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Volume XIII - The Gathas

Part IV
Pasi Anfas: Breath


1.   Fikr

THE BREATH is like a swing, which has a constant motion, and whatever is put in the swing, swings also with the movement of the breath. Fikr, therefore, is not a breathing practice. In Fikr it is not necessary that one should breathe in a certain way, different from one's usual breathing. Fikr is to become conscious of the natural movement of the breath, and picturing breath as a swing, to put in that swing a certain thought, as a babe in the cradle, to rock it. Only the difference in rocking is an intentional activity on the part of the person who rocks the cradle. In Fikr no effort must be made to change the rhythm of the breath; the breath must be left to its own usual rhythm. One need not try even to regulate the rhythm of the breath, for the whole mechanism of one's body is already working rhythmically. So the breath is rhythmical by nature and it is the very breath itself, which causes man to distinguish rhythm.

What is important in Fikr is not the rhythm but the concentration. Fikr is swinging the concentrated thought with the movement of breath, for breath is life and it gives life to the thought, which is repeated with the breath. On the rhythm of the breath the circulation of the blood and the pulsation of the heart and head depend; which means that the whole mechanism of the body, also of the mind, is directed by the rhythm of the breath. When a thought is attached to the breath by concentration, then the effect of that thought reaches every atom of one's mind and body. Plainly speaking, the thought held in Fikr runs with the circulation of the blood through every vein and tube of the body, and the influence of that thought is spread through every faculty of the mind. Therefore the reaction of the Fikr is the resonance of the same thought expressing itself through one's thought, speech and action. So in time the thought one holds in Fikr becomes the reality of one's self. So he who contemplates on God in time arrives at a state where his self turns into the being of God.

2.   Regularity of Breath

As the mechanism of the body depends upon the breath for its subsistence as well as for its health, so the breath is important in sustaining the mind and keeping its work regular. Mostly confusion, depression, or any other disorder of the mind arises from the disorder of breathing. All such diseases as hallucinations and delusions are caused by wrong breathing. For instance, if a person comes running or is hurried for a moment, he loses the regularity of his breath for that moment, and at that moment he is incapable of thinking rightly. If science and the State knew this, they could surely cause some change to be made in the present law. Many who are put in prison for some crime caused by them during moments of irregular breathing, the State would send to be cured and taught how to breathe, instead of sending them to prison. For neither does the prison cure them nor does it benefit by their presence there. By this I mean to say that not only a disorder of mind that comes at a certain time is caused by irregular breathing, but also a disorder which comes and goes so often during the day, whenever breathing is not rightly done. People who become impulsive, or show irritability in nature, who become impatient at times, who get fits of anger, passion, or laughter, who get spells of tears, all have an irregularity of breathing as the cause of all this. The physician has no remedy for their ills, modern psychology has not found the link, but the mystics of old have for years believed it – not only believed it, but practiced it – and have found in the end that balance of mind entirely depends upon regularity of breathing.

3.   The Life–Power

On breath depends the capability and efficiency with which one thoroughly does one's work. Shortness of breath gives man impatience, lack of endurance; and irregularity of the rhythm of the breath gives man confusion and makes him inclined to be easily upset. Breath, being the life-power, it is the same life-power which gives man strength to endure all things. One always will find that those who easily get cross, upset quickly, instantly annoyed, have something wrong with the breath. People, not knowing their difficulty, get annoyed with them; they are put aside, and are considered disagreeable people. What they need is the training of breathing. When their body and mind is so repaired, one will find no more disagreeableness in their nature. Then, the artist who gets tired of his work and feels a lack of enthusiasm to complete his work and feels a lack of interest and feels absence of inspiration – it all is often caused by some disorder in the breath.

Regular and rhythmic breathing gives health to body and mind both. Inspiration comes from above, but as a light. It is the work of the mind to receive it. If the mind is not ready to receive it, the inspiration will come but will not be realized. It is just like the difference between the gong of metal and the gong of wood. The former will resound; the latter will not resound. It is not the fault of the one who strikes the gong, it is the gong itself, which does not resound. So it is with the mind which is receptive to the inspiration and the mind which cannot conceive it. But to every mind inspiration comes; the only difference is that one receives it, the other rejects it. Right breathing makes the mind vibrate, and vibration is the sign of life. All that vibrates more is more living; what vibrates less is less living. So it is with trees and animals, they show their life in their vibration. India's greatest scientist, Jagadish Chandra Bose, had the other day spoken at a university in England on the subject of trees breathing. Among horses, the horse one chooses, as the best is the one whose nostrils are fully open and whose breath is fuller, which the horse shows in its expression in the eyes. A good horse shows vibrations by the quivering of its skin when its back is patted. It is not like a stone-like horse, which takes one step after ten whips given on its back. In man in the same way that life can be seen which is termed in Hindustani Pani, which means water. They say that a horse, or a man, has 'a watery nature,' which means a liquid nature, living, pliable; and this life breath gives to body and mind.

4.   Full Breath

The importance of the breath in the body is like the influence of the weather in the world. As the body and mind act and react on one another, so the influence of the breath takes the chief place in directing mind and body both. Every emotion is caused by the breath flowing in a certain direction, also the degree of the force of the breath. There are three different rhythms of breath which have influence upon the mind. Slow breath gives tranquility to the mind, and all the creative faculties of mind have scope of work given by this rhythm. Moderate breath helps the mind to continue its activities. If one wanted to make out a plan of work, or wished to accomplish a certain work, the slow activity of breath spoken of above would not be helpful; though for poetry or music the activity of breath which is slow is more helpful. But quickness in the rhythm of breath produces confusion, although it gives a force to physical activities. One can run better or swim well when the breath is in fairly quick rhythm. When the rhythm of the breath is too quick, it brings confusion to the mind and exhaustion to the body.

One who does not breathe fully, in other words freely and deeply, can neither be well physically nor make use of his mental faculties. Very often one finds most learned and intelligent people unable to work as they wish and incapable of finishing a work which they have taken up. Sometimes a person thinks it a bodily weakness or mental weakness or lack of enthusiasm or loss of memory, not knowing that it is very often a matter of regularizing the breath. Most often people think that it is the external senses being tired or exhausted that prevents their thinking, but in reality it is the absence of right breathing, for right breathing can make the mental faculties clearer and the outer organs of the senses more capable of perceiving. This shows that the mind can live a fuller life by what I call full breath. For a Sufi, therefore, breath is a key to concentration. The Sufi, so to speak, covers his thought under the breath. This expression of Rumi's I would interpret that the Sufi lays his beloved ideal in the swing of the breath. I remember my Murshid's saying that every breath, which is inhaled with the consciousness of the Divine Beloved, is the only gain and every breath inhaled without this consciousness is the only loss there is.

5.   The Rhythmic Breath

Thought is conveyed without speech through the breath. The true wireless telegraphy is the rightly established current of breath. It is difficult for every man to try it, without practice in concentration and in absence of the development of breath, though unconsciously thoughts are always exchanged through the agency of breath. The scientist is ready to believe that contagious diseases are spread by means of breath, but it is the part of psychology to realize that thoughts and mental states – such as humor, depression, energy, or sloth – are conveyed by means of breath. In the presence of an angry person one feels excited and inclined to anger. The contact of a humorous person spreads around an atmosphere of humor, in the presence of a cold person one becomes cold, the contact of a warm-hearted person warms one; and all this is done by the medium of breath. If an angry person were to close his breath while angry, much less of his feeling would affect another. If a person who is subject to humor would close his breath in the presence of an expert comedian he could protect himself from being influenced by him.

Yogis, who rise above the thoughts and feelings of those around them, attain power by the control of the breath. So the method of the inner cult of Sufis also depends upon the science of breath. Knowledge of another person's pleasure or displeasure, the message of affection, the warning of hostility, all are received by the way of the breath. The one who is conscious of the rhythm of breath and whose breath is pure from grossness, begins to perceive a sense, which becomes in time a language to him. Thought reading is not necessarily intuition, although many confuse thought reading with intuition. There is not much difference between the working of these two faculties; the difference is like that between the telephone and the telegraph. Thought reading comes from without, intuition comes from within; yet for both rhythmic breath and a clear mind are necessary. The rhythmic breath helps the mind to be clear. Breath breaks the congestion, which in the head produces confusion, and in the heart depression, which covers the thoughts of others from one's perception, even from one's own intuition. A thought is better conveyed to another through breath than by speech, for a feeling put into words becomes half-dead. Feeling, in its own sphere, is fully living, and when conveyed from there through the breath, it reaches the mind to which it is sent. When a person has not developed his mind by concentration and tries to send his thought by breath he is not always successful. He is like a person trying to hit the target without ever having practiced in his life. It is practice, which makes man perfect.

6.   Be Conscious of Every Breath

It is by the power of breath that the animals search for their food, through breath they perceive what they must eat, what they must not eat, through breath the carnivorous animals search for their prey. It is through breath that certain animals receive warning of dangers and again it is through the breath that some animals, when ill, find their remedy. If the lower creation can do so much by the power of breath, how much more can man do, if he only knows the right way of the development of breath! It is through the breath that birds receive warnings of the changes of the weather, and accordingly they migrate in flocks from one place to another. Through the breath the herds of deer perceive approaching storms or changes of weather or the approach of a lion or a tiger. Man, who is more capable of perceiving by breath still deeper things, warnings and calls from the earth and from heaven, which places are meant for him to dwell in or to settle in, of discriminating between friend and foe and discerning their pleasure and displeasure, owing to his interest in the superficial things of life cannot fully benefit by the power of breath.

Yogis and Sufis, therefore, and all students of the inner cult, believe that breath is the means of receiving all intuitive knowledge from every direction of life. Absorbed in a thousand things of daily life man gives very little thought to breath. Therefore he keeps his heart closed to all the revelation that can be received by the help of breath. Man as a rule is never conscious of his breath, of its rhythm, of its development, except at the time when he is so tired that he is breathless, or when he is so excited that he feels choked up, or when something keeps the breath from flowing. For a Sufi it is desirable to be conscious of every breath. In the schools of the Sufis in the East the members of a certain association take up as their duty to remind the whole assembly of the same. So one after another, in turn, takes it up as a duty. They call aloud 'Hosh bar dam,' meaning 'Keep conscious of the breath,' 'Nazar bar qadam'; this sentence is added when the Sufis are walking, and means, ''Look down and see whose feet are these that are walking.'

7.   Direction of Breath

It is said that the cobras, enormous animals living in dense forests or in the mountains, attract animals or birds by the power of the breath. When the cobra is hungry, which is once in three months or six months, by inhaling the breath it draws its prey near. In its exhaling there is magnetism, power, and influence; in its inhaling there is attraction. The mystics of ancient times have learned much from cobras. Mahadeva, the Lord of Yogis, had the cobra as his necklace. The peace and stillness of this animal, the contentment with which it waits for its sustenance, are wonderful, and most instructive for an adept on the spiritual path.

One who masters breath becomes invigorated and strengthened in his mind, becomes quiet and peaceful and achieves self-control. In the cobra there is a far-reaching breath. So is the breath of the mystic. The mystic's breath is not what is called deep breathing. His is the breath reaching inmost, which touches every plane of his being. Every movement robs one of a great portion of breath; every excitement takes away a great deal of life force. Therefore those who master breathing first learn control, not only over every passion and emotion, but also over every movement. By trying first to make the body still one can practice the breath better. Therefore among Yogis different postures are taught. Every posture allows the breath to take a certain direction, for every direction the breath takes has a different result. It is posture and thought, both together that help to direct the breath in a certain direction. As breath is a life-power, whatever center it is directed to it brings to a new life.

8.   Breath in the Development of Mind

Different conditions and the changes that take place in the world have their effect upon the mind, and the different conditions of the mind have their effect upon the body. As bodily illness makes man irritable, confused and exhausted in mind, so different conditions of the mind cause health or illness in the body. The link between the body and the mind is the breath, a link through which the influences of the body and the mind are exchanged and work upon one another. By the use of breath in physical culture the health and vigor of the breath is projected so to speak, upon the mind. By the use of concentration through the breath the light of the mind is thrown upon the body, which takes away from the body all heaviness and stiffness, making it light and exhilarated.

Breath in this way acts like a ball in tennis thrown from one side to the other, and the force of its movement comes from the side from which it is directed. Therefore when it is directed from the body to the mind the mind becomes subject to the influence of the body, but when from the side of the mind it is directed toward the body, in this case the body becomes subject to the mind. Very often dervishes and faqirs in the East, many of whom live upon alms and go several days without food and spend many nights in sleepless vigil, do things which are difficult for a wrestler, a boxer, or any other muscular person. Some dervishes practice jumping into fire, standing for hours in the water, sitting or lying on iron pricks, thrashing their bare arms and legs, cutting themselves with knives and swords, and all such things beyond the power of a physically strong man. Often a physically strong man suffers in proportion to his strength when he is exposed to pain or torture. This explains that though the power of breath is the main source of physical development, yet breath is the principal thing in the development of mind, in which the influence of the breath is more valuable.

9.   Contraction and Expansion

The breath has a great influence and entire control over two principles which work by the power of the breath: Kabs, or contraction, and Bast, or expansion. The former absorbs, attracts, and gathers energy from outside; the latter tendency expels energy from within. In this way body and mind are sustained, nourished, enriched, and made light, easy clear and pure by the power of breath. Inhaling is contraction and exhaling is expansion. It is upon these two principles and their regular working that the health and happiness of man depend.

A man who has not gained power over his breath is like a king who has no power over his domain. Once man has gained the power of contraction and expansion then what he needs in life is to know what to attract and what to repel, and this the master of breath intuitively understands. Even the birds and animals know what they must eat and drink and what they must not. By a close study of the lower creation students of nature have learned that animals and birds abstain from food and drink when it becomes necessary for health.

I am often asked the question, why there should be pain in childbirth. And the answer is that our life has been removed far from nature. Man today lives an artificial life to such an extent that he can hardly understand what real life may be. Man considers the accustomed the natural, he does not think how far the natural is removed from the present

Life we live. The domesticated animals are also beginning to show the birth-pain, through their association with human beings.

Fikr, practiced for some years, helps to regulate the rhythm of breathing, and it helps in all aspects of life to attract and repel all one wishes. By the help of Fikr not only the digestive faculty and the circulation of the blood and the pulsations of the body are made regular, but the concentration that is developed through the development of breath enables man to repel all disagreeable impressions which cause despair and depression. By the power of Fikr one helps the power of memory, also the power of retention of thought. At the same time one is enabled by the power of breath to forget any thought one wishes to put out of one's mind and to erase from one's heart any impression deeply engraved.

10.   Communication Through The Breath

Breath is the medium between the outer life and the inner life. By the help of breath the elements necessary for the body can be attracted and by the help of breath thoughts and inspiration can be gained. By the help of breath all that is undesirable in the body and mind can be expelled. The secret of telepathy, of reading the thought, has the science of breath as its mystery. When one wishes to draw from within inspiration, breath is the key. Breath is a life-current; its value is known to so few! Breath in itself is a phenomenon, but the phenomenon becomes manifest when once the breath is fully mastered.

The law of transmutation is also the secret of breath. What we give, or gain from another, without seeing or hearing, which we only realize as a result of the contact of someone, that is the effect of breath. For by the medium of breath there is always something given and taken; yet so few are aware of it! In the presence of one person one feels an inclination to laugh, in the presence of another one has a desire to cry; contact with one makes a person feel cheerful, with another sorrowful. Sometimes without there being one word spoken between two people thoughts and feelings are transferred, without people knowing it, through the current of breath. Breath is a link through which one individual is connected with another individual, and space does not make a difference if once connection of breath is established. The communication will be sure and clear, if only the wire is tied to sympathetic hearts. There is much that is common to the science of electricity and the science of breath. The day is not very far off when science and mysticism both will meet on the same ground in the realization of the electricity, which is hidden in the breath.



checked 18-Oct-2005