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Volume XIV - The Smiling Forehead

Part I - The Smiling Forehead

Chapter XX
The Dance of the Soul


ONE OFTEN wonders what it is in the lower creation, in a horse coming from a good race, in a peacock, and more animals, which gives them the tendency to dance. What we generally call a beautiful horse is a horse which shows that tendency and those who understand the qualities of animals judge them by their tendency to dance. Once I was looking at a procession of the Maharaja of Nepal. When the whole of the procession had passed and the horse of the Maharaja approached, it seemed as if the horse by his dancing tendency was answering the eagerness of the people to see the Maharaja and pay homage to him. A person standing near me made the remark, 'It seems as if the horse were conscious of his master'. In that remark lies the secret of the dance.

This tendency is found throughout the lower creation, although it be an unconscious one; it is as it were the rising of the deepest part of being. If there are two horses, one with an inclination to dance every moment, the other with an inclination to stand still like a log of wood, we may say that the deepest self of the latter is covered and the deepest self of the former is open and wanting to express the vibration which animates it. The desire to dance arises in the peacock because it is impressed by beauty, which it also shows in its own wings and feathers. The whole nature expresses its deep touch with its own source. Life is a swing; there is one swing where life touches its innermost being and brings that out to the material world, striking every heart. In the waxing and waning of the moon, the changing tides of the sea, the alternate seasons there is a period when nature breathes downward and dives up something that is most beautiful and appealing to the heart.

When we consider the human race we find that the whole nature represents itself in an individual being, and this individual being reflects the whole nature. The infant has moments of smiles when it is happy and moves its hands and legs while there seems to be no reason why it should do so. Although every man is not a philosopher, every soul is a philosopher, and in the East it is said that when a child smiles it sees the angels. As the sun gives joy by its reflection, so that inner spirit when reflected in a human being produces joy and happiness. By that smile of the infant everybody is drawn; it is a magic for everyone who looks at it. Words can never explain what the child feels. Grown-up persons lose that touch through their artificial life, yet they are drawn to the child's happiness. As the infant grows into a child it still has its moments when it is moved to sing and dance, not knowing where that tendency comes from, but enjoying paradise on earth. It wants a mind that is in touch with the infinite to perceive that joy invaluable in comparison to all other sensations of life in this world.

There is a Sura in the Quran which explains this a little, but few understand its true meaning: 'Have you known the night of power? During that night angels descend, spirits are attracted, trees and mountains fall in prostration, submitting to the divinity of God'. From the beginning to the end of that night there is inexplicable joy and profound peace. The prostration of trees and mountains means that they do not exist for the soul at that time. The soul has risen above them, from all worries and anxieties the mind is empty. Then the night of joy comes. An artist may paint pictures all his life, but there will only be a few moments when without making any effort his brush does what the soul wants it to do. The greatest musicians like Beethoven, Bach, whose music always has a living influence on the heart of man, did not create their music from the brain; it was not merely a play of technicality, there was something else. They are the musicians who caught the moments of the dance of the soul and responded to it.

In a musician the soul dances in the realm of music, in a painter the soul dances in the realm of colors, in the poet it dances in the realm of poetry. In sculpture and architecture we also find that it was the dance of the soul which produced it; the Taj Mahal in India for instance was a product of the dance of the soul. In all these aspects the soul shows its beauty, and in all these different realms the dance of the soul is one and the same. When one bell is rung, by the sound of that one bell other bells will also vibrate. So it is with the dancing of the soul; it produces its reaction and that again will make other souls dance.

How can we get to the secret of this dance? We want the key to be able to wind the soul to make it dance. A story of Tansen, the singer of king Akbar, tells that Akbar said to him, 'You are such a great musician. I wonder how great your teacher must be'. Tansen answered, 'There is no comparison, my Lord, we are different. He is infinitely greater'. Akbar was very much inclined to hear this master's music, but Tansen told him that his master lived in a cave, that it was a very long journey, and even then he did not know if his master would sing before a king. Akbar however was persistent and arrived with Tansen at the cave. The master saw who was his visitor but did not mind, and when he felt moved he began to sing. As he sang Akbar and Tansen went into ecstasy and both lost their consciousness. The master disappeared and they found themselves alone and as in a dream. When they had recovered their senses they went home. Akbar asked, 'Why has the master disappeared?' And Tansen answered, 'So that next time you might not know him'. Akbar then asked Tansen to sing again the song of the master, but Tansen was not able to produce the same effect. He explained this to Akbar saying, 'While I sing to thee, my master sings to God'.

This explains our condition of today. In music, in painting, in poetry man's first thought is, 'How will it take? What will the people say of it?' When inspiration is sacrificed to the material world how can the soul ever dance – for the dance of the body is death to the soul. In his absorption in the external world man has lost touch with his own self.

Looking at this subject from a metaphysical point of view the soul is dancing when it is charged with the battery of infinite life. In the life of the infant, of the bird, free from responsibility, we find the natural life which is in touch with the battery of infinite life, and they become charged by it. As man grows, the more he is successful in worldly affairs, the more he loses contact with his inner being; he is kept in the spider's web he spun himself. Inharmonious conditions, the artificiality of life cause unrest, man is confused and knows not where lies his happiness. The battery which is the depth of every life may be called the divine Being, or divine Life. Every soul is connected with this battery, but when it is not responding to it, not conscious of it, it loses its chance.

In Krishna's dance, spoken of in every house in India as it is considered a sacred story, the secret of this philosophy is hidden. Krishna was a most charming youth, popular in his village. Every girl wanted once to dance with him and he promised that on a full moon night he would dance with every one of them. When the night came all the girls arrived at the place where they were to dance and the miracle is told that really Krishna danced with every girl, for so many girls as there were, so many Krishnas appeared to dance.

Krishna is the innermost spirit whose life rises and dances through the artist. The different minds are represented by the gopis, the girls, and Krishna is the source of life within the individual. The different minds are considered as gopis, because the mind must already have its own beauty to be able to reflect that greater beauty. For instance, if a man had no idea of language and his soul began to dance no gopi would be there, no possibility for poetry to flower from him, as his mind was not prepared. Our souls are only created to dance; it is their nature to dance and it is the tragedy of life when the soul is kept from dancing. Our craving for comfort and outward satisfaction, our ambition, our desires are nothing but the longing to experience that dance – as we know it. Paradise is pictured by every teacher as a place where there is music and dance. Music itself is dance, poetry is the dance of words, singing the dance of the voice. Only when inspiration comes naturally it is a life coming from the depth of the individual.

The Hindus speak of Indra as the king of paradise; the dancers in his court are called apsaras. A much loved story in the East tells us of a dancer of the court of Indra who loved a being of the earth and brought him with her to heaven. Indra's wrath was aroused; he separated them and they were sent into the desert. The reason is that the dancers who were especially for Indra were not supposed to neglect their duty for the love of other beings. Our souls are dancers to God; born to dance to God they must enjoy beauty in its perfection. When we forget that dance in our absorption in earthly joys we neglect our duties for which we were created.

The object in the life of the Sufi is to keep his heart like a compass pointing to one goal, the center, Indra for whom every soul is created to dance. We need not go to the forest or the wilderness; we can be in a crowd, but we should be like the compass, always pointing to the one goal of our existence.

Studies and practices are given to prepare the pupil to look at that goal. It is known to many that there are people in the East who for thousands of years have given their whole life to the search of the truth. The Sufi message represents that thought which can draw East and West together in the understanding of life. An opportunity has been given to the friends of these thoughts to bring man home to this secret of life.


We see in the life of an infant that there comes a moment when it smiles to itself and moves its little feet and legs as if dancing, bringing delight to the one who looks on and creating life in the atmosphere. What was it that sprang into being in the heart of the tiny infant, ignorant of the pains and pleasures of life? What is it that suddenly springs from its heart, that gives expression to its eyes, that inspires its little movements and voice? In ancient times the old people said, 'This is the spirit coming'. They thought it was an angel or fairy speaking to the child, but in reality it is the soul which at that moment arises to ecstasy which makes all things dance. There are many delightful experiences in life, but joy is something greater and deeper than delight, it springs from the innermost being. There can be no better description of the springing of joy than the dance of the soul.

One finds in the life of every person, sorrowful or happy, wise or foolish, that there are moments when he begins to sing or move. Joy may be expressed also by a smile, it may even be expressed in tears of joy, but in one and all it is the dance of the soul. This heavenly bliss is not only for mankind, it comes to all beings. Man lives his life in an artificial world and seldom has a chance to see the beauty of nature. This ecstasy is to be found in the forests, in the wilderness where the great Yogis, sages, saints, seers and prophets received their inspiration. If you could only see what is called in the East the dance of the peacocks, the peacocks expressing the impulse of joy, inspired and blessed by the sublime beauty around them. Birds and animals all have their moment of joy, and in these moments you can hear their words, their song, but the greatest expression is in their dance. To nearly every animal there come moments when the blessing of heaven descends upon them, and they respond in dance.

This blessing is revealed in every aspect of life, even in inanimate objects, in trees and plants; even there we see in the spring the rising of life. Flowers and plants are but different expressions of the one life, the source of all beauty and joy and harmony. Someone asked the Prophet for a definition of the soul, and he answered in one sentence: 'The soul is an action of God'. There could be no more expressive words to explain this philosophy. It is the action of the inner or divine Life, and when this shows itself in any form it is the reaction to the action of God; it is this which may be called the dance of the soul.

It is this which has inspired the great musicians and poets. Why do the music of Wagner or Beethoven and the words of Shakespeare live so long and continually give new joy and inspiration? Why has not all music and poetry the same effect? Because poetry is one thing, and the dance of the soul another. The dance of the soul is beyond mere poetry, and when music expresses itself as the dance of the soul it becomes something higher than music. Man becomes so accustomed to external knowledge! He wants to learn and understand this thing and that, but beauty does not come so naturally because beauty is beyond all knowledge: it is intended to prepare man to express his soul.

How often do we confuse these two things, inspiration and education. Education is the preparation for inspiration. Education prepares the mind to be a better means for the expression of the natural spring in the heart. When education becomes a hobby and inspiration is forgotten then the soul becomes choked, and where there is no life man is mechanical, unreal. He may write poetry, compose music and paint pictures, but they are all lifeless, for he himself is a machine. The soul in itself is life, knowledge and beauty.

As an instance I will speak of two poets in India. Kalidasa was the most learned poet of the Sanskrit age and was never educated. As far as language goes Kabir's language was most ordinary and yet, when the people in India who laid importance on the delicacy and convention of Hindi heard his words, they forgot conventions, for his poetry brought life, it sprang from the soul, it was spirit. Grammar was faulty, but nevertheless the verses made that impression. Why? Because the words were living, the soul was dancing.

The purpose of life is to become more living, to allow the soul to live more, and that is the limit given by Christ when he says, 'Raise your light high'. This means allowing the soul to express itself. It does not matter what your life is, what your pursuit is; in order to fulfill the purpose of life you need not be in a temple or a church. Whatever your life's pursuit – art, poetry, sculpture, music, whatever your occupation may be – you can be as spiritual as a priest or clergyman, always living a life of praise. Your work in life must be your religion; let the soul express itself in every aspect and it will surely fulfill the purpose of life. The soul's life comes naturally if we open ourselves for the spirit to rise.

There is an old story in India that expresses this philosophy. In the belief of Hindus there is a heaven or paradise called Indraloka where the God Indra is king, and there are angels or fairies whose work is to dance before Indra. There was a fairy from Indraloka who once descended on earth and loved an earthly being. By the power of her magic she brought this earthly being to paradise. When this became known to Indra she was cast out from paradise and they were separated.

This legend is symbolic of the human soul, which originally belonged to Indraloka, the kingdom of God, the sphere full of peace, joy and happiness. Life there is nothing but joy, it is a dance. Life and love come from God and raise every soul till it dances. It is therefore that the Yogi term atma means the soul of man as joy itself. In its pure condition it is a joy, and when it is without joy its natural condition is changed: it depends upon the names and forms of the earth and is deprived of the dance of the soul. Therein lies the whole tragedy of life. The wrath of Indra, the God of paradise, is nothing but breach of law 1, as it is natural that the soul is attracted to the Spirit and that the true joy of every soul is the realization of the divine Spirit.

Absence of realization keeps the soul in despair. In the life of every poet, thinker, artist or scientist there come moments when ideas or words are given to him; they are given at that moment and at no other. This is the moment when unconsciously the soul has an opportunity to breathe. Man does not usually allow his soul to breathe; the portal is closed up in the life of the earth. Man closes it by ignorance, he is absorbed in things of much less importance. So when the door opens and the soul is able to breathe even one breath, it becomes alive in that one single moment, and what comes out is beauty and joy making man express himself in song or dance. So heavenly beauty comes on earth.

The things that catch man's mind are always living things. The poems of Rumi which are called Masnavi, have lived for eight hundred years, they are living, they bring joy and ecstasy whenever they are sung or recited. They are everliving life, expressing an everlasting beauty. It is the power of God, and for man ever to presume it possible to produce that by study is a mistake. It is impossible. It is the power of God above which brings out the perfection of beauty. Man can never make the soul dance, but he can make himself a fit instrument for the expression of his soul. The question is, in what way can he so fit himself?

It appears that the soul is the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of God lives within the shrine of the heart; this shrine can be closed or it can be open. There are some things in life that open it and some that close it. The things that close the heart are those which are contrary to love, tolerance and forgiveness, such as coldness, bitterness and ill-will, and a strong element of duality. The world is more upset today than ever before; in many ways man seems to go from bad to worse, and yet he thinks that he is progressing. It is not lack of organization or of civilization; both these things he has. What he lacks is the expression of the soul. He closes his door to his fellow man, he closes the shrine of the heart and by doing so he is keeping God away from himself and others. Nation is set against nation, race against race, religion against religion. Therefore today more than ever before there is a need for the realization of this philosophy. What we need is not that all religions should become one, nor all races; that can never be. But what is needed is undivided progress, and making ourselves examples of love and tolerance.

By talking about it, by discussing and arguing it will not come, but by self-realization, by making ourselves the examples of what should be, by giving love, taking love, and showing in our action gentleness, consideration and the desire for service for the sake of God in whom we can all unite beyond the narrow barriers of race and creed.

1 - The law that the highest love must be for God alone. (editor's note)

checked 18-Oct-2005