Volume VIII: The Art of Being
PART I: HEALTH AND ORDER OF BODY AND MIND
by Hazrat Inayat Khan
There are three things, which we must master during our everyday life and three ways of achieving them.
Consider the power of half an hour concentrations compared with the weakness of giving in all day.
We must use concentration during the whole day. Then we can control ourselves in all the requirements of the body and of our senses, and the mind must give permission to every demand on their part without being confused in the matter. There is the beginning of the act, there is the act itself, and there is the result of the act. These three stages in the life of self-mastery or self-control bring increasing happiness and satisfaction. There is satisfaction in the thought of granting some particular desire, there is satisfaction during the time it is being granted, and there is satisfaction after it has been granted. When there is no confusion, or depression, or despair, or remorse, or repentance, then the happiness increases. There is no other proper way of directing one’s life.
The various practices recommended by the mystics all have the same purpose, whether it is fasting, or stretching out the hands, or clasping the fingers, whatever it be. The mystic holds a posture for a moment, perhaps for half a minute or fifteen minutes. Nature wants to set in motion; so, when we stop that desire and sit straight and erect, the mind at once sets a grasp on the whole body, because the whole body is now under discipline. When the body obeys the mind – that is discipline. That is why all through life our mind should be in control of all things.
The next thing to consider is the character. We must take care never to do anything that we consider a mistake, or undesirable, or actually foolish when we see another person doing it. If it is something of which we do not approve, something we cannot tolerate if another person does it, we must resist the inclination to do such an undesirable thing ourselves. This resistance to impulses is the way to control ourselves.
A more perfect way of behaving is the religious way. We must realize that the essence of every religion is to regard the God whom all are worshipping as our goal. He whom we seek is nowhere else than in the human heart. Reflecting on this thought, we come to recognize that whatever kind of person we meet – be he foolish or wise, weak or strong, poor or rich, wicked or virtuous – we are in the presence of the Lord, before whom we all bow. For if he is anywhere, it is in the human heart, even in the heart of a wicked person.
Say to yourself, “My ideal, my religion, my desire is to please my Lord before whom I bow my head. So when I am before anyone, I am before my Lord, my God. I must take care always to be considerate and thoughtful, lest I hurt my God.” That is the real religion. If you take care not to hurt a loved one, a friend, but do not mind hurting a servant, or wicked or foolish person, that will not be real religion. Love will recognize the ideal of love, the divine ideal, in every heart, and will refrain from using words which will make others unhappy; words expressing pride, thoughtless words, sarcastic words, any word which will disturb a person’s peace of mind, or hurt his sensibilities.
Therefore, when developing fineness of character, we learn to consider another person’s feelings. You may consider yourself very sensitive and so you do not wish that another person should hurt or insult you, or be rough with you. You think, “That person talks too much, he annoys me,” or you think, “How badly he dresses.” There is a person whom you know to be sensible and understanding; whereas of another person you think that he is not so. But you must forget what you yourself think, and bethink yourself of what another person thinks. It shows a great fineness of character not to give grounds for offense to another person, but it is very difficult to attain this state.
There is no benefit in making your own life so regular and orderly that it offends every other person. It is in the consideration of another’s feeling that lies the real religion.
What counts most in the path of truth is self-discipline, and without this our studies and practices cannot produce great results. This self-discipline can be distinguished in many different aspects. By studying the lives of the ascetics who lived in the mountains and forests, in the wilderness, we learn that those who have really searched after truth have done their utmost to practice self-discipline. Without it no soul in the world has ever arrived at the realization of truth. No doubt it frightens people accustomed to the life of the world even to think of self-discipline and, when they think of it, they imagine it in its extreme forms. It is not necessary for us to go to the caves in the mountains, the forest or the wilderness in order to practice self-discipline. In our everyday life we can do so.
The different ways in which self-discipline is practiced are chiefly four. One way is the physical way: the practice of standing in the same position, of sitting in the same posture for a certain time. When one begins to do it one will find that it is not so easy as it appears to be. A person may sit in a same posture or stand in a same position without knowing it, but as soon as he begins to practice it, he finds great difficulty in doing so. When this is achieved then there are different positions of holding one’s hands or legs or eyes or head; these practices develop the power of self-discipline.
Then there is another aspect of self-discipline which is connected with eating and drinking: to avoid certain things in one’s everyday food or drink, and to make a practice of being able to live without them, especially things that one feels that they cannot live without. So you will see that there are adepts who live on a fruitarian or vegetarian diet without certain things that one is accustomed to drink, and are without these for days or weeks or months.
Another aspect of self-discipline is the habit of thinking and forgetting: to be able to think of the same thing of which one wishes to think, to continue to think of it, to hold that thought – and to practice to forget things, that the thoughts may not get a hold over one’s mind. By doing so one becomes the master of one’s mind, in the same way trying to check thoughts of agitation, anger, depression, prejudice, hatred. This gives moral discipline.
After one has practiced these three aspects of discipline, one is able to arrive at the fourth aspect, which is greater; it is greater because in this way one arrives at spiritual experience. That discipline intends to free one’s consciousness from one’s environment. This is the experience of the adepts who have worked at it for a long time in order to achieve it. In the old schools of the Sufis, and even today, there is the custom that, when they arrive in the room of meditation, or when they go out of it, one of them is there to suggest this idea in words. He says, “Solitude in the crowd,” which means: when you are in the midst of the crowd, even then you can hold your tranquillity, your peace. You are not disturbed by the environments. It is this, which enables one to live in the midst of the world and yet progress spiritually. It takes away that necessity which compelled many souls in ancient times to go to the wilderness in order to develop spiritually.
It is difficult no doubt, yet at the same time it is simple and in a small way everyone experiences it, but automatically. A person engaged in something that interests him most or that occupies his mind altogether, often is not conscious of his environment. A poet, a writer, a composer, a thinker, when he is entirely absorbed in something he does, is for that moment not conscious of his environment. It happens very often that one is so absorbed in something one is doing or thinking about, that one is not conscious of one’s own body or one’s own self. Only that which a person is conscious of, that alone exists, not even his self. This is the stage, which is termed by Sufis fana. The word nirvana, of which so much has been spoken, is simply to be understood in this manner. It is only an experience of consciousness. In other words it is freedom of the soul, it is being able to arrive at a stage where one is not thinking about oneself, where one is not thinking about environments that surround one.
One might ask: is this not dangerous in any way? And many may think so. But I should say: everything is dangerous in this world. If we think of it, there could be a danger every moment: in eating, in drinking, in going out and coming in. it is dangerous to go into the water, but when you can swim, that acts against it. It is even dangerous to walk in the street, but if you can walk and run, that acts against it. It is in being able to meditate and to raise one’s consciousness above environments that lies the secret of spiritual development.
The practice of self-discipline no doubt will seem difficult in the beginning, but later it becomes easier and, once a person is accustomed to it, it does not take long to experience its beautiful results. It is a complaint of everyone that the person who stands by his side does not listen to him. Every soul complains, “The others do not listen to me.” One rises above this complaint, because one begins to realize that “it is myself who does not listen to me.” Then the thief is caught, one finds the mischief-maker; it was not the other person, it was the self. As one begins to get power over the self, one begins to feel a great mastery, a mastery over one’s kingdom. It is a feeling of kingship. Then, naturally, one begins to experience in life this phenomenon that little by little all things begin to be easy.
A Question about Fasting
Question: Do you advocate a long fast from 30 till 90 days in order to purify the body for spiritual attainment?
Answer: I am not an advocate of asceticism, but at the same time, I see the good work that many ascetics have done and I do not wish to depreciate it.
Coming to the question of fasting, I think that fasting is one of the ways by which the denseness of the body can be diminished. And when one knows the right way of fasting, when one is under the direction of someone who really knows when a person should fast, and why and how he should do so, and how he could gain the benefit of his fasting, then great benefit can be obtained by it. Surgeons keep a person without food for so many hours or days knowing that it will help them heal quicker. In the same way spiritual teachers may prescribe a fast to their pupils: sometimes being without cereals, sometimes without eating meat, sometimes without bread, sometimes living on milk, on fruits, and sometimes, for a certain limit of time, without anything. They see the capacity of the pupil: what he can endure and how he can be benefited by a particular fast.
But, to tell the truth, I am the last person to prescribe fasting. I only give some advice if persons themselves wish to fast, for I know a story of a disciple who went to a teacher and was told, “In order to begin the practices you must start with a three days fast.” One day he felt so hungry that he ran away from the city in order never to see the teacher again.
There is always a meaning if a teacher prescribes a fast; he has a reason for it. There is an amusing story of a great Sufi who lived in Bagdad; there are many stories of his wonderful achievements. He had told a young pupil of his to live on a vegetarian diet. The mother of this young man, having heard that since the boy went to the teacher he had grown pale and thin, came to give the teacher a little talking to. He was at table when she came and there was a chicken dish on the table. So the mother said, “You are teaching your pupils to live on a vegetarian diet, and you yourself are enjoying chicken!” The teacher opened the dish and the chicken flew away. The teacher said, “The day your son can do this too, he can also eat chicken.”
Self-control is the most necessary thing to be learned; a person may have great spirituality, illumination and piety, but in the absence of self-control this is nothing. Self-control also is the way of happiness and peace. Often we hear or read that persons of great repute in the world for their spirituality and mysticism do something that astonishes us very much, or make a quite childish mistake. It is want of self control that makes them commit a mistake, against which they themselves have spoken and written many times.
The spiritual student learns self control in three ways: by postures, by tasawwur – visualization – which is concentration, and by amal, which is the highest practice. After this there is samadhi, which is meditation and which is called by the dervishes masti, it means illumination, to halt in illumination. The difference between meditation and concentration is that concentration is done on a form, on an object, and meditation without form or object.
Repose and control of the body are taught by postures and positions. When a person has been still for some time, he will begin to move. There is no need for him to move but he moves his foot or arm, or he drums on the table with his fingers, or chews his lips, or blinks his eyes. The activity increases more and more until at last a person jumps in his sleep. When the first sleep comes, he starts and jumps. To control the activity of the body, to sit quiet in the postures and positions is the first lesson.
However, there must not be stillness only. If a person has kept his hands still for a long time and then wishes to play the piano, he will not be able to. He must make his fingers active enough to be able to play the piano well. As much stillness there is, so much activity there must be.
Sleep and do not sleep. Eat and do not eat. Walk and do not walk. Speak and do not speak. This means: if you sleep every night, sometimes do not sleep. If you eat every day, one day in seven do not eat. If you eat all month long, one or two days in the month do not eat. This gives a mastery that you cannot gain by renunciation alone. It does not mean that you should starve. The body must be given good food, fresh food, and all its needs must be satisfied. This is better than that it should always long for what it sees before it. You must give the body what it needs, but you must control its needs, and not be controlled by them.
After this comes control of the thoughts, which is the second step, control of the body coming first. Thousands of people have found that they can sit in the postures for hours but cannot keep their mind still. This has to be learned by degrees. A person cannot control his mind by willing to think of nothing; that will never be possible. First let the mind hold whatever thought interests it. Check its tendency to jump from one thing to another. When you catch the mind jumping from one thing to another, bring it back and hold it. You must say: I am greater than my mind, my will is greater than my mind, and I will make my mind obey my will.
Then comes mastery of the feelings, of the heart. There must be no feeling of revenge, of unkindness, of bitterness against anyone in the heart. When such a feeling comes, one must say: this is rust coming into my heart. When all such feelings are cleared off the heart, it becomes like a mirror. A mirror without rust reflects all that is before it; then everything divine is reflected in the heart, then all inspirations, intuitions, impressions come, and what we call clairvoyance. There is no need to go after such things; they come of themselves.
After this there is only one thing more to be done; to keep from the soul all the thoughts that come from others and all the thoughts and feelings that arise within the self. Keep away even all feelings of love and goodwill whilst you are in this meditation; then, as a matter of course, come ecstasy, rapture, and peace.
Many people ask: How can we control our thoughts? What can we do if our thoughts do not obey us? How can we like a thing, if we dislike it, or dislike it if we like it? It seems impossible! To a person who has gone beyond likes and dislikes this sounds like a child’s question, because he does not know of opposites.
The way to gain self-control is first of all to do the reverse of what your inclination would lead you to do. If you feel inclined to eat, sometimes do not eat, control the hunger. If you feel inclined to drink, do not drink, control the thirst. If you are inclined to sleep, do not sleep; at another time when you are not inclined to sleep, sleep. There are a thousand inclinations; each sense has its inclinations. Do not give way to these inclinations, each sense has its inclinations. Do not give way to these inclinations, each sense has its inclinations. Do not give way to these inclinations; rule them, that they may not govern you. This is called by the Yogis hatha yoga, and the Sufis call it nafskushi.
I have seen the Nizam of Hyderabad stand for seven or eight hours, if he wished to stand, although he was a king and had all the things he wished ready in his house. If he wished not to sleep, he did not sleep for seven, eight, nine and ten days. By this he became such a master that he mastered the secret of curing snakebites. In India there are many snakes; while the Nixam lived he advertised all over India, and if anyone was bitten by a snake, people wired him. When the Nizam said, “He is well,” the person was healed.
When one has learned to control one’s inclinations, the second lesson is to govern the inclination in the act. Do not eat whilst you are eating, do not drink whilst you are drinking. When a person has learned this, he is master of the solitude and the crowd. He does not need solitude to be spiritual; he is spiritual in the crowd too.
Question: How to gain self-control?
Answer: By doing the reverse of that which is one’s inclination would lead to do. If you are inclined to eat, do not eat; if you are inclined to drink, do not drink; if you are inclined to be active, be still; if you are inclined to be still, be active; if you are inclined to speak, be silent. Eating is not a sin, but if you sometimes try how long you can go without eating, it would be good. Drinking is not a sin, but if you sometimes try to see how long you could go without drinking, it would be good. Sleeping is not a sin, but if you sometimes try to see how long you could do without sleeping, it would be good.
Faqirs take the opposite way. They like what they dislike. That is the reason why you may read that Mahadeva, Shiva, drank poison and wore skulls and bones around his neck, because no one would like to be in a grave among the dead. A snake is always pictured around his neck. By this conceit, the ego, the nafs, is crushed. To every little man, to every boy the faqirs say “father,” thinking, “He is the father and I am the son.” To every little woman they say “mother,” thinking, “She is much greater than I am.” To all they say, “I am your servant, I am your humble servant, your obedient servant.”
Develop the will by slowness of movement, by slowness of speech, by slowness and control of thought, for activity tends to make us move faster and faster.
No thought or feeling should arise without our will. When we have gained mastery over the self, we have mastery over all things. The saints and sages have commanded a withered tree to become green. How was it done? By their mastery over the self.
The self controlled ones are the only possessors of divine wisdom; those who have not mastered this in life are imperfect. Though they may have all the riches, comfort and power, yet all this is as dross when the self is not under control. This can be learned by noticing how many virtuous people are at times drawn into sin, and how foolishly the wise sometimes act. Dominant natures often become enslaved, and even the healthy become diseased through lack of self-control.
Self-control is an attribute, which distinguishes man from the animal; both have their appetites and passions, but it is man alone who can control them. It is therefore not surprising if Sufis are sometimes seen submitting themselves to most awkward and uncomfortable practices. At first sight it may appear strange, yet on closer observation it becomes obvious that they prescribe this for themselves in order to gain self-control, which alone gives the assurance of a dependable and lasting happiness.
Self-control is mainly achieved by abstinence, which acts against the constant demands of the mind, the senses and the body. The control over each plane is won gradually by special practices of pose, posture and movement, adapted to this purpose. Every motion and action, even each organ and muscle of the body must work under the control of the will. All the powers of the body, whether in absorption or rejection, should be mastered by self-control. For both absorption and rejection control of the breath is necessary, and by the same power all things are controlled.
Control of the mind consists of control of imaginations, thoughts, emotions, and feelings, the vibrations of which are always ringing in the sphere of the astral plane. The scattered clouds in the sky join and separate, at every moment forming various distinct pictures. In like manner the will – as a magnet – gathers these vibrations in the astral sphere from different directions, forming them accidentally or intentionally into a picture which is either a thought, an imagination, an emotion or a feeling. Just as clouds do not remain unscattered in the sky, so the pictures formed in the astral world are liable quickly to be dispersed, except when the sky is overcast, or when the atmosphere is overwhelmed with depression or joy.
Vibrations of the same element will group themselves together, for they are naturally attracted to each other. Pictures are often impressed upon the mind and are reflected from the mental plane upon the astral. The vibrations ringing through the astral sphere may be called, in other words, the atoms of the mental plane, which are singly or collectively impressed by the names and forms of the external spheres.
The same vibrations appear as different names, forms, things and beings in the dream plane. They seem much more real there when the senses are at rest, but in the waking state they become mere imaginations. What is considered, as imagination in the waking state becomes the world of reality in the Dream State? All the things and all the beings seen in the dream are a world within ourselves, reflected from the external world and produced by the power of our will.
So the Judgement Day in reality is not the resurrection of the whole creation, but of the world produced in each individual for his trial. The power of the will gathers and controls the desired vibrations through concentration, and it is when control is lacking that, instead of the wished for imaginations, various other pictures are formed, either agreeable or disagreeable – whatever the vibrations may happen to form through their contact with each other. In other words, through self-control man governs his fate; otherwise he is governed by it.
Lack of will power causes involuntary happiness and sadness. The disturbing thoughts, which crowd into the mind during concentration, can only be dispersed by the power of the will; otherwise the mind will become occupied with agreeable or disagreeable impressions from the external world against our desire.
The way of strengthening the will is knowing how to group and to scatter mental vibrations at will. This can only be done by forming a mental picture of the grouped vibrations, making every possible effort to hold this mental picture steady, keeping the mental plane so occupied with its reflection that no impression from the external world can enter. Only those who by will power can scatter the mental vibrations find the way towards the Universal Spirit, and to them the divine light is disclosed which is hidden behind the mind. This light can be found in every creature.
Uncontrolled imaginations form the veil covering the divine light and cause darkness, which produces delusion. When the will is able to scatter the clouds and allows the Inner Light to spread forth its rays, then there is still one more step to be taken. That is the absorption in the light: to become so lost in it that the false ego may become unconscious of itself, which in other words may be called the state of Eternal Consciousness.
The astral plane, the seat of which is the heart, which is situated in the midst of the body and the soul, can only be controlled by a strong love or devotion. Just as the horse is controlled by the will of the driver, in the same way a man whose will controls both the driver and the horse can hold the rein over his action, speech, thought and feeling. The mind is prone to different temptations and, uncontrolled; it wanders about like a wild horse in a jungle. The will produces an object of love and directs the heart to follow the right path, the path of love, along which one journeys resisting all temptations met with along the way.
The Sufi idealizes the pangs of love by which the heart is warmed. The fire of love melts the heart, no matter how cold and hard it may be; when once it is warmed it can be molded in whichever way desired. Ice, the frozen condition of water, cannot reproduce the reflections of which it is capable in its melted state.
The resisting of temptations during the period of love helps to expand love, till the object of worship becomes the whole universe. Then self-control could be gained by even resisting the idea of the lover and the beloved. In other words, “I and you” finally becomes love in its pure essence.
The Control of the Spirit
A complete realization of the spiritual plane is difficult for everybody, and only an earnest mureed arrives at this stage through perseverance in the control of the breath under the guidance of a Murshid, when all the senses can be opened or closed at will. The vision he sees and the phenomenon he experiences there are unknown to the average man. This state is incredible to those who have received a worldly knowledge, but have not followed the mystic way.
Only he can control the self, making it rise above the physical plane, who loses himself in the phenomenon of the abstract plane. The mureed, holding this phenomenon in his meditation, becomes so absorbed in it that in the end neither he nor the phenomenon remains, but only the consciousness of being.
The Control of Consciousness
This is the control, which liberates the consciousness from its attachment to the lower planes. That attachment keeps the consciousness deluded and confined to the earth; by self-control it can be liberated. Self-consciousness grows through lack of self-control. Man attaches such importance to his life his slightest joy or sorrow becomes of worldwide importance to him, and thus he becomes prey to every form of weakness. For it is a natural law that a single atom of depression gathers the clouds of gloom, and a slight pain reflected in the consciousness grows into a mountain.
Self-control is the way by which the Sufi makes the consciousness free from all worldly reflections, hereby attaining the blankness out of which the whole world was manifested. This perfection can only be attained by absolute self-control.
Life may be recognized in two aspects: the known and the unknown. What is generally called life is its known aspect as its other aspect is unknown to many. The unknown aspect may be called immortal, the eternal life, and the known aspect may be called mortal life. What we generally know of life is its mortal part; the experience we have through our physical being gives us the evidence of life, and therefore, the life we know is the mortal life. The immortal life exists, but we do not know it. It is our knowledge, which is absent, not the immortal life.
In this life known to us everything we have, whether an object, a living being, a thought, a condition, a deed, or an experience, all break and die away. Each of these things has birth and death. Sooner or later, what is composed must be decomposed, and what is visible now will disappear.
This shows that there is a struggle between what we call life and the life, which is behind it. In Sufi terms we call these two aspects of life qadha (Kaza) and qadr(Kadr): qadha, the unlimited aspect of life, qadr the limited aspect. Qadr draws upon the life of qadha for its existence, and qadha wakes with its mouth open to swallow what comes into it. Therefore, the thinkers and wise men, those who are called mystics or Sufis, have discovered the science of how to withhold the experience of life – which alone gives us the evidence of life – from the mouth of qadha, the ever assimilating aspect of life. If we do not know how to withhold it, it will fall into the mouth of qadha. For qadha is always waiting with an open mouth. As an illness awaits the moment when a person is lacking in energy, so in all different forms of qadha is waiting to assimilate all that comes to it, and which then is merged in it.
The question arises: how can we withhold, how can we keep something from falling into the mouth of qadha? And the answer is by controlling our body and our mind. Much is known about physical culture, but what is known is what can be obtained by action, by gymnastics, by movements. Very little is known about what can be obtained by repose, by poise and posture.
I have seen in the East a man lifting a heavy stone on one finger. One might think: how can a man’s little finger – these fine bones – stand such a heavy weight? It is the power of the will, alone, which sustains the heavy stone; the finger is only an excuse. I have seen myself those who experiment in the field of spirit and matter jumping into a raging fire and coming out safely, cutting the muscles of their body and healing them instantly. It is not a story that mystics know how to levitate; the demonstration of this has been seen by thousands of people in India. I do not mean to say that this is something worth learning or following, I only wish to tell you what can be accomplished by the power of will. And in order to obtain the reign of will over the physical body the first thing necessary is physical control.
Among the different kinds of physical culture known to the modern world there is nothing that teaches the method, the way, the secret of sustaining an action. For instance, to be able to sit in the same posture without moving, to be able to listen to something without being disturbed by something else, to be able to experience hardness, softness, heat or cold, keeping even vibrations, or to be able to retain the taste of salt, sweet and sour. Since all these experiences come and go, man has no control over his means of pleasure or joy. He cannot enjoy any experience through any sense as long as he wishes to enjoy it. So he depends upon outer things, and has no control sustaining the experience he has. If there is any way of sustaining experience, it is through control.
There is another side to this question. Being unconsciously aware that every experience, which is pleasing and joyous, will soon pass away, man is over-anxious and, instead of trying to retain the experience, he hurries it and loses it; so for instance his habit of eating hastily, or of laughing before the mirthful sentence is finished. He is over-anxious that his joy will pass away, but so his joy is finished even before the mirthful sentence ends. In every experience man loses the power to sustain it because of his anxiety about losing the pleasure it gives.
The great joy of watching a tragedy in the theatre lies in experiencing it to its fullness, but some people are so thrilled that they have already shed their tears in the beginning, and then there is nothing left for afterwards. Once the zenith is reached, there is no more experience to be had and so, instead of keeping it away from the mouth of eternal life, man throws every experience he makes, without knowing the secret of it, into the life behind.
The mystics, therefore, by sitting in different postures and by standing in different poses, have gained control over their muscles and nervous system, and this has an effect on the mind. A person who lacks control over his nervous and muscular systems has no control over his mind. He eventually loses it. But by having control over one’s muscular and nervous systems one gets control over the mind also.
The means by which life draws its power is breath. With every breath one draws in, one draws life and power and intelligence from the unseen and unknown in life. And when one knows the secret of posture, and draws from the unseen world energy and power and inspiration, one gets the power of sustaining one’s thought, one’s word, one’s experience, one’s pleasure, one’s joy. Thought-power is necessary with both posture and breath in order to gain physical control.
One must rise above one’s likes and dislikes, for they cause much weakness in life. When one says, “I cannot stand this, I cannot eat this, I cannot drink this, I cannot bear this, I cannot tolerate this, I cannot endure” – all those things show man’s weakness. The greater the will power the more man is able to stand all that comes along. It does not mean that one has no choice. One can have one’s choice, but when one gives in to one’s choice, then life becomes difficult. There is a false ego in man, called nafs by the Sufis, and this ego feeds on weakness. This ego feels vain when one says, “I cannot bear it, I do not like it, I do not look at it.” All this feeds the ego and its vanity. It then thinks, “I am better than others,” and thereby this ego becomes strong, and so man’s weakness becomes strong. But the one who has discrimination, distinction, choice, while at the same time having these all under his control, the one who enjoys sweet but can drink a bowl of something bitter, – that person has reached mastery.
Someone asked a wise man what was the cause of every tragedy in life. The wise man answered, “Limitation. All miseries come from this one thing, limitation.” Therefore the mystics have tried by exercises, by practices, by studies to overcome limitation as much as possible. There is no worst enemy of man than helplessness. When a person feels, “I am helpless, I cannot help it”, it is the end of his joy and happiness.
Impulses also weaken a person, when he helplessly gives in to them. For instance, when he has an impulse to go to the park, instead of waiting till it is the right time to go to the park, he quickly puts on his hat and goes along. He follows his impulse immediately and loses power over himself. The one who subordinates his impulses, controlling them, utilizing them for the best purpose, attains mastery.
Besides, indulgence into every comfort, seeking convenience, always looking for the path of least resistance, also brings weakness. However small the work may be, if a person takes it seriously and finishes with patience, he gains much power over himself. Patience is the principal thing in life, although patience is as bitter, as hard, as unbearable as death. Sometimes one prefers death to patience.
It is a great difficulty that the people in this land of America are losing this quality of patience more and more every day, because Providence has blessed them so much. They have conveniences, they have comforts, they are the spoilt children of Providence, and when it comes to having patience, it is very hard for them. Individuals have to practice this spirit, for we do not know what may come to follow. We live in this world of uncertainty, and we do not know in what condition we may be placed tomorrow. If we have no strength of resistance we may easily break down. Therefore, it is most necessary for the human race to develop patience in all conditions of life, in all walks of life, in all positions in life. Whether we are rich or poor, high or low, this is the one quality that must be developed. It is patience that gives endurance, it is patience that is all-powerful, and by lack of patience one loses so much. Very often the answer to one’s prayer is within one’s reach. The hand of Providence is not very far off. But one has lost one’s patience and so lost the opportunity.
All such things as mastery and patience are acquired by physical control. Physical control can build a foundation for character and personality, a foundation to be built in order to bring about spiritual attainment.
Question: Would you, please, explain something more about posture?
Answer: The fantasy of the whole creation lies in the direction of every movement; it is in accordance with this direction that fantasy takes form. Where do all the opposites such as sun and moon, man and woman, pain and joy, negative and positive, come from? Since the source is one and the goal is one, why such differences? They belong to the direction; the secret of every difference is direction. It is an activity; an energy of working in a certain direction which makes a certain form. So it makes a difference whether you sit this way or that way, whether you sleep on the right side or on the left. whether you stand on your feet or on your head makes a difference.
Mystics, therefore, have practiced for many, many years, and have found out different postures of sitting while doing certain breathing exercises. They have made a great science out of this. There is a warrior’s posture, an artist’s posture, a thinker’s posture, an aristocratic posture, a lover’s posture, a healer’s posture: different postures in order to attain different objects. By those postures it becomes easy for man to attain these objects, for then he has arrived at the science of direction. Posture does not denote anything but direction.
Questions about Vaccination and Inoculation
Question: Will you, please, tell us if vaccination is desirable?
Answer: All things are desirable if properly used, and all are undesirable if abused. In fact, the idea of vaccination comes from the same theory, which is taught by Shiva – or Mahadeva – as Hatha Yoga.
It is said of Mahadeva that he used to drink poison. Mahadeva was the most venturous among the ascetics; one can see this by his wearing a snake around his neck. Now, would you like to do that? If one can be such friend with a serpent as to keep it around one’s neck, one can no doubt sit comfortably in the presence of someone one does not like. That hatred, prejudice and nervousness felt in the presence of someone one does not like will not arise if one can wear a serpent around one’s neck, if one can take a bowl of bitter poison and drink it – which is against nature. Once the soul has fought its battle with all that makes it fear and tremble, shrink back and run away, then that soul has conquered life. It has become the master of life; it has attained the kingdom.
No doubt the methods which Mahadeva adopted are extreme methods. No one could recommend them to his pupils and be thought sane in this modern world.
Vaccination is related to fear; fear of germs, which might come and enter our body: we might breathe them in or take them in with our water or food. Vaccination is partaking of this poison which we fear and which might come to us some day in some form. Such a method may meet with a great deal of opposition and prejudice, but there is a very strong reason for the principle behind it. This brings us to a higher realization and to a great conception of life. It makes us think that even that which we call death, if it were put into a cup and given to us to drink, would bring us to life.
Question: Would you please, tell us something more of the Shiva aspect of life?
Answer: This is a very vast subject and difficult to explain in two words. However, the aspect of destruction can be easily understood by something we see in science, by the method of inoculation. By putting that destructive element one fears in one’s body, one makes the body disease proof. That particular disease is no longer a disease but the nature of that person. This is the method of the mystic; it is destruction from a spiritual point of view.
Death is death as long as man is unacquainted with it. When man eats it up, then he has eaten death. This is the mystery of the message of Jesus Christ who, from the beginning to end, spoke of eternal life. And the mystery of eternal life is that once a person has eaten death, he has eternal life.
In little things one person says, “I do not like to touch vinegar, it harms my health;” another says, “I cannot bear eating ice cream, I cannot digest it.” Yet another says, “I cannot stand sugar in my tea, I do not like it.” For the latter, sugar is poison. If he took poison and made it part of his nature, the same poison would become sugar. But by making things foreign to his nature a man makes his nature exclusive, and by becoming exclusive he subjects himself to them in a way. There comes a time when they rule him, a situation in which he is in their power may occur. A person may say for instance, Quinine is too bitter, I cannot stand it.” But when he is in a fever, the doctor says he must take it. The patient dreads this but his condition forces him to take it.
It is for this reason that the way of Shiva was always to work against the weaknesses. He counted these tendencies as weaknesses; he did not count them as nature. What is nature? All is our nature when we separate it, and a time may come when we become so weak that we cannot help becoming subjected to our weaknesses. There are snake charmers who, by making snakes bite them a little at a time have gradually become inured to the poison. They catch the snake in their hand, and if it bites it does not hurt them. It was the same with Shiva who is pictured with a cobra around his neck. Out of death he had made a necklace. There was no more death for him.
One can go to extremes in this way, but still it is a law, which should be studied and known. The only mystery it teaches is not to consider things as foreign to our nature. If it was not in us then we wouldn’t know about it. That is the way to overcome all the destruction, which is the source of fear, pain and disappointment.
Question: If nothing is poison, does that mean that there is no good and bad, no moral?
Answer: No, it does not mean that. Good is good and bad is bad. But one can rise above badness or one can be submitted to badness. One can become weak before evil or become strong. The idea is to become strong before evil instead of weak.
Question: How to understand the sentence from the Gayan: the only thing that is made through life is one’s own nature?
Answer: One makes one’s nature by one’s likes and dislikes, by one’s favor and disfavor. When a person has said that he does not like a certain edible thing, he has built a nature in himself. If afterwards he would eat such a thing it would disagree with his nature. It is not because it was meant to agree with him, but because he has built up the idea that it would not agree. It is the same when one says, “I cannot endure it, I cannot stand it.”
One makes one’s nature either agreeable or disagreeable. Either one makes one’s nature so hard as a rock, which will not allow anything to enter; or one makes one’s nature so pliable as water, through which all boats and ships can pass without hurting it. Water gives way for all to pass, and it is there just the same.
Man, by his thoughts, makes his nature. When he says, I cannot agree with this,” he will not agree with it; he has made a wall before himself. When he says, “I cannot bear that person,” once he has said it, he has created something in himself which makes him sick when that person comes to him. That person becomes his master. The man wants to run away from him; wherever that person comes, he makes him ill. It is not because that person brings him illness: the man has brought illness upon himself.
1 Questions about Breathing
Question: Should we observe a certain form of breathing?
Answer: there are five different things to consider in connection with breath: the far reach of the breath, the depth of the breath, the volume of the breath, the centralizing of the breath, the rhythm of breathing. If the breath is not far reaching it causes weakness, if it is not deep enough, it is a cause of weakness too; if it is not centralized it creates uncertainty in life; if it has no proper rhythm it causes lack of balance; if it has no volume it takes away vitality. Therefore, breath must be trained in these five different ways. It must be rhythmic, centralized, deepened, it must reach far, and its volume must be spreading.
Breath must have the quality of covering a large ground. The atmosphere of one person is felt, of another person it is not felt. A person may have so much atmosphere that it may fill a large horizon; it is the breath which gives that atmosphere. Besides, in the atmosphere of some person you may feel uneasy, restless, out of rhythm, because he has no rhythm in his breath, his breathing is not right.
Question: How is rhythmic breathing acquired?
Answer: This is a science in itself. We are far away from a natural life. We have to run after tramcars and taxicabs, we have to catch our trains, a thousand things like these disturb our rhythm. Do you think that in the East a sage or an adept who practices meditation will run after a tramcar and spoil his rhythm? All these things disturb the rhythm of breathing. What we think natural is not natural; from morning to evening our life has no rhythm.
Question: Do you recognize a system, which included positive and negative breathing?
Answer: Yes, it is just like the two wires in the electric lamp a negative and a positive one. If one wire is absent, there will be no light. In order to have light there must be two currents and these two currents make positive and negative energy. They have a relation with the rising and setting of the sun. The current of the breath changes. And if it does not change in accordance with the time, if it is not in consonance with the rising and setting of the sun, then either a person is ill, or unbalanced. Something is wrong with him.
Question: What means centralizing the breath?
Answer: In music we have many notes, but we call one note the keynote. Really speaking, every note can be a keynote, and there must be a central point for everything. For a plant it is the root, which is the center, and for the breath there is a seat in the body. If the breath is properly seated there, it is just like a plant, which is well rooted into the ground, and will grow nicely and bear fruit. If the plant is not rooted well there is always a chance of its being destroyed. So in the life of man, if the breath is not centralized in its center, in the seat where it ought to be, then it is doubtful whether the person will live long and be happy.
In the East sages know for six months or a year before their death that their time has come. And, they know it from this secret: they find that their breath no longer centralizes in the place where it ought to centralize. My spiritual teacher told his family a year beforehand that he was to leave the earth. Sages know this, because they practice every day. Therefore, breath for them is an object they feel, see, and know.
Not every person can feel whether he is breathing from the left or right nostril, but those who practice, know instantly. There are times when one breathes through one nostril, and other times when one breathes through two nostrils. Breathing through the two nostrils is a passing moment, and then the breath goes from one nostril to the other; it is a critical moment.
Question: Does the position of the body during sleep control the breath?
Answer: Yes, this also concerns posture. Whichever side you lean or lie upon, every direction towards which you strike with force, all bear rhythm and the direction of the breath. But the subject of breath is a deep one, and it is not only related with health but with the affairs in life.
Question: Can everyone have the power of far-reaching breath?
Answer: A certain condition is necessary for far-reaching breath; it is just like the wireless. Far-reaching breath is the most wonderful thing there is. As far as your breath reaches, so wide is your kingdom.
Question: Do you mean by breath: as far as one can blow?
Answer: What we call breath is not all the breath that is there. For instance, what we call voice is only the voice that reaches so far and is not heard an farther. At the same time, on the wireless it travels farther. This shows us that the voice, which reaches as far as it is audible to the ears, is limited. In reality it reaches far beyond. And so the breath is far-reaching. If only we experimented with it we would be surprised. Others cannot readily believe it, it should be experienced by ourselves, and we should keep quiet about it. To speak about it will create difficulties. Many disbelieve, or have wrongly experimented. Therefore, mystics have kept this for the initiated. That is why initiation is given.
2 The Mystery of Breath
Breath seems to be the sign of the beginning and the end of life. With the first breath that is drawn, the body is said to be alive, and when the breath departs, the body is spoken of as dead. It is for this reason that the Yogis have called breath prana, meaning the very life. Besides this, all slight changes that take place in man’s body come from an alteration in the mechanism of the breath. That is why physicians in all ages have observed the signs of a person’s condition in different illnesses from the beat of his pulse, which is caused by the breath.
Mental changes are also caused by breath. For instance, there are people with whom it is better not to talk when they first rise from sleep. They are excitable and irritable and difficult. If one lets them rest for an hour or so, they gradually change. All this shows that the condition of the breath changes the mental condition of that moment. Immediately after concentration upon work the rhythm of the breath is very rapid and exercises its influence on the mind. After a while this rhythm changes and becomes normal. So the condition of the mind changes also in sleep. Some people work up the rhythm of breath and the condition of mind becomes unsettled. And disturbed. But as a rule, sleep helps the breath to be normal and its influence produces tranquility of the mind.
It can be seen how various emotions, passions, and sentiments change the rhythm of the breath. Sometimes breath goes out of man’s control in emotions such as anger, passion or fear. He then has no control over his words or actions. When man loses control over himself, the first thing he loses is control over the breath.
It is the basis of this philosophy that by gaining control of breath, man can gain control over himself. The one who controls his breath is the ruler of his mind and body. How few really know how to breathe right and what are the methods of keeping the channels of the breath clear and in order! Breath, uncontrolled, is dangerous.
In mystical terms the two different directions of the breath have been called by different names, and have been considered to be like the sun and the moon, representing the positive and negative aspects of the power and influence of breath. How few really know how many times in the day and night the breath changes its direction, and how it works through different parts of the body and mind producing different effects and results. How often man’s ignorance of the science of breath makes him act or think or speak against its influence – which is like swimming against the tide. We often notice in life that at one time success is achieved by the least little effort, and at another the greatest effort produces nothing but failure. Shiva, the great Lord of the Yogis, said, “He who has the knowledge of the breath knows the whole secret of the universe.”
What we generally know as the breath is that little inhaling and exhaling, which we feel through the nostrils. We think that is breath and attach little importance to it, while in reality, breath is a life-current running through the innermost part of man’s being towards the surface. It wold be no exaggeration, according to the mystical point of view, to say that the breath connects heaven and earth. It is the mystery of breath which shows the mystic that life is not the material part of man’s being, but consists of the part of his being which is unseen. Breath is the bridge between body and soul, keeping the two connected, and the medium of their action and reaction upon each other.
In the Qur’an it is said, “We have made man to be king of Our creation,” which in other words, means that man himself is the dominion as well as the king of that dominion. That dominion being man’s body and mind, and the king being his spirit, his soul. As a horse can be controlled and directed by gaining control over the breath. Every school of mystics has, as its most important and sacred teaching in the way of attainment, the control and understanding of the mystery of breath. Modern science has discovered the importance of physical culture and correct breathing, and for all diseases of the lungs there is no greater or more beneficial remedy than sending the patient to a place suitable for breathing freely. Psychologists will some day come to realize that for all illnesses and disorders of the mind the way of breathing also is the best remedy.
For the mystic, breath is not only a science, but the knowledge of breath is mysticism, and mysticism to the thinker is both science and religion. The mystery of breath is not a thing that can be comprehended by the brain only. The principles of mysticism rise from the heart of man. They are learned by intuition and proved by reason. This is not only faith, though it is born of faith: it is faith with proof.
Therefore, study and practice of breath have been kept a mystery – not in order to monopolize them for a certain school, for no true mystic can be without generosity. The first sign of a mystic is that he is ready to give to everyone. The first and last lesson is to give – to give to the end; to give everything one possesses. There is no end to the giving of the mystic, as there is no end to the inspiration he receives. If breath has been made a mystery, it is only as one would keep an object of glass from hitting a little child, fearing that he might break it, hurting himself and others.
Think what an intoxication life is in this world! Realize what are man’s needs, temptations and desires! What would he not do to attain them? Man is so absorbed in striving after all these things that he does not know what he really wants or how rightly to obtain it. He does not know what harm he may cause to himself or others. He uses power not knowing what will be the result. Therefore, to give mysticism to all is like giving a sword, unsheathed, to a drunken man. One does not know whom he will kill, or how he may wound himself. But apart from mysticism, it is necessary that everyone should know how to live a balanced life, a life of power and tranquillity, and how to use and control the power of breath that he may be better fitted to manage his life.
If we consider the conditions of life today, we see that, however much man thinks he has progressed, certain aspects of life are neglected in the way of health, repose, balanced thinking, and in the way of kindness and love to one another. All these things are lacking, and the spirit of the present time seems to be going in quite the opposite direction. Selfishness seems to be so much on the increase. Real religion: the spirit of forgiveness, generous giving, regard for old age, refinement, culture – all seem to be disappearing. Man in general, does not know even if there is a God or Truth. If this is the spirit, how can we expect to find that harmony, peace and love, which make heaven on earth?
It is useless to discuss the peace of the world. What is necessary just now is to create peace in ourselves that we, ourselves, become examples of love, harmony and peace. That is the only way of saving the world and ourselves. Let man try to become more considerate of others. Let him ask himself, “Of what use am I in the world? Am I born for a certain purpose?” and then try to train himself in self-control by the mystery of breath, the best means for accomplishing that purpose.
3 The Science of Breath
The nature of every creature can be known by his breath. Animals such as the lion, tiger, or bear, who kill and eat other animals, show from their breath strength, power, and yet an upset condition which gives them upsetting of mind, temper, jealousy, a fighting nature, greed and a tendency to bloodshed. Other creatures like the cow, sheep and goat have a settled breath which keeps them thoughtful, considerate and sociable to their own kind, which is proved by their living together in herds. They content themselves with feeding on grass, avoiding the presence of cruel animals.
Among all creatures a change of breath can be found through their spells of passion, anger and fear. The breath of man likewise shows his nature. A man who works and is always busy with material things has a noisy breath, similar to that of the animals, and the irregularity of his breath shows the unsettled condition of his life. The breath of a thoughtful person is much more rhythmic and fine. Of course more physical energy makes breath grosser, and a person becomes thoughtless. When his breath is normal, man becomes thoughtful. When the energy is less, a person becomes still wiser, but incapable of making a right use of his wisdom, owing to the weakness of the means: his physical body.
The value of breath is more than all the wealth and power one can have in life, for every breath gone has lessened that much life. Suppose a person is made with the energy of a hundred breaths – he may take them in one hour and die, or by controlling them through rhythm he may finish a hundred breaths in a day. It is just like a clock: it its tick goes slower it will last much longer than the hours of its limitation, and when the beat is quicker it will stop long before its winding hour.
When lying down, the breath is least strained, by sitting, it is more strained, by standing, still more, and by walking and running, still more again. The influence of passions quicken it most; for this reason the life of celibacy has been practiced by ancient mystics, and that is why the Sufi finds it necessary at times to lead a secluded life, which settles his external self as well as his mind. This does not only help to create peace and harmony in man, but even to prolong life much longer than the allotted time.
There is a vast distance between the finer plane and the grosser. They are linked by only one source and that is the breath. The nature of breath is just like the air. When the air is farther away from the earth it becomes finer, and in the same way it becomes heavy when nearer to the earth. Such is the case with the breath. When it enders the body, it materializes itself and becomes audible during sleep and even when awake, according to the fineness or grossness of a man’s nature. But when breath approaches the spirit it loses its weight. That is why the average person feels his breath to a certain limit, beyond which he cannot even imagine that it could flow. Breath in its highest reach spreads all over, and in its lower flow it is confined to the least portion of time and space.
Breath is a chain, which links the Infinite with His manifestation. In other words, it might be called a lift in which the Infinite descends to earth in order to experience life, and again through the same lift He makes His return journey to His origin. The speed of the journey depends upon the power of the breath and its control. Breath can reach every being, thing, and atom of the universe, regardless of time and space. It is also the source of all inner and outer communication. In fact, as the length of breath joins the Infinite with the manifestation, so the width of breath connects the whole universe. Lack of consciousness keeps man in limitation. Otherwise, through breath, he could expand his knowledge to the whole universe.
Breath is vouchsafed to the senses as far as their reach of perception goes. Breath makes a complete circle within the body, entering through the nose, passing through the brain and down the spine, ascending again through he abdomen and lungs, going out the nose. When breath reaches the higher spheres, the senses, unless developed, cannot follow it there. Through one circuit of the breath takes a circle through earthly and heavenly planes, yet to an average person it seems as if some air goes out and comes in. But the mystics follow this chain of breath in the pursuit of the Infinite and, by holding on to it at the sacrifice of all earthly temptations, which lead one to death, they drive their lives toward immortality.
When this condition is brought about by a mystic of his own will in meditation, then he becomes the controller of his life, and death becomes his servant. By dying every day in meditation and again experiencing this momentary life, the mystic becomes familiar with that state which every man fears called death. The greatest punishment that man can inflict on man is death – which to a mystic becomes his everyday playground. Thus he gets beyond the interest of this life and the fear of death. The difference between the mystic and another person is as that between the swimmer who quite fearlessly would swim and dive into the water and the non-swimmer, who would die with fear even before sinking. That, which is a comfort to the one, becomes death to the other. So death, most alarming to the average person, is peace to the mystic. In all religions, directly or indirectly, this secret of mysticism is suggested. Of course the truth cannot be revealed plainly before everybody. That is why the study of the breath is kept secret and is termed mysticism.
4 The Philosophy of Breath
As the books, the precepts and doctrines of a religion are important to the follower of that religion, so the study of breath is important to the mystic. People ordinarily think of breath as that little air they feel coming and going through the nostrils, but they do not think of it as that vast current which goes through everything, that current which comes from Consciousness and goes as far as the external being, the physical world.
In the Bible it is written that the first was the word, and from the word, all things came. But before the word was the breath which made the word. We see that a word can make us happy, and a word can make us sorry. It is told that once a Sufi was healing a child. He repeated a few words and then gave the child to the parents saying, “Now, he will be well.” Someone who was antagonistic said to him, “How can it be possible by a few spoken words anyone can be healed?” From a mild Sufi an angry answer is never expected, but this time the Sufi turned to the man and said, “You understand nothing about it, you are a fool.” The man was very much offended. His face was red, he was hot. The Sufi said, “When a word has the power to make you hot and angry, why should not a word have the power to heal?”
Behind the word is a much greater power: breath. If a person wishes to study the self, to know the self, what is important is not the study of mind, thought, and imagination, nor of the body, but the study of the breath. The breath has made the mind and body for its expression. It has made all, from the vibration to the physical atom, from the finest to the grossest. The breath, a change of breath, can make us sad in the midst of happiness, it can make us joyful in the saddest, the most miserable surroundings. That is why without reason in some places we feel glad, in other places a melancholy comes over us. It is the air that makes us so. One may say, “How can breath do all this? How can it make the body?” I have seen people in the course of years become as their breath is. What exists in the breath is expressed in the form: as the breath is, so the child becomes.
There are three sorts of breath: there is stronger breath, jalal, and the weaker one, jamal, and there is the breath that unites the jalal and jamal, and by uniting them, destroys, annihilating both: this is kamal. By uniting jalal and jamal the breath forms a circle. This explains the circular form of guns, shells and cannons: the circle of destruction.
All elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether – are in the breath, according to the direction it takes. We can taste them in the breath. There are five directions, four outward and one inward. You may ask, “What influence can the direction have?” I shall answer that if you take a ball and throw it in every direction, the ball will not go equally far at every throw. It will sometimes go farther, and sometimes not so far. Even in our words the direction of the breath has its effect. Sometimes we say, “Yes, I see,” directly. Sometimes we say, “Yes,” sarcastically, “I see,” and our head is thrown back, the breath comes obliquely. The effect is quite different. If you say, “We cannot feel, we cannot perceive the elements in the breath, we do no know where they are,” I shall say that this is a science. It cannot be understood in a moment. It is a study.
You may ask, “Is the direction the only thing that has influence upon the breath?” There are two other forces that influence it: uruj and nuzul, the rise and the fall. In the jets of water in a fountain some of the jets rise very high, others less high, others rise only a few inches, according to the force by which they are predestined. So it is with the breath.
5 The Control of the Breath (1)
Reading books cannot give anyone control of the breath: practice is needed. Reading theory of music cannot make anyone a composer, a singer, a piano player. Ask composers, singers, violinists how much they have to practice. The practice of the breath is very difficult and arduous. We see Yogis sitting or standing for hours in the same difficult position, practicing for hours in the night before dawn. Through control of the breath all things are gained. If a man is a great writer, it is because his breath holds the thoughts that are in his mind. Sandow (a famous “strong man” in the century), through control of the breath, developed ideal muscles. Before control of breath is learned control of the body must be gained by the practice of postures and positions. For instance, if a small child is trained once a day to sit still four or five minutes, not to run about, if it is trained not to begin to eat at dinner until everybody eats – that will give it control.
The ways of control of breath are many. It must be done by realization of the self. But as long as we think that this body is our self, we cannot realize our self. And often we not only think that our body is our self, but we think that our overcoat is our self! If it is miserable we think that we are miserable. If it is very grand we think that we are very grand. It is natural to think that what is before our view is our self. We always remember the words of our great poetess Zeb-un-Nisa, “If thou thinkest of the rose, thou wilst become the rose; if thou thinkest of the nightingale thou wilst become the nightingale. Thou art a drop, and the Divine Being is the whole. Whilst thou art alive, hold the thought of the whole before thee, and thou wilst be whole.”
The mystic always consults his breath in the evening and in the morning in order to know whether it is harmonious with the sun, with the moon and with the planets. He is always conscious of the breath. This is achieved through concentration. The Sufi gives a lesson to teach it, which is called fikr. My spiritual teacher, my Murshid, once said, “People say that there are many sins and virtues, but I think there is only one sin.” I asked him what it was, and he said, “To let one breath go without being conscious of it.”
6 The Control of the Breath (2)
We say that the hand is in control, when it can grasp something and hold it in its grasp. The fingers we say are in control, when they move up and down on the piano, when they strike B when B is wanted – not striking E. Control is both in repose and in activity. Sometimes we find that we have become angry, we have become impatient, we have lost control over our mind, but before losing control of the mind we had lost our control of the breath.
Since I have been in the West, people have said to me more than a thousand times, “We cannot control our mind, we cannot keep it fixed on one point.” The first step is to lessen the activity of the mind. Then thoughts come more slowly. One should first control the breath, and make it slow and regular. By this the health of the body is improved as well as the health of the mind.
People have invented a fan to purify the air by fanning it very rapidly. By the practices of qash and shaghl breath also is fanned, and this rapid fanning changes it from one element into another and purifies it.
In the Qur’an it is said, “Surely, we revealed it on the night of power.” What was the night of power to the Prophet whose whole life was a revelation? It was the sending of the breath within. It is natural that we always look outward, we hear what is outward, we taste what is outward. We see what is outward; we are touched by what is outward. When the breath is sent within, then a person sees what is within, he hears what is within, he tastes what is within, he is touched by what is within. When this is done and the breath is purified, the mystics see forms and colors in it, which reveal past, present, and future to them. They know the past, present, and future of every person whom they see. But the control of the breath teaches them past, present, and future, it is too little, it is not worthwhile. It must tell them more: from this limited being it must bring them to that unlimited existence, from this mortal being to that immortality.
In the account of the miraj it is said that a buraq was brought for Mohammad to ride, an animal like a horse with a human face. This buraq was the breath: the horse whose rein is in the rider’s hand.
If a person exercises the breath and practices concentration with a scientific idea only, he soon becomes tired. He thinks, “Why take so much trouble? For what result?” If it is done with the thought of God, with the repetition of the names of God, then – by the thought of the idealized God, in whom is all perfection, all beauty, who is the Friend to whom we can tell our sorrows, all our sorrows, all our troubles – a happiness comes, a bliss. Sa’adi says, “In the thought of God is the blessing that it draws us every moment nearer to Him.
The Power of Silence
From a scientific point of view I shall say that speech is the breath of breath. In the Vedanta breath is called prana, which is life. It may be said that breath is the chain that links body, heart and soul together, and is so important that the body – so loved and cared for, kept in palaces, its slightest cold or cough treated by doctors and medicines – is of no more use and cannot be kept anymore when the breath is gone. Speaking being the breach of breath means that, when one is speaking, one takes ten breaths in the time which would be normal for one breath. One says, “Where are you going?” and for these four words one takes three breaths.
Breath is like the hoop with which a child plays. According to the force of the blow from the stick, so many turns the hoop makes, and when the force is spent the hoop falls down. It is like the ticking of the watch. The watch goes on for the time for which it is wound; it may be for three days or for twenty-four hours, or for a week or a month. Longer than that period it cannot work, because it was not wound for it. Breath is like a child’s top. According to the strength with which it is spun so many turns the top makes, each turn helping the other, and when the force is expended the top falls down. In accordance with the first breath, so long will life last: so many breaths.
By speaking we take away so much of our life. A day’s silence means a week longer of life and more, and a day’s speech means a week less of life. From ancient times there have been mystics in India who are called muni; they never speak. They have of course other characteristics as well, but they are called muni because of their abstinence from speech. They often have lived very much longer than we live in the present time: three hundred, five hundred years and more.
By not speaking the breath is not interrupted, it is regular and even. Mystics have always attached great importance to breathe, and have made its study their first object. Those who have mastered the breath have mastery offer their lives; those who have not mastered it are the ones who have consumption, paralysis and all kinds of diseases. There are some who have mastered it unconsciously, such as boxers and wrestlers, and also the people of a righteous life.
In the present age we have become so fond of speech that, when a person is alone in the house, he likes to go out if only to find someone to talk to. Often, if a person is alone, he speaks to things. Many people speak to themselves, if they have no other person to speak to. If it were explained to them, they would understand how much energy they really lose by each word spoken. There are other great benefits that are gained by silence but, if it were only for the energy and vitality one gain, its power is very important.
Now speaking from a moral point of view, I shall say that many benefits are obtained by silence. Most of our follies are follies of speech. In one week, if we commit one folly of action, we commit a thousand follies of speech. Often we offend someone; we hurt someone, only by speaking too much; if we had refrained from speech we would not have hurt him. There are families where always some quarrel is going on, only because they speak too much.
A story is told about a woman who went to a healer and said to him, “My husband is very bad tempered. Every evening when he comes home he scolds me and there is quarrel that ends in a very disgraceful manner. Can you give me a remedy for it?” The healer said, “Certainly,” and gave her seven pieces of candy, explaining, “These are charmed pieces of candy. When your husband comes home, put one of these in your mouth.” When I did so, and that evening there was no quarrel: such a miracle, after ten years of continuing quarreling! The next day the woman went to the healer, thanked him a thousand times and told him that he had done such a miracle. She said, “I do not know what to do to thank you. I want you to give me a big box of that candy which might last for some time.” the healer answered, “The candy is not necessary, silence is needed.” This teaches us that often we quarrel only because of our speech. Silence is a great peacemaker. “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
Then there is exaggeration. Idealists and admirers exaggerate everything. If such a person has gone out and has seen on a poster that a Zeppelin is coming he wants to frighten his friends. At once he says that twenty Zeppelins are coming. His friends are alarmed, and he feels satisfaction. Idealists, if they take a fancy to a person, tell him that he is the sun and moon and the heavens. There is no need to say all this.
By speaking a person develops a tendency to contradiction. Whatever is said, he wants to take the opposite side to it. He becomes like a boxer or wrestler: when there is no one to box or wrestle with, he is disappointed; he has such an intense inclination to speech. I have many times had this experience, and will tell you about one.
I was at a reception at a friend’s house and someone was there who disputed with everybody, so that all were tired. I avoided him, but my friend put me forward to speak with him, so I had to go out and meet him. When he heard that I was a speaker and a teacher of philosophy he thought, “This is the person I want,” and said, “I do not believe in God.” As it is the work of the Sufi to harmonize, to unite, I said, “Do you not? But you believe in this manifestation and in the beauty of this world of variety, and that there is some power behind it which produces it.” He said, “I believe all that, but I do not call it God.” I said to him, “You believe that every effect has a cause, and that for all these causes there must be an original cause. You call it cause, I call it god; it is the same.” “I believe in that,” he said, “but why should I worship this personality, why should I call it God?” I replied, “There is some officer whom you salute, some superior before whom you bow, there are your father and mother for whom you have a feeling of respect, there is some fair one whom you love and adore, some power before which you are helpless. How great must be that Person who has produced and who controls all there, and how much worthy of worship!” He answered, “But I do not call that divinity, I call it a universal power, an affinity working mechanically, harmonizing all.” When I tried to fix him on one point, he ran to another corner, and when I followed him there, he ran to another until at last I ceased, thinking of the words of Shankaracharya, “All impossible things can be made possible save the bringing of a fool’s mind to the point of truth.”
The tendency to contradiction grows so much that, when a person hears even his own idea expressed before him, he will take the contrary point in order to prepare a position for discussion. There is a Persian saying, “O silence, thou art an inestimable bliss. Thou coverest the follies of the foolish and givest inspiration to the wise!”
How many foolish things we say only through the habit of speech! How many useless words we have to speak! If we are introduced to someone, we must speak, if not we are thought impolite. Then come such conversations as, “It is a fine day,” “It is cold,” and one tells how the season is: speech without reason which in time turns into a disease, so that a person cannot get on without emptying the head of others by saying useless things; he cannot live one moment without speaking owing to his self-interest. A person becomes so fond of speech that sometimes he will tell the whole story of his life to a stranger, preventing him from speaking himself, and boring him so much that he would say, “What do I care about all that!”
Also people give out secrets that they afterwards repent of having told. Yet during the spell of this passion for speech they say things, which they may never have wanted another person to know; yet at that time they do not care. Under the same spell a person shows impertinence in his words, pride and prejudice, for which afterwards he repents. Lack of power over speech causes all that.
A word is sometimes prized more than the whole world’s treasure and again it sometimes is a word, which puts a person to the sword. And there is a saying; “Sweet tongue is a sword which conquers the whole world.”
There are different ways of receiving inspiration, but the best is silence. All the mystics have kept silence. All the great people I saw during my travels through India and other different places kept silence for two or three hours a day, or at least for one hour.
In Hyderabad there was a mystic called Shah Khamosh. He was called so because of his silence. When he was young he was a very clever and energetic boy. One day he went to his Murshid and as usual had some questions to ask, as is natural in an intelligent person. The Murshid was sitting in ecstasy and did not wish to speak, so he said to him, “Be quiet” (Khamosh!) The boy was much struck; he had never before heard such a word from his Murshid who was always so kind and merciful and willing to answer his questions. This lesson was enough for him for his whole life, for he was an intelligent person. He went home and did not speak to his family, nor even to his parents. His Murshid seeing him quiet did not speak to him. For many years Shah Khamosh never spoke and his psychic powers became so great that only to look at him was enough to be inspired. Wherever he cast his glance he healed. This happened not very long ago, perhaps twenty-five yeas ago.
Nowadays activity has increased so much that from morning till night there is never any repose owing to our daily occupations, which keep us continually in movement. At night we are so tired that we only wish to sleep, and the next morning activity begins again. In this way life is much destroyed. Man does not think of the life that is there for him to enjoy. Every person should have at least one hour in the day to be quiet, to be silent.
After silence of speech comes silence of thought. Sometimes a person is sitting still without speaking, but all the time his thoughts are jumping up and down. The mind may not want the thoughts, but they come. The mind is let out to them like a dancing room and they dance around in it. One thought then must be made so interesting, so important, that all other thoughts are driven away by it.
When thoughts have been silenced, comes silence of feelings. You may not speak against some person, there may be no thought against him in your mind, but if there is a bitter feeling against him in your heart, he will feel it; he will feel there is a bitterness for him in that heart. Such is also the case with love and affection.
The abstract is that existence beyond this world where all existence commingles, where it all meets. The sound of the abstract is there, and when that sound is silenced too and a person goes beyond it, he reaches the highest state, Najat, the eternal consciousness. Of course a great effort is needed to attain that state.
Silence is surely the remedy for much, but a person living in the world cannot practice it continually. He must keep watch over his words and remember that for every word he will be awarded heaven or hell.
A Question about Feelings
Question: Is there need of explaining things in words to one’s Murshid, or is it sufficient to keep all one’s thoughts and feelings in silence?
Answer: The truth need not be spoken; the existence speaks louder than words. Still the law of life in the world is such that words give fuller expression to one’s thoughts and feelings, resulting in a greater satisfaction. Therefore, the best thing is to say what can be said, and not to try to put into words what can never be expressed in words, trusting in one’s own sincere devotion and in the sympathy of your Murshid that nothing will remain not understood.
I think that, by expressing a thought or feeling in words, one makes a clear picture of them which, in an abstract form, can be perceived only by one who is greatly evolved. But it must be remembered that there are certain sentiments, unexpressed and yet solid and living. Such sentiments in time become personalities, and they live as human beings, filling their place in life. For instance, a thoroughly sympathetic person not only has sympathy as his attribute, but he has sympathy as a living spirit, moving and walking about with him, and going with him wherever he goes.
Life is far more productive than man can think, productive of good and evil, of right and wrong, of joy and sorrow. It depends upon the person what he wants to produce. Life for one person a larger piece, one person a smaller – and he is told, “Now you have the ground, and here are the seeds: grass, weeds, corn and good fruit, flowers and poisonous fruits. Sow what you like, sow all that interests you and produce, or do not sow at all – but still the ground belongs to you.”
So is the life of an individual in this world: every person has his farm. There are some who sow thorns, and when the thorns have sprung up and become painful, they say, “Why did we do this,” or they say, “I am so tired of this farm, I wish I were not here.” They wish they could be taken away from that farm and placed in a farm where flowers and fruits are already growing, without having to take the trouble of sowing. But that is against the law. Man is intended to live on his farm, and all through life he is sowing what will be his hereafter.
Heaven and hell are not made ready for a person after his life on earth. The same farm that is given to man is hereafter turned into his heaven or hell. So man must build heaven now on the farm that he is already in possession of. He must put into it all that he likes and loves, and remove from it all that is hurtful, harmful, disagreeable, making now, while on earth, his farm of the nature of heaven – which in the hereafter will culminate into a perfect heaven.