that we call it a dream. This self still exists
after the body is gone, the exact counterpart of what we
are now, not of what we were when we were five years old,
or ten years old, but of what we are now.
It is sometimes said that the soul is that which remains
after the death of the physical body, and that it is then
in heaven or in hell; but that is not so. The soul is something
much greater. How can that be burned with fire which is
itself light, Nur, the light of God? But owing to
its delusion, it takes upon itself all the conditions that
the mind has to go through after death. Therefore the experience
after death of the soul that has not attained to liberation
is very depressing. If the mind is not much attached to
the earthly life and has gathered up the satisfaction of
its deeds, it enjoys heaven. If the contrary is the case,
then it experiences hell.
The mind that is more involved in earthly cares and attachments
cannot let the soul be in the light. If you throw a balloon
into the air it will go up and then it will come down again.
It goes up because of the air that is in it. It comes down
because of the earth substance in it. The tendency of the
soul is to go to the highest spheres, to which it belongs.
That is its nature. The earthly substance it has gathered
around it weighs it down to earth. The kite goes up, but
the string in a person's hand brings it back to earth. The
earthly attachments are the string that draws the soul downwards.
We see that the smoke goes up and on its way it leaves in
the chimney its earth substance. All the rest of its earth
substance it leaves in the air, and until it has left all
behind, it cannot go up to the ether. By this simile we
see how the soul cannot rise from the lower regions until
it has left behind all earthly longings and attachments.
People have a great fear of death, and especially the
simple, tender, and affectionate people, and those who are
very much attached to their father and mother and brothers
and sisters and friends, to their positions and possessions.
But those who are unfortunate in life also fear death. A
person would rather be very ill than dead. He would rather
be in a hospital than in the grave with the dead people.
When the thought comes to a man, 'Some day I must leave
all this and go down to the grave,' a great sadness comes
upon him. With some people this fear lasts part of their
lives; with some it lasts the whole life. The proof of how
great the fear of death is, is that death has been made
out to be the worst punishment, although it is not nearly
so bad as the pains, sorrows, and worries of life.
Death is the great examination to which one goes prepared,
another unprepared; one with confidence, another with fear.
However much anyone may pretend to be spiritual or virtuous
in life, at the sight of death he is tested and all pretense
falls away. It is said in the Quran, 'Then, when
the crushing calamity shall come, on that day shall man
remember what he has striven after.'
There was on old man who was always crying and lamenting,
saying, 'I am so unhappy, my life is so hard, every day
toil and labor? It would be better if I were dead.' Every
day he lamented in this way and called upon death to come
and take him. One day Azrael, the angel of death,
appeared and said to him, 'You have called me so often,
now I am come to take you with me.' The old man said, 'Not
yet! I am an old man, pray grant me only a few days more
of life!' The angel of death said, 'No. You have so often
asked to die, and now you must come to Allah.' The
old man said, 'Wait a little while. Let me stay here a little
longer.' But the angel of death said, 'Not one moment more,'
and he carried him off.
What thought should the mind hold at the moment of death?
The thought should be, in accordance with the evolution
of the person, either of God or the object of his devotion,
or of pleasant surroundings and whatever he likes and has
idealized. If he is an earthly person then the thought of
pleasant surroundings will make a heaven for him. If he
is in a state of devotion, he will unite with the object
of his devotion. If he is godly, the thought of God will
be right for him. 'Verily death is the bridge which unites
friend to friend,' one finds in the Sayings of Muhammad.
Those of whom it is said that they are in the presence
of God, are those who hold the vision of their divine Beloved
whom they have idealized all their life, and they rejoice
for a very, very long time in the presence of their idealized
During our life on earth we are conscious of three conditions:
that of the body, the mind, and the soul. After physical
death we are conscious of two only. On the physical plane,
if a thief comes, we are not so much afraid. We look about
to find something to attack him with. But in a dream we
are afraid, for we have nothing with which to attack him.
Here the will is much stronger. There the imagination is
stronger, and the will less so. In the physical life we
have changes from one experience to another. If in the night
we are afraid, in the morning we say, 'I had a nightmare,'
or, 'in my dream I was sad,' but it means nothing. But there
we have no change.
Thus it is here that we should awaken to what is the
aim of our life. There we cannot improve so much as we can
here. That is why there have always been some, the chosen
ones of God, who have said, 'Awake, awake, while there is
There are some who in a dream can do what they wish.
They can cause to happen whatever they will and the next
day they see occur what they saw in the night. Such are
exceptional cases. Because they have mastered their will
here, they can make everything go according to their will
even on the higher plane. When a person is just as glad
that another should eat a good dish as that he should eat
it himself, that another should wear beautiful clothes as
that he should wear them himself, then he is raised above
humanity. These are the saints and sages, and their hereafter
is in their hands, because they are happy both in the gain
and the loss.
The mind of the prophets and murshids cannot be
compared with other minds. Theirs is a master mind, and
they can hold it much longer. As they have lived only for
others, after death they still live for others. They have
thought only of what is eternal. Others have thought of
things that pass away, and so in time their mind passes
Sufism is learned chiefly in order that a person may
know what will happen to him after death, in that being
which is our real being, though usually it is hidden from
After the physical death the life that cannot die bears
man up and he remains always alive. Both on earth and on
the sea we living beings exist, having both elements in
our form, the earth and the water. The beings of the sea
are formed of earth as well. We have water also in our constitution.
Yet the sea is as strange to us as the earth is to the creatures
of the sea. Neither would like their place exchanged; and
if it so happens that they are out of their element, it
leads them to their end. It is because the fish has not
realized that it is also an earthly being and that the earth
is its element too, that it cannot live on earth; and in
the same way beings on land whose life depends on getting
to shore, fail when they believe that they will sink in
If we were dropped into the sea, it would be a terrible
thing. We would be convinced that we would go to the bottom,
that we would be drowned. It is our fear that makes us go
to the bottom, and our thought; except for this there is
no reason why we should sink. The sea lifts up the whole
ship in which a thousand people are traveling and in which
tons of weight are loaded; why should it not lift up our
Our inner being is like the sea, our external being as
the earth. So it is with the word called death. It is the
sea part of ourselves, where we are taken from our earth
part, and, not being accustomed to it, we find the journey
unfamiliar and uncomfortable, and call it death. To the
seaman the sea is as easy to journey upon, whenever he chooses
to, as the land. Christ, in connection with this subject,
said to Peter. 'O thou of little faith, wherefore didst
thou doubt?' Both in Sanskrit and Prakrit, liberation
is called Taran, which means swimming. It is the
power to swim which makes water the abode of the earthly
fish, and for those who swim in the ocean of eternal life,
in the presence as well as in the absence of the body, it
becomes their everlasting abode.
The swimmer plays with the sea. At first he swims a little
way, then he swims far out. Then he masters it, and at last
it is his home, his element, as the earth is. He who has
mastered these two elements has gained all mastery.
The divers in the port of Ceylon, and the Arabs on the
Red Sea, dive down into the sea. First they stop up their
ears, eyes, lips, and their nose, then they dive and bring
up pearls. The mystic also dives in to the sea of consciousness
by closing his senses from the external world and thus entering
into the abstract plane.
The work of the Sufi is to take away the fear of death.
This path is trodden in order to know in life what will
be with us after death. As it is said in the Hadith,
'Mutu qabla an tamutu' or 'Die before death.' To take
off this mortal garb, to teach the soul that it is not this
mortal but is that immortal being, so that we may escape
the great disappointment which death brings, this is what
is accomplished in life by a Sufi.