By Hazrat Inayat Khan
[…] There cannot be a new religion; one might as well say, 'I wish to teach you a new wisdom.' There cannot be a new wisdom; wisdom is the same, which was and is and always will be.
One may ask what, then, is this variety of religions which has engaged humanity for years in conflict with one another, so that most of the wars and battles were fought in the cause of religion. This only shows the childish character of human nature. Religion, which was given for unity, for harmony, for brotherhood, was used by childish human beings in order to fight and dispute and engage themselves in battles for years and years. And to a thoughtful person the most curious thing is to see how in the past men have given a most sacred character to war, calling it a sacred or holy war. And the same tendency of making war against one another, which began with religion, persisted in the time of materialism; the same tendency turned into war between nations. Yet the differences and distinctions between the different faiths and beliefs still remain, and the prejudices and differences and bigotry between nations still exist to a greater or lesser degree. What does this show? It shows that the meaning of true religion has not been understood by the majority, and therefore that mission which religion has to fulfil in connection with humanity still remains to be fulfilled. Jesus Christ hinted at that fulfilment when he said that he had come to fulfil the law, not to give a new law.
Religion can be considered from five different points of view. The first is the aspect of religion, which is known to us as certain dogmas, laws, or teachings. And when we think of the conditions prevailing in the world today we see that the law is now given by the nation; every nation is now responsible for the order and the peace of its people.
The second aspect of religion is the church and the form of the service. In this there are differences, and there will always be differences; it is a matter of temperament, of tendency, and it also depends upon the customs and beliefs of the people who have inherited that tendency from their ancestors. Some have in their house of prayer different forms and ceremonies, which help them to feel elevated; others have a simple service since that appeal to them more.
No doubt the world is moving towards uniformity, and just as now we see no very great difference between the forms of everything, of different customs of greeting, of dressing, and many other things, so people too are coming to certain uniformity. At the same time, when we look at it from a different point of view, we shall find that uniformity very often takes away the beauty of life. In the countries which are civilized and advanced, where the architecture and houses are all on the same plan, where all are dressed in the same way, one becomes so tired of them that one likes to go to a different country and see houses which are different from the other, and people also.
The method of writing music and the form of notation is the same for the whole western world, but the distinction between the music of the French, Italians, Germans, and Russians gives a stimulus to the lover of music; and so it is with the distinctions of all forms. To want to make all people live alike and to act alike means to turn all people into the same form and give them the same face, and what would happen then? The world would be very uninteresting. It would be like tuning all the keys of the piano to the same note. It is not necessary to change the notes of the piano; what is necessary is to understand harmony, to know how to create harmony among the different notes.
The third aspect of religion is the religious ideal, the Lord and Master of religion, the Lord and Master that a soul esteems as its ideal. It is something that cannot be discussed, something about which one cannot argue. The less it is spoken of, the better it is. It is the outcome of the devotion of a sincere heart, which gives birth to an ideal too sacred to mention, an ideal, which cannot be compared or explained. And when the followers of different religions come to this question and dispute over their ideals, the sacred ideals which they have not known but have only heard about, and wish to prove one better than the other. They merely waste time and they destroy that sacred sentiment which can only be preserved in the heart.
The religious ideal is the medium by which one rises towards perfection. Whatever name a person gives to his ideal, that name is for him, and is most sacred to him. But this does not mean that giving it a name limits the ideal. There is only one ideal: the divine ideal. Call this Christ if we will, and let the same Christ be known by different names, given to him by various communities. […]
[…] When someone said to Majnun, 'Laila, your beloved, is not so beautiful as you think,' he said, ' My Laila must be seen with my eyes. If you wish to see how beautiful Laila is, you must borrow my eyes.' Therefore if we wish to regard the object of devotion of whatever faith, of whatever community, of whatever people, we have to borrow their eyes. We have to borrow their heart. It is no use disputing over each historical tradition; they have often sprung from prejudice. Devotion is a matter of the heart, and is offered by the devotee.
The fourth aspect of religion is the idea of God. There will always be fights and discussions about this, as people are wont to say, ' The God of our family is one, and the God of your family is another.' In ancient times there was a dispute between the people who said that the God of Ben Israel was a special God; and so every community and every Church made its God a special God. If there is a special God, it is not only a special God of a community, but a God of every individual. For man has to make his own God before he realizes the real God, but that God which man makes within himself becomes in the end the door by which he enters the shrine of his innermost being, the real God who is in the heart of man. And then one begins to realize that God is not a God of a certain community or people, but that God is the God of the whole Being.
Next we come to the aspect of religion which is not the law or the ceremony or the divine ideal or God, but which is apart from all these four. It is something living in the soul, in the mind, and in the heart of man; its absence keeps man as dead, and its presence gives him life. If there is any religion, it is this. And what is it? The Hindus have called it Dharma, which in the ordinary meaning of the word is duty. But it is something much greater than what we regard as duty in our everyday life. It is life itself. When a person is thoughtful and considerate, when he feels his obligations towards his fellow man, towards his friend, towards his father or mother, or in whatever relation he may stand to others, it is something living, it is like water which gives the sense of living to the soul. It is this living soul which really makes a person alive. And the person who is not conscious of this, this tenderness, this sacredness of life, may be alive, but his soul is in the grave. One does not need to ask a man who is conscious of this what his religion or his belief is, for he is living it; life itself is his religion, and this is the true religion. The man conscious of honor, the man who has a sense of shame, a feeling of sincerity, whose sympathy and devotion are alive, that man is living, that is religious.
This is the religion which has been the religion of the past and will be the religion of the future. All religion taught by Christ or any other of the great ones, was intended to awaken in man that sense which is awakened when religion is living. It does not matter then into which building one goes to pray, for every moment of one's life has become religion – not a religion in which one believes, but a religion which one lives.
What is the message of Sufism? Sufism is the message of digging out that water-like life which has been buried by the impressions of this material life. There is an English phrase: 'a lost soul.' But the soul is not lost; the soul is only buried. When it is dug out, then the divine life breaks forth like a spring of water. And the question is, what is digging? What does one dig in oneself? Is it not true, is it not said in the scriptures that God is love? Then where is God to be found? Is He to be found in the seventh heaven or is He to be found in the heart of man? He is to be found in the heart of man, which is his shrine. But if this heart is buried, if it has lost that light, that life, that warmth, what does this heart become? It becomes like a grave. In a popular English song there is a beautiful line, which says, 'The light of a whole life dies when love is done.' That living thing in the heart is love. It may come forth as kindness, as friendship, as sympathy, as tolerance, as forgiveness, but in whatever form this living water rises from the heart, it proves the heart to be a divine spring. And when once this spring is open and is rising, then everything that a man does in action, in word, or in feeling is all religion; that man becomes truly religious.
If there is any new religion to come, it will be this religion, the religion of the heart. […] [T]rue religion lies in opening the heart, in widening the outlook, and in living that religion which is the one religion.
[Extracted from Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Unity of Religious Ideals (The Sufi Message Vol IX)]