Volume VIIIa - Sufi Teachings
LIFE IN THE HEREAFTER
IT IS difficult to explain what life in the spirit-world consists of, and difficult to put into words, but one may get some idea by observing the life of the birds which can fly over seas and forests, over hills and dales, and which feel in tune with nature and express their joy in song. There is also the life of the deer dwelling in the woods or in the mountains, drinking water at the natural springs, moving about in the open spaces, looking at the horizon from morning till evening, the sun as their time-keeper, and the moon serving as their torch. And then imagine our lives, the lives of human beings in crowded cities, days in factories and nights indoors, away from God, away from nature, even away from our self – a life completely absorbed in the struggle for existence, an ever-increasing struggle to which there is no end!
What is purgatory? In Sufi terms it is called Naza, which means suspension of activity. If there is any death it is stillness and inactivity. It is like a clock which has stopped for a time; it needs winding, and a little movement sets it going. In the same way there comes the impulse of life, which, breaking through this cloud of mortality, makes the soul see the daylight after the darkness of the night. And what does the soul see in this bright daylight? It sees itself living as before, having the same name and form, yet now progressing. The soul finds a greater freedom in this sphere and less limitation than it previously experienced in its life on the earth. Before the soul now is a world which is not strange to it, but which it has made during its life on earth. That which the soul has known as mind, that very mind is now a world to the soul; that which the soul called imagination while on earth, is now a reality before it. If this world is artistic, it is the art produced by the soul. If there is absence of beauty, that is also caused by the neglect of beauty by the soul while on earth.
The picture of Jannat, paradise, the ideas about heaven, and the conception of the infernal regions are an actual experience to the soul now; the soul is not sent to the one or the other place to be among the many who are rejoicing there, or suffering for their sins. These are the kingdoms that the soul has made while on earth, just as some creatures build nests to live in during the winter. The immediate hereafter is the winter of the soul. It passes this winter in the world which it has made either agreeable or disagreeable for itself. One might wonder if the soul lives a solitary life in this world that it has made. It does not; how can it be solitary? The mind, the secret of which is known to so few in the world, this mind can be as large as the world, and larger still. This mind can contain all that exists in the world, and even all that the universe contains within itself. The understanding of the mind widens one's outlook on life. When one arrives at this point, at first bewilderment is produced; but then the nature of God which is a phenomenon in itself is revealed.
People often wonder what connection there is between the soul which has passed from the earth and those who are still on the earth. No doubt there is now a wall which divides those on this earth from those on the other plane; yet the connection of the heart is still intact and it remains unbroken as long as the link of sympathy is there. But why, one may ask, do the lovers of those who have passed away from the earth not know anything about the condition of their beloveds on the other side? They know it in their souls, but the veils of the illusion of the physical world cover their hearts; that is why they cannot receive clear reflections. Besides it is not only the link of love and sympathy; it is the belief in the hereafter, to the extent of conviction, which raises those still on earth to the knowledge about their beloved ones who have passed to the other side. Those who deny the hereafter, deny themselves that knowledge which is the essence of all learning. It is easier for those who have passed from the earth to the other side to get into touch with those on the earth, for they have one veil the less.
The soul is on a continual journey. On whatever plane it is, it is journeying all the time; and on this journey it has a purpose to accomplish: many purposes contained and hidden in one purpose.
When there are objects which remain unfulfilled in one's lifetime on earth, they are accomplished on the further journey in the spirit-world, for nothing that the human heart has once desired remains unfulfilled. If it is not fulfilled here, it is accomplished in the hereafter. The desire of the soul is the wish of God; small or great, right or wrong, it has a moment of fulfillment. If that moment does not come while the soul is on the earth plane, it comes to the soul in the spirit world.
The soul proves its divine origin on all planes of existence in creating for itself all that it desires, in producing for itself the fulfillment of the wish of the heart, in attracting and drawing to itself all that it wants. The source of the soul is perfect, and so is its goal; therefore even in its limitation the soul has the spark of perfection. The nature of perfection is that no desire remains. Even in the limitation that the soul experiences on the earth, where it lives the life of limitation, its one desire is still perfection. So every want is supplied, for the reason that the Perfect One, even in the world of variety, does everything possible to experience perfection.
The condition of the next world is mostly like the condition of the dream world. In dreams one does not see oneself as very different from what one appears in everyday life, except in some cases and at some times; and for that there are reasons. Nevertheless, the power of the soul in the next world is much greater than that which it has in this world of limitation. The soul in the other world so to speak matures, and finds within itself the power of which it was ignorant during life on earth, the power of creating and producing all that it wishes; and its movements not being so much hindered by time and space, it is capable of accomplishing and of doing for itself things which were difficult for it to do on the earth plane.
In regard to the idea of reincarnation, when in ancient times the Hindus said to a wicked person, 'Next time you are born, you will come as a dog or monkey', it was in order to tell this man, who did not know anything of life beyond himself, that his animal qualities would come again as the heritage of the animal world, so that he would not appear again to his human friends as a man, but as an animal. When they said to a good person, 'Your good actions will bring you back as a better person', they were explaining to the man who did not know the two extreme poles of his soul, that no good action could be lost; and for the man who did not know what to hope for in the hereafter, and who only knew about life as it is lived on the earth, it was a consolation to know that all the good he had done would come again, and in that sense the theory which was thus explained was true.
It is only a difference of words; the soul which comes from above has neither name nor form, nor any particular identity; it makes no difference to the soul what it is called. Since it has no name, it might just as well adopt the name of the coat which was put on it, and such is the nature of life. The robe of justice put on a person makes him a judge, and the uniform of the policeman makes him a constable; but the judge was not born a judge, nor the constable a policeman; they were born on earth nameless, though not formless. Distinctions and differences belong to the lower world, not to the higher; therefore the Sufi does not argue against the idea of reincarnation. The difference is only in words; and it is necessary as a precaution to keep the door open for souls who wish to enter the kingdom of God, so that they may not feel bound by a dogma which teaches that they will have to be dragged back, after having left the earth plane, by their Karma. The soul of man is the spark of God, and though God is helpless on the earth, He is all-powerful in heaven; and by teaching the prayer, 'Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven', the Master has given a key to open that door behind which is the secret of that almighty power and perfect wisdom which raises the soul above all limitations.
The soul eventually rises to the standard which was the standard of its ideal; then it accomplishes or finishes the work which was its desire when on the earth. There are difficulties in doing and in accomplishing something in the spirit-world also, though not as many as here on the earth. The laws of that world are different from the laws of this world of limitations, and there the souls will find in abundance all that is scarce here.
A beautiful picture of the spirit-world is to be found in the story of Krishna. The Gopis of Brindaban all asked the young Krishna to dance with them. Krishna smiled, and told each one that in the night of the full moon he would do so. All the Gopis gathered in the valley of Brindaban, and then a miracle happened: however many Gopis there happened to be, every one of them had a dance with Krishna; they all had their desire fulfilled. This is a symbolical teaching which explains that the divine Being may be found in every soul.
The spirit-world is incomprehensible to the mind which is only acquainted with the laws of the physical world. An individual who is a limited being here, is like a world there; a soul is a person here and a planet there. When one considers the helplessness of this plane, one cannot for a single moment imagine the greatness, the facility, the convenience, the comfort, and the possibilities of the next world; and it is human nature that that which is unknown to man, means nothing to him. A pessimist came to Hazrat Ali and said, 'Is there really a hereafter for which you are preparing us by telling us to refrain from things that we desire, and to live a life of goodness and piety? What if there is no such thing as a hereafter?' Ali answered, 'If there is no such thing as a hereafter, I shall be in the same situation as you are; but if there is a hereafter, then I shall be the gainer, and you will be the loser!' Life lives and death dies; the one who lives will live, must live; there is no alternative.
The manifestation is an interesting dream, an illusion caused by cover upon cover; the soul is covered by a thousand veils. These covers do not give happiness to the soul but intoxication. The further the soul is removed from its source, the greater the intoxication. In a way this intoxication helps the purpose of the soul's journey towards its accomplishment, but the purpose of the soul is accomplished by its longing. What does it long for? Soberness. And how is that soberness attained? By discarding the veils which have covered the soul, and have thus divided it from its real source and goal. What uncovers the soul from these veils of illusion? The change which is called death. This change may be forced upon the soul against its desire, and it is then called death; it is a most disagreeable experience, like snatching away the bottle of wine from a drunken man, which is for the time most painful to him. Or else the change is brought about at will, and the soul, throwing away the cover that surrounds it, attains the same experience of soberness while still on earth, even if it is but a glimpse; the same experience which the soul, drunken by illusion, arrives at after millions and millions of years, and yet not exactly the same.
The experience of the former is Fana, annihilation, but the realization of the latter is Baqa, resurrection. The soul, drawn by the magnetic power of the divine Spirit, merges into it with a joy inexpressible in words, as a loving heart lays itself down in the arms of its beloved. The intensity of this joy is so great that nothing the soul has experienced in its life has ever made it so unconscious of the self; yet this unconsciousness of the self becomes in reality the true self-consciousness.
It is then that the soul realizes fully, 'I exist'. But the soul which arrives at this stage of realization consciously, has the greatest experience. The difference is like that between the person journeying towards the goal, enjoying at every step each experience he meets with and rejoicing at every moment of this journey in approaching nearer to the goal, and another person who is not aware of the journey at all.