The Power of the Word
By Hazrat Inayat Khan
We find in the Bible the words: ‘In the beginning was the word, and the word was God’, and we also find that the word is light, and that when that light dawned the whole creation manifested. These are not only religious verses; to the mystic or seer the deepest revelation is contained in them. Here is a thought which may be pondered over for years, each time with fresh inspiration. It teaches that the first sign of life that manifested was the audible expression, or sound: that is the word.
When we compare this interpretation with the Vedanta philosophy, we find that the two are identical. All down the ages the Yogis and seers of India have worshipped the Word-God, or Sound-God, and around that idea is centered all the mysticism of sound or utterance. Not alone among Hindus, but among the seers of the Semitic, the Hebraic races the great importance of the word was recognized. The sacred name, the sacred word, were always esteemed in the Jewish religion. Also in Islam, that great religion whose mysticism the West is only beginning to discover, one finds the doctrine of Ismaism which, translated, is the ‘doctrine of the mystical word’. The Zoroastrians, who had their religion given to them long before the time of Buddha or Christ, and who have lost many of their teachings through the changes of time and conditions, have yet always preserved the sacred words. Sanskrit is now considered a dead language – but in the Indian meditations called Yoga, Sanskrit words are still used because of the power of sound and vibration that is contained in them.
The deeper we dive into the mystery of life the more we find that its whole secret is hidden in what we call words. All occult science, all mystical practices are based upon the science of word or sound. Man is a mystery in all aspects of his being, not only in mind and soul, but also in that organism which he calls his body. It is his body of which the Sufis say that it is the temple of God, and this is not a mere saying or belief, for if man studies his body from the mystical point of view, he will find it to be much more subtle and far-reaching, and much more capable of doing, understanding and feeling, than he believes it to be.
There are faculties of the soul which express themselves through certain centers in the body of man. As there are parts of lands to which water never reaches – and therefore they never become fertile soil – so it is with these centers when the breath never reaches them. They are intuitive, they are full of peace and balance, they are the centers of illumination, yet never have they been awakened, for man has breathed only in those parts of his body by which he can eat, and live, and perform action. He is only half alive, if his existence is compared with the fullness of life that can be obtained by spiritual development.
It may be compared to living in a great town and not knowing that there are many beautiful things that one has never seen. As there are many people who travel to distant lands and do not know their own country, so it is with man. He is interested in all that brings beauty and joy, and yet does not know the source of all such things in himself.
Man breathes, but he does not breathe tightly. As the rain fails on the ground and matures little plants and makes the soil fertile, so the breath, the essence of all energy, fails as a rain on all parts of the body. This also happens in the case of the mind, but man cannot even perceive that part of the breath that quickens the mind; only that felt in the body is perceptible, and to the average man it is not even perceptible in the body. He knows nothing of it, except what appears in the form of inhalation and exhalation through the nostrils. It is this alone which is generally meant when man speaks of breath.
When we study the science of breath, the first thing we notice is that breath is audible; it is a word in itself, for what we call a word is only a more pronounced utterance of breath fashioned by the mouth and tongue. In the capacity of the mouth breath becomes voice, and therefore the original condition of a word is breath. Therefore if we said: ‘First was the breath’, it would be the same as saying: ‘In the beginning was the word’
The first life that existed was the life of God, and from that all manifestation branched out. It is a manifold expression of one life; one flower blooming as so many petals, one breath expressing itself as so many words. The sacred idea attached to the lotus flower is expressive of this same philosophy, symbolizing the many lives in the one God, and expressed in the Bible in the words: ‘In God we live and move and have our being’. When man is separated from God in thought, his belief is of no use to him, his worship is but of little use to him; for all forms of worship or belief should draw man closer to God, and that which makes man separate from God has no value.
Now rises the question: What is it that makes a word sacred or important? Is not every word as sacred and important as another? That is true – but for whom is it sacred? For the pure and exalted souls to whom every word breathes the name of God, but not for the average man. There are souls who are at that stage of evolution in which every word is the sacred name. But when a teacher gives a method, it is not given to the exalted souls but to beginners, and therefore words are selected and given to pupils by the Guru or teacher, as a physician would give a prescription, knowing for which complaint and for what purpose it is given. Hafiz says: ‘Accept every instruction thy teacher giveth, for he knoweth which is thy path and where is thy good’.
Great importance is given by the mystics to the number of repetitions, for numbers are a science and every number of repetitions has a value. One repetition means one thing and a few more mean something quite different, as in medicine one grain of a drug may heal and ten may destroy life. When Christ commanded to abstain from vain repetitions he was not, as is often thought, referring to the sacred name as used in worship or religious practices. There was a custom among the Semitic peoples, and it still exists in the East, of the constant use of the name of God by people in the street or market place. They would bring it continually into commerce or business, into quarrels and disputes, and it was against this abuse of the most holy name that Christ was speaking.
In repetition lies the secret of power, therefore it is a great mistake when people take the ways of spiritual culture lightly as an everyday interest, as a little hobby, and learn from a book or from some slight instruction given to them. If they attempt to practice from such knowledge only, they are risking their lives. Imagine, a center which should be awakened at a certain time of evolution being awakened before that time is reached. It would be a disaster!
There are certain words which attract a certain blessing in life. Some attract power, some bring release from difficulties, some give courage and strength. There are words which can heal, others which give comfort and ease, and again others which have greater effects still. Now when a person in need of peace and rest uses words that bring courage and strength, he will become even more restless. It is just like taking medicine which is a tonic to cure a high fever.
Then there is another question, namely: what makes a word powerful? Is it the meaning, the vibration, the way it is used, or the knowledge of the teacher who teaches the pupil to repeat it? The answer to such a question is that some words have power because of their meaning, others because of the vibration they produce, others for their influence upon the various centers. And there are some words given by saints, sages and prophets which have come inspirationally from God. In them is all blessing and the mystery of how to acquire all that the soul desires in life. If there exists any phenomenon or miracle it is in the power of words. But those who know of this power and who possess it never show it to others. Spiritual attainment is not a thing to be brought before people to prove that it is real, or as a show. What is real is proof in itself, what is beyond all price or value does not need to be made much of before people. What is real is real, and the precious is precious in itself; it needs no explanation nor pleading.
The greatest lesson of mysticism is to know all, gain all, attain all things and be silent. The more the disciple gains, the more humble he becomes, and when any person makes this gain a means of proving himself in any way superior to others, it is a proof that he does not really possess it. He may have a spark within himself, but the torch is not yet lighted. There is a saying among the Hindus that the tree that bears much fruit bows low.
Words have power to vibrate through different parts of man’s body. There are words that echo in the heart, and there are others that do so in the head, and again others that have power over the body. By certain words definite emotions can be quickened or calmed. There is also a science of syllables which has its own particular effect.
Wagner did but repeat the teaching of the mystics of the East, when he said that he who knows the law of vibrations knows the whole secret of life.
The word is in itself mystery in every sense, and all scriptures have considered the mystery of the word – even compared to all other secrets of life – as the most profound. In the scripture that is best known to the Western world we read that first was the word, and the word was God, and then again one reads that it was the word which was first and then came light. These sentences convey to us two things. The first conveys to us that, if anything existed, and if we can express what existed, we can only express it by the term ‘word’. And when we come to the second sentence it explains another phase of the mystery which is that, in order to enable the soul surrounded by the darkness of the world of illusion to come to the light, first the word was necessary. This means that the original Spirit was in the mystery of the word, and that by the word the mystery of the Spirit was to be found.
When we come to the Vedantic scriptures, which existed many thousands of years ago, there also we realize the same thing. For instance, there is a phrase in Sanskrit: Nada Brahma, which means: the mystery of creation was in nada – in the word. In the Qur’an one reads in the Arabic words Kun fa-yakun that first was the exclamation ‘Be!’, and it became. The One who said ‘Be’- and it became – was not a mortal being. He was and is, and will be all the life there is. If that is so, then the word was not the mystery of the past, but the word is a continual and everlasting mystery. And at this time, when man has engaged himself in the material phenomena and has progressed very far, compared with the past, in industry and commercial activities, this aspect of discovering the might which lies hidden under the word is still unexplored.
The mystic who knows the value of the word finds that word first in himself; for the secret of all knowledge that one acquires in the world, whether worldly or spiritual, is the knowledge of the self. For instance, music is played outside oneself. But where is it realized? It is realized within. A good word or a bad word is spoken from outside. But where is it realized? It is realized within. Then where is the realization of the whole manifestation, of all this creation that stands before us in all its aspects? Its realization is within.
At the same time the error of man always continues: instead of finding realization within, he always wants to find it without. It is just like a man who wants to see the moon and looks for it on the ground. If a man seeks for the moon for thousands of years by looking on the earth, he will never see it. He will have to lift up his head and look at the sky. So it is with the man who is in search of the mystery of life outside himself; he will never find it, for the mystery of life is to be found within: there are the source and the goal, and it is there that, if he seeks, he will find.
What is sound? Is sound outside, or is it something within? The outside sound only becomes audible because the sound within is continued, and the day when the sound within is shut off, this body is not capable of hearing the outside sound.
Man, living today the life of externality, has become so accustomed to the outside life that he hardly thinks of just sitting alone. When he is alone he busies himself with a newspaper or something else, always working with the life which is outside, always occupied with the life outside himself. In this way man loses his attachment to the life which is within. So his life becomes superficial, and the result is nothing but disappointment. There is nothing in this world in the form of sound, visible or audible, which is so attractive as the sound within; for all that the senses touch and all that is intelligible to the mind of man has its limitation. It has its limitation in time and effect; it makes no effect beyond that.
Life’s mystery lies in the breath; it is the continuation of breath and pulsation that keeps the mechanism of the body going. It seems that people of ancient times had a greater knowledge of this mystery than man has today. For what is meant by the lute of Orpheus? It means the human body; it is a lute, it is meant to be played upon. When this lute is not realized, when it is not understood, when it is not utilized for its proper purpose, then that lute remains without the use for which it was created, because then it has not fulfilled the purpose for which it was made.
The breath goes not merely as far as the man of material science knows. He knows only the vibrations of the air, going out and coming in, and he sees no further. Besides this there is pulsation: the beating of the heart and head, the pulse, all these keep a rhythm. Man very rarely thinks about what depends upon this rhythm. The whole life depends upon it! The breath which one breathes is certainly a secret in itself, it is not only a secret but the expression of all mystery, something upon which the psychology of life depends.
The science of medicine has for thousands of years to some extent depended upon finding out the complaints of the body by its rhythm and by the breath. Ancient medicine knew that health depends upon vibrations, and now again a time is coming when in the Western world physicians are striving to find out the law of vibrations upon which man’s health depends. But man, absorbed in the material life, goes so far and no further. The mystery of vibrations does not concern the material plane only: it goes still farther.
If the human body is a lute, then every word man speaks, every word he hears, has an effect upon his body; it not only has an effect upon the body, but also upon the mind. For instance, if a person hears himself called by the name ‘foolish’ and repeats it, even if he were wise he will in time turn foolish. And it is also true that if one calls a man who is simple wise, in time he will become wise. The effect of a man’s name has a great deal to do with his life, and very often one sees that a man’s name has an effect upon his fate and career. The reason is only that he is so often in the day called by that name. Is it not true that a man saying a humorous thing bursts out laughing, and a man saying a sad thing breaks into tears? If that is so, then what effect has every word that one speaks in one’s everyday life upon oneself and upon one’s surroundings!
The superstition that has existed in all times about not saying an unlucky word, an undesirable word, has a meaning. In the East a child is trained to think before he utters a word, since it has a psychological meaning and effect. Very often people reading a poem or singing a song with great love, a song of sorrow or tragedy, are affected by it, and their life may take a turn as a result.
A person who speaks of his illness nourishes his illness by speaking of it. Often I have heard people say that if a pain exists it is a reality, ‘and how can one deny it?’ It is so amusing to hear them say this, because reality is so far away, and our everyday life is such that from morning till evening we do nothing but deny it. If one could only know where the truth lies, if one could only know what truth is – if one only were to know it and see it – one would think that all else is non-existent in reality. If one studies the depth of this idea, one must admit the power of the word. But then, it is a science, a metaphysics that must be studied.
Yet the depth of the word of each person is very different. If a person has spoken a hundred words in one day, do you think that every word has the same power? No, the power and effect of a particular word depend upon the state in which that person was, and from what depth the word rises. Upon this depend the power and light of that word. For instance, with a person who has a habit of telling a lie, who is insincere, you will always find that his words are dropping down; his words have no force, while the one who speaks with conviction, who is sincere, who tells the truth – his word has a light, his word penetrates. Sometimes, from a person full of sadness and heartbroken, a voice comes, a word, full of sincerity; it has all the power to penetrate; it has such an effect upon the listener! Then there is another person who is lighthearted, who is not deep, not serious enough in life; everything he says and does is always on the surface; he inspires no one with confidence, for he himself has no confidence.
Besides that, there is a power of the word which is in accordance with the illumination of the soul, because then that word does not come from the human mind, that word comes from the depth, from behind; that word comes from some mysterious part that is hidden from the human mind. And it is in connection with such words that one reads in the scriptures of ‘swords of flame’ or ‘tongues of flame’. Whether it was from a poet, or whether it was from a prophet, when that word came from his burning heart, then the word rose as a flame. In accordance with the divine Spirit which is in the word, that word has life, power and inspiration. Think of the living words of ancient times, think of the living words that one reads in the scriptures, the living words of the holy ones, illuminated ones! They live and will live for ever. It is as a music which may be called a magic, a magic for all times. Whenever such words are repeated they have that magic, that power.
What the sages of all ages said – those words were kept by the people, by their pupils. In whatever part of the world they were born or lived, what they let fall as words was taken up as real pearls, and kept as scriptures. Therefore, wherever one goes in the East one finds that the followers of different religions keep the words of the illuminated ones whenever they pray, and they do not need to put them into their own language. One finds that in this way the words said by the great ones have been preserved for ages to be used for meditation.
There is a more scientific and still greater mystery in the word. It is not only what the word means, it is not only who has said the word, but the word in itself has also a dynamic power. The mystics, sages and seekers of all ages, knowing the mystery of the sacred word, have always been in pursuit of it. The whole meditative life of the Sufis is built upon the mystery of the word. For the word ‘Sufi’, according to the explanation of the initiates, is related to sophia which means wisdom. But not wisdom in the outer sense of the word, because worldly cleverness cannot be called wisdom. The intellect which man very often confuses with wisdom is only an illusion of it. Wisdom is that which is learned from within; intellect is that which is acquired from without. The source of wisdom is above, the source of intellect is below, and therefore it is not the same method, it is not the same process which one adopts in order to attain wisdom, as that which one adopts to acquire intellect. In short, the attainment of that wisdom is achieved in various ways by various people, but the great mystery of attaining divine wisdom lies in the mystery of the word.
The idea of the power of the word is as old as the Vedas of the Hindus. The modern world is now awakening to it through what is called psychology, and since there is an interest in psychology there is a possibility of exploring that ancient treasure which seekers after truth have developed for a thousand years in the East. The race that established itself to make its life in the tropical country called Hindustan was occupied in the study of human nature and its source, leaving aside all things of the world.
Man today looks at psychology as something that can help medical science as a side-issue, but certainly there will come a day when mankind in this modern world will look upon the science of psychology in the same way that the people in the East have looked upon it: as the main thing in religion and spirituality.
As to the power of the word, a new idea has been coming from various places under different names, and it is that the repetition of a certain word or phrase is of great use in curing oneself of certain illnesses. This is new because psychology in the Western world is discovering it today. But what about the Buddhists who, sitting in their temple, have repeated the different mantras for so many centuries, repeating them two thousand, three thousand times a day? And what about the Hindus who have kept their sacred mantras, the sacred chants which came down to them from thousands of years ago? Even if the language is different, they have still kept their ancient mantras. And what about the Jewish people who still have stored the sacred chants which they inherited from the prophets of Beni Israel? And what about the Muslims who for ages have repeated the Qur’an daily for so many hours, and who still continue to repeat the verses of the same book every day? And think what secret there is behind the repetitions of the priests and Catholic mystics! The Zoroastrians – the Parsis whose religion dates from ages ago – have maintained even up to the present time their sacred words, and they chant their prayers several times a day, always repeating the same words.
Does a man, who reads a newspaper today and throws it away tomorrow asking for another one, think about this: that there is something worthwhile in the fact that these millions of people have been clinging to those mantras, repeating them day after day all their lives, never becoming tired of doing so? If it were, as it is sometimes called, a religious fanaticism, then nobody could continue those repetitions, as no intoxication can continue longer than its influence lasts; then it goes and a person is disillusioned.
This shows that behind the repetition of words a secret is hidden, and the day when man has fathomed it he will have discovered a great secret of life. Leaving all religions aside and coming to material science, a person who has really touched the great height of science will never deny for one moment that behind this whole manifestation – if there is any secret which can be found as the mystery of the whole creation – it is movement. You may call that motion a vibration, or you may call it by a religious name.
One side of the understanding of the power of the word is to keep in mind that, as a reflector in the form of a globe is needed behind the light in order to throw the light fully, so a reflector is needed for the voice, as every voice-producer knows. The voice-producer will always give exercises to his pupil to repeat over and over again in order to get this reflector into the right condition, so that all the possibility of producing a full voice may be brought out.
That is the material side of the question, but then there is the psychological side of it. This is that not only the organs of the physical body have this reflector, but the mind, or what we call feeling, can also be a reflector. We very rarely explore this question; we cut it short every time we are faced with it. For instance, when a person is telling a lie it is natural that it is weak, and we cannot readily believe it. However loud his voice, however strongly he speaks, since it is a lie it is weak because, psychologically, the power of mind must act as a reflector, and in this condition it does not act, for the mind is not behind it. Take an ordinary phrase such as ‘thank you’ or ‘I am very grateful to you’. If during the day ten people say it to you, each one of them will have a different power of conveying it; for if the reflector is not giving power from behind, a person may tell you a thousand times ‘I am so grateful to you’, but it will make no effect.
There is another way of looking at the same question: one person may tell you something, and you readily believe it, and another person may tell you the same thing fifty times over, and you do not feel inclined to believe it. What does this show? It shows that we must prepare ourselves before we say anything. It is not always what we say, but how we feel it, how we express it, and what power is hidden behind our expression, what power pushes it out, so that the word may pierce through the heart of man.
Then there is also a thought connected with this idea: how can one best prepare oneself to utter a certain word effectively? Symbolically speaking, a person may pronounce the same word a hundred times before people, but it is an iron word. A person may say it fifty times, but it is a copper word. A person may say it twenty times, but it is a silver word. And another person may say it only once, and it is a golden word. For instance, a person may talk and talk and talk in order to convince you, he may dispute and discuss and argue and show a thousand examples to make you believe, and the more he wants you to believe, the more he pushes you off. There is another person who tells you something perhaps only once, and you cannot help saying: ‘Yes, I believe it, I understand it, I am convinced’.
How does one prepare oneself?. How does one make the reflectors ready in order to make the impression of the word? Yogis and Sufis have found certain practices by which a kind of psychological development is brought about. Through these a person becomes naturally more and more sincere and earnest, and everything he says bears that influence, that power. Perhaps these practices have no value according to the science of voice production, but they have very great value according to the psychological point of view. It is such practices which have been considered as concentration, meditation, contemplation, realization.
Regarding ancient words, any student of ancient languages will find that different languages can be traced back to one and the same source. The closer you approach the ancient languages the more you will find a psychological significance in them, and the languages of today will seem like corruptions of them. If I were to give you the derivation of words of several languages spoken today, such as French and English, you would be surprised to see how many words exist that are derived from ancient languages; very often they have the same meaning. Also, many names of persons are derived from these languages. In the ancient languages these words were obtained through the intuition; modern languages are based on the grammar one learns. But because its words have come purely from intuition, the language made from man’s experience of life, as an action and reaction, has certainly more powerful words than the languages we speak today. Therefore they have a great power when repeated, and a great phenomenon is produced when a person has mastered those words under the guidance of someone who understands that path.
Every vowel, such as a or e or o, has its psychological significance, and the composition of every word has a chemical and psychological significance. The Yogis have certain words which they repeat in the morning or in the evening for so many times, and from saying those words they derive a certain illumination or come to a certain state of exaltation. It is this very science which was called by the Sufis of ancient times dhikr (zikar). This means a science of bringing about desirable results by the repetition of the proper words or phrases.
A chemist may have all the medicines, but if every person went and got whatever medicine he wanted, he might cure himself or kill himself. Even more difficult and more responsible is the work of using the repetitions of certain psychological words or phrases. It is the physician’s responsibility to give a certain person a proper medicine necessary for his condition, for his purpose. In the East one searches for a Guru, or a Murshid as the Sufis call him, who has the experience of psychological prescription, and one takes what the Murshid has prescribed as an instruction. First the Murshid makes a diagnosis of the person’s condition, and according to that he prescribes a word or phrase by the repetition of which that person may arrive at the desired goal.
Those who have some experience of voice production will know that in the beginning the teacher does not give any songs; he gives certain words, and a special way of practicing by which the voice is developed. In Sufism there are certain words which are considered sacred, and a person of simple faith will only know them as sacred words. But besides that they have psychological significance, and by being repeated they produce a certain effect which helps one to bring about desired results.
It is very interesting to note that science shows every inclination of awakening in the direction of vibrations and their phenomena. During my last visit to the U.S.A. I was most interested to see a new system, known as Dr. Abrams’ system. The basis of this method, which as yet is not much developed, is the same: to find out the condition of the vibrations in the physical body in order to treat it in a satisfactory way.
When we see that similar systems were developed by the ancient mystics and occultists and tried for ages, and by numberless people for perhaps all their life, it is clear that those systems must bring about satisfactory results, and give to many a treasure which has always been kept sacred by the seekers after truth.
The Sufi Movement therefore has made a facility for the people of the West, for those who wish to reach that treasure, that source, to obtain by a serious study and practice of Sufism some glimpses of the truth which the ancient mystics possessed.
There is nothing more important as a means of raising one’s consciousness than the repetition of the right word; there is nothing that can be of greater use and importance in the path of spiritual attainment. When we look at the traditions we find that, from the time of the ancient Hindu teachers who lived thousands of years before Christ, the sacred word was in practice. And so you will find that, in all the great periods when a religious reform came to different countries, the power of the word was considered to be of immense importance: for instance, at the time when the Jewish religion was given, and also when the Christian religion began.
It is the misunderstanding of certain words of Christ which has confused many followers of the Christian religion in their understanding of the importance of the word. For when it is said to keep oneself from making vain repetitions, a person in the Western world, when he reads repetitions, just makes a literal translation; he does not know what is meant by it. The condition at that time was this: the word ‘God’ had become so much used in common affairs that, whenever a person wanted to convince another about something true or false, he used the word ‘God’. If a man wanted to sell something, in order to convince the other person of his own idea, he used to attach the name of God to the object he wanted to sell. And when the other did not believe him the custom was to say: ‘By the name of God it is true’. It is therefore that it was said: ‘Do not make vain repetitions of the sacred name; it is too sacred to be used in trade or business’. But then those who could not understand the idea behind it said that it was the repetition itself that Christ did not want. If they would only think that even at the last moment the Master repeated the sacred name!
It is the same sacred words which from ancient times up to the present are given from teacher to pupil. Mystical words may be used in different languages, but they do not exclusively belong to any language. Take, for example, the phrase used in the practice of dhikr (zikar). It is found today in the Arabic language, it came from Arabia. But then it is used in the Persian language also; one who does not know its existence in Arabia might think that it came from Persia. It also exists in the Hindustani language; one who does not know of its existence in those two other languages might think that it was Hindustani. That divine name also exists in the other Semitic languages. It is the same word which was repeated by Christ himself as his last word. Those who were before Christ, mystics whose origin was the ancient school of Egypt, also repeated the same word. There are sufficient proofs of this fact: during the time of Abraham, who was initiated in the school of Egypt, this word was used.
In the Buddhistic and Vedantic religions and philosophical schools we find that the same words which were used for thousands of years are used even today. For the Hindus it was a kind of science – a science which they called mantrayoga, the science of the word, of the dynamic power, the vital power that lies in the repetition of certain words.
Modern psychology is beginning to awaken to the same idea, although it is still searching in darkness, and has not yet found the secret of the use of words. Nevertheless, what little it now perceives, its believing in the power of words and their repetition gives a hope that psychology will come some time to the realization that the ancient people had.
The work of the Sufi Order is to give the combined theory of the Semitic line of mystics and of the Hindu line of mystics, the two joined together. By Semitic I mean not only the line of Moses, but it included Christ also. There are also two distinct mystic lines, and both are joined in what is called the Sufi message. Besides this, to interpret this in a modern form is the meaning of the message.
Now one might ask: ‘What is it in the word that helps, and why does it help?’ In answer to this I would say that there is no expression of life more vital than words, because the voice is an expressive manifestation of breath, and breath is the very life. Therefore the word that one says not only has an effect upon another person, but also upon oneself. Every word one says has its effect not only upon one’s body but upon one’s mind and one’s spirit. A tactless word not only offends another – a foolish word uttered can prove to be of great disadvantage to oneself.
Many times a person in a pessimistic mood, in a kind of disturbed condition may wish for death, wish for failure, wish for anything. If he only knew what an effect it has, he would be frightened. Even in pain, if a person could refrain from saying: ‘I am in pain’, he would do a great deal of good to himself. If a person who has met with misfortune would even avoid saying: ‘I am experiencing misfortune’, it would be a great thing. For when a person acknowledges the existence of something he does not want, he only gives it a greater life. In the same way when a person acknowledges something that he wants, he gives that life too. But when a person says: ‘Oh, I have waited and waited and waited; my ship will never come’, he is keeping his ship back in the sea. His ship will never arrive in the port, while the one who does not even see the ship, but says: ‘It is coming, it is coming’ – he is calling it. It will come.
What I have said concerns the psychological meaning of the word, but the mystical word has a greater value than the words that one uses in everyday language. Mystical words have come from three distinct sources: intuitive, scientific and astrological.
Intuitive words have come as sudden expressions from God-realized souls, souls who have become tuned to the whole universe. Whatever word comes from their mouth, that word or phrase is something which has a much greater power than the words that everybody uses. But apart from a spiritual person, do you not even see in your everyday life that there is perhaps one person among your friends, among your acquaintances, whose one word has weight, has power, whereas another person says a thousand words that go in at one ear and out at the other? In one person his mouth speaks, in another person his heart speaks, in another his soul speaks. There is a great difference.
One might ask: ‘How can a spiritual person intuitively bring forth a word which has power?’ The answer is that there is a possibility of a soul’s becoming so much in tune with the whole universe that he hears, so to speak, the voice of the spheres. Therefore what he says comes like the echo of the whole universe. The person who is in tune with the universe becomes like a wireless instrument; what comes from him is the voice of the universe.
Leaving aside the personal aspect and coming to the scientific aspect, I would like to say that a deep study of human anatomy will explain that there are delicate nerve centers that can only be affected by certain vibrations; upon these centers the equilibrium and the health of mind and body depend. Very often people have even been cured of illnesses by the use of such scientific words, because this has given to a certain center that vibration which was wanted to bring about the life it needed. If one goes deeper into the science of the word one will find that every vowel and every consonant has its certain effect upon one’s mind and body. Often you will find, before seeing a person, that by knowing his name you get an impression of what that person is like. It shows that the name makes such a great difference in a person’s character.
When we come to the astrological aspect, it is a very vast subject, for it has a connection with every existing art and science. Vowels and words have their connection with the astrological science. By invoking a certain word one invokes a certain planet, either in order to diminish its influence if it is unfavorable, or to increase its power if it is favorable. Therefore in the astrological science of the Hindus every name given to a person is given in accordance with the astrological science.
Many holy scriptures give evidence of the power of the word. But a science so well known to the prophets of all times where has it gone? That science has been lost to the view of the generality. The reason for this is that man engaged himself in the things of the earth and the knowledge of material things, and in this way he lost the art of the ancient times. By losing that great science, that mystical secret, what has the soul attained? The soul has attained an increasing deafness, and this increasing deafness prevailed with the prevailing of material life. Nevertheless, at every time there have been some thinkers, and in every period there have been some servants of God, working known or unknown to the world, who have admitted that the word was lost. It was not lost for them they saw that for the generality that word was lost. By the loss of this word is meant that the secret of the whole life was lost. This is however an exaggerated saying. The word which is existent cannot be lost, but man has lost his capability of knowing, of hearing that word.
Besides this, man did not hear that word from the sky: he heard that word from the earth, the outcome of which is the great progress and awakening of material science. All the great inventions of this time, which are like miracles, have come to the great minds who have, so to speak, communicated with matter, and matter has spoken with them face to face. All such great inventions are answers from the earth to the communication of these minds with matter. In this way the word was not lost, but the direction was lost.
Man learned continually from the objective world things that he could touch, and make intelligible, and he always disbelieved in things that were not intelligible to him. So he became 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 it in artistic expression by communicating with the inner life, by communicating with the heavens. And what is that communication? It is the word.
The Prophet Muhammed, when he thought that Someone existed with whom he could communicate, went away from town and remained in solitude on the top of a mountain, sometimes fasting, sometimes 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 come 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. How did the answer come? In what form? The answer came from everything: from the wind, the water, the sphere, the air – everything bringing the same answer. But this is not limited to a certain person or to a certain time. In our everyday life there are times when a sadness comes, and it seems as if everything in the world, even the voices of beasts and birds, cause 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 gives a re-echo of all that is spoken in 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 whence it has come; it depends from what source it has come, 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 is not accomplished, there is nothing that is not achieved or known through the power of the word. Therefore in esotericism or mysticism the word is the principal and central theme.
What is the word? Is the word just what we speak? Is that the word? No, that is the word of the surface. Our thought is a word, our feeling is a word