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The Prophet (1923) by Kahlil Gibran

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The Prophet, a book composed of 26 poetic essays was written in 1923 by a Lebanese-American philosophical essayist, novelist, mystic poet and artist named Khalil Gibran. Accompanied by a number of his own mystical drawings, the book gives a quasi-spiritual experience and wisdom on so many aspects of life which include giving, talking, eating, drinking, clothes, buying, selling, teaching, learning, love, marriage, children, work, joy, sorrow, crime, punishment, freedom, pain, friendship, beauty, religion, death and other subjects bound up with the human existence.

The book begins with a man named Almustafa living on an island call Orphalese where locals consider him something of a sage; however, he is from somewhere else who had waited twelve years for the right ship to take him home. He sees his ship from a hill above the town coming into the harbour and realises his sadness as leaving the people whom he has got to know during his stay. However, the elders from the city ask him not to leave or if he wants to go then before going they asked him to tell his philosophy of life; to speak his truth to the crowds gathered before him, he has to form the basis of the book.

The Prophet on love and marriage says that the person is foolish who ‘would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure’, for the wish for this leads to Less of a person, the one who has seen less pain but also less pure joy. The prophet says: When love beckons you, follow him, though his ways are hard and steep. We can’t wish for love to reach only in a certain measure or to presume that we can direct the way of its course, however, as for love, of it finds you worthy, it directs your course. As much as love allows our growth, it also prunes us so that we grow straight and tall. However, when questioned about the marriage, the Prophet departs from conventional wisdom as it involves two people becoming one. An actual marriage gives space for the people to develop their individuality in the same way the oak tree and the cypress grow not in the shadow of each other.

Moreover, the Prophet on work says that it’s not just the loss of a wage or even the status that is disheartening, but what hurt the most is that you have been left out of the normal procession of life as it’s not enough to work for money alone. People think of work as a curse, however, the prophet says that, in doing your work, you fulfill a part of the Earth’s furthest dream which was assigned to you when that dream was born. Through the work, you express your love for whoever will benefit from it and satisfy your own need to create furthermore. However, those who enjoy their work know it very well that it’s a secret to fulfilment that can be saved through whatever we do.

The Prophet says that sorrow carves out our being but the space it makes provides room for more joy in another season of life. Moreover, in one of his standout lines, he remarks, ‘Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.’ Try to marvel at your pain as another experience of the precious life. If you do this, you can be more serene about the emotions just like the passing of the seasons. The Prophet goes ahead and further said that the suffering is the means to heal ourselves, the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self, and asks the people to be considered, the next time you are in a state of sorrow, that it may have been self-chosen at some level of your being, to bring about an enlargement of yourself. Without struggle, we would learn nothing about life in our lifetime.

Guard against the love of houses and things, the Prophet warns about the attachment of the property that these comforts erode the strength of the soul. If you attach yourself too much to the domestic luxuries of life then your house shall not be an anchor but a master and you will be tied to it when the ship sinks. The longing for freedom is itself a kind of slavery. When people ask to speak of wanting to be free, and then often it is aspects of them who are trying to get away from. The Prophet on prayer says that you can’t ask for anything in prayer, as God already knows your deepest needs. Hence, God is our main needs so we instead of praying for other things, we should ask for more of God in all of our prayers.

The Prophet compares the soul to a battlefield in which our reason and passion seem eternally opposed. Yet it doesn’t do much good to fight either: you have to be a peacemaker, loving all your warring elements before you can heal yourself. Moreover, the Prophet tries to convey to the people gathered before him that the lives we lead on this earth represent only a fraction of our larger selves. We all have ‘giant selves’ inside of us, but we have to first recognise that they may exist. The Prophet says that in your longing for the giant self lies your goodness. In the pursuit of self-knowledge, we look for the best in ourselves.

However, taken as a whole, the book is a metaphor for the safety of life that we come into this world and go back to the place where we came from. As the Prophet readies himself to board his ship, it becomes clear that his words don’t refer to the journey across the world but the very world he came from before he was born. His life now seems to him like a dream. The book suggests that we should be glad of the experiences we have after coming into this world, even if it seems full of pain, because after death we will see that the life has a pattern and a purpose and that what seems to us as good and bad now will be appreciated without judgement as good for souls. The Prophet also says that the separation we feel on earth from other people all forms of life is not real. We are merely expressions of a greater unity now forgotten. As he looks forward to his journey, Almustafa likens himself to ‘a boundless drop in a boundless ocean.’

The book eventually whispers to the readers that neither you are enclosed within your bodies nor confined to the houses or fields. You dwell above the mountain and robes with the wind.

 

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