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The Sufi Message: Excerpts from Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Discourses on the Unity of Religious Ideals: The Purpose of Life (2) – 41



By Hazrat Inayat Khan

There are two different temperaments that we generally see in the world. One says, 'I will not hear music on Sunday, it is a religious day. The liking for colours is emotional. Do not look at pictures, it excites.' To enjoy any perfume, to like fragrance, he thinks is sensual. And then there is another temperament that feels the vibrations of the colors, that enjoys delicious food, that admires the straight line and the curve that is touched and moved by music that feels exalted by the beauty of nature. And what difference do we find in these two temperaments? The difference is that one is living and the other lacks life. One is living because he is responsive to all aspects of beauty, whether the beauty appeals to his eyes or ears, or to his sense of taste or touch. The other one is incapable of enjoying it.

Man in his innermost is seeking for happiness, for beauty, for harmony. And yet, by not responding to the beauty and harmony which is before him, he wastes his life which is an opportunity for him to experience and to enjoy. What self-denial is it to deny the divine beauty which is before us? If we deny ourselves the divine beauty which surrounds us, then the beauty which is within will not unfold itself. Because the condition is that the soul is born with its eyes open outwardly; it does not see the life within. The only way of wakening to the life within, which is the most beautiful, is first to respond to the beauty outside. This world with all its unlimited beauty, nature with its sublimity, personalities with divine immanence—if we ignore all this then why have we come? What have we accomplished here? The person who ignores it turns his back on something which he is continually seeking for. He is his own enemy. By this way he cannot be spiritual, he cannot be religious. By denying himself all that is beautiful around him, he cannot be exalted. For if beauty within was the only purpose of life, God would not have created man and sent him on earth.

Besides this, it is the vision of the beauty on the earth which awakens the vision of the beauty which is in the spirit. Some say that it is sensuous and that it deprives one of spiritual illumination. It would, if a person were to be totally absorbed in it and were to live only in it and did not think that there was something else besides. Because the beauty which is outside no doubt has a transitory character; it is passing and therefore is not dependable. For the one who depends upon this beauty and has become absorbed in it and by doing so, has turned his back on that beauty which is everlasting. For that person, this is certainly wrong. But, at the same time, no soul has ever arrived at beholding the vision of the spiritual beauty which is to be found within without being awakened to the beauty which is external.

[…] [T]he child is sometimes more responsive to beauty than a grown up person, because a grown up person has developed in himself a pessimistic attitude, a prejudice. And by that prejudice, he is incapable of seeing that beauty, which a little child can see and appreciate. For instance, when we look at a person we make a barrier of our preconceived idea before we look at him. A child, an angel on earth, looks at him as it would look at its best friend. It has no enmity, no preconceived idea about anyone, and therefore the child is open to beauty. A child does not know that the fire burns. The child only knows that the fire is beautiful. And therefore the child is so blessed that every moment of its life it lives in a complete vision of beauty. And so long as that state lasts, a soul is in the Garden of Eden. It is exiled from that day when the soul has touched the earthly human nature […] The soul has, born in itself, a natural craving for beauty. It is a lack in the person if he does not seek it rightly […]

One may ask, 'Is the quality of appreciating beauty more spiritual than the craving for knowledge?' I would say, in answer, where does knowledge come from? Knowledge comes by observation; observation comes by love of beauty. The first thing is that the flower attracts one's attention, and then one begins to find out where the flower comes from, what is its nature and character, what benefit it is, how to rear this plant. The first thing is that one is attracted by its beauty. The next thing is, one wants to find out its nature. From this comes all knowledge.

There is a kind of artificial learning, not a natural learning, which may be called time saving. Someone says, 'Now people have learned in their lives and they have discovered things for us and written about them in books. I must learn that by reading the book.' But he does not know that he has not learned what the person who has written the book has learned. For instance, someone, who has read the books of Luther Burbank, if he has read fifty books on horticulture, has not learned what Luther Burbank has learned. For he had made experiments for himself. He had been in the garden; his joy was such that he could not explain. No doubt another person will benefit by what he has given, but another person cannot enjoy what he has enjoyed, unless he pursues the same course.

In my explanation, ‘spiritual’ means living. A spiritual person who is awakened to the beauty of poetry, who is quick to admire the subtlety of the poetry, who is appreciative of the beauty of melody, of harmony, who can enjoy art and be exalted by the beauty of nature, who lives as a living being, not as one dead, it is that person who may be called spiritual. And you will always find the tendency of spiritual personalities is to be interested in every person in their lives. That is the sign that they are living. A person who is shut up in himself, closes himself; he has made four walls around himself. That can be his grave; he is buried in it. The person who is living, naturally sees all; and, as he sees all, he sympathizes with all, he responds to all, he appreciates all in everybody; and in this way he awakens in himself the sublime vision of the immanence of God.

There is a continual desire working in every soul to see things perfect according to one's own conception of perfection. As one goes on with this desire, observing, analyzing and examining things and beings, one becomes disappointed and disheartened, and besides one becomes impressed with the lack one sees in conditions, in persons, in beings. No doubt there is one thing that keeps one alive, and that is hope. If it is not right today, tomorrow it will become right. If it is not perfect just now, after some time it will be perfect. And so on this hope one lives, and if one has given up this hope then life ends. If one is disappointed in one person, one thinks that in another person one can find all that one expects. If under one condition one is disappointed, one hopes for another condition which will bring about the fruitfulness of one's expectations. The teachers and the prophets have pointed upward. That symbolically teaches us that it is in looking forward to something more hopeful that one lives, and that is the secret of happiness and peace. But once a person develops one idea that there is nothing to look forward to in life, he has finished living.

You will see around you that those who live and those who help others to live are the ones who look forward in life with hope and courage. It is they whom one can call living beings. But there are others who do not live, for they do not look forward to the life before them. They have lost hope. In order to be saved, they will cling to the hopeful, but if the hopeful also had a limited hope, then they would sink with them. Such souls are as dead. Those who lack hope and courage in life lack a sort of energy of spirit. The standard of health as the physician understands it today is an energetic, robust body. But the standard of real health is the health of the spirit. Not only the body is living, but also the spirit is living. The one who is open to appreciate all, to feel encouraged to do all that comes his way, who feels joyful, hopeful, ready to accomplish his duty, ready to suffer pain that comes to him, ready to take up responsibility, ready to answer the demands as a soldier on the battlefield, this one shows the spirit hidden within the body. If that condition is lacking, then a person is lacking perfect health and must be helped to gain that energy.

Hopelessness can be overcome by faith. In the first place by faith in God; at the same time knowing that the soul draws its power from the divine source. Every thought, every impulse, every wish, every desire comes from there, and in its accomplishment there is the law of perfection. And in that way a person feels hopeful […] For in recognizing the divine Father in God, one becomes conscious of one's divine heritage, and that there is no lack in the divine Spirit, and therefore, there is no lack in life. It is only a matter of time. If one builds one's hope in God, there is an assured fulfillment of it.

It is very interesting to study the lives of the great in the world. We find that some great people have almost arrived at the fulfillment of their undertakings and just before they had reached the goal they have lost it. And there have been some great people who have attained the ultimate success in whatever they have undertaken. You will always find that the souls of the former kind are the ones who were gifted with great power and yet lacked faith, while the others were gifted with the same power, and that power was supported by faith. A person may have all the power there is, all the wisdom and inspiration, but if there is one thing lacking, which is faith, he may attain to all ninety-nine degrees of success and yet may miss that very one whose loss in the end takes away all that was gained previously. There is a saying in English, 'All's well that ends well,' as the Eastern people say in their prayers, 'Make our end good;' for if there be a difficulty just now we do not mind, because there will be success, the real success, in its completion.

It is in this outlook that we can find the secret of the idea of Paradise, the paradise which has been spoken of by the elevated souls of all times, and in all scriptures you will find a reference to paradise is a hope in the hereafter, a hope in the future. When someone finds that there is no justice to be found in life or beauty is lacking, or wisdom is not to be found anywhere, and goodness is rare, then he begins to think that justice must exist somewhere. All beauty, wisdom, goodness must be found somewhere, and that is in paradise. He thinks, 'It exists somewhere. I shall find it one day. If not in this life, I shall find it in the hereafter. But there is a day when the fulfillment of my hope, my desire, will come.' This person lives, and this person lives to see his desire fulfilled. For in reality the lack that one finds in a person, in a thing, in an affair, in a condition, will not always remain. For all will be perfect, all must be perfect. It is a matter of time. And it is towards that perfection that we are all striving, and the whole universe is working towards the same goal. It is in that perfection that the thinkers and the great ones of all times have seen their paradise, because through man it is God who desires. Therefore it is not the desire of man, it is the desire of God, and has its fulfillment.

Life on the physical plane is limited. But the power of desire is unlimited. If desire finds a difficulty in fulfillment on the physical plane, yet it retains its power just the same. And the desire is powerful enough to accomplish its work, rising above or freed from this physical plane of limitations. It is therefore, that a hope in paradise has been given by the great ones. In the Bible, it is said in the Lord's prayer, 'Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven,' which means that there is a difficulty even for the will of God to be done on earth, because of limitations

'Heaven is the vision of fulfilled desire, and hell the shadow of a soul on fire.' Someone went to Ali and asked him, 'You tell us about the hereafter and the granting of desire there. What if it be not true? Then all our efforts on this earth would be wasted.' 'Nothing will be wasted,' said Ali. 'If it were not fulfilled, then you and I would have the same experience. But if it be true that there is a paradise, then you will be the loser and I shall gain, for I have prepared for it and you have scoffed at the idea.'

For life is an opportunity, and desire has the greatest power, and perfection is the promise of the soul. We seek perfection, because perfection is the ultimate aim and the goal of creation. The source of all things is perfect. Our source is perfect, our goal is perfect. And therefore every atom of the universe is working towards perfection, and sooner or later it must arrive at perfection consciously. If it were not so, you would not have read in the Bible, 'Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.'

A person who is conscientious in his duty, who attaches great importance to his ideal, is apt to say to the person who is engaged in money making, 'You are striving for earth's treasures, I am performing what I consider my duty.' The person who is making his way to heaven, who is holding paradise in his expectations, is inclined to say to the pleasure seeker, 'You are absorbed in life's momentary pleasures, I am working for the life to come.' But the person who is busy money making can also say to the one who is conscientious of duty and the one possessing the high ideal, 'If you had to go through the experience which I have to, you would see in this too something worthwhile' […]

This shows that all these seekers after different things, seekers after wealth, seekers after ideal, seekers after pleasure, and seekers after paradise, must have their own ways. They will at the same time have their own reasons. One may contradict another, although they are all making their way to the goal. Sooner or later, with more or less difficulty, they must arrive at the purpose of life.

One may ask, 'Which of these […] ways is the best way of arriving at the purpose of life?' That way is best which suits you best. The way of one person is not for another person, although man is always inclined to accuse another person of doing wrong, believing that he himself is doing right. In reality, the purpose is beyond all these […]. Neither in paradise nor in the ideal, neither in pleasures nor in the wealth of this earth is that purpose accomplished. That purpose is accomplished when a person has risen above all these things. It is that person then, who will tolerate all, who will understand all, who will assimilate all things, who will not feel disturbed by things which are not in accordance with his own nature or the way which is not his way. He will not look at them with contempt, but he will see that in the depth of every being there is a divine spark which is trying to raise its flame toward the purpose.

When a person has arrived at this stage, he has risen above the limitations of the world. Then he has become entitled to experience the joy of coming near to the real purpose of life. It is then that in everything that he says or does, he will be accomplishing that purpose. Whether outwardly, to the world, it would seem the right thing or the wrong thing, he is accomplishing his purpose just the same. For instance, I have seen holy souls taking part in a religious procession which was made perhaps by the ordinary people. Thousands of people making a kind of fete-day, playing music and dancing before the procession, singing and enjoying themselves. And among them, most highly developed souls, who might be called saints, doing the same thing, all following the procession. One might wonder if they needed it. Is it good for their evolution, or by this do they gain any satisfaction? No. And yet it does not hinder their progress. They are what they are. They know what they know. A grown up person by playing with the children does not become a child. He only adapts himself for the time being to the party or children.

Did not Solomon sit on a throne and wear a crown? Did it make him less wise, or did it rob him of spirituality? No, for he was above it. For him the throne or crown was nothing but acting in a play for the time being. It was a pastime. We read that Krishna took part in the battle described in the Mahabharata. A self-righteous man would look upon it as a cruel thing and would be ready to condemn Krishna for this. But behind that outward appearance, what was there? There was the highest realization of love, of wisdom, of justice, of goodness. The soul had reached its culmination

We come to understand by this that the further we go the more tolerant we become. Outward things matter little. It is the inward realization which counts. However sacred duty may be, however high may be the hope of paradise, however great the happiness one may experience in the pleasures of the earth, however much satisfaction one may find in earthly treasures, the purpose of life is in rising above all these things. It is then that the soul will have no discord, no disagreement with others. It is then that the natural attitude of the soul will become tolerant and forgiving. The purpose of life is fulfilled in rising to the greatest heights and in diving to the deepest depths of life: in widening one's horizon, in penetrating life in all its spheres, in losing oneself, and in finding oneself in the end. In the accomplishment of the purpose of life the purpose of creation is fulfilled. Therefore, in this fulfillment it is not that man attained, but that God Himself has fulfilled His purpose.

If a Sufi is asked what was the purpose of this creation, he will say that the Knower, the only knower, wanted to know Himself, and there was only one condition of knowing Himself, and that was to make Himself intelligible to His own Being. For Intelligence itself is a Being, but Intelligence is not known to itself. Intelligence becomes known to itself when there is something intelligible. Therefore, the Knower had to manifest Himself, thus becoming an object to be known. And by this knowledge the Knower arrives at perfection. It does not mean that the Knower lacked perfection, for all perfection belonged to the Knower; only He became conscious of His perfection. Therefore it is in the consciousness of perfection that lies the purpose of this whole manifestation.

The Sufis say, 'God is Love.' That is true, but the Love was not sufficient. The Love had to make an object to love in order to see its own nature, to experience its own character, to fathom its own mystery, to find its own joy. For instance, the seed has in it the leaf and the flower and the fruit. But the fulfillment of the purpose of that seed is that it is put in the ground, that it is watered, that a seedling springs up and is reared by the sun; it brings forth its flowers and fruits. This is the fulfillment of that seed which already contained in itself the fruit and the flower. A person who does not see the reason of all this is in the seed state. His mind is in the state of a seed which has not yet germinated, which has not yet produced its seedling, which has not yet experienced the springing of the plant.

No sooner does the soul begin to unfold and experience in life the purpose which is hidden within itself, than it begins to feel the joy of it. It begins to value the privilege of living. It begins to appreciate everything. It begins to marvel at everything. For in the every experience, good or bad, it finds a certain joy, and that joy is in the fulfillment of life's purpose. That joy is not only experienced in pleasure, but even in pain, not only in success, but also in failures, not only in the cheerfulness of the heart, but even in the breaking of the heart there is a certain joy hidden. For there is no experience that is worthless; and especially for that soul who is beginning to realize this purpose, there is no moment wasted in life. For under all circumstances and in all experiences that soul is experiencing the purpose of life.

The Knower manifested as man in order that He might become known to Himself. And now, what may man do, in order to help the Knower to fulfill this purpose? Seek continually an answer to every question that arises in his heart. Of course, there are different types of minds. There is one mind that will puzzle and puzzle over a question, and trouble himself for something which is nothing […] That person will trouble himself and will wreck his own spirit, and will never find satisfaction. There is no question which has not its answer somewhere. The answer is nothing but an echo of the question, a full echo. And therefore one must rise above this confused state of mind which prevents one from getting the answer from within or from without to every question that arises in one's heart. In order to become spiritual, one need not perform miracles. The moment one's heart is able to answer every question that rises in one's heart, one is already on the path. Besides, the thing that must be first known, one puts off to the last, and that which must be known at the last moment, one wants to know first. It is this which causes confusion in the lives of many souls.

The words of Christ support this argument: 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you.' This is the very thing one does not want to seek. One wishes to find anything else but this. And where is it to be found? Not in the knowledge of another person. In the knowing of the self. If a person goes through his whole life most cleverly judging others, he may go on, but he will find himself to be more foolish at every step. At the end, he reaches the fullness of stupidity. But the one who tries, tests, studies and observes himself, his own attitude in life, his own outlook on life, his thought, speech, and action, who weighs and measures and teaches himself self discipline, it is that person who is able to understand another better. How rarely one sees a soul who concerns himself with himself through life, in order to know! Mostly, every soul seems to be busily occupied with the lives of others. And what do they know in the end? Nothing. If there is a kingdom of God to be found anywhere, it is within oneself.

And it is, therefore, in the knowledge of self that there lies the fulfillment of life. The knowledge of self means the knowledge of one's body, the knowledge of one's mind, the knowledge of one's spirit; the knowledge of the spirit's relation to the body and the relation of the body to the spirit; the knowledge of one's wants and needs, the knowledge of one's virtues and faults; knowing what we desire and how to attain it, what to pursue and what to renounce. And when one dives deep into this, one finds before one a world of knowledge which never ends. And it is that knowledge which gives one insight into human nature and brings one to the knowledge of the whole of creation. And in the end one attains to the knowledge of the divine Being.

The purpose of life, in short, is that the only Being makes His oneness intelligible to Himself. He goes through different planes of evolution, or planes through which he arrives at different changes, in order to make clear to Himself, His oneness. And as long as this purpose is not accomplished, the one and only Being has not reached His ultimate satisfaction, in which lies His divine perfection. One may ask, 'Is man the only organ through which God realizes His oneness?' God realizes His oneness through His own nature. Since God is one, He realizes His oneness through all things. Through man He realizes His oneness in its fullness. For instance, in the tree there are many leaves. Although each leaf is different from the other leaf, yet the difference is not great. Then, coming to worms and germs and birds and animals, they are different one from another, and yet the difference is not so distinct as in man. And when one thinks of the great variety of the numberless human forms, and it seems that there is not one form exactly like another, this by itself, gives us living proof of the oneness of God. In order to show this, Asaf Nizam made a very beautiful verse: 'You look at me with contempt. Yes, granted; I am contemptible. But will you show me such another contemptible creature?' Which means: even the worst person is incomparable; there is none like him. It is a great phenomenon, the proof of oneness, the proof of unity, that in the creation of God, there is no competition, no one competes with the Creator. In other words, it would be unworthy if the only Being felt, 'There is another like Me, even in the world of variety.' He retains His pride even in the world of variety: 'No one is like Me.' Even in the worst guise He stands alone without comparison. One may ask, 'Before man appeared on earth, did God realize His oneness?' But who can say how many times man appeared on the earth and disappeared from the earth? What we know is only one history of the planet. But how many planets exist? In how many millions of years have how many creations been created and how many withdrawn? All one can say is this: one cannot speak of God's past, present and future. One can only give an idea, which is the central idea of all aspects of truth; that is the only Being who existed, who exists and who will exist; and all that we see are His phenomena.

God is love. If God is love, love is most sacred. To utter this word without meaning, is a vain repetition. The lips of a person to whom it means something, are closed. He can say little. For love is a revelation in itself. No study is necessary, no meditation is needed, and no piety is required. If love is pure, if the spark of love has begun to glow, then there is no need to go somewhere to gain spirituality. Then spirituality is within. One must keep blowing the spark till it turns into a perpetual fire. The fire worshippers of old did not worship a fire which went out; they worshipped a perpetual fire. Where is that perpetual fire to be found? In one's own heart. The spark that one finds glowing for a moment and that then becomes dim does not belong to heaven, for in heaven all things are lasting; it must belong to some other place. Love has become a word from the dictionary, a word which is used a thousand times a day, which means nothing. To the one who knows what it means, love means patience, love means endurance, love means tolerance, love means sacrifice, love means service. All things such as gentleness, humility, modesty, graciousness, kindness, all are the different manifestations of love. It is the same to say, 'God is all and all is God,' as to say, 'Love is all and all is love.' And it is to find it, to feel it, to experience its warmth, and to see in the world, the light of love, and to keep its glow, and to hold love's flame high, as the sacred torch, to guide one in life's journey. It is in this that the purpose of life is fulfilled […]

Truth is simple. But for the very reason that it is simple, people will not take it; because our life on earth is such that for everything we value, we have to pay a great price and one wonders, if truth is the most precious of all things, then how can truth be attained simply? It is this illusion that makes everyone deny simple truth and seek for complexity. Tell people about something that makes their heads whirl round and round and round. Even if they do not understand it, they are most pleased to think, 'It is something substantial. It is something solid. For, it is an idea we cannot understand, it must be something lofty.' But something which every soul knows, proving what is divine in every soul, and which it cannot help but know, that appears to be too cheap, for the soul already knows it. There are two things: knowing and being. It is easy to know truth, but most difficult to be truth. It is not in knowing truth that life's purpose is accomplished; life's purpose is accomplished in being truth.

[Extracted from Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Way of Illumination (The Sufi Message, Vol. 1)]

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