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Volume XIII - The Gathas

Part VII
Tasawwuf: Metaphysics


1.   Belief

BELIEF is a natural tendency to accept knowledge without doubt. Every soul is born with this tendency to accept every knowledge that is given to it, in whatever way or form. Therefore no soul in the world is born an unbeliever. There is a saying of the Prophet, 'Every soul is born a believer, and it is others that make the soul an unbeliever.' This unbelief comes by the conflict of one's knowledge and belief.

Belief has two tendencies. One is the tendency of water that runs and the other is that of water that becomes frozen. Some people who have a belief like to keep that belief unchanged as a rock, and identify their ego with that belief. People of this temperament are steady in their belief, but often they lack progress. If they happen to have a right belief, there is no danger of their giving it up. But if it is not right, they are perplexed. Those whose belief is like running water perhaps go from one belief to another and they may not seem steady in their belief, yet their life is progressive. The progressive soul can never hold one belief, and must change and go on changing until it arrives at the ultimate truth. For a simple person steadiness of belief is more advantageous than change, for change may lead him astray. But for an intelligent person it is natural and necessary that he must go from belief to belief until he arrives at his final convictions.

Belief is of four kinds. The first kind is a belief accepted because it is believed by all. The second is a belief accepted because it is believed by someone in whom the believer trusts. The third belief is the belief that reason helps one to believe. The fourth belief is conviction of which one is as sure as if one were an eyewitness.

The four kinds of belief are held by souls of different grades of evolution in life and different temperaments. There is a knowledge which one can perceive with the senses. There is a knowledge which one can perceive with the mind alone, and a knowledge which can be realized by the soul. And it is for this reason that when a person wishes to touch a thing which can only be perceived, and when a person wishes to feel a thing which can only be realized spiritually, he naturally becomes an unbeliever.

In point of fact one person's belief cannot be another person's belief. Every belief is peculiar to the person who holds it. Even if two persons held one belief, there would still be the difference of the point of view, even though it be as small as the difference between two roses. Therefore it is unjust, no doubt, on the part of one person to try to press his own belief on another. At the same time the person who refuses to try to understand the belief of another, from bigotry or pride, closes the door of his heart, that otherwise would have let that knowledge come in.

There are two tendencies that can be developed in a person, either constantly to try to believe whatever comes before him, or to try to disbelieve whatever is presented to him. And there is an advantage and a disadvantage in each of these tendencies. The advantage of the believing tendency is the taking of every chance of acquiring knowledge, the disadvantage is that one takes the chance of often and readily falling into error. But the advantage of the disbelieving tendency is only the protection from error, and its disadvantage is the prevention of every chance of further acquisition of knowledge.

Nature has very many covers. Its activity covers and uncovers it. At every covering and uncovering, it is natural that the belief of the individual should change. Therefore when a Sufi is asked, 'Do you believe in this, or that?' he says, 'My belief is for me, yours is for you, there is no faith to which I give my unchanging belief, nor any belief that I reject without having investigated it.' If you are asked, 'What belief does the Sufi teach?' you may say, 'No belief, but he helps the pupil to seek and find within himself his own belief.'

2.   Faith

Faith can be defined by two words, 'self-confidence' and 'certainty in expectation.' Faith in no way signifies certainty without expectation, nor confidence with evidence. All things in life are appointed from eternity for a certain time. Every experience and every knowledge comes in its own time. No doubt in this free will plays a certain part, as destiny plays a great part. We make our road in life by our expectations. Things that we have not attained to we look forward to and hope to attain. Ideals that we wish to reach we expect to reach some day. And that which determines our success in attaining our ideal is faith. It is faith that uncovers things veiled with a thousand covers. It is faith that attracts things almost out of reach. The distance between heaven and earth, the difference between life and death can be bridged by faith.

There is blind faith, and there is faith, which is not blind. Faith is blind when its power is small and reason does not support it. Then faith may be called blind. But in fact the mind has all power. Every expectation that it has will certainly be fulfilled sooner or later. It may not be fulfilled in a certain limited time, but in eternity it will be fulfilled. Faith is the power of mind. Without faith the mind is powerless. When faith leads and reason follows, success is sure, but when reason leads and faith follows, success is doubtful. Faith causes the attitude of the mind. The influence of the attitude of the mind works psychically upon every affair. The belief, 'My friend is faithful to me and is helping me', by itself influences the helper. And when there is a doubting attitude – 'Perhaps my friend or my agent is faithful to me, perhaps not' – then the fact is made doubtful. Faith can bring a surer and speedier cure than medicine, and both success and failure in life depend very much upon faith. Man rides upon the elephant and controls tigers by the power of faith. The great people of the world, the greatest people, are great more by their faith than by anything else, because mostly great people have been adventurous and at the back of a venture is faith, nothing else.

Reason can strengthen faith, but things that are beyond reason are reached by faith alone. If faith is limited by reason it is held down so that it cannot rise, but when faith is independent of reason it is raised by the force of the ideal, and then reason has scope to advance and reach the ideal. Those who believe in an ideal and those who do not have both arrived at their conviction by faith. In the former it is positive, in the latter negative. An unbeliever asked a believer, 'If there were no God then would not all your prayers and expectations be in vain?' The believer answered, 'If there be no God, and if my prayers are in vain and all that I have done for God is lost, then I am in the same case as you, but if He exists, then I have the advantage.' Faith is natural and its negative unnatural.

As all things in this artificial world are made by faith so the whole creation is made by the faith of the divine mind. Therefore as the divine mind has been able to create all by faith, so man by this divine attribute can rise to the source of his being.

Thought, speech, and action without faith are as body without life. All things by faith are made alive, for faith is the life of all things. Think what joy trust brings, and what a feeling of suffocation doubt brings! When a person does not trust another that means he has no confidence in himself. He is not happy through this. It would be no exaggeration to say that material loss resulting from misplaced confidence is better than all profit resulting from justified suspicion.

3.   Hope

Hope is a quality sometimes dependent on its object, sometimes independent of it, and these two different aspects of hope are the cause of two different natures, the optimistic and the pessimistic.

When the dependent nature is developed it makes man a pessimist, and when hope stands alone, without dependence, this develops optimism. The optimistic person compared to the pessimistic may seem blind, and no doubt, he is at times blind. But without doubt, as blind people develop a faculty of doing things without sight which people with seeing eyes cannot do, so the optimist can accomplish things without knowing how or why. Hope cannot be called sureness or certainty, but it is a feeling, which, almost by its own force, may bring sureness and certainty. Hope dependent upon reason is weak, and the more dependent the weaker it is. No doubt hope together with reason is strong, perhaps stronger than hope alone, but in proportion as reason supports hope, so hope depends on reason, and as in many cases in life, when reason cannot reach the object of hope, hope then sinks.

In fact hope is more than a faculty or a quality, hope may be called the substance of life. Wise and foolish, rich and poor, all live in some hope. Hope can prolong life and lack of hope can shorten it. The joy that one gets from hope is greater than the joy that comes from the possession of the object hoped for. Therefore there is a Sanskrit saying that Brahma in the creation took honey from all the flowers and that this honey was hope. The interpretation is that out of all things that are beautiful and that give joy and happiness the essence is taken and that essence is hope.

Hope is strengthened by reason, but it stands on the foundation of patience, for it is possible that in spite of all reasons a person may completely give up hope, if patience is lacking. If I used the poetical expression that the rocks and trees are standing in the deserts and forests resting in hope, that would be no exaggeration, because to the eyes of the mystic every aspect of life shows that it is standing in hope. This can be better seen in the life of human beings, because every person seems to be waiting from day to day and from hour to hour for something to come that he is hoping for. The loss of hope is worse than the loss of life, and provided that hope stands by man's side, though no one else stands by him it does not matter.

4.   Patience

Patience may also be called control, and one can say that patience is the will that controls the activity of the mind and holds it in check. To be patient is sometimes extremely difficult, for great energy is required to control the activity of the mind. We may picture patience as a wall against which the tides beat. The wall must be strong to resist the waves, and so it is with patience.

There are four different kinds of patience: patience in action, in thought, in word in the manner of feeling. There are two different acts of patience. The first is to stand firm against the activity of another person, the second is to stand firm against one's own activity. Not to resist the activity of another person is an act of patience of the former sort, and to control oneself when one wishes to do or say a certain thing is an act of patience of the latter sort. The most difficult test of patience is to have to wait for something, which one wants at once.

The symbol of patience is the cross. The vertical line indicates activity, the horizontal line control. Patience is, for the saint and the sage, the first lesson and the last. The more one learns to bear the more one has to bear, such is the nature of life. Yet in reality patience is never wasted, patience always wins something great, even when to all appearance it loses. Sometimes a patient person seems a vanquished one, but in reality the victory is his. In the path of mastery, as in the path of renunciation, patience plays the greatest part.

Every faculty has a tendency to act more and more quickly. Every activity starts from a rhythm that is productive, and when the activity is increased the rhythm becomes progressive, and if it is increased still more the rhythm becomes destructive. These three rhythms are called in Sanskrit Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. It is only by control that one can keep the productive and progressive nature. Lack of control allows destruction to set in. The will alone has the power to control each activity, either of the body or of the mind. When a person walks he wishes to walk faster, when he speaks to speak more quickly. It is the nature of activity to tend to increase its speed, and if this increase is permitted, very soon the destructive element comes about. The stronger this faculty of control becomes in a person the stronger the person becomes, and the more one loses the power of control the weaker one becomes.

There is no doubt that patience often seems a crucifixion, but one must remember that resurrection is always reached through crucifixion. Patience often seems like the effacement of self, and it is true that it is self-effacement, and yet nothing is lost, for by this practice of control a far greater power is attained. The Persian poets have called patience death. Doubtless it is to all appearance death, for it causes activity to cease, but in reality it is a greater life.

5.   Fear

Fear is considered by the mystics to come from the action of the earth element, and its effect is to make the body stiff at the moment when a person is afraid. According to metaphysics fear is caused by the lack of light. Therefore the more light there is in the heart the more fearless the heart becomes. There is the Surah of the Quran, which supports this, where it is said, 'There is no fear in the mastermind.'

Fear arises from the strangeness of an object or from ignorance on the part of the person who fears. There is a verse of a Marathi poet, who says that, 'It is the self that creates for itself the object of fear – one's fear comes from oneself.' Every attitude towards life has a re-echo, and the attitude is formed by expectation. When one expects one's fellow man to love one, his fellow man does love him, and when one expects harm from another, then harm comes. When a person is afraid of a dog, he gives the dog a tendency to bite him. This can be noticed so plainly in the lower creation, that every animal is afraid of another animal, and the expectation of harm makes it fear more than does the idea of the hugeness of the form or the bodily strength of another animal. Many things in life can be brought about, not only by wanting them and thinking about them, but also by fearing them, both objects and conditions. To clear one's mind of fear is like bringing light into a dark room, and as light is needed to illuminate a dark room so the light of the soul is necessary to clear away the thought of fear.

Man is more impressionable than any other living being, owing to the fineness and sensitiveness of his nature, but at the same time man alone is capable of rising above all fear, for in him there is a torch that can show him a way through the darkness. Man fears all that is hurtful and harmful in any form, and more than all, man fears what he calls death. As in the case of every object and condition that arouses fear, the fear is caused by ignorance, so even the fear of death is caused by ignorance. Man is afraid if he is in the water, where even so helpless a creature as a fish feels safe. It is not only the fact that man is incapable of remaining in the water that makes him afraid, but also the water is a strange world to him. He does not know what is in it. Many have died in the water of fright of the water before having actually sunk. This life of names and forms is therefore called by the mystics Maya, an illusion, which is apt to be made into that which one would like to make it. When one fears, this world frightens one, but when one clears one's heart of all fear, the whole world of illusion turns into one single vision of the sublime immanence of God.

6.   Justice

Justice is a faculty of mind, which weighs things. There is also a faculty attached to it, which sees whether things are in their places and sees the fitness of things. This is also the power to view two sides of a subject or of a thing, the side where it is complete and the side where it is incomplete. This faculty is kindled by the light of intelligence. The more intelligence the greater justice. It is generally the lack of intelligence that produces injustice.

The development of the ego often obscures this faculty, in the same way that clouds eclipse the sun. Therefore a selfish person, however clever, lacks pure intelligence and is therefore deficient in the true sense of justice. It is often personal feeling, a personal like or dislike that disposes the weights in the scales of justice to suit the personal fancy. Therefore often a person who boasts of his sense of justice is really more unjust than one who makes no such claim. A just person is one who can decide against his own interest if necessary. Only when personal bias is absent can a decision be called just.

Into the scales of justice a person throws weights from his store of knowledge, and it is his own ideas about the values of things that weigh and balance them. But as opinions change at every step in evolution what may seem just or unjust today is not likely to seem so tomorrow. What a person calls wrong at one time will seem at another time in his life to be right, and it is the same with regard to what at one period of his evolution he considers right. No wonder that the prophets, reformers, and poets have so often contradicted themselves in their writings! One can find contradictions in all the scriptures of the world, and it needs a perfect development of the faculty to look at this idea with a perfect view.

7.   Reason

Reason is a faculty that raises out of itself an answer to every question one asks. There is a store of knowledge of names, and forms, of principles, of feelings. From that store of knowledge an answer rises. It is that which is called reason.

This store of knowledge is different in every individual, and it is therefore that often two people may disagree and at the same time both may have reason for what they say. This shows that reason is not outside of oneself. It is within oneself, and at each stage towards evolution reason changes. The answer that a person may get from within to a certain question in one month may change in the next month. Every object and condition suggests a reason, but the more one penetrates through the object or condition the more one realizes that there is a reason under reason, and one condition may suggest numerous reasons, according to the depths one may touch. When there is a discourse about justice or injustice, right or wrong, one applies one's own reason, and when one cannot understand the reason of another, one's knowledge is incomplete.

The effect that different names and forms produce is an illusion, and so is reason, which is the creation of mind, when it is compared with the ultimate reality. Reality is above reason. When reason follows reality it is helpful, but when reality is covered under reason it is an illusion. The one who penetrates through the numerous covers of reason comes to the depth of knowledge, but the one who clings to the first reason he has touched remains there. For him there is no progress.

8.   Logic

Logic is a support that reason takes to strengthen itself. It may be called a fortification of reason. The analytical faculty of the mind seeks for something substantial to make reason cut and dry. In other words logic may be called authorized reason, or reason supported by the reason of others.

Logic has a larger field than reason, because the scope of reason is only the mind of one individual. The scope of logic is vaster; it represents the minds of many individuals who have thought on the same subject. Logic is a degree higher in knowledge than reason. When one person gives a reason and another person says there is no logic in it that means that there is no support for this reason from other minds which have thought about the subject.

In one sense logic may be said to be concrete and realistic knowledge, and yet in another sense it is most limited and poor knowledge. It is limited to names and forms that are forever changing. It is poor because it is founded on a substance that is subject to destruction. When logic helps to strengthen the knowledge of names and forms and of conditions it is a great help, but when it confines the progress of the soul, which is made on a different path, it is a great hindrance. In their words it may be said that the possessor of logic is a learned man, but he who is possessed by logic is lost.

9.   Temptation

Temptation is a momentary illusion. The beauty of some object covers the eyes of reason and man is drawn back or pushed aside from the track, which he follows in order to arrive at his desired destination, whatever it be. Therefore, what is a temptation to one person is not necessarily a temptation to another. The same object which is a temptation to one may be a goal to another. One cannot wisely point out: 'This is a temptation, and that is not.' In reality all is temptation and nothing is. It is not the object or the action which forms the temptation but the situation. In order to be aware of the temptation one has to meet with, it is well to keep before one the goal one wishes to attain, and always to reason out before taking a step toward anything whether it will help or hinder the attainment of one's desired end.

There are three forms of temptation. The first is that which cries aloud what it is, which shows itself clearly. The second form is that in which the temptation disguises itself and hides the goal from the eyes of man, so that man may at once forget his destination. In the third form the temptation appears for the moment a greater gain than the desired object. In such a case reason no doubt helps, and yet it cannot help altogether, for as the temptation belongs to the external world so does reason also belong to the external world. There is only one thing that can counterbalance it and that is the faculty of intuition. If this faculty is really developed it comes to man's rescue in all his difficulties.

If one desires to reach the goal one must make a great fortification against temptation. One should keep before one the object to be attained and feel behind one the strength of intuition to push one forward. The further we go the greater will be our temptation. Even after the attainment of an object temptations still persist, ready to snatch away the object attained, which is very well explained in the myth of Orpheus. It is not necessary to be so careful as to become timid, nor should we be so bold as to commit ourselves to follies at every step we take. We must keep the balance and keep on the straight path with our gaze fixed on the desired goal.

10.   Tolerance

Tolerance is the first lesson of morals, and the next is forgiveness. A person who tolerates another through fear, through pride, from a sense of honor, or by the force of circumstances does not know tolerance. Tolerance is the control of the impulse of resistance by will. There is no virtue in tolerance which one practices because one is compelled by circumstances to tolerate, but tolerance is a consideration by which one overlooks the fault of another and gives no way in oneself to the impulse of resistance. A thoughtless person is naturally intolerant, but if a thoughtful person is intolerant, it shows his weakness. He has thought, but has no self-control. In the case of the thoughtless, he is not conscious of his fault, so it does not matter much to him, but a thoughtful person is to be pitied if he cannot control himself owing to the lack of will.

The activities in the worldly life cause many disturbances, and it is a constant jarring effect upon a sensitive soul. If one does not develop tolerance in nature, one is always subject to constant disturbances in life. To wish to live in the world and to be annoyed with its activities is like wanting to live in the sea and be constantly resisting its waves. This life of the world, full of different activities constantly working, has much in it to be despised, if one has a tendency to despise. But at the same time there is much to admire if one turns one's face from left to right. It is in our own power to choose the view of imperfection or the vision of perfection, and the difference is only looking down, or looking upwards. By a slight change of attitude in one's outlook on life one can make the world into heaven or hell. The more one tolerates, the stronger one becomes in this way. It is the tolerant who is thoughtful. And as thought becomes greater, one becomes more tolerant. The words of Christ, 'Resist not evil', teach tolerance.

checked 18-Oct-2005