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Volume VI - The Alchemy of Happiness

The Intoxication of Life (2)

Every stimulus that one experiences through food and drink is really a small intoxication. But it is not only the food that one eats, the water that one drinks, and all that one sees and hears and touches that has an influence, an effect, on a man's being and intoxicates him; even the air that he breathes from morning till evening is continually giving him a stimulus and an intoxication. If this is true, is there then one moment when a man is not intoxicated? He is always intoxicated, only sometimes more so than others.

This is, however, not the only intoxication. A man's absorption in the affairs of his life also keeps him intoxicated; and besides the intoxication of his work and affairs in which his mind is absorbed, there is a third intoxication, and that is the attachment that a man has to himself, the sympathy he has with himself. It is this intoxication which makes him selfish, greedy, and very often unjust towards his fellow men. The effect of this intoxication is that a man is continually feeling, thinking, and acting with the idea in mind of what would be to his interest, what could bring him an advantage;' and in this idea his whole life and all his time become fully involved. It is this intoxication that makes him say, 'This one is my friend and that one is my enemy; this one is my well-wisher, but that one is against me'; and it is this intoxication that builds the ego, the false ego of man.

Just as an intoxicated man does not really know what is profitable to him, so a selfish man in his selfishness never knows nor understands what is really to his advantage. In moments of soberness a man wonders, 'If this is intoxication, then what is reality? I would like to know what reality is.' But to know reality not only the eyes and ears are necessary, but soberness too is needed to hear and see better. One might ask why all this should be called intoxication if it seems to be the normal state of every person. It can be called a normal condition only in so far as it is indeed the condition of everyone; but intoxication remains intoxication; it is not satisfactory. There is an innate longing for a certain satisfaction which man does not know, and this satisfaction he seeks. No active person with any wisdom will deny the fact that often an effort he makes for happiness seems to result in disappointment; this shows that the effort was in the wrong direction. But apart from the making of an effort to find reality one must first realize what this intoxication is; in order to do this the first step on the path of truth is to know that such a thing as intoxication exists.

There is the intoxication of childhood. Imagine what attention, what service, what care the child demands at that time when it still does not know who takes the trouble or who takes care of it! It plays with its toys, it plays with its playmates, it knows not what is awaiting it in the future. What it wants, what it plays with, is what is immediately around it; it does not see further. Nobody in his childhood has ever known the value of his mother or his father or of those who care for him, until he reaches that stage when he begins to see for himself. And when we observe the condition of youth, that again is another intoxication, it is the time of blossoming, of the fullness of energy. The soul in that spring-time never thinks that it can be anything else; the soul never thinks that this is a passing stage. The soul at that time is full of intoxication, it knows nothing apart from itself. How many errors a youth commits, how many faults he has, how many thoughtless, inconsiderate things he does of which he afterwards repents but about which he never thinks at the time! It is not the fault of the soul, it is the intoxication of that time of life. The person who is intoxicated is not responsible for what he does; neither is the child to be blamed for not being responsible or appreciative enough, nor the youth for being blind in his energy; it is natural.

The intoxication remains as a person goes on in life; there is only a change of wine. The wine of childhood is different from the wine of youth, and when the wine of youth is finished some other wine is taken. Then, according to what walk of life a man follows, he drinks that wine which absorbs his life, either collecting wealth or acquiring power or seeking a position; all these are wines which intoxicate man. And if one goes even further in life, intoxication still pursues one. It may be one is interested in music or fond of poetry, or one may love art or delight in learning; it is all intoxication. If all these different occupations and interests are like different wines, what is there then in the world that can be called a state of soberness? It is wine indeed from beginning to end. Even those who are good and advanced, spiritual and moral, they also have a certain wine. One has to take wine all the way; but there are different wines. A highly advanced artist, a great poet, an inspired musician will admit that there are moments of intoxication which come to him through his art as a joy, as an upliftment, and it makes him exalted; it is as if he were not living in this world.

Soberness is very difficult to find. The intoxicating effect of life is overwhelming and keeps man from a clear understanding. Therefore, however far advanced a person may be in the spiritual life, he can never be too sure that he will not become intoxicated; for he experiences intoxication in everything he does. That is why one cannot be too conscientious, ever. There are many who are confused, who do not know what they are doing; but a conscientious person does not hesitate. He is always wide awake, and he always knows whether he has done right or not. He does what he believes is right, and when that happens to turn out wrong, he will see to it that it is right next time.

The higher intoxication cannot be compared with the lower intoxication of this world, but it is still intoxication. What is joy? What is fear? What is anger? What is passion? What is the feeling of attachment, and what is the feeling of detachment? All these have the effect of wine, all produce intoxication.

Understanding this mystery, the Sufis have founded their culture upon the principle of intoxication. They call this intoxication Hal, and Hal means literally condition or state. There is a saying of the Sufis, 'Man speaks and acts according to his condition.' One cannot speak or act differently from the wine one has drunk. With the one who has drunk the wine of anger, whatever he says or does is irritating; with the one who has drunk the wine of detachment, in his thought, speech and action you will find nothing but detachment; with the one who drinks the wine of attachment, you will find in his presence that all are drawn to him and that he is drawn to all. Everything a person does and says is according to the wine that he has taken. That is why the Sufi says, 'Heaven and hell are in the hand of man, if he only knew their mystery.' To a Sufi the world is like a wine-cellar, a store in which all sorts of wines are collected. He has only to choose what wine he will have and what wine will bring him the delight which is the longing of his soul.

I once had an experience in India which was my first impression, and a very deep impression indeed, of this aspect of life. When walking in a district where dervishes lived in solitude I found ten or twelve dervishes together, sitting under the shade of a tree in their ragged clothes, talking to one another. As I was curious to hear and see people of different thoughts and ideas, I stood there watching this assembly to see what was going on. These dervishes, sitting on the ground without a carpet, at first gave an impression of poverty and helplessness, sitting there in disappointment, probably entirely without possessions. But as they began to speak to each other that impression did not remain, for when they addressed one another they said, 'O, King of kings, O, Emperor of emperors'. At first I was taken aback on hearing these words, but after giving some thought to it I asked myself: what is an emperor, what is a king? Is the real king and emperor within or without? For he who is the emperor of the outer empire depends on all that is without. The moment he is separated from that environment he is no longer an emperor. But these emperors, sitting on the bare ground, were real emperors. No one could take away their empire, for their empire, their kingdom, was not an illusion, their kingdom was a real kingdom. An emperor may have a bottle of wine in front of him, but these emperors had drunk that wine and had become real emperors.

Do we not sometimes see in our everyday life a person who says, 'I am ill, I am sorry for myself, I am miserable, I am wretched'? Put him in a palace and surround him with doctors and nurses, he will still be wretched. And another person who may be in great suffering and pain, but yet says, 'No, I am well, I am happy, everything is all right', that person has a right attitude. Does it not show us that we are, that we become, the wine we drink? The man who is drunk with the wine of success knows no failure; and if circumstances make him fail nine times, the tenth time he will succeed. The one who has drunk the wine of failure may be given all the possibility of success; but he has drunk the wine of failure; he cannot succeed.

There is, however, a subtle feeling which every soul has, a feeling which cannot be explained in words; a feeling which makes a man more comfortable in his armchair at home than when perhaps ten thousand people stand before him paying him homage. A person may be loaded with wealth, but the moment when he sets aside all his pearls and jewels, and sits down alone and takes a rest, that is the time when he breathes freely. And what does this teach us? It teaches us that man may have everything in the world which has the greatest value in his eyes, but there will yet remain something for him to seek. When he has that then he is happy.

One does not want to have a person, however beloved he may be, around one all the time; one sometimes wants to have a moment away from even the dearest person in the world. However proud a man is in his thought, and his thoughts may be great, deep, and good, yet the greatest joy is in the moment when he is not thinking. One may have the finest feelings of love, tenderness, and goodness; but there are moments when there are no feelings, and these moments are the most exalting.

This shows that the whole of life is interesting because it is all intoxicating; but what is really desired by the soul is one thing only, and that is a glimpse of soberness. What is this glimpse of soberness and how does one experience this glimpse of soberness which is the continual longing of the soul? One experiences it by means of meditation, by means of concentration. But if it is a natural thing, why has one to make an effort for it? The reason is that one enjoys this intoxication so much that afterwards one becomes addicted to drink. And that is the condition of every soul in this world; every soul becomes addicted to the wine of life. At the same time there comes a moment, if not in the early part of life, then later, if not when a person is happy, then when he is unhappy, when he begins to look for that soberness which is the continual longing of his soul. The Sufi culture therefore is a culture designed in order to experience that soberness.

It is no doubt very difficult to explain how this soberness is attained; yet after having explained this subject of intoxication it is less difficult. For it is really as simple as saying that the way to give up drink is to keep the drink away and to remain without drink for a time. There are three principal wines, three principal intoxications: the intoxication of one's self, the intoxication of one's occupation, and the third intoxication which is what the senses feel every moment; and these three wines cannot all be taken away at once. It would be just like taking away his life's sustenance from a person who lives on wine. But one can set a person a certain time and see that during that time he keeps sober and only takes two wines, not three; and that he next tries to take only one, not two. And as a person advances in meditative life he may arrive at that stage where the three wines on which he lives may all be withheld and yet he still feels that he can live; and so he will become convinced that he can exist without these three intoxications. Verily, this conviction of existing independently of these three wines, which bring man the realization of external life, is the essence of the divine message and of all religions.

checked 18-Oct-2005