When we think of the different religions that are known to humanity we shall find that each of them brought to the world the message of love in some form or other. And now the question arises, who brought religion in the world? And the answer is that religion has always existed in the heart of man.
Religion is the outcome of the heart, and among all the races, however primitive, a certain religion has existed, perhaps incomprehensible to people more evolved in different directions. For religion is instinctive, and as it is instinctive, not only in the world of man but also in the lower creation one sees a glimpse of religious tendency. For instance, one finds among pet animals, such as the dog, the cat, the horse, some such faithful creatures, and sometimes one has such experiences with them that one cannot to-day expect from mankind. Besides this, the absorption that one sees among the birds, the little sparrows in the morning absorbed in the beauty of nature; so to speak, singing a song, a hymn to God—that all is religion, if we can understand it. For man has made his religion so narrow that he is not able to appreciate the broad religion of nature. By being narrow he has named his creed a religion, or the particular place of worship religion, or the book religion, or the form of service, religion. If one would only think of religion when one goes in the woods, in the forests and stands alone in the forest near the silent trees standing in contemplation through the summer and winter, through all seasons! That silent contemplation, what does it give one, what thought arises? It lifts one up and makes one think that there is a religion.
One may call it a legend or a superstition or a story, but still there are experiences; we have the experience in India with the cobras – they never bite unless someone hurts them. The affection and the attachment that the doves show to their mates, it is something to learn and to understand. And there are many instances, many experiences of thoughtfulness, of consideration and of the nature of attachment that one sees in the lower creation that makes one think that there is an instinctive religion.
But then, there are stories known in the East about the elephants. In the herd of elephants there is one who always leads the herd and he has a stem of a tree in his trumk and he goes on feeling the earth – if there be a pit or if it be a good way for the elephants to pass. And if there were a pit, he gives a warning to his followers that they may not fall victims to this. When we consider the birds, we see that there is among them a leader who knows and understands the coming and continuing of rain and storm and according to that he guides them and the all follow him. By what is it all accounted for? This taking care of those who depend upon one, and then to yield, to respond, to trust someone who guides one; it is not only in the human beings, but even more in the animals.
Man, who is always supposed to have a religion and thinks that he has a religion, has always opposed in all ages the ones who have served him, those who have wished to awaken him from his errors. The saints and the sages and the great souls who have continually tried to work for him, they always have to suffer and they were the ones who found opposition from all directions. And in this way man has shown a lesser tendency to religion than the animals.
But now coming to understand what is the religion of the heart. It is said by the Sufis: “Ishq Allah, Mah’bud Allah”, the same as one reads in the Bible, that “God is love”. And if God is love, where is He to be found? Is He to be found in the seventh heaven or is He to be found in the heart of man? If He were so far away as to be in the seventh heaven then it is most unfortunate for man to be kept far away from the very life and the very reason of his being. And it is toward this realisation, that God is in the heart of man, that all religions have taught in different ways and different forms.
But so many in this world only know the word ‘love’; to understand what love is or to speak about it or explain it is impossible. For whoever tries to express love makes an effort in vain; it is like trying to express God in words. Neither God can be expressed in words nor love. There is a saying of a Persian poet who was an emperor: ‘I was destined to have so many servants serving me, but from the moment love was born in my heart I became a slave of my every slave’. The moment love is produced, that person does not need to go and find out where the Truth is, the Truth is born. For it is the loving one, the loving heart which is capable of understanding, of comprehending Truth. The reason is that truth is not outside of oneself, it is within us. For instance when a person’s heart is melted by a terrible suffering in life, it is then that what he says or what he thinks or what he does, in all is a fragrance of love.
What is called in the Old Testament by the words, “tongues of flame’ or ‘words of flame,’ what are they? They rise when love has risen, it revivifies the thought, word and action.
What generally man knows about love is the give and take: ‘ if you give me 12 pence, I will give you a shilling’. For as long as one sees life in the form of business, in the form of give and take, he does not know love.
It is a great pity, when after knowing something of love, the heart has turned cold and bitter. And what reason is there? The reason is this: that when one digs the ground, one must dig until the water comes. But if one digs halfway, then there is no water, there is mud.
But what is love? Love is a continual sacrifice. And what does sacrifice mean? Sacrifice means forgetting of the self. As Rumi says in his poem, the Masnavi : “ The beloved is all in all, the lover merely veils him. The beloved is all that lives, the lover a dead thing”. But what is this death? The death in life is life. Can anyone say: ‘I practice in life to be good’ or ’to be religious’ without having the love element? But what use can his religion be if he is praying perhaps all day or seems to be all goodness, if there is no love in his heart? What use is religion to him?
There is a story told of a young girl who was passing through a farm, and there was a person offering his prayers to God. And according to the custom of the East, no one should cross the place where a person is offering his prayers; she did not notice but passed. And when she came back, this pious man was still sitting there and he called the girl and said: “How thoughtless of you, girl; here I was offering my prayer and you passed this place.” This simple peasant girl said: “What were you doing? To whom were you praying?” He said: “Praying to God.” “Oh,” she said, “I am so sorry. But I cannot understand how you, who were praying to God, at the same time could see me. I was going to see my young man and did not see you.”