Volume VII - In an Eastern Rose Garden
Although it is no exaggeration to say that there are numberless religions in the world. And every religion has so many different sects and churches and chapels that this life is not long enough to study them – indeed it would be impossible even to count them in one lifetime – yet that which should really be studied proves to be something very different, for the thinker perceives that these many different religions have sprung out of one religion. Religion may begin in the East or the West, in the South or the North, yet it will always end in many religions. The more we ponder upon how all can have come from one, the plainer becomes the fact that all are expressions of one religion. And this religion is nature's religion.
The question as to what exactly this religion really is and how one may get to know it, can only be answered by those who have raised themselves beyond the limitations of ceremonial and dogma in which they are always first instructed. But rising above a religion does not mean giving up the religion. It means being fully benefited by the religion. Those who say they have given up their religion are not above it; those alone are above it who have arrived at a full understanding of the spirit of religion. As soon as the spirit of religion has become manifest, then indeed are the eyes blessed. The distinctions and differences of castes and creeds and religions all vanish away in one moment of time.
Once this is perceived, there ceases to be anything to criticize; it is all one what form of worship is to be used, what church is to be attended, what book is to be read. From now on it is seen that there is no such thing as a heretic, no such thing as a heathen, no difference between Kufr and Muslim. But until this truth is perceived, there is always the thought: 'Whatever religion, or belief, or faith I have or hold, the scripture that I read, the church that I attend, is the only scripture, the only church, the only faith. This that I have understood and regarded as mine all through my life, this is the only path.'
It is like a person in pursuit of a bird. He looks at the branch of the tree, which is still shaking after the bird has flown from it. He says, 'Oh here is the bird,' but he is only looking at the branch trembling hither and thither after the bird has sat there just for a moment. He calls the branch the bird. Another person may see a branch moving, but this time the branch is so strong that the bird could not possibly have moved it. Not understanding this, he thinks the bird sat on that branch. Thus it is with the truth.
Instead of understanding the spirit of the truth people have taught that religion lies in the name of the teacher. Importance is given to the name of the teacher, to the scripture, to the house in which worship is customary, to the priests or clergy who officiate. Prominence is given to being Brahmin or Buddhist, to belonging to certain communities formed in the name of a particular religion, to the castes set up, to the families formed, to those associations made in order to follow one particular creed, or ceremony, or law. Finally the loyalty to that particular religious system becomes its life, and this leads to the neglect – not only neglect, but actual hatred – of the religion followed by others. It is in this way that all wars and differences that have existed in all ages have arisen.
When one studies nature, one finds that nature cannot create itself without expressing its religion. The origin of all religion is love and beauty. If there were no love or beauty religion would never have existed, because beauty is the beginning of worship and prayer. The beginning of prayer and the first step of worship is admiration.
A child knows nothing about religion, and yet from the very first it is attracted to something that is beautiful, something that it can like. As it grows older it is only the form of its desires that changes; it still seeks to acquire the object of beauty. As it grows older still, it comes to recognize beauty in intellectual things. It is beauty that man bows down to. When a man gives honor and respect and reverence to another it is still because of the beauty which he perceives in some form or other in a person, and he has a natural inclination to bow before this beautiful living thing. Prayer and worship are acts of bowing to beauty, acts necessary to satisfy the predisposition with which every soul is born, the predisposition which is called love. And it is the innate desire of love to satisfy itself by admiring and bowing before someone, to respect someone, to have veneration for someone, to worship someone.
Man goes step by step from simple worship to the worship of the Most High, as he realizes a higher and higher ideal. We can see this when we study the history of religions. It is the desire to pay respect, the desire to idealize that has made man worship idols or trees. Some people consider a certain tree sacred. And even in bowing before trees the desire of love is satisfied, its desire to humble itself, its desire to pay respect and reverence; and by this means the love of the heart has its outlet. Such people are not evolved enough to know where God is. He is not before their eyes as this idol is. How can He who is not seen be known? Therefore people bow before beautiful flowers, beautiful herbs, beautiful trees in the forest. Others bow before rocks that have a certain form which attracts them and produces in them the desire to pay homage to this particular rock, thus bringing satisfaction to the soul's desire to bow and pay respect.
Then, as intelligence developed still more, people would perceive that sometimes they were higher than the rock before which they had previously bowed. They thought, 'That rock is low; we can touch it; we can reach the top of it; there are a thousand others like it.' Therefore they come to think, 'It is best to worship the sun, because there can be nothing higher than the sun. We cannot get near it. There is nothing as bright as the sun. When the sun appears, does it not take away all our gloom and worries and all the fears of the dark night also? It takes away all the conditions of death and destruction such as thieves, robbers, tigers, and lions in country-sides and villages; all clear away when the sun rises, and a new life begins; and with it come strength, vigor, energy and enthusiasm to go out into the world. This is the one thing that takes away fear, and when it goes away we are afraid again and hide in our little villages.'
And this worship of the sun lasted a long time. In places like Persia, and in places like eastern Russia where there is not always sun but always need of a fire, the people sought refuge from the cold weather by sitting near the fire. The light of the fire becomes company in loneliness, the heat of the fire brings comfort, the light takes away fear, the heat purifies everything that comes into it. So that is why, in those countries which are cold they call fire sacred, and bow before it in obedience to the same innate yearning to bow and pay respect.
But man ascended still higher until he began to think, 'No, no; the sun, which goes away and comes back, appears and disappears, is not constantly with us. So I will seek something that is constantly with us.' And what is that? Surely it is the imagination. Surely it is a spirit that is God. In Mongolia and China and in all those Eastern countries where numberless gods are worshipped, they say, 'The one thing that abides with us, day and night, in trouble and sorrow, in joy and sadness, is that spirit which is God.'
Then comes the time when the ruling power is seen in every object, in every being, in every plant, in every star, a controlling power ruling so many diverse objects. Thus it came about that the heroes were respected, kings were worshipped, and even every planet or star was thought to represent a separate god. This ideal of worship was developed among the Greeks and Hindus.
Then we come to the Semitic race, the race from which the beginning of the Bible is to be traced, the children of Israel. Abraham noticed people around him worshipping idols, people worshipping symbols, and people worshipping sacred cows, or beasts, or birds. He pondered on God, thinking, 'No, if Thou art anywhere, Thou must be somewhere within me, and I want to find Thee.' Once, lying awake, he repeated His name, and as he thus thought about Him he sought some sign of that One who is really worthy of worship. Again, in his visions he saw the star, and arose to ask, 'Art Thou the God?' And the answer came from within, 'It is not He. It comes and goes, for it is not stable nor steady. An object that is worthy of worship must be constantly before one.' Then, next day, he saw the moon and asked, 'Art Thou the God?' And the answer came, 'No, for the moon takes its light from the sun.' Then he saw the sun and asked the same question, and the answer came, 'No, that which appears or disappears, however perfect in its light and form, cannot be the eternal God.' And thus he perceived that God is a higher ideal than the sun, or moon, or anything that words can ever express; a God who is unseen and without form and without name, altogether beyond man's conception. That is how the ideal of one God began.
This great ideal came through different prophets, and was expressed in different ways. If Moses said, 'One God; no other gods but Me,' Jesus Christ taught that there is not only one God, but also one Life; the whole of manifestation is one. The sun is not what we see; there is the sun, there is the manifestation which we see, and there is that which proceeds from the sun – all three aspects of the one. 'I and my Father are one.' 'That which proceeds from the Father and the Son is one:' these sayings contain the three aspects, and they create a puzzle in man's mind; he can remain in this puzzle all his life. There is the thing itself, there is its manifestation, and there is that which proceeds from it, always this trinity in one. In all ages the message was given with truth and wisdom as each messenger came, but how could all understand the truth when not everyone has even been able to understand another? Language can hardly express it, and it is hard to understand.
The same difficulty arose at the time of Muhammad. He said to his people, who were the worshippers of so many gods, 'There is no god but the one God.' They asked, 'Where is He? Is He in our temples? Is He in the Kaba?' He said, 'No, His temple is in man's heart.' – 'How far away is He?' – 'He is nearer to you than yourself.' – 'In what can we find Him?' – 'In all things and all beings.' – 'What is His sign?' – 'He is beyond all signs and yet all are His signs. He cannot be restricted to one center or one form or one name, because all names are His names, all forms are His form, all in heaven or earth are His beings, and there is only One!'
If you want to find Him you will find Him in the higher intelligence. When intelligence manifests itself on the surface, that is God. In manifesting Himself, He has assumed various forms; through each of these He seeks gradually to attain to the same state of absolute being. Every form: rock, animal, bird, man, everything, is always striving to climb to the surface. The Bible tells us to raise our light on high; it is covered under a bushel. The bushel is the manifested part of our life; all these forms that cover the inner intelligence, which in its original aspect is the root of being, are the bushel. The inner intelligence, the light, has become veiled under the manifestation, and it is the desire of nature to unfold it again, so as to allow it to behold its original being, which it does through all changes that take the form of death and destruction.
This great truth, so difficult to express, must needs be uttered by every prophet, every teacher, every saint who has brought the message, in that language which their hearers could best understand. If the teacher perceived that the method used by the hearers was good, he would advise them to continue in the same mode of worship, to continue to go to such a temple or such a church, until they were able to perceive what is the real truth hidden behind all these things.
Having grasped the idea of God, there comes the question of the mode of worshipping Him. Religion offers many ways of worship; but various religions offer many modes of worship which have become the law of each religion, and how can that law be obeyed by the whole world? Let us ask the ministers of any religion, of Islam, of Christianity, of Buddhism, of Hinduism, whether their own law can become the law for the religion of the whole world. Though each one of them will say yes, yet surely it is not meant to be so. All men are not alike; the tendencies of every people differ; their habits are not the same. For instance the law of the Hindu is to go to the Ganges in the morning and bathe in it. How would that do in London? How could one bathe in the Themes in December before offering one's prayers? Everybody will agree that no one could do such a thing. Again, a Muslim obeys the law of leaving his shoes outside the mosque, and then goes to wash his hands and feet, and make his ablutions in running water; then he stands on the marble floor of the mosque, and offers up his prayers. If the same mode of worship were to be the law for Russia, where there is so much cold and snow underfoot, to prostrate oneself on the marble would mean to be frozen to death in one day. And then one would never live to take the name of any religion again.
In this way we see that one faith and religion and law cannot be promoted and advocated in the same way in all different lands and places. The different faiths are bound gradually to become unrecognized and forgotten. Those who wish to promote their own customs would cease even to imagine such a thing, could they realize that every person has a different temperament, that every form of religion is a form of worship of the same God. Nature teaches every soul to worship God in some way or other, and often provides that which is suitable for each. Those who want one law to govern all have lost sight of the spirit of their own religion. And it is in people who have not yet learned their own religion that such ideas are commonly found. Did they but know their own religion, how tolerant they would become, and how free from any grudge against the religion of others!
So it is too with the manner of worship. It does not matter in what way a person offers his respect and his reverence to the deity he worships. It only matters how sincere he is in his offering. In one house of God we find that people do not wear hats; in Hindustan, Persia, and Arabia they put on turbans to go to the mosque. That is their custom. It makes no difference whether one person prays standing, another sitting, another kneeling, another prostrating himself, another in company with other people and another alone. All that matters is that the heart of the worshipper is pure, that the mind is connected with God, that there is sincerity and earnestness.
There is a story that a farmer's boy, who was taking care of his father's cattle in the jungle, had heard a teacher of religion in his village. This teacher was teaching about God and glorifying the name of God. The young boy was so impressed that when he went to the jungle next time he experienced that innate tendency to worship someone, and so in the jungle he began to say aloud, 'Oh, God, I have heard so much about You; You are so good and kind that I feel that if You were here by me I would take such good care of You, more than of all my sheep, more than of all my fowls. In the rain I would keep You under the roof of my grass-shed; when it was cold, I would wrap You in my blanket, and in the heat of the sun I would give You a bath. I would put You to sleep with Your head on my lap, and I would fan You with my hat, and I would always watch You and guard You from wolves. I would give You bread of manna, and buttermilk to drink; and to entertain You I would sing and dance and play my flute. O God, come and see how I would tend You.' Then Moses, the Messenger of God, came up and heard all that the boy said, and answered, 'Oh boy, how foolish is this conversation! God, the unknown and unseen, who is in the heavens, the one before whom there is no might, no strength that can stand, He is almighty; the power is all His. He is beyond form and name and color; He is beyond the perception and comprehension of man.'
The boy was disheartened, and afraid of what he had done. But the next message from God to Moses was: 'We are very displeased indeed with you that you have alienated a devotee who did not know us. If he did not know us as you do, at least he knew us as far as his mind could grasp. All our devotees picture us in different forms and according to different qualities of love, and we receive their love through whatever form or garb it is directed to us. They are all our creatures and we receive it even if they worship the sun. We have sent you to unite our children to us, and not to separate them from us.'
How we would hesitate to air our wisdom did we but realize that the first step of approach to God is sincerity and earnest love for Him! We should never call anyone heathen or pagan. We should never consider anybody in this world as unworthy. We do not know in what form a person is worshipping God. We do not know the earnestness in a man's heart; yet that is what is really important.
It is not only the learned, or so-called educated and enlightened persons, who perceive the meaning of the law of right and wrong. Even among savages there is some sense of it, because it is an instinct; it is the law by which the savage lives. We may think many people are doing wrong, yet we do not know what is wrong for them and what is not wrong; we do not know what is right for them and what is not right. We ourselves may be doing many things that we think right, but really are wrong to others; and others do things that appear to us to be wrong, and yet are acting rightly in their case. It is just a matter of looking at it from the other person's point of view.
How few there are in this world who stop to think whether the actions of another are right for him! We are so ready to accuse another, and we are so ready to hide our own faults. Did we but look at right and wrong from his standpoint, we should find that the meaning of right and wrong would change. It is wrong for a little child to go out without asking its parents, because perhaps it will meet a motorcar from which it cannot protect itself. But would the same thing be wrong for a grown-up? It is only during the age of childhood that the act is wrong, later it is right.
Did we but study the object of life, we should come to understand the nature of right and wrong. And once we knew the nature of right and wrong we would not need to consult the law of the scripture, for that law itself would then begin to reveal to us its own truth. Nature herself can tell us what is right and wrong for us and for another person.
The secret of it all is found in the answer to the question: Why is man here? The answer is, that he is here to attain the satisfaction of his innermost desire. And what is that innermost desire? It is first joy, then peace. But the attainment of each is contrary, because joy comes from activity of life, and peace comes from rest.
All this activity that a person experiences and enjoys by his senses, is a glimpse of joy. The greater joy comes when he can experience through his inner self also, through his mind. For there is another joy, that of the mind when it is delighted with a thing of truth or delicacy, or a beautiful thought. Beautiful music, beautiful verse, beautiful imagination, all bring delight. It is perhaps a greater joy than the joy of a delicious dish, for some persons would give anything for a verse which they would never give for a delicious dish.
But there is a still greater joy, that of the heart, the innermost being of a person; the joy when this heart can express itself and experience love. There are many in this world who only live in the body; their heart is dead, their mind is dead; they seek their highest joy only in the body. But there are others who live in mind as well as in body. It is like the difference between a thoughtful man and an ordinary man. When a man is thoughtful he has become a different man. This idea is expressed by the word 'gentleman.' There are very few who could be truly called gentlemen, though many pass for such. The gentleman is he who is beginning to live in his mind, whose mind is becoming alive, who enjoys life too, yet is not delighted merely with the experience of the senses.
But he whose heart is awakened is higher than a gentleman. Such a one can sympathize with another; his sympathies are awake to consider another, to think for another, to serve another, to sacrifice for another. He is not merely a gentleman, he is a saint. The power of sympathy and love takes away the gross self, which used to demand all for itself. Once that is taken away, man thinks in a far higher way. 'Whatever I can do for another, that will I do. I will sacrifice all I have; the loss is no matter; it is a satisfaction.' To satisfy the heart, what a thing it is! This also is a part of joy, but it is not peace.
Joy is experienced by worldly attainment; peace is the attainment of heaven. In the ordinary sense we call it peace to be at rest in an armchair, on cushions, or in bed. But when the body is on a comfortable couch, does that mean that the mind is resting on cushions also? Cannot the mind go through torture at the same time? If that be the case, of what benefit is the peace and comfort of the body? The whole being must have peace. The mind must have peace from anxieties, worry, and from the greed that gives us ambitious desires and that we call 'wrong' and 'sin.' When all this has gone, the mind is at rest. Then, when the heart is at peace and has done its work of love, the heart has enough; it ceases to be interested in any particular object in life, but is equal towards all. When there is no demand there is peace, and this peace helps towards peace of the soul.
These are the two desires which we hold. It is when we do not know the manner in which to attain these two desires that sometimes the joy of one part of our being takes away the peace of the other. Or the peace of one part of our life takes away the joy of the other part of our being. It is when man once knows this that he is able really to master himself, to manage his life's affairs as he wishes, to have a better idea of what is right and what is wrong, and of what is sin and what is virtue.
This knowledge is gained through a study of life rather than of books. If we only knew how much the study of life can tell us! One could go into the British Museum and read every book in the building, and yet not obtain satisfaction. It is not study, it is not research, it is not inquiry which gives this knowledge; it is actually going through the experiences of life, witnessing life in its different aspects and in its different phases or spheres; that is what reveals the ideal of life.
A man may know about the whole world's doings, saying to himself, 'In the morning I will go from my home to the office, and will find out all about the world from my paper before I go.' But all he has learned is what the newspapers feed him with; for how often next day is the news of today contradicted! Still he is satisfied, thinking he has learned so much about the world in the morning. And in the evening he is ready to discuss these topics at the dinner-table, and the next day there is again something fresh; but is that knowledge?
How wonderful is the sight that is given to us, how marvelous is the mind, how great a treasure is the light of the soul! Can these be intended only for things like that? If we only knew the value of our life, the value of our soul, we would give the precious time that is ours to keen observation with calm perception, combining the attitude of a student with the care of a scientist.
Look not on life as a person would watch a play on the stage. Rather look upon it as a student who is learning at college. It is not a passing show; it is not a place of amusement in which to fool our life away. It is a place for study, in which every sorrow, every heartbreak brings a precious lesson. It is a place in which to learn by one's own suffering, by the study of the suffering of others; to learn from the people who have been kind to us as well as from the people who have been unkind. It is a place in which all experiences, be they disappointments, struggles, and pains, or joys, pleasures, and comforts, contribute to the understanding of what life is, and the realization what it is.
Then do we awake to the religion of nature, which is the only religion. And the more we understand it, the greater our life becomes, and the more of a blessing will our life be for others.