Volume VII - In an Eastern Rose Garden
There is nothing new under the sun, said Solomon, the Wise. Man thinks that democracy is something which has been developed in the spirit of man, and which he had never known before. He thinks the democratic way is not only right, but new. But when we think deeply, we see that life is the same, the ideals are the same. Nature's laws are the same in all ages. And therefore, these two aspects, the spirit of dependence and independence, have always existed and have always manifested in their time. For instance, every soul knows that in its own life the very first aspect to be experienced is the aspect of dependence. The infant is dependent upon its mother and father. In whatever way they direct him, he acts and works. Then comes the time when he is old enough to understand his own affairs, and he says, 'Yes, Father, that is what I want to do, and I will do it.' The father and mother say, 'Yes, our child has grown up and he understands his own way. We should not interfere with him.' Thus we see that in everybody's life there have been two phases: the phase of dependence and the phase of independence.
It is exactly the same in the lives of peoples, of communities, and of nations. It is always the same: at first dependence, then independence. At first autocracy, then democracy. The life and evolution of the individual and the multitude are alike.
As freedom is the nature of every soul, so the child, even from infancy, seeks freedom. We want the child to sit in our arms, but it prefers to go and play. An animal, a dog, or a cat, which depends so much on the sympathy of mankind, still does not wish to be deprived of freedom. This shows that at every stage of development life is trying to become free. That is why it is true to say that the spirit of democracy is not a thing just of today. It has existed in all ages. Sometimes its appearance has been timely, and sometimes untimely.
When we trace the cause, the reason for the spirit of democracy, we find that it lies in idealism. The human race first developed a thought of idealism in itself. Religions, learning, education have all emerged from this one human tendency. And what is this idealism? It is the silent consideration, the recognition of affection and attachment, which we even see in beasts and birds. We see that deer recognize their mates, and pigeons and doves have a kind of attachment for them. Sparrows and other birds share the responsibilities for their young with their mates.
This all shows us that this ideal has only culminated in man. Call it religion, wisdom, learning, whatever one wishes, the only really human thing is idealism. As soon as a man begins to think, 'These are my parents, and I would like to take care of them, so that they may not have the cares and struggles of life,' he shows idealism. Then the ideal extends to his neighbors. 'When I was young I could not help them. Now I can help them, and I will look after my neighbors' home and protect it from robbery.' Then comes consideration for his life's partner, the queen of the home. As man then sees the beauty of life, he begins to develop his thoughts and imagination, making beautiful forms, which shape themselves into beautiful ideals. He expands the ideal and becomes capable of higher ideals. Motherhood is regarded by everybody with veneration, fatherhood is regarded by everyone with respect. Neighborliness is looked upon with friendly feelings. The elders, chiefs, or kings in the village or town, who have given all their thoughts to the welfare of that town or village, how are they regarded? The people say, 'Here is our father who looked after us all when we were helpless or ignorant.' In this way the idea of a king or raja came into being, through the development of a certain kind of ideal. The civilization of every age or time always originates in idealism. The whole source of civilization is idealism and nothing else.
In ancient times the religion and the nation went hand in hand. There is no doubt that there is a great advantage in this when we compare it with later times, for no nation without religion or spiritual ideal, and based only on material values, can suffice the needs of a world that seeks lasting peace.
However developed or learned a person may be, if he is not in touch with the spiritual point of view, he remains selfish. His outlook on life is not impartial. His justice is self-made. How can he claim to be a just ruler?
The two things originated together. The history of Khusru, the old king of Persia, who was both Prophet and king shows this. His feeling was, 'My subjects are my children; more than my children, nearer and closer than my children; their interest is my interest, for them I live, for them I was born. My whole life is for them.' The whole life of the country was based on that example, that king's ideal. He was the instructor, the preacher, the ruler, he ruled according to the spiritual law. Solomon was also the prophet and king at the same time, and so was Rama, the Hindu king. Think of the impression they have left. It is so many centuries ago, and yet however many kings have come and gone since then, the impression made by Rama still remains in the Hindu race. There are temples and shrines, and in them an image of the king whose life was spent for the welfare of subjects.
A figurehead or leader is always the ideal which the people will follow in every age, and is it not so today? When the President shaves his beard everyone does the same! Man keeps on saying, 'I will get rid of this idol,' but he can never get rid of it; it is human nature. From infancy man wishes to imitate somebody's walk, or movement, or expression, or way of talking.
'God is beautiful, and He loves beauty.' He loves beauty through every soul, expressed in movement, word, in whatever way beauty comes. He cannot help following beauty, whether it be in democracy or aristocracy.
There is a story of a Persian king and a dervish. Now a dervish is a self-educated man, but one who knows and understands things. He is a free-thinker; he does not abide by the law of society; he touches the depth of the truth, and ignores all the superficial and artificial rules and laws of society and religion, he leads his life freely in thought and action; he is so happy in his philosophy that if he is clothed in rags and tatters it matters nothing to him.
This dervish was standing in the street along which the king was about to pass. In the front of the procession were the pages, and they were calling out to him, 'Get out of the way, the procession of the king is coming.' He said, 'That is why.' He went back a few steps, and when the pages had gone past, he came forward again, and sat down in the same place. Again came the cry, this time from the courtiers, riding on beautiful horses: 'Away, away, the king is coming.' He said, 'That is why,' and went a few steps back, and then when they had passed he returned to the same place. Then came the chariot of the king. When the king saw him standing in the middle of the street, he gently bowed his head to the dervish, who smiled and said, 'That is why.'
A young man who was watching this could not help laughing. He was curious about it too and asked the dervish, 'Why do you say to everybody, 'That is why?' He answered, 'It is plain. The gentleness of the king was the reason why he acted so towards me; the dullness of the courtiers was why they were curt to me; the rudeness and crudeness of the pages and the bodyguard was why they were rude to me.' For in the East they pay respect to holy men, even to a dervish. It is inevitable that the culture and education and thought that have been cultivated for centuries among families, communities, and peoples should manifest its effect.
If one asks whether one person's mind is equal to another's, or different, the answer is, it is never equal. There is an immeasurable difference between minds. One mind may be developed more than two, another more than ten, another more than a hundred, another more than a thousand persons. One person whom we meet and talk to and sit with makes us feel as if we had been in heaven, so full is he of gentleness, knowledge, response, and goodness. With another, however open-minded we may be, we find that his manner, his point of view, everything, is repulsive, and we cannot help it.
This shows that the root of civilization is idealism. The seedling was in aristocracy, the plant of civilization grows in aristocracy, and the climax comes in autocracy; for it is comfort and power that have always blinded men. We always find people who are without money more thoughtful and considerate than those who have wealth. Those blinded with wealth have no time to think of another person. Even helpless people will have sympathy and share our pain, while those who have the power to help do not.
This aristocracy on one side, and on the other side the authority of a Church with temporal power, both reach a climax when they are blinded by the power of wealth. The aristocracy which was the virtue and culmination of civilization turns into aristocracy; and once that aristocracy begins, whether king, president, elder, or head of a family, there arises a bureaucracy: what the king does the officer does, what he does, the policeman, the constable and everybody else does. As it is said in Sanskrit, 'As the king is, so becomes the subject.' Everybody values the leader. An autocratic leader produces an effect on every person, making him an autocrat himself. If the king is fond of luxury, the man whose duty it is to wait on the king also becomes fond of ease and comfort. He is too lazy to get up in the morning because the king is lazy also.
When this is so it means that the time has come for another form of life to appear. That is why there come wars, revolutions, floods, strikes, rebellions. These are all signs that life is going to change. It is not only today. It has been so in all ages. Such signs always mean the change from autocracy to bureaucracy, and then the new era begins, the era of democracy.
By the time that this new period has arrived, the spirit of independence has become ready to meet it. When this spirit is understood wrongly it becomes a time of great trial to the world and humanity at large. When violence comes, rudeness and crudeness predominate in social life and disregard of the true spirit of religion, and of consideration for others, these are the degradation of democracy.
Human nature is just like goats and sheep: where one goes, twenty will follow, and fifty more want to walk behind. So it is with man: one comes and seeks democracy, and the others follow without knowing what democracy is. Democracy is not a craze, not lunacy, not a spell; it is the maturity of souls; that is the real democracy. The soul now feels the responsibility, the value of its own power, the latent power and inspiration, which it possesses. It does not necessarily mean breaking with Church or religion or law, nor a disturbance. These would be a degradation of civilization.
Where can this spirit, this true spirit, be learned? From socialism? Only a little. From politics? Only partially. The view of the politician is a partial view. In the law courts the pleader may tell the truth, but the other side may also tell the truth. Politics may give education, but the perfection of democracy can only be learned from the real science or religion, from the spiritual ideal.
Real spiritual democracy we see in Jesus Christ. According to their law, some of the theologians and Pharisees wished to accuse the people who had sinned, but he told them to let him who had never sinned throw the first stone. That was the outlook of democracy. In that Christ suggested that human nature was everywhere. See the picture of the Master washing the feet of his disciples.
Then in the life of the Prophet we read of a Negro slave, whom the Prophet's grandson called by his name. The Prophet said, 'That is not good manners. Call him 'Uncle,' he is older than you.' He taught his followers that in the house of God there is no distinction between king and servant. The place of prayer should not be for rich people only. All can pray together, shoulder to shoulder. The sultan and the beggar can meet and pray thus. That is democracy.
Whence did it come? It came from the depth of religion. It came from spiritual law. However humble and low a person may be in occupation and evolution, we are none the less interdependent and require his help and service as he needs ours. However much wealth or power or rank we possess, we still depend upon the humblest and poorest person in the world.
The realization that the whole of life must be give and take, is the realization of the spiritual truth and the fact of true democracy. Not until this spirit is formed in the individual himself can the whole world be raised to a higher grade of evolution.