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Volume V - Spiritual Liberty


Chapter I

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 One.

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 time!'

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 away.

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 us.

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 the sea.

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 little body?

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.

checked 18-Oct-2005