Hearts of Religion


A certain man was crying ‘Allah’ all night, ‘til his lips grew sweet from praise of God. The devil said, “Oh, garrulous man.  Where is the reply ‘Here Am I’ to all this ‘Allah’ of thine? Not a single response is coming from the throne. How long will you cry ‘Allah’ with grim face?” He became broken-hearted and lay down to sleep. In a dream he saw Elijah amidst the verdure who said, “Hark.  You have held back from praising God. Why do you repent of having called unto Him?” He said, “No ‘Here Am I’ is coming in response, hence I fear I’m turned away from the door.” Elijah said, “Nay. God saeth that ‘Allah’ of thine is my ‘Here Am I’. And that grief and ardour and supplication of thine are my messenger to thee. Thy fear and love are the noose to catch my favour. Beneath every ‘Allah’ of thine there is many a ‘Here Am I’ from me.”

I thought I would take the examples from a belief which is neither Christianity with its associations for us, nor Indian. This is from the Sufi classic, the Mathawi of Jalal’uddin Rumi, but it speaks of the heart of religion. The man crying ‘Allah’; no reply; and then you heard the rest. There is a heart but the heart is not visible. We know about the heart from the pulse. And if religion doesn’t have a pulse, doesn’t have a throb, in our lives, the form may be perfect but it will be like a marble statue – without a living heart.

Now we can say, ‘What is the basis of religion? We don’t see any God. Not a single reply is coming from the throne, hence we fear we are turned away from the door. Perhaps there is no God, as the Devil says’.  The teachers and the different religions give us certain indications and tell us to notice certain things. For instance, we never complain about weighing, about gravity – this is quite natural. But we don’t accept the fact of suffering. We feel somehow we ought to be happy. We don’t feel somehow we ought to be light and floating in the [sky]; but we feel somehow we ought to be free from suffering, and this is one indication.

Another one is this: that the world is uniquely designed for human experience.  We all know that’s nursery, that’s baby stuff. We used to be told that. ‘All things great and beautiful, the Lord God made them all’. Oh, we know that’s not true now. But it is. In the last fifteen years (I don’t want to go into this but if you look around, you will see the best-selling books now on cosmology speak of the unique combination of the cosmic constants favourable for human life. There is a huge book, The Cosmic Anthropic Principle by Tipler and there’s a new best-seller come out called ‘Chaos’. There’s a chaos at the basis of physics. There must be some control to produce the order which we see.  Well, these are simply indications. We’re told, “’Look and you will see design in the world”. It’s not put in there, as the scientists used to say in the 19th Century, by the human mind, but it is there.

Other hints are that we find it difficult to imagine the absence of consciousness. A philosopher like Bertrand Russell, he makes a mock of this. He said, “It’s absurd. I can easily imagine the time when Earth was simply a blazing mass of rocks. There was no consciousness at all”. But it’s been pointed out that this philosopher of the century failed to realise that in using the words ‘burning rocks’ he’s presupposing human consciousness. It’s the human eye and human consciousness observing the fundamental particles which produced ‘burning’ and ‘rocks’ – those words.  So, although he was denying consciousness at the time when Earth was simply a mass of blazing rock, he’s secretly putting it back again. And this was the great philosopher – because he wasn’t reasoning clearly then, but he was subserving a secret desire.

Another indication is the fact of inspiration in daily life and, again, it’s a good thing to take some enemy of religion, like Russell. Now in his little essay ‘How I Write’ (and he writes, or wrote beautifully, marvellous English and very clear presentation) he gives some examples and one [in] particular he says was an important work he had to do – quite a long one and he couldn’t see how to put it together.  He concentrated with great anxiety on this (this was in his earlier days).  He could by no means find any way to fit it together and in despair he went for a long walk.  And he says, as he came back through the door, suddenly the whole thing was clear before him.  He said, “This was not, I’m not saying this was perfect – but it was far away the best that I could possibly have done at the time, and far better than any idea that I had consciously”. Something came to him.

Now again, it’s very interesting to see what this sceptical, violently opposed to religion, mind makes of that. It says, “Well you see, what happens is, I suppose, by my intense concentration I planted the seeds.  And then underneath the subconscious they were germinating and then they came out”. But this great philosopher failed to realise that when you plant seeds you know what’s going to come up. The order is already in the seeds. This was a new order. It’s as though he’d scattered at random seeds of white and blue and red and they’d come up in the form of a Union Jack. What put the order into that? The great mathematician Poincaré who was a rival of Einstein, he saw this. He says some of his great advances in mathematics had come in a blinding flash after he’d been completely baffled. He saw the point clearly, which Russell didn’t see. He said, “This means, doesn’t it, that my subconscious (as he called it then) is more intelligent than I am?”  He says, “I should hate to admit it”, and he leaves the point open.

The teachers tell us these are little indications in our lives, and we take these dramatic cases because they’re well attested. But many writers, like Charlotte Bronte, speak of this same thing.  Some of her inspirations came [after] long concentration; being baffled and then something new comes up, something entirely new. So the teachers tell us that there are little indications in life.  There is a ‘Here Am I’ coming from the throne when there has been sincere and unselfish application.

But, religion takes the form, normally, popularly, of ourselves as individuals and of some transcendent power. Not a benevolent Father in heaven, as the sceptics sneer.  They say, “Well you’re babies, you can’t grow up. You had your parents to look after you when you were little and now you want parents in the sky to look after you. You can’t stand on your own feet.”   But they’ve never practised religion or they would know that to enter into religion means to take far greater responsibility than the sceptic can. It’s not a comfortable thing.

But there is a problem in religion and it can be summed up perhaps quite well in one of these humorous children’s stories which sometimes have a good point to them. A man with a very bad temper died and his little nephew was told that “Uncle Tom has gone to heaven”. So he said, “Is he shouting at the angels?”  His parents said, “No, dear. No. Uncle Tom’s … smiling now. He’s going round and he’s in heaven. Think of him like that”.  A little time later the mother said, “You think of Uncle Tom now, don’t you, like that?”  And he said, “Well I try – always smiling – but it’s not Uncle Tom”.

Now this is the problem. What is it that worships? What is it that’s going to heaven or hell?  “Am I going to heaven with all my faults?” “Oh well, no. Some of them will be less. Perhaps all of them will be wiped out.” “Well then, what will distinguish me, if I’m a perfect soul, from all the other perfect souls?” One teacher gives this example [writing on the blackboard].  Supposing [I write] this ‘I’.  Well, other people would write their ‘I’ [differently], and then others would write it sort of more carelessly, and others more carelessly still.  It’s still recognisably ‘I’. But if all the faults are removed, all the carelessness is removed, then it’ll just be [like the original ‘I’].  And he says this is why all the descriptions of heaven are so boring – because they can’t think of anything. Hell is interesting.  Things are going on there, people are all different. But in heaven they’re all perfect and they’ve all got these long robes.  Well, the kids used to look through father’s Doré illustrations of the bible.  Hell was interesting, even purgatory; but in heaven it was all robes and nothing happening – a few harps around, but you’d soon get tired of those.

What is it that’s going to heaven, that’s going to be blessed?  And our problem is, ‘Am I going with all my faults, or are my faults going to be corrected? And if my faults are corrected, what will it be?’  It’s been pointed out by a critic, whom I’d better not name, that Shakespeare couldn’t create a saint. Everything else he could create. And it’s a Tolstoy remark that in all novels the villains are much more interesting than the good people, because the author understands about villains, as we all do.  He doesn’t understand about good people. So the heart of religion comes down that we have indications of a ‘Here Am I’ from the beyond, which come in inspiration in our lives and in blessing in our lives, when we follow, to some extent, the religious path. But the problem is the Self, the soul, what is that?

Now I thought I would take the examples mostly, as I said, from Islam, because it doesn’t have associations and might be new to you. Something is trying to express itself to our limited condition, understanding and being, through the great religious traditions.  Not only of course in the writings, but something’s trying to express that there’s a difficulty. A rabbi gave a talk some time back and he said that when he was young he’d held onto this phrase, ‘Though he tally, I will wait for him’. And he said what an inspiration that had been to him when he was young. ‘However long he delays, I will wait for him – longer!’ Then he said, “I’m sixty now, and I still say it but it’s worn a little bit thin”. And we have a medieval proverb: ‘Young saint. Old sinner’. He’s very devout and earnest when he’s young, because he has this great hope.  Then [that hope] thins out and, finally, he turns against it. Another example: in these great religious traditions we can see there is the formal statement of the Lord, the Judge, the Father of the Universe and also sometimes the Mother of the Universe – compassionate, but also strict. But there’s something else which begins to express itself and then in many [traditions] (the examples I’m giving are from Islam), something else comes through and is expressed and then has to be put back into the official position.

For instance, David is regarded as a prophet in Islam and in one of the accounts of him he’s asked to give judgement in a case. Two litigants come before him. They are quarrelling, and David who’s famous for his justice sets himself down to hear the case.  Then an ecstasy begins to come over him and he says, “Two men, quarrelling. Yes, I see them. But God is everywhere. What am I seeing? A war between two fingers of God. How can I judge?” He begins to speak and then, in the classic it says, somebody pulled his sleeve and said, “Oh great prophet, I have not the least doubt of His unity”.  Then David comes to himself.  He says, “Now, yes. Present the arguments on each side and I’ll give judgement.” So something begins to come. There’s a change.  A war between two fingers of God and then he’s pulled back and he gives judgement on this basis.  The reason is that human beings, as we stand, will not be able to live on this basis, or we think we can’t live on this basis.

Another example: the great Bayazid, the Sufi mystic. When he was in his ecstasy of devotion, suddenly he shouted.  This tremendous shout came from within him, “Why do you seek God outside? Within this shirt there is nothing but God.” The disciples were horrified. This is blasphemy. When he came out of the ecstasy, they said to him, “Master, you said this”. He said, “Oh, I must not say that. If I say that again kill me. It’s blasphemy. No man can be God”.  So they said, “Yes.” Then the evening comes again, he passes into his ecstasy and the classic says, “The candle of his reason burning clearly…”  But when the sun rises you can’t see a candle. When the king, when the mighty emperor, comes, the town mayor creeps away into a corner. Again the ecstasy came and he shouts, “There’s none other but God here. Why seek thee elsewhere?” So some of the disciples who’d prepared their knives, they stabbed him, as he told them. But the knives turned in their hands and they stabbed themselves.  The classic says, “Half knowledge tied their hands and they just struck a weak blow, and the knives turned and they themselves were only wounded”. It says, “In the morning the ranks of the disciples were thinned”.

Now these are little hints expressed with great beauty in that mystical tradition of Islam. There is the duality, the man crying ‘Allah’, and the devil makes his comment, and he becomes broken-hearted and then the vision in the dream – “That cry of ‘Allah’ of thine is my ‘Here Am I’”.  These stories are most beautiful and they come from another tradition.  The immediate reaction when one’s in any system of training and you look at another one, it looks wonderful. Not with all the dreadful awful things that go on in one’s own, but so beautiful.  One teacher compares it.  He says, “It’s like when you go on holiday. You leave your place of work, where you’re working. That’s a nice place there, but you go.  You’ve saved up quite a bit of money and now you’re in some other place. You’re not working and you spend your time going round to the local beauties and you think, “Oh, this is heaven!”  He says, “It’s heaven because you’re not working to support it. Other people are working to support it. And the people there, they don’t think it’s heaven. They’re working to support it. They want to come to where you live and they think ‘This is the place’.”

One of the most beautiful places in Japan is called Matsushima. Poets and artists go there. It’s volcanic and there are islands in the sea, and they say all the beauties of the world can be found in Matsushima.  Poets and artists take a little boat and they go out.  There’s one account given, which I’ve read, where a party of them did this and they were in ecstasy.  The boat boy took them round and showed them the great sights where the rock comes out in an arch and you see the blue sea and the pine through it.  The artists were making sketches and the poets were making little notes.  They had a wonderful time. When they came back, they gave the boy a very good tip and one of them said to him, “My boy you live in heaven”. “Yes, yes”. “Is there anything you’d like to ask us?”  He said, “Oh yes. Is it true there’s a mile of neon lights in Tokyo?”  We see another tradition and we think it’s like a holiday.

Now this wonderful Sufi tradition – not having to use your own judgement about your training but to be told by revelation from God.  Some of them say, in some religions, that reasons are given for the commands of God and they are favourable for you. The diet rules have a hygienic basis. So, you do them to obey God, yes but also you’re benefitting yourself. But in this one, the commands are given, with no reason. And so our egoity is lost because we have no self-interest whatever.  We do this simply because God has revealed this as his command. Well, this sounds wonderful. Free from the egoistic calculating, “Will this suit me.  Should I do this and how much should I do?”  “Use your reason? No! Simply obey.”  “Wonderful”. But if someone were actually to go into the desert and meet a teacher there, one might have a little surprise. You might look at him and see that his forehead was pitted with scars and bumps.  The disciple tells you that in Islam the forehead goes on the ground – not just bows.  The forehead is on the ground and this master, this teacher, rubs his forehead on the ground, so the whole of the forehead is pitted and scarred.  This is his total abasement before God. “Oh! I could do this [touching], but that [rubbing], that’s simply harming – a mild sort of injury to yourself, isn’t it? There’s no point in it, is there? The Koran just says the forehead on the ground but this, this rubbing in abasement, I mean, it goes against the grain somehow. One feels it’s wrong”. And the disciple says, “Well, God’s command or your forehead, which?” “Perhaps I won’t go into that tradition.  Perhaps the rational Buddhist tradition might be a lot better.”

The Self is what is confronts God in the religions. But the problem always is, what is that Self? Is it going to be as we stand? Is the resurrection of the body when we’re old, when we’re young? What’s the form going to be, or in some different form?”  Now one teacher explains this point. We look at the sea and we see waves. [Writes on the blackboard]. These are the waves we see – one there with a little crest on it.  When we’re small children we think this is a thing, that this is an actual body of water that’s travelling across the surface of the sea. And it makes sense to talk about this wave.  That’s a wave with a crest, these two are the same size. It makes sense to talk about the wave. But when we get older we know, we come to know, that this isn’t a body of water moving across the [sea], but in fact the water here is simply going up and down. The wave is travelling but not the water. The water is going up and down. These [waves] are not things and yet it makes sense to talk about them as things – but ultimately they are not things.

He said it’s the same with the Self. It makes sense to talk about oneself, what one’s going to do tomorrow, what one did yesterday, as if one were a thing.  But, in actual fact, it isn’t ultimately [real] – well, you know the technical terms. Now, this which is unreal [Tunes a radio into a cricket match commentary], is nevertheless a viable thing. I can know in theory that these waves fill the hall. It’s a cricket match. But this tiny little thing can bring that to reality. The transcendent fills [the world] as the radio waves fill this hall.  The teacher says, ‘the Buddha nature’ he calls it, ‘fills’.  We can be theoretically satisfied with it, but we don’t have direct experience of it except in special circumstances that come as a result of devoted work.  Then a flash will suddenly come, but it’s not consistent and it can’t be brought. So the discipline then is to bring the tiny thing, which is the wave of ourselves (well, even using these words like) ‘onto the wavelength of what is everywhere’.  And then we shall have this knowledge.

In this case it’s the knowledge of a cricket match, but if it’s the knowledge of a typhoon moving towards us then it’s the knowledge of life and death, which will tell us what to do. We can say, “Well, why doesn’t this become apparent to everybody? Why can’t we just do this? What is the obstacle? If the obstacles consist in being unreal, what is the difficulty?”  There is a little saying, ‘If you don’t misuse your power a bit, there’s no point in having it’.  It’s in that. If I am the editor of a magazine, people submit things. If I can’t judge them it’s quite easy to get someone. “Oh that article.  Yes, he’s a famous writer, you know.  He’s done this, and this, and this”. “Well, that’s a good one. Right put it in”. And if it’s a bad one, if I’m not sure myself, I can ask a good critic.  “Yes, that’s a bad one, I shouldn’t…” Anyone can do that. Put in the good ones, throw out the bad ones. But I think, “Well, you know, I don’t count for anything if I just do that. I’m just a rubber stamp”. So I start thinking, “He may be a very famous writer, but he’s got to please me and I can be difficult.” Then I exist. All the time this, which is only a wave, is wanting to exist somehow. And this is what is called the klesha, something which wants to form a knot in a ball and exist. Underneath our lives, interpenetrating it, the teacher says, there is what they don’t like to specify but which we must try to ‘experience’ – though again the word is not always exact.  By our training to come into touch, and then not just touch, but be. There is a desert in North Western India which is not good for anything very much – about ten people living to every ten square kilometres or something.  It’s absolutely barren, and they spent a lot of money hoping to get oil there. The geologists told them there was quite a possibility. At great expense, they mounted drilling operations to try and find this oil.  Apparently you can tell – it went very deep – when you’re coming to a sort of, I suppose something like, a breakthrough. Anyway, the news came. So, everything was alerted, now what’s going to happen? And the thing went through the last rock. “Oil?” “Water!” And the news went up from the engineer on the spot to the chief engineer.  “Oil?” “Water!”  Then it goes up to the deputy minister. “Water!” Then it goes up to the minister. “Water? In the great Indian desert? What’s happened at the other sites – go on quick.” “Yes, water”. There’s a river, it’s known from the Vedas. It rises in the Himalaya and, in one of these myths of course, it goes underground and comes out far down to join the other rivers from underneath.  The River Saraswati.

Well it turns out that this is an actual fact, that there’s a river flowing, powerfully, under this great desert and, according to the report, this is going to solve the water problems of North Western India. Now, they were hoping for oil, but oil will run out. The river won’t run out, because it comes from the Himalaya. There is another kind of richness. The oil will give material – money – but it will run out. The water will give life, and solve all the food problems. In the same way the teacher (now this is an example which the Buddha gives himself) [says], “Dig in the desert for water”.  The minister digs, doesn’t he, a few feet and says there’s no water; and the king says “Dig again, dig deeper”. He comes back, still no water. The king says, “Go on digging, I’m certain there is water”.  To have the running stream, this solves the water problem in North Western India. Otherwise through that desert we have to go from oasis to oasis and carry the water with us. In the same way the teacher uses this example of the underground stream, not of course knowing its modern example.  We carry things with us through life. We get achievements. We make for an oasis where we can make a profit and so we can carry on our lives in the desert of the world.  Underneath, there’s a flowing stream. Instead of searching externally, wider and wider and wider, and making an occasional little gain of water, to search down.  Then we shall find the stream, and that can be brought up and the whole area will flourish.

In the bull pictures (which you will know of from Reverend Murakami’s book) there’s a number of different series of them – ten pictures and ten pictures, and there’s one of twelve pictures, and there’s one of six pictures and there’s even one of four pictures. But one series has a picture between the time when the bull is raging to get loose from the end of a tight rope and when the bull is pacified and will follow the man. Now the picture that comes between is called, ‘Turning the Head’ and in this picture the rope is now slack. The man is still holding the rope and the bull is still tethered but the bull is looking round at the man. And one of the comments on this is that normally when discipline comes on us, something wants to get away.  Whatever it may be – a cosmic force – wants to get loose. But this is the case of one man. One teacher gives the example of the windmill. The wind is free, but actually doesn’t do anything very much for men. But if the windmill is put up, the same wind drives the windmill and grinds the cereal. In the same way he says, this bull is to come in affection and friendliness to the man and now for the first time turns the head and looks. He still has to be kept on the leash, because this is only the first time.  He compares this to the first real glimpse of what it is that’s imposing this discipline on us, that we kick against so much; or else that we accept, “Alright, alright, alright.  Go on, go on.  Keep on keeping on. You know, like that”. We are held, but now [we] turn round. And the commentator says that it’s at this point too that the man turns his head. He’s been capturing the bull and bringing the bull into harmony with himself and now for the first time he’s turning his head.  So again, it’s like all these things, they’re just illustrations.  They can be a stimulus, they can be beautiful but somehow they have to be incorporated into ourselves. Hints are given to us.  In the end something has to be brought in actual experience to our lives.

I’ll just say again the little poem with which we began because there shouldn’t be narrowness in the light of some of the illustrations that have been given. ‘A certain man was crying ‘Allah’ all night, ‘til his lips grew sweet from praise of God. The devil said, “Oh, garrulous man. Where is the response ‘Here Am I’ to all this ‘Allah’ of thine? Not a single response is coming from the throne. How long will you cry ‘Allah’ with grim face?” He became broken-hearted and lay down to sleep. In a dream he saw Elijah amidst the verdure who said, “Hark. You have held back from praising God. Why do you repent of having called unto Him?” He said, “No response is coming from the throne, hence I fear I’m turned away from the door.” Elijah said, “Nay, God saeth that ‘Allah’ of thine is my ‘Here Am I’.  And that grief and ardour and supplication of thine are my messenger to thee. Thy fear and love are the noose to catch my favour. Beneath every ‘Allah’ of thine there is many a ‘Here Am I’ from me.”’

Well, thank you for your attention.


© Trevor Leggett

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