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 that 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 and beyond:
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 Qur’an.
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’.
To be continued…