Volume VII - In an Eastern Rose Garden
THE DESIRE OF NATIONS
In the works of a great Sufi teacher we find the words, 'In order to know God, know yourself.' It follows that in order to know the desire of nations or of people, we should first know our own desire. Until we know ourselves, we cannot know about others. As long as we are ignorant of our own life's needs and wants and of the secret of our own nature, we can never understand the needs and wants and the secret of another person's nature.
In reality, we ourselves are a nation within ourselves. More than that, we are a whole universe within ourselves. Therefore, if we study the self, we shall find we can study not only a nation, but this whole world and even all other worlds. To study our self means also the study of the primitive condition of man, and this again means the study of life in all its forms.
We must also learn about the inclination of life in all forms. What is this inclination? There is a verse in the Bible, which explains it, indirectly giving a hint of its secret, 'For in Him we live and move and have our being'. We live to move, and we move to make our being in God. Without moving we are not living. Without making our being we do not move, nor do we live. Therefore, it is the condition of life that if we live we should move and progress, and attain that state of being for which we are destined.
We can see this inclination in every being. A little plant, a tree, if we suppress its growth, if we erect a fence round it, if we cover it with glass, it will not flourish, it will not produce flowers. In time, it will die. Why is this? It is because its life cannot express itself when it is covered, it cannot express itself when there is a fence round it. It is not enough for it to be alive, because life does not want only to live. To realize itself life must be able to make progress, and progress is only made when there is free movement.
We find the same inclination even in worms and insects. An ant has the same desire. We try to touch it, but it does not want us to touch it. We attempt to keep it in a certain place, but it does not want to stay there. However much we may say we will take great care of the parrots and the sparrows and the beautiful birds we keep in cages, saying we love them so much, it is no pleasure to them. Of course they will eat in their captivity if they are hungry. They will drink water when they are thirsty. But this is no sign that they enjoy themselves or that they are happy.
Why should they be happy when it is not their life's inclination to be restricted? Life did not give a bird wings in order to stay in a cage. Wings were given as the means to enjoy life, to make a nest where the birds can live, to make the acquaintance of other birds, to enjoy the life in the jungle, and to find water and food for the comfort and ease of their family. It is in this way that they make their being. It is the same with animals and birds as it is with plants. For them also life means to have a being, to move it. It is what life demands.
When we come to human life, do we not find it the same too? However much we love our child and say, 'Sit here, I would so much like you to be here,' it will only stay there for a moment, and then it will say, 'No, let me play.' We say to it, 'You should be sitting here,' but it answers, 'No, I don't like sitting here.' Then we give the child a beautiful toy, and say again, 'Sit here.' Yes, for the sake of the toy, it will sit for a moment. But the next moment it will take the toy and go away. 'Let me have my freedom,' it says. Does this not show that the purpose of life is freedom? As long as man is ignorant of this he is ignorant of the secret of his own nature and the secret of any other. Neither he nor anyone else can be happy, however much wealth or property, grandeur of position or palaces he may possess.
Interdependence is the law of nature. We make our life by sharing the joys and pleasures and sorrows of another, but it takes us a very long time to understand this one thing. Our observation and study of man's nature show that his life demands freedom. And yet, on the other hand, we find that selfishness develops naturally in man, more than in any other creature. The demands of his life are so much greater, and he becomes so absorbed in satisfying these demands, and possessing and enjoying them when he has them, that he really forgets the secret of nature. He forgets the secret of his own happiness as well as that of others.
Not only does individual man seek freedom, but also the nations and races and peoples throughout the whole world have been absorbed in the pursuit of freedom. Whenever wars have occurred, whenever there has been bloodshed in the world, whenever there have been revolutions and upheavals in life, all the various disasters that have taken place are due to these same causes: on the one side man's selfishness, and on the other his lack of understanding of the law of nature and the law of happiness.
Ignorance of this law exists in the human soul from childhood. When a child sees anything that is attractive and beautiful, it at once wants to have it, never thinking whose it might be. 'No one shall touch it. That shall belong to me,' it says. 'I shall only be happy when I have what that other child has.' Even if it already has a beautiful toy, it still wants to have what the other one has. This is human nature, which goes on developing regardless of the secret happiness which can only be disclosed when the veil of ignorance has fallen from man's eyes.
He never understands what justice is, even though he may speak of it. Real justice cannot be perceived until the veil of selfishness has been removed from his eyes. The least spark of selfishness will prevent man from being just; he will continue to have a partial interest, because he will be looking after his own interest. Whatever furthers his own interests, he will call his right and his justice.
The prophets and the holy ones have all recognized the justice of God as the only real justice. What is the nature of the justice of God? It cannot be read in scripture; it cannot be learned from a book; it can only be learned from the self within after selfishness has been removed. Our limited self is like a wall separating us from the Self of God. God is as far away from us as that wall is thick. The wisdom and justice of God are within us, and yet they are far away under the covering of the veil of the limited self. Whoever has arrived at that realization of the nature of God's justice is able to see all things in a different way from others. His whole outlook on life becomes different.
From the most ancient times teachers have come as messengers, one after the other, in order to instruct man in this law of God's justice, the law of cooperation, the law of love amongst men. That which Christ taught, they taught. For that has always been their work. But it is the way in which education and new reforms have worked out in modern civilization that has covered the real spirit of religion. The nations gradually unlearned what true religion was, and became more and more depraved. Christ came to re-awaken the ancient truth. And then Muhammad formed not only a nation with his spiritual message, but also a school in which love, cooperation, equality, and democracy could be learned: the truth that on the dependence of men on one another the happiness of humanity depends. Hence, it is written, 'Every Muslim is a brother of another Muslim.' If a king and a prime minister are offering a prayer, a poor man can stand beside them and offer his prayers with them.
How was the original spirit changed? For at first Islam taught the world both directly and indirectly. Directly to the followers of Islam, indirectly to humanity at large. Before the spirit changed the religion was given by the Prophet, but afterwards the religion was used as the instrument for forming a nation. Instead of a nation being the protector of religion, the religion became the protector of a nation. The desire to attain a God-ideal was degraded into a desire to attain a national ideal, in order to satisfy a selfish motive. No sooner did that spirit enter Islam than the whole building tumbled down.
In the history of the world this lesson has been taught not once, but a thousand times. As long as a nation works for the interest of God and humanity it will always be prosperous, but as soon as it uses religion in order to exalt the national ideal, then it falls down like a house of cards. We can see this in the history of Hinduism, in the history of Islam, in the history of European religious sects. If there is the wish to rise, the ideal must be high. If there is the desire to fall, let the ideal be low. It is the love of the earth that will attract man to the earth. But it is the love of heaven that will attract him to heaven. It is as the Bible says, 'Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.' When the whole of man's ideal in life is his degree of education, his success in trade, all towards exalting the self, the individuality, then he is descending and not ascending. He is selfish as an individual, he becomes selfish as a nation, then as a race, and at last there is warfare. The racial ideal expresses its selfishness in great wars. Even people of the same nation will fight against one another.
The same thing develops further when it appears between classes and parties, between labor and capital, the higher against the lower. All of them have a wrong ideal; selfishness is allowed to rule instead of the higher ideal.
And even that is not the end. The next thing which develops is disharmony of sex. Families become inharmonious because of the selfish ideal; the husband wants his own way; the wife wants her own way. The husband thinks, 'As long as I am happy, that is all that is necessary". In whatever direction you may journey in life you will meet with this tendency. Selfishness may begin with the thought, 'As long as my country is benefited, that benefits me;' and then it will narrow down to, 'If my family is benefited, if we become wealthy and have desirable things, that is sufficient for the present!' And then it narrows down again, 'For my father, or mother, or wife or children,' until it ends in, 'Nothing matters as long as I am happy myself.' Man has now become cold, ignorant, and blind to the law that life depends on the happiness of those with whom we live. The whole of life is one. In all these different names and manifestations life is one. The true thought is, 'If my wife is not happy, if my children, my neighbors, my servants are not happy, how can I ever be happy?' An insult given to someone will one day return.
How simple it is. Yet how difficult for man to understand! It is simple to him who observes life keenly. It is difficult to him who is absorbed in himself. Life is nothing but this. Life is not a particular philosophy, not a particular faith, not a particular religion, not a particular code of morals. Life is that dependence upon our surroundings, upon the life of our neighbors, upon the life of the nation, upon the life of the whole world. That is what keen observation and wide outlook on life teaches man.
How the peace of the world has suffered during the past few years! Do not think that the effect of this suffering has not been felt by all the other nations, even though they were not actually engaged in the war. The effect has spread both directly and indirectly throughout the whole world. The whole of humanity has gone through this pain. Even the fishes of the sea have suffered with man in the catastrophe. The invisible beings have also suffered. It is all one life. How could it be otherwise? If a wound in the foot has an effect on the arm, even though the arm is not wounded, if the pain has its effect upon the whole body, how can it be otherwise between nation and nation?
We can see the operation of this law even in our own circle. When there is someone among our own acquaintances who is poor, someone among the servants or relatives depending on us, who is helpless or in distress, suppose we cause him trouble or do him some injury, even though we may not know of it at the time, some day later on we shall discover it. It will return to us. It may return through some other channel. We may be too blind to see that it has originally come from that source. We may not see if we are in Africa that the harm has come from someone in China. But, life is nevertheless all one.
Similarly when we bring joy and pleasure and happiness, it is never lost any more than is anything harmful or injurious, or of a troublesome nature. Good deeds, kindness, forgiveness, tolerance, acts of love, none of these are ever lost, and some day they will return to us. Even if the recipient appears ungrateful or heedless, it is all the same. There is no need to be disappointed even if he proves to be unworthy of our kindness and our love. When we realize that all life is one life, we discover that it is to that life that we give our love and kindness and mercy. Then it is bound to return to us, if not today, perhaps next week. If not next week, perhaps next year. If not here, then somewhere where we never expected it could possibly come. 'Thou shalt find it after many days.' 1
Though there may still be time to awaken to a true understanding of these things, it is often too late by the time that sufferings, troubles, and misery have come to the individual or to the multitude. If someone has so far failed to understand them before they actually came, perhaps he will never understand. When there is some little pain or he feels bad in himself, he may think he has some illness. But if he does not think about it, if he takes no notice of it, something worse may come. And so it has been with the world. The worst evil that has ever been should show man that it is now time to awaken and understand that it is not a study of national or social problems, not a study of religious questions that will bring an everlasting peace; but it is the insight into life which is the real religion and which alone can help man to understand life.
What is that religion? It is nature's religion of freedom, the religion that will liberate man. When man sees that the ideal of every soul is freedom, and that he cannot enjoy his own freedom unless he has shared his freedom with others, then and only then can troubles and unhappiness cease.
A Hindustani poet says, 'It is for sympathy that we have created man, not that he should worship God.' There are so many angels in heaven, who constantly worship God. Therefore man, being the final manifestation, is supposed to do something different from the angelic world. God says, 'We have made man to sympathize with his fellow man, to be serviceable to others, to give joy and peace to others.' Until he does that he is not really man.
The animals are selfish. They all seek their own life's demands, and the satisfaction of their passions is their life. Their understanding of happiness is that it is just this gratification. Birds make their nests. Animals have their holes. Therefore, if the only ideal necessary for man were that he should attain comfort and wealth and position, he would be no different from the lower creation. The great difference is that man has the power of sympathizing. He it is who can say, 'My mother has taken care of me. Now she is old. I must listen to her. I must tolerate her hard words. Perhaps she has only misunderstood. I was very disagreeable at one time, and yet my mother was always patient and kind and attentive through it all.' If one's father has become old, if our friends are in difficulty, in every case we must have sympathy. Not like the animals who bite their aged ones, and forget their mothers and fathers when their own needs are satisfied, but like him who thinks gratefully of his aged mother and of the wife to whom he is united to share in sorrows and joys, and to find in what way they are able to serve one another.
He is a man who thinks, 'Though in business we have to make money and profit, yet, by proving ourselves sincere and true in heart, by proving ourselves honest and earnest, the business will increase still more and remain secure.' He is a man who in national, social, and racial ideals, in the ideals of the whole of humanity, looks at nature with wide open eyes, and can perceive that the whole of life is one, that all individuals are one embodiment of life.
He who perceives this, realizes, 'What I have taken from another, I have lost. What I have given to another, I have gained. Whatever good I have done to another is my gain, and whatever good another has done to me is my loss.' The kindness, the service, the love and sympathy that another has given are all lost when the giver is gone. It could only be there so long as he was there. But deeds of goodness, of kindness, of consideration done to another, will remain with him who does them both here and hereafter.
1 Ecclesiastes 11:1