Volume X - Sufi Mysticism
The Secret of the Spirit
There are four different explanations of the word 'spirit.' One meaning is essence. Spirit of camphor means, the essence of camphor. The second meaning of spirit is what is understood by those who call the soul 'spirit' when it has left the body on earth and passed to the other side. The third meaning of spirit is that of the soul and mind working together. It is used in this sense when one says that a man seems to be in low spirits. This means that both his mind and soul are depressed, although one may not always define it in this way. The fourth meaning of spirit is the soul of all souls, the source and goal of all things and all beings from which all comes and to which all returns.
The first meaning of the word spirit is, as I have said, essence. The essence of flowers is honey, the essence of milk is butter, the essence of grapes is wine, the essence of learning is wisdom. Therefore, wisdom is a sweet as honey, as nourishing as butter, and as exalting as wine.
To rise above things in life, one must try to get to the essence. In other words, there is one way of listening to a musician, and that is to consider the form, the technique. The other way is to grasp the feeling, the sense that the music suggests. So it is with life. We can look at life in one way, see it in different forms, and make a rigid conception of it. Or, we can see it so that we get the suggestion of its essence.
For instance, a person may come to us and express a thousand false feelings. Then we go over it in our mind and realize it was all false because it could not be reasonably true. This is one way. The other way is to see immediately that it was false, from first to last, without going into details. This is quite sufficient; and because we have immediately seen it, we have saved our mind a great deal of trouble.
Sometimes a person says to another, 'You say you are my friend; all right, I am going to find out what you are like and how you work.' That is one way of looking at it. But the other way is to look only once at that person and, by that one glance, to know what he is worth, that is all. If one can do this, it will make one brave and venturesome and will bring one nearer to the essence. It will impart generosity and liberality. Otherwise, one remains narrow, small and confused; and in this way, thousands and millions of souls are buffeted along on the sea of life, not knowing where they are going because they are not sure of themselves. If a person says, 'I don't know you, but perhaps I will know you someday,' that person will never know anyone, for all his life he will be unsure.
As to the second meaning of the word 'spirit,' this mechanism of the physical body, which works from morning till evening without winding like a machine, and which stands up to all the turmoil of life, encounters all difficulties and endures everything that comes to it – one day falls flat. It is just like when the steam or electricity, or whatever it was that kept the machine going, suddenly gives out. A physician says that the man's heart failed, or that his blood pressure was too high, or something like that, as an explanation of his death. It means that a person who was active and sensitive is no longer active or sensitive. That which was most important in him has left. So much the physician can tell you, but what was there he does not know.
From the point of view of a mystic, however, what left the body was the person. This body was not the person. This body was a mask which covered that person. When this mask is cast off, that visible person becomes invisible. Not he, himself, but only the mask has been thrown away. He is what he already was. If death comes, it is the removing of the mask.
A question arises as to how this occurs. The answer is that there is a magnetic action between the person and the mask. It is the strength of the physical body that holds the spirit, and it is the strength of the spirit that holds the body. The physical body holds onto the spirit because it only lives by the life of the spirit; and without the spirit, it is dead. As every being, however small, struggles for life, this physical body tries to hold onto the spirit. It does so to the last, as someone who is on the point of losing his gold might hold it tightly in his hand until his hand is paralyzed and he can no longer hold it, so lets it drop. This does not mean that he does not want it; it only means that he cannot hold it any longer. So it is with the spirit. As long as the spirit is interested in the physical body, it holds it, permeates it and embraces it. But as soon as it feels that it does not want it anymore, that it no longer has any use for the body, it drops it.
Both these tendencies can be seen in people when they are studied by those who understand. There are people who have reached old age who are no longer doing anything in the world, yet each atom of their body is consciously or unconsciously holding onto the spirit in order to live every moment they can possibly prolong of their life. And as long as their strength allows them to hold onto the spirit, they live; and they may live to a very great age. But one can also notice another tendency, and that is that there are some who are tired of life. They no longer attach any importance to this life on earth. The value of things has diminished in their eyes; they are disappointed by these transitory and changeable conditions. In their spirit, they are feeling something quite different from the other type of person. Their tendency is to give up the physical bondage of the body, and they would be glad if the spirit were separated from it. Yet their body unconsciously clings to the spirit, just the same, and keeps them alive as long as it can hold on. Thus, the unwilling spirit is held by the body.
In conclusion, death means a separation from the body, which is nothing but a garb covering the spirit. What follows after the separation? The body, which is left on the earth by the spirit, is no longer living, in the sense that we understand life, yet it is living. It is as if there had been a fire in the stove, and even after the fire was extinguished, the warmth remained there. There is only the smallest degree of spirit, but there is life in it. Where there is no life, life cannot be created. Life must come out of life. Life cannot come out of death. Living creatures such as worms and germs come out of a dead body, and how could life come out if there were no life there? There is life; not in the sense that we generally understand it, but it is living, just the same. There is nothing in this world of which we can say that it is without life, or dead. Everything, every object that seems without life, has some life somewhere. Even after it is destroyed, it is still living. When germs and worms manifest out of a dead body, we think that it means it is finished. On the contrary, it goes on, life is continued in various forms. It has never ended. What has ended is this imprisonment which we recognized as such and such a person; but the existence is still going on, even the mortal existence, even the mask which, in reality, was nothing.
The living part was the spirit, and it goes on living. When we say, 'He has gone to the other world,' the other world is only our conception, though it is a beautiful conception. If one says, for instance, that a great revolution is taking place in the scientific world, it does not mean that the scientific world is outside the earth. When we have experienced a great development in the mystical world, this does not mean that we live outside of this planet. It is a conception; it is a beautiful way of putting it, and it is the best we can find. 'In the other world' means, in a world which is veiled from our eyes, our physical eyes; but it does not mean a world far away from us beyond our reach. Both the living and the dead inhabit the same space, we all live together. Only a veil separates us, the veil of this physical body. Separation means being unable to see one another; there is no other separation.
One need not attain to the seventh heaven in order to reach those who have passed. When one really cares for them, that bond of love and sympathy in itself makes us close to them. Two people may be living in the same house, working together, seeing each other every day, every hour, and yet they may be as far apart as the north pole from the south pole. There are people thrown miles apart by destiny so that they cannot reach one another because of life's difficult circumstances; and yet, they can be closer to each other than anyone else. If this is true, it proves that those united in spirit may be thrown far apart in the world and yet be so close together that nothing stands between them. Therefore, if those who have departed from this earth have a connection with someone on earth, they are close to him just the same. Nearness means nearness of the spirit, not of the physical body.
In India, there used to be a custom called sati, by which a wife who was devoted to her husband was cremated with him. Some people felt great horror at this idea, but others thought differently. I would say, in regard to this question, that when two souls have become one, whether they are both on earth, or whether one of them has gone to another plane, they are still united. If one of them remains living, then that living person is as though dead here, for he only lives there where there is real unity. There is no separation. Nothing can separate two souls if they are really united.
The third meaning of the spirit is that it is the mind and the soul, together. One might ask if the mind and soul, together, that is to say, the spirit, is that part of one's being which lives. It is not a part, but all. Our overcoat is not a part of our being, it is something extraneous. It becomes temporarily a part, but it is not essentially a part. The real being is the spirit, the mind and the soul together.
One might think it uninteresting to live as spirit and not as body. It might seem uninteresting to one who has not experienced on this earth how to be able to live independently of the physical body. All mysticism has been based on this: how to be able to live independently of the physical body, how to live on earth as spirit, even for five minutes a day. This gives a conviction of being able to live and yet be independent of the physical body. It is an experience in life, an education in the highest knowledge. Once a person has realized how he can exist without the physical body, it produces a faith that gives an ultimate conviction that nothing can change.
It is not only a matter of existing, but of existing completely, fully. The soul is not dependent upon the eyes to see. It sees more than the physical eyes can see. It is not dependent upon the ears, as it hears more than the ears can hear. Therefore, he who knows spirit receives far greater inspiration from being able to exist independently of the physical body. It is very easy for a person with material knowledge to call those people fanatics who retire to the mountains or wander about thinking of spiritual things, who seem to live in a dream. They might appear to do so; but actually, they only do not conform to what everyone else does. They left the life of business and profession and politics, all social life, for the sake of deeper experience. It is not necessary for everyone to follow their example, but one may benefit from what they have brought to us.
At this time, West and East are coming closer together. What is needed now is that we should awaken and benefit from the fruits of the lives of people in both East and West. There is much that the West can give to the East. It has labored along certain lines, and the fruits of this work can be of use to the East. There are also fruits that Eastern people have gathered for years and years that will be of great use to the West once people have realized this. The particular lesson that can be learned from the experience of those in the East who have investigated life's secret is the way of becoming conscious of one's spirit, of realizing spirit. No doubt those who wish to mystify others make complexities out of simple things. But those who wish to serve the world in the path of truth reduce complex things to simple ones. It is in a simple form that we have to realize the truth.
The fourth meaning of spirit is the source and the goal of all things; something towards which all are bound, to which all will return. It is that spirit which, in religion, is called God. The best way of explaining this meaning of spirit is that it is like the sun, the center of all life, the divine spark within us. But the sun is not as small as it appears to be. Then what is the sun? The sun is all. The part of the sun that we recognize as the sun is the center of it; but the sun is, in reality, as large as its light reaches. The real sun is light, itself. As there is a point which is the central focus of light, we call that point the sun.
The light has centralized itself there; but the sun has other aspects such as rays which are not different from the sun, but which are the sun, itself. So, what are we? Our souls are the rays of the sun. In our inner being, we are both source and goal, itself. It is only our ignorance of this that keeps us ignorant of our own being.
Every atom of the universe, having come from the sun, from the divine sun, makes every effort to return to it. The tendency of the waves is to reach upward; of the mountains, to point upward; of the birds, to fly upward. The tendency of animals is to stand on their hind-legs. The tendency of man is to stand upright, ready to soar upward. An angel is pictured as a man with two wings ready to fly upward. Science has discovered the law of gravitation, but the mystic knows the other law, which is also a law of gravitation, but in the opposite direction.
Thus, not only is every soul attracted in that direction, but also every atom of this world, going through all the different processes known to biology in order to reach that state, the return to the spirit, is attracted in that direction. Therefore, it is not necessary to be frightened by going towards God, or by trying to attain the spirit by losing one's identity, one's individuality. A fear like this is the same as the experience of someone on top of a mountain. A kind of terror overwhelms a person when he is looking at the immensity of the view; and in the same way, a soul is frightened of spiritual attainment because of the immensity, the largeness and the depth it has. It frightens the soul who fears to lose itself because it has this false conception of its smaller self. The mystic says, 'Try to die before death.' To die before death is to play death. That means to get above this fright, which only comes from the false conception of self.
The one who has died before death no longer has desire; he is above desire. This is shown by the picture of the god Vishnu sitting upon the lotus. The lotus represents desire. Every petal is a desire. Sitting upon the lotus means that the desire is under him instead of being above his head. To some extent, there is a relationship between life in the spiritual world and life on earth, for that which is collected here on earth indicates the task one has to perform here. The only condition is that the one who has stayed a shorter while here must work more for his spiritual accomplishment than the one who has stayed longer on earth. When someone has achieved spirituality here, it is not necessary for him to stay longer, unless it is his desire. And the day the false conception of self is removed from his eyes, he begins to see the immensity of God's majesty.