The Prophet and Religion
By Joanna D.
“Who can separate his faith from his actions, or his belief from his occupations?”—Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
The Prophet is the philosophy of Almustafa, who, after a twelve-year wait, is finally returning home. Before he does, however, the people of the town of his exile request that he tell them about life because “In your aloneness you have watched with our days, and in your wakefulness you have listened to the weeping and the laughter of our sleep.” He has learned everything by direct observation. And god? Has he learned who god is too? As the Prophet describes each aspect of life, he reveals that yes, he knows of god, but god is not who we expect him to be.
The Prophet begins, “People of Orphalese, of what can I speak save that which is even now moving within your souls?” He does not know all, as Almitra, the seeress, who asks the first question does not know all. Even as a seeress, she admits ignorance. The Prophet, however, has learned from observing the people. “I came to take of your wisdom; And behold I have found that which is greater than wisdom.” Almitra has been among the people, and the prophet has wandered through the hills presumably of god, and she needs to ask him something? Or perhaps because she’s a seeress, she realizes that she doesn’t know everything. She realizes that she has been too close. The Prophet says to the people, “How could I have seen you save from a great height or a great distance?”
The Prophet learned his wisdom from observing the people, but not too near. He emphasizes balance. Love, he tells them, gives great pleasures, but it also gives great pain because then, “you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment in life’s heart.” Pain comes with pleasure. Perhaps that is why the Prophet tells married couples to “let there be spaces in your togetherness.” Life is a balance of joy and sorrow. To the extent that you have joy, there will also be sorrow, but they are the same. “joy is your sorrow unmasked…The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” Similarly, good and evil are the same thing. “For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst?” But, contrary to joy and sorrow, evil does not exist as masked good. “Of the good in you I can speak, but not of the evil.” The Prophet tells the people. So while pain and pleasure, and joy and sorrow exist in a balance in life, man is basically good. Or perhaps the Prophet simply refuses to recognize evil as being independent of good, though he has recognized that sorrow has independence from joy. The prophet enlarges this allegory between good and evil. According to the prophet, “your god-self dwells not alone in your being. Much in you is still man, and much in you is not yet man, But a shapeless pigmy that walks asleep in the mist searching for its own awakening.” The man himself contains a balance between God and un-god. But according to the Almustafa, it is the man between them “and not your god-self not the pigmy in the mist, that knows crime and the punishment for crime.” because it is man who commits crime and is thus is responsible for good and un-good. Yet there is no real perpetrator of crime because there is often a lawful, yet immoral insult suffered by the criminal. “Yea, the guilty is oftentimes the victim of the injured…You cannot separate the just from the unjust and the good from the wicked.” Everyone is equal is goodness.
The people already know the truths the Prophet tells them because, their “hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.” But, Almustafa cautions, “seek not the depths of your knowledge with a staff or a sounding line, For self is a sea boundless and measureless.” The people are omniscient without knowing it. But there is a balance. There is no definite truth. “Say not, ‘I have found the truth,’” the Prophet tells them, “but rather, ‘I have found a truth.’” There are many truths, and any one of them will suffice. As he tells a teacher, “even as each one of you stands along in God’s knowledge, so must each one of you be along in his knowledge of God and in his understanding of the earth.” as he tells the parent, “You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts.” One must not try to teach the truth, one may only guide his pupils toward uncovering their own opinions. Even so, man cannot set a universal standard of right and wrong without forcing others to conform to his opinions. One should avoid doing so. If one follows his own morals without infringing on those of others, the Prophet argues, he has done right. “What laws shall you fear if you dance but stumble against no man’s iron chains?” Then, even if the laws try, they cannot convict such a man because, “you can muffle the drum, and you can loosen the strings of the lyre, but who shall command the skylark not to sing?” In other words, men can make all the laws they like, but no one can change your mind from the truths and the morals that you have found.
If then, there is no evil and only good, and there is not truth, but only truths, how is man to find god? The Prophet explains, “if you would know God be not therefore a solver of riddles. Rather look about you and you shall see Him playing with your children.” because “Your daily life is your temple and your religion.” In that case, god is in life, but why would god play with children? He would do so because they “are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.” Therefore, people embrace god by embracing life. And how are we to do that? “And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life, And to live life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret” because, “when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God”. Work is most important. It is more important than pleasure. This is because “pleasure is a freedom-song, but it is not freedom.” No. Freedom, true freedom, comes from work. “You shall be free indeed when your days are not without a care not your nights without a want and a grief” Pleasure comes after the work is already done, but finding tragedy of the pain of work is unnecessary “could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy” Indeed when all care is gone and all wants satisfied everything will be over. “For the master spirit of the earth shall not sleep peacefully upon the wind till the needs of the least of you are satisfied.” When the earth sleeps, I assume that everyone else does as well. But death is the only permanent sleep. Why would we want to work toward god, if going toward god will bring us to death? According to the Prophet, death is not to be feared, “For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.” but the sea is so much bigger than the river. So death is more life than life itself.
Who is god? If man has known all truth, than he can know god who also knows everything, and if he is good, he can side with god because god is good. God is by default the measure of good. God is not the earth, from which everything sprang because according to the prophet, everyone has “the freehearted earth for mother, and God for father.” and who would be both father and mother? But god is he to whom we pray and strive to follow. To whom do we pray? To no one, apparently. “what is prayer but the expansion of yourself into the living ether?” Or, perhaps, to everything together. If nothingness has life, than perhaps nothingness is everything. What are we to follow? Life, work, care. Life is everything and everywhere. Thus we follow the flow of everything and we pray to everything that exists. Everything is god. Though man knows everything, he is not god because he is not everyone. He is a part of god, a very small part, and, oftentimes, unaware of his role.