By Hazrat Inayat Khan
In the attainment of the inner life there are five things necessary. The first thing that is necessary is the mastery of mind; and this is done by unlearning all that one has learned. The inner knowledge is not gained by adding to the knowledge one has already achieved in life, for it requires a rock foundation. One cannot build a house of rocks on a foundation of sand. In order to make the foundation on rocks, one has to dig into the sand and build the foundation on the rocks below. Very often therefore it becomes difficult for an intellectual person, who through life has learned things and understood them by the power of intellect, to attain to the inner life. For these two paths are different: the one goes to the north and the other goes to the south. When a person says, 'I have now walked so many miles to the south, shall I therefore reach sooner something that exists in the north?' He must know that he will not reach it sooner, but later, because as many hours as he has walked to the south he must walk back in order to reach the north.
Therefore, it must be understood that: all man learns and experiences in this life, in the world, all that he calls learning or knowledge, is only used in the world where he is learning, and bears the same relation to himself as the eggshell does to the chick but when he takes the path to the inner life that learning and knowledge are of no use to him. The more he is capable of forgetting that knowledge, of unlearning it, the more capable he is of attaining the object for which he treads the spiritual path. It has been a great struggle for those learned and experienced in the outer life to think that after their great advancement in worldly knowledge they have to go back again. Often, they cannot understand; many among them think it is strange, and are therefore disappointed. It is like learning the language of a certain country when wanting to go into another country where that language is not understood, nor the language of the latter country understood by oneself. Just as there is the North Pole and the South Pole, so there is the outward and the inward life. The difference is still vaster, because the gap between the inner life and the outer life is vaster than the distance between the North Pole and South Pole. The one who advances to the south is not getting nearer to the North Pole, but on the contrary he is going further from it; in order to reach it he must turn right round. However, it is not difficult for the soul that is an earnest traveler on the path. It is only using the enthusiasm in the opposite direction; to turn the enthusiasm one has for learning something of the world into forgetting and unlearning it, in order to learn something of the inner life.
Now the question is, how does one unlearn? Learning is forming a knot in the mind. Whatever one learns from experience or from a person, one makes a knot of it in the mind; and there are as many knots found as there are things one has learned. Unlearning is unravelling the knot; and it is as hard to unlearn as it is to untie a knot. How much effort it requires, how much patience it requires, to unravel when one has made a knot and pulled it tight from both sides! So it requires patience and effort to unravel the knots in the mind […] And when the mind becomes smooth by unlearning and by digging out all impressions, of good and bad, of right and wrong, then the ground of the heart becomes as cultivated ground, just as the land does after ploughing. All the old stumps and roots and pebbles and rocks are taken off, and it is made into ground which is now ready for the sowing of the seed. But if there are rocks and stones and bricks still scattered there, and still some of the old roots lying there, then it is difficult for the seed to be sown; the ground is not in the condition the farmer wishes it to be.
The next thing in the attainment of the inner life is to seek a spiritual guide, someone whom a man can absolutely trust and have every confidence in; someone to who he can look up, and with whom he is in sympathy, which would culminate in what is called devotion. And if once he has found someone in life whom he considers his Guru, his Murshid, his guide, then to give to him all confidence, so that not a thing is kept back. If there is something kept back, then what is given might just as well be taken away, because everything must be done fully, either have confidence or not have confidence, either have trust or no trust. On this path of perfection all things must be done fully.
Now there are the particular ways of the guide, which depend upon his temperament and upon his discrimination in finding for everyone who is being guided a special way. He may lead them to their destination by the royal road, or through the streets and lanes; down to the sea or through the town, by land or by water; the way that to him seems the best under certain circumstances.
The third thing necessary for spiritual attainment is the receiving of knowledge. This being the knowledge of the inner world, it cannot be compared with the knowledge one has learned before. That is why it is necessary to unlearn the former. Man cannot adjust what he receives in this path to the ideas which he has held before; the two things cannot go together. Therefore, there are three stages of receiving knowledge which the one being guided has to go through. The first stage is the receiving of the knowledge, when he does nothing but receive. The next stage is the period after this; and that stage is the assimilating of what has been learned. Man thinks upon it, he ponders upon it, in order that it may remain in his mind. It is just like eating food and then assimilating it. The third stage is the reasoning it out by oneself. Man does not reason it out as soon as he has received it; if he did, he would lose the whole thing. Because it is like a person who has learned A and B and C at one stage, and then would ask how about words that did not begin with those letters. He would reason it out much sooner than he ought, for he has not yet learned the other letters. There is a time which must necessarily be given to receiving, as one gives time to eating. While one is eating one does not run about in the street in order to assimilate the food. After a person has finished his dinner, then he does everything possible to help digest it. Assimilating is clearly understanding, feeling and memorizing knowledge within oneself; not only that, but waiting until its benefit and its illumination come as a result of achievement.
The third part, then, to the receiving of knowledge is reasoning, to reason it through: why was it like that? What benefit has come to me from it? How can it be made practicable in life? How can it benefit myself and others? That is the third stage. If these stages are confused, then the whole process becomes confused, and one cannot get that benefit for which one treads the spiritual path.
The fourth grade of attainment of the inner life is meditation. If one has unlearned all that one has learned, if one has a teacher, and if one has received the knowledge of the inner life, still meditation is a thing which is most necessary, which in the Sufi words is called Ryazat. In the first place, meditation is done mechanically, at an hour which one has fixed upon as the hour for devotion or concentration. The next step is to think of that idea of meditation at other times during the day. And the third stage is continuing meditation throughout the day and night. Then one has attained to the right meditation. If a person does meditation only for fifteen minutes in the evening and then forgets altogether about it all day, he does the same thing as going to church on Sunday and the other days of the week forgetting all about it.
Intellectual training no doubt has its use in the achievement of the inner life, but the principal thing is meditation. That is the real training. The study of one year and the meditation of one day are equal. By this meditation is meant the right kind of meditation. If a person closes his eyes and sits doing nothing, he may just as well go to sleep. Meditation is not only an exercise to be practiced; in meditation the soul is charged with new light and life, with inspiration and vigor; in meditation there is every kind of blessing.
Some become tired of meditation, but that does not mean that they meditate, they become tired before having arrived at a stage where they really experience the effect of meditation, like those who become weary of practicing the violin. They are tired because they have not yet played the violin; if once they played, they would never be weary. The difficulty is in playing the violin, and the difficulty is having patience with one's own playing.
Patience is required in meditation; a person gets tired because he is accustomed to activity throughout the day. His nerves are all inclined to go on and on in that activity which is not really for his benefit. Yet, it is giving him the inclination to go on; and when he sits with his eyes closed he feels uncomfortable, for the mind which has been active all day becomes restive, just like a horse after having had a long run. Then if you want that horse to stand still, it is restive. It cannot stand still, because every nerve has been active, and it becomes almost impossible to keep that horse still.
And so it is with man. Once I was with a man who was in the habit of meditating, and while we were sitting near the fire and talking about things he went into the silence, and I had to sit quiet until he opened his eyes. I asked him, 'It is beautiful, is it not?' and he said, 'It is never enough.' Those who experience the joy of meditation, for them there is nothing in this world which is more interesting and enjoyable. They experience the inner peace and the joy that cannot be explained in words; they touch perfection, or the spirit of light, of life and of love, all is there.
The fifth necessity in the spiritual path is the loving of the everyday life. There are no strict morals which a spiritual guide enforces upon a person, for that work has been given to the outward religions […] [T]he essence of morals is practiced by those treading the spiritual path. Their first moral principle is constantly to avoid hurting the feeling of another. The second principle is to avoid allowing themselves to be affected by the constantly jarring influences which every soul has to meet in life. The third principle is to keep their balance under all different situations and conditions which upset this tranquil state of mind. The fourth principle is to love unceasingly all those who deserve love, and to give to the undeserving their forgiveness; and this is continually practiced by them. The fifth principle is detachment amidst the crowd; but by detachment I do not mean separation. By detachment is only meant rising above those bondages which bind man and keep him back from his journey towards the goal.
[Extracted from Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Way of Illumination (The Sufi Message, Vol. 1)]
URL of Part 36: http://www.newageislam.com/books-and-documents/the-sufi-message--excerpts-from-hazrat-inayat-khan’s-discourses-on-the-unity-of-religious-ideals--the-object-of-the-inner-life-–-36/d/13453