Volume X - Sufi Mysticism
ART, YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
Sculpture and painting complete architecture. The idea of building a home did not develop only with the creation of the human race; it had already begun with the first manifestation. And if we look into life and its laws with keen insight, we shall see that the whole of creation is built on this one principle: making a home for every word, for every thought, for every sound, for every idea, and for every color. Color, sound, or thought could not be recognized, nor could feeling be distinguished, if they did not have a home to live in. For instance, it is the breath that manifests as the voice, and it is the voice that manifests as a word. But in order to manifest as the voice, the breath must have the mouth as its home. For the voice to manifest as a word, as a sound, all that the mouth contains is necessary. That again is a home; it is a home conveniently made for the voice to turn into a word.
Then the voice, the word, needs a home in order to become audible; and that home is the ear. If something of what the ear should contain is missing, then the sound is not fully audible. The breath must have lungs and tubes through which it can manifest; they are its home. The blood must have channels through which it can circulate for the same reason; and in the same way the mind is the home of thought, the heart is the home of feeling, and the soul is the home of the divine light, the divine Spirit.
From the moment that sound begins its journey and passes through the different spheres, turning into an individual, the entire phenomenon of this process consists of making a home. First, the soul makes a home of the body that is taken from the angelic spheres, and by taking that body it becomes an angel. A being, a life which had no name and no distinctive features, obtained them when it gathered round itself a cover and took that cover as its home.
In the same way, in the sphere of the jinn the soul gathers round itself a home that gives it an accommodation, and that home is its being. It is the same with the human body. The soul has gathered round itself another home, and it is of this home in which the soul lives that man says, 'It is I.' The Hindus have called this home an Akasha, which means accommodation. Thus, accommodation is not only a need, it is indispensable; nothing can be born, composed, constructed, or molded without its accommodation. The Sufis have called this accommodation the temple; there is a temple of breath, a temple of sound, a temple of hearing, and a temple of seeing; and there is a temple of God's spirit, which is the body. And each part of the body is again a temple that accommodates a thought, a feeling, a faculty, or a sense.
When we look at it in this light, we see that when man made himself a home to live in, it was the second step. The first step was that he made himself, the next step was that he made a home to live in. It is his second step because the four walls and the roof, all that is in front of him and around him, form his personality, his character. Today, when there is so much hotel life everywhere and home life is much less known, when the home is so little appreciated, people cannot understand how sacred the idea of house-building really is. Besides, the uniformity of these times takes away a great deal of the beauty of the home. We change the world into a prison when we begin to lose our conception of a home; then we think in terms of pigeon-holes, where a thousand or more pigeons can be put in and locked up in the evening.
Even when man first began to build the accommodation for himself to live in, the sense of architecture was already advanced. For even the birds very often have greater skill in making nests than man has in what he does. A beautifully built nest is a miracle in itself. The skillful weaving, the patience with which it is done, the perseverance and good sense that the bird shows – all these teach us that the spirit has developed the art of building a home even before man was created. Thus, from his most primitive state he possesses the inborn quality of being able to build a proper accommodation for himself.
The art of architecture began with people digging holes in the ground, piling up stones, and making use of mountain caves as houses to dwell in. The first idea which inspired them to do this was not how it could be made more comfortable for them, more convenient, or more beautiful; rather, their first idea was how it could be made in such a way that they could think more of God. It is with this idea that the art of architecture began. Cutting stones and carving wood, the people made symbols or works of art, pictures or figures that would remind them of spiritual perfection. This was the first thought of primitive man.
Afterwards came the thought of how their home could be made more comfortable, how it could be made so that it would protect them against the weather – storms, excessive heat, cold, and rain. And so the next idea that influenced the building of the home was consideration of the weather, and that influenced all kinds of construction.
But subconsciously, the people felt that the house should not be too different from the picture of the world. Naturally then, because the horizon is round, they dug holes that were also round. In ancient Persian poetry, they speak of Gardish-i Dunya, which means the roundness of the world. And Gardish does not mean only roundness, but a round action, a circular movement.
The houses were not always round; sometimes there was an improvement, for instance when an oval opening was made. Even now, one will find that among primitive people there are round dwellings; always their first idea is to build their house as they see the world – round – and then later they make it oval. This suggests that first they thought of the world around them, and only later did they think of themselves; for when we look at the form of a human being we see that it is not round but oval.
Next, there came the tendency of building steps up to the house. Where did this tendency come from? It was an inherited faculty of the soul to feel that it had descended many steps, so that it had to climb up many steps again to reach the highest temple. The house was the picture of the temple, and the steps were suggestive of going towards the temple, each step being a symbol of a different plane of existence. The most wonderful part of this is that from the most primitive times, no house was made without a religious conception of some sort or other. Perhaps the religion was of the lowest type, a very primitive conception of God; yet the house was always at the same time a temple. Later, when the people had built more houses, they constructed a temple for the community, thinking it would be better to come together in one building for worship. But their first conception was to use their own house as a temple.
The next important thing was the kitchen. There was an ideal behind using one's house as a temple, but the kitchen was a necessity, because in the kitchen the offering was prepared. There again, the people had the idea that what they needed was at the same time an offering to God. So in some houses there was worship, and in others there was the kitchen in which to cook the food, offer it to God, and then to eat the food they had prepared for God – a blessing or a sacrament, as it were. That was the origin of the idea of sacrament, that no one should cook his meal thinking only of how to appease his hunger. Man should realize what he had already intuitively felt from the beginning: that there was someone else to offer his food to, who was better and higher and greater than himself, and whom he should try to please.
And what was the origin of the idea of sacrifice? There were times when there were famines, when people could not obtain any food except from animal sources. And the cruelest thing that man can do – killing an animal – struck even the most primitive man as not being right. But in order to save himself from starving, the only thing he could do was to hunt. So what he brought home, he placed before his gods as a sacrifice.
Naturally, the necessity arose for a storeroom in the house, and also for a separate place in which to sleep. Later it was thought that those who came to visit should not be taken into the kitchen or into the room where one slept, because these were sacred; yet they had to be taken into the house and not left out in the rain or heat. Therefore a room was made and set apart for guests, and with these few essentials in mind they built their houses.
When primitive people began to think that instead of living in holes in the ground or in caves they should live aboveground, they attempted to make houses of dry leaves, of straw, of reeds, and then of bamboo. A still further development was that they began to cut wood and make boards with which to build their homes. And so architecture developed more and more.
The first thing that helped architecture develop was the worship of God; the second was necessity; and the third, love of beauty. Next people discovered the art of painting and the art of sculpture. The latter was dedicated to religion, to their belief in God; while the art of painting was principally dedicated to making pictures of the myths and legends of their race. Nearly all the ancient legends are connected with metaphysics and religion; they are symbolical. Even if they were primitive legends, coming from the earliest races that had not yet developed their symbology, they were symbolical just the same. Every religion contains symbology, and it belongs to metaphysics. That is why the ancient people painted their books of philosophy on their walls in the form of legends, and by their primitive sculpture they gave form to the objects of their belief and of their worship.
Color can be expressed in two ways. One expression of color is striking, and the other is harmonious. One expression is soothing, and the other is exciting. And it seems that the primitive people mostly used exciting colors. The more primitive the race, the more exciting the colors they used. This was because they wanted to feel that they existed, which is a hidden tendency in every soul. If a person sits quietly, thinking about something, imagining something, then generally after some time he begins to move one of his legs up and down, or he begins to scratch himself, or to drum on the table. He must be moving in order to give evidence to his consciousness that he is still alive; that is why he performs those actions. Inactivity gives him a thought of death, and action gives him a thought of life.
The purpose of the use of striking colors by primitive races was this: that as soon as a man came home or somebody else came into the house, he should feel that there was a home. In Japan the doors are still painted red, so that before the host comes to meet a visitor with his warm heart, the red door may welcome him with its warmth. In all ages, the striking effect of colors has, naturally, been felt and appreciated most, while their more peaceful, healing, and harmonious effects were not generally understood – the people were mostly not evolved enough to enjoy them. This is why striking colors were mostly used in the beginning of architecture.
As to the furniture and objects that were in use in the houses of the ancient people, they were made of anything that could be obtained from their surroundings: skins of animals, straw, clay for pots and vessels, and other materials. They used pumpkins and animal innards for their musical instruments, bamboo and reed for flutes. In this way, a happy home was made which was a kingdom in itself. There they had their kingdom, their God, their temple, and they were as happy, perhaps more happy, than man can be today.
One may ask why, if primitive people were happier than we are, do the primitive races today not show the qualities of the Golden Age, but rather of savages? It is because they are affected by the condition of the human race as a whole. Children, animals, and the ignorant, all three, are more affected by the general condition of the world than others; therefore, if the general condition of the world is that it is full of conflict, these groups will reflect it more. In other words, when new wars are being plotted, the savage people will already be quarrelling and fighting among themselves. It is the condition of mind in the world that affects them, and they act upon it. Here, there is only the planning; there, they are killing and dying.
Will humanity ever return to simple living? Life is intoxication; and the more intoxicating it is, the more it proceeds from simplicity to complexity. It is the nature of life's intoxication to lead man from simplicity to complexity, and man chooses complexity for himself. When he finds himself surrounded by complexity, he thinks that he is caught in it, and then it is very difficult for him to get out of it.
The sages of India give a very beautiful example of this. They say life is like a spider's web. The spider weaves a web, making it more and more complex, weaving and weaving until it is completed. But when the web is finished, then the spider itself is caught in the web and cannot free itself. Its motive was to live there and to catch all the insects that might stray into it. But in the end, the spider does not see its desire fulfilled; the spider itself becomes a captive in its own web. And so it is with the ideal of man on earth. He perseveres and tries to make it as complex as possible for himself, and then enjoys the complexity. He sees it as an improvement, as something wonderful, and he becomes more and more interested in it. But what is the end? One day he is checked by something, and then he begins to feel that if he had been without all this complexity it would have been a thousand times better.