Volume IX: The Unity of Religious Ideals
by Hazrat Inayat Khan
FORMS OF WORSHIP
The Hindu religion is one of the most ancient in the world, and to it almost all the religions of the past may be traced. The primitive religion of sun worship, which came and went in the world, still exists among the Brahmins. They greet the sunrise after bathing in the river; and they are purified by its most inspiring rays. Besides the sun, they worship the moon and the planets, regarding each of them as a special god, signifying a particular power of the one God.
The mythical religion of the ancient Greeks, the gods and goddesses of the old Egyptians, all are still found today in the religion of the Hindus. They count among their gods almost all the animals and birds known to man; and all the different aspects of life are explained in their myths, which teach man to see the divine Being in all. The great powers of the Almighty are pictured as various gods and goddesses, to whom special powers are attributed. Some worship these. Even such savage animals as lions, elephants, or cobras are considered sacred, by which the moral of loving our enemies is taught.
The fire worship of the Zoroastrians may be recognized in the Yag and Yagna ceremonies of the Hindus. The idea of Christian Trinity may be traced in the idea of Trimurti in the Hindu religion. The prostration at prayers, which exists in Islam, may be seen in its complete form in the Pranam and Dandavat forms of Hindu worship.
Besides all these objects of worship, they are taught the worship of the Guru, the teacher. They see the first Guru in the mother and father, then every person with whom they come in contact who teaches them anything, they esteem as their Guru; until they have developed in themselves the worshipping attitude which in the end they show to the real Guru, who helps them in their spiritual awakening. The following verse, from the Hindi by Sundar Das, gives an idea of what the Chela thinks of his Guru:
I have enjoyed my life on earth, O Guru, by thy mercy.
Thy words have drawn me closer to God.
As with the rising of the sun darkness disappears,
So thou hast cleared away the darkness of ignorance from my soul.
Some adore the earthly beings and some adore the heavenly,
But I revere thee, O holy Guru!
THE CASTE SYSTEM
When the Aryans came and settled in Bharat Khand, which is today called India, they wanted to found a life of solitude and self-sufficiency there.
Those among them who were learned and pious, whose way of life was better in every way than that of the others, formed a special group and called themselves Brahmins; their work was study, scientific investigation, music, and poetry; moreover priesthood was their right. They instructed people as teachers. At the weddings and at births and deaths they took charge of the ceremonies with their religious rites. Their life was like that of a hermit. They married only among their own people; and their living depended upon Bhiksha, freewill offerings.
There were others among them who revered the Brahmins for their learning and piety, but held themselves superior because of their warlike merits and their control of the land that belonged to them. They were called Kshatrias, landowners or warriors.
Those who were clever at commerce took refuge under the power and control of the Kshatrias, and handled all matters concerning money. They were called Vaishas. Business of all kinds was carried on by them.
Those remaining were the ones who labored, and according to their labor, various grades were formed. They were called Sudras. Among them were some whose work was of such a nature that if they came into the house, or touched another person when working, it was against their sanitary principles. Brahmanism, being a most scientific religion, made it a law that they should not be touched.
In this way these four castes were formed, and went on peacefully until the entry of foreigners into their land, which naturally interfered with their harmony and the whole plan became a failure.
In spite of all the wisdom in forming these four castes, there was much selfishness shown by the higher classes, as has been always the case with the human race; and that has been a great hindrance to the progress of Hindus in general, for every chance of progress was barred for the lower classes. Their only consolation was the idea that they would reincarnate and be born in a higher class. There was no other way. this is the chief reason why the doctrine of reincarnation has such importance of the Hindu race.
Rama, the great prophet and ideal of the Hindus, was at the same time an example of the incarnation of a godhead. The character and history of Rama is described by Valmiki in the great epic Ramayana. The training, which was given to Rama by a great Rishi named Vashishta, was in order to bring forth that kingdom of God which is hidden in the heart of man. In this respect Rama was not only an ideal for the Hindus of that particular age, but a model to mould the character of those who tread the spiritual path in any age.
Rama was a prince by birth, but was sent to be trained by a sage, with whom he lived in the solitude of a life of both study and play. He was not only taught to read and write, but he was also trained in athletic exercises and sports, and in all manner of warfare. This shows what kind of education the ancient people had, and education in all aspects of life. And being trained thus, Rama completed his studies when he was in the prime of his youth.
The Hindus have always considered the Ramayana the most sacred scripture. The Brahmin recites this story in a poetic form, to which the devotees of the Master listen for hours without tiring of it, for they take it as their religious training.
The most interesting part of Rama’s life is his marriage. In ancient times it was the custom for the husband to be chosen. This custom arose because of the tendency to warfare. Over every little disagreement the princes of the time rose up in arms, even in such matters as marriage. In order to avoid war, the father of Sita invited all the princes and potentates of his land and gave the right of selection to his daughter. A time was appointed for them all to gather in the royal gallery, adorned with their regal ornaments and decorations.
Rama had lived a simple life; he had not yet known what princely life meant, for he was being trained under a saint, where he ate the same food and wore the same simple clothes as the sage, and lived with him in the woods in the solitude. Yet the brightness of the soul shines out even without ornaments. When Sita entered this assembly, with a garland of flowers in her hands, her first glance fell upon Rama, and she could not lift her eyes from that ideal of her soul to look at anyone else, for her soul recognized the pearl of its heart. Sita, without a moment’s hesitation, came and put the garland on the neck of that youth, so simple and unassuming, standing with an innocent expression behind all the shining hosts.
Some marveled at this choice, but many more become like glowing fire with envy and jealousy. Among them the one who was most upset was the King of Lanka, Ravana. For Sita was not only known as the most beautiful princess of the time, but she was also called Padmani, the Ideal Maiden. As in Rama his character was an example, so in Sita the ideal character was born.
Later, the two were separated. Sita, who had followed Rama in his twelve years of Vanavasa, which means roaming in the forest was once left alone in the woods, for Rama had gone to fetch some water. At that point Sita disappeared, and only after great difficulty and grief were her traces found. She had been taken prisoner by Ravana. She had steadfastly lived for Rama in this captivity, and would not yield to Ravana’s tempting and threats. In the end victory was won. Rama fought a battle with Ravana and brought Sita home again.
This story shows how life is a struggle for everyone, to a greater or lesser degree. The outer nature of the struggle may be different for everyone, but at the same time no one can live in the midst of this world and be without a struggle. In this struggle the one who wins in the end has fulfilled the purpose of his life; the one who loses in the end has missed his purpose.
The life of Rama suggests that apart from spiritual strife the struggle in the world is the first thing to face; and if one keeps to one’s own ideal through every test and trial in life, one will surely arrive at a stage when one will be victorious. It does not matter how small the struggle, which is the power that leads man further on the path towards life’s goal. Man’s life, however great and spiritual, has its limitations. Before some conditions in life even the greatest man on earth, the most powerful soul, will for a moment seem helpless. But it is not the beginning that counts, it is the end. It is the last note that a great soul strikes which proves that soul to be real and true.
THE LIFE OF Krishna is an ideal. It gives the picture of the life of a perfect man. The real meaning of the word Krishna is God. The man who was identified with that name was the God-conscious one who fulfilled his message in the period in which he was destined to give it.
The story of Krishna, apart from its historical value and interest, is of great importance to the seeker after Truth. Nothing is known about the father and mother of Krishna. Some say he was of royal birth, and this means of kingly origin, from that King who is the king of all. Then he was given to the care of Yeshoda, who brought him us as his foster-mother. This is symbolical of the fact that the earthly parents are only the guardians, the real father and mother being God. It is said that in his childhood Krishna was fond of butter, and that he learned as a child to steal butter from everywhere. And the meaning of this is that wisdom is the butter of the whole of life. When life is churned through a well, then out of it comes butter; wisdom is gained by it. Krishna was stealing it, which means that wherever he found wisdom he learned it, and thus he benefited by everybody’s experience.
There are two ways of learning wisdom. One way is that a person goes and drinks to excess, and falls down in the mud, and then the police take him to the police station and when he recovers from his drunkenness he cannot find his clothes and is horrified at his own appearance. This makes him realize what he has done. This is one way of learning, but it is possible that he does not learn. The other way of learning is that a young man is going alone the street; he sees a drunken man, and realizes how terrible it is to be in this state; and from that he learns. That is stealing the butter.
Then the latter part of Krishna’s life has two very important aspects. One aspect teaches us that life is a continual battle and the earth is the battlefield where every soul has to struggle, and the one who wants to own the kingdom of the earth must be well acquainted with the law of warfare. He must learn the secret of an offensive, the mystery of defense, how to hold his position, how to retreat, how to advance, and how to change position; how to protect and control all that has been won, how to abandon that which must be given up, the manner of sending an ultimatum, the way of making an armistice, and the method by which peace is made. In the battle of life man’s position is most difficult. He has to fight on two fronts at the same time: one enemy is himself, and the other is before him. If he is successful on one front and fails on the other front, then his success is not complete.
The battle of each individual has a different character; it depends upon a man’s particular grade of evolution. Therefore every person’s battle in life is different, and of a peculiar character. No one in the world is exempt from that battle; only, one is more prepared for it while the other is perhaps ignorant of the law of warfare. And in the success of this battle lies the fulfillment of life. The Bhagavad Gita, the Song Celestial, from the beginning to end is a teaching on the law of life’s warfare.
The other aspect of Krishna’s life shows that every soul is striving to attain God – not God, as Judge or King, but as the Beloved. Every soul seeks God, the God of love, in the form it is capable of imagining, and thus the story of Krishna and the Gopis signifies God and the various souls seeking perfection.
The life and teaching of Krishna have helped the pious people of India very much in broadening their outlook. The religious man full of dogmas is often apt to make these too rigid and he expects the godly or God-conscious to fit in with his standard of goodness. If they do not fit in with his particular idea of piety he is ready to criticize them. But the thought and life of Krishna were used by the artist, the poet and the musician; and out of this came a new religion, a religion of recognizing the divine in natural human life. And the idea of considering a spiritual person as someone exclusive, remote, stone-like, and lifeless ceased to exist. The people of India became much more tolerant towards all the different aspects of life, at the same time looking at the whole of life as an immanence of God.
Some Hindus are called worshippers of Krishna, for although all Hindus belong to one religion, yet different gods and goddesses are worshipped by different members of it. Among them the worship of Krishna is most prevalent, and it is as full of ceremony as the ancient Church of Rome, and even more so. This teaches us that ceremony is a concrete expression of thought, and it has suited the masses better than a religion of thought alone.
In the temple of Krishna there is an image of Krishna lying in a cradle. Women who go there for worship will sing lullabies in a prayerful attitude. Then in the same temple there is an image of Krishna grown up, and with him the image of Radha, his consort. Men and women will go there and worship both. They will take flowers and sandalwood and a few grains of rice, in order to make an offering to the god. Then there is an image of Krishna with a sword, cutting off the head of Kamsa, the monster-man. There are also images of Krishna driving the chariot of Arjuna, the exiled Pandava prince, on his way to wage war against the Kurus, the rulers of the time.
At first sight it surprises a stranger to think that God is worshipped in the form of a man, and that God is considered small enough to be rocked in a cradle; that God Most High should be pictured standing with his wife; or going to war, is something which any kind-hearted person would abhor. But to a Sufi it gives a different impression, since he sees God in every form. First, he says that if the worshipper cultivates his patience by sanding, in joy or trouble, before a heedless god of stone that never answers or stretches out a helping hand, he will prove to be a steady worshipper of the true God; he will not fail, as many do when they see at least to doubt His existence. The Sufi thinks that when God is all and in all, what does it matter if one person looks at heaven and the other looks at earth? To him both are looking at the same thing.
In ancient times, many thought that spirituality meant being alone in a forest; this thought is dispelled by seeing Krishna and Radha together, thus showing that both mean God, not one alone.
Many people today ask why, if there is a God, should wars and disasters take place. And many give up their belief when they think more about it. The image of Krishna with a sword, going to war, shows that God who is in heaven, and who is most kind, is yet the same God who stands with a sword in his hand; that there is no name, no form, no place, no occupation, which is devoid of God. It is a lesson that we should recognize God in all, instead of limiting Him only to the good and keeping Him away from what we call evil; for this contradicts the saying: ‘In God we live and move and have our being.’
India, a land of extremes, was at one time very much absorbed in idealism. This reached its greatest heights when Brahmanism gave to the people an idealism, which made them recognize the face of God in man, and experience heaven on earth. And when this had touched its zenith, then came another epoch, and epoch of reaction, and that was the period of Buddha.
The mission of Buddha was quite unique in its character, and therefore, it stands quite apart from the many other religions of the world. People sometimes wonder if all religions are one; they can see a similarity between the Hebrew religion and Islam, and also the religion of Christ. But they cannot understand that what the Buddha taught could also be a religion, and that it could be one with all the others. The answer is that the work of all those who have served humanity in the form of religion has been of great importance, firstly because they had to give the same truth which every other servant of humanity has given, and secondly because they had to answer the demand of the time in a form suited to that particular time. In this they differed from their predecessors who had done the work in other ways. When idealism had reached its zenith in India, it did not fall to Buddha to teach an even greater idealism than the people already had. Indeed, in order to bring about a balance, he had to give them a pill of disillusion. And in that way perhaps, at that time or even today, he might appear to be a teacher of quite a different philosophy and of a religion which differs from all other religions which are more idealistic. Yet at the same time no one can show one word in the teaching of Buddha, which is opposed, to any religion. His mission was to bring the birds of idealism flying in the air nearer to the earth, because the food for their bodies belonged to the earth.
Buddha, born as a prince, was recognized by the wise of that time as a soul of the finest possible feeling and the greatest depth of heart. Being born in a family where he could be taken good care of, they naturally kept all the sorrows and distress and troubles of life away from him. His parents wanted to give this soul the time to develop without being depressed by worldly troubles. It was not only the love of the parents, but it was the wisdom of destiny that brought up in this manner a soul who was born to sympathize with the world.
When after the best education the mind of the Buddha came to maturity, then one day he was allowed to go out and look at the world. This soul, who had not been allowed to see much of the world and who had never known pain and distress and trouble was quite unaware of the experiences of life in the world. So when he went out for the first time and saw an aged man who could only walk with difficulty he asked, ‘What is it?’ His attendants said, ‘It is age.’ And he sympathized. And then he saw another person who was downhearted. He said, ‘What is the matter?’ They answered, ‘It is illness.’ And he sympathized, saying, ‘So that is illness!’ There was another man who had lost his money and was in despair and poverty. Buddha asked, ‘What is it?’ They said, ‘It is poverty.’ And he sympathized felling this man’s condition. In short, this soul whose heart was open to sympathize with everyone felt that life has many limitations and that every limitation has its despair. And the number of limitations that he saw was so great that he wondered what remedy could be found for all these limitations.
In the first place he saw that human nature seeks for happiness, not because happiness is outside of man, but because it belongs to him. Then he saw that all these limitations make a barrier for man depriving him of the consciousness of this happiness which is his own. He also saw that even if all the different kinds of distress and all the causes of distress were removed, man would still not be free from distress. It is the nature of man to find happiness. No one in the world is looking for distress, although almost everyone in the world finds distress without seeking for it. But Gautama saw that the removing of these apparent limitations was not sufficient, but that it is the study of life, observation, analysis, that is most necessary. He found in the end that the analysis of life, a thorough analysis, clears one’s reason from all darkness, and produces in it its own original light.
Man is distressed by looking at distress without having studied it. This is generally the case. Man is afraid of every distress that comes to him, and he partakes of it without first having faced it and studied it analytically. But at the same time Buddha saw that if there was any key to happiness, it came by throwing the light of analysis upon all the different situations of life. This Buddha taught in the form of religion, and today the thinkers of the modern world are beginning to find the same solution, which Buddha found over two thousand years ago. They call it psychoanalysis. It is the beginning of that which had already reached its summit in the highest idealism.
Buddha was the title of Gautama. He was called Buddha because his spirit expressed the meaning of the word Buddha, which is the Sanskrit for reason, for the faculty in man, which knows, which sees, and thereby distinguishes and discriminates between things and beings. In Buddhist terminology the Spirit of Guidance is called Bodhisatva, which means the essence of reason. Reason in its essence is of a liquid character; it is the cream of intelligence. When it is crystallized it becomes rigid. Intellectuality very often expresses a knowledge formed by reasons, most of them of rigid character. But the finer reasoning is subtle; the finer the reason, the less it can be explained in words. Therefore people with fine reasoning cannot very well put their reason into words. Reason in its essence is the depth of intelligence. The intelligence knows, not because it has learned; it knows because it knows. In this higher reason the Spirit of Guidance is conceived ad from that fountain of reason all the great prophets have drunk.
In the teaching of true Buddhism, Buddha has never been considered as an exclusive personality. Buddha has been known to those who have understood his message rightly, as a man who attained the realization of that essence of reason, which is the fulfillment of life’s purpose.
Worshipping Buddha does not mean that the Buddhist worships the personality of his spiritual master. He only means that if there is any object that most deserves worship, it is a human being. It is the one from whose heart the essence of reason, Buddha, has risen as a spring. By this knowledge he recognized the possibility for every soul, whatever be its grade of evolution, of attaining that bliss, trusting that the innermost being of every soul is divine.
Hope is the honey of life. If the knowledge of God does not give hope of attaining that divine bliss which can be attained in life, then that knowledge is of no use. Man may believe in God for years and yet may not be benefited by spiritual bliss, for spiritual bliss is not only in believing in God, but in knowing God.
Buddha, which is subtle reasoning, is the path, which leads to the goal, and its absence keeps a person in obscurity. As the sun is the source of light, which shows outward things in life, so Buddha is the inner source of light, which enables man to see life clearly, both inwardly and outwardly. The true aim of the disciples of Buddha has been not only to adhere to Buddha, to his name or his ideal, but by taking Buddha as an example, some day to become Buddha. This same idea is the secret of Sufism.
Buddha did not teach his followers to worship his own image, as they do today. In every Buddhist temple and monastery one finds statues of Buddha of all sizes, in gold, silver, brass, and stone – Buddha sitting cross-legged or standing in a mystic posture. No home of a Buddhist, no sacred place, is without his statue. And although the original four scriptures of the Buddhist faith have vanished long ago, yet the fragrance of his philosophy and moral could not be lost. Although it seems to be idolatry, yet his image, as a symbol, inspires not only his devotees but also every thoughtful mind. For it shows the balance, quietude, peace, and the absorption within, purity of character, beauty of personality, gentleness, tenderness, a restful attitude, and perfect wisdom.
Just as today in modern civilized countries the statues of heroes, royalties, commanders of armies, politicians, poets, writers, and musicians are set up everywhere, and the statue of Liberty reminds America of national freedom, so to a Buddhist the statue of Buddha speaks of spiritual liberation. Why should it be regarded as being any worse if the Buddhists have the statue of their inspirer before them, whose very image elevates their soul toward the highest ideals, and the life of renunciation and self-denial that their teacher led?
Buddhism, being the rival and the child of Brahmanism, could not very well leave out the influence of its parent religion. Although Buddhism denies the belief in all that is not proved by logic, such as God, the soul, mediation, or the hereafter, yet the image-worship of the Brahmins still exists among Buddhists in the worship of Buddha, and Buddhists also believe in reincarnation and the law of Karma.
Jainism is a religion still widely spread in India, which in many ways resembles Buddhism. This religion is most admirable, especially in its teaching, ‘Harmlessness is the only religion.’ The Jains are not only vegetarians, but they do not harm even the smallest form of life. Many among them carefully avoid causing harm even to beetles, mosquitoes, ants, bees, scorpions, and snakes, which are so often to be found in a tropical country.
Their whole moral is based upon the principle of harmlessness, and their priests cause even less harm than the other followers of Jainism do. In order to do the least harm they do not wear shoes, thereby avoiding two ways of causing harm as the leather which is used to make shoes depends on the death of so many creatures, and by walking with shoes one crushes and kills more lives than by walking barefoot. Some among them are even seen with a little piece of red cloth tied over their lips, for by walking with open mouth, as so many do, innumerable small lives are drawn into the mouth. This custom has also another aim, which is to keep one as much as possible from talking. In-harmony and a great many other faults are caused largely by talkativeness, which is often unnecessary.
Abraham was the father of the three great world religions. For it is from his descendants, who were called Ben Israel, that came Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Abraham was the first to bring the knowledge of mysticism from Egypt, where he was initiated in the most ancient esoteric order. And on his return the place he chose to establish as a world center was Mecca, to which people made pilgrimage. Not only in the age of Islam, but long before Mohammad was the sacred center of Mecca held in esteem by the pious.
In the ancient tradition the family of Jesus Christ is traced back to the family of Isaac, and Mohammad came from the family of Ishmael. The prophecies of Abraham were always living words, though various people have given different interpretations according to their own ideas. But to the mind of the seer these prophecies have a very deep meaning.
With Abraham’s vast knowledge of esotericism, he was considered a great patriarch among his people. He was interested in everybody’s troubles and difficulties. He was thrown into the midst of worldly responsibilities, to learn all that he could from them. And then to teach his knowledge and experience to those who looked to him for the bread of knowledge. No doubt some of the stories of ancient times strike our modern ears as somewhat childish. But it is the way they were told, and to what kind of people, that makes all the difference. In the first place there was a great scarcity of lettered people in those days; therefore the stories were told by the unlettered, who must certainly have impoverished upon every legend and pictured it according to the understanding of their particular age. Nevertheless, truth is there, if we only know how to lift the veil.
Abraham’s life makes him not only a prophet, but also a murshid. He was a mystic; he gave counsel to those who came to him in difficulty. He examined them, treated their minds and healed their souls according to their needs. The most remarkable thing one finds in Abraham is that, besides being a prophet and a mystic, he lived the life of an ordinary human being, at one with his fellow men in their times of pleasure or sorrow.
One story from the life of Abraham has been a subject of great argument in the East, and that is the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. It is not only a source of argument in the East, but it is also alarming to the Western mind. People can ask a thousand questions about the proper reason and justification for such an act, yet if we look from the ideal point of view no sacrifice for a beloved ideal can be too great. There are numberless souls whose dear ones, their beloved husbands or sons, have been sacrificed in this recent war. They could do nothing else; they had to surrender their will to the ideal of the nation, and offer this sacrifice for the national cause, without thinking for one moment that it was unusual.
During the time of Abraham there existed a group of thinkers who devoted their lives to the thought of God and to the search for the eternal truth. They spent their time in seclusion and contemplation, and they helped those who came to them to be guided on the spiritual path. It is their symbology that we find in the traditions of Abraham sacrificing his son for the love of God. For in Sufism human life is considered as a line with two ends: one end immortal, the other mortal; one end unlimited, the other limited; one end Allah, the other Bandeh; one end the father, the other the son.
As the child is sometimes loved by the father more than his own self, so the body is loved by the spirit more than it loves itself. This is why man always neglects the happiness of the spirit for bodily comforts and pleasures. The sacrifice of the son symbolized the complete crushing of the human ego, of the limited self, and that could only be done for a higher gain, such is the love of God. It is said that the son was taken away and that he was not killed after all, and in other scriptures we find that in the place of the son a ram was found and sacrificed, which means that the animal nature of the ego in man was crushed. And then it is said that from that moment both were blessed by God, which means that both the natural self and the spiritual self become blessed when this sacrifice is made. Sufis call this Fana,which means annihilation. Not understanding this, many have sacrificed animals for the love of God and have made feasts of this sacrifice; but the underlying meaning is the way of the Sufi, who progresses by self-control and arrives at the eternal goal.
When we think deeply about the problem of life, there is no path in the world, whether spiritual or material, which we can tread successfully without a sacrifice. Sometimes the sacrifice is great, and sometimes small; sometimes the sacrifice is made first, before achieving success, and sometimes afterwards. As sacrifice is necessary in life, it is made by everyone in some form or other, but when it is made willingly, it turns into a virtue. The greater the ideal, the greater the sacrifice it demands, and if one studies wisely the process of advancement through life in any direction, one finds that it is nothing but a continual sacrifice. And happiness comes from the understanding that this is the nature of life, and from not being hurt or troubled by it but knowing that it is by sacrifice, made until the end, that man attains to the desired goal.
The idea of sacrifice has always existed in some form or other, in every religion. Sometimes it has been taught as giving up one’s possessions for the love of a higher ideal, which means that when man claims to love his ideal and yet is not willing to give up something he possesses for it, then there is doubt about his devotion. But sacrifice of a possession is the first step; the next one is self-sacrifice, which was the inner note of the religion of Jesus Christ. Charity, generosity, even tolerance and forbearance, are a kind of sacrifice, and every sacrifice in life, in whatever form, means a step towards the goal of every soul.
MOSES, the most shining Prophet of Old Testament, gave to the world the divine law, the Ten Commandments. In reality this was the interpretation of the divine law that he had perceived, expressed in the words of those who stood before him at that period of the world’s civilization. It is interesting to notice the ancient Sufi saying, ‘Be the follower of love, and forget all distinction’; for in this path of spiritual attainment to claim, ‘I am so and so’ is meaningless. Moses was found on the riverside by a princess, who knew not what family he came from, nor who were his father and mother. Only the name of God came to the mind of thoughtful inquirers as to the father and mother of Moses.
When people compare the teachings of different religions and readily form opinions about them, they are often mistaken. It is premature to make such distinctions. There comes a stage in the evolution of an illuminated soul when he begins to see the law hidden behind nature, its true psychology. To him the whole of life reveals the secrets of its nature and character, and when he gives an interpretation of these secrets to others they become limited, for they take the color of his own personality and the form of the thought of those to whom the message is given. The story of Moses as told by Sufis is most interesting and helpful to the traveler on the path. Moses has been the favorite character of the poets of Arabia and Persia, and in the poems of Persian Sufis, Moses is mentioned as often as Krishna is in the poetry of the Hindus.
Moses was walking in the wilderness seeking the light when from a distance he saw smoke rising on the top of a mountain. So he climbed the mountain in order to find that fire. But on arriving at the summit he saw a flash of lightening which was so powerful that it went throughout his whole being. Moses fell down unconscious, and when he recovered his senses, he found himself in a state of illumination. From that time he often went to Mount Sinai to communicate with God.
This story is very enlightening for it shows that it can be possible for all the illumination that is desired to come to a soul in a moment. Many think that spiritual attainment can only be achieved by great labor. It is not so; labor is necessary for material attainment, but for spiritual attainment what one needs is a seeking soul like that of Moses. Moses falling upon the ground may be interpreted as the cross, which means, ‘I am not; Thou art.’ In order to be, one must pass through a stage of being nothing. In Sufi terms this is called Fana, when one thinks, ‘I am not what I had always thought myself to be.’ This is the true self-denial, which the Hindus called Layam, and the Buddhists annihilation. It is the annihilation of the false self which gives rise to the true self; once this is done, from that moment man approaches closer and closer to God, until he stands face to face with his divine ideal, with which he can communicate at every moment of his life. The law of God is endless, as limitless as God Himself. But once the eye of the seeker penetrates through the veil which hangs before him, hiding from his eye the real law of life, the mystery of the whole of life becomes manifest to him, and happiness and peace become his own, for they are the birthright of every soul.
The life and teachings of Zarathushtra give an example, to those who tread the spiritual path, of the manner in which to begin the spiritual journey. Zarathushtra is said to have been born from the Huma tree. The interpretation of this idea is that the Spirit of Guidance does not come direct from heaven; he is born from the human family; the tree is the family.
It has been the great error of some religious people that out of devotion to their master they have placed him, through their imagination, on a pedestal, although they themselves could never prove him to be there when it came to reasoning. It could only stand on the horizon of faith. No doubt faith is the lamp which lights the path, but reason is the globe over it through which its light appears.
The purpose of this whole creation is fulfilled by attaining that perfection which a human being is intended to attain. All the saints, sages, prophets, and masters of humanity have been human beings, and they have shown divine perfection in fulfilling the purpose of being human.
Zarathushtra’s spiritual attainment began by his communication with nature. He appreciated, adored, and worshipped the sublimity of nature, and he saw wisdom hidden in the whole of creation. He learned and recognized from that the being of the Creator, acknowledged His perfect wisdom, and then devoted his whole life to glorifying the name of God. To those who followed him on the path of spiritual attainment, he showed the different aspects of nature, and helped them to see what they could behind it all. He pointed out to his followers that the form, line, color, and movement which they saw before them and what attracted them so much, must have been accomplished by an expert artist. It could not all work mechanically and be perfect. A mechanism, however highly perfected, cannot run without the help of an engineer. Therefore, he showed them that God is not an imaginary object, though outwardly He is molded by man’s imagination. In reality God is the Being: such a perfect Being that if one tries to compare Him with other living beings of this world, He is beyond comparison. He is the only Being.
The way of worship taught by Zarathushtra was to worship God by offering homage to nature. For nature suggests to the soul the endless and unlimited being hidden behind it all.
The source of Zoroastrianism is the same as the source of Hinduism, although Hinduism has been practiced in India and Zoroastrianism in Persia. The original source of these sister religions of the Aryans was sun worship, which is also the ancestor of the religion of the Hebrew prophets. Indeed, no religion can escape from this ancestry.
Even today the Zoroastrians worship the god Ahura Mazda by looking at and bowing to the sun. The symbolical meaning of this is the worship of the light, and especially the one Light which has not its like anywhere, which shines upon all things, by which all things are reflected, and upon which the life of the whole universe absolutely depends. This was the lesson given in ancient times to prepare men’s minds to value light; in order that the soul may some day unfold and begin to worship the inner light, the eternal Sun, of which the sun is the reflection on the surface.
People have called the Zoroastrians fire worshippers. It is a fact. They keep a constantly burning fire in their place of worship, but they keep it before them when thinking of God, for fire purifies all things and the light within purifies all souls. It is in fact a great comfort to have a fire in a cold climate. Also, the burning of incense takes away dampness and makes easier the free and deep inhaling and exhaling of the breath. Besides on earth fire is the substitute for the sun, for its flame gives light. It is again an awakening of the mind to the light within.
The Zoroastrians also worship before running streams of water and different scenes of nature, which speak to the hearer of the divine immanence in them. And in their houses they have pictures of Zarathushtra, their prophet, with a torch in his hand, somewhat in the likeness of Christ, though his dress is different, being of ancient Persia. The teacher of every community is pictured in some particular way, and it inspires those who look at such a portrayal with the right attitude of mind.
All Zoroastrians, men or women, wear round their waists a cord of silk, called Zunnar, and consider it most sacred because of its religious significance. This custom has been observed by Zoroastrians from the beginning of their religion, for Zarathushtra himself wore this sacred thread, and it is still seen today among the Parsis, even though they left Persia, their original land, ages ago, and have mostly adopted the customs of India, where they took refuge after leaving their country. May Hindus also wear a thread crossways over one shoulder.
The Parsis purify their thread with water, fires, and air; they untie and tie it several times during the day, and they consider this to be the most important part of their prayer. It is true that few among them will be found who know the real meaning of this prayer with the thread, but this is mostly so with the followers of any religion.
The moral of Zunnar is service. A soldier, a policeman, a postman, or a gatekeeper, when on duty has a belt on, which expresses that he is on duty – not free to do everything he wishes, but only for which he is appointed. This explains that man, as the most intelligent of God’s creatures, is not supposed to lead his life as he wishes, but to consider the duty for which he is born and the service that he must render to God and His creatures. As man is apt to forget all that is not in his own immediate interests, the loosening and the tying of the thread reminds him of his duty, as the belt reminds the soldier that he is on duty. The idea is that we are all servants of God, and that we must do all things for Him who has created us, supports us, and has engages us in His service.
But the mystical meaning of Zunnar is still greater, for the vertical figure of man against the horizontally worn Zunnar; forms a cross. This means, as the Sufi understands it, self-denial: ‘I am not.’ When that first I, the false I is thus denied, then the next I, which is the real I, awakens, and God Himself realizes His Being, and accomplishes thereby the purpose of creation.
A keen student of the Zoroastrian scriptures, with an illuminated mind, will notice that every invocation that Zarathsushtra has used, is as if he prayed to the light within to guide him by all evidences with which nature presented him; and to strengthen the conviction that all is from God, created by God, and ruled by God. The mystical meaning of Ahura Mazda, upon whom Zarathushtra called, is the universal breath.
Zarathushtra considered that there were three aspects of sin and virtue: Manashni, Gayashni, and Kunashni;thinking, speaking and doing. Which means that a sin can be committed not by action alone, but even by intending to commit it, or by saying ‘I will do It.’ and the same is true of virtue.
The chief point in the teachings of holy Zarathushtra is the path of goodness; and he separates goodness from badness, calling God all good and Satan all bad. According to this point of view, the Master, God was, as He is always, the ideal of worship. Nothing but good can be praised, and none but the good can be worshipped; and all that is bad naturally leads man astray and veils the good from his eyes. The spirit of evil was personified by the Master, as it had already been personified by the ancients, as Satan.
As the point of view makes all the difference in every teaching, so it made a difference in this teaching of Zoraster. Many, instead of understanding the true spirit of this idea, have drawn a line between good and bad, and produced so to speak two gods: God, the All-good, and Satan the Lord of Evil. This helped the people morally to a certain extent, but also deprived many who could not grasp the real spirit of the Master, of the realization of God, the only Being. The good God was named by Zoroaster Ahura Mazda, the first part meaning literally ‘indestructible’ and the second ‘Supreme God/’ and he called the Lord of Evil Ahriman.
THE Christ spirit cannot be explained in words. The omnipresent intelligence, which is in the rock, in the tree, and in the animal, shows its gradual unfoldment in man. This is a fact accepted by both science and metaphysics. The intelligence shows its culmination in the complete development of human personality, such as the personality, which was recognized in Jesus Christ by his followers. The followers of Buddha recognized the same unfoldment of the object of creation in Gautama Buddha, and the Hindus saw the same in Shri Krishna. Those who followed Moses recognized it in him too, and they have maintained their belief for thousands of years; the same culmination of the all-pervading intelligence was recognized in Mohammad by his followers.
No man has the right to claim this stage of development, nor can anyone very well compare two holy men both recognized by their followers as the perfect Spirit of God. For a thoughtless person it is easy to express an opinion and to compare two people, but a thoughtful person first thinks whether he has arrived at that stage where he is able to compare two such personalities.
No doubt it is different when it concerns a question of belief. The belief of the Muslim cannot be the same as that of the Jewish people, nor can the Christian belief be the same as that of the Buddhists. However, the wise man understands all beliefs, for he is one with them all.
The question whether a certain person was destined to be a complete personality, may be answered that there is no person who is not destined to be something. Every person has his life designed beforehand, and the light of the purpose that he is born to accomplish in life had already been kindled in his soul. Therefore, whatever be the grade of a person’s evolution, he is certainly destined to be so. Discussion of the lives that the different prophets have lived, as to the superiority of one over the other, seems to be a primitive attempt on the part of man. If without knowing the conditions of that particular time when the prophet lived, or the psychology of the people at the time, he is ready to judge that personality by the standards of today he does not do that personality justice.
When a person compares one particular teaching of a prophet with the teaching of another prophet, he also makes a great mistake, because the teachings of the prophets have not all been of the same kind. The teachings are like the works of a composer who writes music in all the different keys, and who puts the highest note and the lowest note and all the notes of different octaves into his music. The teachings of the prophets are nothing but the answer to the demands of individual and collective souls. Sometimes a childlike soul comes and asks, and an answer is given appropriate to his understanding; and an old soul comes and asks, and he is given an answer suited to his evolution.
It is not doing justice to either to compare a teaching, which Krishna gave to a child with one, which Buddha gave to an old soul. It is easy to say, ‘I do not like the music of Wagner; I simply hate It.’ but I should think it would be better first to become like Wagner and then to hate if one still wants to. To weigh, to measure, to examine, to pronounce an opinion on a great personality, one must first rise to his stage of development; otherwise the best thing is a respectful attitude. Respect in any form is the way of the wise.
Then there are simple people who hear about miracles; they attach great importance to what they have perhaps read in the traditions about the miracles performed by the great souls, but in this way they limit the greatness of God to a certain miracle. If God is eternal then His miracle is eternal. It is always there. There is no such thing as unnatural, nor such a thing as impossible. Things seem unnatural because they are unusual; things seem impossible because they are beyond man’s limited reason. Life itself is a phenomenon, a miracle. The more one knows about it the more one is conscious of the wonder of life, and the more one realizes that if there is any phenomenon or miracle it is man’s birthright. By whom are miracles performed? It is by man, who can do it and who will do it; but what is most essential is not a miracle: the most essential thing is the understanding of life.
The soul who realized the truth even before he claimed to be Alpha and Omega, is Christ. To know intellectually that life is eternal, or that the whole of life is one, is not sufficient, although it is the first step towards perfection. The actual realization of this comes from the personality to the God-conscious soul like a fragrance in his thought, speech and action and affects the world like incense put on the fire.
There are beliefs such as that of salvation through Christ, but the man who is prejudiced against religion closes the doors of his heart before having had the patience to understand what it really means. It only means that there is no liberation without an ideal before one. The ideal is a stepping stone towards that attainment which is called liberation.
There are others who cannot conceive the idea of Christ’s divinity. The truth is that the soul of man is divine, and that divine spark deserves to be called really divine when with the unfoldment of the soul it reaches the point of culmination.
There are also many different beliefs about the immaculate birth of Jesus. In point of fact when a soul arrives at the point of understanding the truth of life in its collective aspect, he realizes that there is only one Father, and that is God; that this world, out of which all the names and forms have been created, is the Mother and that the Son, who becomes worthy through his recognition of the Mother and the Father, by serving them and thus fulfilling the aim of creation, is the Son of God.
Then there is the question of the forgiveness of sins. Is not man the creator of sin? If he creates it he can also destroy it. If he cannot destroy it his elder brother can. The one who is capable of making is also capable of destroying. He who can write something with his pen can rub it out with his eraser from the surface of the paper. And if he cannot do it, then his personality has not yet reached that completeness, that perfection which all must attain. There is no end to the faults in man’s life, and if they were all recorded, and there were no erasing of them, life would be impossible to live. The impression of sin in metaphysical terminology may be called an illness, a mental illness and just as the doctor is able to cure illness, so the doctor of the soul is able to heal. If people have said that through Christ sins are forgiven, it can be understood to mean that love is that shower by which all is purified. No stain remains. What is God? God is love. When His mercy, His compassion, His kindness are expressed through a God-realized personality, then the stains of one’s faults, mistakes and wrong doings are washed away, and the soul becomes as clear as it has always been. For in reality no sin or virtue can be engraved or impressed upon a soul; it can only cover the soul. The soul in itself is divine Intelligence; and how can divine Intelligence be engraved with either sin or virtue, happiness or unhappiness? For a time it becomes covered with the impression of happiness or unhappiness; but when these clouds are cleared from it, then it is seen to be divine in its essence.
The question of the crucifixion of Christ, apart from its historical aspect, may be thus explained: that the life of the wise is a continual crucifixion. The wiser the soul becomes, the more it will realize the cross, for it is the lack of wisdom which causes the soul to commit all actions, good or bad. As it becomes wise, the first thing that happens is that its action is suspended, and the picture of that suspension of action becomes a picture of helplessness: the hands nailed and the feet nailed. Such a soul can neither go forward nor backward. It cannot act, nor move. This outward inaction may appear as helplessness, but in point of fact it is the picture of perfection.
As to the belief that Christ gave his life to save the world, it explains the real meaning of sacrifice: that no man in this world going towards the goal will escape from the test to which life will put him. And that test is sacrifice. At every step towards the final goal, the attainment, a greater and greater sacrifice will be demanded of him, until he arrives at a point where there is nothing, whether body, mind, action, thought, or feeling, that he keeps back from sacrifice for others. It is by this that man proves his realization of divine truth. In short, the Christ-ideal is the picture of the perfect man; and the explanation of what the perfect man is and what are his possibilities can be seen in the verse of the Bible, ‘Be ye perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect.’
THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST
The belief in Christ is in the church, the book of Christ is with the clergy, the spirit of Christ is in the illuminated soul. The spirit of Christ can be traced in Christ’s own words where he said, ‘I am Alpha and Omega,’ I am first and last. By this he meant, ‘I was before Jesus was born, and I shall be after Jesus has gone.’
‘I am Christ’ means ‘I am now, and I shall be till the end.’ In this the Master identifies himself with that light of which we read in the Vedanta, and which existed thousands of years before Christ, the divine light which is recognized by the Sufis as the Spirit of Guidance, and which is also mentioned in the Qur’an. This light of Christ is symbolized by the lantern in the story of Aladdin, in the Thousand and One Nights. And it is this same light which the Hindu legend speaks of when it says that there exists a cobra with a light in its head, and when it searches for food takes that light in its mouth and by its illumination it can go about in the forest. It is the light of life of all men and all beings, seen and unseen. In reality it is the essence of light.
Where is this light to be found? It is to be found in the sun and in the higher intelligence; but this phenomenon of light occurs in all different forms. Even the spark that comes from the heart of the stone when it is struck represents the same light. Also the light that manifests in the blossoming of plants, in the ripening of fruit, in the light that we see on a moonlit night, and in the rising and the setting of the sun. it is all one and the same light manifesting from the unseen to the seen, yet existing in the unseen to a much greater extent than can be seen with our eyes.
One might ask why, if God is all-sufficient, should He have made the Christ Spirit? An example will explain this. A farmer wanted to go to a place, which was at a great distance from his farm. And he thought how during dark nights with storms and winds and fogs one very often loses the way. Therefore he made a lantern to light him in case there should be a dark night, so that it could guide him on the path. It was his creation; he made, he prepared the lantern for himself in order to be guided by it.
This creation is nothing but the manifestation of God, and man is the culmination of that manifestation. God did not make man as a carpenter makes a chair, for the carpenter uses wood, something different from himself, in order to make the chair. But God made man out of Himself; in other words God manifested as man, and in His manifestation the One has become many, the unity has become variety and has become a puzzle. Thus life on earth for man is in the first place a puzzle: he does not know where to go and where not to go, he does not know what to do and what not to do. From the beginning till the end he is puzzled as to what is right and what is wrong. The wiser a man becomes the more difficulties there are. This shows that there are storms and winds, mists and fogs on this life’s path which his eyes do not see but which the soul experiences. And in order to make these difficult times easier, a lantern is given which is God’s own spirit, and which He made for His creation in order that man may take this lantern to guide him on his path.
Not only human beings have this lantern, even beasts and birds have it. in herds of animals there is always one that guides them. In flocks of birds there is one that guides and sees from which way the wind blows. The one that leads knows which way to go and the other birds follow him. In India, a beautiful story is told about elephants, by those who live in the forest. They say that in a herd of elephants there is one which is the leader and takes the branch of a tree in its trunk and goes ahead examining the ground where it walks in order that those which follow may not fall into a ditch. It is also alert to the sound of gun and arrow, and detects any atmosphere, which may be unwholesome for elephants. But sometimes there is an unwilling elephant. It goes astray and is lost, and in order to catch it men dig pits in the ground so that when this lost elephant goes near one it may fall into it. and after two or three days they come and capture him.
This is a beautiful picture of the work of the Christ spirit. When one understands this one cannot blame those who say, ‘Christ is our Savior,’ or, ‘Christ is our God.’ They may not see what the Spirit of God is in our interpretation, but there is nothing wrong about it except that they do not know themselves what they are saying. If one sees divinity in Christ, there is nothing wrong about it. If divinity does not manifest through man, then where is it to be found? Is divinity to be found in the heavens alone? And if on the other hand someone else calls Christ man, he only raises the standard of man to the highest point; and in this there is truth also. Only , the two do not understand each other’s meaning, and they each say that the other is wrong; and this arises because they do not believe that he who is often called Christ, the Savior, is in reality the savior spirit. With elephants that savior spirit is the one that guides the herd; and a loving mother, a kind father, an innocent child, a helpful friend, and an inspiring teacher, all represent to a greater or lesser degree that savior spirit. The one who saves a man’s life by jumping into the water does not do such a great work as the one who saves a soul who was groping in the darkness.
But then, one might say, what about the whole world, the whole humanity? Each soul is connected with the other, and there is not one soul, which does not undergo the influence of the whole cosmos, consciously or unconsciously. Every cell sooner or later has an effect upon the whole body. Therefore, if one looks at it rightly, there is no exaggeration in calling a liberated soul the Savior of the world; but if one only holds it as a belief, one does not know what it really means.
Naturally the liberated soul is like the living drop of blood. Scientists have discovered that blood transfusions can give new life. A soul who has risen to great illumination can inspire and invigorate the whole of humanity, just as one powerful man can influence a whole nation. He is then called the man of the day, and he may have an influence, which can raise man to the height of heaven. If a material man can do this to the whole nation, why then should not a spiritual man have such an influence upon the whole world? Whether we recognize it or not, it does not matter. But there are souls in the world whose influence is greater than that of the so-called man of the day about whom so much is written in the newspapers.
If Christ existed before he was known as Christ, what was he? And if Christ will be after he has been known as Christ, what will he be? We are too limited as human beings to determine this; to try to do so would be nothing but folly. But at the same time, have we not known inspirers of humanity before Jesus? Have there not been prophets like Moses and Abraham and Zarathushtra, inspirers like Krishna and Buddha, whose influence has been felt all over the world? What were they? If truth is one, if wisdom is one, if human personality is one, if God is one, then what are they if not the same spirit? Those who saw them have called them Buddha or Krishna; but they were all one and the same, the same lantern, the same light although in different globes.
After they have gone the light comes in another form to illuminate humanity. Does not that light work in our everyday life? In our deepest distress, in our greatest confusion, a friend, a relation, or a teacher comes and tells us something he himself does not know to be the message of wisdom. And sometimes it comes in such a queer way; perhaps in the form of a change, and we do not understand from whence it comes, so that we do not even believe it. But at the same time the inner guidance comes just at the moment when we have need of it. It comes perhaps from an innocent child, the word that is the message of God. For the light is hidden.
Those who say that after Jesus Christ they have not seen the light being kindled any more, limit Christ. Those who see the Christ spirit in all the various globes which are the light, they are the ones who really see Christ.
Christ identified himself with the Spirit of Guidance instead of with the personality, which was known as Jesus. And people have limited that divine wisdom, that Spirit of Guidance, to the personality, which came as Jesus. And they forgot that he himself said, ‘I am Alpha and Omega,’ which means all the prophets and seers who came before Jesus whether it were Abraham or Zarathushtra or Buddha or Krishna. He identified himself with them. That is why he said he had not come to give a new law, but to fulfill the law, by which he also indicated that the guidance would continue afterwards. It was really a declaration of that identity in which Jesus lived, but not that in which the people recognized him.
Jesus Christ also said to some, ‘I will come,’ and to others, ‘The son of man will come.’ It was one answer to two mentalities: to the souls who could recognize his identity he said, ‘I will come,’ and to those who could not realize his real identity he said ‘Someone else will come; whenever wisdom is lost, Christ will come.’ The real meaning of this is, ‘I will come in another form, which is myself just the same.’ It is a puzzle of words only for those who want to puzzle themselves. For those who wish to get out of the maze it is easy and simple. But human nature enjoys complexities and prefers to make the truth as difficult as possible.
PHILOSOPHY OF THE SACRAMENT
The true meaning of the sacrament, which is said to be symbolical of the flesh and blood of Christ, shows that those who give importance to the flesh and blood of the Master, are mistaken; that the true being of the Master was bread and wine. If he had any flesh and blood, it was the bread and wine. And what is bread and wine? The bread is that which is the soul’s sustenance, and the soul’s sustenance is the knowledge of God. It is by this knowledge that the soul lives the eternal life. And the blood of Christ is the love element, the intoxication of which is a bliss. And if there is any virtue, it comes from that principle.
Man is not made only of flesh, skin, and bone, but is also composed of many fine and gross elements, and therefore, for him to life, many different properties are needed. But man generally considers only his food to be that which nourishes his physical body, and seeks for a stimulant for that body, not realizing that besides this much of his being is starved for food all through his life. Man’s ignorance of this other part of his being allows it to die, at least to his consciousness. The words of Christ, ‘The spirit quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing,’ indicates this.
We read in the Bible of Christ telling his followers to eat his flesh and drink his blood. What does that mean? It does not mean, ‘Eat the flesh of my physical body and drink its blood.’ It means, ‘The being in which I am living is God’s being. Take this as food to nourish your finer being; drink this to stimulate your spiritual being.’
There is a verse of Abdul Qadir Jilani of Baghdad, ‘I am the bird of the spiritual spheres dwelling at present in earthly spheres, but my food is the knowledge of God and my drink is His beauty in manifestation.’ Those who are conscious of the earthly spheres live on earthly food and stimulants; but those who become conscious of the higher world are nourished by the thought of God in their bread. And that which stimulates them like wine is their vision of God in the sublimity of nature. This is the real sacrament, given symbolically in churches as bread and wine.
The custom of baptism has a mystical significance, which should be studied according to the Sufi ideal, which they call Fana. immersion of the whole body in the water means being as if not being, or living as if not living. In other words, living not as the dead are living, but as those who are really alive.
The water symbolizes the ocean. Baptism means immersion in this spiritual ocean, which is the Spirit of God, and becoming as nothing, in the love of God, in the knowledge of God, and in the realization of God. From that time one understands the meaning of the saying, ‘I exist no more as myself, as a separate entity; and yet I exist, and this existence is the existence of God.’
This is the main teaching of Sufism: to sink into the Consciousness of God, that no trace of one’s limited being may be found, at least in one’s consciousness. That is really the ideal, the path and the goal of all. There is a verse of the Ghalib that gives a beautiful picture of this. ‘I degraded myself in the eyes of the world by dying. How well it had been, had I been sunk in the water! No one could have seen my funeral; no one would have found my grave!’
The essence of all that can teach man to bring out the good in the soul of man is to be found in the Beatitudes as taught by Jesus Christ, the Murshid of murshids. And if anybody wants to see it practiced, he may go today and watch the life that the Sufis live in the East. It is they who have understood it properly and have practiced it to their utmost ability. Therefore, the real treasure of Christ’s teaching is Sufism, although the latter is not called Christianity. However, the name makes no difference so long as the sense is right.
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ ‘Poor in spirit’ means mild in ego, and the ego is by nature tyrannical. All the tyranny in the world is only caused by the ego. When the ego is laid before God, in other words, when the ego is illuminated with the knowledge of God, it begins to fade; for it denies its limited being and it realizes the being of God. So it loses all its tyranny, and becomes mild, which is being poor in spirit. This makes man’s whole life heaven, both here and in the hereafter.
‘Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.’ All things are given to those who demand; only they deserve them, and only they can enjoy them. The infant cries when it is hungry, and it is given food, it is then that it enjoys it most. So it is with the lovers of God, with the seekers of truth. When their desire becomes so deep that it makes them mourn, it is then that they are comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.’ There is a saying in Persian, ‘If your word is sweet, you can win the world.’ The world is too small when meekness can win even the hearts of men, for the heart can contain a thousand such worlds.
‘Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.’ There are only two paths: the path of light and the path of darkness. The former leads to all joy, while the latter leads to all sorrow. Not everyone understands this, but the one who understands goes in pursuit of it, for he knows that the only sustenance of his soul is righteousness.
‘Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.’ The warmth of one’s own feeling takes away the coldness from another person’s heart. Therefore, one cannot receive mercy either from the earth or from heaven, unless one has oneself awakened mercy in one’s soul.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.’ This purity of heart is not only in thought, feeling, and action; it is the purity, which in the East is called Saf,from which the word Sufi is said to have come. This Safmakes the heart pure from all that is not God, in other words, the heart must see and realize all as God and God as all.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.’ Only those who make peace in life who are unbiased, unselfish, or impartial, and this is the nature of God, before whom all, rich or poor, foolish or wise, are equal. His mercy is upon all, and He bestows His gifts on all, both the deserving and the undeserving. Therefore, those who follow the way of the heavenly Father are really His deserving sons.
‘Blessed are they, which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ It is easy to be righteous when everything is smooth in life, but when a person is tried it is difficult to keep to it. For the more righteous he is the more losses he has to suffer, and , though there may not seem to be any gain in righteousness, yet the reward of the righteous is heaven in the end.
‘Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven. For so persecuted they the prophets which were before you .’ this advice is not given only to the followers of Christ, but especially to the mureeds, whose murshid bears a message. It means that they can only prove worthy when their faith in the teaching of their teacher is so great that they stand by him and his teaching in all conditions, and suffer contentedly all that befalls them through the ignorance of man; for so it has been and will ever be with everyone who gives the message of truth.
THE MEANING OF THE SYMBOL OF THE CROSS
The symbol of the cross represents three great secrets. By understanding these secrets one can understand the whole of nature.
The first secret is the secret of form: that every form has built up on a perpendicular and horizontal line. In fruit, flower, leaf, in everything one can see the cross as its basis. It becomes fully manifest in the form of man, this being the perfect form. It is perfect because every form of the mineral, vegetable, or animal kingdom has evolved gradually and developed into the human form. One can notice this by studying the latent human form even in the mineral and vegetable kingdoms. Not only the animals have a resemblance to man’s form and face, but also even in the rose you can see man’s face indistinctly. In the pebbles by the seashore, in the rocks, in the mountains, one sees an indistinct human form. And when one distinguishes the human form in its real aspect, it is nothing but a cross.
There are two kinds of space, one known to all and the other only known to a mystic. The first space is the one which we see and which we can measure; the other space is that which accommodates this first space within itself. For instance, a space of ten, twenty, or even fifty miles can be accommodated, in other words can be reflected, in the eye, which is hardly one inch wide when measured according to the external space. This shows that the space that the eye occupies is a different kind of space from that which it can accommodate within itself. The eye is the representative of the soul. If the eye can accommodate so much space, how much more can the soul accommodate! It can accommodate the whole universe. Therefore, that which we call space is in the terms of the mystic the horizontal space; but that space in which this horizontal space if reflected is the perpendicular space. It is these two kinds of spaces that are called in religious terms ‘this world’ and ‘the next world.’ And it is these two lines that show the sign of the cross.
In the beginning the traveler on the path of morals understands that the whole of life is a fight against destruction, a continual destruction that threatens his life. The picture of activity or construction is the perpendicular line, and the picture of destruction or hindrance is the horizontal line. But when he advances from the moral to the spiritual plane, then he sees two paths of attainment, both of which are equally necessary for perfection. One is the expansion of the spirit from a single being to the whole universe, which signifies the horizontal line. And the other is the journey of man to God, from the limited state of being to the unlimited, which represents the perpendicular line. And in this cross is hidden the secret of perfection.
‘THY WILL BE DONE, IN EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN’
In the Lord’s prayer there is a sentence, ‘Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven.’ This gives an important key to metaphysics. It gives a hint to the seer that His will, which is easily done in heaven, is done with difficulty on earth. And who stands against His will? Man. And where lies the will of God? In the innermost being of man. And what stands as an obstacle? The surface of the heart of man. And this means struggle in man himself. In him there is the will of God, as in heaven, and where there is no obstacle to it, there is the earth. By this prayer man is prepared to remove the obstacle which stands before the will of God.
How can we distinguish between these two aspects of will: the will of God and the obstacle, which is the will of man? It is easy for a person with a clear mind and open heart to distinguish between them, if he only knows the secret of it. For to that which is the will of God his whole being responds, and in doing His will his whole being becomes satisfied. When it is his own will, only one side of his being perhaps is satisfied for a certain time, and a conflict arises in him. He himself finds fault with his own idea or action; he himself feels dissatisfied with his own being. The wider the scope in which he sees his idea or his action, the more dissatisfied he will become. When a man looks at life in this manner, by the ray of intelligence he begins to distinguish between his own will and the will of God. The kingdom of God, which is heaven, then comes on earth. It does not mean that it disappears from heaven, but it means that not only heaven remains as a kingdom, behind the whole of this creation is that heaven may be realized on earth. For if one does not realize it on earth, one cannot realize it in heaven.
What is meant by heaven? Heaven is that place where all is the choice of man and everything moves at his command. Heaven is the natural condition of life. When on earth life becomes so entangled that it loses its original harmony, heaven ceases to exist. And the motive of the soul is to gain in life the kingdom of heaven, which it has lost. Nothing else in life will give the satisfaction, which can be attained by bringing heaven on earth.
Mohammad is the only one among the prophets the account of whose life is to be found in history. Born of the family of Ishmael, Mohammad had in him the prophetic heritage, and before him the purpose to be fulfilled, which Abraham had prophesied in the Old Testament. The Prophet became an orphan in childhood, and knew what it was to be without the tender care of a mother and without the protection of a father. And this experience was the first preparation for the child who was born to sympathize with the pain of others. He showed a sense of responsibility even in his boyhood, when looking after his cows. A cowherd came and said, ‘I will look after your herd, and you may go to the town and enjoy yourself. And then you must take charge of my cows, and I will go there for a time.’ Young Mohammad said, ‘No, I will take charge of your herd. You may go, but I will not leave my charge.’ The same principle was shown throughout his life.
Some say that once, others say twice, others say three times, a miracle happened: that the breast of the Prophet was cut open by the angels and that they took something away, and instantly his breast was healed. What was it? it was the poison, which is to be found in the sting of the scorpion and the teeth of the serpent; it is the same poison, which exists in the heart of man. All manner of prejudice, hatred, or bitterness in the form of envy and jealousy, are the minor expressions of this poison which is hidden in the heart of man. And when this poison is removed, then there remains the serpent with its beauty and wisdom, but without its poisonous teeth. And so it is with man. Man meets with hardships in life, sometimes too hard to stand for the moment, but often such experiences become like higher initiations in the life of the traveler on the path. The heart of man, which is the shrine of God, once purified of that poison, becomes the holy abode where God Himself resides.
As a young Mohammad traveled with his uncle when he went to Syria on a business trip; and he learned the shortcomings of human nature, which have great scope in the world of business; he found out what profit means, what loss means, and what both mean in the end. It gave him a wider outlook on life, when he saw how eager people are to profit by the loss of others, and that human beings behave no better in this world than the large and small fishes in the water who prey upon one another.
When the time came to defend the country against a powerful enemy, young Mohammad stood shoulder to shoulder with the young men of his land to defend his people in the terrible strife. His sincerity in friendship and the honesty of all his dealings endeared him to all, both far and near, who called him by the name of Amin, which means trusty or trustworthy. His marriage with Khatija showed him a man of devotion, a man of affection; an honorable man as a husband, as a father, and as a citizen of the town he lived in.
Then came the time of contemplation, the time of fulfillment of that promise which his soul had brought into the world. There came moments when life seemed sad, in spite of all the beauty and comfort it could offer. He then sought refuge from that depression in solitude. Sometimes for hours, sometimes for days or weeks, sitting in the mountains of Gar-e Hira, he tried to see if there was anything else to be seen, if there was anything else to be heard, or to be known. Patient as Mohammad was, he continued in the search after truth. At last he began to hear a word of inner guidance, ‘Cry out the sacred name of thy Lord;’ and as he began to follow this advice, he found an echo of the word which his heart repeated in the whole of nature. It seemed as if the wind repeated the same name, as if the sky, the earth, the moon, and the planets, all said the same name that he was saying. When once he was in tune with the infinite, realizing his soul to be one, within and without, the call came, ‘Thou art the man. Go forward into the world and carry out our command. Glorify the name of God. Unite those who are separated. Awaken those who are asleep, and harmonize one with the other, for in this lies the happiness of man.’
Often Khatija found that Mohammad had covered himself with a mantle, so that he might not see himself, trembling at the sight of the responsibility that was thrown upon him. But she constantly told him, ‘You are the man, a man so kind and true, so sincere and devoted, forgiving and serving. It is your task to perform the work; fear not, you are destined for it by the Almighty. Trust in His great power, and in the end success will be yours.’
When Mohammad gave his message, however, to his surprise not only his enemies but also his friends who were near and dear to the Prophet turned against him, and would not listen to the teaching of a new gospel. In spite of the insults, the harm and injury they caused him and those who listened to him, he still continued, although exiled from home three times; and proved in the end, as every real prophet must prove, that truth alone is the conqueror, and to truth belongs all victory.
THE GOD OF ISLAM
In every period there were people who held the idea of a formless God. This idea was called Islam, literally ‘peace.’ Sometimes it disappeared and then it reappeared during the time of the different prophets. It materialized fully during the time of Mohammad, when a nation was formed which became the custodian of a religion whose main spirit was this idea. And this religion was called by the same name: Islam. Proof of this fact can be found in the name of the holy city Dar-e Sala’m, that is the Gate of Sala’m, or Islam, which is known in the West as Jerusalem. Thus this name existed long before the coming of Mohammad, but in the period of the Prophet Mohammad’s message especially, great stress was put upon the idea of a formless God.
It is difficult for man to make God intelligible without giving Him a form. And yet a step higher in God-realization is to make Him intelligible beyond the limit of form. Therefore, in Islam God was made intelligible by His attributes. He was conceived of as the Creator, as Father, as Mother, as Sustainer, as Judge, as Forgiver, as the source and the Goal of this whole manifestation, as the One who is always with His creatures, within them, and outside them, who notices all their feelings, thoughts, and actions, who draws the line of man’s fate, before whom man must appear to give his account – this is the God of Islam.
Islam believed in only one God, who has many attributes but is yet beyond any attributes; invisible and beyond the comprehension of man, almighty, incomparable of one save He having any power beside Him, the Knower of all things and pure from all impurities, free from all things and yet never far from them, all abiding in Him and He living in all. The whole essential teaching of Islam, which is called Kalamat, tends to explain clearly the oneness of God. And yet the attributes are suggested, not in order to explain God, but with a view to making God intelligible to the human mind.
These attributes form what is called Sifat, the external part of God, which is intelligible to man. But that part of the divine Being which is hidden under attributes and which cannot be intelligible to the human mind is called Zat, which means real Being. The whole tendency of Islam has been to disentangle man’s heart from such thoughts as limit and divide God, and to clear man’s heart from duality which is the nature of this illusory world, bringing him to that at-one-ment with God which has been the real aim and intention of every religion.
FORMS OF ISLAMIC WORSHIP
Islamic worship shows an improvement upon the older forms of worship in human evolution, for Islam prefers nature to art and sees in nature the immanence of God.
The call of the Muezzin to prayer before sunrise, and his call when the sun is at its zenith, his call at sunset, the prayers in the afternoon, in the early evening and at midnight, all suggest to the seer that, while worshipping God, a revelation was sought from Him through the tongue of nature. It is said in the Qur’an, ‘Cry aloud the name of the Lord, the most beneficent, who hath by His nature’s skilful pen taught man what he knew not,’ which means: who has written this world like a manuscript with the pen of nature.
If one desires to read the Holy Book, one should read it in nature. There are several suras, which support this thought. As is said in the Qur’an, ‘By the night when it covers, by the day when it brightens, by what created the male and female, verily your aims are diverse.’ We read in the manuscript of nature that diversity is natural; the very covering and brightening of the light in nature and the difference between male and female, show that our aim should be diverse.
The laws of cleanliness are strictly observed in Islam. And no one is to offer prayer without an ablution, which is taught as a preparatory part of his worship.
The worship of Islam contains a universal code of humility: that the customs existing in all parts of the world of bowing and bending and prostrating are all devoted to the one Being, who alone deserves it, and no one else. There is beauty in these customs. Man is the most egoistic being in creation. He keeps himself veiled from God, the perfect Self within, by the veil of his imperfect self, which has formed his false ego. But by the extreme humility with which he stands before God and bows and bends and prostrates himself before the almighty Being, he makes the highest point of his presumed being, the head, touch the earth where his feet are, and thus in time he washes off the black stains of his false ego, and the light of perfection gradually manifests. Only then does he stand face to face with his God, the idealized Deity, and when the ego is absolutely crushed, then God remains within and without, in both planes, and none exists save He.
THE DUTIES OF THE FAITHFUL IN ISLAM
There are four duties of the faithful in Islam. The number four mystically signifies squareness and balance.
The first is Salat, the prayers which are said five times a day; the continual balance between work and rest, and rest especially in God, in whom is the only rest of every soul. Life in the world is such that it absorbs every moment of man’s time, and the innate yearning for peace of every soul is never satisfied. Therefore, to pray five times a day is not too much, considering how far life in the world removes a soul from God. To my mind, it were a hundred times as day, it would be too little.
The second is Zakat, charity. However pious and godly a person may be, however much time of his life he devotes to piety, he cannot deserve the blessing of God unless he is charitable, for charity is the only test of selflessness. All love and friendship are proved by service and sacrifice, and to the extent one is able to do this, one is selfless. And the self-being the only barrier that stands between man and God, charity is the only means to break down that barrier, in order that man may come face to face with God.
Once someone asked the Prophet, ‘Who is the most blessed, the prayerful, the one who fasts, the pilgrim, or the charitable one?’ The Prophet answered, ‘The charitable one, for he can pray and build a mosque for others to pray in; he can fast and help those who fast by giving them rest and peace, by providing the families that depend on them for maintenance. He can go on pilgrimages and send many on pilgrimage. Therefore, all these four blessings are included in the charitable one.’
The third duty is Roza, fasting. Man is so dependent on food that even in his infancy, when he is an angel, a king in himself, he hungers after food. This shows that what man needs most in life is food. He will give his diamonds and gold and all his treasure when there is lack of bread. Therefore, abstaining from food is like abstaining from the dearest thing in life, and sacrificing all comfort, joy, rest, and happiness. As renunciation of lower things is the only means of attaining higher objects, there can be no better means to attain spiritual life than fasting. Fasting crushes not only the appetite, but also he root of all desire that binds the soul, which is the bird of paradise, to the earth’s lower regions. Jesus Christ went into the desert and fasted forty days, and at the end of his fast, he conquered the temptations of the devil.
The fourth duty of the faithful is Hajj, or pilgrimage. It is said in the Qur’an that Abraham, the father of the nations and the fountain from which such streams as Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad came, had offered a prayer when leaving his son Ishmael in the barren desert of Arabia. His heart was broken, and there came forth from it a prayer, ‘O Lord, bless this land, that it may become a center of attraction to the whole world.’ And so it happened in the course of time that the Word of God was born again among the descendants of Ishmael, Mohammad who glorified the name of the Lord of Abraham aloud. This was heard from the depths of the earth to the summit of heaven, and re-echoed from the North to the South Pole. It shook the nations and stirred up races, and so pierced the hearts of men that this desert which bore no fruit, no treasure of any kind, which had no beauty of scenery, no charm of climate, became the center of attraction for numberless souls; and they came from all parts of the world and assembled in that land of bliss, king and pauper standing shoulder to shoulder, both recognizing the equality of men in the Presence of God. The strong and the weak, rich and poor, high and low, civilized and uncivilized, all come year by year on pilgrimage to Mecca in this land. They all are clad in one piece of cloth, that all may look alike to show before God and humanity the equality of the human brotherhood. This is Hajj.
THE FOUR GRADES OF KNOWLEDGE IN ISLAM
In Islam there is no caste, as the message was meant to unite humanity in one brotherhood, and yet it was found necessary to train individuals according to their evolution in life. A training was given in four grades, namely Shariat, Tariqat, Haqiqat, and Marefat.
Since the world of Islam became engaged in national and social affairs, the religious authorities held on to Shariat only, and a few pious ones to Tariqat. It was the latter who sought the door of the Sufi, wanting an initiation into the Inner Light, which was contained, in the two remaining grades, Haquqat and Marefat.
Two immediate disciples of the Prophet, Ali and Siddiq were initiated by the Prophet, and they became the great masters of the inner teachings of the knowledge of God. The Sufis who lived at the same time as the Prophet were benefited by his presence and the inspiration they gained in Sufism, which is soon reached through the path of Shariat, Tariqat, Haquqat, and Marefat.
Shariat means the law which is necessary for he generality to observe, in order to harmonize with one’s surroundings and one’s self within. Although the religious authorities of Islam have limited this law to restriction, yet in a thousand places in the Qur’an and Hadith one can trace how the law of Shariat is meant to be subject to change, in order to fit time and place. The law of Shariat, unlike any other religious law, deals with all aspects of life, and that is why the Prophet of Islam had personally to experience all aspects of life. The Prophet as an orphan, as a warrior, as a politician, as a merchant, as a shepherd, as a king, as a husband, as a father, as a brother, as a son and a grandson, had to play different parts in various aspects of life in the world before he was ready to give this divine law.
Tariqat means the understanding of law besides the following of it. It means that we must understand the cause behind everything we should do or not do, instead of obeying the law without understanding it. those who are less evolved are supposed to have faith and to submit to the law. The law is for those whose intelligence does not accept things that cannot be explained by reason.
Haqiqat means knowing the truth of our being and the inner laws of nature. This knowledge widens man’s heart. When he has realized the truth of being, he has realized the one Being; then he is different from nobody, distant from no one, one with all. This is the grade in which religion ends and Sufism begins.
Marefat means the actual realization of God, the one Being, when there is no doubt anywhere.
When these four grades are accomplished, then Sufism comes into full play. Sufi comes from Saf meaning pure; not only pure from differences and distinctions, but even pure from all that is learnt or known: that is the state of God, the pure and perfect One.
THE IDEA OF HALAL AND HARAM IN ISLAM
In Judaism there were very definite ideas about eating and drinking and about certain things being allowed and others forbidden. And the same ideas were perhaps developed even more in Islam. Those who have followed them have obeyed the law of religion, and those who have understood them have found the truth. Of edible things, in particular the flesh of certain beasts and birds and of certain creatures living in the water was forbidden. The only reason underlying this was to protect man against eating anything that might hinder his spiritual evolution. In Islamic terms that which is lawful is called Halal, and that which is unlawful Halam.
As everything that man eats and drinks has its cold or warm effect on man’s body, and to a certain extent on man’s mind, so, especially with animal food, it is natural that man should partake of the quality of the animal he eats. The pig was particularly pointed out, both by Judaism and Islam, as a forbidden animal. Chief among the many reasons was that if one compares the life of the pig with that of other animals it proves to be the most material, regardless of what it eats, blind in passion and without the faculty of love and affection. Also the dog, the cat, in fact all carnivorous animals, were considered from the hygienic point of view Haram, unwholesome, and the people who have used their flesh as food have realized that its effect upon their bodies and minds was harmful.
Then there was a law among Islamic and Judaic people that the animal, which was used for food, should be killed in a certain way which is called Zebah. People believed in this as a religious tenet; they did not understand the truth behind it, and refused to eat meat coming from people not of their religion. The reason for this law was that people should not eat animals or birds, which had died a natural death, on the assumption that their flesh was as wholesome as that of freshly, killed animals. And behind it there is a philosophy: that it is not only flesh that benefits man as a desirable food, but that the life that still exists in the flesh is the secret of the vigor and freshness that flesh food to man; to eat it when the life is gone out of it is not the same. It is flesh, and yet there is no life in it. that is why it was made a religious custom, so that if the people did not understand its scientific and philosophical basis, at least they might follow it because it was their religion.
Then intoxicating drinks were made Haram, especially during the time of the Prophet, who, it is related accepted milk from an angel who had brought him two bowls, one of wine and the other of milk. Milk was considered, as it was by the Vedantists, as a Satva food, a food that gives rest, comfort and wisdom, whereas wine was considered as a Tamas food, which gives momentary joy, pleasure, confusion, excitement, and happiness. It has been clear to all peoples in all ages, that the drinking of wine could have very bad results, which explains why it was forbidden. But added to this it is a philosophical fact that everything made of decayed substance, whether flesh, herb, or fruit, has lost the life that was in it. And the idea is to touch life in eating, in drinking, and in everything that is done, until one is able to touch the life eternal, which alone is the innate yearning of the soul.
Nimaz, or prayer is an inherent attribute in every soul. Whatever and whoever appears to man to be beautiful, superior, or precious, wins him; and he surrenders himself, conscious of his imperfection and dependence upon the object or being that has conquered him. This is why so many objects, such as the sun, moon, planets, animals, birds, spirits, and men, have been worshipped by different individuals, according to their evolution and to what appealed to them. But the inspired souls have realized from the first day of creation that all the objects and beings which caused the admirer to bow before them, are only many in appearance, but in existence they are one. Therefore, the One is idealized as the Supreme Being, as the Sovereign of both worlds, as God. While all appeared to worship many, they only worshipped the One, and they have always taught, in whatever religious form it may have been, the same truth, bowing to that One who alone deserves all worship.
As there have been so many kinds of people in the world, and so many customs and manners, so one bowed differently from another. In one country people bowed down, in another country they folded their hands; in one country people knelt, in another they prostrated themselves. The Nimaz, therefore, was a form adopted to reconcile all, and to combine all customs in one form of worship, that the people might not fight over the forms of worship when in reality they all worshiped One and the same God.
In order that any object of affair should be fulfilled, its highest point should first touch the utmost depth. The soul which has descended on earth from its existence in the heavens, and which has temporarily supposed itself to be this material body, rises again to its former glory through laying the highest part of itself upon the ground. Also, the mechanism of the body is kept in order by the regular action of the breath through every part of the body. And by the regular circulation of the blood in all parts of the body; this can only be properly done by placing the highest part of the body, the head, on the ground.
The world of living beings consists of egos, one Ego assuming several forms and becoming several egos. Among this variety of egos everyone claims perfection, for this is the nature of the real ego within. Upon examination this ego proves to be imperfect, yet it claims perfection in its ignorance, and longs for perfection when wise. The imperfect ego can only attain this perfection by practicing worship and by his life in the world., in which he may show such humility, meekness, and gentleness that this false presumption which has formed the imperfect ego may be crushed. What then remains will be the perfect ego. Nimaz is the first lesson for this attainment.
Idolatry seems to have been prevalent throughout all ages as one of the principal forms of religion, though the names of the gods have varied among different people. The idea of gods and goddesses came from the two sides of man’s nature, one being idealism and the other veneration. Man, however primitive in his evolution, has always had a desire to look up to some object or some being as higher and better than himself. Sometimes he created an ideal from his own nature, and sometimes he was helped to such an ideal by another. There is no race in the world today that can say that they have never known idolatry, although many today would look at it with contempt.
Man has known God more through goodness than through greatness, for no man really admires power. Man surrenders to power but admires goodness; thus the ideal of worship is based on two things: praise of goodness and surrender to a greater power. Support, protection, providence, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness were also counted as goodness. And the creation and destruction of all things and beings were counted as power. Combining these two, goodness and greatness, man completed the idea of God. And since God is one, he could not make Him two, though there are as many gods as there are human beings, since each person’s ideal is peculiar to himself.
Man could not complete his ideal without forming an idea of personality. He could only be satisfied by some form, which he naturally preferred to make rather like his own, or to make a combination of licenses, or to portray the likeness that his mind could grasp. As each man differs from his fellow men in his ideas and thoughts, so each differed in his choice of the ideal idol. Therefore, if one called a particular idol his god, and his friends and followers and relations also accepted that god, then the one who was opposed to him said, ‘My god is different from yours,’ and he made another god. If any disadvantage arose from idol-worship, it was only this: that instead of bowing to one God, and uniting with their fellow creatures in the worship of one God, men have taken different routes in the name of different idol-gods, and thus many idolaters turned their backs on one another.
Idol-worship has been taught to mankind in order that they might learn to idealize God even if they were not sufficiently developed to understand the ideal of God in its true sense. This was a training, as a little girl receives her first training in domestic life by playing with dolls. Man can only idealize God as man, for every being, in the first place, sees himself in another. A rogue will fear the roguery of another, and a kind person will expect kindness from his fellow man.
Man had always thought of ghosts, spirits, jinns, fairies, and angels as having a human form. Although he has sometimes added wings or horns or a tail to make them different, yet he has kept his conception as close as possible to the human form. And so it is no wonder that he pictured his highest ideal in the form of man. But he called it the reverse; instead of saying, ‘I have created God in my own image,’ he said that God has created man in His own likeness. Even such ideals as that of liberty are pictured today in the form of woman or man, as may be seen in New York harbor and on postage stamps of France.
Man in all ages has been dramatic. He is an actor by nature, and it is his greatest pleasure to make a drama of his life and to play a part in it himself. This spirit is also hidden within the Church and the nation, and it is this same spirit which wears a crown or accepts the patched robes of a dervish. When this natural attitude plays its part in religious or spiritual life, its first tendency is to place before itself a Lord, a King, or a Master before whom it can bow. And it has given man a tendency to idealize God in a human form or to idealize a human name and form as God.
Though there exists, always has existed, and always will exist diversity of religions, faiths, and beliefs, yet human nature will always remain the same everywhere and in all ages. And the one who knows this human tendency will understand the religion of all, and he will consider all others as belonging to his religion, the one and only religion of wisdom.
Man is accustomed to believe in the reality of things that he can touch and perceive, and he may believe in an ideal that is beyond his touch and perception although he cannot be certain of its existence. Moreover, the absence of that ideal prevents him from expressing his worship. He doubts, and wonders to whom he is praying, whether there exists such a being as God, and, if there does exist such a being, what He looks like. And as not everyone has a beautiful imagination that satisfies him, so not everyone is capable of picturing in his mind the ideal of his worship. It is musicians who compose music, though everybody can sing or hum a little. It is the painter who paints a picture though everybody can draw a little to amuse himself. And so it was those with imagination above the ordinary who gave a picture of their imagination to the world in the form of myth, which was then reproduced by art and made into an idol. In ancient times this seemed the only way possible to uplift humanity.
The Hindus were the earliest to form the conception of three aspects of the Divinity, which they called Trimurti: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Sustainer, and Shiva the Destroyer these three powers keep the whole universe in balance and they are active in everything in the world. Brahma was represented with four arms, which signifies that besides the physical arms there are mental arms, which are necessary in the scheme of creation. And Vishnu is pictured seated on a cobra. This indicates the power of destruction that is waiting like a cobra to devour every activity; to take away fame from the famous, wealth from the rich, and power from the powerful. He who can rest upon this power is the sustainer of all activities and interests in life.
The picture of Shiva is that of an ascetic, from whose head spring rivers, round whose neck is a cobra, ashes on his body, a bull his vehicle. In this picture the cobra signifies destruction which has been accepted: all that man fears is wrapped around his neck, while ashes are significant of annihilation: everything that has gone through a perfect destruction turns into ashes. Rivers springing from the head show a constant spring of inspiration as the inspiration of a mystic is limitless. And the bull signifies one with simple faith, who, without reasoning, accepts the truth, which one cannot readily accept intellectually.
There are three goddesses who show the other aspect of these natures. Sarasvati, the consort of Brahma, who rides on a peacock, with four hands of which two are holding a vina, the third a rosary, the fourth a book; which means that music, learning and contemplation are creative. And the peacock represents the beauty, which is in art. The goddess of Vishnu is Lakshmi, who stands on a lotus with a crown of gold. She has four hands, in one of then a Sankha, and ancient weapon, in another a Kaml, a lotus flower, which indicates that the goddess of wealth has all the beauty of life at her feet, and delicacy and tenderness in her hands. The weapon represents the power that is needed to hold wealth. One arm to collect, the other to give; the crown of gold signifies that the honor of the wealthy is wealth. The third goddess is Parvati, the consort of Shiva.
These are the lessons given to humanity in order that they may study the different aspects of life with the thought of sacredness.
To the eyes of the wise in all ages the universe has become one single immanence of the divine Being. And that which cannot be compared, or which has no comparison, has been difficult to explain in the human tongue. Therefore, the idea of the wise has always been to allow man to worship God in whatever way he may be capable of picturing Him. One can trace in histories and traditions that trees, animals and birds were worshipped, also rivers and seas, and planets, the sun, and the moon. Heroes were worshipped, of all kinds. There has been worship of ancestors, of spirits, both good and evil. And the Lord of heaven was worshipped by some as the Creator, by some as the Sustainer, by some as the Destroyer, and by some as the King of all. And the wise have tolerated all aspects of worship, seeing that they all worship the same God in different forms and names, though not yet realizing that another person’s god is the same God worshipped by all. Therefore, the religion of the Hindus recognized these many gods in one God, and at the same time recognized that one God in all His myriad forms.
There came a time when God was raised from idol to ideal, and this was no doubt an improvement. Yet even in the ideal He is still an idol, and unless the question of life and its perfection can be solved by the God-ideal, by one’s love and worship of Him, one has not arrived at the object which all religions seek.
The need of the God-ideal is like the need of a ship in which to sail through the ocean of eternity. And as there is a danger of sinking in the sea without a ship, so there is a danger of falling prey to mortality for the man without a God-ideal. The difficulty of the believer has always been as great as the difficulty of the unbeliever. For a simple believer, as a rule, knows God from the picture that his priest has given him: God the Good, or Cherisher, or Merciful. And when the believer in the just God sees cruelty around him, and when the believer in the Cherisher-God has to face starvation, then comes the time when the cord of his belief breaks. How many in this late war have begun to doubt and question the existence of God, some even becoming total unbelievers.
Idolatry in a way has been to man like a lesson in practicing his faith and belief patiently before heedless gods of stone, prostrating himself and bowing before the idol-god made by his own hands. No answer in man’s distress, no stretching out the hand in man’s poverty, no caress or embrace of sympathy, come from that heedless god. And yet faith and belief are retained under all circumstances, and it is such belief that is founded on rock, and that stands in rain and storm, unshaken and unbroken. And after all, what is the abode of God? It is man’s belief. And upon what is He seated? His throne is man’s faith and belief in God, the ideal, which alone is the source of the realization of truth.
When the world evolved to the point where a believer in God was able to see, even his God, in the idol and. to communicate with Him by the power of his faith, then came the next lesson for the faithful, which was given by the series of prophets of Ben Israel. From Abraham to Moses, from Moses to Christ, the lesson was taught, which culminated in the message of Mohammad. The idea of this next lesson was to turn the idol into an ideal, and to rise from the worship of form to the abstract. By prayer, praising the Lord, glorifying His name, by meditating upon His attributes, by admiring His righteousness, an by realizing His goodness, man created God in his own heart. This was also the purpose of idolatry, but it was only the first lesson. The second was to free one’s mind from the form; for when God is recognized in one form, then the many other forms are abandoned, because then they are all recognized as His forms also.
Man has a weakness in his nature; and it is that when anything is given to him for his good, and if he likes it, he becomes attached to it until he gets its bad results. And once he is thus attached to it he never wishes to let it go. If a physician gives a drug to his patient and the patient likes it, he indulges in it, and wishes to continue with it until instead of being a medicine for his cure it turns into a vice for his destruction. So idolatry gradually became a vice, until the messengers had to fight it and break it as with a hammer. But in cases where it was considered only as a first lesson it brought great improvement, and prepared people to have the second lesson of the God ideal, which many have found difficult to learn.
No doubt it is true that God cannot be worshipped without idolatry in some form or other, although many people would think this absurd. God is what man makes Him, though His true being is beyond the capacity of man’s making, or even perceiving, and thus the real belief in God is unintelligible. Only that part of God is intelligible which man makes. Man makes it in the form of man or out of the attributes, which seem to him good in man. And that is the only way of modeling God, if man ever tries to do so. To make a statue of stone in some form and to worship it as God is the primitive stage of worship, and to picture God in a human form, in the form of some hero, prophet, or savior, is a more advanced stage. But it is a higher kind of worship when man worships God. For his goodness, when he is impressed by the sublimity of His nature, when he holds the vision of divine beauty, recognizing this beauty in merit, power, or virtue, and when seeing this in its perfection he calls it God, whom he worships. This stage of God-realization is a step forward from the realization of the Deity in a limited human form.
This influence became apparent in the Hindu religion during the time of Shankaracharya, who did not interfere with those who were in the more primitive stage and worshipped idols, but tried throughout his life, in a very wise and gentle way, to make the truth known in his land. His teaching spread very slowly, yet its influence has been very helpful. In the Semitic races this higher form of worship is known to have been introduced by Abraham.