The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (REVIEW)
A Critic's Meta Review: 5/5
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (REVIEW)
A Critic's Meta Review: 5/5
I have just read the best book that I have ever read in my entire life. I feel like I have been saying this a lot lately, but I really cannot fathom anything eclipsing this collection of absolute, unadulterated truth (which, after reading this, I am convinced does actually exist...sayonara, nihilists). Honestly, I wholeheartedly believe that if everyone eschewed all of the traditional holy books (The Torah, The Bible, The Qu’ran, The Bhagavad Gita, The Dhammapada, The Book Of Mormon, Dianetics, etc.) and opted, instead, to live their life according to the words of Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, we would have a much more harmonious, blissful, compassionate, thoughtful planet to rest our bones upon.
The Prophet is not a traditional book in the sense that one must read all of the chapters in the order they are presented (though this was the approach I took, it is not necessary to do it this way); each “chapter” is really an exploration of a particular topic - from love to death - written in the most exquisite, heartfelt, touching prose that a human being could possibly be capable of composing (at least in my, admittedly, limited literary experience).
With this being the case, I think the best way to approach this review will be to provide the most potent quotes from each section and delve a little deeper into the meaning behind them, perhaps by applying them to a more modern context (though, in my view, this stuff is timeless).
Let us begin with…
“Think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course. Love has no desire but to fulfil itself.”
Love, as I have come to realize, is the most powerful force in the universe. It is the only thing keeping us from a quick trip down into the fire pit; as long as there is at least some love in your heart, whether you are conscious of it or not makes no difference. Because you have managed to retain some of this powerful energy, it will naturally guide you on to the right path - the one that brings us all closer to actualizing our true potential. You do not really have to do anything about this - nor can you, for that matter. Love is not really something you can control the direction of; it is only something you can learn to cultivate, appreciate, and radiate. Where it goes...who knows?
Honestly, who cares? It’s love, mate!
Just let it flow.
“Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping...stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”
My mother told me that she used to read this section to my father back when they were trying to work through their marital woes. She was really hoping that he would actually take the time to listen with intent and try to digest the message behind these words. My dad has never really been the kind of guy to go for stuff like that, though. Football Sunday, a cold Dr. Pepper, and a copy of the latest issue of People magazine - that’s old pop’s idea of paradise.
If he had taken the time to let these lines sink in, he would have realized that saving his crumbling marriage was really not that hard of a task - all he had to do was take it easy, not smother my mother, but simply add value to her experience as a human while opening himself up to the possibility that she could do the same for him. To my father, though, his cup was perfectly fine the way it was, so there was no need to add to it...but, hey, your cup looks like it could use a few sips taken out of it, so why not let old daddy dearest tend to it for you. Don’t worry - there will still be a little bit left for you.
“Your children are not your children...they come through you but not from you...you may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.”
This was yet another section that my mother tried to get my father to really think about (I swear, no more family drama after this one), to no avail. Really, it all boils down to this:
You have brought new life into this world. Now, your only responsibilities are to cherish this new life and prepare it for the world you have birthed it into. That is it. If you are a drummer, don’t hand the kid a pair of sticks and force him to learn the ins and outs of keeping a solid rhythm. Although this is a highly important life skill, the simple fact is that if you force someone to do something, especially your child (who still views you largely as an authority figure, first and foremost), the likelihood of being met with resistance is fairly high. If you, however, just keep on drumming like your life depends on it, being sure to have as much fun with it as possible while remaining firmly in the pocket, your kid will probably end up being inspired to follow in the footsteps of the first friend he or she ever had. At the very least, you will earn his or her respect.
If you force it, though, the kid won’t be saying “my dad’s a real slick drummer” but rather “my dad’s a real controlling jerk”.
“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give...it is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding...and who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you may see their worth naked and their pride unabashed? See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving. For in truth it is life that gives unto life - while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.”
This section, in particular, resonated with me quite heavily. You see, I have always been raised to act charitably; my mother encouraged me to volunteer at an early age, a habit she picked up from my nanaji, who was volunteering up until the day he died (8/6/20, my twenty-fifth birthday).
Due to this charitable outlook, I naturally became a sucker for a whole host of scammers, hucksters, con artists, and junkies looking to cop their next fix. I would always justify my giving in these situations by chalking it up to me doing my part, with the rest not being in my hands - a very Gitaesque approach.
But now I have come to learn that there is no reason for me to act like I am some dispenser of alms, some elevated individual who looks down at the poor and downtrodden and thinks to himself “why, yes, I will part with a small fraction of my massive wealth in order to help this poor lady buy a chicken sandwich at Popeye’s”. Like the above passage states, it is easy to give when asked, and this is because the giving comes out of fear rather than divine love. Giving out of love is something that you can only do when you are in tune with the true needs of the individual on whom you wish to bestow a gift. And, before you go dishing out gifts like some sort of multiseason Santa Claus, make sure first that you are not the one who is in need. After all, a man with no pants running around giving everybody hats, or a woman with sunken eyes giving out hugs to all who pass her by, or a malnourished refugee handing out free samples at Costco...it just don’t look right, mate.
EATING AND DRINKING
“When you crush an apple with your teeth, say to it in your heart, ‘your seeds shall live in my body, and the buds of your tomorrow shall blossom in my heart, and your fragrance shall be my breath, and together we shall rejoice through all the seasons.’”
The consumption of food is something that has been vastly overcomplicated. At the end of the day, it is a necessary component of our basic biological functionality, without which we would surely perish. That being said, it seems like we have internalized this aspect of it way too much, and, as a result, eating has become somewhat of a mixture between a chore and a science experiment.
It has not always been this way, and in my cultures it is still not. The best thing to help get over this unhealthy relationship with eating is to view your food as a sacrament worthy of veneration, offering it first to the divine without you before gifting it to the divine within you. Cooking helps with changing the way you look at food, but at the end of the day it is all a matter of perspective...as with pretty much everything else.
“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 if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.”
It all comes back to love.
But seriously, though:
This is essentially the core message of the Bhagavad Gita, distilled into gorgeous prose (not to say those holy verses are not also beautiful, but Khalil writes at a level I have not ever seen reached by anything else). One must perform their work (whatever it may be) with complete devotion, viewing all of the time and labor as an offering to Krishna (who is really just a symbol for your higher purpose, which all of your efforts are inevitably preparing you to fulfil).
Might as well whistle while you do it, then.
JOY AND SORROW
“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked...the deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain...together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.”
Or, as Jerry put it: “Cause when life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door”
Think of the happiest you have ever been. More specifically, try to recall the sensation that you felt when you were the happiest you have ever been. Now, try to recall the sensation that you felt when you were the saddest you have ever been. Notice any similarities?
I’ll answer that for you, in case you have no idea what I’m getting at: they are the same sensation, mate! The only difference lies in how you express them - at the end of the day, both joy and sorrow are merely manifestations of an internal state of uneasiness. Either you’re too excited to hide it or too devastated to bear it, but you are feeling some type of way regardless.
True peace comes with equanimity throughout all circumstances. To reach this state, though, requires immense discipline. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there, but I’m hoping. Maybe you can beat me.
“The lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral. But you, children of space, you restless in rest, you shall not be trapped nor tamed. Your house shall be not an anchor but a mast...for that which is boundless in you abides in the mansion of the sky, whose door is the morning mist, and whose windows are the songs and the silences of night.”
Basically, those of us who have come to understand that within us resides a never ending source of universal energy that cannot possibly be confined, regardless of how many locks we put on our doors and windows, will see what Gibran was trying to get at here.
And if you don’t know - well, in the words of Christopher Wallace, now you know.
“Your clothes conceal much of your beauty, yet they hide not the unbeautiful...forget not that modesty is for a shield against the eye of the unclean...forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.”
At some basic level, there is a feeling of shame that comes with being human. It is a feeling of unworthiness, of not being as beautiful as the others, and it is what keeps most of us from truly expressing ourselves.
This is because we have forgotten that we are ultimately only accountable to the Earth on which we live and have come to view ourselves, instead, as mere byproducts of man. As a result, we have lost our connection to the Earth and tend to shy away from the idea of baring our souls to be examined by its tender, loving gaze, so that we can all heal together.
The Earth has not asked us to drape ourselves in such ornate raiments; it requires none of this pageantry. It wants to experience our radiant glimmer as it is, just as we experience its unbridled magnificence.
BUYING AND SELLING
“It is in exchanging the gifts of the earth that you shall find abundance and be satisfied. Yet unless the exchange be in love and kindly justice, it will but lead some to greed and others to hunger.”
This one is simple - basically, do right by the people you do business with and things will work out for everybody involved. Approach each transaction with the knowledge that you and the other party are both of the same spirit, and the desire to act underhandedly will disappear.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
“It is when your spirit goes wandering upon the wind, that you, alone and unguarded, commit a wrong unto others and therefore unto yourself. And for that wrong committed must you knock and wait a while unheeded at the gate of the blessed...and this also...the righteous is not innocent of the deeds of the wicked...you cannot separate the just from the unjust and the good from the wicked...and let him who would lash the offender look unto the spirit of the offended...what penalty lay you upon him who slays in the flesh yet is himself slain in the spirit?”
As has hopefully been made clear by this point, we are all a part of the same divine universal spirit. Therefore, when we transgress against one another, we are really only hurting ourselves.
Unfortunately, many of us tend to lose sight of this fact and, as a result, choose to engage in acts of evil. This, however, could not be possible without some degree of complicity among those who choose not to engage in such heinous acts - for, if there was really a desire to rid the world of such cruelty, those who do wrong would be led into the light rather than pushed further into the darkness, sending them on a downward spiral towards the bottomless pit of despair.
The true punishment is a soul beyond repair.
“What of those to whom life is not an ocean...but to whom life is a rock, and the law a chisel with which they would carve it in their own likeness? What of the cripple who hates dancers?...What of the old serpent who cannot shed his skin, and calls all others naked and shameless? And of him who comes early to the wedding-feast, and when over-fed and tired goes his way saying that all feasts are violation and all feasters law-breakers? What shall I say of these save that they too stand in the sunlight, but with their backs to the sun? They see only their shadows, and their shadows are their laws...But you who walk facing the sun, what images drawn on the earth can hold you?...What laws shall you fear if you dance but stumble against no man’s iron chains?”
Laws are, by their very nature, quite arbitrary. If you really think about it, a law being put in place is really just the result of a concerted effort by a person or group of people to enforce a particular mode of conduct on the rest of society. But what if the rest of society has a different jig they’d like to dance? Is it just cold iron shackles and musty orange jumpsuits for the lot of us, then?
At the end of the day, if you are doing your thing and not interfering with anyone else’s ability to do their thing...well, then, what exactly is the problem?
“You shall be free indeed when your days are not without a care nor your nights without a want and a grief...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. And what is it but fragments of your own self you would discard that you may become free?...And if it is a despot you would dethrone, see first that his throne erected within you is destroyed. For how can a tyrant rule the free and the proud, but for a tyranny in their own freedom and a shame in their own pride?”
This one took a little while for me to wrap my head around. But I think I’ve got it mostly all worked out now.
Basically, the constant desire to be “free” is itself an impediment to the possibility of us ever actually being free, in the truest sense of the word. It prevents us from actually appreciating the freedom we already have, as we are perpetually enslaved to this unyielding lust for more liberty.
So, before we go clamoring for more freedom, making our clarion calls until the cows come home, it may be more fit to examine the degree to which we allow ourselves to enjoy the freedoms of today, lest we are granted the freedoms of tomorrow and remain hungry for the freedoms of the next day.
REASON AND PASSION
“For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction. Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing...let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes...rest in reason and move in passion.”
Logic is what keeps us grounded in reality, and guides us towards making the decision with the most practical of outcomes. But without passion, we are but mere notes in a calculated composition, devoid of all soul. Passion is what gives us our swing, our rhythm, our own unique intonation.
Passion can also lead us to make rather illogical choices - choices based on notions rather than facts. Relying merely on logic to shepherd us through the confusion of existence, however, will shield us from just about everything beautiful about this confusion.
If we are to experience the full extent of what life has to offer, we must harness the ability to rationally contemplate each action we take and then, once we’ve made our decision, lunge forward with the passion of ten thousand suns.
“Much of your pain is self-chosen. It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self. Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility: For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen, and the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.”
It is difficult to see the path that is being laid out for us, but that is essentially the entire point of it all. Therefore, we must view pain not as a setback, but as an opportunity to reflect, yet again, on the sheer magic of this journey towards completion. Each sensation arises with a purpose - it is up to us to decide whether we want to understand this purpose, or to fear it.
“Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and nights. But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart’s knowledge. You would know in words that which you have always known in thought...seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line. For self is a sea boundless and measureless...the soul walks upon all paths...The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.”
Over the years, I have come to realize that there are essentially two types of knowledge one can obtain in this life: that from without, and that from within. Knowledge from without, which can better be described as information, is something that we set out to gather as much of as we possibly can fit inside our heads. We tell ourselves that acquiring this information will bring us closer to the truth.
The truth, however, is something that can only be understood once you have acquired an adequate amount of knowledge from within - wisdom. Wisdom is something that we do not need to spend much time searching for; no matter who or where we are, if wisdom is meant to find us, it will make its way onto our path. In this way, it is not really a thing to be acquired, but rather uncovered - it almost feels like you are remembering something you once knew long ago but had since forgotten.
“No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge...the astronomer may speak to you of his understanding of space, but he cannot give you his understanding...for the vision of one man lends not its wings to another man. And even as each one of you stands alone in God’s knowledge, so must each one of you be alone in his knowledge of God and in his understanding of the earth.”
I remember when I was a kid - probably about eight or nine - my dadaji (paternal grandfather) used to sit me down and try to teach me advanced concepts in the fields of science and mathematics. Whenever I would express any confusion about these concepts, he would become quite flustered and look at me like I was simply a moron, incapable of investing enough attention in the topic at hand.
In reality, though, it wasn’t that I was incapable of learning; he was, due to his sense of self being so tightly wrapped up in his role as an instructor, incapable of teaching me. As a result of these subjects being so forcefully thrust upon me, I avoided delving deeper into them and focused, instead, on other pursuits - such as writing and learning to play various instruments.
Whenever I speak to my dadaji about the progress I have made in my literary and musical endeavors, I notice that there is a faint sense of regret in his voice when he tells me that he is proud of me. I think that he has come to understand that we are, ultimately, our own teachers and should focus our efforts more on awakening the capacity for discovery that rests within all of us instead of trying to cram a whole bunch of information that we find valuable down each other’s throats.
“Without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed. When you part from your friend, you grieve not; for that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain. And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit. For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught...for what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill? Seek him always with hours to live. For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.”
I used to think that my mother was my best friend in the world. Growing up, I did not have many people that cared for me - certainly none as much as my mother clearly did. Because of this, I always had a hard time trusting other people that were not her. I would hold everybody to a standard that really only a mother can be held to.
I am beginning to understand now that my mother, though she is still without a doubt the only human being alive on the planet that I wholeheartedly trust with the entirety of my being, is much different than a friend. Friendship should not come with nearly as many expectations.
As a matter of fact, friendship should really only come with one expectation: you show me a good time, and I’ll do the same.
“And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered. For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly.”
When we try to put the wisdom that we uncover into words, it is bound to lose most of its meaning. This is because the most important messages in life are meant to be felt and understood, rather than heard.
“Yet the timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness, and knows that yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s dream.”
You can’t go back and change yesterday. Tomorrow is but a figment of our imagination - an imagination that has run wild and left our bodies to carry out today without any assistance.
All we truly ever have is right now.
GOOD AND EVIL
“In your longing for your giant self lies your goodness: and that longing is in all of you. But in some of you that longing is a torrent rushing with might to the sea, carrying the secrets of the hillsides and the songs of the forest. And in others it is a flat stream that loses itself in angles and bends and lingers before it reaches the shore.”
When we are in tune with the infinite within us, we have no choice but to act in accordance with its wishes - which, of course, is to push the wheel of humanity further along the road towards divine reunification. Not all of us are in as much of a hurry to get there, though, so have patience with one another; God is working on all of us.
“God listens not to your words save when He Himself utters them through your lips.”
When you are trying to get something out of a conversation with God, everything you say is bound to fall on deaf ears. It is only when you realize the divine you seek to reach lies within you that you can begin to have a fruitful conversation. In order to know what to say, though, you must learn to listen to the inner voice.
“Oftentimes in denying yourself pleasure you do but store the desire in the recesses of your being. Who knows but that which seems omitted today, waits for tomorrow? Even your body knows its heritage and its rightful need will not be deceived.”
When I tell myself I can’t have a cookie tonight, it does not get rid of my desire to have a cookie. I am essentially just delaying the inevitable; one way or another, that cookie is going to get eaten at some point. My body is only capable of so much restraint.
Don’t give in to every desire that arises in your mind - but, at the same time, don’t convince yourself that feeling good is a sensation that must always be approached with caution. Sometimes, you just have to say “fuck it” and eat the cookie, mate.
“Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror.”
That which is beautiful in you dies not with your body, but carries on for all of eternity - to be expressed indefinitely. Your body is but a mirror that has been tasked with reflecting this infinite beauty for all to see. This mirror cannot be broken; its form may change, but its function never will.
“He to whom worshipping is a window, to open but also to shut, has not yet visited the house of his soul whose windows are from dawn to dawn. Your daily life is your temple and your religion. Whenever you enter into it take with you your all...and 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.”
Religion does not have to be as complicated as we have made it out to be. Worshipping God is not something you need to prepare yourself to do, donning your finest clothes and making your way over to whatever shrine you choose to direct your prayers towards.
It can be as simple as taking your dog out for a walk, or doing all the dishes while your mother is still asleep.
It is impossible to pinpoint just one passage from this section that does enough justice to the message being conveyed. And, honestly, I cannot really think of anything I could possibly say to add to what Khalil has already expressed with such profound clarity in his own words.
I am just going to quote the entire section and let you meditate on each word for yourself:
“You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”
“Brief were my days among you, and briefer still the words I have spoken. But should my voice fade in your ears, and my love vanish in your memory, then I will come again, and with a richer heart and lips more yielding to the spirit will I speak,” for “man’s needs change, but not his love, nor his desire that his love should satisfy his needs.”
“I only speak to you in words of that which you yourselves know in thought. And what is word knowledge but a shadow of wordless knowledge? Your thoughts and my words are waves from a sealed memory that keeps records of our yesterdays, and of the ancient days when the earth knew not us nor herself, and of nights when earth was upwrought with confusion, wise men have come to you to give you of their wisdom. I came to take of your wisdom.”
“The veil that clouds your eyes shall be lifted by the hands that wove it.”