Volume IX: The Unity of Religious Ideals
by Hazrat Inayat Khan
One of the words to which the term “Sufi’ is related is the Greek Sophia, meaning wisdom; wisdom is the knowledge acquired from within and without. Therefore Sufism is not only an intuitive knowledge nor is it only a knowledge acquired from the outer life of the world. Sufism in itself is not a religion nor even a cult with a distinct or definite doctrine. No better explanation of Sufism can be given that by saying that any person who has knowledge of both outer and inner life is a Sufi. Thus there has never in any period of the worlds history been a founder of Sufism, yet Sufism has existed at all times.
As far as we can find out there have been many esoteric schools since the time of Abraham; and many of them have been called Sufi schools. The Sufi schools of Arabia, absorbed Arabic culture, were largely metaphysical. The Sufi schools of Persia developed more of the literary aspect, and the Sufi schools of India developed the meditative faculty. But the truth and the ideal have remained the same, as the central theme of Sufism, in all these schools. Several exist even now, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that there are millions of souls, followers of different religions, who are benefited by the wisdom of these schools.
No doubt every school has its own method, and every method has been colored by the personality of its leader. There are the schools of dervishes and there are the schools of fakirs; and there are the schools of the Salik, who teach moral culture together with philosophy.
The present-day Sufi Movement is a movement of members of different nations and races united together in the ideal of wisdom; they believe that wisdom does not belong to any particular religion or race, but to the human race as a whole. It is in this divine property which mankind has inherited; and it is in this realization that the Sufis, in spite of belonging to different nationalities , races, beliefs, and faiths, still unite and work for humanity in the ideal of wisdom.
Another word, which has a connotation with Sufism, is the Arabic word Saf, which means pure. All the tragedy in life comes from the absence of purity. And as pure really means to be natural, the absence of purity means to be far from being natural. Pure water means that no other substance is mixed with it, in other words that is in its natural condition. Sufism, therefore, is the process of making life natural. One may call this process a religion, a philosophy, a science, or mysticism, whatever one wishes. All the religious teachers, who have come to this world at different times, have brought this process of purification in the form of religion. It is not a new process, it is the same ancient process that the wise of all ages have bestowed. If anything new is given in it, it is the form in which it is presented to suit a certain period of the world.
One may perhaps think that by spirituality it is meant that one must learn something, which one did not know before, that one must become extraordinarily good, that one must acquire some unusual powers or have experiences of a supernatural kind. None of these things does Sufism promise, although on the path of the Sufi nothing is too wonderful for him. All these things, and even more, are within his reach; yet that is not the Sufi’s aim. By the process of Sufism one realizes one’s nature, one’s true nature, and thereby one realizes human nature. And by the study of human nature one realizes the nature of life in general. All failures, disappointments, and sorrows are caused by the lack of this realization; all success, happiness, and peace are acquired by the realization of one’s own nature. In short, Sufism means to know one’s true being, to know the purpose of one’s life, and to know how to accomplish that purpose. Through disappointment many say, ” I shall probably never be successful in my life”, not realizing the fact that man is born to do what he longs to do, and that success is natural while failure is unnatural. When man is himself, the whole world is his own; when he is not himself, then even this self does not belong to him. Then he does not know what he is, where he is, nor why he is here on earth; then he is less useful to himself and to others than a rock.
It is in self-realization that the mystery of the whole of life is centered. It is the remedy of all maladies; it is the secret of success in all walks of life; it is a religion and more than a religion. And at this time when the whole world is upset, the Sufi message conveys to the world the divine message. What is wrong with humanity today is that it is not itself, and all the misery of the world is caused by this. Therefore nothing can answer the need of humanity save this process of the sages and the wise of all ages which leads souls to self-realization.
Very often the Sufi message, in its form of beneficence, is taken to be what is, nowadays, called pacifism, and those who do not favor the idea of pacifism say that it means peace at any price. Sufism does not teach that. Sufism does not mean goodness, kindness, or piety; Sufism means wisdom. All things in life are materials for wisdom to work with, wisdom cannot be restricted to any principals. Among Sufis there have been great souls who were Kings, and others who were in the position of beggars, saints, workmen, commanders, generals, businessmen, statesmen, or prophets; and in all ages the Sufis have practiced Sufism in all walks of life. This shows that no one can point out a particular belief or tenet and say it is a Sufi doctrine. In music, there are two things: sound and notes. Notes indicate the degree of the sound, but sound can all notes, no not in particular. So it is with Sufism: it is all beliefs and no beliefs and no belief in particular,
There is no action, which the Sufi calls right or wrong, for every action can become right and also become wrong. It depends on the use or the abuse of the action, its fitness or unfitness. Right and wrong depends on the attitude and the situation, not the action. This naturally gives the Sufi tolerance towards others and makes him ready to forgive them, and he is unwilling to form an opinion about the action of another person. This attitude keeps the Sufi far removed from saying that peace is good or war is good. The Sufi will prefer to say that war is good at the time of war, and that peace is good at the time of peace.
But, if all things are right in their proper place, what then has Sufism to do in life? The principal mission of the Sufism is to dig the soil under which the light of the soul has become buried. It is the same as the teaching of Christ, who has said that no one should hide his light under a bushel, and also that one should raise one’s light on high.
The condition of the world today is such that humanity has become abnormal. Man is not only scared of badness but also of goodness; man not only dreads war but also peace. He is not only tired of enmity but also friendship; he not only suspects his adversary but even his own brother . It seems as if the mind of the world is not only tired but ill: as if humanity has had a nervous breakdown. Individually or collectively man does not know his life’s purpose or goal. The Sufi Message warns humanity to get to know life better and to achieve freedom in life. It warns man to accomplish what he considers good, just, and desirable; it warns him before every action to not its consequences by studying the situation, his own attitude, and the method he should adopt.
Sufism not only guides those who are religious, mystical, or visionary, but the Sufi Message gives to the world the religion of the day; and that is to make one’s life a religion, to turn one’s occupation or profession into a religion, to make one’s ideal a religious ideal. The object of Sufism is the uniting of life and religion, which so far seem to have been kept apart. When a man goes to church once a week, and devotes all the other days of the week to his business, how can he benefits from religion? Therefore the teaching of Sufism is to transform everyday life into a religion, so that every action may bear some spiritual fruit.
The method of the world reform, which various institutions have adopted today, is not the method of the Sufi Movement. Sufis believe evil is contagious, goodness must be even more so. The depth of every soul is good; every soul is searching for good, and by the effort of individuals who wish to do good in the world much can be done, even more than a materialistic institution can achieve. No doubt for the general good there are political and commercial problems to be solved; but that must not debar individuals from progress, for it is the individual progress through the spiritual path which alone can bring about the desired condition in the world.
THE SPIRIT OF SUFISM
Sufism cannot be called a religion. Because it is free from principles, distinctions, and differences, the very basis on which religions are founded; neither can it be called a philosophy, because philosophy teaches the study of nature in its qualities and varieties, where, where as Sufism teaches unity, Therefore it may best be called simply the training of the view.
The word, ” Sufism ” implies purity, and purity contains two qualities. Pure means unmixed with any other element, or in other words that which exists in its own element unalloyed and unstained. The second quality of purity is great adaptability.
Such is the nature of the Sufi. In the first place he purifies himself by keeping the vision of God, not allowing the stains of earthly differences and distinctions to be mirrored upon his heart, nor good or bad society, nor intercourse with high- or low-class people. Nor can faith or a belief ever interfere with his purity.
The Sufi shows his universal brotherhood in his adaptability. Among Christians he is a Christian, among Jews he is a Jew, among Muslims he is a Muslim, among Hindus he is Hindu; for he is one with all, and thus all are with him. He allows everyone to join in his brotherhood, and in the same way he allows himself to join in any other. He never questions, ” what is your creed or nation or religion?” Neither does he ask, ” What are your teachings or principles?”
Call him brother, and he means it. With regard to principles, the Sufi has none, for sweetness may be beneficial to one and harmful to another. Thus is it with all principles, good and bad, kind and cruel. If we ask a soldier to be merciful during the battle, he will at once be defeated. This shows that everyone has his own principle for each action or situation. One person may believe in a certain principle, while another may hold quite a contrary opinion. What one person may call good another may call bad. One says a certain path is the right one, while another takes the opposite direction. The Sufi, instead of becoming centered in his likes and dislikes and limiting himself to a certain faith or belief, reasoning out right and wrong, focuses his view on that of another. Thus he sees the reason why he believes and why he does not, why something is right to one and wrong to another. He also understands why that, which is called good, by some people, may be called bad by others, and thus by keeping this point of view under control he arrives at the true height of wisdom.
The Sufi is a true Christian in regard to charity, brotherhood, and the healing of his own soul as well as the soul of another. He is not bigoted in his adherence to a particular Church, or in forsaking the other masters and their followers who came before and after Christ, but his at-one-ment with the Christ and his appreciation and practice of his truth are keen as those of a true Christian.
It is in the lives of the dervishes that one sees the real picture of the life and teachings of Christ, especially in their sharing of their roof and food with another, whether friend or foe. Even up to the present day they continue in their pure ways. The Sufi is a Catholic in that he produces the picture of his ideal of devotion in his soul, and he is a Protestant in giving up the ceremonials of the cult.
The Sufi is a Brahmin, for the word Brahmin means, ” The knower of Brahma”, of God, the only Being. His religion lies in believing in no other existence save that of God, which the Brahmin calls Advaita. The Sufi has as many grades of spiritual evolution to pass through as the Yogi does. There is very little difference to be found even in their practices, the difference lying chiefly in the names. No doubt the Sufi chooses a normal life in preference to that of an ascetic, yet he does not limit himself to either the former or the latter. The Sufi considers the teachings of the Avatars to be the true manifestations of the divine wisdom, and he has a perfect insight into subtle knowledge of the Vedanta. The Sufi appreciates the Jain conception of harmlessness, and considers that kindness is the true path of purity and perfection. In the past Sufis have led lives of renunciation, and in the East most of them still lead a very harmless life, just like the Jains.
The Sufi is a Buddhist, for he reasons at every step forward on his spiritual journey. The teachings of the Sufi are very similar to the Buddhist teachings; in fact it is the Sufi who unites the believers and the unbelievers in the God-ideal and in the knowledge of unity.
The Sufi is a Muslim, not because many Muslims happen to be Sufis, nor because of his use of Muslim phraseology, but because in his life he proves what a true Muslim ought to be. Muslims have such a sense of devotion that no matter how great a sinner or how cruel a man may be the name of Allah or Mohammad at once reduces him to tears. Similarly the practices of Sufis first develop the heart qualities which are often over looked by many other mystics. It is the purification of the heart, which makes it receptive to illumination of the soul. The Sufis are the ones who read the Qur’an from every experience of life, and see and recognize Mohammad’s face in each atom of the manifestation.
The Sufi, like a Zoroastrian or a Parsi, looks at the sun and bows before the air, fire, water, and earth, recognizing the immanence of God in his manifestation, taking the sun and moon as the signs of God. The Sufi interprets fire as the symbol of wisdom, and the sun as a celestial light. He not only bows before them but also absorbs their quality. As a rule in the presence of dervishes a wood fire and incense burn continually.
The Sufi is an Israelite, especially in this study and mastery of the different names of God. The miraculous powers of Moses can also be found in the lives of the Sufis both past and present. In fact the Sufi is the master of the Hebrew mysticism; the divine voice heard by Moses on Mount Sinai in the past is audible to many a Sufi today.
THE SUFI’S AIM IN LIFE
The aim of every individual is the same in the end, though it may be different in the beginning. In the end, man arrives at a stage when his object becomes the object of his soul, and until he has reached this stage, he has several objects before him. But the accomplishment of any motive concerning these objects is not satisfactory for long.
According to the philosophy of the Hindus, there are four motives in life. One motive is what they call Dharma, which means duty. Some consider that virtue lies in performing their duty, and when they perform the particular duty, which is before them, they feel that this is the due accomplishment of their life. But when one duty is accomplished, another is waiting. Life is full of duties. When a girl is young she says that her mother or her father is her duty. Then a time comes when the pleasure of her husband becomes her duty. As time goes on, her will be the duty of the mother towards her children. But even there, it does not end. Afterwards, comes the duty of the grandmother. There is no phase of life in which duty expires. It begins in one form and goes on in another.
For the one who considers duty a virtue, it is a virtue. But for the one, who considers it captivity or a pain, it is a pain. That, which becomes a virtue and a privilege for one, may become a crime for another.
In Sanskrit, the second motive is called Artha, which means the acquisition or collecting of wealth. It begins with the need for daily bread, and it culminates in millions. But, it never ends. The more one has, the less one feels one has. The attainment of wealth is never fully satisfying. There is always a lack somewhere.
A third motive is Kama, which is pleasure, love, or attachment. For this one neglects things and makes sacrifices. It is the main object in life. Yet pleasure is such that the desire for it is never satisfied. The more one experiences the pleasures of this earth, the more one wants to experience them. This pleasure is not lasting and it usually costs more than it is worth.
The fourth desire, Moksha, is of a different character. It is the desire for some reward in the hereafter, for the attainment of paradise. It is a desire for some kind of gain or happiness, some bliss or exaltation, which one does not know, but, which one hopes to experience one day. But even that desire, if it were granted, would not be fully satisfactory.
From this the Sufi deduces that in all these four different things that humanity is pursuing there is no stage where he can say it is finished; there is no end to it. Therefore His effort is to rise above these four desires, and the movement he rises above them there remains only one desire, and this is the search for the truth. Not only a Sufi, but every person who is disappointed in this world or who has been through disillusionment, suffering, or torture, has only this desire. The seeker after the truth goes out into the world and he finds innumerable different sects and religions. He does not know where to start. Then he desires to find out what is hidden under these sects, these different religions, and he begins to seek the object which he wishes to gain through wisdom. Wisdom is a veil over truth, even wisdom cannot be called truth. God alone is truth, and it is truth that is God. And truth can neither be studied nor taught nor learned; it is to be touched, it is to be realized; and it can be realized by the unfoldment of the heart.
For a Sufi belief in God is not sufficient. A belief which has no foundation is just like a scrap of paper floating in the air: when there is no breeze it will fall to the ground. How many in this world hold to the belief when they are exposed to a strong influence from someone who does not believe? If belief is some thing which can be erased, then of what use can this belief be? If point of fact belief is not enough; the next step one takes after belief is love of God. In the one who only believes in God, God is not living; it is in the one who loves God that God is living. But even that is not sufficient, for what is human Love? The human being is limited, and so his love is limited. The more one has seen of the world, the more one knows human nature; the better one knows the falseness human love. How can one who cannot be constant in his feeling for human being who is near him, be true in his love for the Beloved whom he has never seen? Therefore even what man calls the love of God is not sufficient; what is necessary is the knowledge of God, for it is the Knowledge, which gives the love for God, and it, is the knowledge and the love of God which give a perfect belief in God. No one can have knowledge of God and have no love for God, but one can have aloof for God and no knowledge of God. No one can have knowledge of God and love for God, and yet no belief in God; but it is possible to have a belief in God but no love for God. Thus for the Sufi these three stages are necessary for the attainment of the aim in life. In the first place by his belief he attains respect for the belief of others. A complete believer is he who not only believes himself, but also respects the beliefs of others. For the Sufi there exists no one in this world, neither heaven nor pagan, who is to be despised, for he believes in that God who is not the God of one chosen sect but the God of the whole world. He does not believe in a God of one nation, but in the god of all nations. To him God is in all different houses where people worship Him. Even if they stand in the street and pray it makes no difference to him. the holy place is wherever He is worshipped. The Sufi leaves sectarianism to the sects. He has respect for all; he is not prejudiced against any and he does not despise any; he feels sympathy for all.
The Sufi is convinced that the one who does not love his fellowman cannot love God. He believes in what Christ has said, that one should love one’s neighbor, even one’s enemy. And what does this mean? It does not mean that we should love our enemy because we consider him such, but because we are related to him in God. If humanity had believed in this simple and most valuable teaching, these wars would not have taken place. It is not for political or commercial people to make humanity understand this; it is for the Church, for religion; but as long as the religion authorities establish different sects and divide religion and look upon each other with prejudice, this truth taught by Christ will not be practiced.
We should realize that every change that takes place in the multitude in time also takes place among individuals. For instance, if two nations are opposed to one another, working to hurt one another, what will be the consequence? the result will be in those nations there will be parties which will oppose each other; and then the same opposition will arise between families, and in time this spirit will be found in a family of two people-two people living in one house and each in conflict with the other. And it will culminate in every individual being in conflict with himself.
Where does the Sufi learn this? He learns it from wisdom of God. The man who does not recognize god in His creation will never recognize the God in heaven. It was all right for those simple believers in God and religion who went quietly to church and said their prayers, and came back with the feeling of exaltation and did not meddle with the world. Nut now conditions have changed, and a great battle is going on between truth and life. The illusion of matter lies in the fullness of the part it is performing in life, that is why the battle life is fighting with truth is greater than any religion has ever had to fight. On the other side politics are crying: self, self-interest! The religions are crying: sect, sect, and sect! And Where can man stop to think of the ultimate truth, which is the only thing that the soul seeks?
The Sufi Message, therefore, is not for a particular race, nation, or church. It is a call to unite in wisdom. The Sufi Movement is a group of people belonging to different religions, who have not left their religions but who have learned to understand them better, and their love is the love for God and humanity instead of for a particular section of it. The principal work that the Sufi Movement has to accomplish is to bring about a better understanding between East and West, and between the nations and races of the world. And the note that the Sufi message is striking at the present time is the note which sounds the divinity of the human soul. If there is any moral principal that the Sufi Movement brings, it is this: that the whole of humanity is like one body, and any organ of that body which is hurt or troubled can indirectly cause damage to the whole body. And As the health of the world body depends upon the health of each part, so the health of the whole of Humanity depends on the health of every nation. Besides, to those who are awakening and feel that now is the moment to learn more of the deeper side of life, of truth, the Sufi movement extends a helping hand without asking to what religion, sect or dogma they belong. The knowledge of the Sufi is helpful to every person, not only in living his life rightly but in regard to his own religion. The Sufi Movement does not call man away from his belief or Church: it calls him to live it. In short, it is a movement intended by God to unite humanity in brotherhood and in wisdom.
THE IDEAL OF THE SUFI
Sufism has never, in any period of history, been a religion or accretion creed. It has always been considered as the essence of every religion and all religions. Thus when it was given to the world of Islam, it was presented by the great Sufis in Muslim terminology. Whenever the Sufi ideal was presented to a certain people, it was presented in such a way as to make it intelligible to those people.
Sufism is neither a dogma nor a doctrine; it is neither a form nor a ceremony. This does not mean that a Sufi does not make use of a doctrine, a dogma, a ritual, or ceremony. He makes use of them at the same time remaining free from them. It is neither dogma, doctrine, ceremony, nor ritual that makes a Sufi a Sufi; it is wisdom alone which is his property, and all other things he uses for his convenience, his benefit. But a Sufi is not against any creed, doctrine, dogma, ritual, or ceremony; he is not even against the man who has no belief in god or spirit, for a Sufi has a great respect for man. The God of the Sufi is the God of all, and he is his very being. The Christ is his ideal, Therefore, no one’s savior is foreign to a Sufi, for he sees the beauty and greatness and perfection of a human being in everyone’s ideal. He does not mind if that ideal is called Buddha by one person, Krishna by another, and Mohammad by yet another; names make little difference to the Sufi; his ideal does not belong to history or tradition, but to the sacred feelings of the heart. So how can he compare the ideals of the different creeds, which dispute in vain about historical and traditional points of view, without making any impression upon each other? the ideal of the Lord, the Lord in the form of a man, is the outcome of his heart’s deepest devotion. one cannot dispute and argue about an ideal like this, nor can it be compared; so the Sufi believes that the less spoken about this subject the better, for he respects that one ideal which people call by different names.
Life, human nature, the nature around us, is all a revelation to a Sufi. This does not mean that a Sufi has no respect for the sacred scriptures revered by humanity. On the contrary, he holds them as sacred as do the followers of those scriptures; but the Sufi says that all scriptures are only different interpretations of that one scripture which is constantly before us like an open book-if we could only read and understand it. The Sufi’s object of worship is beauty: not only beauty in form and line and color, but beauty in all its aspects, from gross to fine. What is the moral of the Sufi? Every religion, every creed, has certain moral teachings: that this particular principle is right or action is in itself labeled by Sufi as being either; it is its application, which makes it right or wrong. The light which guides the Sufi on the path is his own conscience, and harmony is the justification, which guides him onward step by step to his idealized goal. To harmonize with oneself is not sufficient; one must also harmonize with others in thoughts and speech, and action; that is the attitude of the Sufi.
The highest heaven of the Sufi is his own heart, and that which man generally knows as love, to a Sufi is God. Different people have thought of Deity as the creator, as the Judge, as the King, as the Supreme Being; but the Sufis call him the beloved. Are there any dogmas, are there any rituals or ceremony that he thinks suited to his purpose.
How can the Sufi idea be made intelligible? Truth is that which can never be spoken in words and that which can be spoken in words is not the truth. the ocean is the ocean; the ocean is not a few drops of water that one puts in a bottle. Just so truth cannot be limited by words: truth must be experienced, for it is natural that the knowledge of the truth should come sooner or later. The disputes and discussions and arguments that people of different communities and creeds have with one another, do not interest the Sufi, for he sees the right in all things, and the wrong of certain things also.
There is no right that has a wrong side to it, nor is there any wrong that has not a right side to it. Very often a wrong, turned inside out, may appear right, and very often the right turned inside out may appear wrong. Therefore Christ said: ‘Judge not.’ Sufi, if he judges at all, judges himself instead of others. His only concern is whether he himself is doing right. Nearly everyone judges others, but that is where people make a mistake. Few judge themselves, but the one who really does so, has no time to judge others; there is too much to judge in himself, and this occupies him fully.
What the Sufi strives for is self-realization, and he arrives at this self-realization by means of his divine ideal, his god. by this he touches that truth which is the ultimate goal and the yearning of every soul. It is not only realization; it is a happiness which words cannot explain. it is that peace which is yearned for by every soul.
And how does he attain to it? By practicing the presence of God; by realizing the oneness of the whole being; by continually holding every moment of the day, consciously or subconsciously, the truth before his vision, in spite of the waves of illusion which arise incessantly, diverting the glance of man from the absolute truth. And no matter what may be the name of any sect, cult, or creed, so long as the souls are striving towards that object, to a Sufi they are all Sufis. The attitude of the Sufi to all the different religions is one of respect. his religion is the service of humanity, and his only attainment is the realization of truth.
THE SUFI MOVEMENT
1. There is one God, the Eternal, the Only Being; none else exists save He.
2. There is only one Master, the Guiding Spirit of all souls, who constantly leads his followers towards the light.
3. There is one Holy Book, the sacred manuscript of nature: the only scripture, which can enlighten the reader.
4. There is one Religion, the unswerving progress in the right direction towards the ideal, which fulfills the life’s purpose of every soul.
5. There is one Law, the Law of reciprocity, which can be observed by a selfless conscience together with a sense of awakened justice.
6. There is one Brotherhood, the human brotherhood, which unites the children of earth indiscriminately in the fatherhood of God.
7. There is one Moral Principle, the love which springs forth from self-denial, and blooms in deeds of beneficence.
8. There is one Object of Praise, the beauty which uplifts the heart of its worshipper through all aspects from the seen to the Unseen.
9. There is one Truth, the true knowledge of our being within and without, which is the essence of all wisdom.
10. There is one path, the annihilation of the false ego in the real, which raises the mortal to immortality and in which resides all perfection.
THE OBJECT OF THE SUFI MOVEMENT
1. To realize and spread the knowledge of unity, the religion of love and wisdom, so that the bias of faiths and beliefs may of itself fall away, the human heart may overflow with love, and all hatred caused by distinctions and differences may be rooted out.
2. To discover the light and power latent in man, the secret of all religion, the power of mysticism, and the essence of philosophy, without interfering with customs or belief.
3. To help to bring the world’s two opposite poles, East and West, closer together by the interchange of thought and ideals, that the Universal Brotherhood may form of itself, and man may see with man beyond the narrow national and racial boundaries.
THE SYMBOL OF THE SUFI MOVEMENT
The symbol of the Sufi Movement is the heart with wings. It explains that the heart is between soul and body, a medium between spirit and matter. When the soul is covered by its love for matter, it is naturally attracted to matter. This is the law of gravitation in abstract form, as it is said in the Bible, ” Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” When man treasures the things of the earth, his heart is drawn to the earth. The heart is subject not only to gravitation, but also to attraction from the high, and as in the Egyptian symbology, wings are the symbol of spiritual progress, so the heart with wings, expresses that the heart reaches upward towards heaven.
The crescent in the heart suggests the responsiveness of the heart. The crescent represents the responsiveness of the crescent moon to the light of the sun, for naturally it receives the light, which develops it, until it becomes the full moon. The principal teaching of Sufism is that of learning to become a pupil, for it is the pupil who has a chance of becoming the teacher, and once a person considers that he is a teacher, his responsiveness is gone. The greatest teachers of the world have been the greatest pupils. It is this principle which is represented by the crescent. The crescent in the heart signifies that the heart, which is responsive to the light of God, is illuminated.
The explanation of the five-pointed star is that it represents the divine light. For when the light comes, it has five points. When it returns, it has four, the former suggesting creation, the latter annihilation. The five-pointed star also represents the natural figure of man, though that with four points represents all forms of the world. But the form with five points is a development of the four-pointed form. For instance, if a man is standing with his legs joined and arms extended he makes the four-pointed form, but when he shows activity–dancing, jumping, or moving one leg– he forms a five-pointed star, which represents a beginning of activity; in other words, a beginning of life.
It is the divine light, which is represented by the five-pointed star, and the star is reflected in the heart, which is responsive to the divine light. The heart, which by its response has received the divine light, is liberated, as the wings show. In brief, the meaning of the symbol is that the heart responsive to the light of God is liberated.
The Sufi message is the answer to the cry of humanity today; for it is in agreement with science, and it stands in defense of all religions. Our movement renders service to God and humanity, without any intention of forming an exclusive community, but of uniting in this service people of all the different religions. This movement, in its infancy, is only beginning its work, but its culmination will be a world movement. It is the world message, and the religion which will be the religion of the whole of humanity; a religion which does not distract the mind of any person from his own faith, but makes it more firm, more enlightened, more sympathetic to his own religion. It is a religion, which teaches tolerance towards the faith of another; a religion, which opens the heart to the words of wisdom, no matter what direction, they come from. This is not only a church, but a school in which to learn a lesson, the lesson of tolerance; to learn to revere all teachers and to respect all scriptures; a lesson which teaches us that we need not give up our religion, but that we should embrace all religions in order to make the sacredness of religion perfect.
Was it not the wish of Krishna and Buddha that wisdom in all its aspects should be understood, and was it not the desire of all those who have sacrificed their lives and energies in the Service of man that humanity might be blessed and benefited by what they brought? Was it not the wish of Rama that all men in the world should come together in the understanding that there is only one religion? It was the unification of religion that was the dream of Jesus and the inspiration of Mohammad that was the object of Abraham and the desire of Moses. That, which the prophets of the past could not bring about, owing to the difficult conditions in their time, is brought about today as the fulfillment of their prayers offered for thousands of years. The blessing which we receive in this service is the blessing of all the great teachers and prophets and illumined souls, all in one.
The Universal Worship, therefore, is the religion of the future, which brings to humanity the ideal of the unification of religion; the ideal of getting above the sectarianism and limited outlook of communities and groups. And we must remember that no political or social efforts will be completed without holding fast the ideal of truth, of uniting in God. This is the only source in which ultimately humanity must unite.
THE PURPOSE OF THE SUFI MOVEMENT
The purpose of the Sufi Movement is to work towards unity. Its main object is to bring humanity, divided as it is into so many different sections, closer together in the deeper understanding of life. It is a preparation for a world service, chiefly in three ways. One way is the philosophical understanding of life; another is bringing about brotherhood among races, nations, and creeds; and the third way is the meeting of the world’s greatest need, which is the religion of the day. Its work is to bring to the world that natural religion which has always been the religion of humanity: to respect one another’s belief, scripture, and teacher. The Sufi message is the echo of the same divine message, which has always come and will always come to enlighten humanity. It is not a new religion; it is the same message, which is being given no humanity. It is the continuation of the same ancient religion, which has always existed and will always exist, a religion, which belongs to all teachers and all the scriptures. It is the continuation of all the great religions, which have come at various times; and it is a unification of them all, which was the desire of all the prophets.
The Sufi Movement is constituted of those who have the same ideals of service to God and to humanity, and who have the ideal of devoting a part or the whole of their life to the service of humanity in the path of truth. This Movement has its groups, the members of which belongs to all the different religions, for all are welcome, Christians, Buddhists, Parsis, Muslims. No one’s faith or belief is questioned; each can follow his own church, religion, creed; no one need believe in any special creed or dogma. There is freedom of thought. At the same time personal guidance is given on the path, in the problems of both outer life and inner life.
Those who belong to the esoteric school of the Sufi Movement are given, besides personal guidance, the studies which are entrusted only to those who are fitted to receive them. There are subtleties of ideas, of spiritual, moral or philosophical ideas, which cannot be given to everyone at first, but they are given gradually to those who are serious enough to walk in the path of truth. But every seeker after truth must remember one thing: that the first step in the path of truth is to become true to oneself.
In the service of the Sufi Universal Worship all services- Christian, Muslim, Hebrew, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, and Hindu- are included. Therefore, the blessing of Christ is given from the altar to the seeker for Jesus Christ’s blessing. The one who seeks for the blessing of Moses, to him is given the blessing of Moses. For the one who seeks the benediction of Buddha there is the benediction of Buddha. But those who seek the blessing of all these great ones who have come at different times are blessed by all.
We do not interfere with anyone’s ideal, nor with his devotion to his teacher. It would be as absurd as to think that a child should love another child’s mother more than its own. And who has the right to compare and to place the great teachers or the scriptures? No one; it is in our heart’s devotion to the ideal we adore that we can place our ideal; and it is our own concern; no one can interfere with it.
Some girls were playing one day, and each girl said in turn, ” My mother is best.” The others said, ” No, my mother is the best.” And they were all arguing. But a girl among them who was wiser said, ” Oh no; it is the mother who is adorable, whether it is your mother or my mother.” Does the Sufi Movement, therefore, interfere with anybody’s devotion to his teacher? Never, but at the same time, it invites souls to see the source and goal of all wisdom to be one, and it is in the truth that all the blessing that the soul is longing for will be bestowed.
On the altar are placed the scriptures of the religions mentioned above, and there are also candles representing all these religions. The different candles which are lighted mean our adherence and respect to all the different teachers, religions, and scriptures. They teach us that there is one light and many lamps. It is not the lamps, which should first be taken to the mind; it is the light, which should first be taken to the heart.
It is this religion of unification, which Jesus Christ came to teach; the teachings of Moses and the efforts of Mohammed were all towards this one object. All that Buddha has taught, all that Krishna has said, is summed up in one thing: that it is one light that is the divine light, and it is the guidance coming from that light which becomes the path for humanity to tread.
But although the Sufi ideal is expressed through so many forms, the Sufis also have the formless ideal of worship. The form is to help those who need to see the form, for all education is really an education of named and forms.
If there were no names and no forms we would not have learned them. But the form is only suggestive of what is behind it, of one and the same truth, which is behind all religions. Therefore the Sufi service is also a teaching, yet every Sufi is free either to take up a form or not to take up a form. A Sufi is not bound by any form. Forms are for his use, not to make him a captive.
In the Sufi Movement there is no priesthood in the ordinary sense, the priesthood is only to conduct the service and to answer the need of a priest which always exists in our everyday life. Those ordained in the Sufi Movement are called Sirajs and Cherags. There is no distinction between women and men. The worthy soul is ordained; this gives an example to the world that in all places–in the church, in the school, in parliament, in court–it is woman and man together who make evolution complete. But at the same time every Sufi is a priest, a preacher, a teacher, and a pupil of every soul that he meets in the world.
The Sufi prayers such as Saum and Salat are not man-made prayers. They have descended from above, just as in every period of spiritual reconstruction prayers were given. And there is every power and blessing in them, especially for those who believe.
What is real prayer? Praise to God. And the meaning of praise? Appreciating; thus opening the heart more and more to the divine beauty one sees in manifestation. One can never be too grateful. Children, and also the servants of the house, should be taught appreciation; not for one’s own sake, but for the benefit they derive from learning to value and to appreciate things. By not teaching them this, one deprives them of a great virtue; for joy and happiness lie in the appreciation of certain things or conditions. Prayer trains the soul to be more appreciative of God’s goodness.
One can pray silently; but sensation is psychological, and saying words aloud penetrates the akashas of the body and reaches to the inner plane of our being. So prayer repeated aloud has a greater effect on the soul than silent prayer. Prayer is offered for our own benefit and not for God’s benefit.
Action is also psychological; it makes pictures in every atom of the body of the thought, which is behind it. Every atom of the body prays even the blood cells; the whole being becomes a prayer. Thus the movements of the prayer are psychological action. With every movement, we make as it were a kind of picture, which impresses every atom of our body. This affects our circulation, and by the circulation, the whole being is affected; it is even registered on the skin.
THE UNIVERSAL WORSHIP
The religious activity of the Sufi Movement is called the Universal Worship, or the Church of All. Why is it so named? -Because it contains all different ways of worship and all Churches.
This Universal Worship which has been organized in the Sufi Movement was the hope of all prophets. The prayer and the desire of all great souls was that the light given in all the different forms such as the Buddhist scriptures, the Qur’an, the Bible or the teachings of Krishna or Zarathushtra, should be known by everyone. The work of the Sufi message is to spread the unity of religion. It is not a mission to promote a particular creed or any Church or religion. It is a work to unite the followers of different religions and faiths in wisdom, so that without having to give up their own religion they may strengthen their own faith and focus the true light upon it. In this way a greater trust, a greater confidence, will be established in mankind. Behind all wars there is a suggestion of religion. Whenever there has been a war, and even now, in such wars as we have gone through, we always see the finger of religion. People think that the reason for war is mostly political, but religion is a greater warmonger than any political ideas. Those who give their lives for an idea always show some touch of religion.
This religious channel which is Sufism exists in order to avoid greater catastrophes. I exist to gather together the followers of different religions in the understanding of the one truth behind them, so that they may hold in respect all the teachers of humanity who have given their lives in the service of truth. Instead of doing as the theologists in colleges who only want to find what is the difference between Moses and Buddha. One should look behind all religions to see where they unite, to find out how the followers of all the different religions can be friends, how they can come to that one truth. To say that the whole world must belong to one Church, one religion, is absurd as for all people to wear one kind of dress. The world would become uninteresting. Let the people have Churches, beliefs and faiths. Let them have different conceptions of things as long as they are brought closer to the realization of truth. Then they will naturally understand better that it is true wisdom, which is the real light, that it is the central wisdom which brings them together and which is the inspirer of humanity.
Religion is something, which touches the depths of the heart; and everyone has his own conceptions of religion, which he holds as sacred. By expressing one’s opinion too freely one may easily hurt that conception which another holds as sacred. Nevertheless, the need of a Universal Worship, a Church of All, has been felt at all times. It has been the ideal of the great prophets to bring the whole of humanity into one religion; but as humanity has a great variety of conceptions, this has never been easy.
Religion consists of five principal elements: belief in God, adoration of the spiritual ideal, the moral conception, the form of worship, and the philosophy of life. When we consider the variety of religions in the world, we find that some believe in one God, some in many gods; some are monotheists, some pantheists. In this way the conception of God changes among the civilized peoples of the world, and we may be thankful that it is no longer the case that every family has its own God.
How does the Sufi think of God? Does he believe in one God? If he believes in one God, then how can he tolerate the belief in many gods? The answer is that the aim of the Sufi is to bring peace among the different believers. He does not wish to differ from them. He sees their point of view. He sees that those who have many gods also worship one God. It is simply that they worship the different attributes of God. The great ones, in order to make God intelligible to man, have given Him different names. In that way they made man see the divine manifestations clearly, and that is also why some of the teachers have distinguished between the different gods. There is a saying, ” To understand all is to forgive all,” and it is in accordance with this saying that the Sufi looks upon life.
One might say that one can be either a pantheist or a monotheist, but that one cannot be both. Yes, many who look at theology from the outside say that these are two distinct ideas about God, and they are willing to accept one of them but not both. In point of fact it is most necessary that these two opposing ideas should exist. When we look at the center of a line it is one. When we look at the ends there are two. Monotheism is as important as pantheism. No one can be a pantheist if he was not once a monotheist; and if one began by being a pantheist, one would never understand the conception of God. The monotheistic idea is necessary in order to realize fully the beauty of the pantheistic idea.
Then there is the idea of God being a personal God. Some find it very difficult to imagine God as a person. They feel it is like limiting God, whereas another will think that if God is not a person, He no longer exists for him, and that He might just as well be air, space, or time. Both of these have their reasons, and the Sufi prepares himself to look at both from their own point of view. He comes to the conclusion that from the personal ideal one can rise to the complete ideal. The complete ideal embraces the seen and unseen, within and without: the Absolute. Therefore the Sufi has no difficulty either with the worshipper of one God or the worshipper of many gods, because he can see both their points of view. He gives their point of view a place in life. He sees the natural development of human conception, expanding from the narrow perception to the highest ideal. But if someone asks the Sufi, ” You Sufis who tolerate all these different conceptions, what is your own conception?” he says, ” There is no such thing as the Sufi conception, although I have my personal conception. The God who is considered by people as the Judge and the Creator, as the Lord of heaven, is to me my Beloved. He is my beloved Ideal who alone deserves all my devotion. He is all the beauty that is to be loved.”
Therefore the Sufi establishes his relationship with God as the relationship between him and the Beloved. His worship of God is the expansion of the heart. His love for all beings and for every being is his love for God. He cannot find anyone to love except God, because he sees God in all. If his love is shown in devotion to parents, to wife, to children if it is shown to neighbors, to a friend or in tolerating enemies, the Sufi considers this as an action of his love towards God. In this way he fulfils in his life the teaching of the Bible, ” We live and move and have our being in God.”
The second aspect of religion is the spiritual ideal in man. If ever man has found God manifest on earth it is in the godly. Whenever humanity touches the height of civilization we see the divine manifested in a human being, a human being who in his life expresses God fully. To some that great ideal has appeared and they have called it Jesus Christ. In other parts of the world, among other races and in other times, this same manifestation which human beings felt to be divine was called Buddha or Moses or Mohammad. People followed them, loved them, adored them, and helped them in their difficulties. Through them a certain way of living, a harmonious life was given to their followers. The world has always received different manifestations like these whenever it was needed. But the limitation of mankind made them quarrel about the great personalities they each adored, and they have tried to question the greatness and goodness of the teachers of other communities. In this way humanity has become divided into sects.
The Sufi looks at this from a tolerant point of view. He believes that to have devotion for a spiritual ideal, just as for a human personality, is an individual matter. And because he thinks that the ideal of the teacher who is revered by someone is too sacred to interfere with, he unites it with all others. If one asks the Sufi, ” Which ideal do you hold?” he says, ” One Teacher; the only one who has always been there, who claimed to be Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. All these different names which the world holds in esteem are names of one personality.” Whatever name it is, the Sufi feels exaltation. He sees one sacred personality behind all those names.
The third aspect is the moral conception. The followers of one religion dispute with the follower of another for not having the same standard of morals. But it is presumption on the part of a man to judge another by his own standard of morals. It is unjust to try to judge another community from one’s own point of view. There is no action which one can point out as being sin or virtue, nor right or wrong. Things become right or wrong according to the place or the time. Good and evil are understood by a natural insight of the soul. The soul is beautiful and it looks for beauty. What is lacking in the beauty is that which may be called evil, and what is beautiful is that which may be called virtue. No doubt at a certain time a certain rule of life was given; but it is not right to judge the religion of different people according to that rule of life. Thus, the work of the Sufi is to awaken in his heart the sensitiveness, which will enable him to distinguish right from wrong, good from evil. And in this way, with the ever-increasing awakening of this spirit of sensitiveness, the Sufi builds his character. The Sufi is ready to tolerate others, to forgive others. He takes himself to task if he lacks beauty in expression, in thought in speech, or in action.
The fourth aspect is the form of worship. The forms of worship of all the different religions are necessarily different. It depends upon what one is accustomed to, what is akin to one’s nature. One cannot make a common rule and say that this form is wrong and that form is right. One person will perhaps feel more exaltation in a form of worship, which includes some art. It stimulates his emotional nature. Music, pictures, perfumes, colors, and light, all these have an effect upon such a person. Another can concentrate better if there is nothing in the place of worship to catch his attention. It is all a matter of temperament. It is not wrong to prefer the one or the other. The Sufi sees the variety of forms as different ideals. He does not attach importance to the outer expression. If there is a sincere spirit behind it, if a person has a feeling for worship, it does not matter what form of worship it is. In church, in an open place, everywhere there is an answer to the feeling for worship.
The Universal Worship is not another Church to be included among the variety of existing Churches. It is a Church, which gives an opportunity to those belonging to different religions to worship together. Also it gives practice in paying respect to the great ones who have come from time to time to serve humanity. The different scriptures of those who have taught wisdom are read at the altar of the Church of All. Nevertheless, no Sufi is compelled even to attend this Church of All. A Sufi, to whatever church he goes, is a Sufi. Being a Sufi is a point of view. It means having a certain outlook on life but not necessarily going to a particular church.
And finally there is the fifth aspect, the philosophical side of religion. One gathers through the Universal Worship that there is one source from which all scriptures have come, and that in spite of beliefs in many gods there is only one God. And in this way we come to the realization which we seek through worship, through devotion: that there is only one truth. For anyone who has ever reached it or will ever reach it, it is one and the same truth. Truth can be traced in all the great scriptures of the world and is taught by all the great ones who have come from time to time. Nothing, no community, Church, or belief, should keep one back from that realization in which lies the purpose of life. Verily, truth is the seeking of every soul and it is truth, which can save.