Volume XII – The Divinity of the Human Soul
Part I: The Vision of God and Man and other Lectures
THE LIFE OF A SAGE IN THE EAST (2)
HOWEVER good and beautiful life in the world is, how true it is that it leaves so small a margin in which to give oneself the thought of God and truth! The daily duties take up every moment of one’s time, and even if there is anything left over there is no end to the worries; and then there is disease and pain and suffering and all manner of other troubles.
A good man must have more patience, as he has to give in to people more and more; but although he will have his troubles, a wicked man will have twice as many, for he has not only the trouble which comes to a good person but also the troubles brought about by his own wickedness. The load is double.
Seclusion, silence, thoughtfulness, meditation, gentleness, all these make the rhythm of one’s life appropriate for receiving inspiration, revelation, and communion, at-one-ment with God. Perhaps you have noticed how things vary on different days. On some days you are very busy, enthusiastic about your work, and on such days you will not feel spiritually or religiously inclined because everything you do demands energy; while on other days you feel quite different, more religious, more desirous of seeking after truth. The troubles and worries of the world do not bother you so much, and the divine things and higher aspirations come more naturally. How is this? It is just rhythm, your mind, body, and whole being go through a certain rhythm, called Sabtal in Sufi terms. This is a rhythm whereby your mind, body, and soul come to feel an exaltation, an inclination towards higher things. It is just like the rising of a wave. A heart frozen through cold, through selfishness, has become liquid through some emotion, affection, love, or distress, sorrow, or despair. It becomes like an ocean when the waves form. The waves make a rhythm, a rhythm which soothes the mind, and which gives you joy and peace and a feeling of being inclined towards a higher truth. This is the life of the Sanyasi, the life adapted to higher aspirations and thought, to communication with the higher life.
At other times the work of the Sanyasi is quiet. He is silent, yet sometimes he does speak to help those who come to him wishing to be guided through there wordily struggles. Then he becomes their guru. Most gurus belong to the rank of the Sanyasi, those who have adopted a life of retirement and who, while living this life, give teaching to pupils.
Then there are the Buddhist sages. Their life is different again. The Buddhist sage can begin his kind of life from the very first. He can become a sage at any age. He becomes a chela, and his living comes to him wherever he goes. The house of any Buddhist is open to a sage; no one closes his door to him, so he never worries about his food, for he will get it wherever he goes.
The same respect is paid to the Buddhist sage as to the Hindu sage, for he has renounced the world just like the vairagi or the sant. His life is devoted to teaching people good morals and to making their lives happy. Buddhists hold great celebrations all through the country to commemorate their sages. They never consider them as dead; they are so sure they have gone on to a new and better life. And this is most certainly true.
Lastly we come to speak of the Sufi sages. Here also we find two kinds, the Rind and the Salik. Those who are called faqirs all belong to the Rind. Their life consists in learning to disregard all worldly things. A person fears most being without such things, and this makes him a hypocrite all his life, for he fears missing the things of the world, so this is the first thing to learn to disregard. This is why wine is mentioned so often in the poetry of Rumi, Sadi Jami, Hafiz, and Omar Khayyam. The country where they lived and died was Muslim, and wine was despised and abhorred, so they chose this word as well as other words abhorrent to the religion, and used them in their poetry to express the philosophy of human nature, while incurring the displeasure of the people in general. They hid the action of God and man within these words: wine, jar, glass, rose, etc.
Among these Rind are to be found the so-called dancing dervishes. The idea is that dancing implies motion, and motion means life; dancing expresses the joy of life. And what is joy? Joy is the sign of a good soul, of a good heart. You always notice that when a convivial person, a good soul, a good-hearted man, comes into your life he brings delight to all. Whenever he speaks it is in good humor, and he brings pleasantness and joy. Being joyous himself he makes others cheerful. It is not hypocrisy; he is alive; he is joyous.
Take another person who comes weeping; he will make you want to weep too. Wherever he goes he brings gloom; he is taking misery along with him, and so he makes everyone else miserable. Now what does this mean? It just means that in the depth of his heart there is some decay. He is not enjoying life fully. The sign of life is having goodness, beauty, strength in your disposition, which means that you have some joy and are conscious of beauty, goodness, and joy. Having joy in your nature and disposition, you bring it to everybody you meet. Well, that is the state of the dervish. He says to himself, ‘If I may not dance, what shall I do?’ Possessing the joy of the presence of his Beloved, he feels the Sublimity of nature; he is conscious of all the motion going on throughout nature. It intoxicates him like wine.
Besides, there is a certain ritual among some dervishes, and they trace its origin to the time of Jalaluddin Rumi, the great Persian poet. It is related how on one occasion Rumi, absorbed in the thought of all life as being one beauty, in the thought of the motion and rhythm of life, began to revolve; and while he circled round and round in front of his pupils, the skirt of his garment as it whirled produced such a beautiful effect that they stored it in their memory for ever after. So the dance celebrates this memory.
The teaching of Jesus Christ will be found among the dervishes; indeed, not only his teaching but his life too. If you wished to see a living example of Christ’s life you could see it among the dervishes, for among them you will find some who have taken a vow of poverty and chastity, as in earliest times. There is no compulsion of any kind about it; they do not have to follow this life; it depends on whether they wish to follow the same kind of life that Christ lived. Wherever you traveled in India or Persia, you will see this whenever you meet a true dervish.
The other form of the Sufi path is that of the Salik. The Salik is a person who believes that he can be a sage and at the same time follow his worldly occupation. His work is making his life amidst the responsibilities of everyday affairs, and at the same time he does this for a higher purpose; his mind is fixed on higher aspirations even while in the world. Every act in all the affairs of life is directed towards higher aspirations, and finally every thought in everything that he is doing is directed towards this higher aspiration. So you find that the Salik is a worldly man, with the responsibility of a home or profession or business or trade, and yet when he has attained to that height he can be made a murshid; he can be a teacher. It is not necessary to renounce the world and become a monk; he can be a murshid even though he is still working in the world.
It is not that a murshid gives his knowledge to someone else. It is not possible to give one’s knowledge that way, so the murshid does not profess to be able to do this or that. His work is to help another person to find out for himself, to discover for himself what is true and what is not. There are no doctrines to impart, there are no principles to lay down, and there are no tenets according to which his pupils must order their lives. He is just a guide along the path. He is the one who kindles the light that is already in the pupil. He does not stand before the pupil as a priest; he is as a brother, a colleague, a friend. As he is just a human being he is limited, exactly as the pupil is; he is liable to make mistakes and to have failures as anyone. He enjoys no special authority, nor is he one who stands apart in holiness. He will say, ‘ I am not more holy than any other person; if he is not holy, no more am I.’ No, the murshid is the friend of the mureed; he is a friend on a path, which the mureed has not yet trodden. So he can advise him if the mureed desires to be guided, and he can be his friend if the mureed desires him to be a friend. He can solve the mureed’s problems; he can show him how to understand what kind of life is best for him; he can show him what truth is and how to attain to it.
The sage in the East is regarded everywhere with respect, whether he be a murshid, a sadhu, a sanyasi, or a sant. The name does not signify. One will hear that Hindu and Buddhist and Sufi sages are all different from one another. Well, that is true; they can be different just as in Western countries there are differences in the churches. For all that, there is really no difference between the sadhu, the sanyasi, and the sant. Both Hindu and Muslim will bow before the sage, whether he be Buddhist, Vedantist, or Sufi. No one makes any distinction. Every sage is just a person on the path of truth, and so people respect him, though the feeling which one receives from a sage may be a little different in each case. But they all bring with them a light and an inspiration, which are quite remarkable, as I know from my own experience.
When one is in the presence of a vairagi everything seems faded and pale, as if nothing in life had any value; it seems as if one had risen above all weakness and above all earthly goods. One receives a feeling of kingliness, as if one were above everything; it seems as if all else was just a hindrance. That is the feeling one gets.
In the presence of a sanyasi the feeling is different again. One has a sense of inspiration, of revolution. All the problems of life seem to be settled at once in his mere presence. It is like a light illuminating one, so that one begins to feel things and look upon them differently. The feeling one gets in the presence of a Buddhist sage is a moral experience. One gets a feeling of self-sacrifice, of gentleness, goodness, and sympathy for every living creature.
When one is in the presence of a dervish of the Sufis one gets a feeling of ecstasy, which Omar Khayyam calls wine. It is an atmosphere charged with magnetism; there is a sense of intoxication, a spiritual intoxication which could never be compared with any effects of wine of the worldly kind.
Lastly, when one is in the presence of a Salik one feels as if one’s eyes had been opened so as to perceive all the beauty there is in the world, the beauty of inner planes, the beauty of outer planes, the beauty of the whole manifestation of life. It is as if the curtain had risen upon a stage as soon as one had arrived and one found the stage full of every imaginable beauty. Some wonderful beauty had hitherto been hidden, and now it is all opened out before one.
For those who expect wonder-working from a sage, who expect him to prove that he is a sage, I say that it is the very presence of a real sage which brings such great joy and deep peace. One need never seek a greater wonder than this evidence in order to know that one is in the presence of a true sage.