By Hazrat Inayat Khan
The difficulty in the spiritual path is always what comes from ourselves. Man does not like to be a pupil, he likes to be a teacher. If man only knew that the greatness and perfection of the great ones who have come from time to time to this world, was in their being pupils and not in teaching! The greater the teacher, the better the pupil he was. He learned from everyone, the great and the lowly, the wise and the foolish, the old and the young. He learned from their lives, and studied human nature in all its aspects.
Someone learning to tread the spiritual path must become like an empty cup, in order that the wine of music and harmony be poured into his heart. When a person comes to me and says, 'Here I am, can you help me spiritually?' and I answer, 'Yes', very often he says, 'I want to know first of all what you think about life and death, or the beginning and the end'. And then I wonder what his attitude will be if his previously conceived opinion does not agree with mine. He wants to learn, and yet he does not want to be empty. That means going to a stream of water with a covered cup; wanting the water, and yet the cup is covered, covered with preconceived ideas. But where have the preconceived ideas come from? No idea can be called one's own. All ideas have been learned from one source or another; yet in time, one comes to think that they are one's own. And for those ideas one will argue and dispute, although they do not satisfy him fully; but at the same time they are his battleground, and they will continue to keep his cup covered. Mystics therefore have adopted a different way. They have learned a different course, and that course is self-effacement, or in other words, unlearning what one has learned; and this is how one can become an empty cup.
In the East it is said that the first thing to be learned is how to become a pupil. One may think that in this way, one loses one's individuality; but what is individuality? Is it not what is collected? What are one's ideas and opinions? They are just collected knowledge, and this knowledge should be unlearned.
One would think that the character of the mind is such that what one learns is engraved upon it; how then can one unlearn it? Unlearning is completing this knowledge. To see a person and say, 'That person is wicked, I dislike him', that is learning. To see further and recognize something good in that person, to begin to like him or pity him, that is unlearning. When you see the goodness in someone you have called wicked, you have unlearned. You have unraveled that knot. First one learns by seeing with one eye; then one learns by seeing with two eyes, and that makes one's sight complete.
All that we have learned in this world is partial knowledge, but when this is uprooted by another point of view, then we have knowledge in its completed form. This is what is called mysticism. Why is it called mysticism? Because it cannot be put into words. Words will show us one side of it, but the other side is beyond words.
The whole manifestation is duality, the duality which makes us intelligent; and behind the duality is unity. If we do not rise beyond duality and move towards unity, we do not attain perfection, we do not attain spirituality.
This does not mean that our learning is of no use. It is of great use. It gives us the power of discrimination and of discerning differences. This makes the intelligence sharp and the sight keen, so that we understand the value of things and their use. It is all part of human evolution and all useful. So we must learn first, and unlearn afterwards. One does not look at the sky first when standing on the earth. First one must look at the earth and see what it offers to learn and to observe; but at the same time one should not think that one's life's purpose is fulfilled by looking only at the earth. The fulfillment of life's purpose is in looking at the sky.
What is wonderful about music is that it helps man to concentrate or meditate independently of thought; and therefore music seems to be the bridge over the gulf between form and the formless. If there is anything intelligent, effective and at the same time formless, it is music. Poetry suggests form, line and color suggest form, but music suggests no form. It creates also that resonance which vibrates through the whole being, lifting the thought above the denseness of matter; it almost turns matter into spirit; into its original condition; through the harmony of vibrations touching every atom of one's whole being.
Beauty of line and color can go so far and no further; the joy of fragrance can go a little further; but music touches our innermost being and in that way produces a new life, a life that gives exaltation to the whole being, raising it to that perfection in which lies the fulfillment of man's life.
(Excerpted from Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Mysticism of Music, Sound and Word [The Sufi Message, vol. 2])