Volume X - Sufi Mysticism
Mysticism is the essence and the basis of all knowledge, science, art, philosophy, religion and literature. These all come under the heading of mysticism.
When one traces the origin of medicine, which has developed into the pure science it is today, one will find that its source was in intuition. It is the mystics who have given it to the world. For instance, Avicenna, the great Persian mystic, has contributed more to medicine than any other man in the world history of medicine. We know the meaning of science to be a clear knowledge based on reason and logic; but at the same time, where did it start? Was it by reason and logic? First, there was intuition, then came reason, and finally, logic was applied to it. Furthermore, in the lower creation there are no doctors, yet the creatures are their own physicians. The animals know whether they will best be cured by standing in the sun, by bathing in a pool of water, by running in the free air, or by sitting quietly under the shade of a tree. I once knew a sensible dog who used to fast every Thursday. No doubt many people of the east would say he was an incarnation of a Brahmin; but to me, it was a puzzle how the dog knew it was Thursday!
People think a mystic means a dreamer, an impractical person who has no knowledge of worldly affairs. But such a mystic I would call only half a mystic. A mystic, in the full sense of the word, must have balance. He must be as wise in worldly matters as in spiritual things. People have had many misconceptions of what a mystic is. They have called a fortune-teller a mystic, or a medium, a clairvoyant, a visionary. I do not mean that a mystic does not possess all of these qualities, but these qualities do not make a mystic. A real mystic should prove to be an inspired artist, a wonderful scientist, an influential statesman. He should be just as qualified for business, industry, social and political life as is the materially minded man.
When people say to me, 'You are a mystic, I thought you would take no notice of this or that,' I do not like it. Why should I not take notice of it? I take notice of every little detail, although every little detail does not occupy my mind so much that I take notice of nothing else. It is not necessary to be unconscious of the world while being conscious of God. With our two eyes we see one vision; so we should see both aspects, God and the world, as a clear vision at the same time. It is difficult, but not impossible.
Mysticism is an outlook on life. Things which seem real to the average person are unreal in the eyes of the mystic. Things that seem unreal in the eyes of the average person are real in the eyes of the mystic.
For the mystic, God is the source and goal of all, God is all and all is God. However, a real mystic does not say, as an intellectual student of philosophy does, 'I do not believe in God, although I believe in the abstract.' Such a man is unpoetic and without an ideal. He may have got hold of some truth, but it is a flower without fragrance. One cannot worship the abstract; no one can communicate with the abstract, give anything to it, or take anything from it. To worship in that way is meaningless. We must have something before us to love, to worship, to adhere to, to look up to, to raise high. It is true if we say, 'God is everything and all;' yet, at the same time, from another point of view, 'everything' means 'nothing.'
The mystic says, 'If you have no God, make one.' It is the man without an ideal and without imagination who ignores God. A cup of water is as interesting as the ocean, or perhaps even more so when one is thirsty. A personal God is as important as, or even more important than, the idea of the abstract from which we gain nothing.
We human beings have our limited mind. We can grasp the idea of God inasmuch as we can conceive of God. For instance, we may have a friend whom we love and whom we wish to praise, yet he is above our praise. All we can do is say, 'How kind, how good, how patient, or how wonderful is my friend.' That is all. Our words cannot make him greater. Our words cannot even express fully what we ourselves think of him. All we can do is to make a conception of our friend for our own understanding. It is the same with God. Man cannot comprehend God fully. All he can do is to form a conception of God for himself in order to make comprehensible something that is unlimited.
That is why the mystic does not say, 'My realization of God is higher than yours, therefore I keep away from you.' I have seen a mystic walking in a religious procession with the peasants, singing hymns with them before an idol of stone. He himself was greater than the god in the procession, and yet he was singing with the same reverence as everybody else. He never had any desire to show that his belief, his realization, was higher or greater than the realization of the others.
God is not abstract for the mystic; to him, God is a reality. The mystic does not think of God as abstract, although he knows God to be so. It is not a question of knowing, but of being. God, for the mystic, is the stepping-stone to self-realization. He is the gate, He is the door, the entrance to the heavens. God, for the mystic, is a key with which to open the secret of life, the abode from whence he comes, to which he returns, and where he finds himself at home.
Once a western seeker of truth went to a sage in China and said to him, 'I have come to learn from you what truth is.' The sage said, 'Many of your missionaries come to us here and teach your faith. Why do you come to me?' 'Well,' he said, 'what they teach about is God. We know about God; but now I come to you to ask you about the mystery of life.' The sage said, 'If you know God, then that is all there is to be known, there is nothing more. That is all the mystery there is.'
There is the question of the mystic's conception of Christ. Do we not know that one person is better than another, and is it not true that God is in man? If that is true, the mystic says, what objection is there if one person calls Christ God, and if the other believes Christ to be man? If God is in man, then if Christ is called God, what does it matter? And if Christ is called man, it only raises man, whom God has created, to that stature. Both have their reasons, and both are right; yet they oppose each other.
Some object to Christ being called divine; but if divinity is not sought in man, then in what shall we seek God? Can divinity be found in the tree, in the plant, in the stone? Yes indeed, God is in all; but at the same time, it is in man that divinity is awakened, that God is awakened, that God can be seen.
The tolerance of the mystic is different. The people of a certain nation, race or religion may say, 'In Jesus Christ, we see the Lord.' Under that name, they recognize their ideal. People of other countries have seen their divine ideal in Buddha. For their consolation and in support of their ideal, they can all find in history the name of someone who has once existed. The Muslim says that Muhammad is the object of his worship, the Hindu says Krishna. As long as they have not realized the spirit of their ideal, then they will dispute, quarrel, and fight. They will say, 'My teacher is great,' 'Mine is greater still.' But they do not see that it is one and the same spirit, manifesting in greater excellence. We exalt the teacher to the extent that we have understood him, but we do not exalt him enough if we call him by a certain name and thus limit him to a certain part of the world. However, when we see the unlimited we can call him by all names and say, 'You are Krishna, you are Christ, and you are Buddha,' just as the loving mother can call her child, 'my prince.' She can give the most beautiful names to her child.
Once four little girls were disputing. One said, 'My mother is better than yours.' The second girl said, 'My mother is better than your mother.' So, they were arguing and being quite disagreeable to one another. But someone who was passing by said to them, 'It is not your mother or their mother, it is the mother who is always the best. It is the mother quality, her love and affection for her children.' This is the point of view of the mystic in regard to the divine ideal.
The moral principle of the mystic is the love principle. He says, 'The greater your love, the greater your moral. If we are forced to be virtuous according to a certain principle, a certain regulation, certain laws or rules, then that is not real virtue. It must come from the depths of our heart; our own heart must teach us the true moral.' Thus the mystic leaves morality to the deepening of the heart quality. The mystic says that the more loving someone's heart is, the greater is his morality.
There is no greater teacher of morals than love itself, for the first lesson that one learns from love is, 'I am not, you are.' This is self-denial, self-abnegation, without which we cannot take the first step on love's path. One may claim to be a great lover, to be a great admirer, to be very affectionate, but it all means nothing as long as the thought of self is there, for there is no love. But when the thought of self is removed then every action, every deed that one performs in life, becomes a virtue. It cannot be otherwise. A loving person cannot be unjust, a loving person cannot be cruel. Even if what he does seems wrong in the eyes of a thousand people, it cannot be wrong in reality. In reality, it will be right, for it is inspired by love.
What is religion to the mystic? The religion of the mystic is a steady progress towards unity. How does he make this progress? In two ways. In the first way, he sees himself in others, in the good, in the bad, in all; and thus, he expands the horizon of his vision. This study goes on throughout his lifetime; and as he progresses he comes closer to the oneness of all things. The other way of developing is to become conscious of one's own self in God and of God in one's self, which means deepening the consciousness of our innermost being. This process takes place in two directions: outwardly, by being one with all we see; and inwardly, by being in touch with that one Life which is everlasting, by dissolving into it and by being conscious of that one Spirit being the existence, the only existence.
The law of the mystic is the understanding of the law. The average man says, 'This person has got the better of me. I will show him!' The mystic's outlook is different. He believes that no one can get away with anything in this world without paying for it. For every gain, the food one eats, every drop one drinks, every breath of air one takes, there is a tax to be paid. One is continually paying, and yet one does not know it. This shows that behind it all there is a perfect justice working. One cannot get the slightest comfort and pleasure without having to pay for it, and every pain has its own reward, though few seem to realize this. Therefore, behind all this falsehood and injustice, we see that there is a perfect wisdom working continually day and night. The mystic sees it in everything with open eyes; and that is the great miracle. For in the first place, the mystical life is a puzzle; in the second place a bewilderment; and in the third place a miracle.
It is a puzzle when the law is not understood, a very interesting puzzle. There is no better game than to be occupied with that puzzle, to try to understand it, to solve it. It is so interesting that there is no sport or game that can be compared with it. It is a bewilderment because of the difference between the way everybody looks at life and how it is in reality. There comes a stage when a person says, 'Either they are all mad, or I am mad; but someone must be mad!'
The mystic can see from the point of view of everyone else, as well as from his own, which may be quite the contrary. For instance, in his teachings, Christ says, 'If anyone asks you for your coat, give him your overcoat, also.' A worldly man will say, 'It is not practical; if someone asked this of me every day, I would be continually buying new coats!' Yet, at the same time, it is more than practical from the point of view of the Master. For, according to his view, we cannot give anything, in whatever form, without getting it back in some way or other. Pure thought, good will, our service, our time, whatever we give, is never lost. It comes back to us according to our willingness to give, it comes back to us a thousandfold. That is why one is never the loser by being generous; one only gains.
The mystic sees the law in all things, and this gives him an insight into life. He begins to see why this misery has come upon him, why that pleasure has come; why one person is prospering and another not, why one is progressing and not another. All these things become clear to him because he sees the law working in all things. The law of the mystic is not the law of the people. It is the law of nature; it is the real law.
A mystic never restricts himself to a certain rule, such as a rule of celibacy, although for certain experiences, celibacy is of great importance. However, if it is necessary for him to fast, practice celibacy, live on a vegetarian diet or stay in a remote place in seclusion, or any other such thing, he can prescribe it for himself and benefit from it. But one cannot say a mystic must do this or that, or that he must live a certain life.
Solomon, with his kingdom and all his grandeur, was as great a mystic and as wise a man as many hermits in the forest. One cannot judge a mystic by his appearance. If he is a real mystic, he will be a king, whether he is in the midst of the treasures of a court, or sitting clad in a ragged mantle. He is a king, just the same, wherever he is. Neither money, nor a court, nor life in the world, can take away his kingship from him. If he chooses to live in solitude, it is his own affair. If he wishes to be in the crowd, he may just as well be there. Whether a person sits in a remote place in the forest or in a baker's shop, if he is thinking of a high ideal, his surroundings cannot touch him; he does not see them. There is no aspect of life that can deprive a mystic of his mystical spirit. He may be rich or poor, in the midst of the world or away from everything, but he is a mystic, just the same.
The way to perfection for the mystic is by the annihilation of the false ego. He understands that in man, there is a real ego, that this ego is divine, but that the divine ego is covered by a false ego; and every man has a false ego because it begins to grow from his birth.
Man develops in himself a false idea, and that false idea is identification with something that he calls himself. He says, 'I am a professor, a lawyer, a barrister, a doctor;' or, 'I am a king, a lord, or something.' But whatever he claims, he is not that. His claim may be humble or proud; but, in reality, he is not that. The mystic on the spiritual path perseveres in wiping out this false ego as much as he can, by meditation, by concentration, by prayer, by study, by everything that he does. His one aim is to wipe out so much that one day reality, which is always there buried under the false ego, may manifest.
By calling on the Name of God, in the form of prayer, or in zikr, or in any other form, what the mystic does is to awaken the spirit of the real ego, in order that it may manifest. It is just like a spring that rises up out of the rock and that, as soon as the water has gained power and strength, breaks even through stone and becomes a stream. So it is with the divine spark in man. Through concentration, through meditation, it breaks out and manifests; and where it manifests, it washes away the stains of the false ego and turns into a greater and greater stream. This in turn becomes the source of comfort, consolation, healing and happiness for all who come into contact with that spirit.