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Volume VIIIa - Sufi Teachings


THE WORDS 'awake' and 'asleep' are very familiar to us, as we use them in expressing different states in life. But in reality, when we look at it from the point of view of the soul, we are asleep and awake at the same time. For instance, when we are looking at a certain thing, when our mind is fully absorbed in it, we do not hear anything at that time. And when we are listening to something and are absorbed in what we are hearing, when our sense of hearing is thus focused, though our eyes may be open yet we are not seeing. This shows that when one sense is fully awakened the other senses are asleep. In the same way the mind is absent while we are experiencing a sensation through the body; and when we have a sensation we are experiencing something through the mind, while the body takes no part in it. The more we look at sleeping and waking from the psychological point of view, the more we will find that they are not what we commonly understand by these words, but that every moment of the day and night we are both awake and asleep at the same time. Also, when a person is asleep and experiencing a dream he is awake to something and yet asleep to the outer things. To one world he is asleep; to the other awake.

According to the mystics there are five stages of consciousness. One stage is our experience through the senses. In this condition our eyes are ready to see, our ears to hear; and we are awake to the outer world. This is the only aspect of wakefulness which we recognize as such, but there are four other aspects besides this one. The second aspect is when a person is asleep and yet is experiencing life exactly as he does on this plane of the physical world. This is the dream state; we call it a dream when we have woken up and have passed that stage. At the time of dreaming that state is as real as this state in the physical world, and nothing is lacking in the dream that we find here. While dreaming we never think that it is a dream, but many things which we cannot find here on the physical plane we can find in the dream state. All the limitations and all that we lack in this life are provided for in the dream state. All that we are fond of, all that we would like to be, and all that we need in our life, are easier to find in a dream than in the wakeful state. When we wake up and return to this life, we call it real and the other a dream, and we say that it was imagination, without any reality; we think that only on this physical plane are we awake, that only this is real. But is yesterday as real as today? Everything that has happened from the moment we came to earth, all that is past, is all yesterday; only just now is today. If it is not a dream, then what is it? We only recognize that which we saw in the dream as being just a dream; but all that is past is in reality nothing but a dream. It is 'just now' which gives us the feeling of reality, and it is that which we are experiencing which becomes real to us, whereas that which we are not experiencing, of which we are not conscious, does not exist for us at this moment.

Thus everyone has his own life and his own world. His world is that of which he is conscious; and in this way everyone has his heaven and his hell made by himself. We live in the world to which we are awakened, and to the world to which we are not awakened we are asleep. We are asleep to that part of life which we do not know.

Another experience is that of the man who lives in the world of music, whose thoughts and imaginings are about the composition of music, who enjoys it, to whom music is a language. He lives under the same sun as everybody else, and yet his world is different. Beethoven, who could no longer hear music with his ears, enjoyed the music he read and played, while perhaps another man with excellent hearing did not hear it. Beethoven's soul was in it, and the music was in himself.

Thus there is the kind of experience we have through our senses, our five senses; but this is one world, one plane of existence, and there is the other existence which we experience in the dream, and that is a world too, a different world, with different laws. Those who consider the dream only as a dream do not know the importance, the greatness, the wonder of it. The dream plane is more wonderful than the physical plane, because the physical plane is crude, limited, and poor, and is subject to death and disease; the other plane which one experiences in the dream is better, purer, and one has a greater freedom there.

The third stage of consciousness is situated between spirit and matter. It is this which we experience as sleep, that condition which one calls deep sleep, when one does not even dream. There is so little said about it, and very few think about it. Once a person studies this question of sleep he will find that it is the greatest marvel in the world. It is a living phenomenon. The rest and peace, vitality and vigor, intelligence and life that come to man during the time of sleep are beyond explanation. And yet man is so ungrateful, he is never thankful for this experience which is given to him every day; he is only unhappy when he has lost it. Then nothing in the world can satisfy him, no wealth, no comfort, no home, no position, nothing in the world can replace that experience which is as simple as sleeping, which means nothing and yet is everything.

The further we study the phenomenon of deep sleep the more we will come to understand the mystery of life. It gives a key to the mystery of life, for it is an experience which divides our spiritual consciousness between the physical and spiritual worlds. It stands as a barrier between two experiences, one in this world, and one which is reached by spiritual attainment. The great Persian poet Rumi has written about sleep; he says, 'O sleep! It is thou who makest the king unaware of his kingdom and the suffering patient forget his illness, and prisoners are free when they are asleep.' All pains and sorrows and limitations of life, all the tragedy of life, all sufferings and agitations are washed away when one experiences that deep sleep.

It is a great pity that the mechanical and artificial life that we live in this world today is depriving us of that natural experience of deep sleep. Our first fault is that we congregate and live in one city all crowded together. Besides there are motorcars, trains, and tramways, and houses of twenty stories shaking every moment of the day and night. Every vehicle is shaking; and we are a race at the present time which is unaware of the comfort, the bliss, and the peace known to the ancient ones who lived simply with nature, far from our mechanical and artificial life. We are so far removed from the old ways that it has become our habit. We do not know any other comfort except the comfort we can experience in the kind of life we live; but at the same time this shows that the soul is capable of attaining to greater comfort, pleasure, and joy, to greater peace, rest, and bliss only by living naturally.

These three stages of consciousness – physical, dream, and deep sleep – are each nothing but an experience of the soul in an awakened state; but when a person is awake outwardly he is asleep to the inner world, and when he is fast asleep he is awakened to that particular plane and asleep both to dreamland and to the physical state.

When we have been looking at a bright light, and then that bright light is shut off, we see darkness. In reality there is no darkness, it only seems so; if there had not been a bright light before there would not be darkness but some light, for it is the contrast that makes it seem dark. Thus the experience which we have in our deep sleep is an experience of a higher and greater kind, and yet it is so fine, so subtle and unusual, because our consciousness is so accustomed to the rigid experiences of the physical world, and when we are in that other state the experience is too fine to perceive and to bring back to the physical world.

Every experience can be made intelligible by contrast. If there were no straight line we could not say high and low, or right and left. It is the straight line which makes us recognize them as such. If there were no sun we could not say south, north, east, or west. Therefore with every conception there must be some object to focus upon and with which to check our conception. With regard to deep sleep we have nothing in physical existence to compare it with, and therefore the experience of deep sleep remains only as a great satisfaction, joy, and upliftment, and as something that has vitalized us and created energy and enthusiasm. This shows that there is something we have received from it. We do not come back empty-handed from there; we have gained something we cannot obtain from the physical plane. We get something we cannot interpret in everyday language, more precious, more valuable and vital than anything from the physical and mental planes.

There is a still higher plane or experience of consciousness, different from these three experiences which everybody knows more or less; and this fourth experience is that of the mystic. It is an experience of seeing without the help of the eyes, hearing without the help of the ears, and experiencing a plane without the help of the physical body, in a way similar to that of the physical body but at the same time independent of it. And as soon as one arrives at this experience one begins to believe in the hereafter, for it gives one the conviction that when the physical body is discarded the soul still remains; that it is independent of the physical body and is capable of seeing, living, and experiencing, and of doing so more freely and fully. Therefore this stage of experience is called the consciousness of the mystic.

People become frightened when they hear about Nirvana or Mukti. Nirvana means to become nothing, and everyone wants to become something; no one wants to be nothing. There are hundreds and thousands interested in Eastern philosophy, but when it comes to being nothing they find it a difficult thing to grasp, and they consider it most frightening to think that one day they will be nothing. But they do not know that it is the solving of this question that makes a person into a being, because what he believes himself to be is a mortal thing that will one day expire, and he will no more find himself to be what he thought himself to be.

Nirvana, therefore, is the fifth consciousness. It is a consciousness of a similar kind to that of a person in deep sleep. But in deep sleep one is asleep outwardly, that is to say in the physical body, while the mental body is also asleep. In this condition of Nirvana or highest consciousness, however, one is conscious all through of the body as much as of the soul. During this experience a person lives fully, as the consciousness is evenly divided and yet he remains conscious of the highest stage.

To conclude, what does the soul's awakening mean? The body's awakening means to feel sensation; the mind's awakening means to think and to feel; the soul's awakening means that the soul becomes conscious of itself. Normally man is conscious of his affairs, of the conditions of life, of his body and mind, but not of his soul. In order to become conscious of the soul one has to work in a certain way, because the soul has become unconscious of itself. By working through its vehicles, body and mind, it has become unaware of its own freedom, of its own beauty.

The first stage in the awakening of the soul is a feeling of dissatisfaction with all that one knows, with all the knowledge one may have, whether of science, art, philosophy, or literature. A person comes to a stage where he feels there is something else he must know that books, dogmas, and beliefs cannot teach, something higher and greater that words cannot explain. That is what he wants to know. It does not depend on age. It may be a child who has that inclination or a man who may have already reached a considerable age. It depends upon the soul; therefore in the East they call a child an old soul when it begins to show that inclination, when it is not satisfied with the knowledge of names and forms.

Then there comes a second stage, and that stage is bewilderment. Imagine an evolved person being more bewildered than an unevolved one! And yet it is so, for at this stage a man begins to see that things are not as they seem to be but as they are. This causes a kind of conflict; he does not know whether to call a thing good or bad, love or hate. There comes a time when all that he had accepted in his mind, all that he believed in, now appears to be quite the contrary to what it seemed before: his friend, his relations, those whom he loved, everything; wealth, position, all the things he has pursued, all change their appearance and sometimes seem to become quite the opposite of what they were.

Once in Chicago a lady came to see me, trembling, in a very sorrowful state of mind. I asked her what was the matter. She said she had had an accident. The house in which she lived had been burnt down and she had had to break a window in order to get out. She had hurt her hand, and it had all upset her very much. But then she said, 'It is not the fire that has upset me so.' I asked, 'What, then?' She said, 'The way that all my friends and neighbors, whom I loved and liked, acted when the fire started has impressed me so that the whole world is quite different now.' What does this mean? That friendship, relationship, love, or devotion may not be the same as they appeared when it comes to the time of test. There comes a time when our consciousness changes our outlook on life; and it changes as soon as our soul has opened its eyes. Then our whole life changes; we live in the same world and yet do not live in it; it becomes quite a different world.

And the next stage after this bewilderment is the stage of sympathy. We begin to appreciate things more and sympathize more, for up to now when we walked on thorns we did not feel them. But at this stage we begin to feel them, and seeing that others are walking on the same thorns we forget our pain and begin to sympathize with them. The evolved ones become sympathetic; they develop a natural tendency of outpouring. Troubles, sufferings, and limitations – everyone has to go through them, everyone has to face the same difficulties. And not only the good; the wicked have still greater difficulties. They live in the same world with their wickedness, they have a great load to carry. If one can see this one naturally becomes forgiving and sympathetic.

And as one goes further in the soul's unfoldment one finally arrives at the stage of revelation. Life begins to reveal itself, and the whole of life becomes communicative. The evolved soul will feel the vibrations of every other soul; and every condition, every soul, every object in the world will reveal its nature and character to him.