The Supplementary Papers
The Life of the Sage in the East (2)
When I reflect on the English word 'Sage,' it seems to me that it must come from two different roots – one root is in the Sanskrit language, namely 'swaga,' the other in the Persian language, 'safa,' or 'saga.' The first root means 'heavens,' which suggests that the one who tries to become a sage is the one who tries to attain heaven or himself become it. The other root suggests that a sage is a person who wishes to construct; a person who is constructive. But, of course, there is no such word as 'sage' in the Eastern language. There is a similar word in the East, 'satha,' or 'sant.' This is the same word used in the West as 'saint.' But the word 'sad'h' means 'mastery': that is, 'one who masters life.'
Now there are two different temperaments – the one which is always inclined to be contented with things; to accept everything as it comes; willing to live a sort of retired life – resigned to everything that may happen. Indeed we see this temperament more or less in everyone. The other temperament is one which wishes to master things; the desire to master every situation; to master another person; to master an affair; to act with will power and courage.
There is good and evil in both temperaments, of course. The person who is always retired and resigned and contented with things is not necessarily all good, without any evil in him; nor is the one who controls others and masters circumstances always an ideal one. It is just that there are these two temperaments, and everyone is more or less one or the other. The two words 'sadhu' and 'sant' represent these two temperaments. The sadhu controls and masters things; the 'sant' is resigned and contented in all situations, and under all circumstances of life. He chooses a life of retirement and resignation.
If you were to ask which of the two is superior, I would say that neither is superior or inferior. If you work according to your temperament, that is the natural work for you, whereas if you work against your temperament it is like knocking yourself against a rock, and there is then no hope of progress. But if you do what you are fitted for, and act according to your temperament, there will always be progress. The temperament is neither a virtue, to be acted with, nor something to be overcome, so that one acts against one's own nature. The sage recognizes these two temperaments and uses them accordingly, giving them more rein, and rendering them more evident to the eye of the seer.
He studies how they operate in people's lives, and no doubt it is very interesting to study the lives of the sages in the East from this point of view. Of course, to a stranger to these countries it is mystifying how the different behaviors can belong to sageliness or saintliness, because in the West, people have the idea that a sage must be kindly, retiring, a renounced being, or perhaps even a 'wonder-worker.' Then when such a thing is not evident, it might seem there is something wrong about the sage. To gain a deep understanding of what the saintly life means, much patience and tolerance are required, before one can form a reasonable opinion about the sages in the East. People are apt to be disappointed when they judge from appearances.
We will first take the sages among the Hindus. This race is naturally sage-like. So a Hindu sage may be a Brahmin, a Kshatriya, a Vaisya or even a Shudra (caste). There is a tendency to develop into a sage among all these castes in India. The idea has been worked out in India for thousands of years. It is in the people's blood, in their veins, and the tendency can be seen even in a child. I might tell you how in my own childhood there was the pleasure at being in the presence of a sage. At a time when others liked to play ball, and play with kites, and pigeons, I yearned for retirement. It is as if such a desire had been carried through thousands of years; not only have the sages made their impression on the race, but the race has also been impressed by sageliness. The people have the greatest respect for a sage, the greatest admiration, whether they are in business, or in a profession, or students, or whatever walk in life they follow.
Their greatest joy is to be at the feet of a sage. It is as if one were at the feet of the Deity. So the greatest thing in the world, the highest ideal of life, is to be able some day to become a sage. Not only does the Brahmin feel thus, but also the laborer, the shudra, has the desire some day to be free of his toils, and get a glimpse of that beauty which is hidden in the sage. There are two kinds of Hindu sages: Burhai and the Sant. One is ascetic; the other is like a sage or a saint.
The life of the Burhai is very surprising, very strange, and is a great puzzle to those who meet him. You would be quite afraid of a man who was lying down with ashes rubbed all over his face and body, perhaps sitting almost in a fire. His very appearance looks so strange. He may be living in a grave-yard outside the city, and he goes into the city only to obtain food for himself or his friends, who are Burhais like himself. At other times he goes off into the wilderness and lives there. He spends most of his time in meditation and also gives a great deal of time to the mastery of self. The paths which the Hindus follow are the yogas, of which there are four kinds. There is the path of abstinence, and in this the Burhai strives to develop his spiritual life by abstinence. In following this path, practices may be carried out which seem hideous, or at least very strange to those who do not understand the philosophy or the idea. Whatever it is he does, the object is to reach the spirit by killing everything that hides that spirit from his sight.
One might say that he considers he is the enemy of himself; so he crushes everything that is not spirit, everything that interferes with his spiritual progress. He seeks to kill everything that is mortal within him, realizing that in this way he can attain to a higher and more powerful life. No words can ever describe the experiences which he gains. No one else but himself can possibly understand the experience. It is like asking a child who has never eaten sugar "what does the word 'sweet' mean?" Only those can understand the idea of 'sweet' who have experienced sweetness. So a Burhai is very powerful, as everyone knows. To perform a 'wonder,' all he has to do is to make a flick with his left hand.
His whole life seems to stand before him as his obedient servant; he who sees the Burhai knows he is the master of life. Once one is master of self, one is master of life. The self is what makes our life limited, so when we master it, we master life, all life, in proportion to the extent to which we have attained mastery. Such a one is master even of plants, and trees, and any living being. He has mastered everything. We cannot appreciate this because it is quite unintelligible until one has oneself developed that mastery in one's own life. Then it is possible to see how life seems to be obedient in all manner of relations.
Do we not see, even in our own little experience, how things go wrong when we have become weak in will, or mind, in one affair or another? It is not possible to master the conditions of life until we have learnt to control ourselves. Once we have mastery over self, everything will go right. It is just the same as when a rider has no strength in his fingers, so that he cannot hold the horse's reins. His fingers must obey his mind before the horse will obey. This is true for all circumstances of life with the various conditions around us, our relations, our friends. We may complain that no one listens; that one's servant does not do what we wish him to do; that one's assistants do not carry out our wishes. One may blame them when all the time it is ourselves who are to be blamed, because we have not mastered ourselves first. After that, they would obey.
The Burhai learns this lesson mainly by abstinence. Why is this? Because things go wrong just because of our own weakness; we do not do what we wish to do; we consider ourselves so little that we cannot achieve our own wishes. There are many 'wonder-workers' among sages of the Burhai group. But do not think that they will step out onto a platform and 'perform.' Anyone who gets on a stage to show off 'wonders' is false, not real. The real Burhai aims at his own mastery, and is not concerned with doing 'tricks' for the world to see; so no one sees them. The Burhai's whole life is a 'wonder' in himself, but the whole world is a wonder to him. His vision, his power, his inspiration is so great. But the life is a very hard one. It is a great renunciation.
The other kind of Sage is the Sant. He also grows through four stages. First, the Brahmacharita-ashrama, or stage of study. He uses the intellect. He learns about life by both study and practice. This is an intellectual attainment of knowledge. From this he passes to the Grihastha-ashrama, in which the aspirant goes beyond a service just of one's family. His self-consciousness comes to realize that all he has done for his family so far, has been done for himself, his wife and children. Now he must live for others, for the people of the town, of the country, of the nation, of the race. "I must even do what I can for the whole world." This is the service of humanity; the path of duty.
Finally he arrives at Sanyassi-ashrama, which is a life of retirement and solitude. This is the life of a 'retreat." The man who has lived a life of honesty, virtue, goodness, service, is recognized by wife and children and they appreciate that "now you must be allowed to follow the life of your own choice." They realize it is time for him to go into retreat. He must go into Sanyassi-ashrama. But he does not do this unless his family consents. Before describing this life, I must explain why it is necessary. Why should one not always be 'in the world?' Why the necessity for retirement at the last part of life.
This retirement is only too necessary. In the first place, the man has given up all his life, all his time, all his energy, to the study of worldly things; secondly, he has done all this in the interests of his family, or, perhaps for many people around him. It is right that he should have a rest some day. We ourselves feel justified in resting when Saturday comes, so why should he not have his Sunday after working all his life – a life that is nothing but continual conflict through every moment – proving himself to be wise, and kind and gentle, true, honest, virtuous through it all testing as it does his patience, his virtue, through all the temptations to which he is exposed, through all life's dangers, and difficulties, and humiliations and responsibilities that have to be faced, this man is justified, on reaching the fourth stage of life, in having a little peace – no worries or responsibilities of business, or profession, or even his family. The world should leave him alone to think and meditate and let his muscles, bones, body and mind be at rest.
This is all natural. So you cannot imagine anyone in the East, and especially in India, not longing for the time when he can become a sage, from the time he was born. Whatever he has been doing – profession, business, trade, family – he will have been longing for that moment when he can become a Burhai at last; when he can cast off the load of responsibility that has been on his back all those years. So he has longed for the time when he can give himself to thinking about Truth, having now peace, and rest, and opportunity to communicate with the Eternal Being. He has all the time been hoping for the desire to be granted when "I may have a rest, with time enough to think of God and live that life wherein one becomes capable of being one with God."
However good and beautiful life in the world is, yet how true it is that it leaves so small a margin in which to give oneself to the thought of God and Truth. The daily duties take up every moment of one's time; and even if there is anything left over, there is no end to the worries, and there is disease, and pain and suffering and all manner of other troubles. A good man must have more patience; he has to give in to people more and more. But his troubles will be there all the same. A wicked man has twice the trouble. For he has not only the trouble that comes to a good person, but he has also the trouble that his own wickedness brings about. The load is double.
Seclusion, silence, thoughtfulness, meditation, gentleness – all these make the rhythm of one's life appropriate for receiving inspiration, revelation, communion, for at-one-ment with God. Perhaps you have noticed how things vary on some days. You are busy, enthusiastic with your work on such days, whilst on other days you do not feel spiritually or religiously inclined, because everything you do is a struggle – you feel quite different. On other days you feel more religiously inclined, more desirous of seeking after Truth. The troubles and worries of the world do not bother you so much. Divine things, and higher aspirations, come more natural. How is this? It is just rhythm – your mind, your body, and whole being go through a certain rhythm, called 'Shubhtal.'
There is one rhythm whereby your mind, body and soul comes to feel an exaltation, an inclination toward higher aspiration. It is just like the rising of a wave. A heart frozen by cold, by selfishness, has become liquid through some emotion or affection, or love, or distress, or sorrow, or despair. It becomes like an ocean when the waves form. The waves make the rhythm. This rhythm soothes the mind. It gives you joy and peace, and a feeling of inclination towards higher Truth. This is the life of the sanyassi – the life adapted for higher aspirations, for higher thought, for communication with the Higher Life. At other times the work of the Sanyassi is quiet. He is silent. Yet sometimes he does speak, to guide those who come wishing to be guided through their worldly struggles. He becomes their guru. Most gurus belong to the ranks of the sanyassins, those who have adopted the retired life, and while living that life, give teaching to pupils.
Then there are the Buddhists. Their life is different again. The Buddhist sage can begin his kind of life from the very first. He can become a sage at any age. He becomes a 'chela' and his living comes to him wherever he goes. The house of any Buddhist is open to a sage. No one ever closes his doors to such a one. So he never worries himself about his food, for he will get it wherever he goes. The same respect and honor is paid to the Buddhist sage as to the Hindu, for he is a renunciate just like the Burhai or the Sant. His life is devoted to teaching good morals to people and to make their lives happy. Buddhist people make great celebrations all through the country to commemorate their sages. They never consider them as dead; they are so sure they have gone to a new and better life. And this is certainly true.
Lastly, we come to speak of the Sufi sage. Here also, we find two kinds – the path of Rind and the path of Salik. The people called faqirs by Western writers, all belong to the Rind. Their life consists in learning to disregard all worldly things. A person fears most being without these things, and this makes him a hypocrite all his life, for one fears the things of the world. So this is the first thing to learn to disregard. That is why the poetry of Hafiz, Jami, Rumi, Sadi, and Omar Khayyam so much speak of wine. The country where they lived and died was Muslim, and wine was despised and abhorred. So they chose that word, and many other words which were representative of things abhorrent to the religion, and used them in their poetry to express the philosophy of human nature, while incurring the displeasure of the people in general. They hid the action of God and of man within these words – wine, jar, glass, roses etc.
Then, among these, are the 'dancing dervishes.' The idea is that dancing implies motion; motion means life. Dancing expresses the joy of life. And what is joy? Joy is the sign of a good soul, of a good heart. You always notice that when a jovial person, a good soul, a person with a good heart, comes into your life, he brings delight to all. Whenever he speaks, it is in good humor, and he brings pleasantness and joy. Being joyous himself, he makes others pleased. It is not hypocrisy. He is alive; he is joyous.
Take another person who comes weeping. He gives you the same inclination. Wherever he goes he brings gloom; he is taking misery along with him, and so he makes everyone else miserable and despondent too. Now what does that mean? It just means that in the depth of his heart there is some decay. He is not enjoying full life. The sign of life is having goodness, beauty, strength in your disposition, which means you have some joy, and are conscious of beauty, of goodness, of joy. Having joy in your nature and disposition you bring it to everybody you meet. Well, that is the state of the dervish. He says to himself, "If I may not dance, what shall I do?" Having the joy of the presence of his Beloved, he feels the sublimity of nature; he is conscious of all the motion going on throughout nature. It intoxicates him like wine. So naturally it comes out.
True, there is a certain ritual among some dervishes, and they trace it to the time of Jalaluddin Rumi, our great Persian poet. They relate how once this poet, absorbed in the thought of all life as one beauty, in the thought of the motion and rhythm of life, he turned himself in a circle, he circled around; and the movement which the skirt of his garment made as it whirled, brought such a beautiful picture before him and his pupils, that they stored it in their memory ever after. So the dance celebrates this memory.
The teaching of Christ will be found among the dervishes; indeed, not just the teaching, but His life also. If you wished to see a living example of Christ's life you could see it among the dervishes, for among them you will find some who have taken the vow of poverty and chastity, as in the most ancient times. There is no sort of compulsion about it. They do not have to follow this life. It depends on whether they wish to follow the Christian life. So you can find the Christ-life in the dervish. Wherever you travel in India or Persia, whenever you meet a dervish, you will see the same kind of life that Christ lived.
The other form of the Sufi path is that of Salik. The Salik is a person who believes he can be a sage at the same time as he follows his worldly occupation. His work is one of making his life (earning his living) amid the responsibility of everyday life, and at the same time he does it for a higher purpose; his mind is fixed on higher aspirations, even while 'in the world.' Then, every act in all the affairs of life is directed to higher aspirations. Finally every thought in everything he is doing is directed towards that higher aspiration. So you find that the Salik is a worldly man, with responsibility of home, of profession, of business, of trade, and yet when he has attained to that height, he can be made a Murshid; he can be a teacher. It is not necessary to make a renunciation of 'the world' and be a monk. He can still be a Murshid, even though he is still working in the world.
The idea of 'a Murshid' is not a case of giving his knowledge to someone else. It is not possible to give one's knowledge that way. So he does not pretend to be able to do that or profess to do that. His work is to help another person to find out for himself; to develop himself; to discover for himself what is true and what is not. There are no doctrines to impart. There are no principles to lay down. There are no tenets to which the lives of his pupils must be restricted. He is just a guide along the path. He is the one who kindles the light that is already in the pupil. He does not stand before the pupil as a priest; he is as a brother, colleague, friend. Being just a human person he is limited exactly as the pupil is; he is as liable to make mistakes and to have failures as anyone else. He enjoys no special authority, nor is he as one apart in holiness. "I am not more holy than such and such a person. If he is not holy, no more am I." He is not distinctive in such a respect. No, the Murshid is the friend of the mureed; he is a friend on a path which the mureed has not yet trodden.
So he can advise him if the mureed desires to be guided; he can be his friend when the mureed desires him to be a friend. He can solve his problem. He can show him how to understand for himself what life is; he can show him what Truth is and how to attain to it. The sage in the East is everywhere regarded with respect, whether he be a Murshid, a sadhu, a sanyassi, or sant. The name is of no significance. You will hear that Hindus and sanyassins and Buddhist sages are all different from one another. Well, that is true. They can be different just as in Western countries there are differences in the churches. For all that, there is really no difference between sadhu, sanyassi, and sant. Both Hindu and Muslim will bow before the sage, whether he be Buddhist, Vedantic, or Sufi.
No one makes any distinction. Every sage is just a person 'on the path of Truth,' and so 'we respect him.' The feeling which one receives from them may be a little different in each case, but they all bring with them a light and inspiration which is very peculiar, as I may relate from my own experience. When one is in the presence of a Burhai everything seems faded and pale; as if nothing in life had any value; it seems as if one had risen above all weakness and above all earthly good. One receives a feeling of kingliness, as if one were above everything. It seems as if everything was just a hindrance. That is the feeling one has. In the presence of a sanyassi, the feeling is different again; one has a sense of inspiration, of revelation.
All problems of life seem to be settled at once in his presence. It is like a light illuminating you, so that you begin to feel things and look at them differently. The feeling one gets when in the presence of a Buddhist is a moral feeling, a feeling of self-sacrifice, a feeling of gentleness, goodness, and sympathy for every living creature. When you are in the presence of a dervish of the Sufis, one gets a feeling of ecstasy, which Omar Khayyam calls 'wine'; it is an atmosphere charged with magnetism; there is a sense of intoxication, a spiritual intoxication, which could never be compared with any effects of wine of the world.
Lastly, when one is in the presence of a salik, one feels as if an eye had been opened so as to perceive all the beauty there is in the world – the beauty of inner planes, the beauty of outer planes, the beauty of the whole manifestation of life. It is as if the curtain had risen upon a stage as soon as you had arrived, and you found the stage full of every imaginable beauty. Some wonderful beauty had hitherto been hidden, and now it is all opened out before you. For those who expect wonder-working from a sage, to prove that he is a sage, I say that it is the very presence of a real sage which brings such a great joy and deep peace. You need never seek a greater wonder than that evidence that you are in the presence of a true Sage.
God bless you.