By Hazrat Inayat Khan
There are several kinds of prayer. One prayer is thanksgiving to God for His great goodness, for all that we receive in our life; asking God for His mercy and favor and forgiveness; asking God to grant our desires and wishes. This is the first lesson that man has to learn. The other kinds of prayer can only be used as man develops.
In thanking God for all that He has given us, we develop the very thankfulness which man usually forgets. If we could only reflect upon the many things in our life for which we should be thankful and appreciative! But we scarcely ever think about them, whereas we so often think about what we have not got and thus we keep ourselves continually unhappy when we might be thankful to have even a few pennies in our purse. Instead of that, we think we should have a few shillings! The consequence is that man forgets to develop thankfulness in his nature. He is ungrateful to everyone, and whatever is done for him he remains ungrateful.
It is the same with all the troubles and struggles that there are in the world. It is his neglect of all that is done for him that causes the spread of ingratitude. Having forgotten the prayer of thanking God, how can he thank man?
It is a great pity that the beautiful custom of saying grace before meals is disappearing. This custom is no longer to be found at fashionable tables, only in simple homes; for when fashion comes the things that are helpful, moral, and spiritual are forgotten.
But what a beautiful thought it is to say grace before even a humble dinner! When thanks have been given to God, however simple the dinner may be it becomes delicious because of the feeling of thankfulness, the feeling that this is a gift that has been bestowed upon us.
When Sadi was traveling to Persia, foot sore because he had to walk with bare feet in the hot sun, it was so painful that he was thinking there could be no one in the world as wretched and miserable as himself. But two minutes later he came across a person whose feet were both useless, so that he was crawling along the ground and only progressing with great difficulty. This caused a prayer to rise in Sadi's heart, and he became thankful he was not afflicted like that. He realized that though he had no shoes, at least his feet were healthy and sound.
It is when we are only aware of our own difficulties or unhappiness, and blind to the goodness, kindness, sympathy, service and help which our fellow men give to us, that we become discontented. There is so much to be seen in our lives to arouse the feeling of thankfulness in us.
Then there is the mystical meaning of thankfulness. The one who is always grudging is so much the more in need of prayer. If he prays he will prepare influences which will remove the miseries and wretchedness in his mind, for all this misery is created by his mind during the act of grumbling and while he nurses a grudge. The person who is thankful and contented, and appreciative of all that befalls him in life develops the sense of goodness. The more appreciative he is, the more thankful he becomes and the more he receives. Thankfulness and appreciation inevitably attract more of their like to themselves. All that we give is also given to us. But grumbling and grudging also attract their like. If the person to whom we give a reward or gift receives it grudgingly and grumblingly, will we give him more? Indeed, the fact that we do not give him more gives him still more to grumble about. But when a person is glad and thankful and appreciative of what is done for him, we at once feel that he is good. It gives us such a feeling of happiness to see him happy and appreciative and contented that it encourages us to do more, and it also encourages others to do good.
Besides thankfulness there is the request for forgiveness and mercy. The effects of this are also to be seen in our daily life. A servant or child or young man who is rude, will push into us and never say he is sorry. But another person says, 'I am sorry,' and at once we have forgotten the harm that he has inadvertently done to us. That is the effect, which his request for forgiveness has produced.
A person who does wrong and prides himself on having done so is stubborn, foolish and ignorant. There is no way for him to develop, to progress, if he is not sorry for what he has done. His finer senses become blunted, by doing wrong, and so he loses something of his own conscience by the continual impression of wrongdoing. Because there is something bad in him, although he may be walking on the earth and living in the sun, that life which gives a fuller experience and joy is gone.
As well as other people being hard on him, the wrongdoer already has his own wrong as his worst enemy. From the conditions, the circumstances, the people he meets, from every side he will sooner or later receive trouble and hate. Besides, these people may be making a mistake; they do not know what is hidden behind a person's action; and therefore should be tolerant and forgiving. We have no right to judge unless we have become spectators. It is only then that we begin to learn how to judge, but as long as we are in the center of the struggle we cannot.
[…] [T]he one who does wrong and repents, who wants to do better next time, his conscience is sharpened by every wrong he has committed. Perhaps the wrong has done him more good than if he had done right; he has become more awakened to the right, and yet he has been humbled in his conscience. Therefore repentance is a privilege and to be able to be sorry for all that one thinks was not right makes one live and feel more fully. It awakens justice in the heart of man.
To tell another person of one's wrong only means to extend the wrong vibrations still further. One gets nothing out of it but the contempt of the other. The one who offers his repentance to God, in whom he sees perfection and justice, and who goes with his sorrow to Him who is love itself, who is forgiveness itself, will experience a phenomenon and see the wonderful results coming from it – an upliftment, an unfoldment. Something breaks in one. It is the wrong which is broken and something comes into the heart of man that is the love of God, the forgiveness of God. One feels fortified and uplifted and more capable of avoiding the same mistake another time.
When we have hurt someone there comes a reaction, and this reaction is that we feel sorry and wonder why we did it. A conscientious man, after having done some harm, has a strong desire to ask forgiveness. Forgiveness will bring him a great relief and comfort and as long as he has not asked it he will always feel uncomfortable. […] But apart from our mistakes towards the Creator, there are those around us with whom we are connected outwardly, to whom every moment of the day we do something that is not right, something we might have done better. The more conscientious we are, the finer our feelings, the more we realize that we are full of follies and mistakes in regard to all those who surround us.
The natural way of consoling ourselves or of bringing comfort to ourselves is therefore to ask forgiveness. And the one who most deserves to be asked is God. It breaks a congestion in the heart and in the spirit, and it brings great comfort. The more we ask forgiveness, the better we begin to feel and think; and we are guided in this if we continue to ask forgiveness. Sadi says in the first couplet of his great poem the Gulistan, 'Lord, I have made many mistakes and I have many shortcomings, but let them not be known to mankind but only to Thee who are so compassionate.' It is the beauty of human nature to repent.
In some countries and among some people, for instance in France, there is a custom that when a person meets another at the door or on the stairs he takes off his hat and says, 'Pardon.' There is no reason why he should do so except that he chanced to meet him, and he thinks that perhaps he should be forgiven. We find that the sensitiveness of man's heart is so delicate that even the presence of a stranger jars on him. But by saying, 'Pardon,' that uncomfortable feeling is at once removed, and in its place the good feeling of friendship is introduced. However great a fault may be, if the one who has committed it only comes and says, 'I am very sorry; I will never do it again; pray forgive me,' the friendship will be restored at once. On the other hand, however trivial and slight the fault may have been, if pride prevents the man from asking forgiveness and pardon, perhaps he will lose that friendship for the rest of his life. His pride prevents him from asking pardon. The fault may have been very small and he may pretend not to care about it, and yet the friendship is broken. How many there are who would be ready to forgive if only the person came and said, 'I am sorry.' But it is not everybody who will do it. People do not like to admit they have been at fault.
To ask forgiveness of another produces a proper sense of justice in one's mind. A man recognizes the need for asking God to pardon his faults. When he asks for forgiveness, that forgiveness develops in his own nature too, and he becomes ready to forgive others. Christ says in His prayer, 'Forgive us... as we forgive those that trespass against us.' The virtue, the secret, is in that. By asking forgiveness of God, we give up the desire to demand that our fellow man should ask our forgiveness, and instead we want to forgive him. We see this with the Arabs and Bedouins in Mecca and in the desert. They are forever ready to fight one another and kill each other. They may be fighting and actually have their knives drawn to kill one another, and yet if a third person comes and says, 'Forgive, for the sake of God and the Prophet!' as soon as they hear these words they both throw away their knives and shake hands. And the handshake is the seal of friendship. Though the Bedouin has no education, yet he has such devotion to God and His Prophet that no sooner does he hear these words than he at once offers his hand, and from that day there is no spite nor evil thought in his heart.
If we only had that spirit! With all our education and learning, with all our claims to civilization, we are not as good as this. We retain the bitterness in our hearts. We never consider what a poison it is. The very person who would shudder at the idea of having something in his body that is decayed and offensive, something that should not be there but should be cut out or removed, will tolerate that poison of bitterness in his mind. He will not remove it; he will foster it. Had he not lacked the sense of forgiveness, and had he not neglected to cultivate the habit of asking forgiveness, he would have become ready to forgive and forget.
Have you ever had the joy of seeing two friends who have quarreled asking forgiveness of one another? It is as if there were no more possibility of ill feeling. It is the most delightful experience. It feels as if the doors of heaven were opened for both. When the bitterness has gone, it is as if a mountain had gone, and the heart was free again.
[Extracted from the section titled “Prayer” in Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Unity of Religious Ideals (The Sufi Message Vol IX)]
URL of Part 6: http://www.newageislam.com/books-and-documents/the-sufi-message--excerpts-from-hazrat-inayat-khan’s-discourses-on-the-unity-of-religious-ideals--on-the-universal-essence-of-prayer-–-6/d/11607