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Volume XII - The Divinity of the Human Soul

Part II: Confessions

Chapter 4

Well-makers lead the water; archers bend the bow; carpenters hew a log of wood; wise people fashion themselves.
   - Dhammapada

At Ajmer I visited the tomb of Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti, the most celebrated Sufi saint of India. The atmosphere of his last resting-place was in itself a phenomenon; a sense of calm and peace pervaded it, and among all that throng of pilgrims I yet felt as if I were the only one present. At nightfall I went home and said Tahajud, the midnight prayer.

And lo! at the end of my prayers there came to me a voice, as though in answer to my invocations. It was the voice of a faqir calling the people to prayer before sunrise, and he sang, 'Awake O man, from thy fast sleep! Thou knowest not that death watcheth thee every moment. Thou canst not imagine how great a load thou hast gathered to carry on thy shoulders, and how long the journey yet is for thee to accomplish. Up! up! The night is passed and the sun will soon arise!'

The unearthly quiet of the hour and the solemnity of the song moved me to tears. Sitting on my rug with my rosary in my hand, I reflected that all the proficiency and reputation which I had achieved were utterly profitless in regard to my Najat or salvation. I recognized that the world was neither a stage set up for our amusement nor a bazaar to satisfy our vanity and hunger, but a school wherein to learn a hard lesson. I then chose quite a different path to that which I had followed until then; in other words I turned over a new page in my life.

The morning broke and the birds began their hymn of praise to God. I heard men and women pass by below, some going to the mosque, others to the temples, and the general masses to the toil that yields their daily bread. Then I too fared forth and, lost in thought, not knowing my destination, made my way towards the jungle, with an inner yearning to be apart from the world and give an outlet to the thoughts and emotions with which my mind was so occupied.

Thus I arrived at a cemetery where a group of dervishes sat on the green grass, chattering together. They were all poorly clad, some without shoes and others without coats; one had a shirt with only one sleeve and another lacked them both. One wore a robe with a thousand patches and the next a hat without a crown. This strange group attracted my attention and I sat there for some time, noticing all that was going on yet feigning to be utterly indifferent.

Presently their Pir-o-Murshid or Master came towards them, even more scantily dressed than they, and with a group of dervishes circling round him as he approached. Two of the latter led the odd procession, and with each step they cried out loudly, 'hosh bar dam, nazar bar qadam, khalwat dar anjuman!' – Be conscious of your breath and watch every step you take, and thus experience solitude in the crowd!

When the Murshid arrived at the assembly of his disciples each one greeted the other, saying, Ishq Allah Mabud Allah! – God is love and God is the Beloved! It was this very greeting which later unveiled for me the Bible words that God is love, and also the verse of the Arabian poet Abul Ala, who says,

Church, a Temple, or a Kaba stone,
Quran or Bible, or a martyr's bone,
All these and more my heart can tolerate
Since my religion is of love alone.

The solemnity of the sacred words they uttered found their echo in my soul, thereupon I watched their ceremonial with still greater attention. Naturally at first sight their dire poverty was puzzling, but then I had learned before I saw them how the holy Prophet had always prayed to Allah to sustain him in his life among the miskīn or dervishes, who voluntarily choose this humble way of living. The queer patches on their garments reminded me of the words of Hafiz, 'Do not be fooled thyself by short sleeves full of patches, for most powerful arms are hidden under them.'

The dervishes first sat lost in contemplation, reciting charms one after the other, and then they began their music. I forgot all my science and technique while listening to their simple melodies, as they sang to the accompaniment of sitar and dholok the deathless words of the Sufi Masters such as Rumi, Jami, Hafiz, and Shams-i Tabriz.

The rhapsody, which their ecstasies conjured up, seemed to me so strong and vital that the very leaves of the trees seemed to hang spellbound and motionless. Although their emotions manifested themselves in varying forms, they were regarded with silent reverence by all that strange company. Each one of them revealed a peculiar mood of ecstasy; some expressed it in tears and others in sighs, some in dances and yet others in the calm of meditation. Although I did not enjoy the music as much as they, still it impressed me so deeply that I felt as if I were lost in a trance of harmony and happiness.

But the most amazing part of the proceedings came when the assembly was about to disperse. For one of the dervishes arose and, while announcing Bhandara or dinner, addressed them in the following terms, 'O Kings of Kings! O Emperors of Emperors!' This amused me greatly at the time, while I regarded their outward appearance. My first thought made them merely kings of imagination, without throne or crown, treasury, courtiers, or dominions – those natural possessions and temporal powers of kingship.

But the more I brooded upon the matter, the more I questioned whether environment or imagination made a king. The answer came at last: the king is never conscious of his kingship and all its attributes of luxury and might, unless his imagination is reflected in them and thus proves his true sovereignty. For instance, if a baby were crowned and seated upon a throne he would never comprehend his high position until his mind evolved sufficiently to realize his surroundings. This shows how real our surroundings seem to us, and yet how dead they are in the absence of imagination. And it also reveals how fleeting time and the changes of matter make all the kings of the earth but transitory kings, ruling over transitory kingdoms; this is because of their dependence upon their environment instead of their imagination. But the kingship of the dervish, independent of all external influences, based purely on his mental perception and strengthened by the forces of his will, is much truer and at once unlimited and everlasting. Yet in the materialistic view his kingdom would appear as nothing, while in the spiritual conception it is an immortal and exquisite realm of joy.

Verily, they are the possessors of the kingdom of God and all His seen and unseen treasure is in their own possession, since they have lost themselves in Allah and are purified from all illusive deceptions. 'It is by them that you obtain rain; it is by them that you receive your subsistence,' says the Quran. And Omar Khayyam said,

Think in this battered caravanserai,
Whose doorways are alternate night and day,

How Sultan after Sultan with his pomp,
Abode his hour or so, and went his way.

They say the lion and the lizard keep
The courts where Jamshed gloried and drank deep;

And Bahram that great hunter, the wild ass
Stamped o'er his head and he lies fast asleep.

Thus I compared our deluded life with the real, and our artificial with their natural being, as one might compare the false dawn with the true. I realized our folly in attaching undue weight to matters wholly unimportant and how apt we were to laugh at the dreamer building his lovely castles in the air. I saw how our fleeting affairs are blown about as chaff is blown in the wind, while the imagination is difficult to alter. It is possible for the land to turn into water and for water into land, but the impression of an imagination can never change.

I felt that we were losing the most precious moments and opportunities of life for transitory dross and tinsel, at the sacrifice of all that is enduring and eternal.

When I became familiar with the strange life of the dervishes I admired the best in them and was able to recognize the Majzubs, who are the extremists among them. These are so absorbed in the inner vision that they are absolutely unconscious of the external needs of life. Sometimes they are both fed and clothed by others; their neglect of the physical self and their irresponsibility towards the world make it seem at first sight that they are insane, but at times, by their miraculous powers over phenomena, they are distinguished as Majzub. They are understood to be the controllers of the elements, some with regard to certain portions of the land or water, and some even for the whole world.

Their thought, words, and actions are truly found to be those of God Almighty. The word is scarcely spoken before the action is accomplished. Each atom of the universe seems to be awaiting their command.

I once saw a Majzub in Calcutta, standing in the street and gesticulating as though he were directing all the traffic. The passers-by laughed at his insanity. But for all his weird looks he had most brilliant eyes, shooting forth strong magnetic vibrations, which attracted me so much that I wondered if he was a Majzub in the guise of a lunatic; this dissimulation is often practiced by them in order to escape contact with the world and all life's cares. If they did not adopt this method it would be harder for them to study the natural hallucinations of humanity. As Sadi says, 'Every man on earth has a craze peculiar to himself.'

The truth of this was shown to me by the way the Majzub laughed at seeing the people in the street hustling and bustling along as if their small affairs were only important things in the universe. I sent the Majzub word, and asked him if he would care to come and honor me by his presence, but he sacrificed my request to the call of the children who suddenly came running and took him away to play with them. I understood that he preferred the society of children, the angels on earth, to association with grown-up sinners, who know nothing but the ego and its ulterior satisfactions. I waited patiently after this until I next saw him, and sent a message begging him to give my music a hearing. After that he came and when he entered the room I rose from my seat to do him honor and saluted him with both hands. His only answer was that he did not require this homage, as he received the same under different attributes and aspects from the whole universe.

In order to be quite sure of his Majzubiat I asked him whether he was a thief. He smilingly replied, 'Yes', which conveyed to me that all good and bad attributes, as well as all names and forms, were considered by him to be his own, and that he was thus raised beyond good and evil as well as above the praise and blame of the world.

Then he sat down and began to discourse and act in such a manner that all in the room should consider him insane. But I told him in a whisper that I knew him well, that he could not fool me, and requested him to favor us with his inspiring words and blessings. He then began to speak of the journey he had made on the spiritual path, describing each plane as a fort he had to destroy with guns and cannon, until he arrived at the home of his Father and embraced his true spiritual Lord. And he went on to tell how at last the Father was also dead and he would inherit His kingdom in the end.

It was all related in such a quaint language, that none of those present save myself could understand him, and even I only did so with a great mental effort.

A Majzub attains perfection through innocence and from childhood learns of the true inner bliss of which we are deprived by our most deluding knowledge of the outer world. Yet it is not the path for all to follow; but we can derive the truth of existence from it and lead a balanced life, as the Salik do among the Sufis.

checked 18-Oct-2005