Volume X: The Unity of Religious Ideals
SUFI MYSTICISM, THE PATH OF INITIATION & DISCIPLESHIP;
SUFI POETRY AND OTHER LECTURES
by Hazrat Inayat Khan
One wonders, especially in the western part of the world, what the path of discipleship may really be. Although the path of discipleship was the path of those who followed Christ and all the other teachers, the modern trend of thought has taken away much of the ideal that existed in the past. It is not only that the ideal of discipleship seems to be little known; but even the ideal attitude towards motherhood and fatherhood, as well as towards the aged, seems to be less understood. This change in the ideal of the world has worked unwittingly to such an extent that world conflicts have been the result in our times. The troubles between nations and classes, in social and domestic life, all arise for one and the same reason. If someone were to ask me what is the cause of today’s world unrest, I would answer that it is the lack of idealism.
In ancient times, the path of discipleship was a lesson to be applied in every direction of life. Man is not only his body; he is his soul. When a child is born on earth, that is not the time that the soul is born. The soul is born from the moment that consideration is born. This birth of consideration is, in reality, the birth of the soul. Man shows his soul in his consideration. Some become considerate as children, others perhaps do not awaken to consideration throughout their whole life. Love is called a divine element, but love’s divine expression is nothing but consideration. It would not be very wrong to say that love without consideration is not fully divine. Love that has no consideration loses its fragrance.
Moreover, intelligence is not consideration. It is the balance of love and intelligence, it is the action and reaction of love and intelligence upon each other which produce consideration. Children who are considerate are more precious than jewels to their parents. The man who is considerate, the friend who has consideration, all those with whom we come into contact with who are considerate, we value the most.
Thus, it is the lesson of consideration given by the spiritual teachers which may be called the path of discipleship. This does not mean that the great teachers have wanted the discipleship, the devotion, or the respect of the pupils for themselves. If any teacher expects that, then he cannot be a teacher. How could he then be a spiritual teacher, as he must be above all of this in order to be above them? But respect, devotion and consideration are taught for the disciple’s own advantage, as an attribute that must be cultivated.
Until now, there has been a custom in India, which I myself experienced when young, that the first things the parents taught their children were respect for the teacher, consideration, and a kindly inclination. A modern child going to school has not the same idea. He thinks that the teacher is appointed to perform a certain duty. He hardly knows the teacher, nor does the teacher know him well. When he comes home, he has the same tendency towards his parents as he has at school. Most children grow up thinking that all the attention their parents give them is only part of their duty. At most, they will think, “Perhaps one day, if I am able, I shall repay it.” The ancient idea was different. For instance, the Prophet Mohammad taught his disciples that the greatest debt every man had to pay was to his mother; and if he wished his sins to be forgiven, he must so act through life that at the end, his mother, before passing from this earth, would say, “I have forgiven you the debt.” There was nothing a man could give or do, neither money nor service, which would enable him to say, “I have paid my debt.” No, his mother must say, “I have forgiven you that debt.” What does this teach? It teaches the value of that unselfish love which is above all earthly passion.
If we inquire of our self within for what purpose we have come to earth and why we have become human beings, wondering whether it would perhaps have been better to remain angels, the answer will certainly come to the wise, from his own heart, that we are here to experience a fuller life, to become fully human. For it is through being considerate that we become fully human. Every action done with consideration is valuable, every word said with consideration is precious.
The whole teaching of Christ — “Blessed are the meek…the poor in spirit” — teaches one thing: consideration. Although it seems simple, it is a hard lesson to learn. The more we wish to act according to this ideal, the more we realize that we fail. The farther we go on the path of consideration, the more delicate do the eyes of our perception become. We feel and regret the slightest mistake.
It is not every soul who takes the trouble to tread this path. Everyone is not a plant. There are many who are rocks, and these do not want to be considerate, they think it is too much trouble. Of course, the stone has no pain, it is the one who feels who has pain. Still, it is in feeling that there is life. Life’s joy is so great that even with pain, one would rather be a living being than a rock, for there is a joy in living, in feeling alive, which cannot be expressed in words. After how many millions of years has the life buried in stones and rocks risen to the human being! Even so, if a person wishes to stay a rock, he had better stay so, though the natural inclination in every person should be to develop the human qualities fully.
The first lesson that the pupil learns on the path of discipleship is what is called yaqin in Sufi terms, which means confidence. This confidence he first gives to the one whom he considers to be his teacher, his spiritual guide. In the giving of confidence, three kinds of people can be distinguished. One gives a part of his confidence and cannot give another part. He is wobbling and thinking, “Yes, I believe that I have confidence; perhaps I have, perhaps I have not.” And this sort of confidence puts him in a very difficult position. It would be better not to have it at all. It is like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold. In all things, this person will do the same, in business, in his profession. He trusts and doubts, he trusts and fears. He is not walking in the sky, he is not walking on the earth, he is in between the two. Then there is another kind, the one who gives his confidence to the teacher, but he is not sure about himself, he is not inwardly sure if he has given it. This person has no confidence in himself, he is not sure of himself; therefore, his confidence is of no value. And the third kind of person is the one who gives confidence because he feels confident. This confidence, alone, can rightfully be called yaqin.
Jesus Christ had people of all these categories around him. Thousands of people of the first category came, thronged round the Master, then left him. It did not take one moment for them to be attracted, nor one moment for them to leave the Master. In the second category are those who go on for some time, just as a drunken man goes on and on; but when they are sober again, things become clear to them and they ask themselves, “Where am I going? Not in the right direction.” Thousands and thousands in this category followed the masters and prophets. However, those who stayed to the end of the test were those who, before giving their confidence to the teacher, first had confidence in their own heart.
It is they who, if the earth turned to water and the water turned to earth, if the sky came down and the earth rose up, would remain unshaken, firm in the belief that they had gained. It is by discipleship that a person learns the moral that in whatever position he is, as husband or wife, son or daughter, servant or friend, he will follow with confidence, firm and steady, wherever he goes.
After acquiring yaqin, there comes a test, and that is sacrifice. That is the ideal on the path of God. The most precious possession is not too valuable, nothing is too great to sacrifice. Not one of the disciples of the Prophet — the real disciples — thought even their life too great a sacrifice was needed. The story of Ali is very well known. A plot was discovered that one night, some enemies wanted to kill the Prophet, and Ali learned about it. He did not tell the Prophet, but persuaded him to leave home. He, himself, stayed, for he knew that if he went also, that the assassins would follow him and find out where the Prophet was. He slept in the same bed in place of the Prophet, so that the assassins might find him. However, at the same time, he did not intend to lose his life if he could fight them off. The consequence was that the plot failed, and the enemies could not touch either the Prophet nor Ali.
This is only one instance, but there are thousands of instances which show that the friendship formed in God and truth between the teacher and the disciple is for always, and that nothing in the world is able to break it. If the spiritual link cannot hold, then how can a material link keep intact? It will wear out, being only a worldly link. If spiritual thought cannot form a link between two souls, then what else can constitute such a strong tie that it can last both here and in the hereafter?
The third lesson on the path of discipleship is imitation. This means imitating the teacher in his every attitude, in his attitude towards the friend, towards the enemy, towards the foolish, and towards the wise. If the pupil acts as he wishes and the teacher acts as he wishes, then there is no benefit, however great the sacrifice and devotion. No teaching or meditation is as great or valuable as the imitation of the teacher on the path of truth. In the imitation of the teacher, the whole secret of the spiritual life is hidden. No doubt it is not only the imitation of his outward action, but also of his inner tendency.
The fourth lesson that the disciple learns is different again. This lesson is to turn the inward thought of the teacher outward until he grows to see his teacher in everyone and everything, in the wise, in the foolish, and in all forms.
Finally, by the fifth lesson, the disciple learns to give everything that he has so far given to his teacher — devotion, sacrifice, service, respect — to all, because he has learned to see his teacher in all.
One person will perhaps learn nothing all his life, whereas another will learn all five lessons in a short time. There is a story of a person who went to a teacher and said to him, “I would like to be your pupil, your disciple.” The teacher said, “Yes, I shall be very glad.” This man, conscious of so many faults, was surprised that the teacher was willing to accept him as a disciple. He said, “But I wonder if you know how many faults I have?” The teacher said, “Yes, I already know your faults, yet I accept you as my pupil.” “But I have very bad faults,” he said, “I am fond of gambling.” The teacher said, “That does not matter much.” “I am inclined to drink sometimes,” he said. The teacher said, “That does not matter much.” “Well,” he said, “there are many other faults.” The teacher said, “I do not mind. But now that I have accepted all your faults, you must accept one condition from your teacher.” “Yes, most willingly,” he said. “What is it?” The teacher said, “You may indulge in your faults, but not in my presence. Only that much respect you must reserve for your teacher.”
The teacher knew that all five attributes of discipleship were natural to him, and he made him an initiate. As soon as he went out and had an inclination to gamble or to drink, he saw the face of his murshid before him. When, after some time, he returned to the teacher, the teacher smilingly asked, “Did you commit any faults?” He answered, “Oh, no, the great difficulty is that whenever I wanted to commit any of my usual faults, my murshidpursued me!”
Do not think that this spirit is only cultivated; this spirit may be found in an innocent child. When I once asked a little child of four years, “Have you been naughty?” The child answered, “I would like to be naughty, but my goodness will not let me.” This shows us that the spirit of discipleship is in us. However, we should always remember that he who is a teacher is a disciple himself.
In reality, there is no such thing as a teacher. God, alone, is Teacher, and we are all his disciples. The lesson we all have to learn is that of discipleship. Discipleship is the first and the last lesson.
Four Kinds of Discipleship
There are four kinds of disciples, of whom only one can be described as a real disciple. One kind is the disciple of modern times, who comes and says to his teacher, “We will study this book together,” or, “Have you read that book? It is most interesting,” or, “I have learned from someone else before, and now I would like to learn what I can from you, and then I will pass on to something which is still more interesting.” Such a person may be called a student, but not yet a disciple. His spirit is not that of a disciple; it is the spirit of a student who goes from one university, from one college, to another, from one professor he passes into the hands of another. He may be well-suited for such intellectual pursuits, but the spirit of the disciple is different.
Then there is another type who thinks, “What I can get out of him I will get. And when I have collected it, then I shall use it in the way I think best.” Well, his way is that of a thief who says, “I will take what I can from the purse of this person, and then I shall spend it for my own purpose.” This is a wrong attitude because spiritual inspiration and power cannot be stolen. A thief cannot take them. If he has this attitude, such a disciple may remain with a teacher for a hundred years and still leave empty-handed. There are many in this world today who make intellectual theft their occupation; anything intellectual they find, they take it and use it. But they do not know what harm they do by this attitude. They paralyze their minds and they close their own spirit.
Then there is a third wrong tendency of a disciple — to hold back something which is most essential, namely, confidence. He will say, “Tell me all you can teach me, all I can learn, give me all that you have.” However, in his mind he says, “I will not give you my confidence, for I do not yet know if this road is right or wrong for me. When you have taught me, I shall judge; then I shall see what it is; but until then, I do not give you my confidence, though my ears are tuned to your words.” This is a third wrong tendency. As long as a disciple will not give his confidence to his spiritual guide, he will not get the full benefit of his teaching.
The fourth kind is the right kind of discipleship. This does not come by just thinking that one would like to go on the spiritual path, or that one would like to be a disciple, a mureed, a chela. There comes a time in every person’s life when circumstances have tried him so much that he begins to feel the wish to find a word of enlightenment, some counsel, some guidance, a direction on the path of truth. When the values of all things and beings are changing in his eyes, that is the time he begins to feel hungry for spiritual guidance. Bread is meant for the hungry, not for those who are quite satisfied.
If a person like this goes in search of a teacher, then he takes the right step. However, there is a difficulty. If he wants to test the teacher first, then there is no end to the testing. He can go from one teacher to another, from the earthly being to the heavenly being, testing everyone, and in the end, what will he find? Imperfection. He is looking for it, and he will find it. Man is an imperfect being, a human being, a limited being. If he wants to find perfection in a limited being, he will always end up being disappointed with whoever he meets, whether it is an angel or a human being. If he were simple enough to accept any teacher that came his way and said, “I will be your mureed,” then it would be easier, although this is perhaps not always practicable.
Someone asked a Brahmin, “Why do you worship a god of rock, an idol of stone? Look, here I am, a worshipper of the God who is in heaven. This rock does not listen to you, it has no ears.” And the Brahmin said, “If you have no faith, even the God in heaven will not hear you; and if you have faith, this rock will have ears to hear.”
The middle way and the best way is to consult one’s own intuition and inspiration. One’s intuition may say, “I will seek guidance from this teacher, whether he is raised high by the whole of humanity, or whether he is looked at with contempt and prejudice by thousands, I do not care.” Then one follows the principle of constancy in adhering to that one teacher. But if a person is not constant on the spiritual path, he will naturally have difficulty in the end. For what is constancy? Constancy is the reflection of eternity. And what is truth? Truth is eternity; and so in seeking for truth, one must learn the principle of constancy.
The disciple has to have full confidence in the teacher’s guidance, in the direction that is given to him by the teacher. The Buddhists who regard a spiritual teacher with great reverence say, “We do not care whether he is well-known or not. Even if he is, we do not know if he will accept our reverence. If he receives it, we are not sure he needs it.” Worship can only be given to those whose presence we are conscious of; and it is especially intended for the spiritual teacher, for he shows us the only path that frees us from all the pains of this life. That is why amongst all other obligations involving earthly gain and benefit, the obligation to the spiritual teacher is the greatest, for it is concerned with the liberation of the soul on its journey towards Nirvana, which is the only desire of every soul.
The teacher does not always teach in plain words. The spiritual teacher has a thousand ways. It may be that by his prayers, he can guide his disciple. It may be that by his thought, his feeling, or his sympathy, even at a distance, he may guide him. Therefore, when a disciple thinks that he can be taught only by words or teachings, by practices or exercises, it is a great mistake.
In order to get the right disciples and the right people to come to him, a Sufi who lived in Hyderabad made a wonderful arrangement. He got a grumpy woman to sit just near his house; and to anyone who came to see the great teacher, she would say all kinds of things against the teacher about how unkind he was, how cruel, how neglectful, how lazy. There was nothing she would leave unsaid. As a result, out of 100, 95 would turn back, they would not dare to come near him. Perhaps only five would come wanting to form their own opinion about him. The teacher was very pleased that the 95 went away, for what they had come to find was not there, it was somewhere else.
There is another side to this question. The first thing the teacher does is to find out what the pressing need of his disciple is. Certainly, the disciple has come to seek after truth and to be guided to the path of God; but at the same time, it is the psychological task of the teacher to give his thought first to the pressing need of his disciple, whether the disciple speaks of it or not. The teacher’s effort is directed towards removing that first difficulty because he knows it to be an obstacle in the disciple’s way. It is easy for a soul to tread the spiritual path because it is the spiritual path that the soul is looking for. God is the seeking of every soul, and every soul will make its way naturally, providing that there is nothing to obstruct it. So ,the most pressing need is the removal of any obstruction. Thus, a desire can be fulfilled, it can be conquered, or it can be removed. If it is fulfilled, so much the better. If it is not right to fulfill it, then it should be conquered or removed in order to clear the way. The teacher never thinks that he is concerned with his disciple only in his spiritual progress, in his attainment of God. For, if there is something blocking the way of the disciple, it will not be easy for the teacher to help him.
There are three faculties which the teacher considers essential to develop in the disciple: deepening the sympathy, showing the way to harmony and awakening the spirit of beauty. One often sees that without being taught any particular formula or receiving any particular lesson on these three subjects, the soul of a sincere disciple will grow under the guidance of the right teacher, like a plant that is carefully reared and watered every day, every month, and every year. Without knowing it himself, he will begin to show these three qualities: the ever-growing sympathy; the harmonizing quality increasing every day more and more; and the expression, understanding and appreciation of beauty in all of its forms.
One may ask, is there no going backwards? Well, sometimes there is a sensation of going backwards, just as when one is at sea and the ship may move in such a way that one sometimes has the feeling that one is going backwards, although one is really going forwards. One can have the same sensation when riding on an elephant or a camel. When in the lives of some disciples this sensation is felt, it is nothing but a proof of life. Nevertheless, a disciple will often feel that since he became a disciple he finds many more faults in himself than he had ever seen before. This may be so, but it does not mean that his faults have increased; it only means that now his eyes have opened wider so that every day he sees many more faults than before.
There is always a great danger on the spiritual path that the disciple has to overcome — he may develop a feeling of being exalted, of knowing more than other people, of being better than other people. As soon as a person thinks, “I am more,” the doors of knowledge are closed. He will no more be able to widen his knowledge because automatically, the doors of his heart are closed the moment he says, “I know.” Spiritual knowledge, the knowledge of life, is so intoxicating, so exalting, it gives such a great joy, that one begins to pour out one’s knowledge before anyone who comes along as soon as this knowledge springs up. But if at that time the disciple could realize that he should conserve that kindling of the light, reserve it, keep it within himself and let it deepen, then his words would not be necessary and his presence would enlighten people. As soon as the spring rises and he pours forth what comes out of that spring in words, although on the one side his vanity will be satisfied, on the other side his energy will be exhausted. The little spring that had risen, he has poured out before others and he remains without power. This is why reserve is taught to the true disciple, the conserving of inspiration and power. The one who speaks is not always wise; it is the one who listens who is wise.
During discipleship, the first period may be called the period of observation. In this, the disciple, with a respectful attitude, observes everything good and bad, right and wrong, without expressing any opinion about them. Every day this reveals to the disciple a new idea on the subject. Today he thinks it is wrong, but does not say so; tomorrow he wonders how it can be wrong. The day after tomorrow he thinks, “But can this really be wrong?” On the fourth day, he may think that it is not wrong, and on the fifth day he may think that it is right. He may follow the same process with what is right, if only he does not express himself on the first day. It is the foolish who always readily express their opinions; the wise hold their opinions to themselves. By holding their opinions back, they become wiser every day; by expressing their opinions, they continually become less wise.
The second thing that is most important for the disciple is learning. How is he to learn? Every word the disciple hears coming from the lips of the teacher is a whole sacred book. Instead of reading a sacred book of any religion from beginning to end, he has taken in one word of the teacher, and that is the same. By meditating upon it, by thinking about it, by pondering upon it, he makes that word a plant from which fruit and flowers come. A book is one thing, and a living word is another. Perhaps a whole book could be written by the inspiration of one living word of the teacher. Besides, the disciple practices all the meditations given to him, and by these exercises, he develops within him that inspiration, that power which is meant to be developed in the disciple.
The third step forward for the disciple lies in testing the inspiration, the power that he has received. One might ask, how can one test it? Life can give a thousand examples of every idea that one has thought about. If one has learned from within that a certain idea is wrong or right, then life itself is an example that shows why it is wrong or why it is right.
If a person does not become enlightened, then one can find the explanation by watching the rain. It falls upon all trees, but it is according to the response of those trees that they grow and bear fruit. The sun shines upon all the trees, it makes no distinction between them. However, it is according to the response that the trees give to the sun that they profit by its sunshine. At the same time, a mureed is very often an inspiration to the murshid. It is not the murshid who teaches, it is God who teaches. The murshid is only a medium, and as high as the response of the mureedreaches, so strongly does it attract the message of God.
The mureed can be inspired, but he can also cease to inspire. If there is no response on his side, or if there is antagonism or lack of interest, then the inspiration of the murshid is shut off; just like the clouds which cannot produce a shower when they are above the desert. The desert affects them; but when the same clouds are above the forest, the trees attract them and the rain falls.
The attributes of the disciple are reserve, thoughtfulness, consideration, balance and sincerity. Special care should be taken that during the time of discipleship, one does not become a teacher; for very often, a growing soul is so eager to become a teacher that before he has finished the period of discipleship he becomes impatient. It should be remembered that all the great teachers of humanity, such as Jesus Christ, Buddha, Mohammad and Zarathushtra, have been great pupils; they have learned from the innocent child, they have learned from everyone, from every person that came near them. They have learned from every situation and every condition of the world. They have understood and they have learned. It is the desire to learn continually that makes one a teacher, and not the desire to become a teacher. As soon as a person thinks, “I am something of a teacher,” he has lost ground. For there is only one teacher — God, alone, is the Teacher, and all others are His pupils. We all learn from life what life teaches us. When a soul begins to think that he has learned all he had to learn and that now he is a teacher, he is very much mistaken. The greatest teachers of humanity have learned from humanity more than they have taught.
The Attitude of a Disciple
A mureed’s attitude towards life must be hopeful; towards his motives, courageous; towards his murshid, faithful; towards the cause, sincere; towards that object which he has to accomplish, earnest without the slightest doubt. In every aspect of life, it is our attitude that counts and which, in the end, proves to be creative of all kinds of phenomena. Both success and failure depend upon it, as in the Hindu saying, “If the attitude is right, then all will come right.”
There is a natural tendency for the seeker on the spiritual path to wonder if he is really progressing. Very often, he begins to wonder from the day he sets foot on the path. It is like asking, “Shall I be able to digest?” while one is still eating. The spiritual path leads to selflessness. The more we worry about ourselves, the less progress we make because our whole striving should be to forget the self. It is mostly the self which obstructs the path. The path is made for the soul, and it is natural and easy for the soul to find it. Therefore, when a person is wondering about his progress, he is wasting his time. It is like standing still on the path on which one must go forward.
Can anyone distinguish how his face and body change day by day? No, for one cannot point out distinct signs of change from one day to another. If one cannot properly distinguish any change in the external self, then how can one expect to distinguish change in the inner process? It is not something that can be weighed on the scales as one weighs oneself on coming back from a holiday and sees that one has gained or lost several pounds. There is no such gain in spiritual progress.
Then there are some who imagine that they have progressed for a certain time, but they are then going backward. They are discouraged and say, “I thought I had arrived somewhere, but surely it must have been an illusion.” But life is like the sea, and the sea is not always calm. There are times when the sea is rough, and then the boat naturally moves up and down. To think while the boat is moving downward that it will sink is a mistake. It is going down in order to go up. This is its movement, and this is natural. A mureed is subject to such experiences on the path of life. Life will take its own course. The one who sails will many times meet with a rough sea, and he has to be prepared for this and not be frightened or discouraged. He still has to go on through life. If life’s journey were soft and smooth, then there would be no need for spiritual development. He has to have control of the rudder to be able to go through both calm seas and storms.
Sometimes the mureed wonders what others are saying and if they are displeased or pleased. If they are displeased, then he thinks he is not progressing. However, this has nothing to do with progress. Those who are displeased would be displeased even with Jesus Christ. At the same time, they might be pleased with the worst person. The displeasure of others does not mean that one is not progressing.
If conditions are adverse, then the mureed thinks that he is not on the right path. Does this mean that the ship is not on its right course if a storm meets it? Neither the murshid nor God are responsible if the conditions are adverse. The best thing is to meet them, to be more brave and courageous and to make one’s way through them. Ghazali, the great Sufi writer of Persia, says that spiritual progress is like shooting at a target in the dark. We do not know where the target is, we do not see it, but we shoot just the same.
The true ideal of the spiritual person is not great power, nor a great amount of knowledge. His true ideal stands beyond power and knowledge; it is that which is limitless, incomprehensible, nameless and formless. There are no milestones to count. One cannot say, “I have gone so many miles, and there are so many still before me.” This does not belong to a spiritual journey. The pursuit of the limitless is limitless. The pursuit of the formless, is formless. One cannot make it tangible. So, then, what is it that assures progress, what evidence have we to go on? There is only one evidence, and that is our belief. There is one assurance, and that is our faith. If we believe we can go on, if we are convinced we will, then we must reach our goal.
There are innumerable outer signs of one’s progress, but one need not think in the absence of these signs that one is not progressing. What are these signs of progress? The first is that one feels inspiration, and that things which one could not understand yesterday are easy today. Yet, if there are things which one is not ready to understand, then one should have patience until tomorrow. Agitating against lack of inspiration means closing the doors to inspiration. Agitation is not allowed on this path. Agitation disturbs our rhythm and paralyzes us, and then we prove in the end to be our own worst enemy. However, people will generally not admit this, and they will blame others instead. Or, if they have kind feelings towards others, then they blame the circumstances, although very often it is their own lack of patience rather than other people or the conditions.
The next sign of progress is that one begins to feel power. To some extent, it may manifest physically and also mentally. Later, the power may manifest in one’s affairs in life. As spiritual pursuit is endless, so power has no end.
The third sign of progress is that one begins to feel a joy, a happiness. In spite of that feeling, however, it is possible that clouds of depression and despair may come from without, and one might think at that moment that all the happiness and joy which one had gained spiritually was snatched away. But that is not so. If spiritual joy could be snatched away, it wouldn’t be spiritual joy. It is not like material comforts. When these are taken away from us, we have lost them; but spiritual joy is ours, it is our property, and no death or decay can take it away from us. Changing clouds like those which surround the sun might surround our joy; but when they are scattered, we will find our property still there in our own heart. It is something we can depend upon, something nobody can take away from us.
There is another sign of progress, and that is that one becomes fearless. Whatever the situation is in life, nothing seems to frighten one anymore, even death. Then one becomes fearless in all that might seem frightening and a brave spirit develops, a spirit that gives one patience and strength to struggle against all adverse conditions, however terrible they may seem. It can even develop to such an extent that one would like to fight with death. To such a person, nothing seems so horrible that he would feel helpless before it.
Still another sign of progress is that, at times, one begins to feel peaceful. This may increase so much that a restful feeling comes in the heart. One might be in the solitude; but even if one is in a crowd, one still feels restful. Life in the world is most exciting; it has a tiring effect upon a sensitive person. When one is restless, the conditions in life can make one experience the greatest discomfort, for there is no greater pain than restlessness. If there is any remedy for the lack of peace, it is spiritual progress. Once peace is developed in a soul, that soul feels such a great power and has such a great influence upon those who approach it and upon all upsetting conditions and jarring influences coming from all sides. Just as water makes the dust settle down, so all jarring influences settle down under the feet of the peaceful.
What do we learn from the story told in the Bible of Daniel, who was thrown into the lion’s den? What does this story suggest? Was it Daniel’s hypnotism which calmed the lions? If it was hypnotism, then let the hypnotists of today go to the lions and try the experience! No, it was his inner peace. The influence of that peace acts so powerfully upon all passions that it even calms lions and makes them sleep.
One may make the excuse that one’s surroundings are worrying one, that one’s friends are troublesome, or that one’s enemies are horrible. However, nothing can withstand that peace that is awakened in the heart. All must calm down, all must settle down, like dust after water has been sprinkled on it.
If this power does not come immediately to a mureed, then let him not be disappointed. Can one expect this whole journey to be made in a week? I would not be surprised if many mureedsdo expect this; but it is a lifelong journey, and those who have really accomplished it are the ones who have never doubted that they would progress. They have never allowed this doubt to enter their minds to hinder them. They do not even concern themselves with this question. They only know that they must reach the goal, that they will reach it, and that if they do not reach it today, that they will reach it tomorrow. The right attitude is never to let one’s mind feel, after one has taken some steps, that one must go to the right or to the left. If a man has that one strength, of faith, then that is all the power that he needs on the path. He can go forward and nothing will hinder him. In the end, he will accomplish his purpose.
The Poet and the Prophet
There is a saying that a poet is a prophet, and this saying has great significance and hidden meaning. There is no doubt that although poetry is not necessarily prophecy, prophecy is born in poetry. If one were to say that poetry is a body that is adopted by the spirit of prophecy, then this would not be wrong. Wagner has said that noise is not necessarily music, and the same thing can be said about poetry. A verse written in rhyme and meter is not necessarily true poetry. Poetry is an art, a music expressed in the beauty and harmony of words. No doubt much of the poetry one reads is meant either as a pastime or for amusement; but real poetry comes from the dancing of the soul. No one can make the soul dance unless the soul itself is inclined to dance. Also, no soul can dance which is not alive.
In the Bible it is said that no one will enter the kingdom of God whose soul is not born again. Being born means being alive. It is not only a gay disposition or an external inclination to merriment and pleasure that is the sign of a living soul. External joy and amusement may come simply through the external being of man. However, even in this outer joy and happiness, there is a glimpse of the inner joy and happiness, and that is a sign of the soul having been born again.
What makes the soul alive? It makes itself alive when it strikes its depths instead of reaching outward. The soul, after coming up against the iron wall of this life of falsehood, turns back within itself; it encounters itself, and this is how it becomes living. In order to clarify this idea, I should like to take as an example a man who goes out into the world — a man with thought, feeling, energy, desire, ambition and enthusiasm — to live and work in life. Because of the actual nature of life, his experiences will make him feel constantly up against an iron wall in whatever direction he strikes out. The nature of man is such that when he meets with an obstacle, he struggles. He lives in the outer life and he goes on struggling. He does not know any other part of life, for he lives only on the surface. Then there is another man who is sensitive because he has a sympathetic and tender heart, and every blow coming from the outer world, instead of making him want to hit back outwardly, makes him want to strike at himself inwardly. His soul, after being born on this earth, seems to be living, but in reality, is in a grave. However, now, his soul becomes awakened by that action. Once the soul is awakened in this way, it expresses itself outwardly, whether in music, art, poetry, actions, or in whatever ways it wishes to express itself.
In this way, a poet is born. There are two signs which reveal the poet. One sign is imagination; the other sign is feeling. Both are essential on the spiritual path. A man, however learned and good, who yet lacks these two qualities, can never arrive at a satisfactory result, especially on the spiritual path.
The sacred scriptures of all ages, whether of the Hindus or of the Parsis, the race of Ben Israel or of others, were all given in poetry or in poetic prose. No spiritual person, however great, however pious and spiritually advanced, has ever been able to give a scripture to the world unless he was blessed with the gift of poetry.
One may ask if this would still be possible nowadays, when sentiment takes second place in life’s affairs and people wish everything to be expressed plainly, “cut and dried” as the saying goes. They have become so accustomed to having everything, especially in science, explained in clear words. It must be understood that facts about the names and forms of this world may be scientifically explained in plain words; but when one wishes to interpret the sensation one gets when looking at life, it cannot be explained except in the way that the prophets did in poetry. No one has ever explained, nor can anyone ever explain, the truth in words. Language exists only for the convenience of everyday affairs. The deepest sentiments cannot be explained in words. The message that the prophets have given to the world at different times is an interpretation in their own words of the idea of life that they have received.
Inspiration begins in poetry and culminates in prophecy. One can picture the poet as a soul who has, so to speak, risen from his grave and is beginning to make graceful movements. However, when that same soul begins to move and dance in all directions and to touch heaven and earth in its dance, expressing all the beauty it sees — that is prophecy. The poet, when he is developed, reads the mind of the universe, although very often, the poet himself does not know the real meaning of what he has said. Very often, one finds that a poet has said something, and after many years there comes a moment when he realizes the true meaning of what he said. This shows that behind all these different activities, the divine spirit is hidden, and the divine spirit often manifests through an individual without his realizing that it is divine.
In the East, the prophet is called, payghambar, which means “The Messenger.” He is the one who carries someone’s word to someone else. In reality, every individual in this world is the medium of an impulse that is hidden behind him; and that impulse he gives out, mostly without knowing it. This is not only so with living beings, but also with objects. Every object has its purpose; and by fulfilling its purpose, the object is fulfilling the scheme of nature. Therefore, whatever be the line or activity of a man, whether it is business, science, music, art or poetry, he is a medium in some way. There are mediums of living beings, and there are mediums of those who have passed to the other side. There are mediums who represent their country, their nation and their race. Every individual is acting, in his own way, as a medium.
When the prophet or the poet dives deep into himself, he touches that perfection which is the source and goal of all beings. As an electric wire connected with a battery receives the force or energy of the battery, so the poet who has touched the innermost depths of his being has touched the perfect God. From there, he derives that wisdom, that beauty, and that power which belong to the perfect Self of God.
There is no doubt that in all things, there is the real and the false, the raw and the ripe. Poetry comes from the tendency to contemplation. A man with imagination cannot retain the imagination, cannot mold it, cannot build it up, unless he has this contemplative tendency within him. The more one contemplates, the more one is able to conceive of what one receives. Not only this, but after contemplation, a person is able to realize a certain idea more clearly than if that idea had only passed through his mind.
The process of contemplation is like the work of the camera. When the camera is put before a certain object and has been properly focused, then only that object is received by the camera. Therefore, when an object before one is limited, then one can see that object more clearly. What constitutes the appeal of the poet is that he tells his readers of something he has seen behind these generally recognized ideas.
The prophet goes still further. He not only contemplates one idea, but he can contemplate on any idea. There comes a time in the life of the prophet, or of anyone who contemplates, when whatever object he casts his glance upon opens up and reveals to him what it has in its heart. In the history of the world we see that besides their great imagination, their great dreams, ecstasy and joy in the divine life, the prophets have also been great reformers, scientists, medical men or even statesmen. This, in itself, shows their balance. It shows that theirs is not a one-sided development. They do not merely become dreamers or go into trances, but both sides of their personality are equally developed.
It is an example of God in man that the prophets manifest. We can see this in the life of Joseph. We are told that he was so innocent, so simple, that he went with his brothers, yielding to them, and that this led to his betrayal. In his relationship with Zuleikha, we see the human being, the tendency to beauty. At the same time, there is the question he continually asks, “What am I doing? What shall I do?” Later in his life we see him as one who knows the secret of dreams, as the mystic who interprets the dream of the king. Still later in life, we see that be becomes a minister, with the administration of the country in his hands, able to carry out the work of the state.
Spirituality has become far removed from material life, and so God is far removed from humanity. Therefore, one cannot any more conceive of God speaking through a man, through someone like oneself. Even a religious man who reads the Bible every day will have great difficulty in understanding the verse, “Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” The Sufi message and its mission are to bring this truth to the consciousness of the world: that man can dive so deep within himself that he can touch the depths, where he is united with the whole of life, with all souls, and that he can derive from that source harmony, beauty, peace and power.
Sufi Poetic Imagery
Sufi poetic imagery stands by itself, distinct and peculiar in its character. It is both admired and criticized for its peculiarity. It is different from the expressions of other poets born in other countries because of its Persian origin and the particular qualities of Persia. These qualities include the fine climate, the ancient traditions, its being the place where, it is said, wine was tasted for the first time. It is a land of luxury, beauty, art and imagination. It was natural that with Persian thinkers of all periods who thought deeply about life, about life’s nature and character, that their expressions should become subtle, artistic, fine and picturesque. In short, it is the dancing of the soul. In all other living beings, the soul is lying asleep; but when once the soul has awakened, called by beauty, it leaps up dancing. Then its every movement makes a picture, whether in writing, poetry, music or whatever it may be. A dancing soul will always express the most subtle and intricate harmonies in the realm of music or poetry.
When we read the works of Hafiz and of many other Sufi poets, we shall find that they are full of the same imagery, and this is partly because that was the time of Islam. The mission of Islam had a particular object in view; and in order to attain that object, it had strict rules about life. A free thinker had difficulty in expressing his thoughts without being accused of having done a great wrong towards the religion and the state. These free thinkers of Persia, with their dancing souls and continual enthusiasm, began to express their souls in this particular imagery, using words such as “the beloved,” “wine,” “wine-press,” and “tavern.” This poetry became so popular that not only did the wise benefit from it, but also the simple ones enjoyed the beauty of its wonderful expressions, which made an immediate appeal to every soul. No doubt souls who were already awakened and those on the point of awakening were inspired by these poems. Souls who were opening their eyes after the deep slumber of many years began to rise up and dance. As Hafiz said, “If those pious ones of long robes listen to my verse, my song, then they will immediately begin to get up and dance.”
Hafiz says at the end of the poem, “Forgive me, Oh pious ones, for I am drunk just now!” This concept of drinking is used in various connections and conveys many different meanings. In the first place, imagine that there is a magic tavern where there are many different kinds of wine. Each wine has a different effect upon the person who drinks it. One drinks a wine which makes him light-hearted, frivolous, humorous. Another drinks a wine which makes him sympathetic, kind, tender and gentle. Someone else drinks one which makes him bewildered at everything he sees. Another drinks and finds his way into the ditch. One becomes angry after drinking, while another becomes passionate. One drinks and is drowned in despair. Another drinks and begins to feel loving and affectionate. Yet another drinks a wine that makes him discouraged with everything. Imagine how interested we should all be to see that tavern! In point of fact, we live in that tavern and we see it every day; only, we do not take proper notice of it.
Once I saw a madzub, a man who pretended to be insane, who, although living in the world, did not wish to be of the world. He stood on the street of a large city, laughing. I stood there, feeling curious to know what made him laugh at that moment. I saw that it was the sight of so many drunken men, each one having had his particular wine.
It is most amusing when we look at it in this way. There is not one single being on earth who does not drink wine, but the wine of one is different from the wine of another. A man does not only drink during the day, but drinks the whole night long. He awakens in the morning intoxicated by whatever wine he has been drinking. He awakens with fear or anger, he awakens with joy, or he awakens with love and affection. The moment he awakens from sleep, he shows what wine he has been drinking.
One might ask why the great Sufi teachers have taken such a great interest in the particular imagery of these poets. The reason is that they found the solution to the problem of life by looking upon the world as a tavern, with many wines and each person drinking a different one. They discovered the alchemy, the chemical process, by which to change the wine that a person drinks and give him another wine to see how this works. The work of the Sufi teacher with his pupils is like that. He first finds out which blend of wine his mureed drinks, and then he finds out which blend he must have.
One might ask, is there then no place for soberness in life? There is, but when that soberness is properly interpreted, then one sees that it, too, is wine. Amir, the Hindustani poet, has expressed it in verse: “The eyes of the sober one spoke to the eyes of the drunken one, ‘You have no place here, for your intoxication is different from mine.’” The awakened person seems to be asleep to the sleeping one, and so the one who has become sober also appears to be still drunk. The condition of life is such that no one appears to be sober. It is this soberness which is called nirvana by Buddhists andmukti by Hindus. If I were asked if it is then desirable for us to be sober, my reply would be, “No.” What is desirable is for us to know what soberness is; and after knowing what soberness is, to then take any wine we may choose. The tavern is there, the wines are there.
There are two men, one who is the master of wine, the other who is the slave to wine. The first drinks wine, but wine drinks up the other. The one whom wine drinks up is mortal, and he who drinks wine becomes immortal. What is the love of God? What is divine knowledge? Is it not a wine? Its experience is different, its intoxication is different, for there is ordinary wine and there is most costly champagne. The difference is in the wine.
In the imagery of the Sufi poets, this tavern is the world, and the saki is God. In whatever form the wine-giver comes and gives a wine, it is God who comes. In this way, by recognizing the saki, the wine-giver, in all forms, the Sufi worships God. He recognizes God in friend and foe as the wine-giver. Wine is the influence that we receive from life, a harmonious influence or a depressing influence, a beautiful influence or one that lacks beauty. When we have given in to it, then we become drunk, then we become addicted to it, then we are under its influence. However, when we have sought soberness, then we have risen above it all, and then all wines are ours.
The Persian Poets
At all times, Persia has had great poets, and it has been called, “The Land of Poetry.” This is because the Persian language is so well adapted to poetry and also because all Persian poetry contains a mystical touch. The literary value of the poetry only makes it poetry; but when a mystical value is added, then this makes the poetry prophecy.
The climate and atmosphere of Persia have also been most helpful to poetry, and the very imaginative nature of the people has made their poetry rich. At all times and in all countries, when the imagination has no scope for expansion, then poetry dies, and materialism increases.
There is no poet in the world who is not a mystic. A poet is a mystic, whether consciously or unconsciously, for no one can write poetry without inspiration. When a poet touches the profound depths of the spirit, struck by some aspect of life, then he brings forth a poem, as a diver brings forth a pearl.
In this age of materialism and ever-growing commercialism, man seems to have lost the way of inspiration. During my travels I was asked by a well-known writer whether it is really true that there is such a thing as inspiration. This gave me an idea of how far nowadays some writers and poets are removed from inspiration. It is the materialism of the age that is responsible for this. If a person has a tendency towards poetry or music, then as soon as he begins writing something his first thought is, “Will it catch on, or not? What will be its practical value?” Generally, what catches on is that which appeals to the average man. In this way, culture is going downward instead of upward.
When the soul of the poet is intoxicated by the beauty of nature and the harmony of life it is moved to dance, and the expression of the dance is poetry. The difference between inspired poetry and mechanical writing is as great as the difference between true and false. For many ages, the poets of Persia have left a wonderful treasure of thought for humanity. Jelal-ud-Din Rumi has revealed in his Masnavi the mystery of profound revelation. In the East, his works are considered as sacred as holy scriptures. They have illuminated countless souls, and the study of his work can be considered to belong to the highest standard of culture.
The poet is a creator, and he creates in spite of all that confronts him. He creates a world of his own. By so doing, he rises naturally above that plane where only what is visible and touchable is regarded as real. When he sings to the sun, when he smiles to the moon, when he prays to the sea and when he looks at the plants, the forests and at life in the desert, he communicates with nature. In the eyes of the ordinary person he is imaginative, dreamy and visionary, and his thoughts seem to be in the air. But if one asks the poet what he thinks of these others, he will say that it is those who cannot fly who remain on the ground. It is natural that creatures who walk on the earth are not always able to fly. Those who fly in the air must have wings. Among human beings one will find that same difference, for in human beings, there are all things. There are souls like germs and worms, there are souls like animals and birds, and there are souls like jinnsand angels. Among human beings, all can be found — those who belong to the earth, those who dwell in heaven, and those who dwell in the very depths.
Those who were able to soar upward by the power of their imagination have been living poets. What they said was not only a statement, it was music itself. It not only had rhythm, but it also had tone. It made their souls dance, and it would make anyone dance who heard it. Thus Hafiz of Shiraz gives a challenge to the dignified, pious men of his country when he says, “Pious friends, you would forget your dignity if you would hear the song which came from my glowing heart.” It is such souls who have touched the highest summits of life so that they have been able to contribute some truth, giving an interpretation of human nature and the inner law of life.
It is another thing with poets who have made poetry for the sake of fame, name or popularity, or so that it might be appreciated by others — for that is business, not poetry. Poetry is an art, an art of the highest degree. The poet’s communication with nature brings him, in the end, to communicate with himself. By that communication he delves deeper and deeper within and without, communicating with life everywhere. This communication brings him into a state of ecstasy, and in his ecstasy, his whole being is filled with joy. He forgets the worries and anxieties of life, he rises above the praise and blame of this earth, and the things of this world become of less importance to him. He stands on the earth, but gazes into the heavens. His outlook on life becomes broadened and his sight keen. He sees things that no one else is interested in, that no one else sees.
This teaches us that what may be called heaven or paradise is not very far from man. It is always near him, if only he will look at it. Our life is what we look at. If we look at the right thing, then it is right. If we look at the wrong thing, then it is wrong. Our life is made according to our own attitude, and that is why the poet proves to be self-sufficient, and also indifferent and independent. These qualities become as wings for him to fly upward. The poet is in the same position as anyone else in regard to the fears and worries that life brings, the troubles and difficulties that everyone feels in the midst of the world. Yet, he rises above these things so that they do not touch him.
No doubt the poet is much more sensitive to the troubles and difficulties of life than an ordinary person. If he took to heart everything that came to him, all the jarring influences that disturbed his peace of mind, all the rough edges of life that everyone has to rub against, then he would not be able to go on. On the other hand, if he hardened his heart and made it less sensitive, then he would also close his heart to the inspiration which comes as poetry. Therefore, in order to open the doors of his heart, to keep its sensitiveness, the one who communicates with life within and without is open to all influences, whether agreeable or disagreeable, and is without any protection. His only escape from all the disturbances of life is through rising above them.
The prophetic message which was given by Zarathushtra to the people of Persia was poetic from beginning to end. It is most interesting to see that Zarathushtra showed in his scriptures and all through his life how a poet rises from earth to heaven. It suggests to us how Zarathushtra communicated with nature, with its beauty, and how with every step he took he touched deeper and deeper into the depths of life. Zarathushtra formed his religion by praising the beauty in nature and by finding the source of his art which is creation itself in the Artist who is behind it all.
What form of worship did he teach? He taught the same worship with which he began his poetry and with which he finished it. He said to his pupils, “Stand before the sea, look at the vastness of it, bow before it, before its source and goal.” He said to them, “Look at the sun and see what joy it brings. What is at the back of it? Where does it come from? Think of its source and goal and how you are heading towards it.” People then thought that it was sun worship, but it was not. It was the worship of light which is the source and goal of all. That communication within and without sometimes extended the range of a poet’s vision so much that it was beyond the comprehension of the average man.
When the Shah of Persia said that he would like to have the history of his country written, for one did not exist at that time, Firdausi, a poet who was inspired and intuitive said, “I will write it and bring it to you.” He began to meditate, throwing his searchlight as far back into the past as possible; and before the appointed time, he was able to prepare that book and bring it to the court. It is said that the spiritual power of that poet was so great that when someone at the court sneered at the idea of a man being able to look so far back into the past, he went up to him and put his hand on his forehead and said, “Now, see!” And the man saw with his own eyes that which was written in the book.
This is human; it is not superhuman, although examples of it are rarely to be found. For in the life of every human being, especially of one who is pure-hearted, loving, sympathetic and good, the past, present and future are manifested to a certain extent. If one’s inner light were thrown back as a searchlight, it could go much farther than man can comprehend. Some have to develop this gift, but others are born with it. Among those who are born with it, we find some who, perhaps, know 10 or 12 years beforehand what is going to happen. Therefore, a poet is someone who can focus his soul on the past and also throw his light on the future. He makes clear that which has not yet happened, but which has been planned beforehand and which already exists in the abstract.
It is such poetry that becomes inspirational poetry. It is through such poetry that the intricate aspects of metaphysics can be taught. All the Upanishads of the Vedas are written in poetry. Thesuras of the Qu’ranand Zarathushtra’s scriptures are all in poetry. All these prophets, whenever they came, brought the message in poetry.
The development of poetry in Persia occurred at a time when there was a great conflict between the orthodox and the free thinkers. At that time, the law of the nation was a religious law and no one was at liberty to express his free thoughts, which might be in conflict with the religious ideas. There were great thinkers such as Firdausi, Farid-ud-Din-Attar, Jelal-ud-Din Rumi, Sa’di, Hafiz, Jami and Omar Khayyam, who were not only poets, but were poetry itself. They were living in another world, although they appeared to be on earth. Their outlooks on life, their keen insights, were different from those of everyone else. The words which arose from their hearts were not brought forth with effort, but were natural flames enlightening souls of all times, whatever soul they had touched.
Sufism has been the wisdom of these poets. There has never been a poet of note in Persia who was not a Sufi, and every one of them added a certain aspect to the Sufi ideas. However, they took great care not to affront the minds of orthodox people. Therefore, a new terminology had to be invented in Persian poetry. The poets had to use words such as “wine,” “bowl,” “beloved,” and “rose,” words which would not offend the orthodox mind and would yet at the same time serve as symbolic expressions to explain the divine law.
It belongs to the work of the Sufi movement to interpret the ideas of these poets, to express their ideas in words that can be understood by modern people; for the value of those ideas is as great today as it ever was.
Farid-Ud-Din-Attar was one of the earliest Sufi poets of Persia, and there is no doubt that the work of Attar was the inspiration of Rumi and of many other spiritual souls and poets of Persia. He showed the way to the ultimate aim of life by making a sort of picture in a poetic form. Almost all the great teachers of the world, when they have pointed out the right way to seeking souls, have had to adopt a symbolical form of expression, such as a story or a legend which could give a key to the one who is ready to understand and at the same time interest the one who is not yet ready. Thus, both may rejoice, the one who sleeps, and the one who is already awakened. This method has been followed by the poets of Persia and India, especially the Hindustani poets. They have told their stories in a form which would be acceptable, not only to the seekers after truth, but to those in all the different stages of evolution.
Attar’s best known work is called Mantiq-ut-Tayr, or the “Colloquy of the Birds,” from which the idea of the “Blue Bird” has been taken today. Very few have understood the idea of the “Blue Bird”, or the “Bird of the Sky.” It contains a very ancient teaching, through the use of the Persian word for sky. This teaching points out that every soul has a capacity, which may be called the “sky,” and that this capacity can accommodate earth or heaven, whichever it partakes of and holds within itself. When one walks in a crowd, what does one see? One sees numerous faces, but one might better call them various attitudes. All that we see in individuals, all that presents itself to us, has expression, atmosphere and form. If we give it one name, it is the attitude, whatever attitude they have towards life, right or wrong, good or bad, they are, themselves, their attitude. Does this not show how appropriate the word “sky” is?
In point of fact, whatever one makes of oneself, one becomes that. The source of happiness or unhappiness is all in man, himself. When he is unaware of this, he is not able to arrange his life. As he becomes more acquainted with this secret, he gains mastery. The process by which this mastery is attained is the only fulfillment of the purpose of this life. It is this process which is explained by Attar in his description of the seven valleys through which this bird of the sky has passed.
The first valley is the Valley of the Quest. How true it is that every child is born with the tendency to search, to know! What we call inquisitiveness or curiosity is born in each one of them, and it represents the inner feeling of quest. And as man is born with this tendency, he cannot be satisfied until by searching he has obtained the knowledge he wishes to have. There is no doubt that what prevents man from gaining the knowledge that his soul is really searching for is himself. It is his small self, always standing in his way, that keeps him from searching for the only thing that every soul strives to find. Therefore, it would be safe to say that there is no one in this world who is a worse enemy of man than man himself.
In this search, some people think that one can perhaps find out from science or from art something that is behind this manifestation. Surely, whether the quest be material or spiritual, in the end, one will arrive, and one must arrive, at the goal that is the same for everyone. Scientists and engineers, people who are absorbed in research into material things and hardly ever think of spiritual matters, even they, after much research, arrive very close to the same knowledge that is the ultimate knowledge. Therefore, whatever a man may seem to us, materialist, atheist or agnostic, we cannot really call him that because, in the end, his goal is the same and his attainment is the same. If he really reaches the depths of knowledge, if he goes far enough, then whatever he was searching for, he will arrive at the same goal.
When he has searched enough and found something satisfying, a man still cannot enjoy that satisfaction unless there is one faculty at play, and that is the faculty of love and devotion. Do we not see in our everyday life that people of great intellect and wide interests very often seem to miss something? When it happens with a couple that one is very intellectual, the other may feel there is something lacking to make their lives complete, that intellect alone is not enough. What is it? It is the heart which balances life, and the absence of heart keeps life dry. Knowledge and heart are just like the positive and negative forces; it is these two things which make life balanced. If the heart quality is very strong and intellect is lacking, then life lacks balance. Knowledge and heart quality must be developed together. Therefore, according to Attar, the faculty of devotion or quality of heart is the Second Valley, the Valley of Love.
The Third Valley is the Valley of Knowledge, the knowledge which illuminates and comes by the help of the love element and the intellect. That is the knowledge which is called spiritual knowledge. Without a developed love quality, man is incapable of having that knowledge. There are fine lights and shades in one’s life that cannot be perceived and fully understood without having touched the deeper side of life, which is the devotional side. The person who has never in his life been wholly grateful cannot know what it is. He who has not experienced humility in life does not know its beauty. The one who has not known gentleness or modesty cannot appreciate its beauty or recognize it.
No doubt a person of fine qualities is often ridiculed if he happens to be in a place where these qualities are not understood, where they are like a foreign language. This shows that there is a refinement in life for which intellect, alone, is not sufficient. The heart must be open, too. A very intellectual man went to Jami and asked him to take him as his pupil and give him initiation. Jami looked at him and said, “Have you ever loved anybody?” This man said, “No, I have not loved.” Then Jami said, “Go and love first, then come to me and I will show you the way.”
Love has its time at every stage of life. As a child, as a youth, as an adult, whatever stage of life one has reached, love is always asked for and love always has its part to perform. Whatever situation we are placed in, amongst friends or foes, amongst those who understand us or amongst those who do not, in ease or in difficulty, in all places at all times, it has its part to perform. The one who thinks, “I must not let the principle of love have its way, I must harden myself against it,” imprisons his soul. There is only one thing in the world that shows the sign of heaven, that gives the proof of God, and that is pure, unselfish love. For, all the noble qualities which are hidden in the soul will spring forth and blossom when love helps them and nurtures them. Man may have a great deal of good in him and he may be very intelligent; but as long as his heart is closed, he cannot show that nobleness, that goodness which is hidden in his heart. The psychology of the heart is such that once one begins to know it, one realizes that life is a continual phenomenon. Then every moment of life becomes a miracle. A searchlight is thrown upon human nature and all things become so clear that one does not ask for any greater phenomenon or miracle; it is a miracle in and of itself. What one calls telepathy, thought reading, or clairvoyance, and all such things, come by themselves when the heart is open.
If a person is cold and rigid, he feels within himself as if he were in a grave. He is not living, he cannot enjoy this life for he cannot express himself and he cannot see the light and life outside.
What keeps man from developing the heart quality? His exacting attitude. He wants to make a business of love. He says, “If you will love me, I will love you.” As soon as a man measures and weighs his favors and his services and all that he does for one whom he loves, he ceases to know what love is. Love sees the beloved and nothing else.
As Rumi says, “Whether you love a human being or you love God, there will come a day when all lovers, either of man or of God, will be brought before the throne of love and the presence of that only Beloved will reign there.” What does this show? In loving our friend, in loving our neighbor, even in the love that one shows to one’s enemy, one is only loving God. The one who says, “I love God, but I cannot love man,” does not love God, he cannot. It is like saying, “I love you very much, but I do not like looking at your face!”
After this Third Valley, where the knowledge of human nature and of the fine feelings, which are called virtues, is attained, then the next step is Annihilation. What we call destruction or annihilation is nothing but change. Neither substance nor form nor spirit, nothing is absolutely destroyed, it is only changed. But man sometimes does not like to change. He does not like it, but he cannot live without it. There is not one single moment of our life when there is no change. Whether we accept it or not, the change is there. Destruction, annihilation or death might seem a very different change; yet, there are a thousand deaths that we die in life. A great disappointment, the moment when our heart breaks, is worse than death. Often, our experiences in life are worse than death, yet we go through them. At the time, they seem unbearable. We think we cannot stand it, but yet we live. If, after dying a thousand deaths, we still live, then there is nothing in the world to be afraid of. It is man’s delusion, his own imagination, which makes death dreadful to him. Can anyone kill life? If there is any death, it is that of death itself, for life will not die. Someone went to a Sufi with a question. He said, “I have been puzzling for many, many years and reading books and I have not been able to find a definite answer. Tell me what happens after death?” The Sufi replied, “Please ask this question of someone who will die. I am going to live.”
The idea is that there is one sky which is our own being; in other words, we can call it an accommodation. What has taken possession of this accommodation? A deluded ego that says, “I.” It is deluded by this body and mind and it has called itself an individual. When a man has a ragged coat, he says, “I am poor.”: In reality, his coat is poor, not he. What this capacity or accommodation contains is that which becomes his knowledge, his realization, and it is that which limits him. It forms that limitation which is the tragedy of every soul.
Now, this capacity may be filled with self, or it may be filled with God. There is only room for one. Either we live with our limitation, or we let God reign there in His unlimited Being. In other words, we take away the home which has always belonged to someone else and fill it with delusion and call it our own. We not only call it our own, but we even call it our self. That is man’s delusion, and all religious and philosophical teachings are given in order to rid man of this delusion that deprives him of his spiritual wealth. Spiritual wealth is the greatest wealth. Spiritual happiness is the only happiness, there is no other.
Once a person is able to disillusion himself, he arrives at the stage described in the Fourth Valley, the Valley of Non-Attachment, and he is afraid. He thinks, “How can I give my home to someone else, even if it is God? This is my body, my mind, my home, my individuality. How can I give it away, even to God?” In reality, it is not something upon which he can rely. It is delusion from beginning to end and subject to destruction. Does anything stand above destruction? Nothing. Then why be afraid to think for the moment that it is nothing? This natural fear arises because man is unaccustomed to face reality. He is so used to dreams that he is afraid of reality. People are afraid of losing themselves, but they do not know that non-attachment is not losing one’s self; it means losing illusion. In reality, it is only by losing this illusion that they can find themselves. One’s soul has become lost in this illusion, and the process is to get out of it, to rise above it.
By the time the Fifth Valley, the Valley of Unity, is reached, one has disillusioned one’s self, and it is this act which is called in the Bible, “Rebirth.” This is when the soul has emerged from illusion. It is the birth of the soul. How does this birth of the soul express itself? What does one feel? It expresses itself first in a kind of bewilderment, together with a great joy. A man’s interest in life is increased. All that he sees he enjoys. He concerns himself with few things, but wonders at all. This bewilderment is such that it becomes wonderfully amusing to look at life. The whole world becomes a kind of stage to him, full of players. He then begins to amuse himself with the people of this world, as one might play with children, and yet not be concerned with what they do, for he expects no better. If children do something different from the parents, the parents are not much concerned. They know it is a stage of the child’s life and that they cannot expect any better from them. So, likes and dislikes, favors and disfavors, may interest him, but they will not affect him in the least.
There is another stage, where this bewilderment brings a man to see the reflection of the One who has taken possession of his heart. This means also to see one’s Beloved in everyone, even in one’s enemy. The Beloved is seen in all things, and then the bowl of poison given by the Beloved is not so bitter. Those who, like Christ, have sacrificed themselves and suffered for humanity, have given an example to the world. They have revealed a God-conscious soul who has reached the stage where even an enemy appears as a friend, as the Beloved. It is not an attainable stage, for the soul is made of love, and it is going towards the perfection of love. All the virtues man has learned, love has taught him. Therefore, this world of good and bad, of thorns and flowers, can become a place of splendor only.
In the Sixth Valley, the Valley of Amazement, man recognizes and understands what is beyond all things, the reason of all reasons, the cause of all causes; for all intuition and power develop in man with this unfoldment.
The Seventh Valley, the Valley of God-Realization, is the valley of that peace which every soul is looking for, whether spiritually or materially, seeking from morning until night for something that will give it peace. To some souls, that peace comes when asleep; but for the God-conscious, that peace becomes his home. As soon as he has closed his eyes, as soon as he has relaxed his body, stilled his mind and lost the limitations of his consciousness, he begins to float in the limitless spheres.
The poetry of Jelal-ud-Din Rumi has made the greatest impression upon humanity. In the beginning, he was inspired by Farid-ud-Din-Attar. Although Jelal-ud-Din Rumi was a highly educated man who had the gift of speech, his soul was waiting for an enlightenment that came in the latter part of his life. Then, Shams-e Tabrez, a dervish, entered his life, a man in rags, showing no learned qualifications recognizable to the world, yet he was in tune with the infinite and, to speak in religious terms, had gained the kingdom of God.
This man happened to come to the home of Rumi, who welcomed him, as was his habit. Rumi was working on a manuscript, and the first thing Shams-e Tabrez did was to throw the manuscript away. Rumi looked at him in wonder. Shams-e Tabrez said, “Haven’t you had enough of reading and study? Now study life instead of a book!” Rumi respectfully listened to the words of Shams-e Tabrez, who said, “All things which seem of importance, what are they on the day when you depart? What is rank, what is power, what is position? A far greater problem is, what will go with you, for the solution of that problem will lead you to eternity. The problems of this world, you may solve them and solve them, yet they are never finished. What have you understood about God, about man? What relationship have you found between man and God? If you worship God, why do you worship Him? What is limitation, what is perfection? And how can one seek for it?”
After this conversation, Rumi realized that it is not learning, but living the knowledge, that counts. For he had read much and he had thought much, but he suddenly saw that what was important was not saying, but being. When he realized this, and after Shams-e Tabrez had left, he wrote the following verse: “The King of the earth and of heaven, of whom people have spoken, today I have seen in the form of man.” For he saw how wide can be the heart of man, how deeply the soul of man can be touched, and how high the spirit of man can reach.
Rumi then followed this dervish. Everyone in his family and also his friends were against this because to ordinary people, a mystic is a queer individual who is not of this world and whose ideas are unusual. The language of the mystic is quite different, his ways are strange, his ideas do not correspond with the ideas of the practical man. Naturally, they thought Rumi was going backwards instead of forwards.
Rumi had to give up his position, and he wandered from place to place with Shams-e Tabrez. After he had followed Shams-e Tabrez for several months, everyone blaming him for this action, one day the Master disappeared. This left Rumi in very great sorrow. On the one hand, he had given up his position and his work, and on the other hand, the teacher whom he followed had left him. However, this was his initiation. For Rumi, this was the birth of the soul. From that moment on, he looked at life from quite a different point of view.
The result of this impression was that for a long period of time, Jelal-ud-Din Rumi experienced a kind of ecstasy, and during this ecstasy he wrote the, “Divan of Shams-e Tabrez.” For owing to the oneness he had achieved with the heart of his teacher, he began to see all that his teacher had thought and spoken of. For that reason he did not call it his book, but he called it his teacher’s book. His heart, which had listened to his master so attentively, became a reproducing and recording machine. All that had once been spoken began to repeat itself, and Rumi experienced a wonderful upliftment, a great joy and exaltation. In order to make this exaltation complete, Rumi began to write verses, and the singers used to sing them. When Rumi heard these beautiful verses sung by the singers with their rabab, the Persian musical instrument, he experienced the stage known to yogis as samadhi, which in Persian is called wajad.
Man today has become so material that he is afraid of any experience except that of the senses. He believes that only what he can experience through the senses is a real experience, and that that which is not experienced by the senses is something unbalanced, something to be afraid of; it means going into deep waters, something abnormal, at the least an untrodden path. Very often man is afraid that he might fall into a trance, or have a feeling which is unusual, and thinks that those who experience such things are fanatics who have gone out of their minds. But it is not so. Thought belongs to the mind, feeling to the heart. Why should one believe that thought is right and feeling is wrong?
All the different experiences of meditative people are of thought and feeling, but the poet who receives inspiration experiences a joy that others cannot experience. It is a joy that belongs to inspiration, and the poet knows it. A composer, after having composed his music, is filled with a certain joy, a certain upliftment that others do not know.
Does a poet or musician lose his mind by this? On the contrary, he becomes more complete. He experiences a wider, deeper, keener, fuller life than the life that others live. A life of sensation lacks the experience of exaltation. Even religious prayers, rituals and ceremonies were intended to produce exaltation, for it is one of the needs of life. Exaltation is as necessary, or perhaps even more so, as the cultivation of thought.
Rumi had many disciples seeking guidance from him. Through his deep sorrow and bewilderment, he achieved another outlook; his vision became different. At that time, he wrote his most valuable work, which is studied in all the countries of the East: It is called Masnavi-i Ma’navi,and it is a living scripture in itself which has enlightened numerous souls. It has led the sincere seeker as far as he was able to go, yet it is so simple. There is no complexity, there are no dogmas, no principles, no great moral teachings, no expressions of piety. What he wrote is the law of life, and he has expressed that law in a kind of word-picture.
In this work, Rumi tried to show the mystic vision and to explain in verse what the prophetic mission means. In the Western world, many have never even thought about the subject of the prophet and his work in the world. What they know about prophets is only what is told in the Old Testament about those who prepared the world for the message of Jesus Christ. But what Rumi wished to explain about prophethood was the meaning of Jesus’ words, “I am Alpha and Omega.” Rumi wished to express that the One who is first and last was, and is, and ever will be, and that we should not limit Him to one period in history.
Then Rumi explained that the words of the prophet are the words of God, Himself. He took as an example the flute of reed, which is open at one end, while the other end is in the mouth of the musician, the player. He wished to show that at one end of the flute were the lips of the prophet, and that at the other end was to be heard the voice of God. For the Muslims have never called the message given by the Prophet the message of Mohammad; they always speak of kalam-ullah, which means the Word of God. The person of the Prophet is not mentioned, and that is why the Muslims also never call their religion “Mohammadanism,” but they call it, “Islam,” or “peace.” They are even offended if one calls their religion the Mohammadan religion; they say, “The Prophet was the instrument through which God expressed Himself. God is capable of speaking through any instrument, all are His instruments. It is the spirit of God which must be brought forward.”
The original words of Rumi are so deep, so perfect, so touching, that when one man repeats them, hundreds and thousands of people are moved to tears. They cannot help penetrating the heart. This shows how much Rumi, himself, was moved to have been able to pour out such living words. Many wanted to consider him a prophet, but he said, “No, I am not a prophet, I am a poet.” When Hafiz wrote about Rumi, he said, “I am not capable of writing about the verses of Rumi. What I can say is that he is not a prophet, but he is the one who brought the Sacred Book.” In other words, he wanted to say that, in fact, he was a prophet.
No poet of Persia has given such a wonderful picture of metaphysics, of the path of evolution and of higher realization, as Rumi, although the form of his poetry is not so beautiful as that of Hafiz. Explaining about the soul, Rumi says, “The melodious music that comes as a cry from the heart of the flute of reed brings to you a message. The flute wants to say, ‘I was taken away from the stem to which I belonged, I was cut apart from that stem, and several holes were made in my heart. And it is this that made me sad, and my cry appeals to every human being.’”
By the flute, he means the soul, the soul which has been cut apart from its origin, from the stem, the stem which is God. And the constant cry of the soul, whether it knows it or not, is to find again that stem from which it has been cut apart. It is this longing that those who do not understand interpret as due to lack of wealth, position or worldly ambitions. However, those who understand find the real meaning of this longing, and that is to come nearer, closer to the Source, as the reed longs to find its stem.
The difference between Jelal-ud-Din Rumi’s work and the work of the great Hafiz of Persia is that Hafiz has pictured the outer life, whereas Rumi has pictured the inner life. And if I were to compare the three greatest poets of Persia, I would call Sa’di the body of the poet, Hafiz the heart of the poet, and Rumi the soul of the poet.
In the East, the works of Sa’di have been considered to be simple, educational, and at the same time uplifting. In India, Sa’di’s poem, “Karima,” is taught to children of nine and ten. This work is not just a legend or an amusing story; it is like a seed sown in the heart of a child of that age, so that, in time, it may flourish and bring forth fruits of good thought and imagination. “Karima” is a poem of thanksgiving. In it, the first lesson Sa’di gives is how to be grateful, how to express gratitude, how to appreciate. He gives the lesson of gratefulness and appreciation for everything in the world, for the kindness and love of the mother and father, of the friend and the companion, by teaching first of all gratefulness to God for all the blessings and benefits man receives.
Sa’di was a lover of humor, and he was a very simple man. He began his gulistan with a prayer, in which he said, “Let me not show my infirmities to others, but to thee, my Lord, for Thou art the Judge and Thou art the Forgiver.” The way in which he proceeds in this prayer is wonderful and so simple, and yet it has touched thousands and thousands of people.
In “Karima,” Sa’di begins by saying, “Oh Lord, most merciful, I ask Thy forgiveness, for I am limited; and in this life of limitation, I am always apt to err.” He teaches in the first lesson that man should recognize his limited condition and realize that this limitedness makes him subject to error. At the same time, he suggests that the innermost desire of every soul is to rise above limitations and keep from error, to seek divine love and ask pardon, and to appreciate all the blessings received in life in order rise towards the ideal stage of the human man.
When we look at life today, it seems that this is the very thing that is lacking. When children grow up without that tendency of appreciation, they often cannot understand what their mother has done for them, what their father has done, what their duty is to their friends, to older people, or to their teacher. When they grow up without developing this gratefulness, then the egotistic aspect of their nature naturally develops and becomes a menace. A boy who does not appreciate in his childhood all that his mother has done for him cannot learn to be tender and gentle to his wife, for he should have learned his first lesson with his mother.
Everything that springs up by nature has to be refined, and in its fulfillment it has to become perfect. From childhood, there is a self-asserting tendency in human beings. In the nature of the child, the “I” is most pronounced, and of everything he possesses he says, “my.” If this is not changed, if the same attitude persists when that child grows older, he becomes hard to those around him and this “I” and what he calls “my” cause difficulties for them all.
The whole of religious, spiritual and philosophical teaching leads us towards the development of the personality. There is something in man that is made by nature, but there is also something that a man himself has to make. Man is born as man, but man develops in order to become human. And if man remains only man as he was born, and the same qualities with which he was born remain undeveloped and unrefined, then he does not fulfill the object of life. With all the great ones who have come from time to time to this world and whom we recognize as saints and sages, masters, teachers and inspired helpers, it is not always the philosophy they taught, it is not always the dogmas or the form of religion they gave that was of the greatest importance. What was most important was their personality, their person. The teachings of Buddha are held in esteem by many millions; but greater than his teachings was the life he lived and the wisdom he expressed in his life, for therein lies the fulfillment of his message.
Man is born with a purpose, and that purpose is fulfilled in the refinement of his personality. This unrefined nature of the ego, when developed through life, has an effect like the prick of a thorn. Wherever, whoever, whatever it touches, it causes some harm or disturbance, some destruction. So, when the personalities of human beings are not refined and they are confronted with temptations, with all the things that attract them, things they like and admire and wish to possess, then they come up against the conflicting activities of life and they rub against everything like a thorn, tearing it to pieces. And what happens? No doubt when thorns rub against thorns, they crush one another and they feel it less; but when thorns rub against flowers, they tear them to pieces.
If we ask individuals in all walks of life what they find to be their difficulty in life, they may tell us that they lack wealth or power or position; but mostly, their complaint will be that they are in some way or other hurt by others, by a friend, a parent, a child, their life’s companion, a neighbor, or a colleague. They are disturbed or troubled and in difficulty from morning till night by the influence of this thorn-life which touches and scratches them. Yet man does not seem to ponder deeply enough on this subject. Life is blinding and it keeps him always busy and engaged in finding fault with others. He does not find the thorn in himself, he always sees the thorn in other people.
Sa’di has tried in simple language to help man towards the development in his personality of the flower-like quality, to train his personality which was made to be a flower and not a thorn. He has called his books gulistan, which means “a flower bed or a rose garden”; and bustan, “a place of fragrance.” His whole life’s work was to explain to man how the heart can be turned into a flower and that it is made to spread its perfume. If only one can train it and tend it, it will show the delicacy, beauty and fragrance of a flower, and that is the purpose of our life.
There is no mystification in Sa’di’s poetry. It is full of wit and intelligence, and at the same time it is original. The most wonderful thing that one finds in the poetry of Sa’di is his humorous turn of mind. He is ready to look at the funny side of things and to amuse and enjoy himself. How few of us in this world know what real, true mirth means, humor that is not vulgarized, not abused! It shows the rhythm and tune of the soul. Without humor, life is dull and depressing. Humor is the reflection of that divine life and sun which makes life like a day full of sunshine. And a person who reflects divine wisdom and divine joy adds to the expression of his thought when he expresses his ideas with mirth.
One day Sa’di was sitting in a bookseller’s shop where his books were sold. The bookseller was absent and someone came in and asked for one of Sa’di’s books, not knowing that he was speaking to the poet, himself. Sa’di said, “What do you like about Sa’di’s books? He replied, “Oh, he is a funny fellow!” Whereupon Sa’di made him a present of the book. When he wished to pay for it, Sa’di said, “No, I am Sa’di, and when you called me a funny fellow, you gave me all the reward I could wish for!”
He wanted life to be joyous. Spirituality does not mean a long face and deep sighs. No doubt there are moments when we sympathize with the troubles of others. There are moments that move us to tears, and there are times when we must close our lips. But there are other moments when we can see the joyous side of life and enjoy its beauties. Man is not born into this world for depression and unhappiness. His very being is happiness. Depression is something unnatural. By this, I do not mean to say that sorrow is a sin or that suffering is always avoidable. We all have to experience both in life in order to accomplish the purpose of life. We cannot always be smiling, and there is no spiritual evolution in ignoring either side of life. As long as one is not bound, it is no sin to stand in the midst of life. Man need not go into the forest away from everyone to show his goodness and his virtue. Of what use is his goodness and virtue if he buries himself in the forest? It is in the midst of life that we have to develop and express all that is beautiful, perfect and divine to our souls.
In the gulistan, Sa’di expresses a wonderful thought. He says, “Every soul is meant for a certain purpose, and the light of that purpose has been kindled in that soul.” It is one short verse, but it is a volume in itself. It suggests to us that this whole universe is like a single symphony and that all souls are like the different notes. Their activities accord with the rhythm of this symphony, and the purpose of their life is to perfect this symphony.
People are often anxious to do a certain thing, and they wait for years and years, unhappy, in despair, for the right moment to come. The soul knows subconsciously that there is a note to be struck, and at the moment when it strikes that note, this soul will be satisfied. Yet the soul does not know what note it is nor when it will be struck.
What is life, and what keeps us living in this world of limitation, this world of continual changes, full of falsehood and full of suffering and trouble? If there is anything in this world that keeps us alive it is hope, the honey of life. There is not one soul in this world who will say, “Now I am satisfied, I have no further desire.” In everyone, whatever be his position in life, very rich or very poor, full of health or ailing, in all conditions, man is continually yearning and waiting for something to come. He does not know what, but he is waiting for something to come. The real explanation of life is waiting, waiting for something. And what is it that man awaits? It is the fulfillment of the purpose of life that comes when the soul strikes that note, the note which is meant to be that soul’s note. This it seeks, whether on the outer plane or on the inner plane.
Man has not fulfilled his life’s purpose until he has struck that note which is his note, and the greatest tragedy in life is obscurity of purpose. When the purpose is not clear, man suffers, he cannot breath. He does not know what to do. This life will present him with things that will interest him for the moment; but as soon as he possesses them, he will say, “No, this is not it, it is something else.” So man goes on in illusion, constantly seeking and yet not knowing what he seeks. Blessed is he who knows his life’s purpose, for that is the first step to fulfillment.
How are we to know our life’s purpose? Can anybody tell us? No, no one can tell us, for life in its very nature is self-revealing and it is our own fault if we are not open to that revelation that life offers to us. It is not the fault of life. Man is the offspring of nature; therefore, his purpose belongs to nature. But the artificiality of life brings obscurity, and this prevents him from receiving that knowledge which is the revelation of his own soul.
If asked how one should proceed, I would advise the study of every object, whether false or true, which holds and attracts us, either outwardly or inwardly. We should not be doubting and suspicious. What Christ taught from morning until night was faith, but the interpretation generally given to this word does not make it clear. People have said that it means faith in a priest, in a church, or in a sect; but that is not the meaning. The true meaning of faith is trust in oneself.
The works of Sa’di, from beginning to end, teach the first lesson of faith, which is to understand that we are not here in this world in vain, to waste our lives. We are here for a purpose, everyone for a particular purpose. Each one of us is an atom of this universe and completes the symphony; and when we do not strike our note, it means that note is lacking in the symphony of the whole. When we do not fulfill our life’s purpose in the way for which we were created, we are not living rightly and consequently, we are not happy.
Our happiness depends on living rightly, and right living depends on striking our note. The realization of that purpose is in the book of our heart. Open that book and look at it. The aim of all meditation, concentration and contemplation is only to open this book, to focus our mind, and to see what purpose there is in our life. As soon as we see that our ultimate goal, our life’s object and happiness, our true health and well being, and our real wealth lie in the fulfillment of our purpose, then the whole trend of our life will change.
Shams-Ud-Din Mohammad Hafiz
The name of Hafiz is well known to everyone interested in the poetry of Persia because among the Persian poets, Hafiz is unique in his depth of thought and the excellence of the symbolism with which he expresses his thoughts and philosophical ideas.
There was a time when a deep and independent thinker had great difficulty in expressing his thoughts. Although this has not entirely changed, there does seem, in some ways, to be much more freedom of expression in this age. In ancient times when anyone expressed his thoughts freely about life and its hidden law, about the soul, God, creation and manifestation, he met with great difficulties. The chief difficulty was that the government was in the hands of various religious authorities; and under their rule, the principles of exoteric religion prevailed. Therefore, those who sought attainment through the esoteric side of philosophy always had difficulty in speaking to people about it. Many were persecuted. They were stoned, they were flayed, they were put to death in different ways. All sorts of punishments were inflicted upon them. Because of this, the progress of humanity was retarded. Today we no longer see this; nevertheless, the limited attitude of the human mind in regard to religious and philosophical questions is to be found in all ages. The Sufis, by the help of meditation, found the source of knowledge in their own hearts; but it was very difficult to give to the world in plain words what little they could explain of the truth. No doubt the truth cannot be spoken of in words, yet those gifted with poetic and prophetic expression have always had the inclination and tendency to express what their souls experienced.
Hafiz found a way of expressing the experiences of his soul and his philosophy in verse, for the soul enjoys expressing itself in verse. The soul, itself, is music; and when it is experiencing the realization of divine truth, its tendency is to express itself in poetry. Hafiz, therefore, expressed his soul in poetry. And what poetry! Poetry full of light and shade, line and color, poetry full of feeling. No poetry in the world can be compared to that of Hafiz in its delicacy. Only the fine soul who has a subtle perceptions of light and shade expressed in words can grasp the meaning of the illumination of the soul. Nevertheless, the words of Hafiz have won every heart that has listened. Even those who do not wholly understand them are won by their rhythm, charm and beauty of expression.
In the East, the Persian language is considered to be the most delightful of all for poetry. It is soft, it is expressive, and its expression is tender. Every object has perhaps 10 names for the poet to choose from, and the slightest thought can be expressed in some 20 different ways according to the poet’s choice.
Hafiz, whose style resembles that of Solomon, used in his poetry symbolical terms such as the beloved’s beautiful countenance, her smiles, her glance, her graceful movements, the lover’s feeling heart, his deep sigh, his pearl-like tears, the nightingale, the rose, the wine, the cup and the tavern, the arrow and the bow, spring and autumn. With these terms he composed a special language in which he subtly expressed life’s secret. All the other Persian poets, and also many of the poets of India, have adopted this terminology. Persian poetry is like painting; these poets painted pictures of the different aspects of life. The work of Hafiz, from beginning to end, is one series of beautiful pictures, ever-revealing and most inspiring. Once a person has studied Hafiz, he has reached the top of the mountain from whence he beholds the sublimity of the immanence of God.
The mission of Hafiz was to express to a fanatical religious world that the presence of God is not to be found only in heaven, but also here on earth. Very often, religious belief in God and in the hereafter has kept man asleep, waiting for that hour and day to come when he will be face to face with his Lord, and he is certain that that day will not come before he is dead. Therefore, he awaits his death in the hope that he will see God in the hereafter, for heaven is the only place where God can be found. There is no other place. He thinks that only a certain place, that is the church, is a sacred place of worship and that God cannot be found anywhere else. The mission of Hafiz was to destroy this idea and to make man conscious of the heaven close to him and to tell him that all he expects as a reward in the hereafter could be had here if he lived a fuller life.
The same ideal that one finds in all religions and that was one of the principal teachings of Jesus Christ, namely that God is love, was also the chief ideal of Hafiz; and he has expressed it constantly in his “Divan.” If there is anything divine in man, it is love. If God is to be found anywhere, it is in man’s heart, which is love. And if the love element is awakened in the heart, then God is, so to speak, made alive and is born in man’s self. But at the same time, Hafiz has shown in his poetry what the key to this is, and that key is appreciation of beauty in all forms.
Beauty is not always to be found in an object or in a person. Beauty depends upon one’s attitude towards life, how one looks at it, and its effect depends upon our power of appreciation. The very same music, poetry or painting will touch one person so that he feels its beauty to the very depths of his being; while another person may look at it but not see it. The whole of manifestation has its beauty. Sometimes its beauty is clearly manifest to us, sometimes we have to look for it. We may meet a good person, and we are always charmed by the beauty of goodness. But we may meet another person who seems bad, and yet at the same time, there is good hidden in him somewhere if we would only look for it, if we only had the desire to draw it out. The badness is not always in the objects and persons, but is often in our way of looking at them. The whole trend of the poetry of Hafiz is to awaken that appreciation and love of beauty that is the only means by which to experience that bliss which is the purpose of our life.
Someone asked a Sufi the reason for this creation, and he answered, “God, whose being is love itself, desired to experience the nature of His own being; and in order to experience it, He had to manifest Himself.” God, Himself, and His manifestation, the soul and God — this dual aspect — can be seen in all forms of nature, in the sun and the moon, in night and day, in male and female, in positive and negative, and in all things of opposite characteristics in order that this love principle, itself the original and the only principle behind the whole of manifestation, may have full play. That is why the fulfillment of the purpose of life lies in the full expression of the love principle.
Very often, by learning philosophy and by looking at this world with pessimistic thoughts, people have renounced the world and have called it material and false. They have left this world and gone to the forest, desert or a cave and have taught the principle of self-denial and renunciation. This was not the way of Hafiz. He said that life is like journeying over the sea and coming to a new port; and before landing, a man becomes frightened and says, “But perhaps I shall be attacked, or the place will attract me so much that I shall not be able to go back to where I came from.” But he does not know why he has started on that journey. He has certainly not undertaken it in order to go back again without landing somewhere. The attitude of Hafiz is to land there, to risk it. If it turns out to be an attractive place, then he is ready to be won. If it will crush him, he is ready to be crushed. This is a daring attitude, to not run away from this false world, but to discover glimpses of the truth in this false world and to find God’s purpose in this maze.
There is another great revelation which Hafiz has brought before humanity in a most beautiful form. Many people in this world have, at one time, believed in God, in His mercy and compassion, in His love and forgiveness; but after having suffered, after seeing catastrophes and injustice, they have given up their belief, and after great sorrow they have given up their religion. The reason for this is that the religion they have followed has taught them that God is goodness, or God is Judge; and so they ask justice from that Judge, but a justice to satisfy their own ideas. They think that their standard of justice is God’s, and they also look for goodness according to their understanding of it. Thus, a struggle arises in their hearts. They do not see justice because they are looking for it from their own point of view. They are looking for goodness, kindness and mercy from their own point of view, and there are many situations which make them think that there is no justice and no such thing as an element of forgiveness.
The way of Hafiz is different. The name of God is hardly to be found in the “Divan.” He does not express belief in God as the Just and the Good. His God is his Beloved, to whom he has surrendered in perfect love and devotion. Everything coming from the Beloved is accepted by him with love and devotion, as a reward. He prefers poison coming from the hand of the Beloved to nectar from the hand of another. He prefers death to life, if it is the wish of the Beloved.
One may ask if this is fair. There is no question of fairness where there is love. Law is beneath love. Law is born of love. The mistake today is that we consider law to be higher than love. We do not see that the divine principle which is love stands above law. Man makes of God a judge who is bound by law, who cannot do His own will, but has to do according to what is written in His book. God is not justice. Justice is His nature, but love is predominant. People attach such importance to actions and their results. They do not know that above action and result is a law which can consume the fire of hell, which can dominate even if the whole world were being drowned in the flood of destruction. They do not know that the power of love is greater than any other.
Think of the hen when she takes care of her little ones. If they are threatened with danger, even if it should be a horse or an elephant, she would fight because the love principle is predominant. A kind mother is ready to forgive when her son comes with bowed head and says, “Mother, I have been foolish, I have not listened to you; I have been insolent, I am sorry.” She is ready to understand, she is ready to forgive. So we see mercy and compassion going forth as love, a stream of love which can purify all the evil actions of years. Also, if a human being can actually forgive, then why should God not forgive? Many of the dogmatic religions have taken away the love element that makes God sovereign. Instead, they make a God who is limited, who is bound by the book, and who cannot show His compassion. If God were so limited, He could not be just. An individual would be better because an individual can forgive.
The poetry of Hafiz has inspired the poets of Persia, as well as poets of India. The great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore sometimes imparted a Persian color to his poems, and it is that color which has made them so popular.
Hafiz was the disciple of a master, and on one occasion, he and some of the other disciples were told to meditate at a certain time of the night. While he was in meditation, the teacher called out, “Hafiz!” and Hafiz came immediately. It was at this moment that the teacher inspired him, for he had reached that stage where he could inspire anyone instantly. But there were ten other disciples whose names were Hafiz, also, so the teacher called, “Hafiz!” ten times. Each time this same Hafiz came, for the others were sleeping instead of meditating.
This is a symbolical story. The Inspirer is calling us from every direction, but we do not all respond. The voice is always there, the light is there, the guidance is there, but we are not always ready or willing to respond. We are not always open to the call. In reality, this is not only the story of Hafiz, but the story of every soul on earth.
Hafiz gives a picture of human nature: hate, jealousy, love, kindness, vanity, the play of friendly impulse, the play of pride, and all aspects of life. Hafiz is not only a poet, but he is also a painter. He has made pictures of the different aspects of life. Every verse is a picture, and in every picture, whatever be its color — vanity, pride, conceit, love, mercy, or compassion, in all their garbs — he sees only one spirit, the spirit of the Beloved. He shows the same devotion, appreciation and love to all the manifestations of that one and the same Beloved.
He has insight into life and looks at life from a psychological point of view. However, at the same time, he sees the whole of life as the phenomenon of love, harmony and beauty, and he recognizes all the different aspects of love, harmony and beauty. Whatever they be, he weaves them into a form so beautiful that it makes a most wonderful picture.
From beginning to end, his phraseology is peculiar to himself. He uses words such as wine, the goblet, the beloved, the beautiful countenance of the beloved, the running river, the rising spring, the clear sky, the moon, the sun. Also, in these poems, the lover continually reproaches the beloved. Then there is the indifference of the beloved towards all except her lover, so beautifully expressed that it almost seems as if while he was writing these poems the poet’s soul was dancing. There is such musical inspiration that every line of his poetry is a strain of music.
The word “wine” is often used; and according to the mystic, life is wine. To the mystic, each person drinks a wine peculiar to himself. Hafiz pictures the whole world as a wine press, and every person takes that wine, which is in accordance with his own evolution. The wine of one is not the wine of another. He wishes to express the idea that every person, whether evolved or ignorant, whether honest or dishonest, whether he realizes it or not, whether he has a great belief or no belief at all, is, in every case, taking a certain wine. It is the type of intoxication produced by that particular wine that is his individuality; and when a person changes, he does so by drinking another wine. Every different kind of wine changes the outlook on life, and every change in life is like taking a different wine.
Then Hafiz praises those who have come to a high realization. He says, “Be not fooled by the patched garment of the wandering dervish, for under the patched sleeves, most powerful hands are hidden.” He also says, “The bare-headed have a crown over their head, if you only knew.” By this he means that once a person has absorbed the thought of reality, it is not only that this enobles his soul, but it gives him a kingly spirit. It is like being crowned. It is this inspiration and power which, in his poetry, he calls intoxication.
There are many religions and beliefs according to which someday man will be able to communicate with God. But when will that day come? Life is so short and our hearts are so hungry! And if it does not come today, perhaps it will not come at all. Therefore, the one thing that Hafiz has pointed out from beginning to end is this, “Do not wait for that day to come tomorrow. Communicate with the Beloved now; He is before you here in the form of your friend and in the form of your enemy; with a bowl of poison or with a rose. Recognize this and know it, for this is the purpose of life.” Religions have made it seem like a journey of millions of miles, but Hafiz has brought it close at hand.
Man likes complexity. He does not want to take only one step; it is more interesting to look forward to millions of steps. The man who is seeking the truth gets into a maze, and that maze interests him. He wants to go through it a thousand times more. It is just like children. Their whole interest is in running about; they do not want to see the door and go in until they are very tired. So it is with adults. They all say that they are seeking truth, but they like the maze. That is why the mystics made the greatest truths a mystery, to be given only to the few who were ready for them, letting the others play because it was the time for them to play.
According to the ideas of the Sufis and of all the prophets and sages who ever came to this world, the love principle is the first principle, and so it is also the last principle. There are different Yogas practiced by people of India that are the intellectual, scientific, philosophical and moral paths to God. However, the most desirable path to God that the Hindus have ever found, one which makes the whole of life beautiful, is Bhakta Yoga, the path of devotion, for it is the natural path. Man’s inclination is love. If he is cold, it is because he is longing for love. If he is warm, it is because love is alive. If he is suffering from depression, is yearning or sorrowing, it is because the love principle is not alive. The only life, the very source of inspiration, salvation and liberation, is love.
Those great souls who have brought the message of God to humanity from time to time, like Buddha, Krishna, Jesus Christ, Moses, Abraham or Zarathushtra, were well known as most learned men. But whatever they learned, they learned from the love principle. What they knew was compassion, forgiveness, sympathy, tolerance, the attitude of appreciation, the opening of the heart to humanity. What they taught was love, a simple truth. If religions seem complex, they have been added to. In every case, what was brought by the prophet was simple, and it was expressed in his personality and his life. It is that influence which has remained for centuries after they have passed away. It is not the literature they have left; most of the literature is from their pupils. It is the simple truth shown in their personalities, in their lives. The error of this day and age is that we cannot understand the simple truth, the truth as it is manifested everywhere. Instead, we are trying to find truth covered by a shell.
At the same time, Hafiz teaches one to see both the ultimate truth and the ultimate justice in God. He teaches that justice is not in related things, that perfect justice is in totality. He shows that the power behind manifestation is the love power and that it is by this power that the whole world was created. It is the love principle, whether it works through God or through man. If that principle is at the back of the whole of creation, then it is this same principle that helps man to fulfill the purpose of his life.
ART, YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
The Essence of Art
Many think that art is something different from nature, but it would be better to say that art is the completion of nature. One may ask how man can improve upon nature, which is made by God, but the fact is that God Himself, through man, finishes His creation in art. As all the different elements are God’s vehicles, and as all the trees and plants are His instruments through which He creates, so art is the medium of God through which God Himself completes His creation.
No doubt not all so-called art is necessarily art. By looking at true art, man is able to see the realization of the prayer, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Throughout the whole of creation, from one thing to another, the Creator has worked through evolution. In man the Creator has, so to speak, completed nature; yet the creative faculty is still working through man, and thus art is the ultimate step in creation. Although in fact all that man creates, scientifically or artistically, is art, those objects that are produced with a sense of beauty in man, are the main expression of this creative faculty.
Besides being the creative power of God, art is the expression of the soul of the artist. An artist cannot give out what he has not collected, although man ignores the way this is done. The artist’s soul conceives, and the artist produces only that which his soul recognizes as having been conceived. Once it is understood that the artist not only produces but also conceives, then it is not difficult for a man whose heart is awakened to see the soul of an artist. Art in color, in line, is nothing but the echo of his soul. If the soul of the artist is going through torture, his picture gives us the feeling of awe; if the soul of the artist is enjoying harmony, we will see harmony in his colors, in the lines. What does this show? It shows that the soul works automatically through the brush of the artist. The more deeply the artist is touched by the beauty that his soul conceives from the outside, the greater is the appeal of that beauty to those who see his work.
What is it in line and color that has such an influence on man’s faculties? The vibrations that the color produces thrill the centers, the centers of the intuitive faculties that are hidden in the body. A person looks at a color and immediately feels thrilled about it. Each degree of vibration that the various colors produce is different, and therefore their influence too is different. Yet, while one person may be open to that effect and influence, another is so blocked that colors make little impression upon him. For the same reason, women are more responsive to color and line than men are. A woman is responsive by nature, and a man is expressive; therefore a woman receives the impression of color more readily than a man, who is apt to repel it. But at the same time, a man with fine feeling, with the intuitive faculty awakened, will respond to color, while a man whose faculties are not yet opened does not.
Strong colors produce more distinct vibrations. Their effect is more noticeable than that of soft colors, and therefore it is natural that strong colors can make an impression upon every soul. In order to distinguish the impression made by soft colors, delicacy of sense is required. For instance, the simple words of everyday language are understood by anyone. But not everyone understands the finer shades that follow the words. Therefore color, which is only a color and nothing else to ordinary people, has its special value, its degrees of influence, for a person with a finer sense.
The harmony of color is based on the same principles as the harmony of music. The reason is that music is audible vibrations, while color is the visible form of vibrations. From the metaphysical point of view, color has a great significance in man’s life. The first thing to be understood in connection with color is that the different colors come from the essence of light. All the different colors are different degrees of light, but as there are three aspects of light, this sometimes produces confusion in the mind of those who have not given thought to the subject. One aspect of light manifests through color; it is the radiance of the color itself. The next aspect is when the sun or something else throws its light upon the color; and the color responds to that light. And the third light is the light of the eyes that see. Any given color is not the same to everybody. Not only because the degree of light of every person is different, or that the light which falls on the subject is different, or the degree of the color is different, but also because the element which that particular color represents produces a certain degree of response in an individual.
According to the mystical idea, there are four principal elements that can be distinguished and one that is indistinct. The distinct elements are earth, water, fire, and air. They are not elements in the sense in which a scientist would use this word, but rather according to the meaning that the mystic attaches to it. The indistinct element is the ether. All these elements are in the body of man, in his mind, and in his deeper self. The whole edifice of an individual existence is built by means of these five distinct elements. It is not necessary for a certain element which is predominant in one plane of existence, to continue to be so on all other planes. It is possible for harmony to exist between the elements that are predominant on the inner plane and those which are predominant on the outer plane. In short, it is according to the working of the different elements in one’s being that one is responsive to the different colors which represent the different elements.
From the point of view of a mystic, yellow is the color of the earth, green or white the color of the water element, red that of the fire element, and blue that of the air element. If asked what color the ether element is, the mystic would answer gray, because by gray one may think of anything one likes. It is most interesting for a student of color to see that all colors are, so to speak, different shades of light. It shows that light itself has manifested in variety, in the form of many colors.
Another important question is that of line. Many lovers or students of art feel the great influence of a line, the effect that a line can have. A vertical line, a horizontal line, a curve, a circle, all make such a difference in the form. And the more one studies to what extent line makes a difference, the more one will find that the secret of all beauty is in the line. But it is difficult to say what form or what line is the right form or line, and man has to accept that what one cannot learn by study, intuition can teach.
The only explanation that one can give, from the mystical point of view, about the secret of line is that the effect of a certain line brings the inner and the outer planes of the human being into such a condition that, while he looks at the line, he is, so to speak, “under the spell” of that line. This can be understood through the secret of concentration: that every object man thinks about, even if only for a moment, has an effect upon his whole being.
There is a harmony of lines, and this is even more difficult and complex to understand than harmony of color, for the harmony of lines reach deeper than the harmony of color. If a room is beautifully furnished with costly furniture, but these things are not kept in harmony according to the science of lines, we feel a kind of confusion in the room. It is the same with clothes. A dress may be very costly or beautiful in color; but if it lacks line, it lacks real beauty. Therefore, in art, line is the principal thing. It is the secret of art and of its charm, and only the artist who has conceived the beauty of line can express it in his art.
One aspect of art is shown when the artist tries to copy exactly what he sees. An artist is contemplative, and it is not a small thing to be able to copy the object exactly. Then the success of this artist is assured, because with all man’s cravings for something new, what he really wants is something he has already seen. Is it not wonderful? Is it not a great thing to be able to copy nature as it is, to produce in the soul of man that, which exists in nature?
A further aspect of art is the improvement on nature that the artist makes by exaggeration. The benefit of this art is more through attraction than impression. No doubt in this form of art the artist can fulfill his soul’s purpose; but at the same time he may get far away from nature; and the further he goes the more he destroys the beauty of art, for nature and art must go hand in hand.
Art has still another aspect, and that is symbolism. Symbolism has not come from the human intellect, for it is born of intuition. The finer the soul, the better it is equipped in some way or other to understand symbolical ideas. A fine soul always dreams symbolical dreams and, when the soul becomes finer still, it can interpret the dream, understanding the meaning of symbolism. The artist who produces in his art a symbolical idea has learned it from what he has seen in nature, and has interpreted it in his art. This is real inspiration. The finer the artist is, the finer the symbols he produces.
In every work of art one can observe three factors: its surface, its length and width, and its depth. However, I do not mean this in the literal sense of these words. The surface is what the picture itself is; the length and the width are the story that it tells, and the depth is the meaning that it reveals. Therefore, the best way of studying and appreciating the works of an artist is to take these three elements into consideration. Art is a very vast subject.
The Divinity of Art
Art may be defined as having four aspects. One aspect of art may be called imitative art — the tendency and ability to produce as exactly as possible, on the canvas or in the clay, something that one sees. This is the first stage, and one that leads the artist further on the path of art. In order to develop this faculty, the mind must be fully concentrated. When the artist lacks concentration, he cannot observe objects and their beauty keenly, and therefore he is not able to reproduce them exactly as he sees them. Concentration has such great power that a concentrated person can penetrate into an object, and can see not only the outside of it but also the inside. In other words, a concentrated person not only sees the form but its spirit. This is the fullness of observation, and it comes by concentration. Whenever the artist cannot imitate nature, cannot copy an object exactly, it shows that he lacks concentration.
The next aspect of art is suggestive art. This can be divided into two kinds: first, an art which directly suggests a certain idea, so that as soon as we see the picture we can see what it says, what it explains, and what it represents; and the other kind, which is expressed in symbols. This is an art that through a certain symbolism expresses a great wisdom. This wisdom is covered; and the more one looks at the picture and the more one studies it, the more it reveals the idea, the wisdom, the thought that is hidden in it. Such art is a revelation. The art of ancient Egypt, of Greece, and especially of the Mongolians and of India, was chiefly symbolical art. In such periods, when other types of pictures were not produced and books were not printed, this was the only means of keeping wisdom alive and handing it on to the coming generations. This was done by the master artists, who were inspired by spiritual wisdom and who tried to guide humanity. With hammer and chisel, they carved in wood and engraved on the rocks, and left their work in the caves of the mountains and in the old temples and palaces. It is an art that expresses wisdom. When one visits one of these caves where wisdom is expressed in the realm of art, one will find that a single symbol can reveal more than a volume of written manuscript. In this way, the sculptures of a temple or of a mountain cave were like a library with thousands of books. Any who can read, can find divine wisdom there, expressed distinctly and with great intelligence and wit.
The ideas of the Hindus about gods and goddesses, the different postures in which they stand or sit, and the way Buddha holds his hands — all these express to him who knows a teaching that is connected with the culture of the spirit.
The third aspect of art is the creative aspect. In this aspect, an artist creates a theme and improvises upon that theme as he goes on working. In this way the artist creates wisdom and power. No doubt the higher the art, the less it is appreciated and the less it is studied; and the majority will always seem to be ignorant of its meaning. Nevertheless, the artist who reaches that plane where he can create, can from that moment call himself an artist. Creating is different from imitating or suggesting. In the development of art, imitating is the first step; suggesting is the second step; and creating is the third step.
In India, fifty years ago, there was an artist, the brother of the maharaja of Travancore. After having read the sacred traditions of the Hindus, he wondered if it would not be a wise thing to reproduce these legends and stories in the realm of art. So he devoted all his life to this idea, and made perhaps twenty or thirty pictures of the ancient traditions. Since that time, India has understood and appreciated its ancient spiritual traditions far better than ever before. By expressing the sacred traditions in the form of art, he brought a new outlook and a new spiritual message to the people of India. This shows how much more effect art can have upon people if a spiritual idea is embodied in it.
The fourth aspect of art can only be developed through meditation, because it may seem like a miracle. It is no longer only art, but is a direct expression of the soul. This fourth aspect may be called “giving life to the work of art.” In the first three aspects, the work of art is still only art; but in the fourth aspect it becomes something living. And the artist who reaches this stage, where he can give life to what he creates, has reached the highest grade — the mastery of art. No artist can reach this stage only by the practice of his art; it is essential for him to know that in order to accomplish great things in the realm of art, he needs spiritual development.
In order to develop art in the real sense of the word, one need not be an artist; one need not have that particular vocation in life. Whatever one’s vocation, art is necessary just the same. It is wrong to think that art is not needed in one’s social or domestic life, in business, in industry, or in one’s profession. It is because of the division that people have made between art and other walks of life, that life has become devoid of beauty. In this way art, has been very much neglected, except by those who only pretend to appreciated it or who have perhaps some leisure in which to give thought and time to it. But even they are very often ignorant of the real beauty and value of art; they take an interest in it only because they want to be able to say that they are fond of art. It is because of this that artists sometimes lack the opportunity of expressing their soul through their art, being hampered by a lack of appreciation. Others want to commercialize their art; but art is always above material values. When art has to be limited by material values, or is seeking the approbation of those who do not understand it, it has to suffer. Instead of evolving, it declines. But even in practical life, art has great scope. Think, for instance, how much a woman can do in her everyday life, in her home, with her artistic gifts. She can make it beautiful and comfortable; she can train her children to have better taste; and whatever her means may be, even her manner can produce beauty, harmony, and happiness in her home. It is the same thing in one’s office, in industry, in business, in whatever one does. If there is a regard for beauty and harmony, one can make one’s own business or profession, one’s life and one’s work, more beautiful, thereby producing greater happiness for oneself and for others.
When the spirit of art develops, this development does not produce anything outwardly, but rather it does so inwardly. And what is this? It is the art of personality. In a real artist, a distinct personality is developed which expresses itself in everything he does. In other words, an artist need not paint a picture in order to prove himself an artist. When he has reached a certain stage of art, his thought, his speech, his word, his voice, his movements, his actions, and everything he does becomes art. The value of the art of personality is so great that no one in this world, whatever is his occupation, can say that he does not need to develop or to learn it. If he is a businessman, if he is a lawyer, if he is in industry, if he is a shopkeeper, or if he is working in an office or factory — whatever his position — this art of personality will help him. If he is a soldier, he has a chance to become a general; if he is a worker in a factory, he may one day become the general manager of it. Besides success, he has the magnetism to win over everyone he meets, because of the art of personality. The art of personality shows in one’s movements, in one’s manner, in words, in speech, in thought, and in feeling. On the other hand, an awkward person does everything wrongly. His movements are awkward, and every action he takes is unattractive. The one who has not yet acquired the art of speaking will offend even without intending to; and in everyday life, do we not see people insulting others unintentionally because they do not know the art of “saying without saying?”
Other arts cannot be compared with the art of personality. Character is not born with a man; his character is built up after he comes here. Even if a person can call himself a human being, he has still to know that greater art which may be rightly called a true religion. For there is another grade to strive for, and that grade is the personality of God. As soon as one seeks for the personality of God, one sees that it is different from a human personality. With the personality of man, man can only take a human point of view, whereas with the personality of God, man has to take God’s point of view. And it is those individuals with God’s point of view who, whenever they have come on earth, have not only taught humanity, but have given an example to humanity by their very lives. They came and went — some known, some unknown — but each of them was accepted by some and rejected by others. None of them was accepted or rejected by the whole of humanity. Yet in spite of that, truth will prove by itself victorious, for victory belongs to nothing else. Victory which comes from falsehood is a false victory. Only a true victory belongs to truth, and as man probes more and more into the depths of life and its secrets, he will realize this more fully. Falsehood, whatever its apparent success, has its limitations and its end. For at every step the false person will feel falseness; and with every step a person takes towards falsehood, he will feel his feet growing heavier and heavier when he encounters the truth. Those who walk towards the truth will feel their feet becoming lighter with every step they take. And it is by learning the art of life, and by practicing it, that one is led on the path of truth to that goal which is the longing of every soul.
Finally there is the art of thought. The more one activates one’s thoughts, one’s imagination, the more capable one is of expressing them in the realm of art. Therefore, the beautifying of one’s thought is the greatest source of development in art. And when we have understood this, we will come to the conclusion that whether the outer works of art are poetry, or music, or painting, or sculpture, it is the art of personality that is the greatest of all arts. But it is an art that cannot be perfected without developing the spirit of sympathy. This is the principal and most important thing in life. The deeper our sympathy, the greater our power and inspiration will become to bring our art to perfection.
Art and Religion
Very few in the world today link religion with art, or art with religion. But in point of fact, art is much more important than the average person realizes it to be — despite the saying that “art is what man makes, and nature is what God makes.” I would prefer to say that nature is what God makes as God, and art is what God makes as man. The artist who has arrived at some perfection in his art, whatever his art may be, will come to realize that it is not he who ever achieved anything; it is someone else who came forward every time. And when the artist produces a perfect thing, he finds it difficult to imagine that it has been produced by him. He can do nothing but bow his head in humility before that unseen power and wisdom which takes his body, his heart, his brain, and his eyes as its instrument. Whenever beauty is produced in art, be it music, or poetry, or painting, or writing, or anything else, one must never think that man produced it. It is through man that God completes His creation. Thus, there is nothing that is done in this world or in heaven that is not divine immanence, which is not divine creation. It is the apparent separating of that divine work which causes the perplexity that separates man from his Lord.
In the first place, everything that we see in the world — all the occupations that we engage in willingly or unwillingly — lead us to accomplish a certain purpose. But it is a fact that there are certain things in life by which we accomplish a far greater purpose, and which can only be accomplished by an inspiration from within. Art is a domain in which inspiration manifests with great facility. In order to become spiritual, to attain inspiration, it is not necessary that a man should be very religious or especially good; what is necessary is love of beauty. What is art? Art is the creation of beauty in whatever form it is created. As long as an artist thinks that whatever he creates in the form of art is his own creation, and as long as he is vain about his creation, he has not learned true art. True art can only come on one condition, and that is that the artist forgets himself — that he forgets himself in the vision of beauty. And there is one condition through which his art can be still more valuable, when the artist begins to recognize the divine in his art. As long as the artist has not realized this, he has not touched the perfection of art.
In reality, art is nature re-expressed, perfecting the beauty that is already there. Nature in no way lacks beauty; nature is perfect and therefore is most exalting. But it is beyond man’s power to see nature as a whole. He only sees a part of it, and everything that is only seen in part is limited. It is this condition which limits the beauty for us. As man sees only a limited beauty in nature, his first impulse is to perfect it; and the means he adopts to improve upon it he calls art. The soul of man is the light of God, and so this impulse that arises in the heart of man to improve upon nature is also a divine impulse. Therefore, art is divine, for all beauty is divine.
It is said in the Bible, “God is love,” and again, “In God we live and move and have our being.” The word of the Prophet is, “God is beautiful, and He loves beauty.” If we take these two teachings and unite them as one, we shall find that God Himself is love and at the same time beauty. In whatever direction man strives in life, it leads towards a certain beauty. If he wishes to be rich, or to have a high position — whatever may be his pursuit in life — in some form or other it is in order to have beauty. No doubt the idea of beauty is different for each individual. One considers beauty to consist of a beautiful environment; another, that it means being dressed in beautiful clothes; yet another thinks that grace of movement, of manner, or of expression is beauty. One person sees beauty in character, another in virtue; one finds beauty in verse, another in the realm of music; one admires the beauty that is external, another seeks beauty within. And it is the method of creating beauty, under whatever aspect, which is called art.
Man is always seeking for beauty, and yet he is unaware of the treasure of beauty that is hidden in his own heart. He strives after it throughout his whole life. It is as if he was in pursuit of the horizon: the further he proceeds, the further the horizon seems to have moved away. For there are two aims: the one is real, and the other false. That which is false is momentary, transitory, and unreliable — wealth, power, fame, and position are all snatched from one hand by the other. Therefore in the language of the mystic this is called maya; its nature is to change constantly. But our soul’s longing is to hold on to something, to grasp something that we can depend upon. If a man seeks a position, he feels, “If only I could find something that would be permanent, something I could depend upon.” If he seeks a friend, his first thought is to find a friend upon whom he can depend. Constancy is more valuable than anything else in friendship.
Man wants something in life upon which he can rely; and this shows where he believes in a deity or not, and that he is constantly seeking for God. He seeks for Him not knowing that he is seeking for God. Nevertheless, every soul is pursuing some reality, something to hold on to; trying to grasp something which will prove dependable, a beauty that cannot change and that one can always look upon as one’s own, a beauty that one feels will last forever. And where can one find it? Within one’s own heart. And it is the art of finding that beauty, of developing, improving, and spreading that beauty through life, allowing it to manifest before the inner and outer view, which one calls the art of the mystic.
The artist, in the true sense of the word, is king of a kingdom that is even greater than the kingdoms of the earth. There is a story told in the East of Farabi, the great singer, who was invited to the court of the amir of Bokhara. The amir welcomed him very warmly at the court, and as the singer entered the amir went to the door to receive him. On coming into the throne-room, the amirasked him to take a seat. “But where shall I sit?” asked the singer. “Sit,” said the amir, “in any place that may seem fitting to you.” On hearing this, Farabi took the seat of the king. No doubt this astonished the amir very much; but after hearing the singer’s art, he felt that even his own seat was not fitting. He understood that his kingdom had a certain limitation, whereas the kingdom of the artist is wherever beauty prevails. As beauty is everywhere, so the kingdom of the artist is everywhere.
But art is only a door, a door through which one can enter a still wider area. At different times, the religious have considered art to be something outside them; this has very often been due to a kind of fanaticism on the part of religious authorities. It is so not only in the East, but in the West as well, and one finds a tendency to separate art from religion. This does not mean that some great teacher of religion has taught it; rather, it has come only from people who have not realized religion apart from its form. No one who has touched the depths of religion can deny the fact that religion itself is an art, an art that accomplishes the greatest thing in man’s life. And there can be no greater error than to make this art devoid of beauty.
In ancient times, in all the Hindu and Buddhist temples and pagodas there was music, there was poetry, there was sculpture, and there was painting. In those times there were no printing presses, and no books could be published on philosophy and religion; but if one can find any scriptures expressing the ancient religious and philosophical ideas, they are in the ancient art. For instance, whatever sign can be found of the mysticism and the religion of ancient Egypt, of which so much has been said and so little is known, it is not in the manuscripts — it is in the art. Also, the ideas of the Sanskrit age are still to be found in India, engraved on the carved stones, rocks, and temples. Travelers from the Western world often go to the East in order to see the degree of perfection Eastern art attained. Very few really know that art not only strove for perfection in those days, but that those who could not read also used it as a means of communication.
The art of ancient Greece too is a sign and proof of great perfection in divine wisdom. Every movement that we see in Greek art is not only a graceful movement, but also has a meaning; and every statue expresses a certain meaning in its attitude, if only a person can read it. From this, we learn that intuition is necessary both for the making of a work of art and for the understanding of it. This is the very thing which the human race today seems to be losing more than at any other time in the world’s history. One might ask why man has lost that intuitive faculty. It is because he has become so absorbed in material gain that he has become, as it were, intoxicated by the worldly life; an intuition which is his birthright and his own property has been lost from view. This does not mean that it is gone from him, only that it has become buried in his own heart.
We are vehicles or instruments that respond. If we respond to goodness, goodness becomes our property. If we respond to evil, then evil becomes our property. If we respond to love, then love becomes our possession. If we respond to hatred, hatred becomes our life. And if we respond to the things of the earth so much that our whole life becomes absorbed in worldly things, then it is quite natural that we should not respond to those riches that are within us, and yet so far removed from us. Intuition is not something that a person can learn by reading books, nor is it a thing that one can buy and sell. Intuition is the very self, and the deepest self of man; and it can be realized by that soberness which is so very desirable in life. Absence of intuition means absence of soberness.
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
It is most interesting to notice that East and West have a different, or perhaps contrary, opinion on the subject of the world’s evolution. While in the West man thinks that we are becoming more evolved, that we have progressed and are going forward compared to our forefathers, in the East man believes that compared with our forefathers we are going backward and downward, that we are worse.
What is the truth about this? From one point of view, there have never been such good communications in the world as nowadays. The telegraph and telephone, ships like palaces floating on the water, airplanes, the gramophone, and the radio can unite mankind in one moment at any distance. Besides the development that is taking place in every branch of science and of art, there are also the modern systems, organizations, and classifications. When one looks at all of this, one cannot doubt for one moment that according to modern opinion the world is evolving. But when we come to delicate thoughts and sentiments, good manners, knightly chivalry, kingly attitude, nobleness of spirit, generosity of heart, the tendency to sacrifice, depth of feeling and keenness of insight, we are equally certain that what the man of the East says is true.
We learn from this that both opinions are right. We are evolving, and yet at the same time going backward. In certain things we are evolving, and in certain things we are going backward. This brings us to the philosophical conception that it is not only the world which is round, but that everything is round — that everything moves in circles. For instance, the early dawn is not very different from the late evening. Old age is not very different from infancy, when we realize how innocence develops as one grows old — and one arrives at a stage where one shows the same expression of the angelic spheres that one had as an infant. It is just like the octave: seven notes, and then the keynote comes again. It is not going upward or downward, it is going in a circle. But we are accustomed to say of everything that it is either going upward or downward. We may agree with those who say that we are going upward, or we may agree with those who hold that we are going downward; but in reality progress does not mean continually going upward. Progress means going upward and downward at the same time. Progress should be described by a circle and not a straight line. If we look at if from this point of view, everything in the world has a circular aspect, for the real picture of motion, of movement, is a circle.
There are thee aspects of knowledge: self-knowledge, the knowledge of another person, and the knowledge of the collectivity. Also, there are three ways of looking at the world: its past, its present, and its future. By “yesterday” is meant the past; by “today” is meant the present; and by “tomorrow” is meant the future. The knowledge of the past gives wisdom; the knowledge of the present gives power; and the knowledge of the future gives peace. The one who is anxious to acquire knowledge must consider all these three aspects to be equally important.
For those who are treading the spiritual path, it is as necessary to think of the world, especially at the present time, as it is to think of someone else and of themselves. No one should think that by position or rank, by profession or occupation, by condition or situation, he is too limited to think of the world. Each of us should realize that we are a self-sufficient particle of the whole. Each particle is responsible for the evolution of the world, in proportion to the place it occupies in the cosmos. Everything a man naturally knows first about himself, and then about another, is of the greatest importance when he also begins to know something about the world at large. What he should know is what the world was, what the world is now, and what it will be in the future.
In the self-knowledge of past, present, and future, one has to learn what was the origin of the soul. One has to learn how the soul has formed itself, how it has come to manifest, the knowledge of the process of manifestation, and the different stages through which it has passed towards manifestation. Regarding the present, one should learn one’s own condition; the condition of one’s spirit, mind, and body; one’s situation in life and one’s relationship to others; and one should also realize how far the soul reaches in the spiritual spheres. Regarding the future, one should find the answers to the questions: “Am I preparing for something that is to come, and what is there to come?” “If life is a journey, what is the object of this journey? What is the destination, and how shall I reach it?” “What preparations must I make for this journey, and what must I carry to make the journey easy?” “What are the difficulties that I may meet on my way?” It is the understanding of these questions that is the knowledge of the future. And it is self-knowledge that helps man to know the past, the present, and the future of another. For those who know themselves, another person is like an open book; they can read him clearly. His past is clear to them, and also his present and future.
There are many ways in which people try to know about the past, present, and future: by astrology, by palmistry, by physiognomy (reading the features), and in many other ways. Although all such methods can be helpful and give us some knowledge — for knowledge is within our reach and we only have to ask for it and it is given — yet by self-realization we can understand this knowledge so clearly at a certain stage, that no other method is necessary. It becomes natural, as it is natural for the eyes to see. So it becomes natural for the heart to see into the past, present, and future.
Looking into the past is just like looking down from a great height. It means probing the depths of life. Looking into the present is just like observing a wide horizon, as wide as we can see. Looking into the future is like looking upward to the zenith. And the feeling we experience is different with each of these three ways of looking. One gives knowledge; the other gives power; and the third gives peace, as I mentioned before. Knowledge is man’s birthright, and it is also the sustenance of the soul. It is to gather knowledge that the soul has come to earth; the acquisition of knowledge is the only purpose the soul has in coming here. In knowledge lies the satisfaction of the soul, the fulfillment of the purpose of life.
The Ideal of Art
When we study the art of the Middle Ages and the psychology behind it, it seems that the principal aim of the artist at that time was to produce an object of worship. Restricted within the laws of conventionality, having a deeply rooted belief in the sacredness of the artist’s task, he considered his art as the expression of his greatest devotion. And any sensitive person will certainly feel that the art of the Middle Ages has an atmosphere, a feeling, and a magnetism that grows day after day. No doubt one can only appreciate this art if one does not compare it with the art of today. As Majnun said, “To see Leila, you must borrow my eyes.” So we must borrow the eyes of the people of the Middle Ages, the feeling of the people who lived at that time, and then look at their art; for in its primitive development there is a mystery hidden, which could not be reproduced today.
When we think about the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, we observe that the wave of inspiration coming from ancient Greece to Italy brought new life; yet the art which was once made for worship was then made for admiration. Art rose to great heights, bringing the spirit of classical antiquity into a new realm of expression. Nevertheless, one can say that in the Middle Ages art was directed towards God, that in the art of the Renaissance, God was included; but that afterwards it was produced without God. And without God, essentially there is no art. The gulf that we find between our time and the time when art was in its greatest glory exists because the art of today is without God. The artist of the Renaissance had not given up God, but afterwards God was forgotten.
Painting, sculpture — any form of art — if it is not directed towards a higher ideal, it must go downward; it cannot rise because there is no ladder. It is the ideal that helps everything to go upward. Without the ideal, everything goes downward. One can see the reason why people become more materialistic: beauty naturally belongs to heaven. On earth, it is only reflected; and when the connection with the heaven is broken, when the back is turned towards heaven, then the eyes become focused on the earth and slowly, gradually beauty begins to disappear. Thus, in a way, the divergence between the Renaissance and our time has been caused by materialism, by commercialism, and by the lack of heavenly inspiration.
No doubt the need that has been felt in the hearts of the lovers of beauty has been working on the inner planes, and now it is beginning to show itself. But how is it becoming apparent? Not in the form of beauty; it is the absence of beauty that is now beginning to be felt. The result of this is that the artist thinks there should be a new start in the world of art, that a new standard of beauty should be found, a new expression; but when he tries to find it, he mostly misses the mark. For when inspiration is lacking and the work of art is forced by effort, what is produced is merely mechanical. One artist thinks, “Everything must be in angles; that creates a new beauty.” Another says, “No, everything must be just colors; everything must be expressive by itself.” Another artist says, “Everything must be just lines without any detail; everyone should find out for himself what it represents.” And again, another says, “Everything must remain in an unfinished state; that is very artistic.” In this way, it is like many horses trying to take different directions in order to arrive at a certain place.
There seems to be no ideal today — but the day when the ideal again directs the hand of the artist, art will progress more rapidly, and the promise of the art of the future will be fulfilled. That something, which begins with a promise of touching the heights, of manifesting in perfection, has another voice. It has another soul and another expression. Today the artist is striving for it, his soul is longing for it; but he has not yet found it. And the very reason why he has not found it is that he is thinking too hard. Art does not require hard thinking, nor does poetry or music. True art always comes with ease, with relaxation; it comes naturally. The artist should not be fighting with beauty or struggling with inspiration.
What is most to be deplored at the present time is the unconscious and yet predominant commercial influence that hovers like a cloud over the art of today. There is a general feeling that every month a new fashion must arise. There must be a new fashion in everything; and this inclination, saturated with commercialism, destroys the roots of natural and beautiful art. Why strive for something new? Life is always new and always old. It is always the same and yet it is always new.
To think that we must forget, overlook, and destroy all the thought of the past is a still greater error. When artists start with this error, wanting to make something new, then they make commonplace things, things that are far removed from beauty. And the admirers of art, those who buy, do not mind as long as it is new. Most of them only acquire a work of art because it is the fashion, not because it is beautiful; and thereby a great load of responsibility is laid upon the artist as well as upon those who present his work to the world. It is this pressure which spoils the work of artistic souls, who should have time to think about beauty and who should have leisure to feel deeply. Instead of this, anxiety is thrown upon them, and responsibility is forced upon them to bring out something new. On the day the world of art forgets the word “new”, a new life will come into it.
It seems a pity that one aspect of art is much neglected nowadays, the making of frescos. It is to be hoped that one day it will be developed again, and will take a more prominent place in the world of art. But fresco painting should be finished as any other way of painting is, as the great masters in Italy who did not leave anything unfinished did it. In any form of art, there should be a desire on the part of the artist to finish his work, not to keep it unfinished, which is against perfection. The lack of desire to finish something reflects only laziness, lethargy, and negligence. All of us, as human beings, have our limitations. It is very easy to say, “It may be unfinished, but just look at it, it is beautiful!” But it is still not right. Everything we do, we should wish to finish to the best of our ability, even though it will always remain unfinished when we look at it from the point of view of beauty itself. We do not need to keep it unfinished on purpose; it remains unfinished without our trying, when compared with perfection.
Contemporary decorative art seems to represent a new step towards the unknown. No doubt the aim of decorative art should be to produce an impression without going into detail. But all the same, it should first be produced in the depths of the artist’s own heart, and then he should put his thought-power into the lines that he draws. If an artist only wants to make an effect externally, by trying to make something attractive through making it different, it will never look beautiful — and it will never suggest what he wants it to suggest.
Today, when an artist tries to express an idea in decorative art, he tries to avoid all details and depict his subject with only a few lines. But when those lines have not sprung from the depths of his heart, when they are not inspired, they do not become a universal language. They do not make another person feel at once that this is the idea which the artist intended to produce. It must be given extra thought, so that the lines are not only lines, but that they express something, are suggestive of something, are living; then they instantly produce the meaning of the artist in the mind of the one who looks at them. If an object in decorative art is not made with this inspiration, it is not complete. It does not suggest anything, but is bewildering and will confuse many people. And at this time, if even art is confusing, where else can one go? There is nowhere else. Art should be revealing and inspiring instead of confusing.
There was a time when decorative art was highly developed — for instance in China, where it reached its zenith. When the Chinese artist wished to decorate an object with a picture of the sky, he drew it with one line; and one can feel it. Where does that come from? Does it appear from a mental effort? It comes from inspiration. It is one thing to think about an idea and another thing to feel the idea, and once the artist begins to feel the idea he is able to express it. Even if it is not finished, it is finished in the feeling of the artist, and that completes the lines. Those who want to will see the truth of it, they will be able to read it; they will know the object of the picture.
There is a new aspect of art nowadays, which is called “clairvoyant,” “mediumistic,” or “spiritualistic” art. One may speak of the bewildering effect of art, but this is the most bewildering of all! One day a person put some colors on paper, and showed it to me saying, “People cannot understand this deep idea, but you will understand it. It is very deep, it has come from some clairvoyant source.” I looked at it; there were many colors, that was all one could say. They were not even blending harmoniously with one another; they were only striking. The person who had painted it looked at me and waited for my opinion. He asked, “What do you think of it?” So I replied, “It is a picture of the end of the world.” And he was very pleased with this answer. Some people who claim clairvoyance try to paint what they call “the other side,” but to do this they would have to bring the paint and canvas from the other side too. The clairvoyant cannot paint the other side with the brush of this world; if he tried it would be a mistake.
Very often, people also produce confusing patterns in decorative art. Maybe within that pattern there is a flower, and perhaps that flower looks like a man’s face; and if one looks at that flower from another angle, it is like the face of a monkey or of a tiger. If this is not confusing, what is it? And such patterns are often commercialized, and used for wallpaper and other decorative purposes. It is this confusion of the artist’s mind which commerce has taken over and made use of. And if confusion is used for commercial purposes, then where are we going if not towards confusion, greater and greater confusion helped by so-called art?
The combination of inharmonious colors has very often an inharmonious effect on the nerves, on the thought, and on the mind. This gives scope to those imaginative artists who are, however, without beauty, without art, without knowledge of life; without any psychological conception of it whatsoever. It makes their art popular: by claiming that it is quite different from anything else, they can sell their art better. Art should be simple, it should be expressive. It should also be inspiring and revealing.
The art of painting is as ancient as the human race. It has existed in all ages, though not in the same form as today. There was a time when the Tibetans and the Chinese produced the most wonderful paintings. In these paintings, the principal motive was to give a form to abstract thought; and therefore very often, and especially in Chinese painting, there are forms which we do not recognize. They were meant to be the personifications of power, of compassion, of joy, of sorrow, and of similar concepts. They pictured joy or sorrow as an animal; the imagery of the Chinese artist even went so far as to create the form of a new creature to represent a certain idea. Thus the Chinese dragon represents power, and is at the same time a conception of the Almighty. The Chinese dragon is also a symbol of unity, for it has the tail of a fish, the wings of a bird, the fangs of a lion, and the face of a mythical animal, together with the eyes of a man.
This shows that all the different aspects of living beings together make one being; and one being means the oneness of the whole of manifestation. It is a lesson in unity taught by the symbolism of the Chinese dragon.
In India, the upper end of the sacred Indian instrument, the vina, was often carved in the form of a dragon’s head. The reason for this custom was to remind the listeners that when a musician played his music and they heard it, they should not think that it was the artist who played and that the instrument was only a vina.Rather, their impression should be that it was the music of the whole being, of the divine Being, so that music might be considered not as a kind of pastime but as a source of elevation.
The most wonderful aspect of Chinese art has always been its drawings. The more one studies Chinese art, the more one admires the fineness of the line. The greatest artists of China could give an impression of the sky in only a few lines. It is a wonderful art, a very suggestive art. And how every effective it is, the making of something beautiful in just a few lines, drawn with inspiration and intelligence, and suggesting a certain form, with the artist only indicating the detail!
Japan followed China. The Japanese are an artistic people, and they have tried to produce even better things. What is good about their art is that they love daintiness and fineness; everything that comes from there is very delicate and refined. But even that will only continue for a certain time; the present condition of the Japanese shows the great interest they have in the things of the world, and this will increase. Even what little art is left there now will disappear. It is one thing to be an artist, and it is another to be materialistic; these two do not go together.
The Tibetans have the same kind of art as the Chinese, but not as developed. The reason is that in China there was an empire, and there were luxury, appreciation of art, and a high ideal; in Tibet there was only religious thought. And in all periods and all countries, if religious thought alone has been the central theme of life, then it has hampered the progress of art. Nevertheless, Tibetan art has always had the same depth that the Tibetans have in their character. One may take any Tibetan picture and one will always find that there is magic hidden behind it. And the use the Tibetans made of color is magic in itself. It is not only the fancy of the artist; it is the attempt of the artist to express the mystery of the object through color. In ancient paintings from Tibet, however primitive, the color or the form always expresses a certain mystery of life.
Ancient Egyptian art developed in its own way, and in accordance with its own character it reached a great height. No doubt as the people of that time were more psychic, more mystical, they did not give the same attention to detail and to the things of the earth as is done today — although the coloring of the old Egyptian objects is exquisite. Color meant a great deal to ancient peoples. They chose color as a medium of expression in a way that is no longer seen. But in order to appreciate the art of the ancient people, we must look at it from their point of view.
The Indians did not develop the art of painting in the same way as the Chinese or the ancient Egyptians. They were more drawn to other aspects of art, to sculpture, music, and poetry. Nevertheless, there are to be found ancient Indian paintings where the colors are expressive of the five elements. Everything expressed by these pictures, every idea or color, has something to do with the five elements. Yellow represents earth, green represents water, red represents fire, blue represents air, and gray represents ether.
It was in Persia that art first developed into something finer and more beautiful than in India. But when Persian art was later brought to India, it became richer in color. The pictures of the Moghul emperors and of their families, sometimes painted on ivory, show how conscientious were the artists in reproducing every little detail. Even in the smallest picture, one sees that every detail has been painted in. The combination of Persian and Indian art achieved very wonderful results. At the time of the Moghuls a picture was a luxury, and that is what the Moghul paintings were.
Nowadays there exists a school of art in Calcutta under the direction of Abanindranath Tagore; this school tries to produce work in the same style as that of the ancient Moghul school. The modern versions that come from this school, however, cannot be compared with the old pictures. Yet when we compare them with other modern conceptions of painting, we find many things which are quite different. There is at least an extreme fineness about the pictures, a great delicacy of color, and much attention has been given to the line; one discerns an attempt to reach perfection through delicacy. But by all that is said above, I do not wish to indicate that ancient art was necessarily superior to modern art; I have only tried to point out what was good in it.
An interesting development in the Western world was the introduction of the idea of light and shade into painting. The ancient artists did not apply this, and it brought a new life to the world of art and made art more natural. But in modern Western art, it often happens that an artist gets hold of an idea and thinks that it is the only idea there is, and that there is nothing else besides it. He does not realize that any idea is a part of other ideas, and that many ideas together will make a whole. This has resulted in artistic movements such as cubism, which is derived from a certain impression one may get from light. Light strikes out in straight lines and forms angles; and so these artists wanted to paint all the different planes of their pictures in angles. They painted as if the whole world was made like that, in angles.
Other artists say that in painting only color is important, that it is color that must make the form. This also is unnatural. However beautiful color may be, it is not sufficient; the picture cannot be complete when it is painted in that way. It is again stubbornness, obstinacy on the part of the artist. He wants to paint something which will strike us, and no doubt color will strike us; but art is not only for striking. Art is for giving some beautiful impression, for uplifting our soul; it is for inspiring, not for striking. In painting, form is more important than color; the color is an addition to the form. No doubt color touches the emotional side of man, but that is a different thing and is very material. It is not the mission of art to bring a man down to earth.
All this shows that the world of art today is in great confusion. The souls of the artists want to bring something new to the world, but at the same time the artists are looking for this where it is not to be found. It is like looking for the moon on the ground. They are eager, they are striving, and they are in earnest; yet they are looking for what they want in the wrong direction. Even if they worked for a hundred years like this, one can be sure that there would be no progress.
Are they wrong in their ideas? No, they are not wrong; but they are limited. They have gotten hold of one idea; it may be a very good one, but they have pinned themselves to it. They cannot go forward, because they are limited to their own idea. Whether people like it or not is irrelevant to them. Besides, though art can be most charming it can also be most deluding. If an artist is strong-minded and convinced of the quality of his own art, he can make people believe that he has invented a new form of art. But where does this new art lead us? What is the mission of art? Is it to delude us, to produce confusion? If there is no beauty, no harmony, no deep feeling, then what is its purpose? If it only strikes our emotions and our passions, or if it only strikes our eyes, then ultimately it has nothing to do with art.
No doubt there will come a time when the modern artist will be frightened of his own pictures, and he will awaken to the fact that he must find something else — that this is not the road to follow. The greatest example we can follow is before us both night and day, and that is the work of God. What can be better than God’s creation itself? And the artist who bears in mind that he should imitate the creation of God, is the one who will produce beautiful things.
When God’s creation seems to be going to the North and the artist going to the South, the artist thinks he is creating new things. But they are not new; they are merely wrong. Suppose there came a new wave of musicians who said, “We are not going to accept the seven notes as they are, we are going to make other notes.” Perhaps they will have a following. Some will say, “How interesting, it is something new!” And yet it will not be beautiful, it will not be exalting, it will not help humanity.
The peculiar state of the world today is due to spiritual poverty. It is this that causes all the restlessness and confusion. The extremes in modern art are the result of lack of balance. The soul wishes to express something, but if the soul cannot express what it wants to then there is no contentment, and there will always be suffering. The more a person works, the more he suffers; he suffers because his soul wants to express something but cannot. That is why in the lives of artists, there is always so much suffering — because their souls have been born on earth with some ideal which has made them artists; but when they cannot produce that ideal before their eyes, then the soul goes through torture. Until they come to that stage where they can produce their art to the satisfaction of their own spirit, they will always fall short of the ideal.
The artist has a great mission in the world. He cannot be compared with other human beings, for he is the instrument of God. His mission in life is to create something that will inspire people and will elevate harmony; his work should be an education for the world.
It seems that the general trend of the artist’s mind is to become more and more fanciful. No doubt this is natural; yet it would be well if it were remembered that nature is perfect in itself, and that the greater the art, the more natural it is. The best art is the simplest. For instance, one might point out that Egyptian art makes use of symbols that are not natural at all. But the ancient Egyptian civilization was flourishing at a time when the world was still in a very primitive condition, and therefore we cannot compare the art of that time with modern art that is supposed to be much more evolved. When we look at the pictures of many Indian gods and goddesses, for instance those of Saravati and Lakshmi, we see that they have four arms, which is certainly not natural. Yet there are no angles, and no attempt is made to produce something unnatural; every attempt is made to show that even with four arms, they are natural beings. In this they are quite different from modern art, where even a man with two arms seems to be most unnatural.
Symbolism is the mature or ripened aspect of art, and if symbolism is used at a time when art is only beginning to develop, it is a drawback; then this art will not flourish. When art is in its infancy, it should not touch symbolism, for symbolism should appear as the result of a natural development. It is an inspiration; it becomes natural when the artist becomes natural, and everything he does has a symbolical meaning. But when the artist begins by thinking, “I must apply some symbolism”, then he destroys his art. Symbolism should come by itself. It is not something that one can study or learn; it is nature’s language, it is spiritual inspiration, it is in itself revelation. And when a person has spent his life developing his thought and feeling, it springs forth naturally, since it is a divine spring of beauty. Then and then alone, the artist is entitled to produce symbolism in his art.
Symbology expresses ideas that are complex and on which one has to ponder, but it has nothing to do with deformity, for deformity will never bring us higher thoughts.
No doubt when there is a continual striving to produce something new, this will sooner or later have a result and will bring art up to a higher level. Perhaps that will be a step forward in evolution. But it will not come very soon. Evolution sometimes takes a wrong direction, and sometimes a right direction; though in the end, it will surely reach its destination. At the same time, the artist could find a way to bring about the result sooner, if he would only keep his thoughts more in the spiritual realm.