Volume VII - In an Eastern Rose Garden
THE PRESENCE OF GOD
Speaking about the presence of God, I begin by saying that everything present seems to us real, and that which is absent seems to us less than real. Therefore, the conditions in life which are facing us at the moment seem to be real, and have their full effect on us. Whether they are joyful or sorrowful, whether they bring us happiness or unhappiness they are the ones that are real at that moment; when they are not present, they are only like a tale that is told.
During the night, while a person is dreaming, whether it is a dream of horror and fear, or one of joy, it is real to him for that moment. When the morning breaks and his eyes are open, then he calls it a dream. The experience has vanished. It was only during the presence of the experience that he took it to be real. Once it has passed, he calls it a dream.
When we think of our disappointments, our sorrows, and our pleasures and happiness and joy at different times in the past, are they nothing to us now? At the moment of experiencing intense pain it seems as if we cannot live a moment longer. But when it is past and the pain gone, and we look back on it later, it is only like a tale that was told. Today, it is only a dream, a story. True, there is some impression left. But that which is past is past. What counts with us is the present. What is here just now is the only thing that counts.
People have different ideas about God. To some He is the Creator. This means He was present when the world was created, but now He is absent. To some He is the Judge. He belongs to the Day of Judgment. Therefore, He must be absent just now, since they perceive there is no justice in the world. To such persons there is a hope that some day they will be placed before the Judge of the world and then perhaps they will know that God is really there. At present He is not. Then there is another who may think, 'God was present when He created me, but He is not before me now. He is not present where I am, for He is in heaven and I am on the earth. Therefore, I am not in the presence of God.'
Thus it is clear that not only unbelievers in God, but even the believers, who look upon Him as a heavenly Being, who dwells in heaven, are both absent from God to the same extent.
Then, coming to the philosophy of Presence, we find that what we see and hear and experience with our senses around us is what we call 'present.' That which our senses cannot perceive seems to be absent. But in reality there is something else present besides all that we perceive. And in spite of the presence of all that brings comfort or pleasure or happiness, man is generally unhappy because of an unconscious longing for it. One can be in great agony living in a palace, surrounded by pleasures, and in spite of the wealth and attentions one receives, one may be yet unhappy. And it is possible for a person to be very happy even in the absence of all the means of pleasure, happiness, luxury, and comfort.
What is the meaning of this? It is that in reality the world outside is more distant from us than the world within, and that there is a world within us which is immediate to our being and the first we are conscious of. Because we are in the presence of the outer world, we do not recognize that world within, yet its effect is just the same. This means that a person who lives in happy surroundings with luxuries and sources of pleasure and comfort, may be envied and imagined to be a very happy and lucky man. In reality, however, he may be very unhappy. The external world has given him all he wished for, but the inner world, the inner being, is unhappy. There is something absent, and he wants it to be present. There is something missing inwardly. This shows that the inner presence is required. The external presence is not the only comfort.
But we may ask, the inner presence of what? Many will say, 'We know we are unhappy sometimes in spite of wealth, comfort, happiness, friends, or beloved.' But, perhaps they will not believe that it is another lack, the lack of a divine ideal that makes them unhappy. Others consider that life requires scope for progress, and that it is the lack of scope that causes the greatest unhappiness. Such persons think that they cannot prosper in the work that they are doing, that they cannot be any better off than the others. Such a thought is worse than death. Life is unlimited, and it wants scope to expand and rise. Without that scope life is unhappy. One finds this not only among human beings, but also in nature. Look at the constant progress of sun and moon, rising and reaching the summit, the zenith, and then setting. See the rising of the crescent, and how it progresses till it becomes a full moon. That means there is scope between the crescent and the full moon. This progress is the only thing that gives happiness or pleasure or joy in life. Its absence means nothing but death.
However disappointed a person may be at not being in a particular profession or in a particular calling or rank in life, he develops enthusiasm and energy as soon as he sees some scope for progress. His disappointment is only there when he sees no more scope. Even if he were in the depths of the earth, it would not matter as long as he could think that he would some day rise to some height.
Another wonderful thing we see, which supports this philosophy, is the tendency of everything in nature to rise. The tendency of earth is to rise as mountains and hills. When we see the mountains and hills, and how high they are, our hearts also seem uplifted. When we climb them then our heart becomes uplifted. As we look up to them from below, it seems as if the earth itself is desiring to rise and go upward.
Then when we look upon the perfection of water, of the ocean, we see that it also rises as waves. And every wave, as it rises up, seems to be stretching its hands upward as if saying, 'Take me up, take me up, higher and higher.' It is the same desire that is behind all nature, making it strive to rise upward and to reach something higher.
So it is with fire. They called the ancient people of Persia sun worshippers, or fire worshippers. In reality this is only a symbol to show how in its blaze the fire wants to ascend. It shares the desire of all things to go upward.
So it is in our own life. A person, who seeks wealth, desires to be richer and richer, to do better and better. The person, who is in a high position, desires to rise higher and higher. Whatever the goal, every heart's desire is to reach higher. But these are all external desires. The external surroundings cannot fulfill the purpose of man, because there is a higher world. We may call someone wicked because he always delights in doing evil, in causing another person harm, and in being unkind. But if we were to study his nature we should find that he too has a dislike for evil and wickedness. It is only that his sense of justice has not yet awakened. If evil is done to him he feels it; it is only the evil he does to another that he does not feel. He is intoxicated by doing evil, and therefore does not feel it. That he does not like it when another does it to him shows that he too really seeks goodness.
There is a desire for goodness in every heart. When a person thinks of goodness, loves goodness, admires goodness, and looks for goodness in everyone in the world, that person so to speak collects good. When we recognize the goodness in any person, it is like collecting the seeds of goodness and sowing them in our hearts. But when a person looks for evil, then he can see nothing but evil in every person. In this way he grows so accustomed to it that his world becomes full of evil. He has contemplated it and looked for it and created it. We will always find a complaining person complaining about this one or that one having done wrong. We will find perhaps he has a record of a thousand people having done wrong. The world is a record in his heart, a record of all those who have done wrong or evil. But if we study him we will see that he has as much evil as he has recorded, perhaps even more, because if a man has evil in him, he collects a thousand evils. He becomes a storekeeper of evil, although he is really discontented with evil.
When someone tells another about some evil, he thinks that he himself is so good, so free from all evil. This side of human nature we see even in children. One child will come and tell how naughty the other is, thinking, 'I must be called good.' Such a tendency grows and develops. Life gathers the wickedness in people. The heart becomes impressed. In time the evil is stored up. That which is the store becomes the treasure, the world within. He who stores evil cannot see good, because there is no good in this world that has not a little spark of evil in it. There is no evil in this world that has not a little spark of good. If a person only tried to find the spark of good, he could find it. But if a person seeks to find a little spark of evil in every good, he can do that also. Someone may say of another, 'He is very good.' But the neighbor says, 'Yes, he is good, but you do not know this about him: I will just tell you what he does!' Is there anyone who never contradicts when somebody is praising another? There has never been anyone in history about whom somebody has not spoken evil.
What is really good? The answer is, there is no such thing as good or evil. There is beauty. That which is beautiful, we call good. That which is ugly compared with the beautiful, we call evil: whether it is custom, idea, thought or action. This shows that this whole phenomenon of the universe is the phenomenon of beauty. Every soul has an inclination to admire beauty, to seek for beauty, to love beauty, and to develop beauty. Even God loves beauty.
In all ages the various religions have given different standards of good and evil, calling them virtue and sin. The virtue of one nation has been the sin of another. The virtue of the latter is the sin of the former. Travel as we may through the world, or read the histories and traditions of nations as we may, we shall still find that what one calls evil, another calls good. That is why no one can succeed in making a universal standard for good and evil. The discrimination between good and evil is in man's soul. Every man can judge that for himself, because in every man is the sense of admiration of beauty. But he is not satisfied with what he does himself, he feels a discomfort, a disgust with his own efforts. There are many people who continue some weakness or some mistake, or who are intoxicated by some action which the world calls evil or which they themselves call evil, yet go on doing it. But a day comes when they also are disgusted. Then they wish for suicide. There is no more happiness for them. Happiness only lies in thinking or doing that which one considers beautiful. Such an act becomes a virtue or goodness. That goodness is beauty.
What is beauty? One sees beauty of form, and beauty without form. Beauty of thought, beauty of feeling, beauty of ideal. Not only does one see beauty in flowers and fruit trees, but one sees still greater beauty in imaginations and thoughts. One feels one could give all one's wealth or life for a beautiful thought or a beautiful dream.
A great many rewards were given in ancient times to the poets, the writers, the thinkers, expressing their beauty in poetry and writing. Yet, one comes to the realization that sufficient reward can never be given for beauty of thought or beauty of imagination. But there is a still greater beauty: the feeling of kindness, of self sacrifice, of devotion, of love. The beauty which has been so impressed upon the world that it never dies, the beauty which is seen in the life of Christ, the forgiveness, the love for humanity, the gentleness, the humility, nothing can be compared with it, it is so great. Therefore, it cannot be limited to name or form or to the external world.
There is beauty of thought, and great beauty of feeling, of sentiment, of kindness, of self sacrifice, of selflessness. And yet, there is a still greater progress that a soul can make: the seeking of the source of beauty. It is said, 'The gift is nothing without the giver.' There is no doubt a beauty in listening to the composition of a great musician. But, there is at the same time a desire in the heart to meet that composer and thank him personally. What a satisfaction, when we have not only heard the music but seen the composer! We can say how delighted we are, and how much his music has pleased us. Or there is a very good picture that we have admired. But, it would be a still greater delight to be able to tell the painter how much we have enjoyed it. So it is with the love of goodness: that constant gathering of goodness, the constant comfort of looking for goodness in everybody, the constant consciousness of doing good to another, the constant delight in one's own goodness. There is no limit to such progress. One may say, 'This goodness belonged to my father, to my mother, to my beloved, to my friend, to my acquaintance, to a stranger.' But when it is all summed up, to whom does it belong? Is there nobody whom we can thank for it?
A person may see different places and palaces, beautiful gardens and museums, and meet people of all kinds. But, would that be his final desire? No, it would be to meet the king! 'If only I could greet him, since all that I have seen and admired makes me wish to see the sovereign!'
One may have corresponded for a long time with someone at a great distance. In every letter one reads delightful things and admires his thoughts. Will not one's greatest pleasure be to see him, and be face to face with him? So in the end it is the desire of every soul to be face to face with the Owner of beauty, to whom all beauty and goodness belong.
Whether we look at this subject religiously, philosophically, or scientifically, from whichever point there is no difference. There is only one conclusion: that the whole of life, with all its manifestations and variety, is simply the manifestation of one life. The believer and the unbeliever will both agree that there is one life behind it all, one source of all manifestation. They will agree that there is one constant life which is a stimulus, a food, a source and goal for the whole of manifestation. No one who sees this with sentiment, thought, feeling and admiration, could deny that it would be the greatest happiness to discover that source of all beauty and goodness which one has admired and sought for all one's life in one's progress along the path.
No doubt, there may be some, who are so absorbed in their daily wants and pursuits as not to feel inclined to search after this source. Yet, an unconscious yearning to get to that source is always present. If it is not to be face to face with the Lord, it will be an ideal. If one is fond of music, to see the composer, if fond of painting, to see the artist, if interested in reform, to see the leader of reform, if admiring great people, to see the greatest man there is. Whatever attracts a man, he will always be very glad to see the person, whom he can identify with what he admires.
But how can one be face to face with the Deity, the Formless, the Nameless, whom one can never picture, never dream of? This is a question, and unless it is solved, a person who claims to be face to face with his Lord is a pretender. But one can only answer this question after having found out whether the Deity is a separate being, or is formless, nameless, above all limitations.
No doubt it is the desire for the presence of God that accounts for man's tendency to make idols and worship them. It was the desire to see the Deity and worship Him that made man stand before the sun and worship it, to stand before a tree and worship it. But this could not satisfy, because it was worshipping a limited thing. In reality, the first lesson about the presence of God is, as a philosopher says, 'If you have no God, make one for yourself.' How true it is that before one comes to the real conception of God, the first thing is to build Him in one's heart. The word God has the same origin as the word good, but its original in the old Hebrew means 'ideal.'
What is ideal? Ideal is something we make. When we believe a person is very good we think of that goodness. It surrounds that person and our artistic and idealistic tendencies help to paint his goodness as beautifully, as well as we can. We can crown it by our artistic faculty. That is called an ideal. When a man wishes somebody to be wicked, he paints his wickedness and all the badness that is there. He makes him an ideal of wickedness. When he thinks of his mother or friend he paints till he makes the ideal of goodness. No one can paint it for you as well as you can for yourself.
There is a saying of Majnun, the great lover of Persia, 'Oh, Majnun,' they said, 'your girl is not as beautiful as you think. You are sacrificing your life. You grieve for ages and ages for that girl. But she is not so beautiful.' Majnun answered, 'You should see my Laila with my eyes. It is the eyes of my heart you need. My heart has made my Laila.' That is called an ideal. And the ideal of perfection makes it beauty.
The ideal of perfection is the ideal of God, and we will turn to it in our troubles or worries or fears. If we are afraid of death, yet, have that ideal by our side, we feel protected. If we are disappointed in anything, still there is that ideal by our side, to reassure us, we say, 'I do not mind, I am not really disappointed. For Thou are present in my heart. I feel Thy presence. Thou hast become my ideal.' In trouble, in pain, in poverty, in difficulty, or friendless, all these things which no one in the world can escape, there He is beside us. The older we grow, the more we feel, 'As long as I can be of use to the world, so long will the world want me. As soon as I can be of no service, of no use, then the world will get tired of me, it will not want me. The world wants that which is not myself. If I am wealthy, the world is after my wealth, not me. If I am in a high position, the world is after me because of my position, not because of me. The world goes after false things. The world is false. The only protection from it is to have that ideal of God alive and constantly present. With that ideal I can be satisfied, and have rest and peace; not only on earth, but even in the hereafter, I shall be in the arms of the Divine!'
No one can ever be so dear, so close, neither children, husband, wife, nor friend as that perfect Ideal. That Ideal will never fail. He will always be with us here and hereafter. We belong to Him. From Him we came, to Him we return. By feeling the presence of that Ideal always in our hearts, we feel the springing up of every kind of beauty, of every impulse, thought and imagination, of everything that comes out of ourselves or that we see all round us. We identify it all with God in the end. To the person who creates the presence of God, the whole life around becomes one single vision of the Immanence of God.