of the soul
Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan
Man pursues captivity and seeks freedom. There is not one single person whom the word freedom does not touch, and there is not one person who does not long for freedom. At the same time, if we look at human life with a magnifying glass, we see that, whether he seeks freedom or not, man pursues captivity in some form or other.
The ancient people, whose imagery was beautiful, put ideas into a beautiful form. There is a Hebrew story that God made a statue of clay, the first form of mankind, and commanded the soul to enter it. The soul refused to enter saying, "Enter into this dark room? I am afraid to enter into imprisonment, into captivity. Do you wish me to enter my grave?" Then God said to the angels, "Sing and play and dance". And when the angels sang and played and danced, the soul came into ecstasy, and in the blindness of ecstasy it entered into this body of clay in which it then was captive. This gives a beautiful illustration of the soul, which is in the first place the dweller of Heaven, the life of which is freedom. It knows nothing but joy and sees nothing but beauty. Its own nature is peace and its being is life itself. It is not intelligent, it is Intelligence. It is not a soul but Spirit. It is not human but divine by nature. And for that soul to be in captivity!
As the old Persians said, no infant is born smiling. The first thing the infant does in coming on earth is to cry. It is an exile, it is a captivity. People may give a thousand other reasons for the crying of the infant, but you can read in its trembling cry a feeling of captivity. It is a different experience for it; from the moment it comes on earth it is feeling different. It feels that by nature it can hear, and yet its hearing is limited. With its two eyes it can see, but so much and no further. By nature it is sight itself, it is hearing itself, but now it depends upon the ears to hear, upon the eyes to see, and that makes its horizon narrow and smaller; its world becomes limited.
Someone asked a wise man, "What is the reason of pain and unhappiness?", and the wise man answered, "If I were to say in one word the reason for all the pain you see in the world, it is limitation". Limitation is the cause of it all. One person says, "My means are scanty", another, "My position is not high enough", others say, "I lack the love that I need", and another, "I have no learning" or "I have no friends". There may be thousands of different complaints put into words, but what comes out of it is said in one word: limitation.
Where does this limitation come from? This limitation comes from a heavenly being turning into an earthly being that has to walk on the earth. Without wings its longing is to fly, but its condition is that it has to walk on the earth. There is nothing to be surprised at in this life, when we see that nearly no one seems to be perfectly happy. A rich man has his tale to tell, a poor man has his story, a wise man has his complaint to make, a foolish man has his own legend. And so everyone has something to say, and what they all have to say is one thing and that is: limitation.
What does one pursue? What does one seek after? A feeling for freedom comes after this feeling of captivity. Yet everyone pursues freedom wrongly. The nature of life is such that, whenever one thinks, "This will make me free", that itself makes one more captive, and one cannot realize this until one obtains what one wants. As long as one has not got it, one thinks, "That is what will make me free". And so life goes on, and man goes on pursuing freedom. And what does he get? He gets captivity. With all the talk of freedom, life today is more a life of captivity than ever before. Have you ever heard in the history of the past that, in order to pass the boundary of one's country to go to another country, one has to go to the trouble of having a passport? In the past people were free to go to one another's country, there was more brotherhood than today. It is not only passports, customs and duty, but many other conventions that make a person think, "This earth is no more for all men; now it is for the inhabitants of this particular part". And even they do not enjoy their freedom because of the ever changing conventionalities of life. With all the talk of freedom, has mankind come nearer to it? No, they are farther away from it every day. Not knowing the real meaning of freedom, they are chasing the moon. The nature of freedom coming closer and closer to captivity, man lives in captivity because he thinks little. The more he thinks, the more he will find that, as he pursues the path of freedom, at every step he goes closer to captivity.
In all ages prophets and masters, thinkers and philosophers have taught that the ultimate aim of philosophy and mysticism is to attain freedom of the soul. Different ceremonies, religious legends and philosophies are narrative of this truth, of the freedom of the soul. Whatever a person is longing for in life, whatever be his life's pursuit, his object of attainment, behind it all there is only one pursuit: it is the craving of the soul to become free from all bondage.
Man does not appreciate this idea when he is absorbed in obtaining things in life which -he thinks- will make him free. Perhaps he does not give a thought to freedom, but only to that which he pursues for the moment. Perhaps, if he gave a thought to the real condition of his life, he would become different, his attitude would change, his outlook would become wider. If he saw deeper into life, he would not attach importance to the things to which he usually gives importance.
If one asks what kind of captivity this is, I shall say that for a spider the thin threads of his web are captivity, for an elephant iron chains are captivity. The stronger the person, the greater is the captivity; the greater his power, the greater the difficulty he has before him; the stronger the soul, the greater the load it has to carry. Therefore, in captivity we are all equal. When we see only on the surface, it appears as if one person has an easy life and another has to toil all day; one has a cheerful life and another is miserable. That is the outside. But when we look deep into life, in some way or other, if a person looks cheerful or joyous, some captivity is hidden behind it. We do not know enough about the person. In order to understand his life's situation a glance from the outside is not enough to form an opinion. We only see the prisoners; if we saw the prisons we would be shocked.
According to Jelal-ud-Din Rumi, the great Persian poet, every soul in this world is an exile, an exile who always longs to get out of this puzzle. In one of his poems the poet used a strange imagery, most beautiful and interesting. He says, "Why is the music of the flute of reed so appealing? Because the piece of reed cries to have been cut away from the stem. Several holes were made in its heart and then music was played". The cry of every soul, audible or not, is one and the same, narrative of the same story of having been cut away from its stem, of the continual pursuit to find it, and its finding itself alone. Whether in the solitude or in the crowd, the more a person is evolved the more he is alone. You do not need solitude to be alone, a soul just has to rise a little above the ordinary to feel itself alone in the midst of the crowd.
One might ask, "Why is this condition so tragic? Why can it not be better?” The answer is that it is natural. What is man? Man is a process, the manifestation is a process through which the Spirit goes from one condition to another condition, from one pole to another pole. Through this whole process the attempt of the Spirit is to find itself. In that process the Spirit itself loses its freedom, and in this same way we lose our freedom. Freedom is lost in order to come to freedom. That is the tragedy. But at the same time in the end it is happiness, because for the fulfillment of this object the whole creation was intended.
To every thinking soul, to every feeling heart tragedy appeals. Why? Because tragedy is going on continually. Man would like to get away from tragedy, but what appeals to him is tragedy, because his soul is always in that condition. He is longing for freedom while he does not know what it is.
In the Qur'an we read, "Die before death". What does it mean? Farid - ud din Attar, a Persian poet, wrote a story which explains this idea beautifully. There was a king who had a beautiful parrot. The king and the queen loved it, it was their pet and they talked to it when they had a moment free. It was kept in a golden cage and no end of attention was given to it. The queen loved it, the king admired it. One day the king said to the parrot, "I am going to the same forest from where they have brought you here. Do you have any message to give to the other parrots in the forest?" The parrot said, "It is very kind of you, king, pray tell them: I am kept in a golden cage and am very kindly treated, but my constant yearning is to see myself flying free in that sphere among you all". The king said, "Yes, I will give your message". When he came to the forest he saw many parrots on what he thought to be the same tree from where his little parrot had been taken. Looking up he said to the parrots, "Your brother is with me and has sent you word saying that we pay great attention to him. But he yearns to be with you and to be free in the sphere, but he does not think that he will ever have the opportunity. So he sends you his love." No sooner the parrots heard this than one after the other they dropped down on the earth. The king was deeply touched and moved. He said, "Such sympathy! Hearing of the pain of one of them, all were so touched that they dropped dead on the earth". The king left that place immediately to give this message to his parrot. He said, "O parrot, what a foolish thing it was to send such a message. The parrots dropped down dead one after another". The parrot heard this and heaved a deep sigh, looked up to the sky and dropped down. The king commanded the servants to take the parrot for its burial on a golden tray. When the parrot was taken outside, he flew away and sat on the roof. The king was surprised, but the parrot said, "This was the lesson you brought me. My brothers are not dead, they are living, they sent me this message".
This means that in order to be free you must first die. The rituals of the old ceremonies all have this as their greatest secret, taught through ceremony, philosophy and mysticism. This is the main secret of all these. But is it real dying? No, it is playing death. No one dies really. What dies is death, what lives is life. Life lives, death dies. The art of the mystic, therefore, is to learn how to play death. Call it meditation, contemplation, concentration, call it worship of God - it is all playing death.
What is it in man that must die? It is not his real self, it is the false conception that he has of himself, it is that false conception which brings about all limitation. Man is not really limited, as he seems to be because of the cover over his soul. That cover makes him limited and he sees no further. His world is himself, his own environment, his conditions, his impressions, his experiences all concern himself. That is all he knows, he knows nothing beyond. Therefore, what is to be crucified in man is that false self, not the real self, and resurrection follows crucifixion. In that way the soul experiences its freedom.
One might ask, "How is this to be achieved? How can we play death?" The answer is that we have played life and we play life every day, for what is life from morning till evening? Is it not a play? The more we study it, the more we shall find the world subject to change, conditions that alter, situations that change from moment to moment. If it is not a play, what is it? Of course, if we thought it a play we would not take it seriously. But if we are able to play life, we are able to play death also.
There is a story of a young man who met a dervish and was very interested in the deep and wonderful talk with him. He said, "I should so much like to see you again".
-"Yes, you can come and see me
in a village not far from here".
The young man was amazed that a man who spoke such words of truth lived in a place of liars. He did not think about it much, but went to the village and asked for the place, but no one knew the Place of Liars. Finally he understood that the dervish lived near the graveyard. The first thing he asked him was, "What made you say Place of Liars?" - "I will show you the place of liars", said the dervish. "Come and look here. Here is the grave of a general. He was called a general while he lived. Here is the grave of a slave who was a slave while he lived. Here lies a king. Where are his crown and his throne? Here lies a priest, the greatest of his time. Where are they all? Buried under stone, that is the end. Were they not liars, did they not tell lies? Did they not play life?"
When we are able to play life we can play death too. By playing death the eyes open. The soul that became captive by the closing of the eyes, that soul begins to soar upwards once the eyes are opened. People say, "Here is a dead man". In reality it is the living man, for in order to live one must die. And what must die? Death must die and life must live.