In this instalment of the series of teachings on spiritual freedom by Hazrat Inayat Khan, he speaks about freedom and mortality. At the conclusion of the previous post, the concept was introduced of a tide which must sweep away everything, an image which he links, below, to the miracle of Jesus walking on the water.
The miracle of Christ walking on the water is understood by mystics as teaching a mystery. Walking on water expresses the same idea that in Sanskrit is called taran–to float or swim. To float or swim, one must have one’s head above water. The water which sweeps us away we avoid, to preserve that existence which our soul longs to save. Our body is alive as our mind is alive and as our soul is alive; and it does not want to be non-existent, but it desires to continue to exist. However unhappy or feeble a man may be, his life is too dear to him to sacrifice. Suicide is only possible under great stress of emotion. All work, all struggles are in order to live. All fights, all disagreements, all money-seeking, all comfort-seeking, are in order to live. All through life, it is one struggle to live – yet the true life is not realized.
Christ, from first to last, teaches the reality of eternal life. His only lesson was ‘life’. It is the desire of the soul to live; and that life is the real life. Man keeps imagining that his life is for eating delicious dishes, for making merry, or for being comfortable for the time being. But when the body has gone, how will he live? What will become of his comforts? When the mind is not there, how will he satisfy the mind? To live in the body or the mind is to live in vehicles upon which one becomes dependent, but which must pass and be no more.
Therefore, the lesson that we must learn is how to swim, how to float, how to prevent ourselves from sinking in the flood of death or mortality. How shall we avoid that? The answer is found when we understand that man is travelling in a boat; and the boat is heavily laden. The storm comes on, and the one who is rowing says to the man, ‘The storm is severe, your luggage is very heavy; the best thing will be for you to save your life by throwing one of your bundles into the water’. The man says, ‘O, that bundle contains things I have collected all my life, and I cannot throw it out’.’ Well,’ says the boatman, ‘if you cannot throw it out, you will drown’. And when he has thrown out one bundle, perhaps the storm becomes greater, and maybe then the last bundle has to be thrown away as well. And he says, ‘O, this one I can never part with; it contains things I have collected all through my life; they are souvenirs, and you want me to throw them away; things from my grandfather and my great-grandfather, do you really want me to throw them away?’ The other says, ‘If not, you also will go. If you want to save your life, throw that last bundle away too!’
That is what death does with mankind. It says, ‘You are so interested in your vehicle which you call your body’, and so first of all he sends disease. The person who thinks so much of his body is always ill. That is the first step. He is very conscientious about his body, saying, ‘This is the one thing I must keep well preserved’. He goes on thinking of it too much. And so he feels ill, and in the end he has to throw both bundles away, body and mind.
Others will say that they do not care for their body, but only for their mind. They take care of their own imaginations, their own standards of thinking – ‘What you say is wrong, what I say is right’. They are occupied with thoughts, with pursuits, with arguments, saying, ‘Am I right? Are you? Is she?’ And they are all the time in doubt and constant worry of mind; all the time occupied in a struggle about something which is really nothing. To the seer, it matters nothing. And then the tide, death, comes, and they are swept away; the mind goes, the body goes, and the soul returns to its own source. This is a picture of mortality when mind departs from body with the impression of death.
There is a story which explains this subject very well. It is of a king who had a parrot, which he loved so much that he kept it in a golden cage, and always attended to it himself. The king and queen both paid such great attention to the parrot that everyone in the palace was jealous of it.
One day the king was about to go into the forest where the parrot came from, and he said to it, ‘My pet, I have loved you, and kept you with all the care and attention and fondness that I could; and I should like very much to take any message you wish to your brothers in the forest’. The parrot said, ‘How kind of you to have offered to do this for me. Convey to my brothers in the jungle that the king and queen have done their very best to make me happy, a golden cage, all kinds of fruits, and nice things of all sorts; and they love me so much. But in spite of all the attention they give me, I long for the forest, and the desire to dwell among you, free as I used to be before, always possesses my mind. But I see no way out of it, so pray send me your goodwill and your love. One only lives in hope. Perhaps some day my wish will be granted.’ The king went into the forest, and approached the tree from which the parrot was taken, and said to the brothers of the parrot, ‘O parrots, there is one whom I have taken from among you to my palace; and I am very fond of him, and he receives all the attention I can give. This is your brother’s message.’ They listened to the message very attentively, and one after the other dropped to the ground and seemed dead.
The king was depressed beyond measure. Spellbound, he could not understand what it was that he had said that should have affected the feelings of those parrots so much. The loving parrots could not bear his message. And he thought, ‘What a sin I have committed, to have destroyed so many lives.’ He returned to his palace, and went to his parrot, and said, ‘How foolish, O parrot, to give me such a message that as soon as your brothers heard it, one after another they dropped down, and all lay dead before me.’
The parrot listened to this, and looked up gently to the sky, and then fell down too. The king was even more sad. ‘How foolish I was! First, I gave his message to them and killed them, and now I give their message to him and kill him also.’ It was all most bewildering to the king. What was the meaning of it all?
He commanded his servants to put his dead parrot on a gold tray, and bury him with all ceremony. The servants took him out of the cage with great respect, and loosed the chains from his feet; and then, as they were laying him out, the parrot suddenly flew away and sat upon the roof.
The king said, ‘O parrot, you betrayed me’. The parrot said, ‘O king, this was the aim of my soul, and it is the aim of all souls. My brothers in the jungle were not dead. I had asked them to show me the way to freedom, and they showed me. I did as they told me, and now I am free.’
There is a sura in the Qur’an which says: Mutu kubla anta mutu, which means, ‘Die before death.’ A poet says, ‘Only he attains to the peace of the Lord who loses himself.’ God said to Moses, ‘No man shall see Me, and live.’ To see God, we must be non-existent.
What does all this mean? It means that when we see our being with open eyes, we see that there are two aspects to our being: the false and the true. The false life is that of this body and mind, which only exists as long as the life is within. In the absence of that life, the body cannot go on. We mistake the true life for the false, and the false for the true.
Dying is this: when there is a fruit or something sweet and good to taste, the child comes to its mother and says, ‘Will you give it me?’ Although it would have given pleasure to the mother to eat it, she gives it to the child. The eating of it by the child is enjoyed by the mother. That is death. She enjoys her life in the joy of another. Those who rejoice in the joy of another, though at their own expense, have taken the first step towards true life. If we are pleased by giving another a good coat which we would have liked to wear ourselves, if we enjoy that, we are on the first step. If we enjoy a beautiful thing so much that we would like to have it, and then give that joy to another, enjoying it through his experience, we are dead; that is our death; yet, we live more than he. Our life is much vaster, deeper, greater.
Seemingly it is a renunciation, an annihilation, but in truth it is a mastery. The real meaning of crucifixion is to crucify this false self, and so resurrect the true self. As long as the false self is not crucified, the true self is still not realized. By Sufis it is called fana, annihilation. All the attempts made by true sages and seekers after real truth are for the one aim, of attaining to everlasting life.
To be continued…