Four Questions: Personal or abstract God; Asceticism or Worldliness; Democratic or Aristocratic; Exotericism or Esotericism.

Beloved Ones of God,

There are four questions which the thoughtful mureeds wonder about. They begin to wonder if our God is a personal God or if He is an abstract God; if Sufism teaches asceticism or worldliness; if the Sufi ideal is democratic or aristocratic; if Sufism is exotericism or esotericism. And one says one thing, another says another thing. One says, ”This is true.” The other says, ”No, the other thing is true.” It is quite possible that one these questions two mureeds may discuss and say, ”No, Sufism does not believe in it. Sufism believes in this particular thing and not in the other.” I have very often heard it. They have come to me and said, ”Now, Murshid, you do not teach this. ” It is quite an idea of that person. Perhaps he looks at life from an ascetic point of view, the other person from a worldly point of view. ”But you do not like this, Sufism does not teach like this.” Because they think Sufism teaches as they think.

I do not mean to say that what they say is wrong, but they could have said better. I had a very amusing experience in San Francisco once. A great Japanese priest came to see me, and I was very glad to receive him. And there came with him a person who had read a great deal and who thought he knew very much about all occult and psychic sciences. So this Buddhist priest was sitting silent. It is a custom in the East. I was waiting for him to speak, and he was waiting for me to say something. But this other person could not wait any longer, he was feeling very uneasy. So I thought, ”Perhaps he will feel better also if I make this Buddhist priest speak. ”

So I asked the Buddhist priest, ”I would very much like to know Buddha’s teachings in connection with reincarnation. ” So before this priest had taken a breath in and out the other one began to pour out all the knowledge he had absorbed from all the books he had read, and he spoke for and against and in support of the argument. And the Buddhist priest was still sitting there unmoved, quite tranquil, hearing all that this man had to say. When this man seemed to be on the point of finishing, I said to the Buddhist priest, ”I would so much like to know from your lips what you have to say about this gentleman’s conversation.”

And the Buddhist priest smiled and said very gently and slowly and softly, ”This is his Buddhism.” I thought it was the most wonderful way of taking it. A priest like him who had thousands of disciples in his country could have had the price of his authority and said, ”What does he know about it; I am a priest, for generations I have had this knowledge.” He could have said, ”What does he know about it?” He would never say it. He would not even consider it right to argue with the other. He thought, if that person wants to talk, it is just as well that he talks it out.

 When coming to the question of God, I will repeat what I have always said, that to explain God is to dethrone God. God is an ideal, and any ideal, when you analyze that ideal you destroy it. In the East Majnun and Leila are known as Romeo and Juliet in the West. And in the greatest grief of Majnun, who was separated from Leila, someone came to console him and said, ”What is Leila? Is she beautiful? What is she? The world is full of beautiful girls. Leila is not worth thinking about!” And Majnun lifted his head and said to him, ”In order to see Leila you must have Majnun’s eyes.”

Can ideal be explained? Can ideal be discussed? Can ideal be analyzed? God is the highest ideal, as high as one can reach. And one will find the perfect ideal in God. And when one begins to realize if God is personal or whether He is abstract, in defining God one will break the ideal. And at the same time, if you can conceive of anything it must be personal, it must be individual, it must be a separate entity. Our mind is not capable of conceiving of something which is abstract. Our mind is not abstract, our mind is an object. And in any object, all that will reflect and be intelligible to our mind must be limited, must be objective. When people instead of learning ”a,” ”b,” ”c,” will begin to learn ”z” first, that is wrong. ”A” is the first alphabet to learn, ”z” will come the last. When a person wishes to take his first step on the second floor without using a ladder, he must fall. A person who wished to reach God, an abstract God, without first building in his mind the objective God, he will never reach to the throne of God.

The Hindus have learned this idea most wonderfully and practiced it most splendidly. They have begun by molding the God of clay, and have put Him in a shrine and have said, ”This is the God of clay we have made with our own hands and worshipped it.” That is the symbolism. That is the symbol of the worship of God. If we do not make God of clay, we still must make him, for in order to know God we must make him first. Then God will come in the shrine which He has made. The Hindus make a rehearsal by going in the temple of a stone god. In this age they say, ”A personal God! Never we can think about it.

It is the simple ones who are holding that faith in a personal God thousands of years.” Men of medicine say that it is a religious mania; any great devotion or a deep concentration is called a religious mania. They do not know what money mania means. Most of all those who call it religious mania, they have money mania. From morning till evening …. If anyone thinks of something higher, greater, deeper, then they say that is a mania. That time has come when there are ninety-nine persons to say that one person is mad, and that one person has to see the ninety-nine as mad.

Life is flowing toward perfection. The greatest perfection is the knowledge of God. And how can one reach to the knowledge of God? By first stepping on and reaching the stepping-stone. And what is the stepping-stone to God’s shrine? The personal God. Once a person has put his foot on the stepping-stone, when the objective God has become clear, his next step will be the abstract God. But if he wants that as the first step then he will be the loser. Because if a person does not know what an abstract God will give him, that knowledge will not be of any profit to him, not in the least.

The prophets of Beni-Israel and prophets who came in all ages, their efforts were to make the picture of God intelligible to the man of the day. That does not mean that what picture they had made, that was God. No, it was just a help; to help man to conceive the idea. They said, ”God is the Creator, He is the Judge, the Forgiver, He is the Supreme Being, the King of the Day of Judgment.” Every attribute that can be given to God and that can be conceivable to those who hear about it they have put there. And what they made of Him, that was their art. They made an ideal of God before them, that they could say the prayers and make that ideal real before them. And the more real that ideal became, the more there was in that ideal. And then in the end God came and took that shrine which was made for Him and made it living.

And now in conclusion of this subject I would like to say, neither is the Sufi’s God abstract nor is He personal. It is all a process, through which the Sufi goes from the false to the real self. And before he arrives at the real self, his false self must be made a sacrifice. Before what? Before the ideal God he has made in his own self. When his false self is sacrificed then he goes further. Then it is not a personal God, then it is the abstract God. But where does one begin, and where does one end? One begins from the false self and ends in the real self.

And now coming to the question of asceticism and worldly life. We cannot be thoughtful of the ascetics–who have lived in the forests and who have lived in the caves of mountains and who have fasted and who have lived a pure life of many, many years and have meditated and sacrificed all things of life for the pursuit of truth in their devotion to God–and at the same time say that asceticism is wrong. Although mankind is always ready to form an opinion on everything that seems to be contrary to his idea. How much mankind has learned from their devotion and from their renunciation, and from their sacrifices and from their strict life of discipline.

I do not mean to say that there are no false people. But false people can be in the world as well as among ascetics. A false person will be false everywhere. We are speaking about principles. Besides, great masters, wherever they have been, they had to experience the ascetic life in some form or the other, whether it was seemingly or not seemingly, outward or inward. For a period or their whole life, for a longer or shorter period, they all had that experience in life. And in reality they were born to fight with the tendency of asceticism, and be in the world against their wishes. This constantly has been a fight of the sages and mystics, against ascetic inclinations in order to keep in the world and to serve the world.

But at the same time some of them were destined that they could not guide and serve the world best unless they were ascetics. In that case it was necessary for them to be so. Sufism therefore does not urge asceticism except as a prescription, just as these ten vows have been given. That is a lesson in asceticism in a small way. Each person has to keep a certain principle every day. That is asceticism. One need not go in a cave to be an ascetic. One can live a life of principle; that is asceticism: if not more, less, but still a lesson of asceticism.

But then there is another point of view. If we all left the world and thought that we should reach God without having to do anything with the world, it is a great mistake. Some souls are born to sacrifice their lives for the love and service of humanity. But if every person thought, ”This is the best principle, and I must leave the world and live an ascetic life,” they will have to come back, because there is much to be done here in the midst of the crowd.

The Sufi therefore says, ”No, fulfill your duties, answer your demands in worldly life, consider your obligations toward all those who are connected with you, cultivate your feelings of affection, of devotion, of friendship, of duty. Have regard one for another, those who love you, who depend upon you, who are near you, who wish your help, your service, your protection. And in this way evolve, that you may arrive to that stage where you may be in the world and may not be of the world, a worldly person and an ascetic at the same time.” That is the ideal which we all will reach sooner or later, to be in the world and let the world not touch us, just like the drop of oil in the water.

And now coming to the idea of aristocracy or democracy, what does Sufism teach? It is the greatest pity–and every thoughtful person of every nation will realize it, if he would stand to look at life–that the chivalry of the knights and the noble manners, the noble ideals that the ancient people, the aristocratic people had, seem to be finished today. And although they are not realizing it today, there will come a day when we will realize that something which was most beautiful in humanity has been lost. I do not mean to say that we must become today what the world was a hundred years before. It is not necessary, and it cannot be. But at the same time we need not forget and we need not disregard all that was beautiful at that time.

The human tendency is such that when something has gone down or when some idea has become an old idea, or an idea which they despise, they turn their back to it and forget all the good that the idea had. Many live their lives today without ideal, without principle, without a manner, and call it freedom. If that is freedom! That is the wrong meaning of freedom. That freedom cannot spread happiness, cannot produce beauty of manner and spirit. Therefore the work of Sufism is to create the nobleness of the spirit in man, not only occult powers and psychic powers and esoteric things and clairvoyance.

This is the foundation: a person must develop in his soul, cultivate in his spirit the nobleness of the soul. That is aristocracy. And then he will rise to the democracy, and that democracy is to be kind and good and respectful, tolerant and forgiving and friendly to the saint and sinner both. You go and see the Sufis in the world today: wherever you will go, you will find that spirit with a beautiful manner, with humility, with gentleness, meekness, dignity. Another thing is developed, and that is the democratic feeling. Never to despise anyone, never to hate, never to condemn, never to look down upon anyone, but to see the divine expression in all beings.

That is the balance of life. That is the aristocratic spirit of nobleness and the democratic spirit of tolerance that brings about equality, that brings about the balance we should strike in life.

And then there is a question if Sufism is exotericism or esotericism. Very often I was asked by friends and mureeds, ”What is the use of the Universal Worship, what is the use of any outer show? Every religion has it, every church has it. What we need, what we come for, what we desire is the inner teaching.” But the answer is, ”What is the use of the soul without the body?” No doubt the soul is not the soul without body. It is the body that makes the soul and soul. As body is needed for a soul, so exoteric action is needed for the esoteric development. A deep feeling a person has, but he is dumb; a brave heart a person has, but his arms cannot work: what is the use of having it?

The great masters who have come to the world like Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, Christ, Muhammad, Moses, when they gave God’s message they did not only tell some souls the deeper understanding but they gave the form of worship to hundreds of thousands, the way of living a life together of harmony, of beauty, of love. That is their mission.

Yes, there have been gurus and teachers, great masters whose work was only to take some pupils, four or five; test them for ten, twenty, fifty years, or perhaps the whole life; and develop them for asceticism or for the higher realization. But that was not a world mission. That was not the work for humanity. That was a help for certain souls. There have always been esoteric schools in the world. But when it comes to God’s message–to a world movement uniting different nations and different countries of followers of different religions in one brotherhood, in one religion, helping them collectively forward toward the goal which humanity has to reach–then you cannot only have esoteric guidance. Esotericism is the first thing to build. Exotericism will be the spirit behind to carry it through.

Religious activity which has no esoteric spirit behind it is as dead too. But the Sufi Message may not be compared with it. It is the Message of the day. The esoteric spirit behind it is the backbone of the Message; the body which is the exoteric work of the Sufi Movement is to touch every part of the world and to spread wider and wider and to be impressed in the world deeper and deeper until the will of God is fulfilled.

God Bless You.





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