What is a Mystic?
Mysticism is neither a faith nor a belief, nor is it a principle or a dogma. A mystic is born; being a mystic means having a certain temperament, a certain outlook on life. It is for this reason that many are confused by the word mystic, because mysticism cannot be explained in plain words.
To a mystic, impulse has divine significance. In every impulse a mystic sees the divine direction. What people call free will is something that does not exist for a mystic. He sees one plan, working and making its way towards a desired result, and every person, whether willingly or unwillingly, contributes towards the accomplishment of that plan; and this contribution to the plan is considered by one to be free will and by another accident. The one who feels, “This is my impulse; this is my idea; this I must bring into action”, only knows of the idea from the moment it has become manifest to his view. He therefore calls it free will. But from whence did that idea come to him? Where does impulse come from? It comes, directly or indirectly, from within. Sometimes it may seem to come from outside, but it always starts from within, and thus every impulse for a mystic is a divine impulse. One may ask, why is not every impulse divine for everybody, since every impulse has its origin within? It is because not everybody knows it to be so. The divine part of the impulse is in realizing it is divine. The moment we are conscious of the divine origin of the impulse, from that moment it is divine. Although all through life it has come from within, it is the fact of knowing this which makes it divine.
A mystic removes the barrier that stands between himself and another person by trying to look at life, not only from his own point of view, but also from the point of view of another. All disputes and disagreements arise from people’s misunderstanding of each other, and mostly people misunderstand each other because they have their fixed point of view and are not willing to move from it. This is a rigid condition of mind. The more dense a person, the more he is fixed in his own point of view. Therefore it is easy to change the mind of an intelligent person, but it is most difficult to change the mind of a foolish person once it is fixed. It is the dense quality of mind which becomes fixed in a certain idea, and that clouds the eyes so that they cannot see from the point of view of another person.
Many fear that by looking at things from the point of view of someone else they lose their own point of view, but I would rather lose my point of view if it was a wrong one. Why must one stick to one’s point of view simply because it is one’s own? And why should it be one’s own point of view and not all points of view, the point of view of one and the same Spirit? For just as two eyes are needed to make the sight complete and two ears are necessary to make the hearing complete, so it is the understanding of two points of view, the opposite points of view, which gives a fuller insight into life.
A mystic calls this unlearning. What we call learning is fixing ideas in our mind. This learning is not freeing the soul; it is limiting the soul. By this I do not mean to say that learning has no place in life, but only that learning is not all that is needed in the spiritual path; there is something besides, there is something beyond learning, and to this we can only attain by unlearning. Learning is just like making knots of ideas, and the thread is not smooth as long as the knots are there. They must be unravelled, and when the thread is smooth one can treat it in any way one likes. A mind with knots cannot have a smooth circulation of truth; the ideas which are fixed in one’s mind block it. A mystic, therefore, is willing to see from all points of view in order to clarify his knowledge. It is that willingness which is called unlearning.
The sense of understanding is one and the same in all of us, and if we are willing to understand, then understanding is within our reach. Very often we are not willing to understand, and that is why we do not understand. Mankind suffers from a sort of stubbornness. A man goes against what he thinks comes from another person. And yet everything he has learned has come from others; he has not learned one word from himself. All the same he calls it his argument, his idea, and his view, although it is no such thing; he has always taken it from somewhere. It is by accepting this fact that a mystic understands all, and it is this which makes him a friend of all.
A mystic does not look at reasons as everybody else does, because he sees that the first reason that comes to his mind is only a cover over another reason which is hidden behind it. He has patience, therefore, to wait until he has lifted the veil from the first reason, until he sees the reason behind it. Then again he sees that this reason which was hidden behind the first reason is more powerful, but that there is a still greater reason behind it. And so he goes from one reason to another, and sees in reason nothing but a veil to cover reality. And as he goes further, penetrating the several veils of reason, he reaches the essence of reason. By touching the essence he sees the reason in everything, good and bad.
Compare a mystic with an average person who argues and disputes and fights and quarrels over the first reason, which is nothing but a cover. Compare the two. The one is ready to form an opinion, to praise and to condemn; while the other patiently waits until reality gradually unfolds itself. A mystic believes in the unknown and unseen, not only in the form of God, but the unknown that is to come, the unseen that is not yet seen; whereas the other has no patience to wait until he knows the unknown, until he sees the unseen. A mystic does not urge the knowledge of the unknown or unseen upon another, but he sees the hand of the unknown working through all things. For instance, if a mystic has the impulse to go out and walk towards the North, he thinks there must be some purpose in it. He does not think it is only a whim, a foolish fancy, although the reason for it he does not know. But he will go to the North, and he will try to find the purpose of his going there in the result that comes from it.
The whole life of the mystic is mapped on this principle, and it is by this principle that he can arrive at the stage where his impulse becomes a voice from within that tells him “go here”, “go there”, or “leave”, “move”, or “stay.” Therefore while others are prepared to explain why they are doing something or going somewhere or what they wish to do, the mystic cannot explain, because he himself does not know. And yet he knows more than the person who is ready to answer why he is going and what he is going to accomplish, for what does man know about what will happen to him? He makes his program and plans, but he does not know.
Man proposes and God disposes. Many say this every day, yet at the same time they make their programs and lay out their plans. A mystic is not particular about it. He is working on the plan which is laid out already and he knows that there is a plan. He may not know the plan in detail; but if anyone can and will know the plan, it is the mystic. This again tells us something: that the one who knows little, knows most; and those who seem to know more, know the least.
The outlook of the mystic is like that of a man standing on a mountain-top and looking at the world from a great height. And if a mystic looks upon everyone as being not much different one from another, because they are all like children to him, it is like what we see from the top of a mountain. All people whether tall or short seem to be of the same size; they appear like little beings moving about; and an average man is frightened of truth in the same way that a person who has never been on a great height gets frightened at the sight of the immensity of space. The truth is immense, and when a person reaches the top of understanding he becomes frightened and he does not want to look at it.
Many have told me, “Eastern philosophy interests us very much, but the conception of Nirvana is very frightening.” And I have answered, “Yes, it is frightening. Truth is just the same: truth is also frightening, but truth is reality.” Besides man is so fond of illusion that he so to speak revels in it. If someone awakens a man who is having an interesting dream, that man will say, “O let me sleep on!” He likes looking at his dream; he does not want to wake up to reality because reality is not as interesting as the dream. Thus among the seekers after truth we find only one in a thousand who is courageous enough to look at the immensity of truth. But there are many who take an interest in illusion, and they are inclined, out of curiosity, to look at mental illusions, because these are different from the illusion of the physical life. And they are apt to call this mysticism, but it is not mysticism.
No one can be a mystic and call himself a Christian mystic, a Jewish mystic or a Mohammedan mystic. For what is mysticism? Mysticism is something which erases from one’s mind all idea of separateness, and if a person claims to be this mystic or that mystic he is not a mystic; he is only playing with a name.
People say that a mystic is someone who dreams and who lives in the clouds; my answer to this is that the real mystic stands on earth, but his head is in heaven. It is not true that the wise man is not intellectual, or that the wise man is not clever. A clever man is not necessarily wise, but the one who has the higher knowledge has no difficulty in gaining knowledge of worldly things. It is the man who has knowledge of worldly things only who has great difficulty in absorbing the higher knowledge.
Mr. [Henry] Ford was very wise when he said to me, “If you had been a business man, I am sure you would have been successful.” Furthermore, he said, “I have tried all my life to solve the problem which you appear to have solved.”
This again gives us an insight into the idea that higher wisdom does not debar a person from having worldly wisdom, though worldly wisdom does not qualify a person to attain to the higher wisdom.
And now let us come to the mystic’s vision. People think that to see colors or spirits or visions is mystical. But mysticism cannot be restricted to this, and those who see these things are not necessarily mystics. Besides those who can see and whose vision is clear, say so little about it. The mystic will be the last to claim that he sees or does wonderful things; his vision and his power would be diminished as soon as he began to feed his vanity by claiming to know or do things which others cannot know or do. The main thing that the mystic has to accomplish is to get rid of the false ego, so that if he feeds it on claiming such things he will lose all his power and virtue and greatness.
To a mystic every person is like an open letter, just as to an experienced physician a person’s face tells his condition. And yet a mystic would never say to someone else, “In this person I see this or that”, for the more he knows the greater trust is put in him by God. He covers all that should be covered; he only says what has to be said. A mystic will know most and yet will act innocently. It is the ones who know little who make a fuss about their knowledge. The more a person knows, the less he shows to others. Besides a mystic is never ready to correct people for their follies, to condemn them for their errors, or to accuse them of foolishness. He sees so much of errors and follies and foolishness that he never feels inclined to point them out; he just sees life in its different aspects, and understands the process an individual goes through in life.
It is by mistakes and errors that one learns in the end, and a mystic never feels that he should condemn anyone for them; he only feels that they are natural. Some are advancing rapidly, others are going slowly. Foolishness is just like light and darkness: it is through darkness that the sun rises, and through ignorance wisdom will rise one day. A mystic, therefore, need not learn patience; he is taught patience by life from the beginning till the end. A mystic need not learn tolerance; his outlook gives him tolerance, it is natural for him. He need not learn forgiveness; he cannot do anything but forgive.
Man loves complexity and calls it knowledge. A great many societies and institutions in the world which call themselves occult and esoteric and psychic and by various other names, knowing that everyone is interested in complexity, cover the truth; and instead of covering it with one cover they cover it with a thousand covers to make it more interesting. It is just like customs which were followed in ancient times when people came to worship and asked the priest how they should do it, and he would say, “How far do you live from the shrine?” And when they said, “Two miles,” he answered, “You must come on foot to the shrine and walk around it a hundred times before you may enter it.” He gave them a good exercise before they were allowed to come in. And ever, today they do the same thing. When a person says, “I want to see truth”, but wishes to look for truth in complexity, they cover truth under a thousand covers and then they give him the problem to solve. Are there not many people interested in the Mahatmas of the Himalayas, are there not many interested in the holy souls in remote places of Persia, many who look for a master in the center of Australia? Perhaps next year an article will appear declaring that a great soul has been born in Siberia. What is it all about? It is all the love of complexity, queer notions, strange ideas which do not lead souls any further.
Therefore a mystic very often appears to be simple, because sincerity makes him feel inclined to express the truth in simple language and in simple ideas. But because people value complexity, they think that what he says is too simple and that it is something which they have always known, that it is nothing new. But, as Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun.
Besides truth belongs to the soul and the soul knows it, and as soon as the truth is spoken the soul recognizes it; it is not new, not foreign to it. If a person says, “This is something I already know”, even if his soul has known it, it can never be repeated too often for him. The great saints of the East have repeated one phrase, for instance, “God is One”, perhaps a million times in their lives. Should we believe that they were so foolish as not to be able to understand the meaning of it by saying it once? Why then do they repeat it a million times? The reason is that it is never enough. We live in the midst of illusion from morning till evening when we go to sleep. What we do not know is the illusion in which we are from morning till evening. It is not the truth we do not know; truth is all we know–if we know anything fully. The mystic, therefore, instead of learning truth, instead of looking for truth, wishes to maintain truth; he wishes to cling to the idea of truth, to keep the vision of reality before him lest it may be covered by the thousand veils of illusion.
Does the mystic make any effort to reach the highest realization? Yes. It is an art which is passed on from teacher to pupil, and so this art is handed down through the ages from one person to another. One might ask why, if truth is within oneself, is there any necessity for such an art. But, after all, art is not nature. The animals and birds do not need an art; they are happy, they are peaceful, they are innocent, they are spiritual, really spiritual. They live in nature, their life is natural. We live far away from nature, we have made our artificial world to live in; and that is why we require an art to free ourselves from it. I do not mean to say that we must abandon life, or that we must not have anything to do with life in order to be mystics, but we have to practice that art which enables us to get in touch with reality.
That art is in the first place concentration. Concentration does not mean closing the eyes and sitting in church on Sunday. Many know how to close their eyes and sit there, yet their mind wanders about, specially when they have closed their eyes. Concentration means that every atom of the body and of the mind is centered in one spot.
The next step is contemplation; that is to be able to retain an idea which raises one’s consciousness from the dense world. The third stage is meditation, and that is to purify oneself, to free oneself, and to open oneself to the light of truth, in order that it may abide in one’s spirit. And the fourth step is realization. Then the mystic is no longer the knower of truth, but is truth itself.