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.
In May 2019, the Federation of the Sufi Message gathering was held in Charlottesville, Virginia. The theme was focused on one of the five activities of the Sufi Message, the Brotherhood activity. In the United States this activity is now generally called the Brotherhood/Sisterhood or the Kinship activity, using inclusive language. This activity is needed in the world today to bring greater balance and harmony.
I was asked to speak on the quality of respect, which is one of the five qualities that Hazrat Inayat Khan identified as necessary. Others are sympathy or empathy, understanding, tolerance or forgiveness, and unity.
There is an audio recording of the talk here. And I have written the talk into a paper which is entitled “The Value of Respect”. Here you can see the important place that respect has in the development of a personal ideal in one’s life and in the understanding of a Divine Ideal, which is necessary for God realization.
Universal Sufism and the Unity of Religious Ideals
In this Gatheka text, Murshid speaks about the nature of pleasure, and the way that habits of thought can keep us hooked in a puzzle. Then I offer a poem of Rumi which illustrates this teaching.
This is the first part of a series of papers that Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan gave to us. These papers provide an introduction to the teachings of Universal Sufism. I have edited the papers for inclusive language, and then make a few comments, to aid in your own reflections.
The God Ideal
Recently, I learned that Pope Francis declared (in a 2016 decree) that Mary Magdalene will be honored by having her own major feast day, June 22. In doing this, he acknowledges the woman who in the New Testament is the first to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. For centuries only the male apostles, whom she told of her vision, have been identified in Catholic doctrine as proclaiming the resurrection. But now, this has been interpreted by some Catholic theologians as establishing the absolute equality of Mary Magdalene with the apostles.
In the sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great had identified Mary Magdalene with the sinful woman mentioned in Luke 7:36-50. She was said to be a prostitute who was forgiven of her sins by Jesus. But this woman is not named, and there is no evidence that she is Mary Magdalene. It was only in 1969 that the Roman Catholic Church stated that Mary Magdalene was distinct from the “sinful woman.” The Eastern Orthodox Church had never identified the two.
Learning that Mary Magdalene has her own feast day, and is no longer falsely labeled as a prostitute, reminded me of the interpretation that Carl Jung made in the Answer to Job when he learned that Pope Pius XII, in 1950, proclaimed the Assumption of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, into heaven (see picture below). He wrote:
One could have known for a long time that there was a deep longing in the masses for an intercessor and mediatrix who would at last take her place alongside the Holy Trinity and be received as the ‘Queen of heaven and Bride at the heavenly court.’ For more than a thousand years it has been taken for granted that the Mother of God dwelt there. I consider it to be the most important religious event since the Reformation.
Why is this important, particularly to people who are not religious Catholics?
Carl Jung, in his Analytic Depth Psychology, spoke not only of the Collective Unconscious, but also of the Collective Consciousness. The Collective Consciousness in the West has been dominated by masculine symbols of God, as well as dominated socially and politically by men (not generic). This has meant that feminine symbols of God have been forbidden, devalued, ridiculed, and repressed. So they live in the unconscious, excluded from consciousness. We could not even think of God-She. It was always God-He (which was claimed to be a generic ‘he’). In some Western theological circles, this assumption has been challenged and discussed for the last thirty years or so. And slowly, women have gained the possibility of serving as ministers, priests, and rabbis, in many Christian and Jewish sects. Though not in the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Churches.
From a symbolic perspective, the acknowledgement of Mary Magdalene as an important disciple of Jesus — who was the first to see the risen Christ, and rushed to tell the other disciples, who did not believe her until they too ran to the tomb of Jesus and found it empty – is very important. With the acknowledgement that there is no Biblical scripture which identifies her as a prostitute, she can emerge from the unconscious degradation that has shaped her image. And with the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who joins the Trinity in heaven, bringing the feminine symbol alongside the masculine symbols of Father and Son, and the neutral symbol of Spirit – there is more balance in the Christian symbol of the Divine. Jung found this to be an important development of consciousness.
Why is this important for Sufis?
Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan often asks us at look our image or concept of God. He calls this the God Ideal. He gives the greatest importance to the God Ideal, saying that it is the stepping stone to greater knowledge of God. He says:
The God-Ideal is so enormous that man can never comprehend it fully. And therefore the best method which the wise have adopted is to allow every man to make his own God. By this he only makes a conception which he is capable of making. He makes Him the King of the heavens and of the earth; he make Him, Judge, greater than all judges; he makes Almighty, Who has all power; he makes Him the Possessor of all the grace and glory there is; he makes Him Beloved God, merciful and compassionate; and he recognizes in Him all perfection. This ideal becomes as a stepping-stone to the higher knowledge of God. The man who has no imagination to make a God, and the one who is not open to the picture of God that the other man presents to him, he remains without one, for he finds no stepping-stone to reach that knowledge which his soul longs for but his doubts deny.
Now we can see in this text that Murshid is a person of his time, the early 20th century, and he writes with masculine pronouns. He did not speak with what we now call “inclusive language.” Human persons are referred to as ‘man’ and God is God-He. And still Murshid points to the importance of imagination in forming one’s own picture of a God Ideal. In order for a God Ideal to be living within my heart, capable of being a stepping-stone to a higher knowledge, I must use my imagination to discover that which is really ‘higher’ to me. For many people today, the highest image of the Ideal is not solely masculine. For some people, of course, it is. So, while being “open to the picture of God that the other man presents”, it is important to find the God Ideal which is real and alive to you. As Anselm of Canterbury said, in 1078, “God is that, than which nothing greater can be conceived…” (Prosologion, ontological argument for the existence of God) When one feels that a greater image of God includes masculine and feminine symbols, then we must imagine this.
Murshid goes on to speak of the importance of imagination, a mental function that many materialists reject and devalue. He says:
Many would ask if it would not be deceiving oneself by making a God of one’s imagination. Some one who is not seen in the objective world. The answer is that we are the germs of imagination, our whole life is based and constructed on imagination; and all that is in this objective world, if it were put together, – there is one thing which is more lasting in life, which is imagination. The one incapable, who has no value for imagination, is void of art and poetry, of music, manner, and culture. He can very well be compared to a rock, which never troubles to imagine.
Imagination, for Murshid, is a necessary function on the spiritual path. We do imagine all the time; sometimes we imagine that our perception is a ‘fact’ or that it is ‘real’ or ‘true’. We imagine who we are, even though we are constantly changing in both material substance and mental thought patterns. And as we imagine who we are, we imagine who or what the Divine Reality is (or is not – for this too is another imagination). Murshid goes on to say:
Man is not capable of picturing God other than a person, a person with all the best qualities, the ideal person. This does not mean that all that is ugly and evil does not belong to the universe of God, or, in other words, is not in God Himself. But the water of the ocean is ever pure in spite of all the things that may be thrown into it. The Pure One consumes all impurities, and turns them all into purity. Evil and ugliness is to man’s limited conception; in God’s great Being these have no existence. Therefore he is not wrong who makes God in his imagination the God of all beauty, free from ugliness; the God of all the best qualities, free from all evil. For by that imagination he is drawn nearer and nearer every moment of his life to that Divine Ideal which is the seeking of his soul. And once he has touched divine perfection, in it he will find the fulfillment of his life.
Religious Gatheka number 51
The Divine Ideal that Murshid points us toward, is not limited by the pairs of opposites, that our judging minds identify. Good and evil, beautiful and ugly, pleasure and pain, masculine and feminine, male and female, divine and human. All these opposites are contained in the highest Ideal of God Herself or Himself, Being Itself. He says it is like the ocean receives all that is thrown into it, but it remains ever pure. So it is very important that we envision, in imagination, the highest Ideal that we can. And we can remember, and be encouraged by the idea that in the Collective Consciousness, Mary is assumed into heaven, and Mary Magdalene is an honored disciple.
Hope October 2, 2016 Revised January 2017
We are taking hope as our theme today, drawing from many different religious perspectives, because it is a quality that is needed in our world today. Of course, we might say that hope is always needed; and that is true. But the social-political atmosphere in our world today is filled with divisive voices, with loudly shouting voices. I am not looking at politics in this sermon, but at the social and cultural context of our lives, and how we express the Message of Sufism. The rhetoric of hate fills our ears, and it can be hard to know how to reply. Do we shout back? How do we meet the intense fear and blame? How can we have hope that things will be ok, that people will evolve and keep caring about each other, that we can create a future that is safe for all people and for the earth. When things sound so bad, and we are frightened, where is hope?
Certainly, we live in a time of technological change that effects humanity in many ways. One way it effects us is that it fills our minds with constant and distracting information, with “news” which often focuses on terrible, painful, and exciting stories. Our minds move from disaster to disaster, around the world, until we may feel both horrified and numb. We are frightened and search for the cause of these disasters; we look for the enemy. And politicians are eager to deliver an enemy, someone who is other: an-other religion, an-other race, an-other gender, an-other nation. And some religious groups focus on looking for an enemy to blame and to punish, for not being like them. When this happens, we have constricted our sense of identity to those who are “like” me, and who belong to my group. This is an easy solution that we have seen play out in
history. An easy way to develop a strong group is to have a common enemy. Psychologically, it is an early stage of cognitive development; children judge things as black and white, us and them, since children cannot yet hold complex, contradictory concepts in their minds. And, without education, there are many adults who hold to this kind of blaming, this black and white thinking.
But there are other ways to respond to fear. Some religious and spiritual traditions teach us to respond by trying to understand that which is other, learning to tolerate differences, listening to the language of another person, of another culture, and attempting to speak to others in their own languages. There is a wonderful saying of Inayat Khan, “A Sufi has two points of view; his or her own, and that of the other.” This attitude can guide us as we cultivate our ability to hope.
Of course, existence is a constantly changing process. We have to learn how to look both above and below the rush of changing events, to overcome our mind’s fear and distraction. So what does it mean to look above, metaphorically speaking? It means to look at a bigger picture. To look at our vision of God, of the One, of the Universe, of our God-Ideal, with whatever language we use to refer to the Absolute Divine. Of course, there are many names by which the Divine is known. Each of the religions represented on our altar table has its own language. Brahman, Atman, Buddha-nature, Nibbana, Ahura Mazda, Jahweh, Elohim, Jehovah, God the Father, Christ, Allah. In the Sufi prayer of Inayat Khan, we find these descriptions: “Praise be to Thee, Most Supreme God, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, All-Pervading, the Only Being…” Each name and description is different, but each name is only a finite image or concept that points us to the infinite, the unnamable. To that
which is above. Above our preoccupation with the changing details of our experience.
I’ve just come back from a Sufi Retreat in Ecuador. It was held in a Catholic Retreat Center. And there was such a lovely feeling among the people at the Retreat who had all been brought up Catholic. It was as though they really believed in God. The atmosphere of the Retreat held a feeling of the presence of God. And it has made me aware, coming back here to the United States, how often spirituality is presented in this culture as though it is a very sophisticated self-help program, whereby we will make ourselves better, relieve stress, and protect ourselves from any bad things ever happening to us. This secularized attitude is not what Sufism is about. The vision of Hazrat Inayat Khan is a vision of the Source of Being, essential being, which can be called by many different names because this essence is present throughout existence. Every name is a finite concept which expresses this essence, and no name can contain what this really is. All existence rests on this, on this essence. So that’s what I mean when I say to look up, to look above, all the things we’re so caught up in, things that happen day to day. That speech, that conversation, those political events. Do we really feel, do we experience, do we believe, that there is something? A purpose underlying all existence?
This brings us to our own personal concept of God. Each of us has a God-image, conscious or unconscious. There is a concept, a name, an image that we have for God. Often, for many people in the Sufi community, their God-concept is a rejection of what they were brought up with. “I’m very clear that I don’t believe in that.” So what do I believe in? When I used to talk with Unitarians a lot, they had a great term. They called themselves
“come-outters.” They have all come-out of another tradition. But saying that God is “not that” is still a concept of God.
So, how do we imagine God? Do we imagine a God who chooses one people, one opinion, against others, and seeks to punish those who see things differently? I think we know that there are many people who do imagine God in this way. Another possibility is to imagine God as consciousness: the purpose of existence, the goal of existence, always present in each moment of existence, within which existence resides? A God who cherishes every blade of grass, every flower, every hair on your head. Can we imagine this God? Is this a God in whom we can have hope?
The Hindu reading from the Upanishads talks about memory, in that lovely way that the Upanishads do, “Well, teacher, what is the answer?” “Ah, memory is the answer.” “Well, memory is a very good thing. Is there something beyond memory?” “Well, yes, now that you’ve asked. There is hope.” Now in the Hindu experience, you have to keep asking. If you stop asking, the teacher will stop saying anything. Why? Because at each stage of evolution there are different questions and different ways of describing the answers. In this passage we move from memory, which is about the past, to hope, which is about the future. We have to keep asking, as our consciousness evolves, so that we can understand more, we can see from a bigger perspective. Do we imagine that we can keep asking more of God, of our Ideal, and have hope that God is more than our limited concept, and will respond; inspiring and sustaining us?
As we reflect upon our God-image, is this ‘God’ that I feel, that I experience, the source and goal of existence? Do we think that life is progressive, that life has a goal, that everything is evolving toward a purpose? Do I individually have a purpose, a
purpose for my life? This is a belief, a faith, a feeling-knowing, that is the ground for hope. A purpose calls from the future to the present. It calls us into the future. Every real desire or heart-wish is a future reality that calls to us in the present. Inayat Khan says:
For it is natural that no one will desire what is not possible, and where there is a natural desire the possibility of its fulfillment is already there. If there were no possibility, there would be no desire.
If we really consider this, we can find the ground of hope.
For hope is always about the future. It is the movement of life into the future. Hope is about the possible. Hope is a way of knowing, knowing through imagining, that opens the future. Imagination is a way of knowing, of knowing what is possible but not yet actual. If I can imagine something, then I can hope for it. We hope for what we do not know. Not for what we already know. Hope calls us into the future. Hope is not about facts. (And modern secular culture worships facts, or those opinions which are deemed ‘facts’.) We hope for what we do not know, not for what we already think we know.
As the Christian text says, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?” (Romans 8:24) And in Hebrews 11:1 we find, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Imagination is the way of knowing that shows us whether our minds are filled with hope or despair. As an attitude of hope opens the mind, and can lead to faith; the attitude of despair, of disappointment, of hopelessness, closes down our minds. We feel cut off and isolated. We think that things will always be as we think they are. Hope opens the doors so that we can think
more freely. Hope gives us strength and courage to imagine the future that we desire, and to find the ways to make it a reality.
The second thing is, can we look below? Below the flurry of constantly changing experiences. When we look below, we look into our own minds and hearts, into the fixed attitudes of feelings and thoughts, that were formed in our past experience, and condition what we experience now. We discover those attitudes that we call “my personality.” If we have suffered too much disappointment and frustration as small children or as younger adults, we begin to tell ourselves, “this is the way it always is.” Then we pay attention (consciously and unconsciously) to other disappointments and frustrations that happen, until we weave a narrative about what is real and what is possible.
In my psychotherapy work with people, one of the most difficult problems is when a person has been very disappointed. I sometimes imagine disappointment, in emotional development, as around the age of 5. Before the age of 5, when you don’t get what you want, you can’t remember long enough to be too upset about it for very long. By the time you are 5, you can think about it and you can hope for it, and if the people around you don’t listen to you, and are very frustrating to you, then the disappointment overwhelms the heart. It shuts down the heart. It’s so painful. So if we have a narrative like that which says, “oh, nothing ever works out for me; I never get what I want; nobody really listens” then this narrative shuts down what we can imagine and therefore what we can hope for. Then, it feels like hope is unrealistic. It feels like hope is only for dreamers who don’t understand what life is really about.
The Buddhist tradition talks about the importance of “seeing things as they are,” not as I think they are. Our personal narratives of who we think we are, and how we think life is, are often an illusion – a delusion that limits my perception and experience. The Buddhist scripture speaks of the importance of Right Effort – one of the steps of the Eightfold Path, the path that leads to enlightenment. Right Effort is the effort one makes to arouse the will, to arouse energy to prevent the arising of unwholesome mental-emotional states and to overcome those unwholesome states which are present; the energy needed to strive to maintain wholesome mental emotional states and to strengthen them. I’ve always thought of Right Effort as being your Mother’s best advice. If you’re doing something that’s bad, and you shouldn’t, stop it. If you’re not doing something that’s bad, don’t start. If you’re not doing something that’s good, start it. And if you’re doing something that’s good, keep doing it.
Ridding one’s mind and heart of deluding attitudes takes a lot of effort. Seeing things “as they are” requires work. Hope necessitates ongoing work. The kind of hope that I‘m trying to arouse in our consciousness is not just a fantasy where we think, “oh, wouldn’t it be nice if that happened.” When we have this vision, this hope, it motivates us to get to work.
As the Zoroastrian scripture reminds us, great devotion is the way we reach “all whom Ahura Mazda recognizes.” The Qu’ran urges us to put our hope in the kindness and long-suffering nature of Allah, and in Allah’s forgiveness. The Psalm says that when I set Jehovah continually before me…”my heart rejoiceth, and my glory exulteth; and my flesh moreover shall dwell in hope.” Psalm 16:8-9 And in Romans we find the saying that since we are justified in faith, we have peace and access to grace, and “we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
Not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance…and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Romans 5:1-5
These are all actions that require effort. Great devotion, keeping God’s presence continually before me, knowing that suffering produces endurance and character. From these actions, hope can be nurtured and strengthened.
So as we listen to the news on our computers and televisions, when we hear the hatred shouted about people of different religions, races, and genders, we know that this is not social or political discourse which will lead to real solutions of problems. There are real problems: income disparity that keeps becoming more severe, a global economy and culture that renders the last century’s ideas of national boundaries unworkable whether in terms of immigration or trade, changes in functional definitions of marriage and gender that are confusing and frightening to many people, conflicts over access to health care and to housing, and many, many more. Will more partisan shouting against those who disagree with me really help?
How do we bear witness to another way of solving problems, of listening to people’s sufferings, to anxiety about differences and people who are other? I think we must begin with hope, having hope, nurturing hope, working with hope. We cannot move forward without hope.
Murshid Inayat Khan says,
“Nothing is lost as long as your hope is not lost.”
Or to say it in a more poetic way, “Riding on the horse of hope,
Holding in my hand the rein of courage,
Clad in the armor of patience,
And the helmet of endurance on my head,
I started on my journey to the land of love.”
“The one who meditates on memory as Brahman, this one’s freedom will extend to the limits of the realm of memory, the one who meditates on memory as Brahman.”
“But, sir, is there anything greater than memory?”
“Yes, there is something greater than memory.” “Then, please, sir, tell me about it.”
“Hope, verily, is greater than memory. For with hope enkindled, memory learns the sacred hymns and performs sacred action, desires children and cattle, this world and the other. Meditate on hope.
The one who meditates on hope as Brahman, all this one’s desires will be fulfilled through hope, this one’s prayers will not be in vain. This one’s freedom will extend to the limits of the realm of hope, the one who meditates on hope as Brahman.”
Chandogya Upanisad VII 13.2 – 14.2
“And what, monks, is Right Effort? Here, monks, a monk rouses one’s will, makes an effort, stirs up energy, exerts one’s mind and strives to prevent the arising of unarisen evil unwholesome mental states.
One arouses one’s will… and strives to overcome evil unwholesome mental states that have arisen.
One arouses one’s will, makes an effort, stirs up energy, exerts the mind and strives to generate wholesome good mental states
One arouses one’s will…and strives to maintain wholesome mental states, not to let them fade away, to bring them to greater growth, to the full protection of development. This is called Right Effort.”
“All whom Ahura Mazda recognizes through the gifts of the ceremony are very useful to me. All of these who are in
existence or who have been, I praise by their name and I hope to reach them with great devotion.
Of one mind are Ye all in Your good will, in granting blessings unto all mankind.”
“I have set Jehovah continually before me; because God is at my right hand. I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart rejoiceth, and my glory exulteth; my flesh moreover shall dwell in hope.”
Psalm 16: 8-9
“On thee, O Lord, I fix my hope; thou wilt answer, O Lord my God.”
“…in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
And endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
“Surely those who believe, and those who leave their homes and fight in the way of God, may hope for His benevolence, for God is forgiving and kind.
“Wealth and children are an attraction during worldly life. Yet honorable deeds that last forever are better as a recompense from your Lord and even better to hope for.”
“What is the matter with you, that you do not place your hope for kindness and long-suffering in Allah?”
“Riding on the horse of hope,
Holding in my hand the rein of courage, Clad in the armor of patience,
And the helmet of endurance on my head,
I started on my journey to the land of love.”
“Nothing is lost as long as your hope is not lost.” “To live means to hope, and to hope means to live.”
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.