Volume X - Sufi Mysticism
ART, YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
It is most interesting to notice that East and West have a different, or perhaps contrary, opinion on the subject of the world's evolution. While in the West man thinks that we are becoming more evolved, that we have progressed and are going forward compared to our forefathers, in the East man believes that compared with our forefathers we are going backward and downward, that we are worse.
What is the truth about this? From one point of view, there have never been such good communications in the world as nowadays. The telegraph and telephone, ships like palaces floating on the water, airplanes, the gramophone, and the radio can unite mankind in one moment at any distance. Besides the development that is taking place in every branch of science and of art, there are also the modern systems, organizations, and classifications. When one looks at all of this, one cannot doubt for one moment that according to modern opinion the world is evolving. But when we come to delicate thoughts and sentiments, good manners, knightly chivalry, kingly attitude, nobleness of spirit, generosity of heart, the tendency to sacrifice, depth of feeling and keenness of insight, we are equally certain that what the man of the East says is true.
We learn from this that both opinions are right. We are evolving, and yet at the same time going backward. In certain things we are evolving, and in certain things we are going backward. This brings us to the philosophical conception that it is not only the world which is round, but that everything is round – that everything moves in circles. For instance, the early dawn is not very different from the late evening. Old age is not very different from infancy, when we realize how innocence develops as one grows old – and one arrives at a stage where one shows the same expression of the angelic spheres that one had as an infant. It is just like the octave: seven notes, and then the keynote comes again. It is not going upward or downward, it is going in a circle. But we are accustomed to say of everything that it is either going upward or downward. We may agree with those who say that we are going upward, or we may agree with those who hold that we are going downward; but in reality progress does not mean continually going upward. Progress means going upward and downward at the same time. Progress should be described by a circle and not a straight line. If we look at if from this point of view, everything in the world has a circular aspect, for the real picture of motion, of movement, is a circle.
There are three aspects of knowledge: self-knowledge, the knowledge of another person, and the knowledge of the collectivity. Also, there are three ways of looking at the world: its past, its present, and its future. By 'yesterday' is meant the past; by 'today' is meant the present; and by 'tomorrow' is meant the future. The knowledge of the past gives wisdom; the knowledge of the present gives power; and the knowledge of the future gives peace. The one who is anxious to acquire knowledge must consider all these three aspects to be equally important.
For those who are treading the spiritual path, it is as necessary to think of the world, especially at the present time, as it is to think of someone else and of themselves. No one should think that by position or rank, by profession or occupation, by condition or situation, he is too limited to think of the world. Each of us should realize that we are a self-sufficient particle of the whole. Each particle is responsible for the evolution of the world, in proportion to the place it occupies in the cosmos. Everything a man naturally knows first about himself, and then about another, is of the greatest importance when he also begins to know something about the world at large. What he should know is what the world was, what the world is now, and what it will be in the future.
In the self-knowledge of past, present, and future, one has to learn what was the origin of the soul. One has to learn how the soul has formed itself, how it has come to manifest, the knowledge of the process of manifestation, and the different stages through which it has passed towards manifestation. Regarding the present, one should learn one's own condition; the condition of one's spirit, mind, and body; one's situation in life and one's relationship to others; and one should also realize how far the soul reaches in the spiritual spheres. Regarding the future, one should find the answers to the questions: 'Am I preparing for something that is to come, and what is there to come?' 'If life is a journey, what is the object of this journey? What is the destination, and how shall I reach it?' 'What preparations must I make for this journey, and what must I carry to make the journey easy?' 'What are the difficulties that I may meet on my way?' It is the understanding of these questions which is the knowledge of the future. And it is self-knowledge that helps man to know the past, the present, and the future of another. For those who know themselves, another person is like an open book; they can read him clearly. His past is clear to them, and also his present and future.
There are many ways in which people try to know about the past, present, and future: by astrology, by palmistry, by physiognomy (reading the features), and in many other ways. Although all such methods can be helpful and give us some knowledge – for knowledge is within our reach and we only have to ask for it and it is given – yet by self-realization we can understand this knowledge so clearly at a certain stage, that no other method is necessary. It becomes natural, as it is natural for the eyes to see. So it becomes natural for the heart to see into the past, present, and future.
Looking into the past is just like looking down from a great height. It means probing the depths of life. Looking into the present is just like observing a wide horizon, as wide as we can see. Looking into the future is like looking upward to the zenith. And the feeling we experience is different with each of these three ways of looking. One gives knowledge; the other gives power; and the third gives peace, as I mentioned before. Knowledge is man's birthright, and it is also the sustenance of the soul. It is to gather knowledge that the soul has come to earth; the acquisition of knowledge is the only purpose the soul has in coming here. In knowledge lies the satisfaction of the soul, the fulfillment of the purpose of life.