Volume VIIIa - Sufi Teachings
THE GIFT OF ELOQUENCE
WHEN WE consider the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms together with mankind, we see that not only man, but also every other being has the gift of expression. The rock expresses least and we feel least for it. We strike it and break it and quarry it and make use of it in every way, and we do not sympathize with it at all, for it does not speak to us. It tells us very little. We sympathize much more with the plant; we love it, tend it, and give it water, and because it has more expression we care more for it. But among the stones there are some that speak to us more than others; we prize the diamond, the ruby, and the emerald most. We pay thousands of pounds for them; we wear them.
An animal has a much greater gift of expression than a plant or a rock, and we feel that animals are much nearer to us. The dog by wagging his tail, by jumping about, by his every movement says, 'I love you', and we care much more for him. We do not want the plant on the chair next to us, but if the dog sits on the chair it is all right. The cat has no words either, but all the same it speaks to us with its voice. In all parts of the world people have praised the nightingale because of its voice, its expression. There are many birds in the forests of which we never think because they have no voice. But the song-birds we all know, and we like to keep a parrot because it can speak.
It is said in the Quran that Allah has made man the Khalif, the chief of creation, because of this one gift: speech. Man alone has the gift of eloquence. But while some men are like a rock, and some like a plant or an animal, others possess the human quality. The man who is like a rock has no expression; he has no magnetism. He has only what is in his appearance, just like the stones, even the emerald or the ruby; when that is gone, nothing is left. The man who is like a plant has no intelligence, only some feelings, some personality. There may be some beauty in him, or he may be like a thorn, or poisonous. The man who is like an animal has feelings and passions, but he cannot give expression to them. That man only is a human being who has the gift of expression, and who can speak out about what he feels.
The gift of eloquence is symbolized by the Hindus as Vak, the goddess of speech. Why not a god? Because the one who speaks is responsive to the Creator, the God within. The Hindus have also distinguished three sorts of men, Rakshasa, the monster, Manushya, the man, and Devata, the godlike man. The monster is he who is without speech and without feeling. The human man has feeling but no expression. The godlike man is he who has eloquence; it is his eloquence alone that makes him what he is.
Eloquence existed from the beginning, for the Word was in the beginning, before the creation of man. But neither the rock nor the plant nor the animal could express that Word; it was only man who could do so, and when he expressed it he became the pen of the divine Being. That is why the creation is perfected in him and why he is the highest of all beings. But to speak, and by this speech to hurt or wound the heart, the feelings, of another is the misuse of eloquence. There is a Russian saying, 'A sweet tongue is a sword that conquers the world.' The sword has two aspects, it conquers and it kills; and the tongue also can win and slay. The same idea is expressed in the gospels, 'Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.'
The world is like a dome in which whatever is spoken comes back to us. If we say, 'How beautiful!' these words come back to us. If we say, 'You stupid!' the echo comes back: you stupid. A man may think that he is such an important person that he can say what he pleases, but some day the echo of his bad words will come back to him.
Sometimes a person does not wish to speak to his friend in a way that would hurt him, but without wishing to speak harshly he may do so, as his mind may be full of the bad impressions that he has stored there. Therefore we should store up only good impressions and not hold on to the others, in order that only good may come from us.
There are two ways of speaking about a subject. Before speaking one may ponder upon it, and then speak with all the reasonings that have come to one's mind. This is parrot-speech. One repeats what one has learned just as the parrot says certain words because it has been taught to do so. The other way of speech is to depend upon the store, the knowledge, that is always ready within oneself. In order to lay bare that knowledge an arrow is needed, and that arrow is the deep feeling that pierces everything. The knowledge is always there, but without eloquence we are shut off from that knowledge.
If we see a lop-sided person walking crookedly in the street, it is very easy to laugh at him, but a little feeling will produce pity, and a deep feeling will bring with it the expression of pity and compassion.