Life may be recognized in two aspects: the known and the unknown. What is generally called life is its known aspect as its other aspect is unknown to many. The unknown aspect may be called immortal, the eternal life, and the known aspect may be called mortal life. What we generally know of life is its mortal part; the experience we have through our physical being gives us the evidence of life, and therefore, the life we know is the mortal life. The immortal life exists, but we do not know it. It is our knowledge, which is absent, not the immortal life.
In this life known to us everything we have, whether an object, a living being, a thought, a condition, a deed, or an experience, all break and die away. Each of these things has birth and death. Sooner or later, what is composed must be decomposed, and what is visible now will disappear. This shows that there is a struggle between what we call life and the life, which is behind it.
In Sufi terms we call these two aspects of life qadha (Kaza) and qadr (Kadr): qadha, the unlimited aspect of life, qadr the limited aspect. Qadr draws upon the life of qadha for its existence, and qadha wakes with its mouth open to swallow what comes into it. Therefore, the thinkers and wise men, those who are called mystics or Sufis, have discovered the science of how to withhold the experience of life – which alone gives us the evidence of life – from the mouth of qadha, the ever assimilating aspect of life. If we do not know how to withhold it, it will fall into the mouth of qadha. For qadha is always waiting with an open mouth. As an illness awaits the moment when a person is lacking in energy, so in all different forms of qadha is waiting to assimilate all that comes to it, and which then is merged in it.
The question arises: how can we withhold, how can we keep something from falling into the mouth of qadha? And the answer is by controlling our body and our mind. Much is known about physical culture, but what is known is what can be obtained by action, by gymnastics, by movements. Very little is known about what can be obtained by repose, by poise and posture. I have seen in the East a man lifting a heavy stone on one finger. One might think: how can a man's little finger - these fine bones - stand such a heavy weight? It is the power of will alone which sustains the heavy stone, the finger is only an excuse.
I have seen myself those who experiment in the field of spirit and matter jumping into a raging fire and coming out safely, cutting the muscles of their body and healing them instantly. It is not a story that mystics know how to levitate; the demonstration of this has been seen by thousands of people in India. I do not mean to say that this is something worth learning or following, I only wish to tell you what can be accomplished by the power of will. And in order to obtain the reign of will over the physical body the first thing necessary is physical control.
Among the different kinds of physical culture known to the modern world there is nothing that teaches the method, the way, the secret of sustaining an action. For instance, to be able to sit in the same posture without moving, to be able to look at the same spot without moving the eyes, to be able to listen to something without being disturbed by something else, to be able to experience hardness, softness, heat, or cold, keeping even vibrations, or to be able to retain the taste of salt, sweet and sour. Since all these experiences come and go, man has no control over his means of pleasure or joy. He cannot enjoy any experience through any sense as long as he wishes to enjoy it. So he depends upon all outer things, and has no control sustaining the experience he has. If there is any way of sustaining experience, it is through control.
There is another side to this question. Being unconsciously aware that every experience which is pleasing and joyous will soon pass away, man is over-anxious and, instead of trying to retain the experience, he hurries it and loses it; so for instance his habit of eating hastily, or of laughing before the mirthful sentence is finished. He is over-anxious that his joy will pass away, but so his joy is finished even before the mirthful sentence ends. In every experience man loses the power to sustain it because of his anxiety about losing the pleasure it gives.
The great joy of watching a tragedy in the theatre lies in experiencing it to its fullness, but some people are so thrilled that they have already shed their tears in the beginning, and then nothing is left for afterwards. Once the zenith is reached, there is no more experience to be had and so, instead of keeping it away from the mouth of eternal life, man throws every experience he makes, without knowing the secret of it, into the life behind.
The mystics, therefore, by sitting in different postures and by standing in different poses, have gained control over their muscles and nervous system, and this has an effect on the mind. A person who lacks control over his nervous and muscular systems has no control over his mind; he eventually loses it. But by having control over one's muscular and nervous systems one gets control over the mind also. The means by which life draws its power is breath. With every breath one draws in, one draws life and power and intelligence from the unseen and unknown life. And when one knows the secret of posture, and draws from the unseen world energy and power and inspiration, one gets the power of sustaining one's thought, one's word, one's experience, one's pleasure, one's joy.
Thought-power is necessary with both posture and breath in order to gain physical control. One must rise above one's likes and dislikes, for they cause much weakness in life. When one says, "I cannot stand this, I cannot eat this, I cannot drink this, I cannot bear this, I cannot tolerate, I cannot endure" - all those things show man's weakness. The greater the will-power the more man is able to stand all that comes along. It does not mean that one has no choice; one can have one's choice, but when one gives in to one's choice then life becomes difficult. There is a false ego in man, called nafs by the Sufis, and this ego feeds on weakness. This ego feels vain when one says, "I cannot bear it, I do not like it, I do not look at it". All this feeds the ego and its vanity. It then thinks, "I am better than others", and thereby this ego becomes strong, and so man's weakness becomes strong. But the one who has discrimination, distinction, choice, while at the same time having these all under his control, the one who enjoys sweet but can drink a bowl of something bitter, - that person has reached mastery.
Someone asked a wise man what was the cause of every tragedy in life. The wise man answered, "Limitation; all miseries come from this one thing, limitation". Therefore the mystics have tried by exercises, by practices, by studies to overcome limitation as much as possible. There is no worse enemy of man than helplessness. When a person feels, "I am helpless, I cannot help it", it is the end of his joy and happiness.
Impulses also weaken a person, when he helplessly gives in to them. For instance, when he has an impulse to go to the park, instead of waiting till it is the right time to go to the park, he quickly puts on his hat and goes along. He follows his impulse immediately and loses power over himself. The one who subordinates his impulses, controlling them, utilizing them for the best purpose, attains mastery.
Besides, indulgence into every comfort, seeking convenience, always looking for the path of least resistance, also brings weakness. However small the work may be, if a person takes it seriously and finishes it with patience, he gains much power over himself. Patience is the principal thing in life, although patience is as bitter, as hard, as unbearable as death. Sometimes one prefers death to patience.
It is a great difficulty that the people in this land of America are losing this quality of patience more and more every day, because Providence has blessed them so much (This lecture took place in San Francisco, on April 5th, 1926.). They have conveniences, they have comforts, they are the spoilt children of Providence, and when it comes to having patience, it is very hard for them. Individuals have to practise this spirit, for we do not know what may come to follow.
We live in this world of uncertainty, and we do not know in what condition we may be placed to-morrow; if we have no strength of resistance we may easily break down. Therefore it is most necessary for the human race to develop patience in all conditions of life, in all walks of life, in all positions in life. Whether we are rich or poor, high or low, this is the one quality that must be developed. It is patience that gives endurance, it is patience that is all-powerful, and by lack of patience one loses so much. Very often the answer to one's prayer is within one's reach, the hand of Providence not very far off- but one has lost one's patience and so lost the opportunity.
All such things as mastery and patience are acquired by physical culture. Physical control can build a foundation for character and personality, a foundation to be built in order to bring about spiritual attainment.
Question: Would you, please, explain something more about posture?
Answer: The fantasy of the whole creation lies in the direction of every movement; it is. in accordance with this direction that its fantasy takes form. Where do all the opposites such as sun and moon, man and woman, pain and joy, negative and positive, come from? Since the source is one and the goal is one, why such differences? They belong to the direction; the secret of every difference is direction. It is an activity, an energy working in a certain direction which makes a certain form. So it makes a difference whether you sit this way or that way, whether you sleep on the right side or on the left; whether you stand on your feet or on your head makes a difference.
Mystics, therefore, have practised for many, many years, and have found out different postures of sitting while doing certain breathing exercises. They have made a great science out of this. There is a warrior's posture, an artist's posture, a thinker's posture, an aristocratic posture, a lover's posture, a healer's posture: different postures in order to attain different objects. By those postures it becomes easy for man to attain these objects, for then he has arrived at the science of direction. Posture does not denote anything but direction.