Khalil Gibran (1883 – 1931) was a Lebanese philosophical essayist, novelist, poet and artist.
Educated in Beirut, Boston, and Paris, Gibran was influenced by the European modernists of the late nineteenth century. His early works were sketches, short stories, poems, and prose poems written in simple language for Arabic newspapers in the United States. These pieces spoke to the experiences and loneliness of Syrian immigrants in the New World. For Arab readers accustomed to the rich but difficult and rigid tradition of Arabic poetry and literary prose, many of the forms and conventions of which went back to pre-Islamic Bedouin poetry, Gibran’s simple and direct style was a revelation and an inspiration. Gibran’s first book in English, The Madman: His Parables and Poems, was completed in 1917; it was brought out in 1918 by the young literary publisher Alfred A. Knopf, who went on to publish all of Gibran’s English works. The Prophet (1923), a book of poetic essays, was illustrated with Gibran’s own drawings, adding to the power of the work. It achieved cult status among the American youth for several generations. Gibran died in New York City at age 48.
Kahlil Gibran… the very name brings so much ecstasy and joy that it is impossible to think of another name comparable to him. Just hearing the name, bells start ringing in the heart which do not belong to this world. Kahlil Gibran is pure music, a mystery such that only poetry can sometimes grasp it, but only sometimes.
You have chosen a man who is the most beloved of this beautiful earth. Centuries have passed; there have been great men but Kahlil Gibran is a category in himself. I cannot conceive that even in the future, there is a possibility of another man of such deep insight into the human heart, into the unknown that surrounds us.
A poet is
He has done something impossible. He has been able to bring at least a few fragments of the unknown into human language. He has raised human language and human consciousness as no other man has ever done. Through Kahlil Gibran, it seems all the mystics, all the poets, all creative souls have joined hands and poured themselves.
Although he has been immensely successful in reaching people, still he feels it is not the whole truth, but just a glimpse. But to see the glimpse of truth is a beginning of a pilgrimage that leads you to the ultimate, to the absolute, to the universal.
Another beautiful man, Claude Bragdon has said about Kahlil Gibran, a few beautiful words. He says, “His power came from some great reservoir of spiritual life, else it could not have been so universal and so potent. But the majesty and beauty of the language with which he clothed it were all his own.”
I have always loved this statement of Bragdon, even though not agreeing with it.
One need not agree with a beautiful flower; one need not agree with the sky full of stars – but one can still appreciate. I make a clear-cut distinction between agreement and appreciation – and a man is civilized if he can make the distinction. If he cannot make the distinction, he’s still living in a primitive, uncivilized state of consciousness.
I agree in a sense, because whatever Bragdon is saying is beautiful; hence, my appreciation. But I cannot agree because whatever he is saying is simply guesswork. It is not his own experience.
Have you noted? – he says, “His power came from some great reservoir of spirituality, of spiritual life, else it could not have been so universal and so potent.” It is rational, logical, but it has no roots in experience. He feels that something beyond the grasp of mind has come through Kahlil Gibran but he is not certain. And he cannot be certain, because it is not his experience. He is immensely impressed by the beautiful language; each word is a poetry unto itself. But he himself is unaware of that great reservoir of spirituality. He himself has not tasted it. He has loved Kahlil Gibran but he has not lived him.
With me, the situation is totally different. Hence, there are a few things I would like to say to you before I make my commentaries on the statements of Kahlil Gibran.
First, he is certainly a great poet, perhaps the greatest that has ever been born on the earth, but he is not a mystic; and there is a tremendous difference between a poet and a mystic. The poet, once in a while, suddenly finds himself in the same space as the mystic. In those rare moments, roses shower over him. On those rare occasions, he is almost a Gautam Buddha – but remember, I’m saying almost.
These rare moments come and go. He’s not the master of those rare moments. They come like the breeze and the fragrance and by the time you have become aware – they are gone.
A poet’s genius is that he catches those moments in words. Those moments come into your life too. They are free gifts of existence – or in other words, glimpses to provoke in you a search, to come to a moment when this space will become your very life, your blood, your bones, your marrow. You will breathe it, your heart will beat it. You will never be able to lose it, even if you want to.
The poet is for moments a mystic, and the mystic is a poet forever.
But this has always created a very difficult question, and nobody been able to solve it.
… the mystic
has become the ocean;
becomes his song.
I have a humble solution. The problem has been posed again and again, thousands of times all over the world: if the poet gets only glimpses, yet creates so much beauty, so much poetry – words start becoming alive the moment he touches them – why have the mystics not been able to produce the same kind of poetry? They are twenty-four hours a day, day and night in that creative state, but their words don’t carry that beauty. Even the words of Gautam Buddha or Jesus Christ fall very much short of the words of people like Kahlil Gibran, Mikhail Naimy, Rabindranath Tagore. It certainly seems to be strange; because the people who have only moments create so much and the people who have the universal consciousness available to them, waking or sleeping… what happens? Why have they not been able to produce Kahlil Gibrans? And nobody has answered it.
My own experience is that if a beggar finds a gold mine, he will sing and he will dance and he will go mad with joy – but not an emperor.
A poet once in a while becomes the emperor – but only once in a while; that’s why he cannot take it for granted. But the mystic is not just for a moment merged with the universal consciousness – he is merged. There is no way of coming back.
Those small glimpses may be translated into words, because they are only dewdrops. But the mystic has become the ocean; hence, silence becomes his song. All words seem so impotent, nothing seems to be capable of bringing his experience into any kind of communication. And the ocean is so vast and he is continuously one with it; naturally, he himself forgets that he is separate.
To create, you have to be there to create.
To sing a song, you have to be there.
But the mystic has become the song.
His presence is his poetry. You cannot print it, you cannot paint it, you can only drink it.
To communicate with a poet is one thing but to be in communion with a mystic is totally different. But it is good to begin with poets, because if you are not able even to absorb dewdrops, the ocean is not for you. Or better to say, you are not for the ocean.
To you, even the dewdrop will appear like a vast ocean.
Speaking on Kahlil Gibran is a very rare, almost impossible thing because I am not a poet.
I am poetry.
I am not a painter; I am the painting. Where the painter has got lost into the painting, I don’t know.
An ancient story is: One Japanese emperor told all the painters of his country and the neighboring countries that he wanted a painting which looked as if it were real: “If you have painted a door, it will not look like a painting. Everybody will be mistaken and will try to enter it. Unless a painting is so real, I do not consider it a painting. And one who can paint such a thing, whatever he wants… even if my whole empire is his desire, he will be rewarded.”
Thousands of painters came to the palace. They tried… but how can you paint a painting which will give the exact impression of the real?
But one painter said he would paint only on one condition: While he is painting, he should not be disturbed. No limitation of time should be imposed on him. And he does not paint on canvasses – he will paint on a big wall inside the palace. And unless the painting is complete, nobody is allowed to come in. The first man to see it complete will be the emperor.
The conditions were accepted. It took him almost six years. The emperor was getting old, but he had promised not to interfere. He kept his word. After six years, the painter came and told the emperor, “You can come.”
The painter took the emperor into the room. The emperor could not believe it. It really looked real. There were tall trees and a small winding foot path in the painting. The emperor asked, “Where does this path go?”
The painter said, “You can walk on it….”
And believe it or not – I don’t believe it, but it is so lovable – the painter entered with the emperor to show him the path and they have not returned.
If you try to think of it as a historical, factual thing you will miss the whole point. It is a parable. And it is absolutely true – not factual.
The real painter dissolves himself into his painting, and the real poet disappears into his poetry. But that kind of creativity is of the mystic – and because the mystic disappears in his creativity, he has no time even to sign his painting, or his poetry. The poets can do that, because for a moment the window opens, they see the beyond, and the window closes.
Kahlil Gibran has written almost thirty books. The Prophet, which we are going to discuss, is his first book; the remaining are rubbish. This is a strange phenomenon – what happened to the man? When he wrote this, he was just young – twenty-one years of age. One would have thought that now more and more would be coming. And he tried hard; for his whole life he was writing but nothing came even close to the beauty and the truth of The Prophet. Perhaps the window never opened again.
A poet is accidentally mystic. It is just by accident… a breeze comes, you cannot produce it. And because he became world famous – this is one book which must have been translated in almost all the languages of the world – he tried hard to do something better, and that’s where he failed. It is unfortunate that he never came across a man who could have told him a simple truth: “You had not tried when you created The Prophet, it happened. And now you are trying to do it.”
It has happened; it is not your doing. You may have been a vehicle. Something that was not yours… just like a child is born of a mother. The mother cannot create the child, she is simply a passage. The Prophet belongs to the category of a very small number of books which are not dependent on your action, your intelligence, on you; on the contrary, they are possible only when you are not, when you allow them to happen, when you don’t stand in the way. You are so relaxed that you don’t interfere.
This is one of those rarest of books. In it, you will not find Kahlil Gibran – that’s the beauty of the book. He allowed the universe to flow through him; he is simply a medium, a passage, just a hollow bamboo which does not hinder the flute player.
In my experience, books like The Prophet are holier than your so-called holy books. And because these books are authentically holy, they have not created a religion around themselves. They don’t give you any ritual, they don’t give you any discipline, they don’t give you any commandments. They simply allow you to have a glimpse of the same experience which happened to them.
The whole experience cannot come into words, but something… perhaps not the whole rose, but a few petals. They are enough proof that a rose exists. Your window just has to be open, so a breeze sometimes can bring petals.
Those petals coming through a breeze into your being are really invitations of the unknown. God is calling you for a long pilgrimage. Unless that pilgrimage is made, you will remain meaningless, dragging somehow, but not really living. You will not have laughter in your heart.
Kahlil Gibran avoids his own name by creating a fictitious name, Almustafa. That’s the beginning of The Prophet.
Almustafa is the prophet.
Osho, The Messiah, Vol. 1, Ch 1 (excerpt)