By Philip A. Salem*
At 10:55 pm on April 10, 1931, the man was pronounced dead at St. Vincent Hospital in New York City. The dead man was Gibran Khalil Gibran. He was 48 years of age. Since then he lies in eternity and in peace at the monastery of Mar Sarkis in Bsharri, Lebanon. Although he lived in America, his mind and his soul never left his beloved country. His eyes were always mesmerized by that small piece of land which is crucified in geography between the Sea, Syria, and Palestine. He chose his eternal home to be in his own hometown where he was born and raised; specifically in the monastery of Mar Sarkis that overlooks the majesty of Wadi Kadisha. In life and in death his soul has always hovered over that Wadi. Should you visit him now in Mar Sarkis you will find him silent but he tells you “I am alive like you, and now I am by your side. Close your eyes. Look around you, and you will see me”. Today we are gathered here not to speak about the dead man but to speak about the man who is still alive. The man who still lives with us.
A taxi driver summarized it to the author Paul Gordon Chandler when he knew that he was writing a book on Gibran. He said, “Gibran is the answer to our needs today”. And indeed we badly need him now as we live in a world of shallowness and spiritual emptiness. A world of appearances and material acquisitions. Gibran spoke extensively about the inner world of man. The visible part of man as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry also said in his book, “The Little Prince”, is not important. The invisible part where the mind, heart, and soul reside is what matters. That invisible part of Gibran is the one who lives with us today.
His legacy is his message and his message is very powerful. His voice has never been louder than today. “God has placed in each soul an apostle to lead us upon the illuminated path; yet many seek life from without, unaware that it is within them.” Most people live in the world of “without”. They struggle to gain material wealth and to climb the stairs of status; one step at a time to reach the peak. However, unfortunately, many of them while climbing the stairs they pay from their “within”, from their integrity, dignity, nobility, and self-esteem, and when they reach the peak, then they would have sold everything that matters and they realize that they have lost themselves. They also realize that their dreams were nothing but a mirage, and the life they lived was fake and was lived in psychological distortion.
*Delivered as keynote speaker at the opening ceremony of a conference on Gibran Khalil Gibran, held at the Lebanese American University, Beirut Jan 4-5, 2018.
Gibran believes that the staircase and the peak are both within you, not “without”. That the journey is an inner one and not an external one; and it is a journey in spiritual maturation. Here, climbing the stairs you don’t lose, you acquire. You acquire integrity, character, and nobility. Also when you reach the peak; you are at peace with yourself and at peace with others. The peak here is real and not a mirage. Here you achieve inner peace and inner pride. Thus you have the joy of life. Those, whose journey has been all “without”, they never achieve the joy of life.
We live in a world of hatred, violence, and wars. God only knows how much we are in need of his message of peace and love. You can make peace only when you achieve peace in the “inner world” of yourself and when you achieve in the “without world” love to the rest of the world. What cements people together is love. Hatred makes you smaller. Love makes you bigger. Should Gibran rise from the dead and see what has happened to Love, he would probably walk back to his grave. Love has been demolished and is reduced to its very primitive raw form of sex. Sex is biological and instinctive, it is the lowest level of love. Real love is spiritual and divine. Real love gives meaning to your life and makes your life richer. Erich Fromm, the renowned psychiatrist once said: “Immature love says: 'I love you because I need you.' Mature love says: 'I need you because I love you”. The latter is the essence of the message of Gibran. Love is probably the greatest force in our lives and it is the force that gives our lives depth, and direction. Once I was asked in an interview, what it is the greatest force in the world? Of course, the interviewer expected me to say knowledge is the greatest force, but my answer was love, not knowledge.
Love also gives work power and meaning. It is only when you water your work with love that work grows and makes the world more beautiful. A world without love is a very dark place to live in. Gibran painted naked bodies because he wanted to go beyond appearances. He wanted to grasp the real, the authentic, and the human soul. The basic theme in his drawings was love. A divine spiritual love, much higher and more powerful than the love we ordinarily know. Of course, there are many shadows of love. there is the love of a mother to her child. The love of a brother to his brother. The love of the son to his father. The love of a man to a woman but all shadows of love are beautiful.
Gibran was a rebel. He rebelled against dogma, against structured religion, and against his own church. He saw rebellion as the road to truth and to God. Truth to him was never in black and white. “ who saw the truth descending from heaven?” he said. Also, the rebellion was the road to his maturation. From the Madman to Al Mustafa was a long journey of maturation in knowledge and in wisdom.
I have personally learned from scientific research that if you do not have the courage to rebel against dogma, you will never make progress. Rebellion is a sign of life, a sign of an active mind, an innovative mind. Accepting dogma and things as they appear to be is a sign of “mental death” and passive mind. However, I would like to emphasize that the highest form of rebellion is when one rebels against himself for tomorrow he will be a better person than the one he is today.
Gibran’s major rebellion was against injustice, in particular, injustice against the weak and the poor. He rebelled against all forces that degrade and reduce man. He was more of an apostle to man than an apostle to God. He saw the ultimate achievement of man is to rest in the heart of God.
His major contribution to our world and the reason we primarily miss him today more than ever is his basic vision and his religious philosophy. It is a pantheistic vision that embraces all religions and all men. Al Mustafa was a synthesis of Jesus Christ, prophet Mohamad and Sufi mystic scholars “I am neither Christian nor Jewish nor Muslim, I am not of the east nor of the west. I have put duality away; I have seen the two worlds as one”. His religion is above all worldly religions. It is that religion that embraces every human and that which makes all mankind one single family. All stitched together with love. God is one and He is for all. The God of the Christians, the God of the Muslims, the God of the Jews is one God. It is the same God. Religion to Gibran is a divine dynamic relationship between man and God. This relationship does not have to go through the structured institutions of religion. In fact, he thought that these institutions may hinder your reach to the heart of God. To Gibran religion is a journey inside you marching toward the light of God. To him, the church represents a journey from “without”. This is a journey from “within”. His vision could be summed up in one statement. God is one, man is one. Love should bind us to God and to each other. His concept of man is one has been recently supported by science. DNA studies have recently shown that the biggest difference between one human and the other is less than 0.1%. Love, to him, is the basic foundation of everything including work. “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”.
As a cancer doctor and researcher for 50 years, I appreciate his vision and I also embrace it. Thus my church is my clinic; my prayer is my work. Work should transcend all religions and all philosophies. It all boils down to life and love.
Our times are those of conflicts and wars, the answer is Gibranism. The world is sliding towards shallowness and materialism, the answer is Gibranism.Technology has eroded human values, the answer is Gibranism. Lebanon, his beloved country is now a hostage to wars and conflicts of religious foundations. Jews against Muslims and Christians in Palestine. Muslim Sunnis and Muslim Shiites against each other in the Arab world. Religious extremism has become a major threat to human civilization. Religion has been used as a tool of war rather than a tool of love and understanding. In spite of 40 years of war, Lebanon is still alive. It refuses to die. It remains the only country in the east that symbolizes multiculturalism. Multiculturalism does not only mean that different religions live together in peace and in harmony, but it also means that different cultures embrace each other. While Israel can claim freedom and democracy, it certainly cannot claim multiculturalism. Lebanon has embraced multiculturalism without “conflict of civilizations”. Multiculturalism survived in spite of all atrocities and wars in Lebanon. For this reason, Pope John Paul II declared “Lebanon is more than a nation … it is a message''. If Lebanon is indeed a message, Lebanon’ son Gibran is the father of that message. He has delivered this message with all the majesty and beauty of language. He has delivered this message with all the majesty and beauty of Love.