Many holy scriptures give evidence of the power of the word; but where has the knowledge of that science gone, so well know to the prophets of all times. The science of the word has been lost to most of mankind. The reason for this is that man has occupied himself with the things of the earth, and so has lost the ancient art. By losing that great science, that mystical secret, what has the soul attained? The soul has attained an increasing deafness, and this deafness increases as the more material life prevails. Nevertheless, in every period there have been some thinkers, some servants of God, working knowingly or unknowingly, to whom it was always clear that the word was lost, which means that the secret of the whole of life was lost.
This, of course, is an exaggeration. The word which exists cannot be lost, but man has lost his capability of knowing, of hearing that word. Man no longer heard the word from the sky; he heard it from the earth. The result was the great awakening and progress of material science. All the great inventions of this time, which are like miracles, have come to great minds which have so to speak communicated with matter; and matter has spoken with them face to face. Thus, the word was not lost, but the direction was lost.
Man learns continually from the objective world to make things that he can touch, and make intelligible; but he is always disbelieving in matters which are not intelligible. In this way he has become far removed from the main part of life’s mystery. Nevertheless, if at any time in the world’s history man has probed the depth of life, he has found what he sought by communicating with the inner life, in artistic expression and by communicating with the heavens. And what is that communication? It is the word.
When the Prophet Muhammad felt the need to communicate, he went away from the town and remained in solitude on the top of a mountain; sometimes fasting or standing, and staying there night and day for two or three days. What did he find in the end? He found that a voice began to speak to him, a voice in answer to his soul’s cry. His soul, so to speak, went forth, pierced through all the planes of existence, and touched the source of all things. But how did the answer come and in what form? The answer came from everything: from the wind, the water, the atmosphere, the air; everything was bringing the same answer.
This experience is not limited to a certain person or to a certain time. In our everyday life there are times when sadness comes, and it seems as if everything in the world, even the voice of the beasts and birds, causes sadness. Then again comes the hour of profound joy; at that time the sun helps to give joy, and the clouds covering the sun also give joy. The cold, the heat, the friend, the enemy, all help to give joy.
This world to a mystic is like a dome, a dome that re-echoes all that is spoken beneath it. What is spoken from the lips reaches only as far as the ears, but what is spoken from the heart reaches the heart. The word reaches as far as it can, and that depends from what source it has come and from what depth it has risen. The Sufis of all ages have therefore given the greatest importance to the word, knowing that the word is the key to the mystery of the whole life, the mystery of all planes of existence. There is nothing that can not be accomplished, there is nothing that cannot be known by the power of the word. is not achieved or known through the power of the word. Therefore the principal and central theme of esotericism or mysticism is the word.
But what is the word? Is the word just what we speak? Is that the word? No, that is only the surface of the word. Our thought is a word, our feeling is a word, our voice, our atmosphere is a word. There is a saying: “What you are speaks louder than what you say.” This shows that even when man does not speak, his soul speaks. And, how do the fortune-tellers read the future? They hear it. They say that they read it from the lines of the hand, by astrology, or from the actions of men. But what is all this? It is all a word. Because word means expression, expression in voice, in word, in form, in color, in line, in movement. It is in this that we see that everything is united in the esoteric side of mysticism. Of course, many people in the West have said that for them it is very difficult to lead a meditative life in the activity of their world; they have so many responsibilities and occupations. My answer to this is that for that very reason they need more meditation.
I have heard many persons say that they have the greatest desire to give their time and thoughts to spiritual things, but that because they have not attained to a way of living which would free their mind to attend to these things, they believe they cannot take up anything spiritual. And I see the reasonableness of their argument, because it is quite true that in this world, as life is today, it is difficult to move without money. Material things apart, even in spiritual things one cannot do without money. If I were to give a lecture and I had no room to give it in, it could not be done. And if there were no advertisements in the newspapers no one would know about it and perhaps only two or three persons would be kind enough to come and listen to me. It is therefore natural that a person thinks like this, and he is not to be blamed. But at the same time, when we look at it from a different point of view, we still see that every moment lost in waiting for spiritual attainment is the greatest loss conceivable. And besides, one may go on thinking: ‘The day will come when I shall change my life and yield to something higher, spiritual’, and that day will never come. One has to do it today, just now, instead of saying: ‘Tomorrow I will do it’. Otherwise one repents.
Life is assimilating; time passes. Hours, months, years slip by before one realizes that they have done so. And to the one who understands the value of time, spiritual attainment comes first. As Christ has said: ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.’ I do not say: ‘Let all things go in order to pursue spiritual things’. Spiritual attainment does not deprive one of material gains. One has only to keep in mind that spiritual things come first. And in order to become spiritual it is not necessary to give up worldly things, or all that is good and beautiful and valuable from the point of view of the material world. Solomon with all his wealth was not less wise. One need not give up all one has in order to become spiritual. If one should think that, it is a great pity. But to wait, saying: ‘I shall wait till my ship comes home, then I shall become spiritual,’ who knows when the ship will come? It is never too late to start on the spiritual path, but at the same time it is never too early. The best thing, therefore, is that the moment one thinks, ‘it is already late, I must begin,’ one should start and go through all the tests and trials of this path, confident that there is nothing that cannot be accomplished once the spiritual path is taken.
from: The Power of the Word, chap. IV
The Sufi Message series vol. II: The Mysticism of Sound and Music