This blog will offer some thoughts and inspiring quotations of Hazrat Inayat Khan. There is an opportunity here for you to reflect on them, and to comment or ask a question. Murshida Rani, National Co-Representative of the International Sufi Movement, will respond to your comments. The Universal Sufism which Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan founded in the West is a teaching of understanding, tolerance, and acceptance, and we can benefit from hearing it. We will also look at the spiritual practices which can help us all realize the Divine Light in our souls.
41. My greetings to America
Hazrat Inayat Khan
The desire of all nations and in principle free,
A child, but wide-awake, blessed America be.
Thy heart is open to all, to friend and foe alike;
A high note of brotherhood, indeed, thou dost strike.
Thou hast inherited the sense of nations all,
And thou bestowest the same on those who on thee call.
Ideal of nations, in thee we all meet,
Blessed America, thee I humbly greet.
Beloved ones of God,
My coming to the United States at this time, when the world has not yet arrived at its normal state, after the great strain of war, is to awaken in souls the consciousness of brotherhood, on the principle of which this great nation was founded. The central theme of the formation of the Constitution of the United States of America, and the undertone of Abraham Lincoln’s noble reform, was brotherhood. The nation which was nursed on the milk of the ideal of brotherhood from its infancy, is the one to be attuned to its predisposition at this time of the world’s greatest need.
In spite of the wonderful phenomena that science has produced through the modern civilization, if a sober minded person reflects on the question, if we really are progressing, an answer will come to him, not altogether. If we ask ourselves what is missing, we shall realize without difficulty, that it is the ideal, which expands the limited soul to perfection, which raises the mortal to God. It is the all-pervading materialism and the flood of overwhelming commercialism, which has drowned the ideal.
The nations of today stand in the quest of their own material benefit regardless to other nations in the same way as an individual today, who is called a practical person, proves to be best qualified in guarding his or her interests in life. This has made the world a battlefield of continual struggles, where life is nothing but a chaos in the world which was purposed to be the place of aspiration, rest and peace.
The education today tends to teach the youth the best way to acquire, to own, and to possess all the goods of this earth; and naturally the more souls become qualified by this education, the greater the struggle of life becomes. The competition, which exists today in trade and profession seems to lead people to the tendencies of the primitive human beings. As relations between nations are only based upon material interests, so in the same way relations between individuals exist. It has blunted all the fineness and beauty of unselfish, friendly devotion.
In order to bring humanity to the realization of the law of beneficence, it is not necessary that a new religion be taught. It is the light of truth thrown upon every religion that will bring to human perception wisdom, which is the underlying stream behind the religions of the world.
The good tidings that the Sufi Message brings to the world is the recognition of the Divine in the soul of humanity. The knowledge of living right is the only religion which will answer to the need of the world. The efforts of the Sufi Movement are directed to bring mankind to understand that the real well-being of each depends on the well-being of all. The whole of humanity is as one body, all nations its different members; and the pain and injury caused to one nation in time develops into disorder of the whole. The Sufi Message is the answer to the cry of humanity, for it warns souls to unite beyond all differences and distinctions between caste, creed, nation and religion. May the ideal of liberty expand to the liberty of nations. May your principle of freedom rise to the height of freedom of souls. May the message of God reach far and wide, illuminating and making the whole humanity one brotherhood in the fatherhood of God.
These are the words of Hazrat Inayat Khan after World War I. And yet don’t they seem startling appropriate right now? As primitive hate-filled, frightened rhetoric fills the air, voices of people who feel left out and mistreated shout through the media. These are dangerous emotions, and cannot be easily contained or reasoned with.
And yet we hear the teaching, “The whole of humanity is as one body…” As though your hand or foot is injured and in pain; do you cut it off? Build a wall to separate it from the rest of your body? How can I not be infected by this primitive hate? How can I remember and stay focused on the ideal? One body, one brotherhood and sisterhood, one wisdom that flows through every religion and can be seen when we throw upon it the light of truth. This is the Sufi Message.
El Fadl goes on to say that there is much beauty in the traditional methodologies of Islamic knowledge, but that they must be reinvigorated now towards an unrelenting exploration of this core value – beauty. (p. xviii) At the core of morality we find beauty. The core and center of Islam, he says, is the search for God’s inexhaustible beauty and the beauty of God’s creation.
This understanding of Islam seems so close to Hazrat Inayat Khan’s emphasis on beauty. I thought that he was so attuned to beauty because he was a musician. Because singing and hearing music opened him to ecstasy. But now I can see that beauty, and the understanding and expression of diversity is close to the heart of Islamic tradition. This is very different from the dogmatism and literalism of Wahhabi Islam. El Fadl looks at the deterioration of the ethos of knowledge in the Muslim world today as due to “the legacy of colonialism, the emergence of the puritanical and anti-historical Wahhabi and Salafi movements, economic problems, the breakdown of private endowments supporting educational institutions, and the monopolization by the state of the mechanisms for the production and propagation of information.” (p. xviii) Literalism and the loss of the capacity for perceiving symbolism are so rampant in our world today. In all religions, and in scientific materialism. Over a hundred years ago Murshid brought us this message of tolerance and understanding. Look deeper. Attune to the inner reality – of all things and of oneself.
Spirituality, real spiritual development, asks that we train our minds as well as opening our hearts. Ideas that we hear and read make impressions on our minds; and these impressions are repeated habitually and unconsciously. There is an epidemic of obsessive-compulsive thinking, fostered by the constant stimulation of new information on the internet and all our hand-held devices. (You may be reading this on such a device!) Or perhaps this is too long a post for you to read, and your attention is diverted. We are being conditioned by the world-wide culture to have a very short attention span, since perhaps the next picture or piece of information will make me really happy.
But Murshid offers us an easy path to true happiness. Pay attention to beauty.
Our brains are conditioned to pay attention to pain and danger. But consciously we can pay attention to beauty.For five seconds. Enjoy it.
If you are looking here because you read the post on Facebook, you know that I have come across this thoughtful, reflective collections of essays on “Beauty in Islam”. He imagines that the books of Muslim scholars and mystics create an atmosphere in the night, in which their voices come alive in his study in his apartment. They are here to speak to us. Can we listen, he asks. Can we remember how to read?
He describes how in the first centuries of Islam a cultural ethos was created. He says, “The ethos of which I speak, consisted of the belief in the difficulty and elusiveness of knowledge, the belief that the more important the field of knowledge, the greater the demand for exertion, and that the elusiveness and inaccessibility of knowledge served a Divine purpose or plan.
“Integral to this ethos was the conviction that the pursuit of knowledge was a religious and ethical act, and that the pursuit of elusive and difficult knowledge was particularly pleasing to God.” He reports on the numerous traditions emphasizing that “the pursuit of knowledge is an act of permanent worship.” (p. xvi-xvii)
The Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan agrees with this view that the pursuit of knowledge is particularly pleasing to God. One of the five activities is to study and appreciate the diversity of religious views. To tolerate, he says. Tolerate in this sense does not mean that you should agree with or adopt another religious belief or practice. It means that you can hold diverse views in your own mind. Seeing your own point of view, and that of the other. All religions are veils. We cannot satisfactorily clothe the Divine Reality in words. And, at the heart of each religion is the One Being. The path here is to know and follow beauty.
Mysticism is not a faith or belief or principle or dogma. It is not an idea or a code of behavior. It is not a concept that we can point out or define. This makes it difficult to talk about. So we will look at some of the things that a mystic does. A mystic looks at reasons differently from many people. For the mystic is not satisfied with the first reason that comes to mind, or the first reason that people talk about. The mystic sees that the first reason is only a cover over another reason which is hidden behind it. So the mystic has patience, waiting until he or she has lifted the veil over the first reason, until one sees the reason behind it. And then looks carefully to see the reason behind this reason, and the still greater reason behind that one. For reason is itself nothing but a veil to cover reality.
If we think about an average person, we find that most people will argue, dispute, quarrel, and debate over the first reason, forming an opinion and attacking anyone who disagrees. For the mystic the path of life is not a path of having beliefs, even the “right” beliefs. It is a path of unlearning: unlearning the preconceived concepts and opinions (that many call the “self”) that veil the depth of existence. Patiently and persistently the mystic is interested in seeing that which is deeper, understanding that which is not known yet. While we are following the flood of data that is always bombarding us, another email, or Facebook post, or listening to the “news” which must always be something new, we skim over the surface of existence. We forget that there is depth. Until, sometimes, a moment of beauty takes our breath away, and we pause. Until a deep pain or loss breaks the mind open. And the heart is awakened to the depth of life. Which some people call God.
I have just returned from the International Headquarters meetings and the Summer School in Katwijk, Netherlands, where Sufis from many countries gather, to work together in the spreading of the Sufi Message throughout the world. It was a dynamic and difficult time, as we try to work through our differences; always keeping in mind Murshid’s words: “A Sufi has two opinions: his or her own, and that of the other.” This a difficult task. People are so different in their deeply held opinions and perceptions.
And so, I have come back to my particular place in the world. Portland, Oregon, in the Pacific Northwest, in the United States. And I have come back to the particular mureeds who are attracted to this Message, in this place. Back to our Gatheka classes, our Githa classes, to the Healing Service, to the Singing Zikar, to the Universal Worship. And I can see that it is really here that the Message can deepen, here that the blessing of Realization can be received. In our loving and kind interactions with each other, and all those around us. In the kindness that we can turn toward the isolated and hurt or angry places within us. No doubt, spiritual hierarchy has its important functions. But it is here and now, in the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of our seeking and sharing together, that the Message is alive.
As we go on day by day, we may wonder, “What is the purpose of my life?” When I was in my twenties, and teaching Religious Studies at Lewis and Clark College, I was asked to teach “Introduction to Religion.” But this was a boring course. And it was the 1970s. So many spiritual teachings, meditation groups, psychological self-help groups, and cults, were filling the air. College students wanted to know what life was about, how to find the purpose of life. And so I designed a new course, and called it “Search for Meaning.” The key question was: what is the purpose of your life? And we studied together so many different paths: questioning, examining, experiencing. And the key, for me, was “What is the purpose of my life? What is the purpose of life?” And along the way, I found this teaching of Universal Sufism, these words of Hazrat Inayat Khan:
“The purpose of the life of an individual is to perfect the light which is in one’s self, which is one’s very being. Whatever may be the qualifications of a person, whatever be one’s resources and rank, if the light within oneself is not brilliant, one cannot fulfil the purpose of one’s life.” Not to find something outside of one’s self. Not to acquire or earn something you didn’t have. Not to be good or virtuous, or win the praise of someone important. It is to find, to experience the light within yourself. And then to perfect that light. To let it shine brilliantly. Of course, the light, the soul’s light, is perfect, is brilliant already and always. But the impressions of our life, the patterns of our personality, cloud and darken or distort this perfect light, so the light does not shine through.
In my young understanding, I thought (as many people did) that if I had extraordinary experiences, if I “transcended my ego” (really!), if I got high, then I would become spiritual and feel the light, and never experience any suffering again. Studying meditation deeply, sitting at the feet of many gurus. This was the Path. Now, many decades later, through ups and downs, hills and valleys, I have a different understanding. What are the signs of spiritual development? Patience and endurance to weather the many storms of life, to see the struggles, and face what is yours to face, and to let go of what is not yours. Thinking long and hard about what is worth accomplishing and what isn’t. Kindness. These are very simple things, one might say. Not transcendent. But for the Sufi, the task is to live life, to be a human being, not an angel and not a devil. And here we see Murshid speaking about this.
“All these are the signs of spirituality. A good atmosphere is a sign of spirituality. The power of the word is a sign of spirituality. Courage without fear is a sign of spirituality. Fearlessness and self-confidence are signs of spirituality. The capability of accomplishing something, and also the strength to struggle through life, all these are signs of spirituality.” (Gatheka 31) The strength to struggle through life. This is my goal for today. Courage, fearlessness, self-confidence – this is what it takes to see and clean out the personal impressions that darken the light.
“And what is life? Life is an opportunity. To the optimistic person the opportunity is a promise, and for the pessimistic person this opportunity is lost. It is not that the Creator makes one lose it, but it is the person who withdraws him or herself from the possibility of seizing the opportunity.” These are Murshid’s words. He gives this message in many ways, in different places. Life is an opportunity. What opportunity am I seeing in my life right now? How easy it is to say: if only things were different. If only my back didn’t hurt. If only I had more money. If only people respected me. We can make a very long list of “if only.”
What would it be like if I regarded the experiences in my life, right now, as coming from the hand of God? How would my attitude change?
It is a very funny thing, how we reject the opportunity. Or think we can improve upon the opportunity. If only… My Mother used to say, “don’t wish your life away.” And I would understand, but I was so young, and there were so many things that I wanted to be different. That I thought would be better, if they were different. And maybe they would have been. But there is always something, isn’t there. If only…
So when we come to the spiritual path, we recognize that experience is a mix of “what is”, and “what my attitude is.” The glasses that I am wearing, through which I am looking. They may be sunglasses. They may be rose-colored glasses. But my attitude-glasses shape and form what I am experiencing. What if…I looked through glasses of neutrality, of real objectivity, of seeing things “as they are.” What if…the opportunity of life transformed my attitude?
International Headquarters of the Sufi Movement
Visalat day 2015
Beloved Sufi Brothers and Sisters,
Today, we have the privilege of gathering together in homage to the sacred memory of our Master, the Murshid of us all, whose guidance is always there, in as much as we are able to attune to that privilege, with a selfless attitude, offering our hearts unconditionally.
The purpose of this meeting is to offer our gratitude for the blessings received along the years, feeling freedom on the path of Spiritual Liberty, as well as experiencing precious examples among brothers and sisters, inspired by the principles of Love, Harmony and Beauty.
When connecting in thought and feeling, on this special day, the 88th anniversary of the passing of our Master, we are venturing to reach beyond the self, where souls meet, as explained in Volume VII called Sufi Teachings:
“One often wonders what connection there is between the souls which have passed onwards and those left behind. Although there is a veil which divides, yet the connection remains intact at a spiritual level, as long as the link is there”. This mystical insight obviously prompts us to become aware of our responsibilities as workers in the spreading of the Message in our time.
When referring to all those who have answered the Call, and who endeavor to carry onwards the Teachings, our Master said:
“My thoughts I have sown on the soil of your mind; My love has penetrated your heart; My word I have put into your mouth; My light has illuminated your whole being; My work I have given into your hand; I am leaving it in your hands”.
The Message in our time shall spread successfully, when being attuned to our Master, whose words, were given so many years ago, but shall ring for ever in our hearts.
There is only one way of knowing whether we are strictly spreading the Message in our Master’s footsteps. To that effect, let us picture our Master in front of us and ask: “Murshid, am I really presenting the Teachings in the way that they have been entrusted to us”?
The reply to that question shall then be found at the level of our conscience.
Every day on the news we can hear terrible things that people are doing to each other in the name of religion. But this is not real religion, not real spirituality. This is fanaticism and fundamentalism wearing a mask of religion. Fanaticism does not belong to one religion. I heard today about Christians in northern Iraq trying to protect their books, putting them in trucks so that they could escape with them, and not be burned by the Islamic State fanatics. Of course, we all know that early Christians burned whole libraries of classical Greek and Roman books, that they called ‘pagan.’ And it was the early Islamic empires that saved many of the classical books, which the Christian West didn’t discover until the Renaissance. Fanaticism does not belong to one religion.
Hazrat Inayat Khan taught about the importance of understanding and tolerance. Universal Sufism is not a religion, to compete with other religions. It is not Islam. Nor is it Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, not any of the multitude of religious and spiritual teachings that have been given by prophets, saints, and sages, for centuries. Its intention is to kindle the divine light which is the origin and essence of every religion. The Message is always given in the clothing of its culture and time. And Inayat Khan said that in our time we need to learn to understand, tolerate, accept people and beliefs which are different from our own. For the spiritual seeker who wants to go deeper he says, “To treat every human being as a shrine of God is to fulfill all religion.” He called this the human Brotherhood (and in our time, of course, we say Brotherhood and Sisterhood, understanding that this is what he meant). Since we have technologies now that rapidly give us information about events happening far away, and that allow us to go to places that were only imagined in other eras, we must become more understanding and tolerant. The interconnectedness of existence requires our attention. With open minds and hearts, we must try to understand. Can we save everyone’s books?
Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan identifies the purpose of the Sufi Message, which is an eternal Message expressed in many different languages and traditions, in two ways. He says that our Sacred Task in our current world is to develop the spirit of tolerance. This is important in the world as we try to understand and tolerate people of different religions, cultures, social classes, and so forth. And this is also an individual and personal challenge. How can I understand, much less accept or tolerate, a person who acts or expresses ideas that I feel are just wrong. The person who seems to me to be racist or a bigot. The person who always talks about him or herself, and is always “right.” The person of a different political party who wants to destroy rights and laws “I” fought to establish. It can be so difficult to see as a godly soul does: from a broader and more universal point of view.
You might wonder why I should try to tolerate someone whom I think is “wrong.” This brings us to the second purpose of the Sufi Message. This is to create the realization of the divine spark in every soul. Every soul carries the light of God within.
Murshid says, “Besides that, the central theme of the Sufi Message is one simple thing; and yet it is the most difficult. And that is to bring about in the world the realization of the divinity of the human soul, which hitherto has been overlooked, for the reason that the time had not come.
“The principal thing that the Message has to accomplish in this era is to create the realization of the divine spark in every soul; that every soul, according to its progress, may begin to realize for itself the divinity within. This is the task that is before us.” (the Gatheka papers)
It is so interesting that Murshid says that “the time had not come” for humanity to realize the divinity of the soul. We are at a stage of development in society and culture that is different from previous eras. Individual people can read and write, can communicate with new electronic means, that provide the ground for individual thought and creativity. We are not as dependent upon an authority figure to provide information and interpret it correctly. This capacity for individual thought is extraordinary.
And so now there is the possibility for an individual to realize that the light of the soul is Divine. The soul is light. Is Divine light. This is the meaning of the birth of the Christ child in Christian symbolism. As we have just celebrated Christmas, this is the deep meaning of this celebration. The Son is the Sun is the Light Divine. The creative imagination, which understands symbolism, resides in the unconscious psyche. So Son=Sun=Light. And we celebrate this event at the darkest time of the year, the winter solstice. We hope and rejoice with our affirmation that the light is growing stronger in the deepest darkness. Even if we can’t perceive it just now. We have hope that this is the case. And just as it occurs in the outer world, so in our inner times of darkness and suffering, the soul’s light which is Divine light shines. May we be blessed with true vision.