From Limitation to
Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan
The rocks, the trees, the animals and man, all in their turn show an inclination to seek perfection. The tendency of rocks is to form mountains reaching upwards, and the waves are ever reaching upwards as if they were trying to attain something beyond their reach. The tendency of birds is the same; their joy is flying in the air and going upwards. The tendency of animals is to stand on their hind legs, and when they do so they are most pleased. And man who is the finishing of creation has from infancy the tendency to stand up. An infant who is not able to stand moves his little hands and legs showing his desire to stand. It all shows the desire for perfection.
The law of gravitation is known to the world of science in a half measure: the earth attracts all that belongs to it. This is true, but the Spirit also attracts all that belongs to it, and that law of gravitation has always been known to mystics. So the law of gravitation is working from two sides: from the side of the earth which draws all that belongs to the earth, and from the side of the Spirit which attracts the soul towards it. Those who are unconscious of this law of gravitation are also striving for perfection, drawn by this law. Their soul being continually drawn to the Spirit, they are striving for perfection just the same. In the small things of everyday life a man wants more and more. If a person has made a name or has fame he is never satisfied with what he has; he always wants more, be it a higher rank or position. He is always striving for this. It shows that the heart is a magic bowl: as much as you pour into it, so much deeper it becomes, it will always be found empty. Whatever man strives after, he strives after it more -and more and is never satisfied. The reason is that unconsciously he is striving for perfection. Only, those who strive after perfection consciously have a different way.
Nevertheless each atom of the universe is supposed to struggle and strive in order to become perfect one day. In other words, if a seer, a thinker with an evolved soul happens to be in the mountains he will hear the mountains cry continually, "We are waiting for that day when something in us will awaken. There will come a day of awakening, of unfoldment. We are silently waiting for it". If he goes into the forest and sees the trees standing there they seem to be speaking, waiting patiently. You can feel it; the more you sit there the more you get the feeling of the trees waiting for the time to come when there will be an unfoldment. So it is with all beings, but man is so absorbed in his everyday actions and his greeds that he seems to be more unaware of that innate desire for unfoldment. It is his everyday occupation, his avariciousness, his cruelty to other beings that keep him continually engaged and busy with things. Therefore he cannot hear that continual cry of his own soul to awaken, to unfold, to reach upwards, to expand and to go towards perfection.
One might ask what I mean by perfection. Is it possible for man to reach perfection? When one sees how limited man is one can never think for one moment that man is entitled to perfection. There is no end to his limitations and one cannot even comprehend what perfection means; one becomes pessimistic when it comes to the question of perfection, Yet we read in the Bible the words of Christ, "Be ye perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect". This shows that there is a possibility. Our philosophy, our religious and sacred teachings are intended to bring about that realization which is called perfection. Any philosophy or religion that does not show this path to perfection has been corrupted and fails; there is something missing in it. If we look at religion as one and the same in all ages, given by different masters of humanity inspired by one and the same Spirit of Guidance, one and the same light of wisdom, we see that all have given the same truth. It is only interpreted differently in order to suit people of different ages, periods and races. In this way religions differ, but the underlying truth of all religions is one and the same. And whenever a religious preacher teaches that perfection is not for man, he corrupts the teaching that is given in religion; he has not understood it. He professes a certain religion but he does not understand it, for the main object of every religion is to attain perfection.
Many people seeking for knowledge say, "What we want in the world today is greater harmony, greater peace, better conditions. We do not want spiritual perfection; what we want is what we need today". But Christ has said in the Bible, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you". The tendency of every man is to seek everything else first and to keep the kingdom of God to the last. That which should be sought first is kept for the last. That is why humanity is not evolving towards perfection.
Occupations such as war and preparation for war are not to be called civilized occupations. It is a pity that in this period of civilization men should have war - and yet we think that we are more civilized than the people of ancient times! Ages before Christ Buddha taught, "Ahimsa paramo dharma ha, harmlessness is the essence of religion". He taught people to be friendly even to the smallest insect, the brotherhood of all beings - and we occupy ourselves with wars day after day, and with the condition as it is today we can expect war anywhere in the world! Where does it all come from? It all comes from seeking perfection in the wrong way. Instead of seeking spiritual perfection earthly perfection is sought. What everybody-is seeking is earthly perfection, the earth, but all that the earth holds is limited, and when everyone struggles for earthly perfection the earth will not be able to answer the demands. Whether we get what we want or not, there will always be struggle.
Now I want to explain what religion means. It is the main knowledge by which perfection is sought. Religion has five different aspects. The first and principal aspect, the foundation of religion is belief in God. What is God? Many say, "If there is a personal God I do not care for it. But if you think that there is an abstract God - yes, it can be". They forget that something abstract cannot be a living being; abstract is nothing. You cannot call space God. Space is space. Neither can you call space God nor can you call time God. Space is our conception; we have made its dimensions - so many yards. In the same way time is a conception. In reality space and time do not exist. What is unlimited cannot be comprehended, and what cannot be comprehended is without name. To what is intelligible we can give a name; if it is unintelligible we cannot give it a name because we do not know it. When we consider those who believe in a personal God, many of them merely have a belief. They worship God and believe in a certain law given in the name of God; they do good works for the sake of God, but at the same time they have no more knowledge than a belief that there is a God somewhere.
Neither of these believers in God has a conception of the real meaning of the God-ideal. They merely have a belief in God and this does not take one much further. In reality the God-ideal is a stepping-stone towards the knowledge 'of spiritual perfection. It is through the God-ideal that higher knowledge can be gained. And those who wait to see if they will be shown a God before their eyes or who want a proof of the being of God are mistaken. That which cannot be compared cannot be named and cannot be shown.
For instance, you see light. Light is intelligible to you because there is darkness as its opposite. Things are known by their opposites. Since God has no opposite God cannot be known in the same way as the things of the earth can be known. Besides, to explain God is to dethrone God; the less said the better. Yet the knowledge of God is necessary for those who seek after perfection.
Different religions have different conceptions of God; but not only religion, every man has a conception of God. You cannot think of any being without making in your mind a conception of that being. For instance, if someone told you a fairy tale, the first thing you would do would be to make a conception of a fairy, what it looks like. If someone talks to you about an angel you make a conception of it. It is a natural tendency to make a conception according to one's own experience, very near to one's own self. A human being does not think of an angel, a fairy as being like a bird or an animal, but as something like himself. If this is true then it is not a fault if someone has his own idea of God, and it is a great fault on the part of those who want to take away that idea and wish to give that person another idea. It is not right. No one can give to another his own conception of God, because each one must make it real for himself. The prophets of all ages have given some ideal to help man to form a conception of God. As a philosopher has said, "If you have no God, make one", for that is the proper way, the easiest way of realizing the unlimited truth.
There is a story about Moses who saw a shepherd boy sitting near the river and telling himself, "O God, You are so dear. If once You appeared before me I would do everything for You. I would bathe You in the river and cover You with my blanket. I would put You to bed in my hut. I would give You sweets and delicious things to eat. I would take care of You and protect You from all wild animals. I would love You so much and care so much for You, if once in my life I could see You". The prophet said, "What are you saying, young man? Have you any idea? God, the Protector of all beings - you say that you will protect Him? The One who bestows all gifts and who is the sustenance of all beings - even the smallest creature is looked after by God - you would cover Him? How could you! He is unseen, unlimited". The boy became frightened; he thought, "What have I done, what a terrible thing! I said something I should not have said!". He was terrified. When the prophet left him a voice arose within him, the same voice which used to come to him every day in the solitude. "What have you done, Moses? We sent you to bring our friends together, to bring My friends to Me, and you have separated them".
Everyone, every lover has his own idea of his beloved, and no other person knows what he thinks of his beloved. It is told about the Eastern Romeo and Juliet, Leila and Majnun, that someone said to Majnun, the young lover, "Leila is not beautiful. What is she? Why do you love her so much?" And Majnun said humbly, "In order to see Leila you must borrow my eyes". In every person the conception of God is different, distinct, and one person cannot give his conception of God to another.
There is another story, told about a housewife who had prepared a great feast. When her husband came home he said, "My good wife, why have you prepared a feast? Is it a holy day, a birthday? What is it?" She said, "It is greater than a birthday, it is better than a holy day. It is a great day for me". But he asked, "What is it?" She replied, "My husband, I never thought that you believed in God" - "And how did you find out?" - "One day while turning over in your sleep you uttered the name of God. I am so thankful". He said, "Alas. This something which was so sacred and secret in my heart has today been opened. I can no longer sustain it and live". He dropped down dead. His conception of God was too sacred for him. There is outer expression and inner expression and we do not know. We may think that many are removed from the God-ideal and we do not know that they may be much nearer to God than we ourselves.
It is difficult for anyone to judge who is near to God and who is away from Him. It is difficult to know in our lives what pleases our friend and what does not please him. The more conscientious we are in pleasing our friend, the more we find how difficult it is to know what will please him and what will not. Not everyone knows it, for not everyone has kindled the light of friendship. Sometimes it is only a word in the dictionary. The one who has learned friendship has learned religion. The one who has learned friendship has come to spiritual knowledge. The one who has learned friendship needs learn very little, for in the Persian language morals are called friendship.
There is another story that explains this idea of the pleasure and displeasure of God. There was a man who was very pious and lived a very religious life. One day he said to Moses, "All my life I have tried to be a good man and to be religious. I have always been in terrible difficulty, but I don't care. I would only like to know what is in store for me. Will you ask God?" Moses consented, and as he went further he saw a drunken man who said, "Where are you going? Will you ask God about me too? I have never known prayers or fastings. I have never done good works, as they say in this world. What I know are these: my great friends bottle and glass. Go and ask what is in store for me". When Moses came back after his meditation on the top of Mount Sinai his answer to the religious man was, "For you there are great rewards, beautiful things". "Just as I expected", was the reply of the religious man. Then the drunken man asked, "What is the answer?" Moses said, "For you there is the worst place possible". The man stood up and danced and was most joyous. He said, "Oh, I don't care what place is given to me. I am so happy that God thought of me. I am such a humble man, such a sinner. That I am known by God! I thought nobody knew me". He was most happy. In the end the places for both were changed.
Moses was surprised and he asked God within. The answer was, "The first man, in spite of all the good he did, did not deserve Our favour, for Our grace cannot be bought by good deeds. What are man's good deeds? His whole life's good deeds cannot be compared with one moment's favour of God. And the other man pleased Me, for he enjoyed everything given to him. His contentment won Me".
When we cannot understand the pleasure and displeasure of our friend in the world, how can we understand the pleasure and displeasure of God? Who on earth can say that God is pleased with this or with that? No one ever has the power to make rules and laws: by this God is pleased, and by that God is displeased.
Another aspect of religion is the aspect of the teacher: for instance, there are some who see divinity in Christ. They say, "Christ was God, Christ is divine", and there are others who say, "Christ was a man, one like us all". When we come to look at this question we see that the one who says, "Christ is divine", is not wrong. If there is any divinity shown it is in man. And the one who says, "Christ was a man" is not wrong either. In the garb of man Christ manifested. Those who do not want Christ to be a man drag down the greatness and sacredness of the human being by their argument, by saying that man is made of sin, and by separating Christ from humanity. But as to those who have called Christ God or divine, there is nothing wrong with it. It is in man that divine perfection is to be seen. It is in man that divinity is to be manifested.
Then there are Christ's own words, "I am Alpha and Omega", and this is the one idea to which many close their eyes. But the one who said, "I am Alpha and Omega" was before the coming of Jesus too, and the one who says, "first and last", must be after Jesus too. In the words of Christ there is the idea of perfection. He attributed himself to the Spirit of which he was conscious. Christ was not conscious of his human part but of his perfect being, when he said, "I am Alpha and Omega". He did not attribute this to his being known as Jesus. He attributed it to the Spirit of which he was conscious, the Spirit of perfection that lived before Jesus and continues to live to the end of the world, for eternity.
If this is so then what does it matter if some say, "Jesus inspired us", and if millions are inspired by Buddha? It is only a difference of name. It is all one "Alpha and Omega". If others say "Moses" or "Muhammad" or "Krishna", what were they? Where did the inspiration come from? Was it not from one and the same Spirit? Was it not the "Alpha and Omega" of which Jesus Christ was conscious? Whoever gives the message to the world and has illuminated human beings and raised thousands and millions of people in the world, cannot but be Christ whom the one calls by this name and the other by another name. Yet human ignorance causes wars and disasters on account of people's different religions, different communities, because of the importance they give to their conception, their own corrupted conception which differs from that of another. Even till now either there is materialism or there is bigotry. What is necessary today is to come to the first and last religion, to come to the message of Christ, to divine wisdom, so that we may recognize wisdom in all its different forms, in whatever form it has been given to humanity. It does not matter if it is Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism. What does it matter? It is one wisdom - that call of the Spirit which awakens man to rise from limitation and to reach to perfection.
The third aspect of religion is the manner of worship. There have been many in different ages who have worshipped the sun, but they believed in God just the same. The sun was only a symbol. They thought, "This is a light which does not depend upon oil or anything else, something which remains night and day". Then there were others who worshipped sacred trees and holy places, rocks and mountains of ancient tradition, and others who worshipped heroes of great repute, teachers and masters of humanity. Nevertheless all had a divine ideal, and the form in which they worshipped does not matter. The Arabs in the desert where there was no house, no place of worship stood in the open air and bowed in the open space at sunset and sunrise. It was all worship to God; it was given in that form. The Hindus made idols of different kinds in order to make man focus his mind on particular objects. These were all different prescriptions given by the doctors of souls. These peoples were not pagans or heathens; they were only taught differently by the wise. Different thoughts, different ways were given to them just as a doctor would give different prescriptions to different patients in order to come to the same goal. Therefore difference in worship does not make a different religion. Religion is one and the same in spite of a thousand different kinds of worship.
The fourth aspect of religion is the moral aspect. Different religions have taught different moral principles, but at the same time there is one human moral principle on which all is based, and that is justice. This does not mean justice in principles and rules and regulations, but it means the one law which is the true religious law that is in man, that is awakened in man. As his soul unfolds itself that law becomes more and more clear to him: what is just and what is unjust. The most wonderful thing about it is that a thief, a wicked or unrighteous man may be most unjust to others but if someone is unjust to him, he will say, "He is not just to me". This shows that he too knows justice. When he is dealing with others he forgets it, but when it comes to himself he knows justice just the same. Therefore we are each responsible to ourselves according to that religious law. If we do not regard it, it naturally results in unhappiness. Everything that goes wrong, goes wrong for the reason that we do not listen to ourselves.
The fifth aspect of religion is self-realization. This is the highest aspect. And everything we do - prayers, concentration, good actions, good thoughts - everything leads to that one object which is self-realization. How is it gained? Some say that we realize God by self-realization, but this is not true. We realize the self by the realization of God. Whenever a person tries to realize the self omitting God, he makes a mistake.
It is very difficult for man to realize the self, because the self he knows is a most limited self. The self to which he is awakened from the time of birth, this self which has made within him his conception of himself, is most limited. However proud and conceited he may be, however good his idea of himself, yet in his innermost being he knows his limitation, he knows his small being just the same. He may be a successful general, he may be a king, yet he will know his limitation when the time comes when he runs away from his kingdom. Then he knows that he is not really a king. Earthly greatness does not make man great. If there is anything that makes him great it is only the effacing of himself and the establishing of God in that place. The one who says, "Begin with self-realization", has many intellectual, philosophical principles, but when he tries to do so he gets into a muddle and arrives nowhere. This is the wrong method.
There are people today who say, "I am God". This is insolence, it is stupidity; it is foolish to say such things. It spoils the ideal of others, it is an insult to the greatest ideal that the prophets, the saviours of humanity have always respected. By that affirmation, by such intellectual studies people will never reach spiritual perfection. In order to reach spiritual perfection the first thing is to destroy that false self. This delusion must be destroyed first. And how must it be destroyed? By other ways, taught by the great teachers, ways of concentration and meditation, by the power of which one is taught to forget one's self, to take one's consciousness away from one's self; in other words, to rise from one's limited being. By this way a person effaces himself from his own consciousness, and instead of his limited self he places God in his consciousness. It is by this way that he comes to that perfection which is the seeking of every soul.