of the soul
Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan
Man in pursuit after freedom seeks captivity. The more we study life the more we shall find that the various ways we adopt in order to come to freedom very often lead to a greater captivity. Leaving apart the life of individuals and coming first to nations we find that, as life is today, a person cannot go from one nation to another without showing a passport. He is not free, he is captive. There are a thousand conventionalities he has to meet with before he can enter another country. And one might ask if one is at home in one's own country. Does one feel free there? Even there one is not quite free. There are conventionalities, rules and regulations made for the convenience of mankind, at the same time making the life of man more and more difficult. Today an architect is not free to express his soul's freedom; he has to abide by te laws of a particular town. A composer has to keep within the rules of harmony that other writers of music have recognized, he cannot express himself freely. A playwright has to keep to the technique , a poet has to observe poetic rules. Everyone finds limitation and cannot express himself freely. The reason is that man has not yet understood the real meaning of freedom.
They say in he East that if an infant cries the moment it is born, it is because the soul finds itself in another world, a world of captivity. The ancient Hebrew traditions have pictured this more beautifully. They say that God first made the body of man from clay and then commanded the soul to enter into this statue. The soul refused to enter this prison saying, "I have always been free, I will not be imprisoned in this prison". God then said to the angels, "Sing and dance". Hearing the songs of the angels the soul went in ecstasy, and in its mad ecstasy it entered this captivity.
If one were to ask what is the reason of the misery one experiences on earth, one will give a certain cause for each misery, but giving in one answer the reason of all miseries: it is limitation. If one has freedom on one side, there is limitation on the other, and it is limitation of every kind that can keep man miserable in spite of all things of this earth he may have.
The greatest limitation is not to be able to express one's predisposition. The soul is able to see more than the eyes can see. The soul is able to hear more than the ears can hear. The soul is able to extend much further than man can journey. The soul is able to dive deeper than the depth man can ever touch. The soul is able to reach higher than man can reach by any means. That is why the soul continually realizes limitation all through life, just as a fish would feel being out of water, and a bird would feel its wings being trimmed.
How much man is absorbed in his everyday life! He is almost drunk by all he sees and perceives and by all he occupies himself with. Yet if with all that drunkenness one asks him to sit quietly and feel himself and be sober for a while, and then to tell if he is really happy, the answer will be "No". Something is lacking. Ask a man living in a palace or living in a hut, ask a wise or a foolish man, a man of whatever profession or occupation, if he is really content, the answer will be "No", although he does not yet know what it is that keeps him discontented. It will be difficult for a thoughtful soul to answer; a thoughtless one will perhaps be ready to say something.
As reason is at the call of man, as soon as he thinks, "Why am I discontented", reason tells him something. "Because you have not as much money as you should have, or as much comfort as you should have, or because you have not got the position you should have, or your friends are not convenient, your enemies are troublesome, or because you are not in the environment in which you ought to be". But there is always a reason behind a reason. And what is this reason? - Reason is a screen, behind it there is something else hidden. As long as a person depends upon reason he does not know his mind. Reason changes and the point of view changes too. Today he has this reason why he is so unhappy and then he will find another reason why he is so unhappy. Behind all the different reasons man can give for his discontentment you will find one reason: a continual yearning of the soul to experience, in this outer sphere, that life of fullest expression of which, in this captivity on the earthly plane, the soul is deprived.
The MATHNAVI, the book of Rumi, the great poet of Persia, is considered in the East a living scripture. It is taught from childhood in Arabia, Persia and Egypt as a living scripture and it always touches the deepest depth of man. In this book Rumi says that the soul is likened to a reed, a reed that is made into a little flute. Holes are made in its heart, and it cries remembering the day when it was one with the stem, when it was attached to its source and drew its life from that source to which it was attached. The day it was separated from it, the first thing done to it was that holes were made in its heart. That made it cry and its cry became that music which pierced the souls of those who heard it and made them cry too. Furthermore Rumi says, "Why do people weep over my words? It is for the same reason: as the piece of reed, I have become separate from my source, and mankind has made holes in my heart. Therefore, what comes out of me is that lamentation that becomes the music which appeals to the waking souls". Is it not true that what has an appeal for the human heart in the works of the great musicians of all ages, the great poets and thinkers, mystics and prophets, is the pain they had in the depth of their heart, which came from realizing that separateness and from discovering that natural yearning which is in every soul.
Now one may ask, "What is the soul? Today in this world of science where materialism so much prevails that there are fewer every day who believe in such a thing as soul, they say, "Is it not the body that is the only thing about us that we know? And after death, what is there? If there is a soul, we have never seen it". My answer to them is that nothing comes out of nothing. The idea is this: the human being is the flower of this tree of manifestation. Intelligence has developed gradually through the mineral, the vegetable and the animal kingdom and so has manifested more fully through man. But is it not Intelligence which was the source of all things? How can matter develop into Intelligence? If one takes half the process, one forgets the other half. It is Intelligence which is the source, and what we see is the captivity of Intelligence in matter. That is why we see the manifestation as beginning from matter, and as it manifests in man we think that man is a development of matter. In reality man identifies himself wrongly with the material part of his being, for the body is only a cover over the real man. The real man is soul itself. But one says, "I don't see the soul, I see my body". My answer is, "The eyes can never see themselves; they can see all other things. As the soul is Intelligence it can see all other things, but it cannot see itself. The very fact that it cannot see itself makes it the real self.
Moreover, all things that we can point out, which are intelligible to ourselves, we call them "my table" or "my chair", so we call our body "my body". Naturally the body is not the self, but as man does not know himself he thinks the body is the self. If an actor were to play on the stage with a mask on, those who will recognize him, will recognize him with the mask. They do not know what is behind the mask. So it is with the soul. The manifestation of the soul is only seen through the body. Therefore one identifies oneself with the body and this keeps one ignorant of the soul.
Now coming further into this subject: if the soul is Intelligence, where does it come from, what is it in essence? All the scriptures of the past agree, as well as most philosophers of all countries, that the source and goal of all things is the Intelligent One. But if it is the Intelligence itself, why call it the Intelligent One? Because it is a being, it is not a thing, not a condition. It is first The Being, and then all conditions and all things. It is a great mistake when man considers himself a being, a person, and recognizes his own personality and when he says, as it comes to the source and goal of all things, "It is a force, it is an intelligence". People want so much to go away from the idea of recognizing a Person behind all, that they like to say gods, instead of God. Instead of calling Him the divine Being, they say "the forces". They would like to turn into plurality the source and goal which remains through the whole process and all the stages of evolution one and the same. The Oneness of the Spirit is so great that even in this world of variety, where there are millions and billions in the form of man, yet every man is unique; no one has his like anywhere to be found in the world. This nature is the proof that behind this manifestaion, behind this world of variety, there is One Spirit and there is One Being.
One might ask, "What then is the relation the soul has with this Being whom we call God?" The relation between a soul and the Spirit is the same as that between the sun and the rays. There are many rays and yet it is the same sun. It is only a manifestation of the sun which has taken a form of variety. In the centre it remains the same One Being, but in spreading out it becomes many. You may call it many rays, but it is the same Sun, it is One. But now one will say, "Then what is this individuality?" Individuality is a condition which the soul goes through in order to become a finished human being.
The soul passes through three conditions. The first may be called the angelic world, a world which is closest to the Sun. Man has pictured angels in his own form and attached two wings to them and put them on clouds. What else could he do ? Everyone is only capable of imagining anything according to his own way of thinking. No one can think of a new thing, there is no such thing as new. According to the saying of Solomon there is nothing new under the sun; it is the novelty of imagination that is new.
In reality every soul has to pass through the angelic plane. There is no soul, however wicked, who is not affected by that plane through which it has passed. The character of that plane is innocence, joy, love, sympathy, harmony, beauty. Those who are more impressed by that plane also show on this earth angelic qualities. Sometimes we call them simple, sometimes we say they are innocent, and sometimes we call them old souls. They show the traits of goodness and beauty throughout life. A clever man says, "He is too good to live". Perhaps they are not so perfect in this world as this world wants them to be, but at the same time there is much one can appreciate in those people who have innocence as their principal quality. When we study the life of Christ and the great ones, the greatest thing in their personality was innocence with simplicity. We are in the habit to seek for complexity, greater learning, greater wisdom in complexity, we ignore the beauty of simplicity and the virtue of innocence. If anyone were to ask me to tell what is the sign of spirituality, I would say: innocence.
As the soul projects itself further it touches the plane of the genius. Inventive quality, poetic gift, music, inspiration, talent of writing, all such things belong to the plane of the genius. There are many in this world who have genius, but cannot have success because, although they are qualified, they are not practical enough to live in his world. Nevertheless, they are great just the same in the work for which they are gifted. In my travellings throughout the Western countries I had the privilege of meeting some great personalities, especially some musicians, and they impressed me with just the same thing I had found in the East: that a great person is great all over; not only in what he does, but in what he is. Perhaps he has done some great action, and by doing that he has become great in his person. It is a most interesting thing to notice. The wife of Debussy told me that she had to see the publishers for him. He was only capable of writing; the worldly things he could not manage perfectly. Scriabine was not a rich man, but his soul was engrossed in music, and it was so interesting to talk with him on the subject of music and its connection to spirituality. But on the question of worldly things he knew very little.
I do not mean to say that man must be angel or genius. I only mean to say that there are persons who show the deep impression their soul received on the planes they have passed through. One has a deeper impression and shows the qualities of that plane, another does not show those qualities.
And so having passed through these two planes the soul manifests on the surface: the physical plane. The soul that functions perfectly on the physical plane is a well-balanced soul. I do not mean by well-balanced soul what is called a practical man, or a man of common sense. To be a complete personality sometimes common sense and practicality are not necessary, but it is insight into the deeper side of life that is wanted in order to give man balance.
The greatest error of modern education is that it prepares man to become qualified to guard his own interest in the life of competition. But what are they doing? They are making life more and more difficult. Imagine, in this country, the United States of America, which is a happier country than many in the world, what struggle there is for every person, for rich and poor both. How their minds are absorbed from morning till evening in order to keep the little work they have. Nerves are shattered, lives become short, and at the end of their life they begin to think, "Have we lived? We don't know the world, we don't know life". This amount of struggle, everyone goes through, is a great question to consider.
Numberless persons I have met who do not know what they will do next week. Today is allright, about next week they do not know. Life becomes uncertain, their burden greater. What do they say? That we are progressing. But towards what? Towards freedom? No, towards captivity. A greater and greater load of duty and responsibility is put on their shoulders. For the right understanding of freedom one must look in another direction. In order to see the moon one must not see the earth, one must look in another direction.
You may read one and the same thing in the Bible, the Qur'an and the Vedanta, and that is: "Die before death". What does it mean? Something that man today does not know and does not care to know. The central theme of today's life is self-assertion. When a person speaks about himself he wants to make himself ten times more important than he is. He cannot help it; if he does not do so the others will not understand. I have heard one man say to another, "Your modesty is your greatest misfortune". Everyone has to be self-asserting, continually guarding his interests, only in order to live. There are many who toil from morning till evening, guarding their self-interest and thinking about nothing else. And what is it all for? In order to exist. Even germs and worms exist and enjoy life much better. Birds fly in the air, they are quite happy. Man loads his heart with a thousand troubles, making his responsibilities greater, and what does he gain? Nothing in the end. His health is spoiled, his spirit wrecked. In the end he does not know where he is, he does not know where his spirit is. If he has nothing here, he will not have anything in the hereafter. The whole thing is nuisance; many die in this spirit and have never given a thought to the deeper side of life. Not that they did not care for it, but they could not do it, they had too much to do in life.
The words "die before death" do not mean: commit suicide. They only mean playing death. By playing death one can soften that self-asserting ego which is man's worst enemy. And no one can imagine - unless he has practised it - what benefit he derives by crushing this worst enemy, what benefit he has when he says thoughtfully: "to make war with another is war, to make war with one's self is peace". To play death means self-denial. I do not mean by self-denial to deny all the beauty , all the comfort and all the happiness of this earth, for if a person denied all the beauty and comfort of the earth, still he might remain egoistic. What he should deny is his ego.
There is a story which explains this idea more clearly. A king had a pet parrot. The king and the queen loved it, admired it and took great care of it. One day the king was about to go to the woods for shooting and he said to the parrot, "Please parrot, I am going to the same woods from where you have been brought here. Is there some message I can give to your fellow creatures?" The parrot said, "Yes, I should be much obliged if you would take my message. Tell them please: I am very unhappy since I have left you all. I long for that freedom which I experienced in the woods and the association with my fellow creatures. Although he king and queen are both sympathetic to me, they keep me in a golden cage'" Having arrived in the woods the king looked around and said, "Parrots, one of your brothers is in my palace and has sent you a message. It is unhappy since it has left you and longs to be in this sphere where it was free to dwell. But it does not know if ever it will be free". On hearing this the parrots dropped on the ground one after the other. The king was very impressed by it. Instead of killing more birds he went home and said, "So many lives have I ruined by giving this message". He went near the parrot and said, "How foolish to give this message! When I told it, one after another they dropped on the earth and were dead. The parrot looked up, heaved a sigh and dropped down. The king said, "I thought the parrot was foolish, but now I think that I am foolish to have told this. Now I have lost the last of the parrots". He commanded that the parrot should be taken away to be buried in the ground. But as soon as it was out of the cage it flew away and sat on the roof. The king asked, "What is this parrot? You surprise me". The parrot replied, "My friends did not die. They played death. They gave me the lesson which I asked them to give me".
There is no freedom without death. This is the secret of the Sufis, the thinkers, the mystics, of those who have arrived at the knowledge of reality. Instead of waiting till after death, they have played death here on earth, and they have arrived at this knowledge by experiencing actually this condition: playing to die before death. You may ask, "Is it difficult? Is it really so difficult?" No, a good actor on the stage is one who forgets himself entirely. A good musician is he who forgets himself. At the time when he is in the music, his soul becomes music; he is not there. Everyone who has done great works in life has practised self-denial. Without self-denial no one has attained anything. Is it not playing death? It is; it is a sort of death when a person does not think of himself but of the thing he wants to accomplish. There are many in this world who do not know how far they have reached spiritually even in doing material things.
One day during my travellings I was the guest of a businessman. All his life he did nothing but making successes in his business. When I talked with him he spoke to me the deepest philosophy one could speak. This gave me the proof of what I always believed: that whatever you do, whatever you do thoroughly, it means that you have played death. What patience is needed to accomplish anything, what sacrifice is needed. How much one has to be absorbed in it, how much one has to think about it. The one who does it knows what it is. Even through worldly things a person comes to understand philosophical ideas, spiritual truth, if things are done thoroughly. But Jack of all trades and master of nothing accomplishes nothing, whether material or spiritual.
Nevertheless, the time has come that the deeper side of life must not be denied. One must not remain ignorant of something most interesting, most important: knowing the real meaning of freedom and understanding the purpose of life.