The Silent LifeJan 16, 2019
When we look at the universe, we find there are two aspects of existence: firstly, life; secondly, the condition which compared with what we call life seems to be lifeless. The one aspect of existence we call life, the other aspect we overlook. We divide it into periods and call it time, or we compare it with objects and call it space.
We say than an object is alive, when it shows some activity and consciousness, meaning that it can move and see and think. An object that cannot see and is not active, we call dead. Whatever seems to be devoid of activity and consciousness is called a thing. When it has consciousness and activity, it is called living.
What is the source of this consciousness and activity? The circulation of the blood, the energy of the movements of the body, the activity of the nerves and muscles, if we could only know what it is that keeps them in action! A person may say that it all goes on mechanically like a clock, but the clock is not the source of the movement. The mind is the source of the clock; the mind has made the clock, has thought about it, has wound it; it continues to depend upon man to keep it going. Therefore behind ‘clock’ is ‘man’. Even if it only wants winding once a year, still there is man behind it, whom we do not see.
It is the same with the whole mechanism of nature: all is mechanical and runs according to certain laws, and yet there is a source or origin of things hidden behind it all. As the artist is hidden behind his art, as the scientist is hidden behind his invention, as the mind is hidden behind the body, as the cause is hidden behind the action, so there is always one aspect of life which is hidden behind that other aspect which alone is recognized as life.
Both science and religion show that consciousness has evolved through different stages, from mineral to vegetable, from vegetable to animal, and from animal to humanity. It is regarded as the achievement of modern science that this thought has been reached, but its source lies in the traditions of the past. Rumi’s Masnavi tells us the experience of consciousness from the mineral up to the plant:
I died as a mineral, and rose a plant, I died as a plant and rose again an animal. I died as an animal and rose a man. Why then should I fear to become less by dying? I shall die once again as a man, To rise an angel, perfect from head to foot. Again, when I suffer dissolution as an angel, I shall become what passes the conception of man.
Science today stops at man, but the poem says that from man I shall rise to be an angel, and from angel I shall ascend to that stage of being which passes man’s comprehension. This poem was written in the thirteenth century.
This proves Solomon’s saying, ‘There is nothing new under the sun.’ When man discovers something today he in reality only brings to light something which existed in the past, either as history or as tradition. Even before Rumi, one finds this idea in the Quran.
What can we learn from this? Every activity which we call ‘life’ has sprung from a source that is silent, and will always be silent; and every activity, however different in aspect, peculiar to itself, and unlike others in its effect, is still the activity of a tiny part of that life which is as wide as the ocean. Call it world, universe, nation, country, race, community, one individual, or only a particle, an atom – its activity, its energy springs in each case from one inseparable and eternal silent aspect of life. And it has not only sprung from it, but it also resolves itself into it. One throws a pebble into the water, water that is still and calm. There comes an activity, it comes for one moment, and then it vanishes. Into what does it vanish? It vanishes into the same silence in which the water was before. Water is a substance that is active by nature, and the silence, the stillness, the calmness that it shows is just the original state, the effect of its original source. This means that the natural inclination of every thing and every being is silence, because it has come from silence, and yet it is active, because it is activity that produces activity; and its end is silence.
Therefore sages, mystics, and philosophers who have probed into the depths of life have seen that what we call life is death, and that what we call no life is the real life.
A Hindustani poet says, ‘Raise your eyes, friend, from what you call life to that which perhaps you do not recognize as life, and then you will find that what you had once called life is nothing but death, and what you thought was nothing, is really life.’
When one comes to the essence of the teachings of Christ one will see that from beginning to end the whole attitude of the Master is to tell mankind that there is a life beyond, which is higher than this which one calls life. And which yet is not life; that is to say, higher in quality, not beyond in time.
The life one recognizes is only the mortal aspect of life. Very few have ever seen or been conscious of the immortal aspect at all. Once one has realized life, that which one has hitherto called life is found to be only a glimpse or shadow of the real life that is beyond comprehension. To understand it one will have to raise one’s light high from under the cover that is hiding it like a bushel. This cover is man’s mind and body; it is a cover that keeps the light active on the world of things and beings. ‘Do not keep your light under a bushel’ means that we are not to keep the consciousness absorbed in the study of the external world, and in its pleasures and enjoyments. Man is always apt to say that the religious thinker is a dreamer, lost in vague ideals, having no proof of what he believes, and far from what he himself would call the reality. He never thinks that what he calls real has in its turn become unreal to the one to whom the silent life has become reality. Can you call this life real which is subject to such changes every moment? Every activity and the object of everyone’s life – riches, power, love, friendship, childhood, youth, health, pleasure, displeasure, happiness, and poverty – all change sooner or later. Can anybody think that such things are reality? What can one call all this that is subject to change, whose source is seen and whose end is unseen, which is subject to death and destruction, after which it is seen no more? Is that reality? Or are not the realities perhaps really behind the scene, from whence everything came and to which everything goes?
Perhaps many of us have experienced at some time or other, in our own home, or in a church, a temple, or other religious place, how there is a kind of silence as we sit there. Compared with a bazaar, a market, or a factory there is no activity. If under such circumstances we noticed the condition of our own self, of our mind, of our thoughts, of our body, and have felt any comfort, have we then asked ourselves why we felt comfort and rest? Then, take another experience: We may be a few moments or a few hours in the woods, away and apart from everybody. It may seem as if even the trees and the leaves are keeping silence. The feelings that we have at such a time cannot be expressed in words. These feelings cannot be called pleasure, because what we are accustomed to in pleasure or in joy is not the same. We can only say, ‘That peculiar pleasure, that peculiar joy.’ There is no name for it, and yet it is a true experience of the soul.
Then there is a still greater and deeper experience: When a person is in a wilderness, near rocks in the desert, where there is no sound even of birds or beasts, when there is absolute silence. In the East, did not all the prophets from the time of Abraham, Moses, David, and in the time of Christ and Muhammad, all the prophets of the Old Testament and the New, and of the Quran, receive their inspiration from the same source? The history of Moses on Mount Sinai, the Prophet of Nazareth in the wilderness, the Prophet Muhammad on Ghar-i Hira, did they not all drink from the silent life? Though God is in all activities, forms and names, it is His other aspect: solid, firm, eternal, all sufficient and powerful, all-intelligent, undivided and inseparable, from which the inspiration came as a perfect inspiration, so that the world could take it as the sacred Word, in all ages and in all times.
Then, coming to the cause of idol-worship, a person might wonder about the old custom of Brahmins and Buddhists, who went into the temple of Buddha or Krishna, and sat before an idol which neither spoke to them nor took notice of them. He might think, ‘What could they gain? It has a mouth and speaks not, it has hands yet cannot move.’ And so people mocked at them. Scoffed at them, and called them heathen and pagan. But they did not know of this silence that was impressed upon the worshipper. This human form sitting before them, silent and quiet and not speaking, or hearing, or thinking, absolutely quiet; just think what it means.
When a man is among friends, he may get tired; sometimes he enjoys their society, but when he does not enjoy it, he thinks, I am drained of all vitality.’ Why is this? It is the impression of their minds that has been produced in his mind. Perhaps someone has insulted him, or snubbed him, or told him this or that, and he goes among his friends bringing all his troubles with him; and then he leaves still saying, ‘I am tired.’ If he is working in a factory, it is reasonable to be tired in body; but why should he be tired in society where people are laughing and chatting? It is because their condition of mind is not like his.
But before the idol, there is perfect harmony. See, here is someone sitting quiet. A quiet human form which does not speak; what rest! It may not help, but it does not disturb. It keeps the worshipper silent; that was the idea.
What do we learn from this? Every effort was made by the teachers of religion to waken men to that aspect of life that is overlooked in ordinary life, which they call ‘life.’ The purpose of concentration, contemplation, meditation, all that is the essence of religion or mysticism or philosophy, is nothing but this one thing: to attain to that depth which is the root of our life.
A Marathi poet has said, ‘O mind, my restless mind, my mind with its thoughts of a thousand things which it supposes will make it happy, saying, ‘If I had that, I should be happy; if I had this, I should feel life was not wasted.’ O, my mind, will you tell me who in this world is happy?’ The mind says, ‘if I had the wealth which I see others have, I should be happy.’ But are these others happy? They in their turn say they would be, if they had something still higher!
The secret of happiness is hidden under the veil of spiritual knowledge. And spiritual knowledge is nothing but this: that there is a constant longing in the heart of man to have something of its origin, to experience something of its original state, the state of peace and joy which has been disturbed, and yet is sought after throughout its whole life, and never can cease to be sought after until the real source has at length been realized. What was it in the wilderness that gave peace and joy? What was it that came to us in the forest, the solitude? In either case it was nothing else but the depth of our own life, which is silent like the depths of the great sea, so silent and still. It is the surface of the sea that makes waves and roaring breakers; the depth is silent. So the depth of our own being is silent also.
And this all-pervading, unbroken, inseparable, unlimited, ever-present, omnipotent silence unites with our silence like the meeting of flames. Something goes out from the depths of our being to receive something from there, which comes to meet us; our eyes cannot see and our ears cannot hear and our mind cannot perceive because it is beyond mind, thought, and comprehension. It is the meeting of the soul and the Spirit.
Therefore the idea of understanding the spiritual ideal is to attain to that state of being, of calm and peace and joy and everlasting happiness, which neither changes nor ceases to exist. It is to realize what is said in the Bible, ‘Be ye perfect even as your Father in heaven.’ Those words do not tell us to remain imperfect as everybody on earth. No, they mean the idea of all perfection, all unity, no separation. It is the opposite of the idea that religion should keep part of humanity separate, saying, ‘You do not belong to our church, our mosque, our temple!’ It is the opposite of loyalty to this particular sect or community, or to that particular sacred book, to this particular teaching, or to that particular truth. Is not the source of all truth hidden in every man’s heart, be he Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or Jew? Is not each part of that life which we call spiritual or divine? To be just this or that is the same as not going further than this or that. The bliss found in solitude is hidden within every human being; he has inherited it from his heavenly Father. In mystical words it is called the all-pervading light. Light is the source and origin of every human soul, of every mind.
The Sufi looks upon life as one life, upon all religions as his religion: call him a Christian and he is that, call him a Muslim or a Hindu and he is that; call him whatever you like, he does not mind. A Sufi does not think about what people call him. Who calls him Sufi? It is not he. But if he does not call himself something, someone else is sure to find a name for him. Cats and dogs do not declare their names; it is man that gives them a name. If you call yourself ‘New Thought,’ it will be made into the name of a new sect some day. If you call yourself ‘Higher Thought,’ that will be a sect one day; call yourself what you will: philosophy, theosophy, religion, mysticism, it is only the one thing, it is nothing but the constant longing of the soul of the human being. After experiencing all the different aspects of the life of activity, the longing to attain to that state of peace or calm seems in the end to be the only object that the soul wishes to achieve.
A person may keep thinking that perhaps he will be happy when he is a king, or rich, or an officer; then he will gain his desire, and as long as he has not got it, the sweetness of the thought lies only in the hope. As long as there is hope there is sweetness; after fulfilling the desire, the hope has gone. Then he hopes for something else. It is hope that is sweet, not the object. The object is never sweet; it is the sweetness of the hope that makes the object seem sweet.
‘If I could reach that height!’ a man says. So long as he has not reached that height, the dream of reaching the height, of one day experiencing that position, experience, or imagination, the dream of being comforted by it, so long he has the sweetness of the hope. But when it has come, the sweetness is finished. Then begins a new hope, always hoping, hoping. And still behind it all is that one inclination, common to all, the inclination of which he does not know the nature. No person would live did he not have the hope of something for which he was waiting.
Hope is the only food of life. Then reason says, ‘Yes, I am looking forward to my change from this place to the next; to get my inheritance some day; then I shall be all right; I shall be all right when I get that position, that house, that comfort.’ Man has always something before him, imagining, building, preparing and holding it in the mind all the time, and yet when he does get it, there is always another hope.
It is only those who are blessed by perceiving the origin and source of all things who awaken to the fact that the real inclination of every life is to attain to something which cannot be touched or comprehended or understood. The hidden blessing of this knowledge is the first step to perfection. Once awake to this fact, man sees there is something in life that will make him really happy and give him his heart’s desire. He can say, ‘Though there are many things in life which I need for the moment, and for which I shall certainly work, yet there is only that one thing, around which life centers, that will satisfy me: the spiritual attainment, the religious attainment, or, as one may even call it, the attainment of God.’ Such a one has found the key to all happiness, and has found that all the things he needs will be reached because he has the key to all. ‘Seek, and ye shall find: knock, and it shall be opened unto you… Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.’ This kingdom of God is the silent life; the life inseparable, eternal, self-sufficient, and all-powerful. This is the life of the wise, whatever be the name given to it; this is the life which the wise contemplate. It is the face of this life that they long to see; it is the ocean of this life that they long to swim in; as it is written: ‘In Him we live and have our being.’
These are the ones who are really happy, who are above all unhappiness, above death and the destruction of life.
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