Volume XII - The Divinity of the Human Soul
Part I: The Vision of God and Man and other Lectures
THE SUFI IDEAL
THE word Sufi, although it comes from a Greek root, which means 'wisdom,' has yet another meaning, which is from the Arabic and that, is 'pure.' One often wonders what this purity implies. In our everyday life we have corrupted many words, and we interpret such words according to our own understanding; thus many of us speak of goodness as purity, while others call moral character purity. But to a mystic purity means something quite different.
A mystic gives to purity its natural meaning. Pure water means that nothing is mixed with the water, that there is no other element in it, and therefore purity is that substance within oneself, which is pure. As soon as this substance is realized one finds that all qualities such as good and bad, right or wrong, exist outside purity, since there is no goodness which is not touched by what may be called evil, nor is there any evil which has no touch of goodness. There is no wrong which has no right side to it, and there is no right which has not got a wrong side to it. Therefore as one comes to realize this purity one becomes reluctant to express an opinion about anything or anybody. It is always the foolish who are readiest to express their opinion about others; the wiser the person the less inclined he feels to form an opinion of anyone else. If he has to say anything about someone it is only good. Besides, no one who has once realized this purity tries to force his belief or his opinion upon another, because as soon as the purity which is within is realized, he no longer has an opinion, which can be expressed with words.
There are three steps to this purity. When a person takes the first step he distinguishes between right and wrong. When he takes the second step he only sees the right and overlooks the wrong. But when he takes the third step then his heart can see even the right of the wrong. One might say that a realization such as this would upset the whole conception of right and wrong, and also the standard set by the nations or by religion. Yes, this is true; but at the same time keeping in harmony with the world, with those one lives with, does not mean that one should close one's eyes and not see the truth. It is for this reason that the Sufi says: do as others do, live as others live, think as others think, but feel as you yourself feel and realize life as your soul guides you.
There is one sin, if ever sin existed, and it is expressed in the story of Adam. This sin becomes apparent from the time that the infant begins to come to childhood: the soul experiencing the kingship of infancy and beginning to feel 'I', 'I am separate from the others' – that is the exile from the Garden of Eden. As soon as the soul begins to say 'I' he is exiled from heaven, for all blessings belong to the state which the soul experienced before he claimed to be 'I', a separate entity, separate from others. It is because of this that man, whatever his position, whatever his situation in life, is not fully happy. The trouble of one may perhaps be greater than that of another, but both he who resides in heavenly palaces and the inhabitant of a grass hut have their troubles; both have their pain. But man finds the reason for all afflictions in the life outside him. The Sufi finds it in that one sin: that of having claimed to be 'I'. With this claim came all the trouble, it continued, and it will always continue. This sin has such a hold upon the soul that it is just like the eclipse of the sun, when its light is covered and cannot shine. In everyday life one may sometimes find this claim and the spirit of 'I' helpful, and so the practical man looks upon a person who has less of this element as weak; he thinks that he is unpractical. If this person seems more simple he calls him dreamy, he will say that he is floating in the air. But after all, how long does this practical sense last, and to what end does it lead? The end of the one who was practical and the end of the unpractical one are the same.
There is the story of a Sufi who met a young man while traveling and said to him, 'Come and see me if you pass the village where I live; you might call on me.' This young man asked, 'May I know the name of the place where you live?' The Sufi said, 'The place of liars, it is near the temple.' This young man was very confused; he thought the Sufi was speaking all the time the truth, and yet saying he lived in the place of liars! When he arrived at the village he tried to find the Sufi, but no one knew where the place of liars was. He only found it in the end when he came near the temple and saw the Sufi there. He said, 'The first question that arises in my mind is why do you call this place the place of liars? The Sufi said to the young man, 'Come along with me, we shall go for a little walk in the graveyard, which is close by.' Then he said, 'They say that here the Prime Minister was buried, and here the king was buried, and here the chief judge was buried, and here a very great general. Were they not liars? Here they are proved to be liars. They are nothing but the same in the same ground; they are buried with everybody else. They had the same end as all others. If that is the end, then think of the beginning. In the beginning there was no such thing as distinction either. No infant is born into this world saying, 'I am so and so, my name is so and so, my position is such and such.' All this the soul has learned after coming here. The soul has learned the first lie in saying 'I,' as a separate identity; and after the first lie a man tells numerous lies.' Thus the teaching and the occupation of the Sufi is to erase that error from the surface of his heart, and therefore the first and last lesson the Sufi learns is: I am not, Thou art. And when the false claim no longer exist in his consciousness, then the claim can be made which is expressed in the Bible that first was the Word, and the Word was God. And by listening to that divine Word, by giving himself to that Word, the Sufi experiences the heavenly joy which is incomparable, the joy which is ecstasy.
There is only one thing in the world that cannot be defined, and that is the idea of God. If it could be defined it would not be God, because God is greater than His name and higher than our comprehension of Him. We call Him God; if we did not call Him God then what would we call Him? But by giving a name to the nameless, by making a concept of someone who is beyond conception, we only make Him limited; at the same time, if we did not do so then we would not be doing what we ought to do. My meaning is this, that in order to respect a great man we should have some conception of what greatness is; but our conception is not of that great man as he really is, it is the idea that we have made of him. Twenty admirers of a great personality would each have his own conception of that personality. And I might also say that each of the twenty has his special great person, and that thus there are twenty great persons instead of one; only, the one name causes these twenty persons to unite under it. The Hindus have said: as many men, so many gods, and it was not an exaggeration; it only meant that every man has his own conception of God. It is necessary first to have a conception of God in order to reach the stage at which one realizes Him. If a man did not believe a personality to be great, he would not be able to see the greatness of that personality. He must first have the conception that there is something great in it. Thus we first make our God before we come to the realization of Him.
Belief in God leads to that perfection which is the quest of the soul. But it is not only belief, for there is numberless souls in this world that believe in God; but do you think that they are very far advanced? Often you find that those who claim to believe in God may be much more backward than those who make no such claim. Belief in God should serve the purpose of purification, the purity which is the ideal attainment for man; and which is attained by meditation. In this purity is fulfilled the purpose of life.