By Hazrat Inayat Khan
Many people think that the physical has little to do with the spiritual. Why not, they ask, cast the idea of the physical aside in order to be entirely spiritual? If without the physical aspect of our being the purpose of life could be accomplished, the soul would have not taken a physical body and the spirit would not have produced the physical world. A Hindustani poet says, 'If the purpose of creation could have been fulfilled by the angels, who are entirely spiritual, God would not have created man.' That shows that there is a great purpose to be accomplished by what is called the physical body. If the light of God could have shown directly, there would not have been a manifestation such as that of Christ. It was necessary, so to speak, that God should walk on the earth in the physical body. And the conception that the physical body is made of sin, and that this is the lowest aspect of being, will very often prove to be a mistake, for it is through this physical body that the highest and the greatest purpose of life is to be achieved. A person only calls it his physical body in ignorance. Once the knowledge has come to him he begins to look upon it as the sacred temple of God.
Our experience of life through the physical body has five aspects. The first aspect is health, the possession of which is heaven, and the absence of which is hell. No matter what we have in life, wealth, name or fame, power or position, comfort or convenience, without health it is all nothing. When a person is healthy he does not think about it, he does not value it. He cares about things he has not got. He tries to sacrifice his health for pleasures, for material wealth. He is ready to sacrifice his health for his intellectual fancies, for gaiety, for merriment, for a good time, for an ambition he wants to fulfill. But very often before the ambition or the desire is fulfilled the collapse comes and then he begins to realize what health means. Nothing can buy it; nothing can be compared with it. If we gather together all the blessings that can be received in life and weigh them on a scale, we will find that health weighs heaviest.
It is health, which enables man to be material as well as spiritual. Its lack robs him of materiality as well as of spirituality. It robs him of materiality because his condition is not in order and of spirituality because it is the completeness of health that enables man to experience spiritual life fully. I do not mean that it is a sin to be ill and a virtue to be well; I mean that health is a virtue and illness a sin.
Another aspect of the physical existence is balance. It is balance which gives control of the body. It is by balance that man is able to stand, to walk, and to move. Every action, every physical movement, is sustained by balance. And the lack of balance will always show some lack in the character of a person and at the same time in the condition of his life. In whatever form the lack of balance manifests, it always means that there is something lacking in the personality. If one studies the walk of a person, the way he moves or looks, everything he does, one sees that whenever balance is lacking something is lacking behind this which one may not have known but which one will find out in time. For instance, when a person is wobbling, do not believe that it is only an outside defect; it has something to do with that man's character. As he is wobbling in walking, so he will be wobbling in his determination, in his belief. Just as the physician sees the internal condition in the eyes and on the tongue of the patient, so the wise see all that pertains to a man in his every movement especially by watching the balance.
Many Western readers of Oriental philosophy have asked me: 'Why is it that your adepts in the East practice acrobatics, sitting in certain postures, standing on one leg, on their heads, sitting cross-legged in one position for a long time, and many other strange things that one would not think of a spiritual person doing? What spirituality is there to be attained by it? We consider that these things belong to acrobatics and athletics.' And I have answered that all such things as sports and athletic and acrobatic practices when done as a pastime abuse energy, time, and work. One does not get the full benefit out of them; but the adepts use them towards a higher purpose. There is nothing in this world, if properly practiced, which will not prove to be beneficial in spiritual attainment.
Do not think that going to church or temple and offering prayers, or sitting in silence with closed eyes, is the only way to spiritual attainment. But if we turn all things we do in our everyday life towards the spiritual goal, this will help us in our spiritual attainment. Besides, going to church once a week involves very little spiritual work. Even when we say our prayers every night before going to bed, very little spiritual work is done. For every moment of the day we live in illusion. Everything we do has the effect of covering our spiritual vision. That is why every moment of the day we should have a concentration. How can we do this if we have our business, industry, profession, and a thousand things to do in everyday life? The answer is that we should turn all things that we do into a prayer. Then whatever be our profession, work, and occupation in daily life, it will all help us to spiritual attainment. Then our every action will become a prayer. Every move we make towards the South, the North, the West, or the East will point to the spiritual goal. Not everyone realizes to what extent he lacks balance in his life. Among a hundred persons you can hardly find one really balanced. There is a spiritual balance also, but this spiritual balance is attained by first balancing the physical body and its movements.
The third aspect of our physical existence is the perfecting of our body, in other words the fineness, the sensitiveness, of the body. There is a spiritual temperament, and that temperament you can see from a person's body. There are sensitive people, maybe a little bit nervous, and then there are dense people who have quite a different aspect. A sensitive person who can appreciate music, who can respond to the beauty of line and color, who can enjoy a salt and sweet, a sour and bitter taste fully, who can feel cold and heat, who can perceive fragrance, distinguish all these, it is he who is born with a spiritual temperament. The person who has no love for music, who cannot appreciate fragrance, who cannot understand the beauty of line and color that person is dense, and it will take time for him to develop. Therefore the experience of all the joy and pleasure that life offers is not in materiality, it is in spirituality. It is not the material person who experiences life fully; it is the spiritual person who does so.
One might ask, 'Then what about these ascetics who lived the life of a hermit in solitude, who did not eat proper food, who kept themselves away from all comfort and beauty of life?' These are not for everyone to follow. At the same time, it is a mistake to criticize them. Such people are the ones who make experiments of life by the sacrifice of all the joy and pleasure that the earth can give. By their solitude they experiment, just as a scientist shuts himself up in his laboratory for years and years; and these ascetics who left everything in the world also attained a certain knowledge which they give us. It is not a principle for everyone to follow, for spirituality does not depend upon such things. Why are the eyes given if not to appreciate all that is beautiful? Why are the ears given if one may not enjoy music? Why has one been sent on to earth if one cannot look at the earth for fear of being called materialist? Those who make spirituality out to be something like this make a bogey of God, something frightening. In point of fact spirituality is the fullness of life.
With regard to the fourth aspect of our physical existence, man wrongly identifies himself with the physical body, calling it 'myself.' And when the physical body is in pain he says, 'I am ill,' because he identifies himself with something which belongs to him but which is not himself. The first thing to learn in the spiritual path is to recognize the physical body not as one's self, but as an instrument, a vehicle, through which to experience life. This instrument is so equipped that one may be able to experience all that is worth experiencing outside oneself, and also all that is worth experiencing within oneself. When a child is born and brought up, its first tendency is to enjoy and experience all that is outside itself, and the man usually gets no chance to experience what is within himself. But at the same time the body is equipped with the instrument, with the means, by which to experience both the life outside and the life within. If a person does not use his hand or his leg for many years, the outcome will be that it loses its vitality, life, energy, and will no longer be of any use. We know the use of our hands and feet, which are outer parts of the physical mechanism. But there are inner and finer parts of the physical mechanism which mystics have called centers, each center having its particular object – intuition, inspiration, impression, revelation – which are all realized through the medium of these centers.
As the organs of our senses can experience life that is around us, so the nervous centers can experience life that is within us. But when these centers are not used for many years they become blunted, not destroyed but blunted, and can no longer be put to the use for which they exist. Many who embark upon spiritual work guided by a proper teacher begin to feel a sensation in the middle of the forehead, as if something is awakening there. After some time they begin more and more to notice a sphere of which they were quite ignorant. There are some who begin to notice a feeling in the solar plexus, which they did not have before. If that feeling is awakened they naturally become more intuitive. Some feel a certain sensitiveness on the top of their head, or in the center of their throat. With their growth they feel it more and more. Among these people there will doubtless be found some who are intuitive by nature.
The difference between those whose nervous centers respond and those whose nervous centers do not respond is that of rock and plant. The rock does not respond to sympathy, but the plant does. And so the ones whose intuitive centers are awakened to some extent begin to feel intuitive [...] But one should bear in mind that these things are not to be talked about. Those who know least talk most; and then if those who are not yet ready to know these secrets get hold of some theory or other of this kind, they speak about it to everybody. And then they write a book about their own wrong conceptions. They have never had the patience, perseverance, and right guidance to help them, and often they go astray; and many of them have damaged their health and got out of balance trying to awaken centers. They make light of something which is most serious, most sacred, and which leads to spiritual attainment. Others make fun of it, those of the wrong quality who cannot perceive sympathy as a plant perceives it. They do not see the possibilities in themselves and mock at those who do not perceive; and in this way a science, which is the highest of all sciences, has been abused and laughed at.
In the East a teacher does not give guidance until he has full confidence in the pupil, so as not to allow that which is most sacred to be mocked and laughed at by others. When he gives an initiation the pupil takes an oath that he will not speak about these things before those unaware of their value, importance, and sacredness; and only then is he guided. Also, every individual is guided by the teacher separately.
Finally, there is the fifth aspect of our physical existence. There are two things: sensation and exaltation. Through sensation, one experiences pleasure. Through exaltation, one experiences joy. There is a difference between joy and pleasure. What man is accustomed to experience by the medium of his physical body is pleasure; the pleasure of eating, the pleasure of drinking, the pleasure of looking at beautiful things. Therefore, everything comforting he knows is that which is experienced by the physical senses. But besides that there is a joy which does not depend upon the senses, which only depends upon exaltation; and that exaltation is also achieved by the medium of the body.
How is this achieved? There is action and its result, and there is repose and its result. It is the result of action, which is called sensation, and it is the result of repose, which is called exaltation. In the Masnavi of Rumi, the most wonderful poet of Persia, we read about the blessing of sleep, where he says, 'Oh sleep, there is no greater bliss to be compared with you. In sleep the prisoners are free from their prison, and the kings do not possess throne and crown. The suffering patients lose their pain or worries, and sorrows are forgotten.' This shows that sleep is a form of repose, automatically brought about, which lifts us up from anxieties, worries and discomforts, from sorrows and troubles. When this condition of repose can be brought about at will, one will have an experience of mastery, for then one is not dependent upon an automatic condition. If this condition which raises us above our worries, troubles, sorrows, anxieties, pains, and suffering can be produced within ourselves, a great thing is accomplished. And the way of accomplishing it is by the practice of repose. The first thing an adept does in life is to master the five different aspects which I have mentioned, and having mastered them he is ready for the next step in the path of spiritual attainment.
(Excerpted from Mental Purification and Healing, by Hazrat Inayat Khan [“The Sufi Message”, vol. 1V])
URL of Part 58: http://www.newageislam.com/books-and-documents/the-sufi-message--excerpts-from-hazrat-inayat-khan’s-discourses-on-the-unity-of-religious-ideals--58--on-the-distinction-between-the-subtle-and-the-gross/d/87255