In this post, we begin a short, very clear explanation of our relation to the Divine Presence, and our journey toward that goal.
Our relation to God is understood in five different ways: idealizing; recognizing; communicating; realizing; perfection.
Every sincere and earnest believer in God experiences this stage. It is the stage in which he stands before God in humility and gentleness, or with repentance for his sins and for his faults, or looks to heaven and asks for pardon. Whether the being or person he idealizes is much greater or only comparatively greater than himself, he understands that he is a mere drop in relation to the ocean, that he is most limited compared to a most unlimited God, that he is most feeble while the other is Almighty. He realizes that there is a Being filled with all the virtues and goodness and justice and mercy and compassion imaginable. Whatever be his religion, everyone experiences this first stage, of being a faithful believer in God.
This is the ideal taught from childhood on, even in ancient times. Today some teach it, and some do not. Education has taken a different turn, with the result that idealizing God has been disappearing from the stage of life. However, in the East, this ideal has been taught to little children by instilling in them a respect for the father, the mother. And the children are taught to consider your elder brother, your elder sister, the friends of your father, the friends of your mother. The child is brought up to have the idea of respect in this way; he is given a kind of ideal to look up to and understand. He will be shown that he must not contradict his father, because his father’s words are used in a sense whose meaning he is not old enough fully to understand. For instance, he could not understand that it may be better to say an untruth than a truth in a case where the former would make for harmony and the latter for disharmony. Many things seem to be untrue for the moment, yet as we grow up to understand better, we find that from one point of view they are true. Therefore a child must consider his elders.
Muhammad rebuked his grandson for not calling a servant “uncle.” The servant, being older, must know more than he. Gentleness, sense of respect, and veneration make man different from animals. If men were not animals, the past war would have been impossible. Dogs bark at each other; not only one prophet, but all prophets have brought the message that man should show himself higher than the animals in this respect, and men should give in to one another, instead of barking at each other. The first lesson to humanity has been that of idealizing. It is not only the Bible that says, “Blessed are the humble, the gentle, the meek,” it is also said in the Quran and other sacred books. It was even taught in the old Roman civilization. Each nation that has arrived at the point of understanding and acting according to true humanity has come to understand that man is different from animals only to the extent to which he idealizes. This is greater than art, greater than religion, greater than anything, and is the source of great joy. Before we can enjoy life we must become delicate, sensitive, and evolved. When this is attained, a person experiences a kind of joy in bowing his head, such as is not found in ordinary people.
All the various modes of expressing veneration and respect and worship were given to one Being, in recognition that there is only one Being worthy of such expression. By practicing it continually, we get to reproduce the same attitude in ourselves. But if this were the end of our way of life, what then shall we think of those who take the other four steps? For, truly, this “shariat”* is only the first step!
To be continued…
*’Shariat’ generally means the observance of religious law, but in Sufi understanding it refers to the first, elementary step on the mystical path. In some copies of this lecture the word is mis-reported as ‘Sherif,’ a term which would be meaningless in this context.