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.
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.
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.