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Biography, Autobiography, Journal and Anecdotes

Part III - Journal and Anecdotes

East and West

I found among the different classes in the West three divisible parts: the upper class or "society", the middle class or the intellectual, and the working class, and found the middle class to be the most interesting and promising, good in their morals, energetic, enthusiastic and all-round in their knowledge. The upper class with all its fineness and culture seemed to be on the decline. The working class most eager to advance, impatient to mount to the top, most powerful owing to their organized unions, and desperate in bettering their position through life.

In the West I found a storm rising, disturbing in all different classes, which culminated in the war and upset so many nations and is continuing its disastrous effects still now. The present method of progress in the Occident seems to me quite contrary to what it ought to be. Instead of efforts being made by the people who are more evolved to raise the people who are not yet evolved much, the efforts are continually made by the latter to pull down to their own level the former. When the head is too proud to greet the feet, the feet rise in the place of the head and use the head in the place of the feet. Today the picture of the world is just like a marketplace, where every seller is pulling the customers by their garments, more so that it has ever been before; for civilization is known to be a commercial and industrial development. The tradesman just now has his eyes on the face of his customer and his heart in his purse. Profession in the West, in spite of all the development and culture, is mainly directed to earning money, which naturally destroys the brotherly love for mankind, taking away at the same time the nobility of spirit in the professional world. It is an ever increasing cupidity from every side, which is no fault of the people, but is owing to the modern education. There must be something to live for; if it is no high ideal, then the earth becomes the only ideal in life, the ideal which is too poor in itself with all its riches and yet full of limitation.

Once they thought the religious magic of the Church took away all that people had, but now the temptation that the industrial and commercial activities offer, attracts the fancy of men, and women especially, to the everchanging fashions, thus making life harder and harder every day. Besides, all the means of frivolity and gaiety that the theatres and hotels supply for the merriment for the people, remind me of the Rajas in the East, whose downfall was caused by such things. But in the East, only some few could afford to experience that life which now in the Western world is within the means of almost all.

It is the artificiality of life which has caused a general misery in the West. The people in the West have outgrown simplicity, and now it is hard for them even to imagine life any other than the life they know, which mostly is the cause of the misery of woman in the world. Man, having so much to do in the world, becomes less inclined to home life. Thereby life in general suffers. However, the progress in the Western world is mostly due to the work of man and woman hand in hand, and the lack of the same is the reason of the backwardness of the East.

There is much to be said about woman in the West. She is courageous, patient, efficient, and capable, not only of home duties but of doing all work in life. Yes, she is less concerned with home, as compared to an Eastern woman, but her duties are divided, she has a part of duty to perform outside. Woman is idealized in the East, but in the West her vanity is sustained. A lover in the West knows how to woo; a lover in the East knows how to long. Woman's life in the West I found nearly as hard as in the East, perhaps harder, for in the East woman is more protected by man. In the West she stands responsible for herself, at home and outside the home, and it is that which makes her strong in every way. Nevertheless, this blunts her feminine qualities and develops male qualities. Some women are inclined to cut their hair short, and some to smoke cigarettes. Some are inclined to rough games and crude ways of recreation. Woman thinks by this she stands equal to man, ignorant of the fact that she becomes less attractive to him, who completes her life. Whereas in the East under the shelter of man the feminine qualities of woman develop freely and her womanly charm is maintained. Woman by nature is spiritually inclined, in the East or West. But especially in the West, where the life of man is mostly absorbed in business and politics, it is woman who interests herself in religion, even in philosophy and all works pertaining to God and humanity. The spirit of the Western woman with which she fights her battle all along through life, is most splendid.

There is no line of work or study which woman in the West does not undertake and does not accomplish as well as man. Even in social and political activities, in religion, in spiritual ideas, she indeed excels man. The charitable organizations existing in different parts of the West, are mostly supported by the women, and I see as clear as daylight that the hour is coming when woman will lead humanity to a higher evolution.

The country which is commercially developed is alone considered to be civilized. Moral or spiritual progress has no recognized standard. The chivalry of the knights is now a story of the past, personality is not observed, but authority. I was very amused once to hear a so-called democrat commit himself to the opinion that: "It is the moneyed people who must have the charge of money, for only they know how to make use of it to its best advantage."

Besides business there is education, which consists of science, but that also is held by commerce, which holds in one hand science and in the other hand art. The modern reform which has sprung out of the abandonment of the Church, is the cause why an intelligent person in the West, as a rule, discards anything spiritual. Not only in a man engaged in commerce and industry, but even in an artist, a scientist, a musician, and a literary man it is seen. He seems to guard himself and his profession from a spiritual stain, as one would guard his beautiful clothes from getting spotted by something undesirable. I do not mean all, but many; whereas in the East a poet or musician apart, even a business man, an industrial person desires to link up his life and work with religion and spirituality. Therefore even in the folklore of India a spiritual re-echo is perceived.

Art and literature suffer in the East, owing to the lack of support. People in the East are accustomed to think that an art is a gift of God, painting, poetry, or music, any art; and art is its own reward. They praise it, but seldom think how the artist must live. Whereas, in the West, commercialism, in spite of all its disadvantages, has taught them how to give and take. Art, poetry and music, therefore, in the West, are more or less maintained, but in the East, are starved and neglected.

The West may be waking to the beauty of Eastern poetry, but it will take years for the West to waken to the beauty of India's music; but I am afraid by that time India will have lost its song.

The Western music represents Western life; in the orchestra many instruments play together, in a social gathering many people speak together, whereas in the East one person sings at a time or plays his instrument singly, and in their gatherings one talks and others listen silently.

It amused me very much in my country to see how readily friends requested me to sing a song, giving them an example of something in a moment which took years to practice. And it amused me still more in the West when friends said so easily: "But tell me, how does one arrive at spirituality?" As if it was something I could count on my fingers and tell them instantly.

Politics, which were once based upon morals and spiritual ideals, have now commercialism as their central theme. Alliance between nations exists for the interest of each; therefore those who are friends in one situation turn enemies on another occasion. For there is no moral ideal to hold humanity together in a bond, except the treaties made for the protection of their own interest. And the East to the West politically is like a milk-cow to the husbandman, a point of view which is supported by Darwin's theory that the world is the survival of the fittest.

As many courts there are, so many more lawyers and as many prisons are made, so many more criminals, ready to occupy them. A time has come when the word of man has much less value than a six-penny stamp. Divorce is getting easier, if not by law, without law. Marriage is becoming a private business affair. A love affair today is considered less than a friendship, for man loves with his head, rather than with his heart. And the cause of all this degeneration is the absence of the spiritual ideal which keeps hearts shallow and souls in obscurity.

The Western man in the spiritual path wishes to know first "What will it lead to? Where will be the resting place? And what will be the destination? What profit shall I get by the enterprise? And how long will it take?" As the spiritual path is inexplicable in the words of the human tongue, which is only made to express things of the external life, his exacting faculty remains unsatisfied. In the East the traveler in the spiritual path knows already what path it is, and it is his love for that path which makes him seek the guide. Therefore the guide need not try to create the interest for it in his heart. In the West before a person chooses a path he wants to know if that path is an authorized one, a recognized one, if others also tread that path, otherwise he cannot very well have faith in it. In the East a man takes whatever path he thinks best for him; if everybody in the world says to him, "That is not the path", he will still say, "That is my path." Pir-i-man khas ast eteqad-i-man bas ast. (If my Pir-Guide is worth a straw, my faith in him is sufficient.)

What I remarked especially in the West is the absence of the tolerance of the East toward the life of a faqir. No man in the East, especially in India, with some sense would ever dare judge a sage. For he knows that every person has his right or wrong peculiar to him and no one has a right to weigh the action of another, especially that of a sage, who, owing to his spiritual growth is entitled to more freedom than the average man. For freedom is a sign of evolution. The child is not free to do what his elders can, so a soul who is not yet evolved has certain laws to follow strictly, whereas the evolved souls are at their evolved stage beyond the ordinary standard of law. Today man understands this with regard to worldly power, position or rank, but not with regard to spiritual evolution. In the West man thinks less of a spiritual person than in the East, but asks more of him.

If a Western person looks up to someone as his spiritual ideal, as a rule he expects his ideal to live up to the picture he has made of him; and the moment he finds that his ideal has not shown in life the picture made by his own imagination, he becomes disappointed and his ideal breaks. Whereas when an Eastern person considers someone as his spiritual ideal he is always willing to take him as he is, and before judging him he tries to understand him. So in the former case the ideal must follow the devotee, in the latter the devotee follows his ideal. In the East, if a man is so evolved that he has the realization of a saint, everything that he does unfolds his soul; and in everything the vision of God is revealed to him; yet he still goes on in the religious path in the same humble attitude as his fellow men, so that he may not spoil the faith of those who have the journey yet to accomplish.

Since the time of the Reformation a wave has come in the West causing every soul to think that he has advanced further than his forefathers did in the past and this is so in all walks of life, and he has sufficient reasons for believing it. However, in the question of the spiritual path the same attitude can never be profitable, and even if it may seem profitable in the case of one individual, it certainly must prove disadvantageous in the lives of many. When a man thinks, "I have outgrown my religion or a certain standard of morals", even if he has outgrown it, still by saying so and by acting differently, he must surely confuse those who are walking with him on the same path and yet have not reached the distance to which he has reached.

Individualistic progress is so far allowed as a man's inner advancement is concerned; but as to the outward actions uniformity is needed, which is not at all difficult for a Western man, for Western civilization shows uniformity in all walks of life, yet sometimes fails to bring this light to bear upon religion.

The Western young man looks back upon his ancestors as on a lower level of evolution than he is now at present. On the contrary in the East a person considers his ancestors much better than himself, higher in evolution, greater in their principles. While the former wants to reject their ways and terms it a revolution, the latter wants to follow their footsteps calling it idealization. It is difficult to judge these two opposite tendencies as both seem to have their advantages and disadvantages. The wrong of either of the parties is that one depreciates the past, the other the present.

It seems to be in the character of some people in the West that they may show a great appreciation to religion, more so to their forefathers' belief, and yet one cannot say when they will have a revolt against it, as it comes like a fit. Some keep it back in order to maintain their religious belief. It seems to be a result of the impression upon the Western mentality made by the Reformation, of which the generality is unconscious. Whereas in the East it is quite the contrary. They get a fit of revolt against material life which is now to be seen in the Indian mentality.

The remarkable tendency one sees in the East and West is that, however small a person in the East, his desire is to be or act like a king, and however great a person in the West, even if he be a king, he tries to act like a workman. The Kaiser who often used to cut wood as a recreation, was not an exception among the royalties of Europe. A millionaire in America does not mind in the least running on the platform to catch a train, with a leather bag in his hand. Whereas in the East a nobleman who will be starving in his house would always avoid walking among the crowd.

I very often remember, newspaper reporters in the United States used to come and would speak with me on different subjects and would be very much impressed by the ideas, and next day a very ugly article would appear in the paper. I had great hopes after their response. One day I saw a reporter after having seen his article. I said, "I had a great hope, in you I found such an understanding." He said, "You are quite right. I was very interested and I am still interested. (That is why I came to you.) But when I took it before my superior officer he said, "It is too sweet, it is too good for the man in the street. Even the President must read this paper. That is why we want to keep every man on the lowest level." And it is a great pity. For instance a young writer develops a sense of beauty in his writing. He takes it to the agent who sends the writing to the magazines. He looks at it and the first thing he says, "It will not take." That means: it is very nice. He has no fault to find with it, only it will not take. He is looking at it from the point of view of the mind that will read it. He wants to bring that great gift to the penny paper level. This shows that mankind is always dragging back. The soul's progress toward spirituality is always dragged back from every side And the one who will make progress in the path of beauty will have to make a great many sacrifices in order to keep to his point of view.

At the present time the world is becoming very commercial even to such an extent that, absorbed in commercialism, it overlooks the sense of beauty. In other words the sense of beauty is being sacrificed to commercialism. But at the same time in commercialism there is no purpose of life accomplished. That which accomplishes the purpose of the soul is in its wakening to beauty in all aspects.

In ancient civilization people had other faults, but this is the fault of the present time. In Rome I met the editor of a paper. I was telling him about the question how much a newspaper can help because today the paper is a medium between the thinking people and those who would follow the thought. And it would be such a great thing, if the newspaper world would take up in their mind as their sacred mission to elevate humanity. "Yes", he said, "that is quite right. But do you know what our education is just now? When we learn to be editors we have to write so many words in such a short time, that is where we begin; and if we do not write as much we cannot pass our examination. And if we write so many words as that, we cannot think, we have no time to think. The only time for us to think is when we are writing." I quite admitted the fact, but at the same time that does not take us any further.

I was once very amused: in Boston a reporter of a newspaper came to me and his first question was: which hall was it where I was going to lecture? I thought the first important question he would have asked would have been, what was the subject that I was going to lecture on? But his most important point was the hall in which I was to lecture. And as unfortunately the hall was not so large as he had anticipated, all the conversation with him and every impression he had, it turned out to be nothing, because the hall was not large enough for the editor to admit the article.

It has been inconceivable to me to see to what extent some people in the Western world could be outspoken. I often wondered if it was to be called honesty. If it was honesty I could not think for a moment that it could be wisdom.

What I found missing in the West is the tendency to keep veiled all that is beautiful, which one finds in the East. In the West every seeking soul wishes to know all in plain words, which makes the idea cut and dry, taking away the beauty of its curve, which in the terms of the Sufi poets is called, "the curls of the beloved". No sooner does a student read something than he is eager to discuss it, he is ready to judge before pondering upon the subject by himself; before touching the depth of an idea he wishes to justify it by weighing it in the scale of his own reason, however sacred the idea be.

Progress to a Western person is going forward and he understands going forward by passing things, leaving them behind and stepping forward into new experiences. The spiritual progress is made on a path quite opposite to the path of the world. It is progress towards one's self, plainly speaking within oneself, and no new experience does one meet with on the way, but one finds all that is known and has been forgotten by one's soul; and in this pursuit in the beginning one does not feel one is progressing, for one finds nothing new.

The thing which greatly amazed me was to see the tenacity in a person in the West. He may be spiritually inclined and may have risen to value the things of the world less, yet he seems to say without saying that, "I know of this physical existence; the other existence of which I know not but of which I am told, with all my desire to attain it I would not purchase it at the cost of what I have." It is so contrary to the idea that Shams Tabriz, the great soul of Persia says: "You desire God and the world both; it is a difficult thing, almost impossible."

A Western seeker takes up the inner cult as a study rather than as a religion. He considers the idea he has as his own and the idea of another foreign, whereas in reality every idea is one's own when possessed by one's mind and every idea is foreign before it is accepted. No idea has ever come from one's soul; all ideas have come from others; but it is human nature to feel the idea one holds in mind to be one's own, and the idea which he has not yet held to be foreign. No idea in reality belongs to anybody.

The religious laws given to the people of the West by the Christian Church have made their moral conception rigid. For the moral principles are given to them cut and dry. Those incapable of following such morals depart from religion; those who follow these principles advance no further than their dry principles of moral, in which there is no beauty nor tenderness to be found. Their virtues may be likened to solid rocks. Whereas in the East, especially among Hindus, there is a science of conscience developed. Their moral conceptions are not like rocks, but like water running in a stream, springing from the heights of the mountains and falling into the arms of the ocean.

The symbolical form of Oriental teaching seems too subtle and vague to the Western mind. The Western person says, "Please speak in plain words." One day a lady was very much annoyed with me, and said to me, "Here I have been attending your lectures for six months and have heard all you have said. It enters in one of my ears and passes out through the other. It all seems to be in a mist; there seems to be nothing to grasp, nothing to hold on to." Once an amusing thought came to me, I thought I would take some good square cut bricks and write upon them "Mystery", and if one asked for an intelligible mystery I would give in their hands one brick, to hold in the hand and tell them: "That is the most intelligible mystery, hold it fast, don't let it drop !" That is the reason why the teachers in the ancient times when they were constantly asked: "But show me where God is", made idols out of rock and placed them in shrines, and with a heavy heart they themselves also had to bow before the hand-made idols.

That is the reason why Sufism is less known to the West than Vedanta. Though Vedanta is deep, it is plainly put in words. But when a person reads Hafiz or any other Sufi poet of Persia, it takes him to a beautiful garden, where they hear nightingales and find the glass of wine and the vain beloved and nothing else. They cannot imagine that it ever can be a religion or a philosophy. Many think it is a beautiful imagery. In reality it is the same Vedanta which is given in Sanskrit more in scientific terms; by the Sufis the same is expressed artistically. For poetry does not mean simply words, poetry is an expression of inner beauty. Many asked me, "What did Omar Khayyam mean by wine and beloved in his Rubaiyat? Did he really mean it or was it something else?" But it was funny enough for me to see in the West some drinking clubs who were named "Omar Khayyam Club" and taverns named after him.

Many Eastern ideas seem severe in the Western mind. Western nature is self-assertive and demanding. That is why spiritual attainment becomes difficult for the people in the West, as it is only attained by self-effacement and self-denial. The idea of crushing the I, to become selfless, to become indifferent to the life around one, to become strong enough to endure different natures around one, to feel that there can never be a judgment in the hereafter, to feel that one must lose oneself in God and to think that this individuality is an illusion and to imagine it to be four days, these things frighten many from a deeper understanding of the philosophical thought of the East. Therefore those who have worked in the West in spreading the spiritual thought have to keep back many deep ideas of philosophy in order to cope with the people. Even the Bible had to be so many times revised and modified to suit the present generation in the West. On the other side there are many facilities which I found in the West which I could not have found in the East. People in the West are as a rule not bigoted in their faith, and therefore there are many who are ready to receive truth from whatever source it may come. They do not always meet with violence a spiritual reformer, be he a moral, political or religious one. What they cannot understand they simply turn their back on. What they like nobody can keep them from, their relations, clergy or friends. They follow it of their free will, except some who are somewhat conscious of the opinion of the society around them. They welcome and respect all the representatives of knowledge, open their door to them to welcome them and invite them to their table. Wisdom being a human inheritance, it is neither Eastern nor Western, and therefore wise and foolish are to be found everywhere, in the East or West; only the difference is that in the East, especially in India, much more importance has been given to the spiritual ideal, to inner life, which is real, whereas in the West, for centuries the progress has been made in the outer direction of life. Having gone opposite ways, it is natural that there should seem to be a difference in their ways.

Man in the East is satisfied with the subjective. The great quality that a man from the West shows, is that he tries to bring all he can from the subjective to the objective. It is in this that he surpasses the Eastern mentality and proves his success in his inventive genius.

In order to unite the people in the West, you must raise a common enemy. In order to unite people in the East, you must have a prophet come.

However the seeking of every soul, either Eastern or Western, is for the Truth, which I have found among many sincere seekers after Truth in the West. Many among my mureeds have shown a great devotion, an openness of heart, a unity without barrier, a friendship which is constant, a spirit of discipleship, which is worthy of regard, and an outlook on life from a mystical point of view. I must admit I have friends in the West whom I consider closer than my own friends and relations in the East, and some with complete confidence in me, which makes me trust them for ever. This, in spite of all differences between the East and West, has convinced me that a good and true person, a thoughtful and wise soul, is the same everywhere, in the East or West.