Volume VI - The Alchemy of Happiness
STAGES ON THE PATH OF SELF-REALIZATION
WE SEE that in the words of philosophers, mystics, sages, thinkers, and prophets, great importance is given to self-realization. If I were to explain what self-realization is, I would say that the first step to self-realization is God-realization. The one who realizes God in the end realizes self, but the one who realizes self never realizes God. And that is the difficulty today with those who search after spiritual truth intellectually. They read many books about occultism, esotericism, and mysticism. And what they find most emphasized is self-realization. Then they think that what they have to do is to attain that self-realization and that they can just as well omit God. But in reality God is the key to spiritual perfection. God is the stepping-stone to self-realization, God is the way which extends over the knowledge of the whole of creation. And if God is omitted then nothing can be reached. There is a wrong method in use today in many so-called cults, which often proves to be a failure, and which consists in teaching the beginner on the spiritual path to say, 'I am God': a thoughtless phrase, a word of insolence, a thought which has no foundation. It leads him nowhere except to ignorance. To the prophets and thinkers, to the sages who taught their followers the ideal of God, it had a meaning, a purpose. But today people do not recognize these, and being anxious to find a shortcut, they omit the principal thing in order to come to the realization of self.
Once a man went to a Chinese sage and said to him, 'I want to learn the occult laws. Will you teach me?' The sage said, 'You have come to ask me to teach you something, but we have so many missionaries in China who come to teach us.' The man said, 'We know about God, but I have come to you to ask you about occult laws.' The sage said, 'If you know about God you don't need to know anything more. God is all that is to be known. If you know Him you know all.'
In this world of commercialism there is a tendency, an unconscious tendency, even for a person who wants to promote the spiritual truth, to cater for the taste of the people. Either because of a commercial instinct, or with the desire to have a success, there is a tendency to cater for what people want. If people seem to be tired of the God-ideal, those who have that tendency want to give them occultism. They call it that or mysticism, because the God-ideal seems so simple. And as there is a fashion in everything there is even a fashion in belief. Man thinks that the ideal of God is old-fashioned, something of the past. In order to create a new fashion he abandons the method which was the royal road trodden by all the wise and thoughtful of all ages, the method which will surely take men to perfection. Safety and success are sure in that path.
There may be a man of devotion and of simple faith, religious and believing in God, who calls Him the Judge, the Creator, the Sustainer, the Protector, the Master of the Last Day, the Lord, the Forgiver, and so on. And there may be another man, perhaps an intellectual who has studied philosophy, and he says, 'God is all, and all is God. God is abstract and it is the abstract which is God.'
In point of fact the one has a God, even if only in his imagination, but the other has none. He has only the abstract. He calls it God because the others say God, but in his mind he has only the abstract. For instance when you say 'space,' there is no personality attached to it, no intelligence recognized in it, no form, no distinct individuality or personality. It is the same thing with time. When you speak about time you do not imagine time to be something or somebody. You say it is time, which means a conception, which you have made for your convenience. A man who says that the abstract is God, has no God. By this I do not mean to say that one or the other is right. What I wish to explain is that from a mental point of view the one has a God, even if it is only a God of his imagination, but the other has none, whether he admits it or not. Both are right, and both are wrong. One is at the beginning, and the other is at the end. The one who begins with the end will end at the beginning. And the one who begins with the beginning will end at the end.
We might think, why in this short life should we create for ourselves a kind of illusion, why should we only arrive at the truth at the end? Why not begin with it? But if truth were such that it could be spoken of in words, I would have been the first to give it to you. Truth is a thing that must be discovered; we have to prepare ourselves to realize it, and it is that preparation which is called religion or occultism or mysticism. Whatever we may call it, it is that preparation. We prepare ourselves by one way or the other in order to realize truth in the end. And the best way, which all the thinkers and sages have adopted, is the way of God.
The next question is belief in God. There are four stages of belief in God. Each stage is as essential and important as the other. And if one does not go stage by stage, gradually evolving towards the realization of God, one does not arrive at anything. It must be remembered that belief is a step on the ladder. Belief is the means and not the end. It leads to realization. It is not that we advance towards a belief. If a man's foot is nailed on the ladder, that is not the object. The object is that he should climb upward on the ladder step by step. If he stands still on the ladder he defeats the object for which he journeys on the spiritual path. Those therefore who believe in a particular creed, in a religion, in God, in the hereafter, in the soul, in a certain dogma, are no doubt blessed by their belief and think they have something. But if they remain there, there will be no progress. If the only thing necessary was to have a religious belief, then thousands and millions of people in the world today who have a certain religious belief could have been most advanced people. But they are not. They go on year after year believing something that people have believed perhaps for many generations, and still they continue with it and remain there just like a man standing on a staircase, which is a place not made for him to stand on but to climb up. When he stays there he comes to nothing.
The first belief is the mass-belief. If someone says, 'There is a God,' then everyone repeats after him, 'Yes, there is a God.' One might think that today, at this stage of civilization, people are too advanced to have mass-beliefs, but that would be a great mistake. People are the same today as they were a thousand years ago, perhaps worse if it comes to spiritual questions. Someone who is called 'the man of the day' in a nation, is for the time being supported by the whole nation. Thousands and millions lift him up, hold him high. But for how long? Until some still more powerful person says, 'No, it is not so.' Then the whole country lets him down.
Just before the war I was visiting Russia. In every shop one saw a picture of the Czar and Czarina, held in high esteem. It was a sacred thing for people. There was a religious ideal attached to the emperor, as he was the Head of the Church. And they used to be filled with joy when they saw the Czar and Czarina passing in the street. It was a religious upliftment for them. But not long afterwards they themselves had processions in the streets when at each step they broke the czarist emblems. It did not take them one moment to change their belief. Why? Because it was a mass-belief.
It is a very powerful belief. It changes nations. It throws them down and raises them up. It brings war. But what is it after all? A mad belief. And yet no one will admit it. If you ask an individual, he says, 'I am not one of them.' Yet at the same time all move together when an impulse comes for good or bad.
Then there is a second step towards belief and that is belief in an authority, as with people at the time of a dictatorship. They believe in a leader. They say, 'I will not believe in the ordinary man, in my neighbor, in my colleague. I believe in that man whom I trust.' This belief is one step higher, because it is a belief in somebody in whom one has trust. When a person says, 'I am a Christian,' it means a belief in Jesus Christ and his teaching. It is a belief in someone, not in an abstraction. One might think that people do not believe in authority today, but this is not so. For instance everyone accepts a discovery made by a scientist before having made investigations about it. Investigations come afterwards. When somebody comes forward and says he has discovered something, everyone accepts it. Perhaps another scientist will produce something else one may believe, but the one who says a thing with authority is believed by the multitude.
Then there is a third stage of belief a further stage, and this belief makes man still greater. It is the belief of reason, and it means that one does not believe in any authority, nor in what everybody else believes, but that one has reasoned it out. That one sees reason in it. This belief is stronger still; for of the beliefs I have explained before one cannot give proof, but in this case one can stand up and say, 'Yes, I have reasoned it out.'
This, however, also has its limitation. Since reason is the slave of the mind, reason is as changeable as the weather; reason obeys our impressions. If we have an impulse to insult a person, or to fight with him, we can produce many reasons for it. It may be that afterwards there will be contrary reasons. But at the time, while we have this impulse, right or wrong, there is always a reason which supports it. Have the criminals put in jail committed crimes without a reason? No, they have a reason too. It does not fit in with the law perhaps, it does not satisfy society, but if we ask them, they have a reason. The reason we have today we may perhaps change next week, but nevertheless this third belief makes us stand on our own feet, for that moment if not always; and it gives us a greater power to defend our belief
And then again there is a fourth belief. That belief is a belief of conviction which stands above reason. There is a sense of conviction in man which is not discovered for some time in life. But there comes a time when it is discovered; and that is a blessed day. Then there arises an idea, an idea which no reason can break, a feeling which is not a passing feeling but is a conviction. However high the idea may be, one seems to be an eyewitness of that idea. One is as strong, as confident, as a person who has seen with his own eyes. One can be convinced of ideas so subtle that they cannot even be expressed in words, and one is more convinced of them than if one had seen them with one's own eyes. It is this belief which is called by the Sufis and Persian mystics Iman, which means conviction.
I remember the blessing my spiritual teacher, my murshid, used to give me every time I parted from him. And that blessing was, 'May your Iman be strengthened.' At that time I had not thought about the word Iman. On the contrary I thought as a young man, is my faith so weak that my teacher requires it to be stronger? I would have preferred it if he had said, may you become illuminated, or may your powers be great, or may your influence spread, or may you rise higher and higher, or become perfect. But this simple thing, may your faith be strengthened, what did it mean? I did not criticize but I pondered and pondered upon the subject. And in the end I came to realize that no blessing is more valuable and important than this. For every blessing is attached to a conviction. Where there is no conviction there is nothing. The secret of healing, the mystery of evolving, the power of all attainments, and the way to spiritual realization, all come from the strengthening of that belief which is a conviction, so that nothing can ever change it.
And now we come again to the question of God. Because this is the important question we must first make it clear in our minds before we take a further step in spiritual progress. Since to analyze God means to dethrone God, the less said on the subject the better. But at the same time, the seekers for truth who want to tread the spiritual path with open eyes and whose intellect is hungering for knowledge, should know something about it.
There is a Hebrew story that once Moses was walking near the bank of a river. And he saw a shepherd boy speaking to himself. Moses was interested and halted there to listen to what he was saying. The shepherd boy was saying, 'O God, I have heard so much of You. You are so beautiful, You are so lovely, You are so kind, that if You ever came to me I would clothe You with my mantle, and I would guard You night and day. I would protect You from the cruel animals of this forest, and bathe You in this river, and bring to You all good things, milk and buttermilk. I would bring You a special bread. I love You so much. I would not let anyone cast his glance upon You. I would be all the time near You. I love You so much! If only I could see You once, God, I would give all I have.' Moses said, 'What are you saying!' The boy looked at Moses and trembled and was afraid. 'Did I say anything wrong?' he asked. Moses said, 'God, the Protector of all beings, you think of protecting Him, of giving Him bread? He gives bread to the whole universe. You say you would bathe Him in the river. He is the purest of all pure things. And how can you say that you will guard Him who guards all beings?' And the boy trembled. He thought, what a terrible thing I have done! He seemed to be lost. But as Moses went a few steps further there came a voice, 'Moses, what did you do! We sent you to bring our friends to Us, and now you have separated one. No matter how he thought of Us, he thought of Us just the same. You should have let him think the way he was thinking about Us. You should not have interfered with him!' 1 Everyone has his own imagination of God. It is best if everyone is left to his own imagination.
In our daily life we may hate someone, yet the same one is loved by someone else. We may criticize, and the same one is praised by someone else. If this is so then the conception of everyone is different. The same person is considered a saint by one and Satan by another. The God we know, or can know, is nothing but our conception, a picture that we have made of God for our own self, our own use. It is the greatest mistake for anyone to interfere with the conception of God held by another, or to think that another should have the same conception of God as he has himself. It is impossible. Many different artists have painted the picture of Christ, yet each one is different. And since we allow every artist to have his own conception of Christ so we should allow every person to have his own conception of God.
We need not blame the ancient Chinese and Greeks and Indians who believed in many gods. Many gods is too small a number. In reality every single person has his own God. Besides all the different conceptions are really nothing but covers over one God. Let them call God by any name, or think of Him with whatever imagination they have: it is after all the highest ideal. And the ideal of each one is as high as his imagination can make it. Urging upon someone that God is abstract and formless and pure, and that God is nameless, all these things do not help that person to evolve. For the first step on the path of God is to make a conception of God. It is simply to help the seekers after God that the wise in all ages have sometimes made a small statue and called it a god or goddess. They said, 'Here is God. Here is a shrine. Come there.' And to the one who was not satisfied with this, they said, 'Walk two hundred times round the shrine before you enter, then you will be blessed.' When the worshipper got tired he naturally felt exaltation because he walked in the path of God.
But, one might ask, if we leave everyone with his particular imagination or ideal of God, will he then progress and one day come to the realization of the self which is the highest attainment taught by all great teachers of humanity? The answer is yes. There are three stages on the way to spiritual perfection. Those who are unaware of the possibility of spiritual perfection are greatly mistaken when they say that man is imperfect and cannot be perfect. They are mistaken for the reason that they have seen only man in man. They have not seen God in man. Christ has said, 'Be ye perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect.' This shows that there is the possibility of perfection. It is also true that man cannot be perfect. But man is not man alone. In man there is also God. Therefore though man remains imperfect the God part in man seeks for perfection. That is what the world was created for. Man is here on earth for this one purpose, that he may bring forth that spirit of God in him and thus discover his own perfection.
The three stages towards this perfection are the following. The first stage is to make God as great and as perfect as your imagination can. It is in order to help man to perfect God in himself that the teachers gave various prayers, the prayers to God, calling Him the Judge, the Forgiver, most Compassionate, most Faithful, most Beautiful, most Loving. All these attributes are our limited conceptions. God is greater than what we can say about Him. And when by all these conceptions and by our imagination we make God as great as we are able to, it must still be understood that God cannot be made greater than He is. We cannot give God pleasure by making Him great, but by making God great we ourselves arrive at a certain greatness; our vision widens, our spirit deepens, our ideal reaches higher. We create a greater vision, a wider horizon, for our own expansion. We should, therefore, by way of prayer, by praise, by contemplation, try to make God as great as we can possibly imagine.
The truth behind this is, that a person who sees good points in others and wants to add what is lacking in others, becomes nobler every day. By making others noble, by thinking good of others, he himself becomes nobler and better than those of whom he thinks good. And the one who thinks evil of others in time becomes wicked, for he covers up the good in him and produces thus the vision of evil. Therefore the first stage and the first duty of every seeker after truth is to make God as great as possible, for his own good, because he is making an ideal within himself. He is building within himself that which will make him great.
The second stage is the work of the heart. The first is of the head. To make God great intellectually, with thought and imagination, is really the painter's work, but still more important is the work of the heart.
In our everyday life we see the phenomenon of love. The first lesson that love teaches us is: 'I am not. Thou art.' The first thing to think of is to erase ourselves from our minds and to think of the one we love. As long as we do not arrive at this idea, so long the word love remains only in the dictionary. Many speak about love but very few know it. Is love a pastime, an amusement, a drama; is it a performance? The first lesson of love is sacrifice, service, self-effacement.
There is a little story of a peasant girl who was passing through a field where a Muslim was offering his prayers. And the law was that no one should pass by a place where somebody was praying. After a time this girl returned by the same way, and the man said, 'O girl, what a terrible thing you have done today.' She was shocked and asked, 'What did I do?' He said, 'You passed by this way! It is a great sin. I was praying, thinking of God!' She said, 'Were you thinking of God? I was going to see my young man! I did not see you; how did you see me when you were thinking of God?'
To close the eyes for prayer is one thing, and to produce the love of God is another thing. That is the second stage in spiritual realization. Where in the thought of God one begins to lose oneself, in the same way that the lover loses the thought of self in the thought of the beloved.
And the third stage is different again. In the third stage the beloved becomes the self, and the self is there no more. For then the self, as we think it to be, no longer remains; the self becomes what it really is. It is that realization which is called self-realization.
1. similar to Mathnawi II:1720, Jalaluddin Rumi