Volume VII - In an Eastern Rose Garden
THE FREEDOM OF THE SOUL (1)
Freedom is such, that it is desired by every creature. From this we see that it is the soul's tendency and the spirit's longing to become free. Animals and birds, however carefully educated and tended by us, still have the instinct to avoid being confined.
Where does the desire for freedom begin? Its beginning is explained in a very beautiful way in some of the ancient stories. The stories from the Hebrew and Arabic scriptures tell us that when God made Adam, He commanded the spirit to enter the body of Adam, which he had made out of clay and water. When the spirit was commanded to enter, it refused, saying, 'No, I will never become a captive in this dark prison, I, who have always been free, dwelling anywhere without bondage, without barrier. I will never become captive in this place.' Then God said to the angels, 'Sing.' And when they sang, the spirit fell into ecstasy. It became intoxicated by the beauty of the singing. While in this state of intoxication it did not know where it was going, and thus it was that it entered the required place. So when Adam opened his eyes, the spirit was there. Adam was alive.
Rumi said, 'The bamboo flute, which appeals to you so much, mourns over its separation from its home, the original bamboo.' In Persia and in India, the reed flute is taken from the tree. So, it says, 'I am taken away from my source, my home and made into a piece instead of the whole which I was at first.' And this pain in its heart is the only thing that appeals to the heart of those who listen. It touches them and moves them to listen to its longing. There is a very beautiful truth in this.
When we inquire into the tragedy of life, the very first of all causes is this separation from freedom. This tragedy can be seen in all kinds of people. From rich to poor, from the most illiterate to the most educated, everyone has this grudge. Maybe one confesses it, while another does not, but the grudge is in everybody's mind just the same: that he has entered this objective world. For this entry seems to be the cause of all the tragedy of life, the tragedy that man's spirit cannot be satisfied in life, cannot have lasting happiness, as long as he stays in it.
But if you ask someone you meet, what the cause of his life's tragedy is, he may say, 'O, I long to have more money. I am very poor, and without resources. I am so unhappy.' Another person may say, 'O, I have everything I want, but my relatives are quarrelsome and very unkind to me.' Another says, 'I have everything I want but good health.' A fourth says, 'I have everything, but I long to have a certain peace.' Another, 'I long to accomplish this art; that big purpose in life; not having done so makes me unhappy.'
And if you were to supply to each, his life's need: giving money to the poor man, harmony to the man without harmony, position to the man who has not got it, a beautiful palace to the one who longs for that, health to him who has it not, then, see how long he would remain happy! It would be only for that moment when his desire was fulfilled, and then he would again feel the hunger for he knows not what. He asks his mind, 'What more do I want?' and his mind says, 'You feel so unhappy.' And as soon as he asks, 'For what?' his mind answers that he cannot have that, which he seeks.
It is in this way that all through his life a man runs after things which are not the real desire of his soul. Sometimes he thinks it is his bodily appetites and passions which demand satisfaction, sometimes that it is his intellectual powers; but even if they were satisfied he would still find himself unhappy. 'Perhaps,' he thinks, 'it is wealth, position, or honors that are lacking.' Or he thinks, 'It is not that I have not got the things I need, but I have not enough of them.' If he has a motorcar, he is unhappy because he has no chauffeur.
His mind, his reason, always puts forward some other cause for his unhappiness rather than the real one, in order that he may be kept in illusion all his life, in order that all his life he should run after things, which are not the real aim of his soul. Throughout his whole life he seeks after things, trying first this, then that. One day he buys this, another that, and after getting these things, he still thinks, 'O, there is still something else, that is why I am unhappy.' As long as he has not got it, he considers that is the cause. If he has ten things, he wants twenty. If he acquires twenty, he seeks thirty. If he has thirty, he desires fifty, and so on. Indeed, if he had thousands and billions, he would want a kingdom. After that a whole universe. And if the whole universe were given to him, his heart would not be satisfied, because the demand of his soul has still not been understood. He goes through life mourning and sorrowing for things he cannot get, not understanding in what lies true gain and true loss.
Therefore, when a seer or one who has realized life looks at this world, he sees that however old a person may be – aged, young, middle-aged – he is still like a child. Children become very unhappy because they have not got, or cannot get a toy, a toy to which grown-ups would not attach any importance. To the seer, the desires of ordinary grown-up people are also like toys. The things that matter to the world do not matter to him. This is the sign that he has realized the aim of his soul.
For the aim of his soul is freedom. Freedom is the soul's true nature. It is a captive in mind and body. The whole tragedy of the soul is its captivity. Words such as Nirvana, or Mukti, salvation, or liberation – all these names are those of the one aim or ideal of the soul throughout our whole life. Yet, hardly anyone knows what it is he aims at. All that he does know is that there is such a longing, that there is this hope constantly there.
Everyone wakes in the morning as if he were expecting something. Everyone goes to bed with the thought, 'Perhaps tomorrow or the day after tomorrow I shall obtain my heart's desire.' With some the desire is for a position, or a friend. With others it is a hope. Everyone is looking out as if waiting for that something to come.
There is a familiar saying, 'Wait till my ship comes home.' Every soul is waiting for his ship to come, not knowing what that ship will bring, or what sort of ship it is. Still, every soul is looking for 'my ship'; every soul is unconsciously waiting for the coming of 'my ship.' One person thinks it is the prospering of trade, another of business, another thinks that it is the coming of power or position, but everyone believes the ship will come!
The ship is different according to whether it is pictured by the mind or the body or the soul. The ship of the soul is its freedom. Indeed, freedom is the real object in all aspects of life. If the desire is for wealth, that is nothing but a desire for freedom from poverty. If the desire is for power, that is nothing but a desire for freedom to act as one wishes. The ideal of every soul is freedom: freedom to work, freedom to act, freedom to think, freedom in every direction.
Not knowing that this is the heart's real desire, from the first day of his creation till today, man has always neglected the true freedom, because of his pursuit of freedom in the external life. That has been his mistake. In spite of the little freedom he has thus gained, he finds himself a captive still. He has still failed to gain that complete joy and peace which his soul longs for.
Freedom for the body would be the freedom of walking in gardens, of moving about wherever it wished. But that would not be freedom for the mind. The mind would still be captive. Suppose the mind has freedom, freedom of thought, of understanding, of imagination, of actions, even then the soul would still be captive. But if the soul is free the mind is free, and the body is also free.
How do we attain this freedom? In the Sanskrit language there is a very expressive word for freedom: Taran, which means 'liberation,' 'swimming,' or 'floating.' And it is such a beautiful idea that both these things, swimming and liberation, are alike in their nature.
How true it is, as the Eastern poets have said, 'Life is a Bhavasagara, an ocean into which all things are drawn, fall and are absorbed.' It sweeps away all the plants and trees, animals and birds, and all that lie in the path of the flood; all are borne away into the ocean. Such is the force and power of the ocean. Similarly, this life sweeps away all the trees and plants, animals and men. Everything that we see is here only for the moment, and then is swept away. There is always a certain period after which the things that seemed so enduring have all disappeared. Our ancestors, if they came back, would not recognize the country, the houses, the trees, the manners. Everything would be different. All that was familiar to them has been swept away. That is the story of this life. That is why it is called Maya, the illusion created before us like a dream in the night. In the morning, it has all gone. All the happiness, unhappiness, pleasures, horrors, whatever we experience in the night, we perceive in the morning to have been a dream.
The whole of creation, when we come to think of it, is not in the end what we thought it was: manners, customs, faces, everything changed. That is the condition of life. It is just like the sea. The tide comes, and it sweeps all before it, flowers, fruit and all. Therefore, life is pictured by the thinkers of the East as an ocean into which everything is swept.
The miracle of Christ walking on the water is understood by mystics as teaching a mystery. Walking on water expresses the same idea, which in Sanskrit is called Taran – to float or swim. To float or swim one must have one's head above water. The water which sweeps us away we avoid, to preserve that existence which our soul longs to save. Our body is alive as our mind is alive and as our soul is alive; and it does not want to be non-existent, but it desires to continue to exist. However unhappy or feeble a man may be, his life is too dear to him to sacrifice. Suicide is only possible under great stress of emotion. All work, all struggles are in order to live. All fights, all disagreements, all money seeking, all comfort seeking are in order to live. All through life it is one struggle to live, yet the true life is not realized.
Christ, from first to last, teaches the reality of eternal life. His only lesson was 'life.' It is the desire of the soul to live. And that life is the real life. Man keeps imagining that his life is for eating delicious dishes, for making merry, or for being comfortable for the time being. But when the body has gone, how will he live? What will become of his comforts? When the mind is not there, how will he satisfy the mind? To live in the body or the mind is to live in vehicles upon which one becomes dependent but which must pass, and be no more.
Therefore, the lesson that we must learn is how to swim, how to float, how to prevent ourselves from sinking in the flood of death or mortality. How shall we avoid that? The answer is found when we understand that man is traveling in a boat; and the boat is heavily laden. The storm comes on, and the one who is rowing says to the man, 'The storm is severe, your luggage is very heavy. The best thing will be for you to save your life by throwing one of your bundles into the water.' The man says, 'O, that bundle contains things I have collected all my life, and I cannot throw it out.' 'Well', says the boatman, 'if you cannot throw it out you will drown.' And when he has thrown out one bundle, perhaps the storm becomes greater, and maybe then the last bundle has to be thrown away as well. And he says, 'O, this one I can never part with. It contains things I have collected all through my life. They are souvenirs, and you want me to throw them away. Things from my grandfather and my great grandfather, do you really want me to throw them away?' The other says, 'If not, you also will go. If you want to save your life, throw that last bundle away too!'
That is what death does with mankind. It says, 'You are so interested in your vehicle, which you call your body,' and so first of all he sends disease. The person, who thinks so much of his body is always ill. That is the first step. He is very conscientious about his body, saying, 'This is the one thing I must keep well preserved.' He goes on thinking of it too much. And so he feels ill, and in the end he has to throw both bundles away, body and mind.
Others will say that they do not care for their body, but only for their mind. They take care of their own imaginations, their own standards of thinking, 'What you say is wrong, what I say is right.' They are occupied with thoughts, with pursuits, with arguments, saying, 'Am I right? Are you? Is she? And they are all the time in doubt and constant worry of mind. All the time occupied in a struggle about something, which is really nothing. To the seer it matters nothing. And then the tide, death comes and they are swept away. The mind goes, the body goes, and the soul returns to its source. This is a picture of mortality when mind departs from body with the impression of death.
There is a story, which explains this subject very well. It is of a king who had a parrot, which he loved so much he kept it in a golden cage, and always attended to it himself. The king and queen both paid such great attention to the parrot that everyone in the palace was jealous of it.
One day the king was about to go into the forest where the parrot came from, and he said to it, 'My pet, I have loved you, and kept you will all the care and attention and fondness that I could. And I should like very much to take any message you wish to your brothers in the forest.' The parrot said, 'How kind of you to have offered to do this for me. Convey to my brothers in the jungle that the king and queen have done their very best to make me happy, a golden cage, all kinds of fruits, and nice things of all sorts. And they loved me so much. But in spite of all the attentions they give me I long for the forest, and the desire to dwell among you, free as I used to be before, always possess my mind. But I see no way out of it, so pray send me your goodwill and your love. One only lives in hope. Perhaps some day my wish will be granted.' The king went into the forest, and approached the tree from which the parrot was taken and said to the brothers of the parrot, 'O, parrots, there is one whom I have taken from among you to my palace. I am very fond of him, and he receives all the attention I can give. This is your brother's message.' They listened to the message very attentively, and one after the other dropped to the ground and seemed dead.
The king was depressed beyond measure. Spellbound, he could not understand what it was that he had said that should have affected the feelings of those parrots so much. The loving parrots could not bear his message. And he thought, 'What a sin I have committed, to have destroyed so many lives.' He returned to his palace, and went to his parrot, and said, 'How foolish, O parrot, to give me such a message that as soon as your brothers heard it, one after another they dropped down, and all lay dead before me.'
The parrot listened to this, and looked up gently to the sky, and then fell down too. The king was even more sad. 'How foolish I was! First I gave his message to them and killed them, and now I give their message to him and kill him also.' It was all most bewildering to the king. What was the meaning of it all?
He commanded his servants to put his dead parrot on a gold tray, and bury him with all ceremony. The servants took him out of the cage with great respect, and loosed the chains from his feet. Then, as they were laying him out, the parrot suddenly flew away and sat upon the roof.
The king said, 'O parrot, you betrayed me.' The parrot said, 'O king, this was the aim of my soul, and it is the aim of all souls. My brothers in the jungle were not dead. I asked them to show me the way to freedom, and they showed me. I did as they told me, and now I am free.'
There is a [Hadith] which says: Mutu qabla an tamutu, which means, 'Die before death.' A poet says, 'Only he attains to the peace of the Lord who loses himself.' God said to Moses, 'No man shall see me and live.' To see God we must be non-existent.
What does all this mean? It means that when we see our being with open eyes, we see that there are two aspects to our being: the false and the true. The false life is that of the body and mind, which only exists as long as the life is within. In the absence of that life the body cannot go on. We mistake the true life for the false, and the false for the true.
Dying is this: when there is a fruit or something sweet and good to taste, the child comes to its mother and says, 'Will you give it to me?' Although it would have given pleasure to the mother to eat it, she gives it to the child. The eating of it by the child is enjoyed by the mother. That is death. She enjoys her life in the joy of another. Those who rejoice in the joy of another, though at their own expense, have taken the first step towards true life. If we are pleased by giving another a good coat, which we would have liked to wear ourselves, if we enjoy that, we are on the first step. If we enjoy a beautiful thing so much that we would like to have it, and then give that joy to another, enjoying it through his experience, we are dead. That is our death. Yet, we live more than he. Our life is much vaster, deeper, greater.
Seemingly it is a renunciation, an annihilation, but in truth it is a mastery. The real meaning of crucifixion is to crucify this false self, and so resurrect the true self. As long as the false self is not crucified, the true self is still not realized. By Sufis it is called Fana, annihilation. All the attempts made by true sages and seekers after real truth are for the one aim of attaining to everlasting life.