Volume VIIIa - Sufi Teachings
PAIRS OF OPPOSITES
IN RELIGIOUS terminology one often makes use of pairs of opposites, such as God and devil, heaven and hell, sin and virtue. Man begins acquiring knowledge by learning about pairs of opposites, and he cannot at once rise to that level where he comprehends life without these. In one way the idea is not correct; it is not right to conceive of God, who is all-powerful, as having another personality, an opposite power which one calls the devil. But at the same time it would puzzle a believer who considers God to be all goodness and all beauty if he were told that God also contains everything that is bad and evil. A devotee whose object is to raise his ideal of God as high as he can by devotion and worship, is hindered by being made to see that all that he considers wicked and ugly is also a part of God.
However this idea diminishes God, making Him limited, and producing a power, if not equal, yet all the same opposite to God. But whichever means the wise of the world have used to guide humanity, whether this limited idea of God being opposed by another power, Satan, or the other idea that God is all-powerful, their wisdom has always been used to help them to understand life more perfectly. Certainly when we imagine a power for wrong and evil, and picture it as a personality, calling it devil, we limit the power of the One whom we always call the Almighty. Nevertheless, it gives a picture, it is more comprehensible and tangible to distinguish between the God of good and the Lord of evil. It is not we who begin by contrasting the two; we do not need to begin in this way, because life itself does it for us. And if we did not distinguish between the two, if we arrived directly at the conception of unity, we would be missing a great deal in life. It is only after having distinguished between them that we can come to the idea of unity which raises us above it all. For instance, when a person says he will not look at anyone else's faults and closes his eyes, he has missed a great deal. But the one who has seen them and yet risen above them is the person who deserves to close his eyes from all that is evil.
The purpose of our life on earth is to look at all the distinctions and differences without being overwhelmed by them, as this may bring us down. We should go on, rising above them all, and at the same time experiencing them all. For instance a man may say, 'I have never given a thought to anyone who has done me a good turn, and I have never bothered about any harm that has ever come to me from anyone. I have always had just that one idea before me and I have always followed it.' He may be advanced, he may be spiritual, he may be pious, and yet he has missed a great deal. But the one who has received all the good that has come to him with grateful thanks and who has felt it, and at the same time has also felt the harm done to him and has forgiven and pardoned it all, he is the one who has seen the world and who will go beyond it.
Heaven and hell are two places which have been invented for our understanding; one where a person is exalted, where he is happy and is rewarded, the other where he is punished. It makes things more clear to us; yet where do we experience all the unhappiness and sorrow and discomfort, and where do we experience all the pleasure and happiness and joy? It is on the same earth, it is under the same sun. We were told about these two different places because we are capable only of seeing them as two different places; and the wise at any time of the world's civilization could not do better than try to make the subtle ideas of life as simple and comprehensible to man as possible. For instance, if I were to say that the world of thought and the world of action are different, it would be true; and yet both belong to the same world in which we live. It is not only how it is said, but it is also how we look at it.
There is a saying in the Gayan, 'I would have either heaven or hell, but not purgatory'. This is a metaphysical expression; but at the same time one can find a philosophical truth in it: that life means pain or pleasure, and that the absence of pain or pleasure is death. This idea is expressed in all scriptures. Both heaven and hell have either pain or pleasure; what is devoid of pain or pleasure cannot, in the ordinary sense of the word, be called life.
It is the understanding of all things from every point of view which enlightens when one neither refuses to believe them, nor believes them in a blind way. Cannot one's own mind, and also one's situation in life, be turned from hell to heaven and from heaven to hell? This is where one sees the difference between the two, and at the same time their oneness.
This brings us to the question of sin and virtue. It may be said that sin and virtue are standards of good and evil made by the teachers of religion, that by these standards of morals the world is kept in order, and that it is the breaking of this order which causes the decline of religion, with wars, famines, and disasters as a result. Messengers are sent from time to time to uphold this order, and spiritual controllers are appointed in every part of the earth. In all ages people have decided that one particular thing is sin, and another virtue. And whenever the wise have done this they have been right, and yet they differ from one another. This is because if a greater light is thrown on this subject, although it is still possible to look at sin in the light of sin, and at virtue in the light of virtue, yet very often one can also see that under the cover of virtue there was a sin, and under the cover of sin there was a virtue.
As the people of different races, nations, and religions each have their own standards of right and wrong, their own conception of good and evil, and their own ideas about sin and virtue, it is difficult to discern the law governing these opposites. It becomes clear, however, when one understands the law of vibrations. Every thing and every being seem separate from one another on the surface of existence, but beneath the surface on every plane they are nearer to each other, while on the innermost plane they all become one. Thus every disturbance to the peace of the smallest part of existence on the surface, affects the whole inwardly. Therefore any thought, speech, or action that disturbs peace is wrong, evil, and a sin; but if it brings about peace it is right, good, and a virtue. Life being like a dome, its nature is also dome-like. Disturbance of the slightest part of life disturbs the whole and returns as a curse upon the person who caused it; any peace produced on the surface comforts the whole, and thence returns as peace to the producer. This is the philosophy underlying the idea of the reward of good deeds and the punishment of bad deeds given by the higher powers.
When people came to Christ accusing a person of doing wrong, the Master could not think of anything else but forgiveness. For he did not see in the wrongdoer what the others saw. To distinguish between right and wrong is not the work of an ordinary mind, and the curious thing is that the more ignorant a person is, the more ready he is to do so. Very often it is the angle from which we view a thing which makes it right or wrong, and if we were able to see it from different angles, the very thing we called wrong we should at the same time call right. Neither can people when they say that they judge from the results they see be sure that there was not a reward in the punishment, or a punishment in the reward.
This shows us that life is a puzzle of duality. The idea of opposites keeps us in an illusion. Seeing this to be the nature and character of life, the Sufi says that it is not very important to distinguish between two opposites; what is most important is to recognize that One which is hidden behind it all. Naturally when he comes to this realization, the Sufi climbs upward on that ladder which leads him to unity, to the idea of unity which comes through the synthesis of life, by seeing the One in all things and in all beings. One may believe that the world, that humanity, has always evolved, or one may believe that it has advanced and gone back again, or that it is going round and round in circles, or one may have some other belief; but in whatever age the wise were born, they have always believed the same thing: that behind all life is oneness, and that wisdom lies in the understanding of that oneness. When a person awakens to the spirit of unity and sees the oneness behind all things, his point of view becomes different, and his attitude changes thereby. He no longer says to his friend, 'I love you because you are my friend.' He says, 'I love you because you are myself.' He says, as a mystic would say, 'Whether you have done wrong or whether I have done wrong does not matter. What matters is to right the wrong.'
It seems that some persons are quite happy in committing sin, but sin can never make one really happy. Even if there were a certain pleasure in it for the moment, it would re-echo, and the echo of a false note is never pleasing to the musical ear. If a person were really happy in his sin, we could be assured that it was really his virtue, and that it was only to us, from our point of view, that his action seemed sinful. Therefore the Sufi attends to his own journey and does not judge others. If there is only a comparative difference between good and evil, sin and virtue, why, then, should there be punishment for evil and reward for good? The effect of good is itself a reward for good, and the effect of evil is itself a punishment, but from our limited point of view we attribute these effects to a third person, to a divine ideal.
The miseries and wickedness of humanity do not come from good, but good comes out of wickedness and miseries. If it were not for wickedness and miseries and wrong we would never have appreciated what good and right mean. It is the idea of these two opposite poles which makes us able to distinguish between the two qualities. If we had recognized only one, we would have called it goodness or wickedness, and it would have remained just one. Calling it by two different names helps us to distinguish between them.
One might wonder if souls can deliberately kill their spirituality by evil-doing and evil living, and so perish. But it is not so; it only covers them with clouds of ignorance which cause discomfort. The soul is not meant to perish.
Many have been resentful towards God for having sent them misery in their lives, but misery is always part of life's experience. Some may become very angry and say, 'This is not just', or 'This is not right, for how could God who is just and good allow unjust things to happen?' But our sight is very limited, and our conception of right and wrong and good and evil is only our own, and not according to God's plan. It is true that as long as we see it as such, it is so for us and for those who look at it from our point of view; but when it comes to God the whole dimension is changed, the whole point of view is changed.
It is for this reason that the wise in all ages, instead of trying to judge the action of God, have so to speak put aside their sense of justice for the time being; and they have tried to learn one thing only, and that was resignation to the will of God. By doing this they have reached a stage at which they could see from God's point of view. But if they tried to express that point of view to the world, the world would call them mad. Therefore they have called themselves Muni, which means those who keep silent.
People often ask why those who do evil and act wrongly so often succeed, while there are others who do right but never succeed. But this is not the rule. The rule is that the one who succeeds through wrong will only succeed through wrong; by doing right he will meet with failure. And the one who succeeds by doing right will always succeed by doing right; he will fail if he does wrong. Furthermore, for the one who ascends, both right and wrong become like steps by which to ascend; while for the one who descends, both good and evil become steps by which to descend. There is no man in this world who can say, 'I am faultless', but that does not mean that he is not destined to reach his goal.
It is a great pity if a person does right or good because he wants to progress or become spiritual. For what is goodness after all? It is a very small price to pay for spirituality; and the man who depends upon his goodness to attain spirituality may just as well wait a thousand years. For it is just like a man who is collecting all the sand he can to make a hill so that he may climb to heaven. If one is not good for the love of goodness, if one does not do right for one's love of justice, for one's own satisfaction, there is no meaning in doing right, there is no virtue in doing good. To be spiritual is to become nothing; to become good is to become something. And to be something is like being nothing, while to be nothing is like being all things. The claim to spirituality hinders the natural perfection; self-effacement is a return to the Garden of Eden.
There is no risk that a person endeavoring to become selfless will become a prey to all the conditions in life, quite the contrary, for all strength and wisdom resides in perfection. The absence of perfection is the tragedy of life. The person who holds on to himself is a burden even to the earth. The earth can easily bear mountains upon its back, but the person who is egotistic is heavier. And what happens in the end? Even his own soul cannot bear him, and this is why many commit suicide. Committing suicide is just like breaking apart two things which are connected with one another. It is willfully separating what is meant to be connected. It was the scheme of nature to accomplish something, and by separating the two parts these have been deprived of the privilege of that which the scheme of nature wished to accomplish. But the claim of the self has become so heavy upon the soul that the soul wants to rid itself of it. A hint was given about this by Jesus Christ, when he said, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit.' What does poor in spirit mean? It means the ego that is effaced.