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.