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Volume XIV - The Smiling Forehead

Part II - The Deeper Side of Life

Chapter XIX
The Soul, its Origin and Unfoldment

WHEN WE look at life and the process of its development either from a mystical or from a scientific point of view, we shall find that it is one life developing itself through different phases. In other words, there is one vital substance – call it energy, intelligence, force or light, call it God or Spirit – which is forcing its way out from the most dense aspect of nature towards the finest aspect of nature. For instance, by studying the mineral kingdom we shall find a life in it which is forcing its way out. When we look at it scientifically we shall find that from the mineral kingdom come substances such as gold and silver and precious stones, which means that there is a process by which the mineral becomes finer, finer and finer, until it begins to show that the spirit is radiance, intelligence, beauty, and that it even manifests through the precious stones.

This is a scientific point of view. When we come to a mystical point of view we see that if we go among the rocks, if we stand in the mountains, if we go into the solitude where there is no one else, we are alone and begin to feel an upliftment, we begin to feel a sense of peace, a kind of at-one-ment with the rocks, hills and mountains. What is it? It is that the spirit which is in us is the same in the mountains and rocks. That spirit is buried in the rocks and less buried in ourselves. But it is the same spirit, and that is why we are attracted to mountains. Mountains are not as living as we are, and therefore we are more attracted to them than they to us.

Besides, what can we give to mountains? Our lack of peace, discord, our inharmony, our limitations. What can the mountains give us? Harmony, peace, calmness, quietude, a sense of patience, of endurance. What do they inspire us with? The idea that they have been waiting perhaps for thousands of years for an unfoldment which comes by the development of nature from rock to plant, from plant to animal, from animal to man.

It is this whole gradual unfoldment of the spirit which is buried in all these different aspects of nature and at each step from rock to plant, from plant to animal, and from animal to man – the spirit is able to express itself more freely, is able to move more freely. In this way the spirit finds itself in the end. What does it show? It shows that there is one purpose working through the whole creation. The rocks are working out the same destiny as man, the plants are growing towards the same goal as man. What is that goal? Unfoldment. The spirit is buried in the creation and wants to make its way out. At each step of evolution there is a new unfoldment, a greater opening.

From the animal, Darwin says, man has come. It might have seemed at the time that it was a new scientific discovery, but it was not so. There are proofs of this in books of Persian poets. A poet who lived seven hundred years before Darwin says in his poetic terms, in a religious form, that God slept in the rock, dreamed in the plant, awoke in the animal, and realized Himself in man. Perhaps this poet has not said in detail from where man has come, but he has given his outlook so many years before. And twelve hundred years ago the Prophet Muhammad in giving the Quran has expressed the same: that first was the rock, from that came the plant, afterwards the animals and from them man was created.

Now the difference between the scientific or biological point of view and the mystical or prophetic point of view is this: a materialistic scientist says, 'Here is a rock. By a process of development a kind of life has come to it. Then vibrations increased. From animals came man; man is a developed animal. So from perfect denseness intelligence has developed'. The mystical conception is different. A mystic does not trace the origin of life in the rock; he traces it in spirit. One may ask, 'What is spirit?' Spirit is intelligence. One might think, 'We do not see intelligence in a rock, in animals'. The answer is that we must first distinguish between spirit and matter, understand what difference there is between the two. Spirit is finer matter, matter is dense spirit. In other words, water is snow and snow is water. When water is not frozen it is water and when frozen it is snow; when heated again it becomes water. It is the same with spirit and matter. There are many in this world inclined to say, 'Matter does not exist'. It is easy to say, but difficult to prove. Besides, is that not only a conception? Others say, 'Spirit does not exist'. What is needed is to understand the relation between the two and the difference between the two.

When I was traveling to America there was a young Italian with me on the ship. Looking at me he thought that I was a priest, and being himself an atheist he began to ask me, 'What is your belief?' I said, 'Nobody can tell his belief, it cannot be put into words. But may I ask what is yours? Perhaps you can explain it better'. 'Well', said he, 'I believe in eternal matter'. 'Then my belief is not very far from yours. What you call eternal matter, I call eternal spirit. The dispute is over words; if you do not stick to preconceived words there is no difference'. 10

Many in this world argue over words. If one reaches the sense no dispute is left. If someone sees the eternal aspect in matter which is ever changing, let him call it eternal. It does not matter, it is the eternal aspect of life we are looking for.

Now we come to the idea of the mystic's conception of the soul. The mystic sees a development of material life from rock to plant, from plant to animal and from animal to the human physical body. That is one thing, it is a part of the mystical conception. Then there is something else: the divine Spirit, the Light, the Intelligence, the All-Consciousness. The first part makes the earth, the other makes heaven; it is that Sun, the divine Spirit shining and projecting its rays – and each ray becomes a soul. It is therefore not true to say that man has come out of a monkey. One is degrading the finest specimen of nature that God has created by calling it an improvement of a monkey. It is a materialistic, limited conception. The soul comes direct from the divine Spirit, it is intelligence itself, it is consciousness. But it is not the consciousness we know, for we never experience the pure existence of our consciousness. What we know of our consciousness is what we are conscious of; so we only know the name consciousness and do not know what it is in reality.

There is no difference between pure intelligence and consciousness. We call pure intelligence consciousness when that intelligence is conscious of something. But what we are conscious of is something that is before us. We are not that: we are the being who is conscious, not that which we are conscious of. The mistake is that we identify ourselves with what we see, because we do not see ourselves. Therefore, because he does not know himself, man naturally calls his body himself; as he cannot find himself, what he identifies himself with is his body. In reality man is not his body, man is his soul. The body is something man possesses; it is his tool, his instrument with which he experiences life, but the body is not himself. Since he identifies himself with his body, he naturally says, I live', I die', I am happy', I am unhappy', 'I have fallen', 'I have risen'. Every condition of his limited and changeable body makes him think, 'I am this'. In this way he loses the consciousness of the never-changing aspect of his own being.

The soul is the ray which in order to experience life needs this instrument: the vehicles of body and mind. The soul with its two vehicles, body and mind, could be called spirit – that other word we use for soul. Through the body it experiences outward conditions, through the mind it experiences inner conditions of life. So the soul experiences two spheres, the physical and the mental sphere: the mental sphere through the mind, and the physical sphere through the body with its five senses.

When we come to the evolution of the world according to the point of view of the mystic, we shall see that it is not man who has come from the plant, the animal and the rock. But man has taken his body, his physical instrument, from the rock, from the animal, from the plant. He himself has come direct from the spirit and is directly joined to the spirit. He is, and always will be, above this instrument which he has borrowed from the earth. In other words, man is not the product of the earth but man is the inhabitant of heavens. It is his body which he has borrowed from the earth. Because he has forgotten his origin, the origin of his soul, he has taken the earth for his origin, but this is only the origin of his body and not of his soul.

Now we come to the law of gravitation, of which many say that it is a theory which was not known to the ancients. I say that the law of gravitation was already explained thousands of years earlier, even by Buddha, and in the Quran we find a Sura saying that the soul has come from God and is bound for Him. What science tells today is that the body of clay which has come from the earth is attracted to the earth because of the law of gravitation: earth attracts earth. But prophets and mystics and seers and sages always knew and taught that the soul is attracted to the Spirit. In other words, by the law of gravitation the body is attracted to the earth and the soul to the Spirit. When a person is unaware of this he only knows of one attraction which is of the earth. Then he does not know of the other attraction, and that does not help to give release to the soul, for the soul is attracted to the Spirit.

If it were a virtue to be spiritual – if it were only a virtue – I would be the first person to refuse it. But it is the greatest necessity of the soul; we cannot help it. Very often people think, 'Is it necessary to be spiritual? What do we gain by it?' We do not need to gain anything by it, it is a natural attraction, we cannot help it! Those who are conscious of it begin to look for it. Those who are not conscious of it are unconsciously attracted to something which they do not know.

During my travelings of so many years through East and West I have met most intelligent people, maybe not at all religious, not interested in spiritual subjects, and at the same time, after having become more familiar with them, what have I found? There was a secret seeking. Outwardly it is out of fashion to think about spirituality, but inwardly they were all the time seeking for it. In schools the name of God and any mention made of religion has been erased from the textbooks. Nevertheless, scientists come who after all the research of science begin to think about these things. They themselves would like to avoid it, but they cannot help it. When people ask, 'Did you find response during your travelings in the Western world?', I say, 'Whether it is West or East, North or South, there is response from every man. Maybe he does not know it, but every man in the world is my customer'.

Every man has interest as soon as one tells him about life and its deeper side. No doubt some are sleeping, some are half awake, and some on the point of awaking. It is those on the point of awaking who must be helped. Those who are half awake – let them awake; they will see. Those who sleep – after their sleep is over they will wake up and look for it. It is cruel to wake up a person. If he does not care for food, let him sleep; when he awakes he will feel hungry, he will ask for food. That is the time to give it to him.

Now we come to the question of the soul's natural unfoldment towards spiritual attainment. Spirituality apart, at every stage in one's life – infancy, the time from infancy to childhood, from childhood to youth, from youth to middle age – at every step further there is a new consciousness. Childhood is quite a new consciousness compared to infancy; youth is quite a different consciousness compared to childhood. If that is true then every soul, no matter in what stage of life he is, has gone through so many different unfoldments which have given him a new consciousness every time, whether he knows about it, whether he thinks about it, or not.

There are experiences such as failure in business, or misfortune, or illness, or a certain blow in one's life, whether an affair of the heart or of money or a social affair, whatever it may be – there are blows which fall upon a person and a shell breaks, a new consciousness is produced. Very few will see it is an unfoldment, very few will interpret it as such, but it is so. Have you not seen among your acquaintances how a person with a disagreeable nature, a most uninteresting man to whom you were never attracted, perhaps after a blow, a deep sorrow, after some experience, awakened to a new consciousness and suddenly attracted you, because he had gone through this process? As we unfold at every step in our life, so we do with every experience. The deeper the experience touches us, the greater the unfoldment. In this way we unfold gradually towards that which is called perfection.

Spiritual unfoldment is the ultimate goal of every person. It comes at a moment when a man begins to be more thoughtful, when he begins to remember or to realize this yearning of the soul. Then consciously or unconsciously a feeling comes, 'Is this all I have to do in my life: to earn money? Whether I have a high rank or a position, it is all a play. I have become tired of this play. I should think of something else. There is something else I have to attain'. This is the beginning; it is the first step on the spiritual path. As soon as a person has taken this first step his outlook has changed, the value of things becomes different and things to which he had attached great importance become of less importance; things with which he concerned himself so much he no longer concerns himself with. A kind of indifference comes. Nevertheless, a thoughtful person keeps to his duty just the same; he is even more conscientious and this brings about a greater harmony, because he begins to pity others.

When he goes another step forward there comes bewilderment. He begins to wonder, 'What is it all? Much ado about nothing!' It gave me much to think about when once I saw in India a sage whom I knew to be very deep, a man of high attainment, who was laughing at nothing. I wondered what he was laughing at. Then I stood there and looked around myself, thinking, 'I must see from his point of view what makes him laugh so much', and I saw persons hustling and bustling. For what? Was it not laughable? Every person thinking his particular point of view to be the most important, pushing others away because he finds his action the most important! Is it not the picture of life? It is the way of the evolved and the unevolved. And what do they reach? Nothingness! Empty-handed they leave this world; they come without anything, and they go without anything. It is this outlook which gives the soul bewilderment. He does not feel proud to laugh at others, but it is no doubt amusing. As much as he is amused at others, he is amused at himself.

When a person goes another step forward an understanding comes that changes his outlook and manner. Generally what happens is this: from morning till evening he reacts against every good and bad thing. But good he sees very rarely and bad things he always sees, or he meets someone who is nervous and excited, or dominant or selfish, and so all the time a continually jarring effect comes from everyone he meets. Then without knowing it his continual reaction is of despise, of hatred; the thought to get away is all the time before him. If he can say, 'I don't like', 'I dislike', he can say it from morning till evening with everyone he meets, for there is rarely one person about whom he will not say such words. And this reaction he expresses in words or thought, by feeling or action.

When one reaches this third stage, the stage of understanding, one begins to understand instead of reacting. Then there is no reaction: understanding comes and suppresses it. It is just like a boat which is anchored; it produces tranquility, stillness, weight in the personality. It does not move with every wind that blows, but stays like a heavy ship on the water, while a light ship moves with every wave that comes. That stability a person reaches in this third stage of unfoldment; he is ready to tolerate, to understand both the wise and the foolish – all.

Is it not amusing to think that the foolish person disagrees more with others than the wise? One would think that he knows more than the wise one. The wise one agrees with both the foolish and the wise; he is ready to understand everybody's point of view. It may not be his idea, his way of looking, but he is capable of looking at things from the point of view of others. It is not one eye that sees fully; to make the vision complete two eyes are needed, and so the wise one can see from two points of view. If we do not keep away our own thoughts and preconceived ideas, if we cannot be passive and desirous of seeing from the point of view of another, we make a great mistake. This third stage gives a tendency to understand every person we meet.

Then again there is a fourth stage of unfoldment. In this stage we not only understand, but sympathize; we cannot help but sympathize, for we can see that life in the world is nothing but limitation. Whether a person is rich, in a high position, or in a wretched condition – whatever condition he is in, or whatever he is – he has to experience this limitation and that itself is a great misery. Every person therefore has his problem before him, and when we begin to see that every person on this earth has a certain problem and weight to carry through life, we cannot help but sympathize.

The one who can awake to the pain of mankind, whether it is his friend or his foe, cannot help sympathizing with him. Then he develops an outgoing tendency; he has always a feeling that he should go out to every person he meets and then, naturally, by his sympathy he looks for good points, for when one looks at a person without sympathy one will always touch his worst point.

When one goes a step further still, then a way is open to communicate. Just as there is a communication between persons who love each other very much, so the sympathy of a person whose soul has unfolded itself is so awakened that not only every person but even every object begins to reveal its nature, its character and secret. To him every man is a written letter.

We hear stories of saints and sages who talked with rocks and plants and trees. They are not only stories; it is reality. It is also told of the apostles that at the moment when the Spirit descended upon them they began to speak many languages. When they understood so many languages, they understood the language of every soul. It means that the illuminated soul understands the language of every soul. And every soul has its own language. It is that which is called revelation.

All the teachings that the great prophets and teachers have given are only interpretations of what they have seen. They have interpreted in their own language what they have read from the manuscript of nature: that trees and plants and rocks spoke to them. Did nature only speak to those in the past? No, the soul of man is always capable of that bliss if he only realized it. Once the eyes of the heart are open, man begins to read every leaf of the tree as a page of the sacred Book.

10. The reasons for maintaining this personal recollection which already appeared in Chapter VIII of the present volume, 'Spirituality, the Tuning of the Heart', have been explained in the preface to Sufi Teachings, Volume VIII revised, page X.

checked 10-Nov-2006