By Hazrat Inayat Khan
There is a verse in the Bible, 'It is the spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing.' So what we call living is subtle, what is dead is coarse. In other words, what is dense is coarse, and what is fine is subtle.
It is true as the Hindus say that there was a golden age, then a silver age, a copper age, and an iron age. Certainly, we are in the iron age. Never before in any period of history was there such grossness and denseness as mankind shows today. And it has come about by the law of gravitation. When the consciousness is absorbed in the gross matter then a person gravitates towards the earth. When the consciousness is released from the gross matter then it soars towards heaven.
I do not mean to say that people were not gross 2,000 or 3,000 years ago. But when we study traditions we find that they were also very fine and subtle in perception, more than we are today. Our contact with the earth and earthly things has made us more rigid. They were more placid. And if we want proof of this we have only to study ancient languages such as Sanskrit, Zend, Persian, Hebrew, and see the manuscripts of ancient times and the way they explain things. Maybe they are quite strange to our present day mentality and perception, yet their fineness is beyond words. And it seems we are going from bad to worse and are becoming coarser every day. If we only realized how far we are removed from what may be called fine perception!
When a person tries to understand subtle things by mathematical calculations alone, he has come into the dense sphere. He does not want to become fine, and he wants to make the spirit, which is the finest thing, gross and intelligible. Therefore it is of the greatest importance for spiritual attainment to develop fine perception. I have seen people go into a trance or dive into a deep meditation and yet lack fine perception. And then it is of no value. They are not really spiritual. A really spiritual person must have a mentality like liquid, not like a rock; a mentality that is moving, not crude and dense.
This question has also a metaphysical side to it. There are two experiences in life. One realm of experience is sensation, the other realm is exaltation; and it is by these two experiences that one tries to experience happiness. But what is experienced by sensation or in the form of sensation is not necessarily happiness; that is pleasure. It might give the appearance of happiness for a moment, but it is only a suggestion of happiness.
Exaltation is something, which the mystic experiences. And those who are not mystics experience it also, but they do not know what it is. They cannot distinguish between sensation and exaltation. Sometimes exaltation may be the outcome of sensation. It is possible; but at the same time exaltation, which depends upon sensation, is not an independent exaltation.
There are different grades of exaltation. To the Sufi, the soul is a current that joins the physical body to the source. And the art of repose naturally makes it easier for the soul to experience freedom, inspiration, power, because it is then loosened from the grip of the physical body. As Rumi says in the Masnavi, 'Man is a captive on earth. His body and his mind are his prison bars. And the soul is unconsciously craving to experience once again the freedom which originally belonged to it.' The Platonic idea about reaching the higher source is the same: that by exaltation, the soul, so to speak, rises above the fast hold of the physical body. It may be only for a few moments, but it experiences in those moments a freedom which man has never experienced before.
A moment of exaltation is a different experience at every level. The supreme exaltation is hinted at in the Bible: 'Be ye perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect.' Many religious people will say that it is impossible for man to be perfect; but it is said in the Bible just the same. At all times the knowers and seers have understood that there is a stage at which, by touching a particular phase of existence, one feels raised above the limitations of life, and is given that power and peace and freedom, that light and life, which belong to the source of all beings. In other words, in that moment of supreme exaltation one is not only united with the source of all beings, but dissolved in it; for the source is one's self.
The source is greater than we can put into words. We can try to conceive it by comparing it with a seed, which is the source of the flower, the leaves, the stem, the branches, and the fragrance. While if we take the seed alone we do not see all those in the seed; yet they were there all the time. On the other hand we cannot really compare even the seed with the source, for the seed depends upon the sun and water and earth for its growth. Whereas, the ultimate source does not depend upon anything. It is all that is strong and powerful. It is beyond words and beyond our limited conception even to think of the source except that when we get greater inspiration, peace, joy, and magnetism, we appreciate things much better. In this way we may understand a little how great the source must be. The greater we are the closer we reach to that source. As the great Indian poet Khusrau says, 'When I become Thou and Thou becomest me, neither canst Thou say that I am different nor canst Thou say that Thou are different.'
The different grades of exaltation are as the different notes in music. As we distinguish lower and higher notes, so it is with the different grades of the experience of exaltation. Even reading a beautiful poem can produce exaltation. Good music gives exaltation, and a feeling of great joy does so too. It all breaks up congestion. There are fine cells of the nerves, which become free, and the body experiences relaxation.
There is a difference between sensation and exaltation, but when we come to words, there is always confusion. One can say that exaltation is the fusion of all sensation; but if one says that through sensation is exaltation, it is true also.
As much as we need sensation in life to make our experience of life concrete, so much or even more do we need exaltation in order to live life fully. The lower creation such as birds and beasts also has glimpses of exaltation. They do not only rejoice in grazing and in finding seeds, in making nests or in playing in the air, in singing and in running about in the forest. There are moments when even birds and beasts feel exaltation. And if we go into the subject more deeply, we shall understand what we read in a most wonderful verse of Islamic tradition: 'There are moments when even rocks become exalted and trees fall into ecstasy.' If that be true, then man, who is created to complete the experience that any living being can have, must experience exaltation as much as he experiences sensation.
What I mean by sensation is the impression one has of line and color; the preference one has for softness in structure. It is the appreciation one has of fragrance and perfume; the enjoyment one gains by tasting sweet and sour and pungent; the joy one experiences in hearing poetry, singing, and music. All these experiences are manifest in the realm of sensation. The world of sensation is one world. The world of exaltation is another; and these two worlds are made for man to experience in order to live life on earth fully. And yet, with this possibility and this opportunity in life, man continues to live a life of sensation, forgetting that there is another life as well, a life that can be experienced here on earth, and something that completes life's experience.
There is a physical aspect of exaltation which comes as a reaction or a result of having seen the immensity of space, having looked at the wide horizon, or having seen the clear sky, the moonlit night and nature at dawn. Looking at the rising sun, watching the setting sun, looking at the horizon from the sea, being in the midst of nature, looking at the world from the top of a mountain, all these experiences, even such an experience as watching the little smiles of an innocent infant, these experiences lift one up and give one a feeling which one cannot call sensation. It is exaltation.
A higher aspect of exaltation is a moral exaltation – when we are sorry for having said or done something unpleasant; when we have asked forgiveness, and humbled ourselves before someone towards whom we were inconsiderate. We have humbled our pride then. Or when we felt a deep gratitude to someone who had done something for us; when we have felt love, sympathy, devotion, which seems endless and which seems so great that our heart cannot accommodate it; when we have felt so much pity for someone that we have forgotten ourselves; when we have found a profound happiness in rendering a humble service to someone in need; when we have said a prayer which has come from the bottom of our heart; when we have realized our own limitation and smallness in comparison with the greatness of God; all these experiences lift men up.
The moment we have these experiences, we are not living on earth but in another world. The joy of such experiences is very great, and yet they can be gained without paying anything, whereas sensations cost something. We have to go to the theater, to go to all kinds of entertainment. All these cost something. They cost more than they are worth; but exaltation, which is beyond price, comes of itself as soon as we have shown an inclination towards it. It is only a matter of changing our attitude.
Once I visited a great sage in Bengal. I said to him, ' What a blessed life is yours, which gives pleasure and happiness to so many souls.' but he answered, ' How privileged I am myself that a thousand times more pleasure and happiness come to me.'
Exaltation is a purifying process. A moment's exaltation can purify the evil of many years, because it is like bathing in the Ganges, as Hindus say. It is symbolical. Exaltation is the Ganges, and if we bathe in it we are purified from all sins. It does not take much to make us exalted. A kind attitude, a sympathetic trend of mind, and it is already there. If we were to notice it, we would find that our eyes shed tears in sympathy with another. We were already exalted. Our soul has bathed in the spiritual Ganges. It comes by forgetting self and by destroying selfishness. But remember we can never claim to be unselfish. However unselfish we may be, we are selfish just the same. But we can be wisely selfish, and if we are to be selfish, it is just as well to be wisely selfish. It is the same thing as what we call unselfishness and it is profitable to be that instead of being foolishly selfish; because the former gains and the latter loses.
The third aspect of exaltation comes by touching the reason of reasons, by realizing the essence of wisdom; by feeling the depth, the profound depth of one's heart, by widening one's outlook on life; by broadening one's conception, by deepening one's sympathies, and by soaring upwards to those spheres where spiritual exaltation manifests. Today a man of common sense or a person who is called a practical man is in the habit of laughing at the idea that someone has visions or experiences of ecstasy, that someone goes into what is called a trance. But there is nothing to be surprised at, nothing to laugh at. All these things are laughable, however, when done by the undeserving; and it is mostly such who make these claims and look for approbation from others for their experiences. Those who really experience these things do not need to tell people that they had this or that experience. Their own joy is their reward. No one else should recognize it. The less others know about it the better.
Why must we show ourselves to be different from others? It is only vanity. And the more vanity the less progress we make along the spiritual path. It is the worst thing on the spiritual path to try and show oneself to be different from others. Those, who are really evolved, are glad to act as everyone else acts. To novelists it seems beautiful to describe masters as living in caves of the Himalayas or moving about in the forest somewhere where one cannot go and find them, always keeping aloof and apart so that no one can reach them. But every soul has a divine spark, and therefore if there is any higher stage of human evolution it is for human beings, not for those outside the human world. If they are outside the human world, there is no relation between us and them. The great spiritual souls have lived in the world, in the midst of the world, and proved to be the greatest masters.
Imagine the life of Abraham, of Moses, the life of Jesus Christ; and again the life of Muhammad in war and battles, and yet as exclusive and remote, as spiritual as anyone could be. And Krishna, picture him in Kurukshetra fighting in the battle, giving a world-scripture. If they had all lived in mountain caves we would not have been benefited by them. What is the use of those holy ones who never see, never experience from morning till evening the tests and trials of the dense world, where at every move there are a thousand temptations and difficulties, a thousand problems? What can they do, those who are outside the world, for us who are exposed to a thousand difficulties at every moment of our life? And these difficulties are increasing. With the evolution of the world life is becoming heavier, more difficult. No, the mastery, the holiness, the evolution must be shown here on earth. It is very easy to be evolved in the seventh heaven. But exaltation experienced and imparted to others here on the earth is exaltation, which is more worthwhile.
As to the grossness and subtlety of human nature, the heroes, kings, masters, prophets, those who have won the heart of humanity, have been fine in perception and in character. They have not been gross. Their fineness was simple. There was always a simple side to it, but at the same time it was subtle, which made it beautiful. A person who can say without saying and one who can do without doing is a subtle person and that subtlety is worth appreciating. The one who sees and does not see, knows and does not know; the one who experiences and does not experience at the same time, the one who is living and yet dead, that is the soul who experiences life fully.
(Excerpted from Mental Purification and Healing, by Hazrat Inayat Khan [“The Sufi Message”, vol. 1V])
URL of Part 57: http://www.newageislam.com/books-and-documents/the-sufi-message--excerpts-from-hazrat-inayat-khan’s-discourses-on-the-unity-of-religious-ideals--57--on-going-from-imperfection-to-perfection/d/87223