Gibran’s “The Prophet” (2019) is one of those immortal classics that influence generations, not because they present revolutionary ideas and change the course of history, but because they reconnect us with the perennial wisdom that lies at the bottom of our hearts. Gibran addresses the problems of love and work, freedom and passion, marriage and children, exposing us to simple yet powerful truths around the core of what makes us human.
But to receive Gibran’s message, to access the simplicity of a wisdom that doesn’t need intellectual somersaults, we must get rid of opinions, preconceptions, prejudices, and petty pretensions. Reading Gibran (2019) then becomes akin to looking into a mirror that reflects back our own essence.
Let us then plunge into the living word of Gibran not as a divine revelation, but as a refreshing transmission of human wisdom.
A Manual For Life
I read Gibran (2019) in a day, as if I was taking a journey into a parallel dimension, where time flowed at a different speed—a dream-like state, but blessed with the pristine clarity of wakeful consciousness. From the first page, I was transported to the hill where Almustafa, the prophet that gives the name to the book, beheld the ship that, after twelve years spent in the city of Orphalese, had come to take him back home (Gibran, 2019, p.1). With Almustafa I entered the town, one more time, to listen to him as he answered, with simple yet wise words, the last questions of the villagers who had gathered there to see him depart (Gibran, 2019, p.9). Almustafa’s teachings conquered my heart with their simplicity, the loving balance that one expects from an elder of the tribe, to whom we can ask advice about the things that matter most in life. And the book does touch all the critical areas of life: love, work, parenting, beauty, pain, and joy, laws and customs—the essential aspects that make us human. In Gibran (2019), the ordinary is married with the sacred, and everyday life is the arena of our spiritual battles and breakthroughs.
Many people report that every time they read Gibran (2019), they find new layers of meaning in its pages. This is indeed a text to come back to over the years. Every new encounter with it will open a new layer of depth and significance. Yet, every reading of Gibran (2019) also feels complete onto itself. This is one of those rare books that give us exactly what we need, and nothing more. If we revisit the book and find in it a new meaning, this shows us that we ourselves have changed. Its austerity makes this masterpiece into a clean, polished mirror for us to look into our own soul.
Through the character of Almustafa, we get to know a man that is both a prophet and a relatable human being. Almustafa pours his wisdom into the longing hearts of the people of Orphalese, but he does not speak from divine revelation. He is a seeker himself, someone who went through life as thirsty for wisdom as those as he speaks to. Almustafa is one of us, always discovering and experimenting, leading the way in a path of inquiry and self-reflection that has space for doubt, because he himself, the believer, was also the doubter (Gibran, 2019, p. 102). Almustafa advises us never to say that we have found the truth, but rather a truth (Gibran, 2019, p. 63) and he knows that life is constant change, because to stay means “to freeze and crystallize and be bound in a mould” (p. 2).
We may be tempted to see Gibran, the man, in Almustafa, his character. But Osho Rajneesh, the contemporary spiritual master, offers us a different point of view. In Osho & Gibran (1987), a commentary to “The Prophet,” Osho affirms that Gibran’s genius is his capacity to get out of his own way and allow universal wisdom to speak through him just like a hollow bamboo lets the wind through (Osho & Gibran, 1987, p.6). Osho observes that Gibran wrote “The Prophet” when he was only twenty-one; how exceptional for a man of such a young age to possess the life experience that Almustafa is endowed with! If Osho is right, then Gibran was more a channel for, than a creator of, his masterpiece. This may be the reason why, although Gibran wrote many other books and essays throughout his life, none of them made a lasting impression like “The Prophet.”
While Osho’s interpretation is revealing, some elements of Gibran’s extraordinary life may have contributed to the creation of “The Prophet,” or at least prepared Gibran to be a channel for collective wisdom. Born in Lebanon and raised as a Maronite Christian, Gibran spent significant parts of his life in Paris, New York, and Boston. He lived in three unique cultural settings (the Middle East, Europe, and the United States) and was enriched by the culture of both the East and West. Gibran was a learned writer and artist, and yet he used his genius not to build an elaborate spiritual system, but rather as a chisel, to strip down all the unnecessary and polish his message until it got so pure that it could penetrate everyone’s heart.
Almustafa, The Prophet’s main character, is also a man of simple, powerful ideas and words. His speech to the people of Orphalese is profound and revealing but rooted in common sense. The result is a book filled with deep insights, yet direct and understandable. It is no wonder that Gibran (2019) has been translated into over 100 languages, and, since its publication in 1923, it has never been out of print (Amirani & Hegarty, 2012).
Almustafa is not just a solitary mystic, but a community leader. He has, therefore, a moral obligation to answer the questions of his fellow citizens, who look to him to receive guidance on how to conduct their lives. What emerges is an ethic based on tolerance, a loving acceptance of the fullness of human nature, and an unwavering faith in the goodness of man.
The Law Of The Soul
Almustafa speaks about three distinct levels inside each one of us: the superhuman, the human and the animal, represented by God, a man and a pigmy1 (Gibran, 2019, p. 45). We are a concoction of pre-human and divine, with our humanness acting as a connector and middle ground. But it is only in this middle territory that our actions acquire a moral character. Out of the three creatures that inhabit our inner landscape, two are blissfully unaware of ethics and morals, because they are either above or below the notions of good and evil. Therefore, while our life journey goes through the sometimes excruciating experience of discerning good from evil, it neither starts nor stops there. In fact, says Almustafa, we cannot separate good from evil and just from unjust, because they are interwoven like threads forming a tapestry (Gibran, 2019, p. 47).
We are all interconnected by social bonds, and our souls are connected by love like the shores by the sea (Gibran, 2019, p. 15). Together we form a “temple,” whether we are one of the cornerstones or the lowest stone in its foundation (Gibran, 2019, p. 49). When someone acts in a way that disrupts thesocial fabric, we must not be quick to judge them, because, on a subconscious level, we are all co-creating the causes of their wrong-doing (p. 46). Almustafa stresses the responsibility of the collective and shows almost inexhaustible compassion towards the individual.
Gibran’s vision of justice and ethics is in some ways in contrast to the value systems of many modern democracies, where the individual carries the whole burden of responsibility and is the one to punish and blame. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which in Article 7 defines the principle of equality before the law2 (UN General Assembly, 1948), constituted a tremendous collective achievement after the chaos and violence of the Second World War. And yet, like all enunciations of principle, it risks becoming crystallized, impersonal and cold. Because “the law is equal for all,” and there is little space for consideration of circumstances, some people can pay an army of lawyers to bend the law to their advantage, while others with fewer resources are caught in the net of a legal system they often do not even understand.
Almustafa is neither a lawmaker nor a judge. He is not interested in, or particularly fond of, customs and regulations. Almustafa may accept human-made laws as a useful way to facilitate coexistence, but not as an ultimate moral ground, because social standards are secondary both to the instinctual laws of nature and to the wisdom of the soul. While through rules one can muffle a drum or loosen the string of the lyre, no-one can command the skylark not to sing (Gibran, 2019, p. 52); in other words, no law can stop us from following the call of our soul.
Almustafa urges us to give human conventions their rightful place, but not to confuse them with natural or divine laws. He also admonishes us against using rules to carve life in our own likeness (Gibran, 2019, p. 50). If we overemphasize the value of social customs, we lose something precious, for “he who defines his conduct by ethics imprisons his song-bird in a cage” (Gibran, 2019, p. 86). Almustafa would rather have us listen to the song of our soul, because the more we are in attunement with our soul, the more ethical action springs forth from a natural realization of oneness, rather than from fear of punishment.
Almustafa’s teaching on laws and ethics brings about the theme of freedom (Gibran, 2019, p. 53). Freedom is for Almustafa an inner state, and all external conditions that may seem to limit us, do so only because they have taken lodge somewhere inside our consciousness. If we want to be free of a despot, for instance, we must destroy the tyrant’s throne within (Gibran, 2019, p. 54).
This injunction is very relevant to our current times, when modern despots such as Donald Trump are on the rise in many Western democracies. In one of my papers for Ubiquity University, titled “A Distant Mirror,” I posited that the power of demagogues like Trump is related to their capacity to arouse our own unconscious fears and desires. This amounts to saying that powerful demagogues draw their influence from a stronghold in our psyche. If we want to be immune to their sway, we need to do profound and courageous inner work, so to discover and bring into consciousness our most secret drives. Almustafa recommends the same antidote against each form of control over our lives, suggesting that freedom can only come with sincere inner reflection. He urges us to turn the mirror back onto ourselves as the ultimate origin of our limitations, because “what is it but fragments of your own self you would discard that you may become free?” (Gibran, 2019, p. 54).
Whether he speaks about freedom, ethics, or any other topic, Almustafa’s message is ultimately about love, and it is not by chance that the first chapter of Gibran (2019) is dedicated to it. Love in relationship, love in work, love for our children, love for those who commit crimes—Almustafa invites his fellow citizens to live not an ascetic life of contemplation, but a life infused with love in action. Almustafa calls us into a love that is passionate but also spacious, that respects the beloved in the distance and the closeness, because “love possesses not nor would it be possessed” (Gibran, 2019, p. 13).
Even in marriage, we need to let there be spaces in our togetherness (Gibran, 2019, p. 15) because the oak tree and the cypress cannot grow in each other’s shadow (p. 16). The love Almustafa speaks about is neither the romantic, drama-ridden sentiment of popular culture nor the detached universal love of more ascetic spiritual traditions. It is a love that is profoundly human but connected to the divine, a love that is both free and attached, a love that can hold paradoxes. And indeed, for Gibran, love is the only power able to contain the pairs of opposites, like joy and sorrow, freedom and commitment, male and female, that make up our life.
Love is Gibran’s response to the apparent paradox of our existence, and the force that can harmonize the extremes between which our life is stretched and, sometimes, torn.
The Harmony Of Opposites
In the second trimester of 2019, I had the honor of studying Kabir, the Indian 15th‑century mystic and poet, through the profound interpretation of Andrew Harvey. Though separated by five centuries and many historical and cultural differences, both Gibran and Kabir are willing to show us the paradoxical nature of our existence. “My Father is the absolute Godhead, my Mother the embodied Godhead, and I am their divine child dancing for them both on their burning dance-floor”—in this phrase Kabir expresses the essence of the human paradox taken to its cosmic consequences (Kabir, 2018, p. 163).
But if Kabir holds these paradoxes in full tension, using them as a defibrillator to awaken our heart, Gibran brings the opposites to dynamic harmony through the agency of love. Almustafa tells us that reason and passion, love and freedom, joy and pain must coexist and dance together; otherwise, our soul will become a battlefield where the opposites will wage war against one another (Gibran, 2019, p. 56).
Our soul needs both of the apparently contradictory forces, just like a ship needs both the sails and the rudder to venture to the sea (Gibran, 2019, p. 56). Reason, for example, can give passion continuity beyond the daily ups and downs of our emotions, while passion can allow reason to rise above our mundane habits and attune with the soul’s song (Gibran, 2019, p. 57).
The words of Almustafa, then, become like a compass, helping us navigate the tricky territory between opposites, and deal with the apparent contradictions that make us human. To the people of Orphalese, who look to him for guidance and support, Almustafa gives not a list of commandments, but an opportunity to inquire deeper into their own lives, and find the unique, dynamic balance which will allow them to live their life with integrity and acceptance.
Almustafa reminds us that we are like the seasons, and the spring is latent in us even when the winter is raging (Gibran, 2019, p. 98). Almustafa acknowledges the fullness of our human nature and urges us to understand and know ourselves. Even the parts that seem the weakest, our deepest vulnerability and brokenness, are the hallmark of our humanity and, therefore, are as valid as our strength and determination (Gibran, 2019, p. 103). Like Kabir and every true mystic, Gibran embraces the totality of both the light and dark aspects of existence. His last message is one of reassurance: our own hands will one day, inevitably, lift the veil that clouds our eyes, and then we shall “bless darkness as you would bless light” (Gibran, 2019, p.104).
Finally, after having spoken these words, Almustafa can look at the pilot of the ship that came to take him back home, and say “I am ready” (Gibran, 2019, p. 104). The time to leave has come.
The Journey Back Home
The last pages of Gibran (2019) climb up to an emotional and spiritual climax as Almustafa prepares to board the ship. The seamen who have come to take him back to the isle of his birth have been patient enough. He has been granted the time he needed to bring his life to full circle, to end what he had started, to close all the open loops (Gibran, 2019, p.104). The soul that has come to incarnate into Almustafa is now getting ready to leave the vessel and come back home.
These last pages remind me of the “spirit flight,” a core belief of the Maori people of New Zealand, recounted in Pomare & Cowan (1987). The legend says that when someone dies, their soul goes to cape Reinga, the north-western tip of New Zealand, to start the journey back home, to the mythical land of Hawaiki. In cape Reinga, a venerable and ancient “pohutukawa” tree hangs from the rock and spreads its roots into the water; the soul uses its branches as a ladder to climb down and enter the ocean, starting her journey home, following the setting sun (Pomare & Cowan, 1987, p. 241). I was blessed to make a personal pilgrimage to this sacred place in December 2017.
We can find comparable folk beliefs of the soul traveling west in many Polynesian cultures and, amazingly, in several Gaelic traditions (Pomare & Cowan, 1987, p. 243). Almustafa’s journey seems to follow a similar archetypal story, although he is sailing eastward (Gibran, 2019, p. 108); this difference leaves us with the impression that his going back home is more a beginning than an end. On the very first page, Gibran (2019) describes Almustafa as one who “was a dawn unto his own day” (p. 1); by going back East, he is traveling to the next dawn, to the next incarnation. “A little while, and my longing shall gather dust and foam for another body.” (Gibran, 2019, p. 107)
In the last moments before departing, the sadness of leaving the people of Orphalese is intertwined with barely perceived vistas of a joyous journey, the sweetness of the coming home, and the promise of a return. But the book does not end with Almustafa’s parting. In a masterful cinematographic move, Gibran brings our attention from the wide shot of the ships sailing eastward, and the gathered people crying in unison, to close-up on one woman: Almitra, the seeress (Gibran, 2019, p. 108).
At the beginning of the book, when Almustafa was descending the hill towards the shore, Almitra was the one who convinced him to stay a little longer and answer the questions of the people of Orphalese (Gibran, 2019, p. 8). Almustafa had looked upon her with tenderness, because she had been the first one to believe in him when he had just arrived in town. Now, twelve years later, as Almustafa is about to leave, Almitra is the only one among the crowd who stays silent, in contemplation (Gibran, 2019, p. 108).
After everybody else has left the docks, Almitra continues looking at the ocean, remembering Almustafa’s last words: “A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me.” (Gibran, 2019, p. 108). This passage reminds me of the Gospel of John, where Mary Magdalene stays alone in Jesus’ empty tomb when everyone else, including all the other apostles, has left (John 25:11).
What do Almustafa’s last words mean? Is it possible that Almustafa, the prophet, and Almitra, the high priestess, were united in tender human love?3 Is it conceivable that she is already bearing Almustafa’s seed in her womb?
While I can’t answer these questions, I can imagine Almitra laying a hand on her belly, anticipating the promise of life to come. The conclusion of Gibran (2019) leaves room to interpretation, and perhaps some aspects of its meaning are better hinted at than revealed. And yet, this may be the natural outcome for a journey that, while exploring the depth of the human soul, never lost contact with the ground of life.
The uniqueness of Gibran’s transmission is to be found in this middle ground between God and pigmy, in this very human field filled with the problems of our mortal existence. In the commitment to not leave the arena of existence where we strive and suffer, where we celebrate and grow, lies the strength and the distinctive value of Gibran (2019) as a truly great book, a masterpiece of the human spirit, and an everlasting manual for life.
 Although the use of the word pigmy to define the part in us that “is not yet man” (Gibran, 2019, p. 45) may seem to have racist connotations, I believe the sense in which Gibran uses it is mythological rather than ethnic. Gibran gives us the image of “a shapeless pigmy that walks asleep in the mist searching for its own awakening”(p. 45), an almost fable-like vision devoid of any anthropological connotations.
 The article reads “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.”
 The very name “Almitra” seems to be derived by the root-word “Mitra,” which in Sanskrit means friend or companion. (https://sanskritdictionary.com/?q=mitra). Similar speculations on the relationship between a prophet and his companion are possible around the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
Amirani, S. & Hegarty, S. (2012) Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet: Why is it so loved?. BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17997163
Gibran, K. (2019). The prophet. New York, New York: Penguin Books.
Kabir., Harvey, A. & Hurd, B. (2018). Turn me to gold : 108 poems of Kabir. Unity Village, MO: Unity Books.
Osho. & Gibran, K. (1987). The Messiah: commentaries by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh on Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet.” Cologne, West Germany: Rebel Pub. House. [PDF version]. Retrieved from https://www.oshorajneesh.com/download/osho-books/western_mystics/The_Messiah_Volume_1.pdf
Pomare, M., & Cowan, J. (1987). Legends of the Māori. Auckland, NZ: Southern Reprints. [ePub version]. Retrieved from http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-Pom01Lege-t1-body-d9-d1.html
UN General Assembly. (1948). Universal declaration of human rights (217 [III] A). Paris.
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