Friday, November 20, 2009

Reflections: The Prophet

Over dinner a couple of nights back, I was asked if I'd read "The Prophet". I shook my head casually, causing my friend to almost choke on her food, stutter in disbelief and immediately instigate a dire book-worm-emergency. I was promptly rushed to the nearest Barnes & Noble, was made to procure the book and was sent back home with an earnest plea to read it the very same night. And here I am, fully cursing myself to have gone past all these years without reading this! And I can't thank my friend enough for her supreme presence of mind to get this book to me right away!

I've heard people who are averse to reading ask me (sarcastically, of course) if I could prescribe one book to them that would answer all questions and spew all the knowledge there is to acquire. I usually evade the question with a smirk, but NOW I can smugly thrust this book into their hands. Through the voice of a Prophet, Gibran succinctly and most exquisitely conveys his views and philosophy concerning the most fundamental themes of our lives - on love, marriage, children, creating our abode, philanthropy, eating, drinking, talking, working, dealing with joys and sorrows, pain, buying and selling, crime and punishment, good and evil, legal systems, freedom, reason, passion, self-knowledge, teaching, friendship, perception of time, beauty, pleasure, religion, prayers and on death. In addition to these broad and all-encompassing themes, his verses espouse so many other deep and wise tenets.

After reading Gibran's poetry, one is surely at a loss for words to describe its beauty and astounding metaphors. I'm positive there is not a single adjective in his verses that can be substituted with any other word from our ever-expanding dictionary. It was humbling and gave me goosebumps all the way through. The words inspired me, comforted me, awed me, stirred me to the brink of tears and above all enriched me. Despite having come across many of the verses at some point in my life, the process of going through a 96-paged-Gibran marathon of soaking in his impeccable verses, was immensely gratifying.

The one theme that really surprised me and helped me re-evaluate my perspective was Gibran's philosophy on freedom:

You can only be free when even the desire of seeking freedom becomes a harness to you,
and when you cease to speak of freedom as a goal and fulfillment.
You shall be free when your days are not without a care nor your nights without a want and a grief,
But rather when these things girdle your life and yet you rise above them naked and unbound.
And how shall you rise beyond your days and nights unless you break the chains,
which you at the dawn of your understanding have fastened around your noon hour?
In truth that which you call freedom is the strongest of these chains, though its links glitter in the sun and dazzle your eyes.

Of course, I want to share every other verse and fill up this whole space, but I've gone through a laborious process to pick just a couple more verses.
If any of you would punish in the name of righteousness and lay the ax unto the evil tree,
Let him see to its roots;
And verily he will find the roots of the good and the bad, the fruitful and the fruitless,
All entwined together in the silent heart of the earth.
And you judges who would be just,
What judgment pronounce you upon him who though honest in the flesh yet is a thief in spirit?
What penalty lay you upon him who slays in the flesh yet is himself slain in the spirit?

I was very impressed with such balanced and wholesome wisdom that Gibran portrays.
You have been told also that life is darkness, and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary.
And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge,
And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge,
And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,
And all work is empty save when there is love;
And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.

And he alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving.
This book is surely one of my most precious possessions, and probably the one book that I would take with me if I were cast on a lonely island.


Perception said...

Thanks for sharing this. I have been looking for a book to read so I could bear the 18 hours journey to motherland. Now I think, this could be it.

SecondSight said...

P, you haven't read it either?!?! (Please insert your imagination of dire bookworm emergency here, complete with me choking on breakfast ;)). I wish I could rush you to the nearest book-store.. but in lieu of that, please rush yourself there :)

N- glad you loved the book so much..:)

Sanjini said...

Thank you for the pointer to Khalil Gibran's book. I have heard about it in the past. I read the book in the last few days and I must say this...its an amazing read. Lofty truths expressed in concise form.

Btw I have been following your blog for a I read a lot of books myself. Very thoughtful blog. Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

I feel somehow that most of these books have messages taken in bits and pieces from the bagavad gita.

"And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God." - this for example is what the Gita prescribes too.

Neeraja said...

Perception - You shouldn't miss this book! It will definitely make your journey memorable, but will hardly take 2 hours of your time :)

SecondSight - Thank you again! :)

Sanjini - Hope you're doing well! Nice to see you here. Thanks for visiting and commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed the book and that you find some value in what I write :)

Anonymous - I don't deny that many messages/philosophies are embodied in the Gita, as well as the Bible and other major scriptures.It's no surprise that all major religions culminate at the same point through such universal tenets.

But books such as these convey the messages without the stranglehold of Religion. For instance, Kahlil's verses on Religion and Prayer soar much higher than the prescriptions of religious scriptures that emphasize on ritualistic practices.

Anonymous said...

I'm being specific to bagavad gita here, and i'm not referring to Bible or Quran because i haven't read them.

"I don't deny that many messages/philosophies are embodied in the Gita, as well as the Bible and other major scriptures" - this is where i disagree. I'm saying that some messages mentioned in the Gita are also present here but in an incomplete form.

The Gita gives a wholesome knowledge in a lucid, prescription form. It has logical explanations starting from elementary stage leading to explanations of deeper and more complex questions. It appeals equally to the literate and the illiterate alike. The problem in using only logic to understand certain questions, such as in this book, is that it fails miserably at some point. Even Swami vivekananda talked about the limitation of
logic, the message of "Bhaja govindam" is also the same ( The Gita tells you not just "what is", but also "what to do" and "what if not"- It is therefore comprehensive.

"stranglehold of Religion" - Those who say they are 'spiritual but not religious' know neither Spirituality nor Religion. The ritualistic prescriptions of the gita are part of a bigger gameplan. These rituals help you to perform "Karma yoga" - While doing them your senses are controlled. Controlling your senses is the first step in spiritual education. Once you're comfortable with "Karma yoga", you go to the next stage called "Gnyana yoga" in which u understand the oneness in everything. This leads you to the stage where you finally realise the Atman inside you and enjoy the freedom from bondage.

Neeraja said...

Anonymous - With all due to respect to the Gita, I have attended many lectures on the Gita for more than a year and have also read your particular articles elucidating Idol Worship etc. Unfortunately, I find a lot of problems with the explanations/tenets and they are not wholly convincing to me, especially Karma Yoga's "gameplan". It's not my intention to hurt your sentiments further by detailing what my specific problems are. So don't be wary that I'm throwing statements in the air, without reading the Gita... on a similar vein, I doubt you have read this book to pass a judgment that it is unwholesome in its wisdom. The verses I have shared here are mere sections of the themes discussed in the book. Gibran does go on to say how to live and execute these tenets and principles.

Secondly, I'm not sure this discussion warrants this statement "Those who say they are 'spiritual but not religious' know neither Spirituality nor Religion."

It's disappointing that someone such as you who seems to hold the words of the Gita so close to your heart would be so intolerant towards other ways of self-realization that steps away from religion. Religion is but ONE way/path towards realizing higher truths and not the only way.

Thirdly, I don't understand how you were quick to say that the book "fails miserably" due its use of logic. Nobody said anything about Spirituality and logic. Gibran believes in the idea of Reincarnation and rebirth, which are clearly devoid of scientific logic. Neither is he an atheist to declare the absence of God and to seek truths only through rationality of the mind. He openly relates his philosophy to a higher force and authority - God.

I don't know how Gibran realized these truths, but to me it's impressive and wholesome wisdom which can robustly stand alone independent of any religion, such that even people like who are accused of being a philistine, who doesn't know anything about religion or spirituality can glean much wisdom from it.

In the end, to each his own. This is not a battle between which book reigns supreme, this is a matter of which book resonates more with one's ideals in their quest for realizing higher truths.

Anonymous said...

"Religion is but ONE way/path towards realizing higher truths and not the only way." - how many ways did you try and succeed?

The argument we have between us is very similar to the one between Lord Krishna and Arjuna in the Gita (Ofcourse i'm not comparing either of us to Lord Krishna or Arjuna). Arjuna asks Krishna why he insists only on the Karma, gnyana route to realising the Atman? He wants to know why he can't try any other route to achieve salvation? Lord Krishna's reply to this question is blunt. Krishna replies that any person who tries an alternate path to achieve self-realisation has never succeeded in the past and will never succeed in the future.

You might say that you don't believe in krishna's 'diktat'. My argument is that if you can trust this gibran guy who had a troubled childhood and witnessed life only in it's cruel form, why can't you trust the Bagavad gita which has withstood the test of time, even if you don't believe in the existence of Lord krishna?

It is not out of intolerance that i'm saying all this. Freedom and choice are not absolute. Suppose your kid hates going to school and wants to play all day in mud, would you respect his "freedom" and "choice" ? wouldn't it be correct to be "intolerant" and give him a whack on his butt and send him to school?

..and ofcourse there is no battle between which book is supreme.

SecondSight said...

What a wonderful discussion to follow an opinion of a simple book!
To quote one of my favorite writers, no one in this world can say "I have found THE truth. One can only say, I have found a truth."
My impression of the review was not that the book is the solution to all the world's ills, just that this particular reader (N) liked the book enough to make these statements about her own opinion.

Anonymous- your statements about the Gita seem rather interesting, do you have a blog or someplace else that you write that we could read more?

A review of the Prophet doesn't seem like the place to carry on such discussions.

priti said...

Neeraja - You've nevertheless convinced me to read this book...I just ordered it now...I'm reading Portrait of Marriage....exactly when I need it the most :)

Neeraja said...

Priti - Wow I never expected to have such an influence in promoting this book! ;) But I'm sure you will love it!! Feel free to come back and share your opinions.

And congratulations! Wish you a wonderful life :). You will probably be able to pick up more insights than I did from Portrait of Marriage :)

priti said... do have a profound influence....mostly cos I have very few friends who suggest me good books to read and they are very precious :). Thanks for the wishes and this explains the dearth of posts in my blog...although I should not have any excuses ... I'm trying ... I'm trying :)

Neeraja said...

Thanks for those kind words Priti :). And I really hope to find a new article on your blog soon! :)

Meens said...

I'm only half way.. But what beauty... what pure wisdom! I think I totally understand what you said and agree with it. Yes, this could easily be the book I'd take if I were cast on a lonely island.... :-)