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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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