By Hazrat Inayat Khan
[…] [W]hen a person says that he has no belief this does not mean that he is not capable of believing. Belief is something with which a person is born; it is something, which one acquires when coming on earth. There is a saying of the Prophet that every person is born a believer and only becomes an unbeliever when on earth. For instance, when a child begins to learn to speak, the mother says, 'This is called water,' so it repeats, 'Yes that is water.' The mother says, 'This is light,' so it says 'Yes that is light.' Every word the mother teaches, the child learns; it never refuses to learn. But when a person is grown-up, then he has preconceived ideas; he has learned something by reason, logic or experience. And if he meets someone who has more knowledge, and he cannot reach him through his own way of looking at things, he says, 'I do not believe it.' This means that although he was born with belief, he has now arrived at a point where he cannot believe, because his belief clashes with that reason which he has made for himself.
To believe in God is easier for some than others, but at the same time it is a natural thing. […] Every soul is born with the tendency to believe. It is by believing that a child learns to speak; it is only afterwards that disbelief comes as a reaction.
Man need not believe in God because it is a virtue; he should believe in God because it is of his seeking. He may not know it, yet his perfect satisfaction lies only in the God-ideal. Nanak, the first Guru of the Sikhs, gives a very beautiful example of this. In describing a mill with which women grind the corn, he says 'The grains, which take refuge in the center of this mill, are saved.'
Once when I was sailing in a boat, a sailor gave me some interesting advice. I asked him if he knew any remedy against seasickness, and he said, 'No, they have tried for a long time to find something, but nothing is any good. You must fix your eyes on the horizon that will keep you from being seasick.' I was greatly benefited by that advice, and it was a stimulus to my imagination, showing that the wider the outlook the less are our troubles in life. If we fix our eyes on the horizon as far as we can see, then we are saved from the little things, which make our life unhappy. God is the horizon, as far as we can see and even further, for we can neither touch the horizon nor can we touch God.
Some people say, 'I do not believe in a soul, I have always heard about it but I have never seen it.' All that touches his senses a man can believe by touching, feeling, or seeing it; but with something he cannot touch or feel or see he says, 'It is not within my reach. What is not intelligible does not exist for me.' In other words man acquires his own knowledge first and all that comes afterwards he wants to fit in with his own knowledge.
Often, when people have asked my opinion about something and have noticed that it was different from what they thought, it was as if immediately a wall was raised, for it is the nature of man to hold on to his knowledge. His knowledge may be of false or of true experiences. He may believe that on such and such a mountain a fairy descended on a certain night, that beautiful colour appeared and that one should go there in order to become illuminated. Or he may believe that in the heart of Tibet, in remote places, people sit with closed eyes perhaps for a hundred years and that when a person goes there he will be exalted. Or he may have heard that near Persia is a country where there are martyr's tombs and that that is the best place in which to become illuminated. It is only as he believes; whether higher or lower, it is belief all the same, and if a person has formed a certain belief in himself he cannot easily change it.
There are many others who are bigoted in regard to their own belief. They stand on a certain belief, and instead of keeping it in their head they keep it under their feet. They stand there; their belief has nailed them to a certain spot, and they cannot progress because of that belief.
Belief is like a staircase; it is made in order to go upward, but if one remains standing on one step then there is no progress. One belief after another comes to a person as he goes further on the path of spiritual progress, each one greater or higher than the last, and therefore the wise, the illuminated ones, go from one belief to another until they reach the ultimate belief. The further a person goes on the path of belief the more tolerant and compassionate he becomes. The one who says 'I am advanced, I cannot believe in your limited belief; it is too narrow,' in that way prevents his own progress. He does not know that belief does not depend on saying that one has a greater or a higher belief, but that it depends on realizing and living that belief.
Very often people dispute over their beliefs, and generally none of them is convinced. Each has his own point of view and they dispute in vain. Besides a person does not always argue because he knows; more often the reason is that he does not know. If a person knows he does not need to dispute; he can hear a hundred things said against his belief and yet remain convinced and happy.
[Extracted from the section titled “Belief” in Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Unity of Religious Ideals (The Sufi Message Vol IX)]
URL of Part 10: http://www.newageislam.com/books-and-documents/the-sufi-message--excerpts-from-hazrat-inayat-khan’s-discourses-on-the-unity-of-religious-ideals--on-a-higher-kind-of-prayer-–-10/d/11749