Volume XII - The Divinity of the Human Soul
Part I: The Vision of God and Man and other Lectures
IN the East it is believed by the Vedantists that the creation originated from what they call 'word', 'sound.' The same idea has prevailed among the Semitic religions from the earliest times. This word is Ism-i Azam.
The mystery of this word is explained in the form of stories in the Arabian 1001 Nights, stories which have always appealed to the minds of readers both in the East and in the West, although most of those who read them do not discern the mystery hidden within them. To them they are just stories.
However, the name of the Word changes. Vedantists call it Nada Brahma, 'word-creator'; then there is Ism-i Azam or 'word of power', and other Biblical and Quranic expressions. The fact that the mysterious always attracts leads some people to make things out to be mysterious which are not, and thus they profess to know a secret which others cannot know. Here there is the greatest opportunity for deluding the unwary, but when one has come to understand the mystery of this word one understands the mystery of all religion, for all religion lies in this one word Ism-i Azam.
Modern science is coming near to understanding this. On the one hand Professor Bose speaks about pulsations and shows that vibrations are apparent even in the vegetable kingdom, so that they can be recorded in graphic formulas; and on the other hand investigators have demonstrated the forms which the different vowels make on a glass plate, so that one sees various designs. The forms of plant and leaves can also be shown in this way. On a recent visit to Paris I met a great scientist, Professor Frossard, who for years has been investigating the effect of the vibrations of the voice upon different parts of the human body, and who has been able to demonstrate these various effects scientifically.
However, yogis had worked with sound for thousands of years before any such researches were thought of or undertaken. The school of Mantra Yoga is concerned with this science. The one belief that started this was that vibration is creative and that the whole universe was produced by sound, by the Word; as it says in the Bible, first was sound then was light. This contains the mystical thought that one may understand vibrations as spreading in two directions; when audible they become intelligible, and coming from the form of the Being they become visible. But even if the Word were neither audible nor visible it would have the capacity of being both. If our power of sight and hearing is not enough to help us it is because the reality is beyond and above the range of our sight and hearing, and therefore it is not intelligible to us; we are not aware of it. But if our sight and hearing allowed us to hear and see it we would know that all life is vibration.
There is another consideration. Whatever is continuous disappears from out perception, whereas we become aware of anything that is momentarily tangible. This is shown when we start on a voyage. At first the noise of the engines is almost unbearable, but as we go on we get accustomed to it, so that after four or five or perhaps ten days we find that we do not notice the noise any more, while at the same time we can hear the least whisper of a friend speaking to us. The continuous noise is now no longer audible unless we stop to pay attention to it.
It is just like this with the whole mechanism of the universe. It is audible all the time; it is visible both externally and inwardly. As it is said in the Psalms, speaking of the heavens, 'There is neither speech nor language: but their voices are heard among them. Their sound is gone out into all lands: and their words into the ends of the world. But we are so concerned with our own activities, with the things we ourselves are interested in, that our consciousness can only retain these and pays no attention to all the other things, loud as they are.
There are two things to consider: the mastery of the mystery itself, and the insight into the mystery, its perception. To gain insight into things the mystic enters into the depths of the whole mechanism of the universe by educating his senses to be keen enough to see and hear the working through it all, through the whole cosmic system. Taking these two senses as his means of investigation he dives deep into the universal life. But there is another way to take, and that is by the power of the word that we utter, which by means of its vowels and consonants enables the mystic to master life. How is it that he can master life by this means? It is because this is the only source of creation. Everything that has been created and then constructed or destroyed has come into being through vibration and through sound, so the mystic considers that this is the chief means for accomplishing everything.
All the religions of the past have made use of this truth. It has been a cult in every religion, but they have only given the outcome to the world without making its mystery known. The great mystics who understood it did not impart this knowledge to the masses. It would not be wise to give a loaded revolver to a person who may lose his temper at any moment; it is necessary to be sure that he has such control that he will only use it in the best way. So it has been with the mystics. They do not give initiation until they are sure that they can trust a person, that he will make the best use of it. It is not that they are afraid of somebody stealing the mastery they possess; if it were only that, the mystic would be no different from any worldly man who is clinging to his possessions. The mystic must be more generous with his knowledge than anyone else. He is aware that anyone can attain to this knowledge and he must always help others. Out of the goodness and kindness of his heart he will deny no one his help in every possible way.
As to the Word, we see that there are vowels and consonants. Each vowel represents one of the five elements: earth, water, air, fire, and ether; the consonants are the companions of the vowels, and together they form words. Every letter is related to the planets and the planetary influences. Besides, words have a practical effect, a scientific power working on the body, especially on its different centers as recognized by the mystics: the head, the breast, the solar plexus, etc. The consciousness must be awakened in each center. For instance a musician accustomed to the piano seems to have his consciousness in his hands; the violinist has his in his fingertips, so that it seems as if the whole of life comes through them. This shows how our consciousness, energy, and life can be directed to a certain place, so as to make the best use of that part of our being. Every center of man's being is a vehicle for perceiving the life within as well as the life without; thus it is possible at will to send this consciousness and energy to that particular center. One can then gain more insight into life, and one can gain a stronger hold and more control of life. Then, when the person repeats the Word, its vowels and consonants have some connection with a particular part of the body.
But when we consider the part played by the mind we come to see that every word spoken with the mind has a greater action and effect. Furthermore, there is the value attached to the meaning of the word. A person may continually call his son or daughter wise; if they keep on hearing him call them wise they really will become wise. If, however, he calls them stupid the very fact of hearing this makes them stupid in the end. The repetition of the word suggests it to them; that is why it is a great mistake to give nicknames, which either have no meaning or only a silly meaning. Even when given in fun, as a joke, they still exert their effect.
We see then that the meaning of a word has a great deal to do with its action. And when both the word itself and its meaning are used for contemplation they become very powerful.
You may ask, does language have any relation to the power of the word? Does it matter which language one uses? Must the word be a Latin word, or Hebrew, or Zend, Eastern or Western? The answer to this is that in the East each keeps to his own language. Brahmins offer their prayers in Sanskrit although this is a language long dead; all the same they use Sanskrit for their Mantras. A Parsi may live outside his original country, but he repeats his Mantras according to the tradition of ancient Persia, though his religion became extinct there a thousand years ago. So you see it does not matter to a mystic what language he is using. He sees the source of all languages in the human heart. Whatever the language, Arabic, Sanskrit, Persian, Hindi, it is still human. The more you study this subject the more you will see how the source of all languages is one. Even the English language contains Sanskrit, Persian, and Arabic words. Many names would never be suspected of being Persian in origin, and yet they are. So many names are Semitic, so many are Sanskrit. People never suspect how many of their own words belong to other languages. No language in the world today can claim to be so pure as to have no admixture from others. Any language is really a mixture of many languages. It is unfortunate that every later language is just a corrupted form of a former one. Hardly anyone would understand me if I spoke of Dar-i Salam, but if I say Jerusalem everyone can. We see how true this is when we study some words of the Bible. ... The order of the letters is changed, and this makes it seem a different word; the spelling is altered because different countries spell their words differently. The vowels and also the vibrations change to a certain extent, and so the mystics prefer, when possible, to adhere to the original form of the word. It is not because it belonged to a certain language of the past, but because there is actually more benefit to be obtained by using the word in its original form.
There are also words which no language can claim for its own. This is true of the word Ism-i Azam, which means the word of power. No one can claim this word as belonging to his language; it is a word which belongs to no language. Why is this? It is because it is a word of nature. Art has reproduced it, but art has not produced it. All other words have been derived from it, for Ism-i Azam is the spirit of all words; it is the root of all other words.
While the different schools of Sufism understand all this and use different methods in teaching it, they do not restrict themselves to one particular practice. The Sufi regards practices as prescriptions which are not given indiscriminately to everyone, but are chosen separately, one for this pupil, another for that. These practices are only preparations for receiving the truth. There is no such thing as giving truth to one person, and then his giving it to another, for truth by its very nature cannot be uttered, cannot be given. One cannot give that which cannot be put into speech. So the teacher gives a method for finding the truth, for unfolding it, for unlocking that which seems to be in one's heart. No real teacher, no true mystic, has ever claimed to be able to give one anything like this. It is clearly impossible for anyone to impart his knowledge to another person; he can only show him how to unfold his own knowledge to himself. Everybody possesses a kingdom, but he has to find it. The seeker will find it easy to discover the truth when he has the help of someone who himself has trodden the path towards it.
In the story from The 1001 Nights about Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves we find the mystery of the Word portrayed by Ali Baba. It was at a time when Ali Baba was in great distress for lack of money; he badly wanted a change of circumstances. He was even wondering whether he should commit suicide, and then he thought he would try and obtain what he needed, try if he could find a place where his desire would be fulfilled. After traveling some time he arrived at a certain place where a dervish was sitting. He began a conversation with him, and the dervish said, 'Yes, I will give you the key to what you want. Go to such and such a place, and there you will find a rock. Then, standing in front of this rock, repeat such and such a word.' So Ali Baba went to the place indicated by the dervish and after having found the rock repeated the word before it. Then the rock split and revealed a path opening up before him.
This rock is the heart of man. The dervish is the Murshid, the spiritual guide, and the word he gave him to utter is this mystery: that by help of the Word the treasure can be found and a door opened by which one can enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Self-confidence, faith, trust, perseverance, and patience are all necessary. As long as you tell yourself that it is not possible for a dervish to give you a word, or that this word cannot possibly do what he says, then even though you went especially to that rock just to call out the word, you would find that the rock would not open. So then you would think, 'It is no use. I will go home again,' or you would think, 'This is a rock: how can it possibly be opened or split?' True, it will never be opened in this case, for then the word has no power. The word is the sword, and the sword needs an arm to wield it; the arm to wield it is faith. If there is no faith there is no arm either; the sword is there but there is no one to wield it. Someone must be there to hold the sword, and it is faith that will hold it.
The power of the Word has shown itself to me in all the experiences of my life. Every moment has been full of wonder; every successive moment a greater and greater wonder. It is true that people may produce various phenomena by other methods, but this is not the way of the sage. The way of the sage is to understand for himself. When a person wishes to change his purpose in life, like someone who turns over in his sleep, the sage might say to him: 'Would you like to observe the phenomenon? Then come with me.' The sage would never go about indiscriminately to people, 'Look at this phenomenon, which I have performed!' No, even to his own pupils he will say, 'I will show you how to see for yourself what the phenomenon of life can reveal to you. If I were to show you these phenomena it would still not be you that is producing them. Even if my showing the phenomena were to give you faith, it would be a much stronger faith if you could observe the phenomena for yourself. If you were only trusting in my phenomenon you would only believe it to be true for a few moments.' This thing that cannot be spoken of before anyone or everyone is only understood in the heart and kept there. That is why it is called mysticism.