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Volume XIV - The Smiling Forehead

Part II - The Deeper Side of Life

Chapter XII
Pairs of Opposites used in Religious Terms

IN RELIGIOUS terms one makes use of pairs of opposites such as God and devil, heaven and hell, sin and virtue. Man who begins to acquire knowledge by learning through pairs of opposites cannot at once rise to that pitch where he comprehends life without them. In one way it is not correct, it is not right to conceive God who is all-powerful together with the conception of another personality, an opposite power, calling it devil. On the other hand it would puzzle a believer in God, who considers God all good and all beautiful, when he knew that also all that is bad or evil is contained in God. Besides, a devotee, a worshipper of God, whose object is to raise by devotion and worship his ideal of God as high as he can, is hindered in his effort by being made to see that all that he considers wicked and ugly also belongs to God's part. On the other hand one has diminished God, making Him limited, producing before Him a power which – if not equal – exists as a power opposite to God.

No doubt whichever method the wise of the world have taken to guide humanity, whether with the limited idea of God opposed by another power, Satan, or with the other idea that God is all powerful, the only Being, it has always been wisdom's work to bring man to that pitch where he can understand life more perfectly. No doubt when we give a place to a power for wrong, for evil, when we picture it as a personality and call it a devil, we certainly limit the power of the One whom we always call almighty. Nevertheless, it is picturesque, it is more comprehensible and tangible to believe in the God of good and in the Lord of evil.

As to the idea of what is called heaven and hell – for our comprehension these are two places: one where a person is punished, the other where he is exalted, where he is happy, where he is rewarded. This idea is clear, but where do we experience all unhappiness and sorrow and discomfort, and where do we experience all pleasure and happiness and joy? Is it not on the same earth? It is under the same sun. This explains to us that those two places were shown to us as different because we are capable only of seeing them as two different places. The wise of the world, at any time of the world's civilization, could not do better than to make the subtle ideas of life as simple and comprehensible to man as possible.

For instance, if I were to say that the world of thought and the world of action are different, it would be true. Yet it is the same world in which we live – call it the world of thought – and the very world in which we live is the world of action. It is not only how it is said, but it is also how we look at it. What is said is not wrong but, if we look wrongly at it, it can be wrong. It is not disbelieving in things which is wrong, but believing wrongly is even worse than disbelief: it is the understanding of all things from every point of view which enlightens, not refusing to believe them or to believe them simply. Cannot one's own mind be turned from hell to heaven and from heaven to hell? Cannot one's own life's situation be turned from hell to heaven and from heaven to hell? It is here where one sees the difference and at the same time the oneness of the two.

Now we come to what people call sin and virtue. In all ages they have pointed out, 'This particular thing is sin, that particular thing is virtue'. Whenever the wise have done it they have done it rightly, and yet they differ from one another. If a greater light is thrown upon this subject it is possible to view sin in the light of sin and also to view sin in the light of virtue. Very often one can also see that under the cover of virtue there was a sin, and under the cover of sin there was a virtue.

When people came to Christ accusing a person of wrongdoing the Master did not think of anything else but forgiveness, for he did not see in that person what the others saw. Looking at right and wrong is not the work of an ordinary mind, and it is amusing that the more ignorant a person, the more ready he is to distinguish between right and wrong. Very often it is the angle from which we view a thing that makes it right or wrong, and therefore the very thing that we would call wrong, if we were able to see it from different angles, we would call right at the same time.

When people say that they distinguish between right and wrong by their results, even then they cannot be sure if in the punishment there was not a reward, or in the reward a punishment. What does this show us? It shows us that life is a puzzle of duality. The pairs of opposites keep us in an illusion and make us think, 'This is this, and that is that'. At the same time by throwing a greater light upon things we shall find in the end that they are quite different from what we had thought.

Seeing the nature and character of life the Sufi says that it is not very important to distinguish between two opposites. What is most important is to recognize that One which is hiding behind it all. Naturally after realizing life the Sufi climbs the ladder which leads him to unity, to the idea of unity which comes through the synthesis of life, by seeing One in all things, in all beings.

You may believe that the world has evolved, that humanity has always evolved, or you may believe that it has gone up and then down, going round and round in circles, or whatever may be your belief. But in whatever age the wise were born, they have always believed the same: that behind all is oneness, and in the understanding of that oneness is wisdom. A person who awakens to the spirit of unity, a person who sees the oneness behind all things – his point of view becomes different and his attitude therefore changes. He no longer says to his friend, 'I love you because you are my friend'; he says, 'I love you because you are myself'. He says, as a mystic would say, 'Whether you have done wrong or whether I have done wrong, it does not matter. What is wanted is to right the wrong'.

Question: If I have well understood your philosophy and idea of religion it seems to me that it starts from doubt, not making a distinction between good and evil, sin and virtue, justice and injustice. Do you seek to establish a triangle system on which you seek to find the center of gravity?

Answer: Yes, you are quite right, but I do not mean that we start by not distinguishing between the two. We do not need to start by it, because life starts by distinguishing between the two; life starts us in this way. If we did not distinguish between the two and we arrived at that conception of unity of which I have spoken, we would be missing a great deal in life. It is after distinguishing these that, without becoming congested, we may come to the idea of unity which raises us above it all. For instance, when a person says, 'I will not look at the fault of another' and closes his eyes, he has missed a great deal. But the one who has seen it and risen above it has really closed his eyes; he is the person who deserves to close his eyes from the other side.

The purpose of our life on earth is to come and see all the distinctions and all the differences, but not to be congested by them and so to be thrown downwards. We should go on rising above them all, at the same time experiencing them all. For instance a man may say, 'I have never thought about anyone who has done me any good, and I have never considered any harm that has ever come to me from anyone; I have always had just that one idea before me and after that idea I kept going'. He may be advanced, he may be spiritual, he may be pious, and yet he has missed a great deal. But the one who has received all the good that has come to him with grateful thanks and felt it, and who has also felt the harm done to him and forgiven and pardoned it, he is the one who has seen the world and is going beyond with success.

Question: What do you mean exactly by the idea of God?

Answer: Everything in the world can be defined except one, and that is the idea of God. If it could be defined it could not be the idea of God – and that is God. Because God is greater than His name and higher than our comprehension of Him. It is our fault to call Him God, but if we would not call Him God then what would we call Him? By giving a name to the nameless, by making a conception of Someone who is beyond conception we only make Him limited. At the same time when we would not do it, we would not do what we ought to do. The idea is that in order to respect a great man we ought to have a conception of greatness, and this conception is not that person, it is the idea we have made of that person.

If there are twenty admirers of a great personality each one of them has his own conception of that personality, I might say that each one of the twenty has his special great person. Therefore there are twenty great personalities instead of one, and only the one name makes the twenty persons unite in it. If the Hindus have said, 'So many men, so many Gods', it was not an exaggeration; it expressed only the idea that every man has his God in his conception, and each one – if he can ever express it – can best express his own conception of God. It is necessary first to have a conception of God in order to reach that stage where comes a realization of Him. If a person does not have a conception of God he cannot have the realization of Him. I mean to say: fuller realization of Him. If a person does not think a personality great, he will not see into the greatness of that personality; he must first have the conception that in him there is something great. In other words we first make our God before we come to the realization of Him.

Question: What do you mean by 'God has no opposite'?

Answer: There is the sun and there is the moon, there is man and woman, there is night and there is day. The colors are distinguished by their variety and so are the forms. Therefore to distinguish anything there must be its opposite; where there is no opposite we cannot distinguish. There must be health in order to distinguish illness; if there were no health and only illness then it would not have been illness.

Furthermore in ancient times many have tried to help the imagination of the God-seekers by giving them a belief in a Satan: that God is all goodness and Satan all badness. It was to answer those who could not understand better. In reality badness is only the shadow of goodness; as shadow is nonexistent, so evil is non-existent. There is always going forwards. What is left behind – that is less good; what we gain in the journey forwards – that is more good.

When we compare them then we call one thing evil and the other good. Therefore people have called the devil all evil, to whom one should turn one's back, and God all goodness, to whom one should turn one's face. It was a convenient method to teach the people of those times. In reality God has no comparison. No doubt God can be compared if we make God good, as many do. But if we have a wider conception of God we cannot confine God to what we call goodness. What is our idea of goodness? It is very small. Perhaps it is good for us, but it is not something to judge God with.

God is not kind only to a few, to those who are good. We can see that He sends the rain to all the trees and plants, not to a few only; the sun shines upon all, all are given food – because His kindness is perfect.

Question: How could the almighty God allow so much bloodshed in the recent war?

Answer: The answer to this question is that nothing that gives pain and causes harm through life is from God. It comes from the limited, not from the unlimited. In essence it is God power which is working through all powers, but when analyzed it is the power called Qadr working through human beings which has been wasted through these wars causing so much bloodshed and disturbance in the whole cosmos and disharmony in all spheres on this planet.

God is not to be blamed for this. It is we human beings who are at fault; instead of seeking the pleasure of God we have sought our own pleasures. It is beyond the power of man to judge the actions of God from his own moral standard and from his limited point of view. A just person will certainly accept the fact that it takes a long time and much practice to develop the sense of justice which after a great many tests and trials makes man just, and it is not the man who is ready to weigh and measure the action of his fellow man and to form an opinion who is really just. No man with any sense may dare try to trace the cause of war to the divine Spirit of God, when the whole life on earth is laid before us like an open book wherein we can read distinctly its true cause.

Question: As evil cannot come out of good, how came the wickedness and miseries of humanity?

Answer: The miseries and wickedness of humanity did not come from good, but good came out of wickedness and miseries. If it was not for wickedness and miseries and wrong we would not have appreciated what good and right means. It is these two opposite poles which make us distinguish between the two. If there had been just one thing, we would have called it goodness or wickedness, but it would have been just one. Calling it by two different names helps us to distinguish them.

Many have been cross with God for having sent any misery in their lives – but we always get such experiences! Becoming cross one says, 'Why, this is not just', or 'This is not right', and 'How could God who is just and good allow unjust things to happen?' But our sight is so limited that our conception of right and wrong and good and evil is only for us – not according to God's plan. It is true that, as long as we see it as such, it is so for us and for those who look at it from our point of view, but when it comes to God the whole dimension is changed, the whole point of view is changed.

It is therefore that the wise in all ages, instead of trying to judge the actions of God, have so to speak put aside their sense of justice for the time being and have learned only one thing, and that was resignation to the will of God. By doing this they have come to an understanding which was the greatest blessing in their lives: that they could see from the point of view of God. But if they would express that point of view before the world, the world would call them mad. Therefore they have called themselves Muni, which means the people who keep silent.

Question: Why do people who do evil, who do wrong, succeed, while there are people who do right without ever succeeding?

Answer: That is not a rule. The rule is that the one who succeeds through wrong will only succeed through wrong; by doing right he will fail. The one who succeeds by right will always succeed by doing right; if he does wrong he will fail. Furthermore for him who ascends, all – right and wrong – becomes as steps to ascend and for him who descends, all – good or evil – becomes a step to descend. Yet what is consoling is that this takes one to the ideal: there must be an ideal before one in order to ascend; then even one's error will help.

For instance, when a person is to be cured, both taking medicine and not taking medicine will help him towards his cure. And the one who is not meant to be cured, neither medicine nor its absence will help him. It teaches us to find out what we are seeking, what is our ideal. Do we ascend? How do we descend? A picture of this is a person who is climbing a staircase. If he is going upwards and his foot slips, even then he will go upwards because he is bound to go upwards. The one who is going downwards, if he slips, will go down because he is bound to go down. There is no man in this world who can say, 'I am faultless' Does this mean that he is not destined to reach what he is bound to reach?

It is a great pity if a person does right or good because he wants to progress or to become spiritual, for what is goodness after all? It is a very small price to pay for spirituality. And the man who depends upon his goodness to attain spirituality may just as well wait a thousand years, for it is just like the picture of a man who is collecting all the sand he can to make a hill in order to mount to heaven. If one is not good for the love of goodness, if one does not do right for one's love of justice, for one's own satisfaction, there is no meaning in doing right, there is no virtue in doing good.

To be spiritual is to become nothing; to become good is to become something. To be something is like being nothing, but to be nothing is like being all things. It is this claim of being something which hinders the natural perfection. Self effacement is a return to the Garden of Eden.

Question: Is there no risk that a person endeavoring to become selfless will become a prey to all the conditions of life?

Answer: On the contrary, for all strength and wisdom lies in perfection. The absence of perfection is the tragedy of life. The person who holds on to himself is a burden even to the earth. The earth can easily bear mountains upon its back, but the person who is egoistic is heavier. And what happens in the end? His own soul cannot bear that person, and that is why many commit suicide. The claim of the self has become so heavy upon the soul that the soul wants to depart from it. A hint was given by Jesus Christ when he said, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit'. What does poor in spirit mean? It means the ego that is effaced.

checked 10-Nov-2006