By Hazrat Inayat Khan
THE MAIN object of life can only be one object, though there may be as many external objects as there are things and beings. There is one object of life for the reason that there is only one life and this in spite of the fact that it appears outwardly to be many lives. It is in this thought that we can unite and it is from this thought that true wisdom is learned. No doubt that main object of life cannot be understood at once, and therefore the best thing for every person is first to pursue his object in life. For in the accomplishment of his personal object he will arrive some day at the accomplishment of that inner object. When man does not understand this he goes on thinking there is something else to accomplish, and he thinks of all that is before him that is not yet accomplished. That is why he remains a failure.
The person who is not definite about his object has not yet begun his journey on the path of life. One should therefore first determine one's object for oneself however small that object is. Once it is determined one has begun life. We find with many people that somehow they never happen to find their life's vocation. And what happens then is that in the end they consider their life a failure. All through their life they go from one thing to another, yet as they do not know their life's object they can accomplish so little. When people ask why they do not succeed, the answer is: because they have not yet found their object. As soon as a person has found his life's object he begins to feel at home in this world, where before he had felt himself in a strange world. No sooner has a person found his way than he will prove to be fortunate, because all the things he wants to accomplish will come by themselves. Even if the whole world were against him, he will get such a power that he can hold on to his object against anything. He will get such patience that when he is on the way to his object no misfortune will discourage him. There is no doubt that as long as he has not found it he will go from one thing to another, and again to another; and he will think that life is against him. Then he will begin to find fault with individuals, conditions, plans, the climate, with everything. Thus what is called fortunate or successful is really having the right object. When a person is wearing clothes which were not made for him, he says they are too wide or too short, but when they are his clothes he feels comfortable in them. Everyone should therefore be given freedom to choose his object in life. And if he finds his object one knows that he is on the right path.
Also when a person is on the path there are certain things to be considered. [I]n everything one does, if one has not that patience and confidence to go forward, then one loses a great deal. However small the job a person has undertaken, if he completes it he has accomplished something great. It is not the work that a person has accomplished; it is the very fact of accomplishing which gives him power.
As to what is the main object of every soul, that object may be called spiritual attainment. A person may go through his whole life without it, but there will come a time in his life when although he may not admit it he will begin to look for it. For spiritual attainment is not only acquired knowledge, it is the soul's appetite; and there will come a day in life when a person will feel the soul's appetite more than any other appetite. No doubt every soul has an unconscious yearning to satisfy this soul's appetite, but at the same time one's absorption in everyday life keeps one so occupied that one has no time to pay attention to it.
The definition of spiritual attainment can be found in the study of human nature. For the nature of man is one and the same, be he spiritual or material. There are five things that man yearns for: life, power, knowledge, happiness, and peace, and the continual appetite which is felt in the deepest self yearns for one or other of these five things.
In order to fulfill the desire to live man eats and drinks and protects himself from all dangers of life. And yet his appetite will never be fully satisfied, because though he may escape all dangers, yet the last danger, which man calls death, he cannot escape.
In order to obtain power, which is the next thing, a man does everything to gain physical strength, influence, or rank. He seeks every kind of power. And he always runs up against disappointments, because he will find that wherever there is a power of ten degrees, there will always be another power of twenty degrees to run up against. Just think of the great nations whose military power was once so immense that one could never have believed that they would suddenly collapse. One would have thought that it would take them thousands of years to fall, so great was their power. We need not look for it in history, we have just seen this happen in the last few years. We have only to look at the map.
Then there is the desire for knowledge. This desire promotes a tendency to study. A man might study and study all through his life, but even if he read all the books in all the great libraries there would still remain the question, 'why?' That 'why' will not be answered by the books he studies, by exploring the facts which belong to outer life. In the first place nature is so profound that man's limited life is not long enough to probe its depths. Comparatively or relatively one may say that one person is more learned than another, but no one reaches true satisfaction by the outer study of life.
The fourth kind of appetite is happiness. Man tries to satisfy it by pleasures, not knowing that the pleasures of this world cannot make up for that happiness which his soul really seeks after. Man's attempts are in vain. He will find in the end that every effort he made for pleasure brought greater loss than gain. Besides that which is not enduring, which is not real in its nature, is never satisfactory.
Lastly there is the appetite for peace. In order to find peace one leaves one's environment which troubles one. One wants to get away from people, one wants to sit quietly and rest. But he who is not ready for that peace would not find it even if he went to the caves of the Himalayas, away from the whole world.
When considering these five appetites, which are the deepest man has, one finds that all the efforts man makes to satisfy them seem to be in vain. They can only be satisfied by spiritual attainment. That is the only answer to them. Thus the desire to live can only be satisfied when the soul realizes its eternal life. For mortality exists in conception rather than in reality. From a spiritual point of view mortality is the lack of the soul's understanding of its own self. It is like a person who had lived all his life in the conception that his coat was himself and when that coat was torn from him he believed that he would die. One experiences the same in life. The soul gets from this physical body a kind of illusion and identifies itself with this mortal being. Wise people of all times have practiced meditations to give the soul a chance to realize its independence of the physical body. Once the soul has begun to feel itself its own life, independently of its outer garb, it begins to have confidence in life and is no longer afraid of what is called death. As soon as this phenomenon takes place a person no longer calls death 'death'; he calls death a change.
By studying the self one will find that the body is only a cover over one's real self. But by a still more profound study one will find that even one's mind is a cover over one's real self. As soon as one finds this out, one will become independent of the body as a means to live. Also, one will become independent of the mind to live. 'But', one might ask, 'if there is no body, then what is life?' One asks this because man has limited himself by experiencing life through the body, and has not tried to experience life without its help. When man is not conscious of his body, then he is conscious of his mind. When the eyes are open he is looking at things before him. When his eyes are closed then he is pondering upon what his mind has gained. In both cases he is dependent either upon his body or upon his mind to live, and this dependence makes the soul limited. It not only limits it, but it makes the soul mortal. In reality the soul is not mortal, but if the soul believes in mortality it is just like being mortal
The teaching of Jesus Christ, from beginning to end, is to rise above mortality, to find out about life, to learn the art, the science, of living. All the scriptures, every philosopher and mystic, teach this. And why do they teach this? Because if there is one thing undesirable it is mortality, death. No sane person would ask for death. Desire for death is not a natural desire, and even when the mind is craving for death the soul is longing for life.
The soul is living. It is life itself. Death is something foreign to it. It does not know death. That is why even the smallest insect protects itself in every way. It does not wish to die.
What we call death is our impression of a change. Life is subject to change, and death is only a change of life. But making people believe in immortality and making them rise above the fear of death should be done gradually and not suddenly, for otherwise this knowledge would frighten a person more than death itself. It is for that reason that the knowledge of this truth was made a mystical, secret science. Otherwise there would have been no reason for withholding something as precious as that knowledge from one's fellow men. When a person is awakened suddenly he suffers a great shock, physically and mentally, and it takes him a long time to recover. It is the same with all spiritual truths. This is why there are initiations and a vow of secrecy. One cannot place a dinner before a newborn infant. He must first be fed with milk.
Then there is the desire for power. Man desires power, because it is natural for him to gain. Somewhere a power is hidden in him, he cannot help it. But man is powerless in spite of the power which is hidden in him. The powerlessness, the experience of being powerless, is his ignorance of the power within him. In order to open the doors, in order to see the power he has in store, it is necessary to seek the kingdom of God, as it is said in the Bible, for then he will find his divine heritage, which is all power.
True power is not in trying to gain power. True power is in becoming power. But how to become power? It requires an attempt to make a definite change in oneself and that change is a kind of struggle with one's false self. When the false self is crucified, then the true self is resurrected. Before the world this crucifixion appears to be lack of power, but in truth all power is attained by this resurrection.
As to knowledge, it has two aspects. One knowledge is what one gathers by learning the names and forms of this life. That cannot satisfy this appetite. It is only a stepping-stone to it. This outer learning only helps one to come to the inner learning, but the inner learning is quite different from the outer learning. How is it learned? It is learned by studying the self. One finds that all the knowledge one strives after and all that exists to study, is all in oneself. Therefore one finds a kind of universe in oneself, and by the study of the self one comes to that spiritual knowledge for which the soul hungers.
In order to get that knowledge one must try to meditate and to dive into the sea of knowledge which cannot be taught by study. In this way one distinguishes two aspects of knowledge: one aspect of knowledge is intellect, the other aspect is wisdom. Therefore a wise man is not necessarily a clever man, nor a clever man a wise man.
Then there is the question of happiness. A person thinks that when his friends are kind to him, when people respond to him, or when he gets money, then he will be happy. But that is not the way to become happy: sometimes it proves the opposite. For lack of happiness makes him blame others, believing they are standing in the way of his becoming happy. In reality that is not so. True happiness is not gained, it is discovered. Man's way itself is happiness. That is why he longs for happiness. What keeps happiness out of one's life is the closing of the doors of the heart, and when the heart is not living, then there is no happiness there. Sometimes the heart is not fully alive but only partly. At the same time it expects life from the other heart. But the real life of the heart is to live independently in its own happiness and that is gained by spiritual attainment, by digging deep into one's own heart.
The one who has found his peace within himself may be in a cave of the mountain or among the crowd, yet in every place he will experience peace. What generally happens is that in order to get peace we blame the other person who jars upon our nerves. But in reality the true peace can come only by being so firm against all influences around us that nothing can disturb us.
Now the question is how these five things can be gained. As I have said, the first thing needed is to accomplish the object which is standing before one immediately. However small it is, it does not matter. It is by accomplishing it that one gains power. As one goes further in this way through one's life, always seeking for the real, one will at the end come to reality. Truth is attained by the love of truth. When a person runs away from truth, truth runs away from him. If he does not run away, then truth is nearer to him than that which is without truth. There is nothing more precious in life than truth itself. And in loving truth and in attaining to the truth one attains to that religion which is the religion of all Churches and of all people. It does not matter then to what Church a man belongs, what religion he professes, to what race or nation he belongs. When once he realizes the truth he is all, because he is with all. The obstacle is the disagreement and the misunderstanding before he has attained to the truth. When once he has attained to the truth, there is no more misunderstanding. It is among those who have learned only the outer knowledge that disputes arise, but those who have attained to the truth, whether they come from the North or the South, from whatever country, it does not matter; for when they have understood the truth they are in atonement.
It is this thought that we should keep before us in order to unite the divided sections of humanity, for the real happiness of humanity is in that unity which can be gained by rising above the barriers which divide men.
(Excerpted from Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Alchemy of Happiness [“The Sufi Message”, vol. VI])
URL of Part 65: http://www.newageislam.com/books-and-documents/hazrat-inayat-khan/the-sufi-message--excerpts-from-hazrat-inayat-khan’s-discourses-on-the-unity-of-religious-ideals--65---the-alchemy-of-happiness/d/98584