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The Sufi Message: Excerpts from Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Discourses on the Unity of Religious Ideals: On the Annihilation of the False Self – 45



By Hazrat Inayat Khan

When we think of that sense, that feeling, or that inclination that makes us affirm the word 'I' we realize that it is difficult to point out what this 'I' is, what its character is. For it is something that is beyond human comprehension. That is why a person who wishes to explain, even to himself, what it is, points to what is nearest to him, declaring, 'This is the one whom I have called, 'I'.' Therefore, every soul who has, so to speak, identified itself with anything has identified itself with the body, its own body, because that is the thing that one feels and realizes to be immediately next to one and that is intelligible as one's being.

So, what a person knows of himself, as the first thing, is his body. He calls himself his body, he identifies himself with his body. For instance, if one asks a child, 'Where is the boy?' he will point to his body. That is what he can see or can imagine of himself.

This forms a conception in the soul. The soul conceives this deeply, so that after this conception, all other objects, persons or beings, color or line, are called by different names. The soul does not conceive of them as itself, for it already has a conception of itself – this body, which it has first known or imagined to be itself. All else that it sees, it sees through its vehicle that is the body and calls it something next to it, something separate and different.

In this way, duality in nature is produced. From this comes, 'I' and 'You.' But as 'I' is the first conception of the soul, it is fully concerned with this 'I' and with all else it is only partly concerned. All other things that exist, besides this body which it has recognized as its own being, are considered according to their relation with this body. This relation is established by calling them, 'mine,' which is between 'I' and 'you'. As, you are 'my' brother, or 'my' sister, or 'my' friend. This makes a relationship and according to this relationship, the other object or person stands nearer to or farther from the soul.

All other experiences that the soul has in the physical world and in the mental spheres become a sort of world around it. The soul lives in the midst of it, yet the soul never for one moment feels with anything that it is, 'I'. This 'I' it has reserved and made captive in one thing, only – the body. Of everything else, the soul thinks that it is something else, something different, as, 'It is near to me, it is dear to me, it is close to me, because it is related. It is mine, but it is not me.' 'I' stands as a separate entity, holding, attracting, collecting all that one has and which makes one's own world.

As one becomes more thoughtful in life, so this conception of 'I' becomes richer. It becomes richer in this way, that one sees, 'It is not 'my' body only, but it is also the thought that I think that is 'my' thought; the imagination is 'my' imagination; my feelings are also a part of my being. Therefore, I am not only my body, but I am my mind, also.' In this next step that the soul takes on the path of realization, it begins to feel, 'I am not only a physical body, but also a mind.' This realization in its fullness makes one declare, 'I am a spirit,' which means: body, mind and feeling, all together with which I identify myself – it is these that are the ego.

When the soul goes farther on the path of knowledge, it begins to find that, 'Yes, there is something that feels itself, that feels the inclination to call itself 'I'.' There is a feeling of 'I-ness' but at the same time, all that the soul identifies itself with is not itself. The day when this idea springs up in the heart of man, he has begun his journey on the path of truth. Then analyzing begins, and he begins to find out, 'When this is 'my' table and this is 'my' chair, all that I can call mine belongs to me, but is not really myself.' Then he also begins to see, 'I identify myself with this body, but this is 'my' body, just as I say 'my' table, or 'my' chair. So the being who is saying 'I' in reality is separate. It is something that has taken even this body for its use; this body is only an instrument.' And he thinks, 'If it is not this body which I can call 'I' then what else is there that I can call so? Is it my imagination with which I should identify myself?' But even that he calls 'my' imagination, 'my' thought, or 'my' feeling. So, even thought, imagination or feeling is not the real 'I'. What affirms 'I' remains the same, even after having discovered the false identity.

We read in the tenth Sufi thought that perfection is achieved by the annihilation of the false ego. The false ego is what does not belong to the real ego and what that ego has wrongly conceived to be its own being. When that is separated by analyzing life better, then the false ego is annihilated […] In order to annihilate this body, in order to annihilate the mind, a person has to analyze himself and see, 'Where does 'I' stand? Does it stand as a remote, exclusive being? If it is a remote and exclusive being, then it must be found out.' The whole spiritual process is to find this out.

Once this is realized, then the work of the spiritual path is accomplished. As in order to make the eyes see themselves, one has to make a mirror to see the reflection of these eyes. So, in order to make this real being manifest, this body and mind have been made as a mirror, that in this mirror this real being may see itself and realize itself as being independent. What we have to achieve by the path of initiation, by the way of meditation, by spiritual knowledge, is to realize this by making ourselves a perfect mirror.

In order to explain this idea, the faqirs and dervishes have told a story. A lion roaming through the desert found a little lion cub playing with the sheep. It so happened that the little lion had been reared with the sheep and so had never had a chance or an occasion to realize what he was. The lion was greatly surprised to see a young lion cub running away with the same fear of the lion as the sheep. He jumped in among the flock of sheep and roared, 'Halt, halt!' But the sheep ran on and the little lion ran also. The lion pursued only the cub, not the sheep, and said, 'Wait, I wish to speak to you.' The cub answered, 'I tremble, I fear, I cannot stand before you.' 'Why are you running about with the sheep? You are a little lion yourself!' 'No, I am a sheep. I tremble, I am afraid of you. Let me go. Let me go with the sheep!' 'Come along,' said the lion, 'come with me. I will take you and I will show you what you are before I let you go.' Trembling, yet helpless, the lion cub followed the lion to a pool of water. There the lion said, 'Look at me, and look at yourself. Are we not closer, are we not near? You are not like the sheep, you are like me.'

Through the whole spiritual process, what we learn is to disillusion this false ego. The annihilation of this false ego is its disillusionment. When once it is disillusioned, then the true ego realizes its own merit. It is in this realization that the soul enters the kingdom of God. It is in this realization that the soul is born again, a birth that opens the doors of heaven.

 A soul that is captive in a false conception, who cannot see a barrier lifted up between itself and its neighbor, how can this soul lift its barrier to God whom it has not known yet? For every soul's belief in God is a conception after all – because it is taught by a priest, because it is written in scripture, because the parents have said that there is a God. That is all. That soul knows that somewhere there is a God, but it is always liable to change its belief, and unhappily, the farther it advances intellectually, the farther it goes from that belief. A belief that is pure intelligence cannot always hold, will not go far with a person. It is by the understanding of that belief that the purpose of life is fulfilled. It is said […], 'The uncovering of the soul is the discovering of God.'

It is not easy for the true self to dismiss mind and body, when a person cannot dismiss in life his thoughts of depression, sorrow and disappointment. The impressions of happiness and sorrow in the past one holds in one's own heart – prejudice and hatred, love and devotion, everything that has gone deep in oneself. If that is the case, then even death cannot take them away. If the ego holds its prison around itself, it takes this prison with it, and there is only one way of being delivered from it and that is through self-knowledge.

The destroying of the ego is a word; it is not destroying, it is discovering.

Often people are afraid when reading Buddhist books, where the interpretation of Nirvana is given as annihilation. No one wants to be annihilated, and people are very much afraid when they read 'annihilation.' But it is only a matter of words. The same word in Sanskrit is a beautiful word Mukti. The Sufis call it Fana. If we translate it into English, it is annihilation; but when we understand its real meaning, it is 'going through' or 'passing through.' Passing through what? Passing through the false conception, which is a first necessity, and arriving at the true realization.

The heart is the shrine of God. If God is ever to be found anywhere, it is in the heart of man, especially in the heart of that man in whom the divine manifests.

The best way for the genius is to make himself an empty cup, free from pride of learning or conceit of knowledge, to become as innocent as a child who is ready to learn whatever may be taught to him. It is the one who becomes as a child before God, at the same time longing and yearning to express music through his soul, who becomes a fountain of God. From that fountain divine inspiration rises and brings beauty before all those who see the fountain.

There is one step further, and that is when the person no longer remains a poet or a musician or a philosopher but becomes God's instrument, only. Then God begins to speak to him through everything, not only in music or verse, in color or line, but he begins to communicate with God in all forms. Everything he sees, above or below, before or behind, right or left, either heavenly or earthly, is communicative. He then begins to speak with God, and it is this step that is called revelation.

There is a story of Moses, relating that when he was looking for fire to bake bread, he happened to see a light on the top of a mountain. So, in order to take this fire, he climbed to the top of the mountain, but there the fire became lightning. Moses could no longer withstand that great flashing and he fell to the ground. When he awoke, he began to communicate with God.

This story is allegorical. The idea is that Moses was looking for light to make it his life's sustenance, but he had to climb onto the higher planes. It was not possible to get it on earth where he stood; it was necessary that he should climb to the top. And then there was not only a light, but it was lightning. It was a light that was beyond the power of Moses to withstand, and he fell down. What is this falling down? To become nothing, to become empty. When he reached that state of emptiness, then his heart became sonorous and he found communication with God through everything in the world – in the rock, tree or plant; in the star, sun or moon – in whatever he saw he found communication with his soul. So, everything revealed its nature and secret to Moses. It is in connection with this revelation that Sadi says that every leaf of the tree becomes a page of the sacred scripture once the soul has learned to read.

(Excerpted from Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Mysticism of Music, Sound and Word [The Sufi Message, vol. 2])

URL of Part 44: URL of Part 44:’s-discourses-on-the-unity-of-religious-ideals--on-reason,-earthly-and-heavenly-–-44/d/13966