By Hazrat Inayat Khan
In the Quran we read that God is the Light of the heavens and of the earth. This explains to us that if the Creator is the light of the heavens and of the earth, if the Creator Himself is light, then the whole creation is His light also. Therefore, if we wish to know the secret of the nature of the heavens or of the earth, we can learn by studying the nature of light. There is nothing more attractive to our eyes than light, nothing more elevating. Every heart feels full of delight in the sun.
The nature of light is to throw out its rays. The nature of the Light of God is the same. If we study the rays minutely we shall see that from whatever angle we view them, there is one central ray shooting forth with more intensity and with much more light than all the others. That means that there is a central ray. Actually the emblem of the cross, which is most ancient, is derived from the study of light. The first glance shows the one central ray. The second glance develops that ray into a horizontal line, and the two lines then form a cross.
But light is everywhere. Whether electricity, or gas, or candle, it is all the same. Though, light in its perfection, as in the sun, can be observed better than the smaller forms of light. Science has come to understand that the light of the sun is in all things, but all religions have understood this from the beginning. The Hindus and Egyptians taught it. All over the East the worship of the sun was the first to come into existence. Only later were the sun worshippers considered infidels, or heathens, or pagans. But as sun worship is the natural religion, it is true that every religion can be traced to it. The external light was the first thing that impressed the heart of man with the idea of God. No doubt the inner light helped, but that too is light. Therefore, both the external and inner light reveal the mystery of the source and secret of all religions.
We can see the same thing in different aspects of life. For instance, the fall and springs of water, the different channels, all show one big central current of water, which scatters as it falls. It touches different rocks, spreads into many streams, and yet ultimately unites again. In vegetable life we see the same. A tree with fruit and flowers and so many leaves and branches has yet one central part of its being: its stem. The life of the stem is the life of the whole tree. It is not so much that the fruits and other forms appear upon the tree as that the stem itself is repeated over and over again. Every branch is stem to smaller branches. This again shows how the light, which we call life, takes a main channel for its expression, and spreads through all the different organs, the small channels or boughs.
We see it in man's form. There is the spine, which is the stem. The breath runs through the center of man's body, although the hands and legs and face and various organs have different directions. This central life is more important than any other part of man.
Then we see it in the life of people. Perhaps in every house there is someone whose sorrow means sorrow to the whole family, whose pleasure or happiness means some pleasure or happiness to all the others. Perhaps a whole town acts through the strength, energy, enthusiasm, and initiative of one person. A whole nation may move through the man of the day. However many wise people there are, however intelligent and capable they may be, there is still one person like the stem, through whom the whole activity is kept going. It has never been otherwise, whether the age was aristocratic or democratic. Even if the age was one of democracy, a democrat has nevertheless represented that stem, just as in the age of aristocracy an aristocrat held that place. No nation, no town, no city, no family exists without that one soul on whom the happiness, unhappiness, degeneration, or evolution of the whole depends.
Once, on being asked whether one person's influence or understanding could be better than that of five people, it was evident to me that the questioner thought that in these days one individual is no better than another. But the answer is, 'Five people? That is very few. There are some persons who know and understand more than five thousand!' In all ages we find musicians, poets, and others of the greatest repute, who were seen by thousands of people, who did not understand them. Millions of people may have adored them after they were gone. Poets, reformers, scientists have been considered crazy for thinking out something impossible. Yet, they have been the greatest men in the world. Is not such a man equal to fifty thousand people? Surely.
Even today we can see in everyday life how people argue and dispute without coming to a conclusion. Then perhaps another comes and sets the whole thing right. The discord of thousands of people could be resolved, and thousands of people could be united into one harmony by the presence of one who unites them all.
Whether the democrat accepts it readily or not, it does not matter. Even in a democratic land like Russia, there is the influence of a leader just the same. Whatever nation one goes to there will be one person who equals thousands.
This natural condition is the basis of ancient civilization. We see it in the reverence and honor, which was given to age: the old person has experience. However intelligent someone may be, it is the older person's experience of life, the life he has seen, that tells.
Honor has been paid to learning. The learned person was respected because he understood more. Honor was paid to goodness. If a person showed goodness to his family, proved to be honest, virtuous, and good to his neighbor, they had respect for him also and made him a leader of the village or town. The social life was based on the appreciation of virtue, intelligence, and experience. Thence came the idea of the king, raja, chief, pasha, or sultan. Whatever name he received, he received it by virtue of his goodness, kindness, education, experience, or bearing. He became the leader of those, who wished to become like him.
Those who believed in religion had faith in their Church. They believed in their tradition. They had a regard for it. Others had faith in their king. In the story of the dervish and the procession of the king, we see how easy it is, under the delusion of democracy, to go against all tradition, education, authority, experience, and age. But if we avoid that delusion, then we find the real democracy; that which comes from showing an ideal to others and honoring and respecting that ideal ourselves. It is a crude spirit, which says, 'I do not care about your education, your experience, or your age. I do not care if you are thousands of years old.' That is the false democratic spirit. The true democratic spirit feels within itself that there is nothing one cannot be, and at the same time appreciates, respects, and understands all that it sees in age, experience, goodness, righteousness, piety, or virtue. To follow such a spirit means evolution; not to follow it means degeneration.
So we come to the idea of the religious hierarchy. It is natural for those who admire art to admire those who have painted beautiful pictures. Those who have a taste for music naturally admire the composers of the past, who dedicated their lives to the study and contemplation of music, and have benefited us by that deep pursuit of music, and enabled us to start from the point at which we begin today. This inclination is inherent: to admire, respect, and feel grateful to the masters of the past. We feel the desire to be near them, to get still closer.
It is the same in all directions of life. There is always the desire to get near to those lives which have helped humanity in music, science, reform, philosophy, or religion. Whatever we know today is the result of thousands of years of experience. No country or nation can say, 'We were the only discoverers of this, or that.' No, the discovery of the very least thing is the discovery of the whole of humanity. How could we understand language, if we were not taught? Books, reading, civilization, seeing life, all have helped so much that no one can say that something is only due to a particular person or nation. The whole of humanity has shared in everything that we think new today.
In the case of the spiritual cults, we find that all the mystical and occult schools gratefully recognize the masters of the past who have given their experience: sometimes by dedicating their efforts, sometimes by surrendering their happiness, sometimes leading a very hard and restricted life, sometimes renouncing all the happiness and wealth and possessions of this world, rejecting all the temptations of life by going to live in mountain caves or forests.
Every cult of mystics has used certain names. There are certain names in the cult of the Hindus, under which they recognize certain masters. We find them also in the Semitic races, mentioned in the Bible, the Kabbala, and the Quran. Naturally, the human mind has its limitations. If we had no limitations we should be perfect. So it has always been that man has recognized as masters only those who are found in his own tradition. He only recognizes the spirituality or greatness or blessedness of those whose names he finds in his own tradition. In the Hebrew tradition there are the names of Abraham and Moses. In the Christian tradition there is the name of Jesus Christ, and after him those of the saints. In the tradition of Islam there are other names again, Muhammad and many Muslim saints. In India there are, for instance, Rama, Shiva, Vishnu, and Krishna. And as there was little means of communication in ancient times, it was only natural that the traditions of one country should not be known to the others and that it should become corrupted as it passed to another. The names used in one nation thus came to be different from those in another. Brahma, Abraham, Bahram in Persia, are all related names. If we tell some people that one name is really the same as another, they will not accept it, because they do not wish to think another tradition is the same as their own. Those of their own tradition are the only ones!
There is no blame in this, seeing the tendency in man to revere, appreciate, be grateful, and to link himself with their piety, virtue, goodness, spirituality, or power. It does not matter as long as the greater thing is recognized. If he does not recognize it now, he will perhaps do so later. In just the same way no particular school or group of scientists has been the only help. When we look deeply into life, we see that every person in this world has been helped in his evolution, and all have helped each other. We see how one person is illuminated by another, how one learns from another. Whatever the name of the teacher, there is still the one stem of life and light. As long as the tree of this manifestation exists, the stem will exist. The names are all the names of one current of life and light that runs through the tree. The one Spirit of life is given different names, the sacred names. We more easily recognize the current by the particular name to which we are accustomed. So far we are right, but the mistake we make, and it is to our loss, is to ignore or deny the same truth because it is given to us in another form and under another name. We limit it. We say the truth existed only in that period when certain teachers came to the world, and that after that it stopped. But the spirit of illumination can never stop as long as life goes on. Illumination has continued from the beginning, and will always continue until the manifestation ends; so long will the spirit of illumination continue to spread out its rays.
We accept some forms and ignore others. It is the natural tendency of mankind. It is this that accounts for so many religions. Even if a person cannot see things in this light, he can at least be tolerant of other people's religions. He can respect the religion because he sees others respect it, even if he himself has no respect for its teacher. After all, spirituality means respect, advancement. Man shows his evolution according to his respect, his consideration, his thoughtfulness. If we could only develop that faculty in our mind, it would not matter not believing or recognizing the Spirit of Guidance shown in different human forms. If we held our own teacher or master in the greatest esteem it would do a great deal of spiritual good. The disharmony of the world is usually caused by religious differences, as were the wars of ancient times. The differences are caused by men failing to understand that religion is one, truth is one, God is one. How can there be two religions?
It is natural to regard highly the teachers who have passed away, for when a person has passed he is unapproachable, and the goodness of his spirit can be recognized. When the spirit is in physical form, it is more difficult to recognize spirituality in him and give him the same esteem as one who has passed. Sages and teachers in all ages have usually been recognized after they have died. In their lifetime they were neglected and even met with opposition.
The mystic understands that illuminated souls, guiding souls, are on earth today too. They were not only in the past. They are here now also. Were there none on the earth now, how could illumination be continued? It is the present that is the best, not the past. What is present today will be the past tomorrow, so the mystic does not lose the opportunity of recognizing the spirit in the present as well as in the past. The Sufis use such terms as Wali, Nabi, ghaus, Rasul, Qutb. But names do not matter, though the grades are necessary. The influence of one soul may be felt in a village, of another in a country, of another in the whole country.
What is the sign of such souls? In the East it is believed that some people bring good luck, some child in the house, a guest, or a friend. The good luck may be brought to one person, or it may be brought to ten or fifty. This shows that there is some influence, and we can recognize it as something which is beneficial, good, harmonious, to five, ten, a hundred, or even more. The soul is as great as the circle of its influence.
Human beings are all in limited form. They are so tall or so short. But the soul is much wider. One person's influence may hold a thousand people. There is a saying in Gujerati, 'It is possible that the world may be saved by the virtue of one. It is possible that a whole ship may sink by the sin of one.'
We see this also in practical life. An incapable foreman in a factory will bring nothing but disappointment. An inefficient manager in an office or shop will bring nothing but bad luck one person's influence, capability, knowledge, enthusiasm, initiative, strength of mind, will power, are perhaps far greater than those of a thousand people. When we look at it from a spiritual point of view one person's soul is emitting a blessing and goodness to thousands.
There are two forms of this. Firstly, there may be a soul in a very humble guise, so that nobody would think that soul could possibly be very spiritual, or pious, or good. It may be a soul working as a servant, one who scrubs the floor. Yet, there is such a great influence of goodness and light and blessing in that soul, that unconsciously wherever it goes it brings some blessing, some goodness, light, harmony, joy and peace.
In the East this has always been believed and still is. Therefore, a child is taught to be careful not to offend anybody, however humble or weak he seems. We do not know what is hidden in his humbleness or weakness. He may be uneducated, or possess no money, position, or sign of high birth, or anything noticeable to the eyes of the world; and yet, a beautiful soul may be hidden there like a precious gem lying for thousands of years under a rock, until someone finds it and puts it in a crown to be worn by a king, where everybody can see it.
A person who welcomes everybody, who sees virtue in everybody, who is faithful and considerate to everybody, his soul develops so that in time others might perceive his light. Wherever the light is, it can be perceived.
But it is not necessary for the jewel to be so hidden. Sometimes it is not. It is not hidden where there is a special task in life that a soul has to do. There may be a task to give a divine message, or to uphold a country or nation that is becoming degenerate. Such a soul may have to guide it through its difficulties and preserve its harmony and peace.
As in the days of Noah, there may be need of a warning. That soul comes to give it. The light that is usually hidden now comes forward to bring something to view that was buried in the depths of life. At one time such a soul was called a prophet, or teacher, or godhead, or incarnation. Others claim to be prophets, healers, or warners. But in the time of man's maturity, of the whole world's maturity, such things are no longer called by these names, and yet the work is needed. The personality has been the sign, the evidence. The message has been the sign, the evidence of its truth or falseness. There was a time when the world was not capable of seeing. Humanity did not have enough realization to recognize the message that is why the claim of prophecy had to be made. But now the world can recognize, sooner or later, what is right and what is wrong. The warner, the master, the messenger of today will not claim. He will only work. He will leave his work to prove for itself whether it is true or false.
Those who view life mystically consider that they are not only at one with the teachers of this or that tradition of the past, but that in every soul there is a spark of that teacher. No soul is without the light of that spiritual teacher. Therefore, they have regard and respect not only for the spiritual hierarchy, but also for the spark of that light which has made every soul a part of the spiritual hierarchy. So they regard with respect and reverence every human being in the world.
The whole vision of life, the whole manifestation becomes one single evidence of the sublimity of God.