We often use the words spirit and matter in our everyday
speech, but their meaning is not understood by everyone
in the same way. There is the man who says, 'Spirit is one
thing and matter is another thing, matter is not spirit
neither is spirit matter.' This is a religiously inclined
person. There is another, a materialist who says,' There
is no such thing as spirit, all that is there is matter.'
And then a third person comes along who says, 'Do not mention
the word matter to me, there is no matter. It is only an
illusion, only spirit exists.'
One is free to believe what one wishes to believe, but
when it comes to reasoning and looking deeply into life
one sees it in quite a different way. Just as ice and water
are two things and yet in their real nature they are one,
so it is with spirit and matter. Water turns into ice for
a certain time, and when this ice is melted it will again
turn into water. Thus matter is a passing state of spirit,
although it does not melt immediately as ice melts into
water, and therefore man doubts if matter, which takes a
thousand forms, ever really turns into spirit. In reality
matter comes from spirit, matter in its true nature is spirit.
Matter is an action of spirit which has materialized and
has become intelligible to our senses of perception, and
has thus become a reality to our senses, hiding the spirit
under it. It has covered the existence of spirit from those
who look at life from the outside.
We read in the Quran that all comes from God and returns
to Him. In philosophical terms one can simply say that all
comes from spirit and will return to it. No substance can
exist without spirit. Although there is a war between spirit
and substance, Although they are opposed to each other,
at the same time no substance can ever exist with out spirit.
Throughout this battle between substance and spirit the
substance will resist spirit and outwardly drive it away.
Resisting surrender or diminution by the power of spirit.
But there will come a day when it will be diminished. In
other words, there is no mountain which will not one day
What is death to the spirit? As spirit is nothing to
matter, matter is nothing to the spirit; it does not miss
it because it is self-sufficient. Spirit misses matter only
in its limited and active condition. When the spirit is
acting in a process towards manifestation then it needs
capacity. Through that capacity it experiences life in a
limited way, but in its true nature it is self-sufficient.
It stands in no need of any experience, it is itself all
experience, all knowledge, nothing is wanting in it.
One may call matter positive and spirit negative, or
spirit positive and matter negative. There is a reason for
it in each case. If one calls matter positive it is true,
because matter shows itself as the picture while spirit
is the background. We are always inclined to call the picture
part positive not the background. But if we call the spirit
part positive that is true too because matter has come from
spirit and spirit will consume it one day.
It is through vibration, through motion, that spirit
turns into matter. Hindus call it Nada, and they
always combine this word with Brahma, together this
means God-vibration. They never call it vibration alone
they always call it divine vibration. By vibration spirit
arrives at two experiences. The first is that it becomes
audible to itself, and the next is that it becomes visible
to itself. In the Bible we read the first there was the
Word and the Word was God, and then came light, visible
life. This means that the first experience of the spirit
is that life is audible and the next experience is that
life is visible.
Now, coming to the idea of spirit, what is it, how do
we define it? The answer is: if we define spirit it cannot
be spirit, the spirit that can be defined cannot be spirit.
The best definition of spirit is 'that which is not matter'.
The chemical world has applied the word spirit to the essence
taken from anything. Symbolically this expresses the same
meaning, though in this way spirit is brought into matter.
When one takes a bottle of essence and says,' This is spirit',
it is true symbolically but in reality spirit means something
that our senses cannot perceive. It is spirit in the sense
that it is essence, but in the sense that it is perceived
it cannot be spirit.
Then spiritualistic people have given this name to the
souls which have passed. Symbolically, it is true that the
body, representing the material part of man, has disappeared.
And that the personality has gone towards the spirit, and
yet as long as the personality is perceptible and has its
own particular qualities, as long as it still retains its
individuality, it cannot be spirit.
If we really want to define spirit, the best definition
is pure intelligence. Because, occupied as we are with this
world of illusion, we retain in our minds impressions and
knowledge of the material world, we are not always able
to experience that part of our being which is pure intelligence.
We generally use the word intelligence in quite a different
sense. When we say that someone is intelligent we mean that
he is clever. But pure intelligence has nothing to do with
cleverness; nor can one call pure intelligence the knowing
quality because it is above this. We know intelligence as
a faculty, but in reality it is spirit itself. No doubt
science today may not accept this argument, as the idea
of the modern scientist is rather that what we call
intelligence is an outcome of matter. That matter has evolved
during thousands of years through different aspects and
has culminated in man as a wonderful phenomenon in the form
of intelligence. He traces the origin of intelligence to
matter. But the mystic holds, as in the past all prophets,
saints, and sages have known, that it is spirit which
through a gradual action has become denser and has materialized
itself into what we call matter or substance. Through this
substance it gradually unfolds itself, for it cannot rest
in it. It is caught in this denseness, gradually making
its way out through a process taking thousands of years,
until in man it develops itself as intelligence.
Many biologists have said that animals have no mind,
but it is only a difference of words. Mind is merely a vehicle
of intelligence. It is intelligence which has manifested
as matter, and it is the same intelligence, which gradually
developed through different aspects into a clearer and purer
intelligence. Therefore the lower creatures may not have
that mind which a scientist perhaps sees in man; nevertheless
we find a vehicle of intelligence in all, and not only in
animals and birds, but even in substance we can find intelligence.
It is not only due to chemical action that a flower fades
in the hand of one person and keeps fresh in the hands of
another. It is not automatic when a plant grows under the
care of a certain person but wilts if tended by someone
else. And a still deeper study will reveal that the color
and brilliance of precious stones change in every person's
hand. Pearls too change their light when they go from hand
to hand. The more deeply we study matter the more proofs
we shall find of intelligence working through the whole
process of continual unfoldment.
What is the reason that flowers fade when touched by
some people? It is the same reason as with us. The presence
of one person annoys us. We cannot tolerate it. The presence
of another person brings us closer. It is the same with
flowers. But the phenomenon behind it all is love. Whatever
is touched by a person, who lacks that element, becomes
dead. Whether he touches a flower, or whether he touches
an affair, or whether he touches a child whatever he touches
is destroyed. For love in itself is an essence, the
essence; it is the sign of spirit. All that a person touches
with love will be given light and life. Lack of love causes
all death and decay. Glasses will break and saucers will
crack when a loveless person touches them. One may not yet
have had this experience, but one day one will see that
when an inharmonious person enters the house things begin
to break, accidents happen, pet animals such as dogs and
cats become restless.
But what is most interesting in the study of spirit and
matter is the nature of vacuum and substance. Substance
has a tendency to add substance to itself and to turn all
that it attracts into the same substance. Vacuum has a tendency
to make a greater vacuum. This shows that there is a continual
struggle between vacuum and substance. Where vacuum can
get a hold of substance it will turn the substance into
vacuum and where substance is stronger it will turn out
vacuum and make substance. The idea behind this is not what
we may think. We think of vacuum as being nothing, we recognize
vacuum by contrasting it with substance. If we want to explain
what vacuum is, we call it absence of substance, but in
reality substance has arisen from vacuum, vacuum is the
womb of substance. Substance has been composed in vacuum
and has developed in it, it has formed itself, it has constructed
itself, and it will again be dissolved in the vacuum. There
can be no form with out a vacuum, visible or invisible.
Everywhere there is a vacuum, but we only see what our eyes
can see, and we cannot recognize as a vacuum that which
our eyes cannot see. Even the pores of the body are a vacuum,
although we do not always see them.
The difference between the nature of vacuum and the nature
of substance is that the vacuum is knowing. Therefore the
prophets have called it the Omniscient God, not in the sense
of a person who is knowing but of the Whole Being, the All-knowing
Being. Man is so limited; he is limited because his knowledge
is limited. So he thinks, 'I alone know. The vacuum, which
is meaningless to me, which gives no sign of life, to me
is nothing. 'But if he goes further in investigating the
nature of vacuum he will find that he himself is nothing,
his body, eyes, head, bones, and skin. If there is anything
in him which makes him a knowing being, it is the vacuum.
In the mineral kingdom the stone is dense, it does not
know much. The reason is that it has little vacuum. The
tree feels more than the stone because it has more vacuum,
as the Indian scientist Jagari Chandra Bose has pointed
out. He tried to prove to the scientific world that trees
breathe. Animals and birds show greater signs of life and
a more pronounced knowing quality because the vacuum in
them is greater still. In man it is even more so. What makes
one part of substance knowing and keeps another part without
this faculty of knowing is the vacuum in one object and
the denseness of another.
There is a third thing we should understand concerning
this subject, which is of great importance. That which stands
between vacuum and substance is capacity. When we look at
the sky we feel that it is a vacuum, it seems to be nothing,
but in reality it is not nothing, it is capacity. Vacuum
is all knowing but it is capacity, which enables vacuum
to know. And as the sky is a capacity for the vacuum to
be all knowing, so every being and every thing is a capacity,
greater or lesser, which supplies a body or a vehicle for
pure intelligence to work through. There is nothing in this
world, whether a stone, a tree, a mountain or a river, water
or fire, earth, air, anything, which is not in itself a
capacity. It cannot exist without being a capacity. Therefore
all that exists, whether living or not living, is a capacity.
We read in the scriptures that every atom moves by the command
of God. In other words, behind everything that exists, be
it large of small, in every motion it makes, even the slightest,
there is the hand of spirit. It cannot act or move otherwise.
Jalaluddin Rumi describes this in his Masnavi, where he
says that fire, water, air, and earth all seem to man to
be dead things, but before God they are living beings ready
to answer his call. (Mathnawi I, 838)
Capacity is all-accommodating. All that we can know is
known through some capacity – higher things through higher
capacity and ordinary things through ordinary capacity.
Even when we hear a voice it is through capacity. A house
is a capacity, which helps us to hear it more clearly, the
ears are a capacity in which it becomes audible, the mouth
is a capacity in which the words are formed, the mind is
a capacity in which we perceive it. The nature of every
capacity is different but the whole phenomenon is that of
Among the Sufis there is a spiritual culture, a culture
which recognizes four centers. Each center being a vacuum
or a capacity for pure intelligence to function in. This
shows that man has the greatest possibility of knowing all
that is knowable, and he has an even greater capacity then
that, to realize all that is known. If only he knew how
he could achieve it! But one may say, why must substance
coming from vacuum learn to know, when vacuum is already
the all-knowing state? The all-knowing state is not the
same as a limited-knowing state. To look at all is one thing,
and to look at a flower with a little instrument is another
thing. The conductor of an orchestra may hear the whole
orchestra at the same time, and yet he may want to hear
one instrument alone to hear how far it is correct.
It is not enough for us to see and to hear, to feel and
to touch all these experiences going on at the same time;
we like to experience through every sense singly in order
to get a definite experience. That is the nature of spirit.