Volume VIIIa - Sufi Teachings
THE DANCE OF THE SOUL
WE SEE in the life of an infant that there comes a moment when it smiles to itself and moves its little feet and legs as if dancing, bringing delight to the one who looks on and creating life in the atmosphere. What is it that suddenly springs into being in the heart of the infant, ignorant of the pains and pleasures of life, that gives expression to its eyes, that inspires its movements and voice? In ancient times people said, 'This is the spirit coming'; they thought it was an angel or fairy speaking to the child. But in reality it is the soul which at that moment rises in ecstasy, making all things dance. There are many delightful experiences in life, but joy is something greater and deeper than delight; it springs from the innermost being, and there can be no better description of the spring of joy than the dance of the soul.
One finds in the life of every person, sorrowful or happy, wise or foolish, moments when he begins to sing or move. Joy may be expressed by a smile, it may even be expressed in tears, but in all it is the dance of the soul. This heavenly bliss is not only for mankind; it comes to all beings. Man lives his life in an artificial world and seldom has a chance to see the beauty of nature; this ecstasy is to be found in the forests, in the wilderness where the great yogis, sages, saints, seers, and prophets received their inspiration. One can see it in what is called in the East the dance of the peacocks, the peacocks expressing the impulse of joy, inspired and blessed by the sublime beauty around them. Birds and animals all have their moment of joy, and one can hear this in their voices, in their song, but its greatest expression is in their dance. To nearly all animals there come moments when the blessing of heaven descends upon them, and they respond by dancing.
This blessing is revealed in every aspect of life, even in inanimate objects such as trees and plants; even there we see in the spring the rising of life. Flowers and plants are but different expressions of the one life, the source of all harmony, beauty, and joy. Someone asked the Prophet for a definition of the soul, and he answered in one sentence, 'The soul is an action of God.' Nothing could be more expressive. Thus joy is the action of the inner or divine life, and when it shows itself in any form it is the reaction to the action of God. It is this which may be called the dance of the soul, and it has inspired all the great musicians and poets. Why do the music of Wagner or Beethoven and the words of Shakespeare live so long, and continually give new joy and inspiration? Why has not all music and poetry the same effect? Because poetry is one thing, and the dance of the soul another. The dance of the soul is beyond mere poetry, and when music expresses itself as the dance of the soul it becomes something higher than music. Man is accustomed to external knowledge, wanting to learn and understand this thing and that, but beauty does not come so naturally, because beauty is beyond all knowledge; it is intended to prepare man to express his soul.
How often do we confuse these two things: inspiration and education. Education is the preparation for inspiration. Education prepares the mind to be a better means of expression for the natural spring which is to be found in the heart. When education becomes a hobby and inspiration is forgotten, then the soul becomes choked, and where there is no life man is mechanical, unreal; he may write poetry, compose music, and paint pictures, but they will all be lifeless, for he himself is a machine. It is the soul itself which is life, knowledge, and beauty.
Kalidasa was the most learned poet of the Sanskrit age; he had never been educated. The language of Kabir, another poet of India, was most ordinary, and yet when those who attached importance to the delicacy and conventions of Hindi heard his words they forgot all conventions; for his poetry brought life, it sprang from the soul, it was spirit. His grammar was faulty, but nevertheless his verses made that impression because the words were living, the soul was dancing. The purpose of life is to become more living, to allow the soul to live more; and that is the lesson given by Christ when he tells us to raise our light on high. It means allowing the soul to express itself. It does not matter what our life is, what our pursuit is; in order to fulfill the purpose of life we need not be in a temple or a church. Whatever our life's pursuit, we can be as spiritual as a priest or a clergymen living a life of continual praise. Our work should be our religion, whatever our occupation may be. The soul should express itself in every aspect of life, and then it will surely fulfill its purpose. Life comes naturally to the soul, if only we open ourselves for the spirit to rise.
There is an old story from India that expresses this philosophy. The Hindu heaven or paradise is called Indraloka, where the God Indra is king, and where there are Paris, the angels or fairies whose task is to dance before Indra. There was one fairy from Indraloka who descended to earth, and loved an earthly being. By the power of her magic she brought this earthly being to paradise; but when this became known to Indra she was cast out from paradise and the lovers were separated.
This legend is symbolic of the human soul. Originally the Pari, who represents the soul, belonged to Indraloka, the kingdom of God, the sphere full of peace, joy, and happiness. Life there is nothing but joy; it is a dance. Life and love come from God, and raise every soul till it dances. In its pure condition the soul is joy, and when it is without joy its natural condition is changed; then it depends upon the names and forms of the earth and is deprived of the dance of the soul, and therein lies the whole tragedy of life. The wrath of Indra symbolizes the breach of the law that the highest love must be for God alone. It is natural that the soul is attracted to the spirit and that the true joy of every soul lies in the realization of the divine spirit.
The absence of this realization keeps the soul in despair. In the life of every poet, thinker, artist, or scientist there come moments when ideas or words are given to him; they are given at that time and at no other. This is the moment when unconsciously the soul has an opportunity to breathe. Man does not usually allow his soul to breathe; the portal is closed up in the life of the earth. Man closes it by ignorance; he is absorbed in things of much less importance, so when the door opens and the soul is able to breathe even one breath, it becomes alive in that one single moment, and what emerges is beauty and joy, making man express himself in song or dance. In that way heavenly beauty comes on earth.
The things that catch man's mind are always living things. The poems of Rumi have lived for eight hundred years and they are still living; they bring joy and ecstasy whenever they are sung or recited. They are ever-living life, expressing an everlasting beauty. It is the power of God, and it is a mistake for man ever to presume it to be possible to produce that by study. It is impossible; it is the power of God above which brings out the perfection of beauty. Man can never make the soul dance, but he can make himself a fit instrument for the expression of his soul. The question is, in what way can he do so?
The soul is the spirit of God, and the spirit of God lives within the shrine of the heart; this shrine can be closed or it can be open. There are some things in life that open it, and some that close it. The things which close the heart are those which are contrary to love, tolerance, and forgiveness; such as coldness, bitterness, ill-will, and a strong sense of duality. The world is more disturbed today than ever before; in many ways man seems to be going from bad to worse, and yet he thinks that he is progressing. It is not lack of organization or of civilization; he has both these things; but what he lacks is the expression of the soul. He closes his door to his fellow man, he closes the shrine of the heart, and by doing so keeps God away from himself and others. Nation is set against nation, race against race, religion against religion. Therefore more than ever before there is a need for the realization of this philosophy. It is not that all religions should become one nor all races; that can never be; but what is needed is undivided progress, and the making of ourselves into examples of love and tolerance.
It will not come by talking about it, by discussing and arguing, but by self-realization, by making ourselves examples of what we should be, by giving love, accepting love, and showing in our action gentleness, consideration, and the desire for service, for the sake of the God in whom we can all unite beyond the narrow barriers of race and creed.
'I passed into nothingness, I vanished; and lo! I was all living.' All who have realized this secret of life understand that life is one, but that it exists in two aspects: first as immortal, all-pervading, and silent life; and secondly as mortal, active, and manifested in variety. The soul, being of the first aspect, becomes deluded, helpless, and captive by experiencing life in contact with the mind and body, which are of the next aspect. The gratification of the desires of the body and the fancies of the mind does not suffice the purpose of the soul, which is the experience of its own phenomena in the seen and the unseen, but whose inclination is to be itself and nothing else. When delusion makes it feel that it is helpless, mortal, and captive, it finds itself out of place. This is the tragedy of life which keeps all the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, dissatisfied, constantly looking for something, they do not know what. The Sufi, realizing this, takes the path of annihilation, and by the guidance of a teacher on the path he finds at the end of his journey that the destination was himself.
'I wandered in the pursuit of my own self. I was the traveler, and I am the destination', says Iqbal.