Volume VIIIa - Sufi Teachings
THE AWAKENING OF THE SOUL (3)
DAY and night are not conditions of the sun; they are conditions in themselves. The sun neither rises nor sets; it is our conception; it is more convenient to speak of the rising of the sun and the setting of the sun. If anything rises and sets, it is the world, and not the sun. When the world turns its back to the sun, it is night; when the world turns its face to the sun, it is day.
It is the same with the soul's awakening. The soul is always awake. But what is it awake to? Someone may be looking with open eyes; but what is he looking at? Is he looking upward or downward or sideways? A person is only conscious of the direction in which he is looking.
To speak of the soul's awakening, therefore, is for the sake of convenience. What part of us is it which may be called 'soul' ? As it is not our body, then what is it? It is something which is beyond the body and beyond the mind. It is conscious, and at the same time its consciousness is not as we understand it, for the word 'consciousness' conveys that one is conscious of something. Though not everyone knows what consciousness means, everyone knows what he is conscious of. For instance a mirror in which something is reflected is not only a mirror, but it is a mirror with a reflection, which means it is occupied, it is not empty. When a person speaks of consciousness he cannot think of the original condition; he can think only of the consciousness which is conscious of something. As soon as we distinguish between the consciousness and what it is conscious of, we separate them, as we separate the mirror from what is reflected in it.
When one has realized this, one will come to the conclusion that the soul of the wise and of the foolish, of the sinner and the virtuous is one and the same. The wickedness of the wicked and the goodness of the good, the ignorance of the foolish and the wisdom of the wise, are apart from the soul: the soul is conscious of it. When another person is conscious of it, he may say that here is a wise or an ignorant soul. But the soul is the same; it is not the soul which is ignorant or wise, wicked, or virtuous, but what is reflected in it. At the same time one should know that if an elephant is looking into a mirror, the mirror is not the elephant, but one can see an elephant in the mirror. But if a man does not know what a mirror is, he will say that here is an elephant, although it is only its reflection; it is nothing but a mirror when it is free from this reflection. The moment the reflection is removed, the mirror will again be just a mirror.
And so it is with the soul. Man makes it miserable, wicked, ignorant, wise, or illuminated by being conscious of these things. The soul is neither the one nor the other. The soul is only soul. This misconception creates great difficulties.
If the soul is conscious, what is it then? The best explanation one can give is that it is the essence of all things; it is life. But not life in the sense we understand it; that is only a suggestion of life. The soul is the real life. We say of one who moves and sees and hears and acts that he is a living being, but what is living in him is the soul. The soul is not seen, and therefore life is not seen. Life has touched a person, and therefore on seeing the effect of that touch one says, 'He is living, it is life'. But what we see is only a suggestion of life which appears and disappears. Life is living and never dies.
We have the same problem with intelligence as with consciousness. One knows intelligence as something which is intelligent; there is a difference between intelligence and something which is intelligent. Intelligence in which a certain consciousness is reflected becomes intelligent, but intelligence need not know, in the same way that consciousness need not be conscious of anything; it is the knowing faculty. If one keeps a person in a dark room with striking colors and beautiful pictures, he cannot see them. His eyes are open, his sight is all right, but what is before him is not reflected in his sight. What is there is sight, but nothing is reflected in it. So it is with consciousness and so it is with intelligence; intelligence which is consciousness and consciousness which is the soul.
Science today says that there is a gradual awakening of matter towards consciousness and that matter becomes fully intelligent in man. The mystic does not deny this; but where does matter come from? What is it? Matter is intelligence just the same. It is only a process, so if intelligence manifests in man it is the development of matter. But intelligence which is intelligent, begins with intelligence and culminates in intelligence. Spirit is the source and soul of all things. If matter did not have spirit in it, it would not awaken, it would not develop. In matter life unfolds, discovers, realizes the consciousness which has been so to speak buried in it for thousands of years. By a gradual process it is realized through the vegetable and animal kingdoms and unfolds itself in man, and then resumes its original condition. The only difference is that in this completion, this fulfillment of the spirit which manifests in man, there is variety. There is such a large number of beings, millions and billions, but their origin is only one Being; therefore spirit is one when unmanifested, and many in the realm of manifestation; the appearance of this world is variety. The first impression man gets is that of many lives, and this produces what we call illusion, which keeps man ignorant of the human being. The root from whence he comes, the original state of his being, man does not know. He is all the time under the illusion of the world of variety, which keeps him absorbed and interested and busy, and at the same time ignorant of his real condition, for as long as he is asleep to one side of life and awakened to the other, asleep to the inner and awakened to the outer.
One may ask how one awakens to this inner life, what makes one awaken, and whether it is necessary for one to be awakened. The answer is that the whole of creation was made in order to awaken. But this awakening is chiefly of two kinds: one kind is called birth, the birth of the body when the soul awakens in a condition where it is limited, in the physical sphere, in the physical body, and by this man becomes captive; and there is another awakening, which is to awaken to reality, and that is called the birth of the soul. The one awakening is to the world of illusion, the other to the world of reality.
But one must know that there is a time for everything, and when one does not pay heed to this one makes a mistake. When one wakes a person at two o'clock in the morning his sleep is broken; he ought to sleep all night, he needs this. Very often people, not knowing this, try to wake someone up, it may be their wife, their husband, their friend, their relation, or their child. Someone may feel very anxious to awaken another. Often he feels lonely and thinks, 'He is close to me; he should be awake too.' It is the same with the one who smokes or drinks: he likes someone else to do it with him, just as it is dull for a person in a cheerful mood if another person cannot see the joke. Naturally, therefore, the desire and tendency of the one who awakens to the higher life, to reality, is to awaken others. He cannot help it; it is natural. If it were not, he would say, 'Well, I experience it, I enjoy it; is not that enough? Why must I trouble about others who stand in front of me like stone walls?' Such people have toiled their whole life and they have been exiled and flayed and martyred and crucified, and when they have awakened to a certain sphere where they enjoy harmony and peace they wish that others too may experience it and enjoy it in the same way. But very often we are too impatient and unreasonable, and want to awaken people before it is time.
The other day I was touched to see a play in which a student of the light, of the higher ideals, pronounces the Word, the sacred Word, and dies. And the remarkable thing was that there was a sage in the play who saw it and said, 'He saw beyond and died.'
What does death mean? Turning. The soul is always awake and therefore it is always living, but it may turn from one side to the other side. If there is some beautiful voice coming from behind to which it wishes to listen, then it turns towards it and in the same way when it is attracted to a certain sphere to which it had been asleep before, that is called awakening.
We see that the time for nature to awaken is the spring. It is asleep all winter and it awakens in the spring. And there is a time for the sea to awaken; when the wind blows and brings good tidings as if to awaken it from sleep, then the waves rise. All this shows struggle, shows that something has touched the soul which makes it uneasy, restless, that makes it want liberation, release. Every atom, every object, every condition, and every living being has a time of awakening. Sometimes this is a gradual awakening and sometimes it is sudden. To some people it comes in a moment's time by some blow or disappointment, or because their heart has broken through something that happened suddenly. It may have appeared cruel, but at the same time the result was a sudden awakening, and this awakening brought a blessing beyond words. The outlook changed, the insight deepened; joy, quiet, indifference, and freedom were felt and compassion showed in the attitude. A person who would never forgive, who liked to take revenge, who was easily displeased, who would measure and weigh everything, when his soul is awakened, becomes in one moment a different person. As Mahmud Ghasnavi the emperor poet of India has said in most beautiful words, 'I, the emperor, have thousands of slaves awaiting my command, but the moment love had sprung in my heart I considered myself the slave of my servants.'
The whole attitude changes. Only, the question is what one awakens to, in which sphere, in what plane, to which reality. Sometimes, after one has made a mistake, by the loss that mistake has caused the outlook becomes different. In business, in one's profession, in worldly life, a certain experience, just like a blow, has broken something in someone; and with that breaking a light has come, a new life. But it is not right to awaken someone by mistake. No doubt very often awakening comes by a blow, by great pain; but at the same time it is not necessary to look for a blow. Life has enough blows in store for us, we need not look for them.
In order to get a clear idea of awakening one should consider the condition which we call dreaming. Many attach little importance to it. If somebody says, 'That person is dreamy', he means to say that he is not conscious of anything. But is there in reality anything which we can call a dream? The real meaning of dream is that which is past. Yesterday is as much a dream as the experience of the night: it is past. When a person is dreaming, does he think that he is in a dream, does he think that it is unimportant, does he give it any less importance than his everyday life at that moment? He looks at it as a dream when he has awakened to this other sphere, although in that sphere he will not call it a dream. If a person were asked when he is dreaming, 'What about the experience of yesterday?' He would say, 'It was a dream' – 'And what about everyday life?' 'It was all a dream.'
The more one thinks of it, the more one happens to glance into the hereafter, the more one will realize that what the hereafter is, what is behind the veil of death, is the awakening to another sphere, a sphere as real as this one or even more real. For what is real? It is the soul, the consciousness itself, which is real. What is past is a dream, what will come is hope. What one experiences seems real, but it is only a suggestion. The soul is real, and its aim is to realize itself; its liberation, its freedom, its harmony, its peace all depend upon its own unfoldment. No outer experience can make the soul realize the real.
Why cannot we see the soul as we can see the body? From our thought we can understand that we have a mind, because thought manifests to us in the form of a mental picture, but why do we not see the soul? The answer is that as the eyes cannot see themselves, so it is with the soul: it is sight itself, and therefore it sees all. The moment it closes its eyes to all it sees, its own light makes it manifest to its own view. It is for this reason that people take the path of meditation, the path by which they get in touch with themselves; they realize the independence and the continuity of life, which is immortal life, by getting in touch with their soul.
As to those who come into this world in a miserable condition, while others come in good conditions, this is not something in the soul. It is something the soul has carried along with it like the camel's load which is on its back and not in the camel itself.
In spiritual awakening the first thing that comes to man is a lifting of the veil, and that means the lifting of an apparent condition. Then a person no longer sees every condition as it appears to be, but behind every condition he sees its deeper meaning. Generally man has an opinion about everything that appears before him. He does not wait one moment to look patiently, he immediately forms an opinion about every person, every action he sees; whether it is wrong or right, he immediately forms an opinion without knowing what is beyond. It takes a long time for God to weigh and measure; but for man it takes no time to judge! When, however, the veil of immediate reason is lifted, then one reaches the cause, then one is not awakened to the surface but to what is behind the surface.
Then there comes another step in awakening. In this man does not even see the cause, but he comes to the realization of the adjustment of things; how every activity of life, whether it appears to be wrong or right, adjusts itself. By the time a person arrives at this condition he has lost much of his false self. That is what brings him there, for the more one is conscious of the false self, the further one is removed from reality; these two things cannot go together. It is dark or it is light; if it is light there is no darkness. The more the false conception of self is destroyed, the more light there is. It is for this reason that a person who is on the path sees life more clearly.
Another form of awakening is the awakening of the real self. Then one begins to see what one's thoughts and one's feelings mean, what right and wrong mean. Then man begins to weigh and measure all that springs up within himself. The further one goes, the more one sees behind things, the more one becomes attached to all planes of existence, not only living on the surface of life. This is a new kind of awakening; then a person has only to be awakened to the other world; he need not go there. He need not experience what death is, for he can bring about a condition where he rises above life. Then he comes to the conclusion that there are many worlds in one world; he closes his eyes to the dimensions of the outer world and finds within his own self, in his own heart, the center of all worlds. And the only thing that is necessary is turning; not awakening, but turning.
Man has become motionless, stagnant, by attaching himself to this world into which he is born and in which he has become interested. If he can make his soul more supple and thus be able to turn away from all this, he can experience all that has been said of the various planes of different worlds, which are in reality different planes of consciousness. Only by being able to make his soul supple, by making his soul able to turn, will he find the whole mystery within himself.
The Sufis distinguish fourteen planes of existence, which they call Choudatabaq. It is a mystical conception: these planes are the expression of the fourteen different states of consciousness experienced by the help of meditation; the lowest of them is called Pataloka. In the experience of these fourteen planes the jinn plane and the angelic plane are also touched.
We need not awaken ourselves to every particular plane; we should awaken to every plane as we go on in life's journey. What is necessary is to be wide awake in life and to see what is asked of us by our friend, by our neighbor, or by the stranger who is traveling with us; becoming more and more considerate and observing what is expected of us; asking ourselves: do we harm him or do we serve him; are we kind to that person or do we hurt him? For we try to get what we do not have in life, and in doing so we are often inclined to forget whom we push away and to whom we are unkind. The one who observes this rule reduces his mistakes from a thousand to a hundred; it does not mean that he will become faultless, but if he can avoid nine hundred mistakes out of a thousand it is already something.
But no deed, however good it may appear, is a virtue unless it is willingly done, because in the willingness of doing, even in a sacrifice, one expresses the breath of freedom. A virtue forced upon ourselves or upon another is no virtue. It loses its beauty. We must do what we think is good.
A Sufi poet showed wherein lies the solution of this problem when he said, 'You yourself it is who have made yourself a captive and it is you yourself who will try to make yourself free.'