The Continuity of Life
Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan
Life as we understand it in our everyday life is something quite different from what life is in reality. The part of life we recognize as life is that part which is subject to change, and what is called death is nothing but a change. All that exists is existing and it is beyond destruction. In other words, not only living beings but even objects in reality are not subject to destruction, only to change. We call it destruction because going from one form to another form is a change and we do not see the continuity of one form turning into another form. Therefore that gap between one thing and another thing, that gap makes us think that one thing is finished and that the other thing is something else. For instance, we recognize a tree when it is in its original form. When it is dried up and its wood is chopped and made into pieces we call the dry wood no longer tree - but it is the same thing which continues. Perhaps in the form of the tree is a form of life that we accept as something living. In another form of life is the wood of it, but it is something living still. If life had gone out of it, sandalwood could not be fragrant, could not have an effect. It has shown that it has gone through a change, it is no longer a tree but lives as sandalwood. The same quality was perhaps richer as a tree, but when dried up it has become more fragrant. At the same time it seems to be dried up, it is a different thing.
This process that it has gone through we have overlooked. What we see is the gap between the sandal tree and the piece of sandalwood. What we see is the two things. And so we do not recognize what escapes our eyes, that continuity. We call it destruction, we call it death. But there is not one single object that can ever be destroyed, it has only turned from one thing into another thing. As snow disappears there is water and when there is no more water it has turned into the earth. When the fire has gone out there is smoke. Water disappeared but there is vapour; it has not gone, it appears again, it only disappeared for a while. As we do not see the continuity of it we say, "It has gone". Because of the gap we do not relate one thing to another. It is a lack of our seeing.
There is no intelligent person in the world who does not ask himself some time or other if this life is going to continue. There is no person with some feeling who for ever remains without the feeling that death is a terrible thing: one day we shall have to leave. Every thoughtful person some time or other thinks about it, and the first impression he has is a dread of dying, because for life it is not natural to die, not natural to be non-existant, not to exist. You can see this even with the smallest insects, germs and worms. They escape your touch, they run away from you, protecting their life; they are as desirous to live as human beings. Their life may be for a few hours or days, but they want to live, they will try to live, their effort is to protect their life and continue to live.
Besides, man is busy with all different occupations and becomes absorbed in them, but the main thing in his occupations is the struggle for life. If it were not for this many people would not do any work. But in order to live they must toil and cannot help it; therefore they are absorbed in it. But at the same time, whether man is absorbed and does not think of it or whether he thinks about it, some time or other this question comes and he thinks very seriously whether this life is to continue or not. For many material people who at times seem to be quite happy and content comes a time when they begin to wonder. And as they see death approaching more and more they wonder if there is anything to hope for, if there is any experience to look forward to. They may not believe in the soul or in the hereafter, but at the same time they are craving to find some proof, some sign, in order to believe that there is something after death.
I have very often discussed with some materialistic scientists who very proudly are inclined to disbelieve in the hereafter. They do not believe what is not proved. It is the pride of their principle, "We shall not believe in anything that does not prove to be real". Nevertheless, behind that pride there is a deep desire to find some proof somewhere that can give some hope that life will not finish after a few years, but will continue, that existence will continue. The man who has no hope of existing after death has no satisfaction, he cannot be satisfied. It seems as if there is a wall behind which he cannot see and know what is there. He is not really willing to believe that there is nothing after death. Yet, since there is no proof, he does not wish to give in to the belief held by the majority that there is a hereafter.
When Buddha went in search of truth, thinking about it the main thing his mind was engaged with was to relieve man of this great anxiety that comes to him when he thinks of that day when he will have to leave this place where he has experienced joys and sorrows. However full of riches or of poverty his life may have been, in spite of the difficulties and sufferings he had, he wants to have still more experiences, to exist longer. One does not wish that life should be ended.
I know a scientist who used to speak with his wife the day when he was in his death-bed. He asked her, "Do you really think that there is such a thing as soul or hereafter? I cannot believe it." He would ask it her just the same, he wanted to speak of it because he was in his death-bed looking to that moment when he thought he would be non-existing. "If there really was something, what proof have you? - he asked her - Have you any proof?" She said, "I do not want a proof, I believe it, I feel it is so". - "How wonderful. I wish I could believe like you". She said, "I have no other proof, I feel that there is a soul, there is a life, I feel it". He said, "If only I could feel it". And this man in the end said to her, "Well, though I do not believe in soul and hereafter, I am glad that you believe in it. At least I have some hope in your belief that you believe in". He kept to his belief, but at the same time he clung to her in his end. But her belief was not his scientific discovery. What supported her was her intuitive belief. That was the protection.
Buddha engaged himself all through life just to see this problem more clearly. That is why his teaching is more scientific and more logical than many other dogmas that religious people hold. He did not teach, "There is a soul". It does not mean that he did not believe. He had the same tendency as the scientist today, he did not wish to admit what he did not see. Buddha does nos preach the hereafter in the same way as others do; Buddha did not teach the ideal of God in the same way as others. He put it in a scientific, logical form and real Buddhism is a scientific, logical and psychological way of looking at life. He first wanted every man to prove to himself that there is a continuity of life, and to be relieved of the anxiety, "There will come a day when I will no more exist". Buddha did not want to give as an intellectual conception what the intellect cannot touch. The intellect must not be used, it cannot reach it. That is what the scientist today does; he wants to know, but intellectually. But the intellect cannot touch it.
Then one might say, "How can one know about it?" In the first place today's conception of the mind is wrongly formed. The mind is much larger than what the scientists conceive of. They think that the mind is something which is in the brain, that there are small atoms which are impressed by pictures one has seen and which bring about a thought. That means that after the death of the brain the mind dies. When we look at it from a physical point of view, the mind expresses itself through the brain. The brain makes the mind clear to the senses. The body is the very medium of the mind to express to oneself and to another the contents of the mind.
The other day a learned person asked me if spirit was inside the nerves. I said, "If spirit was so thin as to be inside the nerves I would not call it spirit. But spirit is inside all things and outside all things. Spirit is not enclosed in the body. It is inside the body just the same, but it is not imprisoned in the body. Just like light is not enclosed in the globe, but light shines outside the globe as much as inside it. So spirit is inside and outside. Spirit apart, mind is as much inside as outside the body. Mind is just like the light. If mind was so small as to be locked up in the brain it would be a very small thing, it would be less important than the body. It is not the body which is the real man. The real man is mind. "Man" comes from the Sanskrit word mana which means mind. In other words the ancient people considered the mind as man, not the body. Since today man has understood that the mind is inclosed in the brain he considers the body to be everything man has, he identifies himself with the body instead of with the mind. He does not see that the mind is independent of the body. That is where comes the difficulty to understand the continuity of life : because man limits life to the form of life which is the more limited. Mind is not so much limited as the body. For instance, a person who is deficient, deaf or blind or without hands or feet, is capable of thinking, of imagining, he is capable of having grief, of having power, he feels things, he can be an inventor, a great scientist.
This shows that the mind is independent of the body. There is a connection between them; if the mind is dependent on the body, inspiration is limited also. In reality the mind is independent of a body. As soon as one realizes this one begins to see that one does not live in the body, but that one lives in the mind. Even when the body rests, when man is asleep, then the mind works, and what one calls dreams are the action of the mind. "But - on says - is not the brain working in the sleep?" Yes, sometimes, or often, the brain is the medium through which we make what is going on in the mind more clear to ourselves, but the mind is not imprisoned in the brain. You will see that many people who have their intuitive faculty developed see in their dream what is going on in another country, or what is going to happen, or what is past. Is it the brain that has left the body and has gone to see? It is the mind independently of the brain. The brain cannot go out of the head and go to another country to see what has happened.
During the war how many mothers on the day when their son was wounded knew it. They did actually see their son in that condition. The telegram was sent afterwards. How many wives of soldiers have seen the tortures that the soldiers went through in the war. Many sympathetic good persons with a tender heart and kind feelings are open to those impressions which come. It is not the work of the brain, it is the work of the mind.
If the real man is the mind, then after the death of the body man's mind does not die; just as after the body is asleep the mind is still working. But one will say, "Can the mind live independently of the body? Can the mind work independently of the brain?" The answer is, Yes. You will say, "That life is not interesting". But you do not know that the position is different. If an Eskimo had to put on another dress in a tropical country, in India, he need not be worried about it; in a tropical country he may walk with the dress of that country. What is the physical body? It is a dress, it is a dress which the spirit has put on itself. When the dress has worn out, it does not mean that the spirit is dead. But since man identifies himself with the dress - I mean with the body - he cannot see himself in a form different from what he knows himself to be: a physical body. Maybe intellectually he knows differently, and yet he depends upon the physical body to believe that he is living. In the absence of the physical body he cannot believe that he lives; he does not know a life without the physical body. But at the same time, if the Eskimo was sent to a tropical country, he would be very glad to adopt the dress of that country and to get rid of his dress as an Eskimo.
As further a soul approaches towards his source, so it has to give up all that belongs to the place where it first lived, because man's life is such that in every plane where the soul comes to live it borrows a garb from that plane in order to live there. Therefore the soul knows its life after the garb it has put on itself and lived with, and it forgets its identity, because the soul knows that garb, it sees the garb. And the condition is that, as soon as the soul has to go to another plane of existence, it must throw off the garb belonging to the former plane of existence. The soul does not become any less, it is the same soul. The working of its senses is the same as it was in the other country. It is capable of doing more, of perceiving more; it has greater freedom, because the garb of the lower world makes more limited than does the garb of the higher world. The higher the soul rises, the more independent it becomes; the lower it comes, the more dependent it is.
The picture of Christ on the cross, hands and feet nailed, what does it mean? It means that the soul, who was independent, who was free to act freely, to move freely, on this material plane has become crucified, hands and feet nailed. That is the symbolical meaning of Christ on the cross. Everyone has to go through this more or less. The more the soul is wakened, the more it is in this same position. The less the soul is wakened, the less it is aware of that secret that is the picture of the soul's limitation. The soul is as helpless on this plane, as imprisoned and limited, as it is free by nature. In other words: a king who is exiled from his kingdom.
Naturally as the soul proceeds toward the goal, its freedom becomes greater, its joy becomes greater, it becomes more able to do things. There is a saying of a lover, "I reach Thee before my feet can reach Thy dwelling place, and I see Thee before my eyes can reach Thy spheres". What does it mean? It means that the soul identifies itself as spirit and says, "I can see further than my eyes can see, I can go further than my feet can reach".
All limitation one experiences belongs to the physical world, and on the physical world one can experience the life of the soul by living in the heart. A wakened heart is able to experience to some degree the same life which one lives in the hereafter. The one who can see, without eyes, more than the eyes can see, who can hear without ears, who can enjoy more than the senses permit to enjoy, that person begins to experience here what is in the hereafter. He experiences his life more keenly and more freely; his experience is more profound than the experiences gained by the senses.
Nevertheless the question remains, "Are we going to exist in the hereafter without this body?" Many will think, "If we exist with the mind, with the heart, still we are not the same. It is very sad." But it is not sad. It is only sad when we see it in that way, when we identify ourselves with the body. But the more we can experience life independent of the senses, the more we are able to think and know that we have our being there as complete as it is here, and that it is even more complete because, after having been here, all the experience gained from here has made us more complete. But one asks, "Has one there eyes to see, ears to hear? Is there this same magnetism by which we can feel an individuality, or does it become Nirwana, that is: nothing". Many are frightened by the word Nirwana, but it does not mean that immediately after having passed away from this world one needs entering into Nirwana. All can reach Nirwana here in their physical life. One need not go out of one's individuality. One is an individuality. So Buddha experienced Nirwana yet living on the earth. So Jesus Christ, prophets and masters reached Nirwana while their body was here. They were recognized as distinct entities; they were not in the clouds or in a mist. One need not become nothing. Nothing will become nothing.
But then one asks, "Is there any end to the hereafter or does it continue always?" My answer is that birth and death is not only such as we recognize it on this earth. There is birth and death at every hour of the day. At every minute there is suffering through which we enter and pass - and we do not know it. This life is such an intoxication for many, they are so absorbed in it that they do not know of the thousand births and deaths they pass through. A keen observer of life sees that every moment is a birth and every moment is a death. The one who lives a deeper life and sees life more keenly will know how many times he has died and was born. One moment we lose our courage, another moment we feel disappointment or all enthousiasm; one moment we raise our voice, another moment we are dumbfounded, all hope and enthusiasm gone. What is it all? Then there is the change of experiences in life, springs and falls, successes and failures. Then there are emotions, the affairs of the heart, hopes experienced, feelings reared and destroyed by conditions, by people. If we go through all these births and deaths and continue to live, no doubt we shall continue to live. And the life of the other body is comparatively much longer than the life of the body here because of its limitation.
If I say that the life of snow is shorter than the life of water one will not doubt it. What has become snow for some time runs into water. So life in the hereafter is the real life, it is like the water, and life here is like the snow. One has experienced this life which is in the form of snow and one thinks, "When will snow end?" But the snow will become water and become the same as it was before. And if one asks, "Does the life of the water last longer?", the answer is, Yes, longer than snow, it is water. But then very often people say, "But what will be the end?" They do not know that they are asking about the end of something which has no beginning. End belongs to something that begins. Something that has never begun will never end. End is only a conception of change. We call death of the body something which is a change. What we recognize as death is only the end. But we know that it is no end because there is no beginning. Life has never begun and will never end. This is the conception of eternity. At the same time this is rising above conception because our knowledge becomes limited; it is made of conception and if we rise above conception then we rise to the knowledge beyond it. That is the knowledge of eternity.
How can we partake of this knowledge? My answer is that you can attain to this knowledge by looking at life in face of you. But by a wrong method one learns a wrong thing, one gets a wrong knowledge. If a person wants to look at the moon he must not look at the earth but at the sky. If one wants to attain spiritual knowledge, one must not attain to it by the same intellectual knowledge as learning history and grammar. That is where people make a mistake, especially those who try in an intellectual way to attain spiritual knowledge. They are looking at the earth in order to see the moon. But the moon is seen in the sky, it is necessary to raise the head and to look in the sky.
In order to get spiritual knowledge one must close the eyes to the outer world and let the sight see the inner life. But one says, "There is nothing to be seen. A thousand times I close my eyes in church. I sit there for a long time". I say, you have not been sufficiently patient. It is closing the activity of the mind. If the mind is active when the eyes are closed, then there is no concentration. The spiritual knowledge is reached by closing the eyes and the mind at the same time. In an Eastern imagery they call it diving into the depths of the heart. In order to get spiritual pearls one must dive deep within oneself. All concentrations and meditations are taught as a process, as a way to reach that experience, to get in touch with the innermost self. And the benefit one derives from it is more than words can say. Inspiration, power, courage, joy, strength, guidance, all come, once a person has understood and practised the way of diving deep within himself.