Where Wisdom Lives

‘Happiness, which is sought by every soul, has its secret in the knowledge of the self’, says Hazrat Inayat Khan in his booklet The Purpose of Life.

Where Wisdom Lives

That’s hard enough for adults. But how do you discuss this with children? The masterpiece The Prophet by the Lebanese poet, philosopher and artist Khalil Gibran (1883-1931) was published in 1923, one hundred years ago, and became a worldwide bestseller. It has been retranslated [1] by Tiny Fisscher, especially for children. The book takes children seriously and invites them to think for themselves. And it’s more than that.


The wise Almustafa, who has lived in the city of Orfaleze for twelve years, is about to return to his native land on his ship. But before he leaves, instead of adults, children standing on the quay still want to ask him all sorts of things about life:

I still know so little about myself, of what I am able and what I want. I would so much like to look into the future…

What can you do about pain that you don’t see on the outside?

I would always like to be happy, but I also often feel sad. What can I do about it?

The questions show that it is about gaining self-knowledge, about the discovery of an outer and an inner life, and the question of how to deal with changing emotions.

There is a desire for knowledge in all living beings. If you look at the movements of birds and animals in the forest, you will see that they are not only looking for food, playing with each other and protecting themselves from an enemy. They are also interested in sound, color, smell; every sensation acts upon them. You can see how they naturally yearn to get to know something. You can recognize this desire in people as curiosity. History shows how humanity has always sought to understand natural and cosmic phenomena. How much knowledge has it now acquired of the earth and the universe! And daily we are still being informed about new cosmic observations, new technologies and inventions in many fields. We have learned much about earthly life, but what do we know about spiritual life? Of the secret of life? There are scientific discoveries, but so many different interpretations and opinions. What is actually true is still the question.

Buddha writes in his Gospel that there is no place for truth in space, although it is without end. No room for the truth in the feeling, neither in its pleasures nor in its sorrows. Nor is there room for truth in the mind. The truth can only be found in the place where the spirit of wisdom dwells, and this place is the soul. The soul longs to tell our heart what is true for it, for what purpose it and we are on earth. She knows about the secret, about everyone’s individual life.

So Solomon asked God for an attentive heart, wisdom and knowledge. Therefore, Hermes Trismegistus, the ancient Egyptian-Greek sage, answers to the question of his soul what he desires to know:

I desire to be instructed in essential things, to understand their nature, and to know God. Oh, how I long to understand.

And Inayat Khan says in the Gayan:

You learn logical thinking from the changing world. Wisdom comes from the essence of life. The heart is God’s gate. He who knocks is heard.

We don’t live in an easy time. It is not so easy to listen to the heart when much of your attention is demanded daily for the outer life and great digital innovations bring uncertain consequences and a certain alienation. Many have the feeling of losing their grip on reality. These are troubled times. I repeat the words of Hazrat Inayat Khan:

The secret of happiness, sought by every soul, is in knowledge of the self.

Heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul conversation can be helpful.

Kahlil Gibran touches the soul in The Prophet with his veiled language and takes you as a reader to a larger, deeper than the everyday reality. Tiny Fisscher tries to do the same in her retranslation for children. She carefully moves the conversation, thinking along in the direction of the soul wisdom of the child. It is not about more knowledge in the head, but about offering recognition and confirming the activity of the soul. For example, when a boy, somewhat short of breath, asks:

Can someone be good and sometimes bad at the same time?

Almustafa answers in the affirmative.

Yes, that’s possible. This works the same for children as it does for adults. Every person has good and bad sides, but that’s not the biggest problem. (…) It is the judgment people have of each other.

Almustafa takes the seagull as an example, the seagull, which is not nearly as meek as the pelican. Is the seagull bad then? Just observe, he seems to want to tell the children, it is what it is, don’t judge.

A deer is a lot faster than a tortoise, but that doesn’t make the tortoise any less.

Non-judgment is a quality of the soul. These images help to actually lift this value of the soul into life. And they show that everything, no matter how different, may have its own individuality. And with a wink at the boy:

As long as you don’t forget to discover the good in yourself in between being naughty.

And when asked about faith and going to church, Almustafa asks whether you spend all day in a church, mosque, synagogue or temple? Children see it for themselves, no, of course not. A conversation develops that God is not only to be found in houses of prayer.

Wouldn’t it be useful if you also see your daily life as a temple or church?

And it ends with the idea that the divine is in everything and everyone.

In people too, so also in you. In every cell of your body and in every part of your mind.

Sometimes Tiny Fisscher has added an image to clarify things. She borrowed it from the Masnavi, the famous poem by the Persian philosopher Rumi. In the chapter ‘Pain’, for example, she compares feelings to guests in an inn, who come and go. Also beautiful is the image of the sea with its foaming heads in Almustafa’s farewell speech. She uses this image to encourage children not just to look at their weaknesses.

The sea is not only made up of waves and foam, but also of the silent depths below. It is the same with humans: our weaknesses are visible on the surface, but there is a deep strength within us, which is not visible on the outside.

A real conversation is not a one-way street but always reciprocal. A real conversation is a wonderful thing that flows mutually into each other in trust. It creates a bond, gives clarity, clarity and insight into yourself, into something that concerns you. It can be comforting and beyond words, full of inexpressible meaning. Surprise and endear children. Children are ‘theologians’, wrote the Czech philosopher, pedagogue and theosophist Jan Amos Comenius as early as the seventeenth century. Their soul has not yet been drawn down into the heaviness of the body. They appeal to the lightness of the soul in us, the elderly. Age really doesn’t matter. Isn’t the old man already hidden in the child? Does not the old man still contain the child? A person who knows to be both spirit and matter, and child and adult, and who experiences all these aspects in harmony, finds happiness in life. The dialogue between the child and Almustafa in The Prophet, told for children, gives in each chapter a touch of wisdom that enriches.



[1] Gibran, Khalil, De Profeet verteld voor kinderen [The Prophet, told for children], text Tiny Fisscher, Pyhai illustrations, Samsara, Amsterdam 2022


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Date: November 2, 2023
Author: Ankie Hettema-Pieterse (Netherlands)
Photo: Haydn Blackey on Pixabay CCO

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