Volume VII - In an Eastern Rose Garden
THE PERSONALITY OF GOD
That ethical view of God which conceives of Him as a personality is really a conception of the self; the divine love, power, and inspiration are really within oneself. But when someone who has not truly studied and understood the subject of God's personality begins to talk about it, he is apt to destroy the religious beliefs of many besides his own. Not only is he apt to go astray himself, through failing to assimilate the knowledge from the ethical point of view, but he will also confuse others in their faiths and beliefs.
After reading a few ethical books and after considering the Christ-idea and the idea of God from the ethical point of view, a person may go and talk to a friend who has simple faith in Jesus Christ and has never considered ethics or science or philosophy but has always held a picture of the Lord before him, fearing to displease the Lord, devoted to him. He may say: 'There is no such person as Jesus Christ. He never came to earth; it is a myth; it is only an ethical ideal.' What happens? The plant of devotion, the ideal in the heart, the plant that grows and develops more and more, is broken by him. And his friend is driven either to shut the doors of his heart, which should be protected, or to give up his faith. To yield is to go astray, and yet not to yield may be to go astray also.
There is a danger, then, of an ethical point of view destroying one's own religion and understanding; but there is an even greater danger of its doing so to the religion of others.
The Sufi always tries to keep the ideal of God, not only as a philosophy, but as a religious philosophy. It has always been clothed with religion so that the ideal of a Master, a Savior, of God might be presented not only as a bare truth. For of all those who have the ethical point of view there may perhaps not be one in a thousand who has experienced trouble, distress, sorrow, and the pains of life in such a way as to be able to use this ethical knowledge in his life. The majority of people with an aptitude for study obtain the ethical knowledge, but proceed to criticize their own religion or that of others, and endeavor to destroy the faith which others have; such is human nature.
It is human nature to take others and lead them astray from their path. It is rare for anyone to ask himself, 'Have I gone astray? I will at least not mislead another.' The true parent would think like that. He would say, 'My children shall be happier; they shall not make the mistakes which we have made.' So once the love of human kind has developed in the heart of man, he begins to understand other people as the parent does his children, and to say to himself: 'If others lead you astray, at least I will not do so.'
In reality the ideal of God is a bridge connecting the limited life with the unlimited. Whoever goes over this bridge passes safely from the limited to the unlimited life. The bridge may be taken away, it is true, and one may yet swim across the chasm; but one may be drowned too. The ideal of God is a safe bridge, which takes you safely to the goal.
There are four paths or stages that lead a person to spiritual knowledge, from the limited to the unlimited.
The first stage is Shariat. This is where the God-ideal is impressed upon mankind as authority, as fear of God. This really means conscientiousness, not fear as is usually thought. If we love, we do not wish to displease; love does not force us to act, but it asks us to be conscientious and take care not to cause the least disharmony with the one whose happiness we want. The first lesson is to idealize someone who is above the personalities of the earth, more than mortal, a protector more than a father; a guardian, a king, mightier than the nations; richer than all the super millionaires in this world. Wonderful though the goodness is that we see in a mother, causing us to realize how kind and merciful she is, it is nothing compared with the perfection of the kindness and mercy of God. That which attracts us in the mother is limited; unlimited mercy and kindness are only to be seen in God. We perceive that all things that give protection, peace, fear, or love are only found in their perfection in the one ideal, and that is in God.
The one who realizes this offers his prayers to God, worships Him, thinks of Him, and holds the God-ideal in his mind. And a kind of connection comes to be established between him and the ideal, so that in times of depression, of despair, of sorrow and helplessness he has the ideal within immediate reach. He can say, ' I know someone greater, a greater friend than anyone in the world, to whom all respect and worship and humility are due.'
This stage of Shariat is that in which a person asks himself what will please Him, or displease Him. He learns his religion from his parents, from his friends. A good action pleases, a bad action displeases, and pride displeases most; he learns everything very easily by seeing what displeases another. How easy it is; and yet they still go to a clergyman or to a priest, to ask what pleases God. And all the time it is just what pleases man that pleases God, and therefore if we please all around us, we please God; if we displease them, we displease God. A man who has attained to this stage realizes what reward comes to him when he pleases the world, and what happens when he does not. Just think of the peaceful state of the one who has done some good to another, what condition is his when he retires to bed at night; what joy, what peace, what sense of safety! Whereas the person who has harmed another, stolen something, caused trouble or pain, his punishment is with him also. The reward and the punishment can be seen in our own day; there is no need to wait for heaven or hell; every day is heaven or hell once we realize what reaction our own works bring upon ourselves.
Then next stage is called Tariqat. In this stage one finds what it is that really matters. What it is that is really wrong, and what it is that is really right; how some wrong is hidden under what people call right, and right is hidden under what we call wrong. It is now that a man begins to understand the nature of things. What the whole world calls wrong may be right. Although he pleases the world, at the same time he thinks of the pleasure of God first. He goes on until instead of finding the pleasure of God in the world, he also finds it in his own being, by his own conscience, by his own intelligence. He also begins to be able to say, 'Yes, it is true there is a Creator, it is true I am a creature; but what has God created me from? Whence has He created the whole world? Is it from Himself or from substance, and if substance has existed, where did that come from?
Having begun to think in this way he begins to find that if there is any substance, it is something that He made out of Himself. One can see that by considering one's own thoughts. When a person notices that a thought has come to him to do a certain thing, where was it before? How did it arise? Surely, his mind has in that case created something out of nothing, or out of himself. Mind is one thing, thought is one thing, but at the same time the thought is of the mind, the mind has created the thought, and yet the thought is not another substance, it is the substance of mind itself. But the mind as the knower of the thought and the creator of the thought stands at the back of the thought, and when the thought has disappeared the mind is there just the same. When the thought has gone the mind is still there. So it is with God. He has created all things; they are sustained a certain time and then lost from the sight of man, but at the same time they have come from Him, they are lost from Him, and He remains the same. This then is the second stage, when a man begins to understand the Creator.
The third stage is that of Haqiqat. It is in this stage that man begins to realize the truth of the whole being and he will think: 'The one whom I have called God, whose personality I have recognized, and whose pleasure or displeasure I have sought, has been seeing His life through my eyes, has been hearing through my ears. It was His breath that came through my breathing, His impulse which I felt, and therefore I know that this body which I had thought to be my own is really the true temple of God. I did not realize that this body was the shrine of God.' Not knowing that God experiences this life through man, one is seeking for Him somewhere else, in some person aloof and apart from the world, whereas all the time He is in oneself.
It is not meant that such a person should set to work to break people's beliefs, and say that God is both in heaven and in his body. Someone would answer, 'If God is in my body, I will no longer worship that God; I thought God was pure and in the heavens, but if He dwells in my body, I cannot bear that idea for one moment.' That person will be frightened and go astray. That is why in India it is considered a great sin to awaken anyone who is asleep. If a man is asleep, do not wake him; let him sleep; it is the time for him to sleep; it will not do to wake him before his time.
Thus a mystic understands also that a person who is taking his time to wake up must not be awakened to give him the mystic's idea. It would be a sin, because he is not prepared to understand it, and his beliefs would be shaken. Let him go on thinking God is in Benares; let him think He is in the temple of Buddha; let him think He is in heaven; let him think He is in the seventh heaven above the sky. It is the beginning; he will evolve in time and arrive at the same stage. The rest he is having just now is good for him. The awakening comes, all in its good time.
This explains what is meant by saying that Sufism is a religious philosophy; the philosophy is clothed with religion, that it may not break the ideals and faiths and beliefs of those who are beginning their journey towards the goal. Externally: the religion, inwardly: the philosophy. The one who wants to understand will understand. 'He who has ears to hear, let him hear.'
It also explains why people in the past have pictured their philosophy in myths, as did the Hindus and the Greeks in their stories of gods and goddesses. Even in the carvings in wood and stone, as at Elephanta and so many other places, truths are represented in pictures, which convey to the seer and the reader the truths underlying all religions.
The fourth stage is Marifat. This is the knowledge which enables a person who has arrived at it to call God 'Truth.' He applies no other name to God but only truth; in the end of his journey he has found the divine light which is truth, the light illuminating his whole being, the whole universe; and even if a thousand universes were there, they would be illuminated by it.
In the Bible it is said that first there was the Word, and there was Light. That means, that the first or highest knowledge is the truth. Light gives knowledge, words give knowledge; in fact, they are knowledge. The Quran says that Allah is the light of the heaven and the earth. That means the illumination to which one attains.
The story of Aladdin, who went in search of the lamp, teaches the same lesson. In the end man arrives at the stage where in the shrine of God he finds the light, the light of truth which illuminates all his life, the light that suffuses the whole being. When this light comes, all the fear of God, the confusion, the puzzle, are gone, because all such things are due to lack of light. Whatever difficulty might be before us would not dismay us if there were a light for us to see through it. That which breaks the heart or brings despair is a difficulty, or a trouble through which we cannot see. This means that our trouble in life is always lack of light and nothing else; that every difficulty can be solved, and if we understand the nature of our difficulty, we can see our way through. It is the lack of light, which prevents our seeing into our trouble, as well as the way out of it, and it is the light, which gives us the power to see into our difficulty as well as showing the way out of it.
Therefore what we need in our life is the lamp of Aladdin. That is what is gained at the fourth stage of development, which is called Marifat.