Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan

The voice of silence
Part 8

Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan


One hears through silence the voice of nature, the word of the spirit, the word of the elements and of angels and of God Himself. Whichever one may wish to hear one may hear. Many times questions arise in the mind of the enquirer, why there has been the favour of God upon the son to whom He spoke, as on Mount Sinai and elsewhere. All the prophets, seers and messengers, who have given messages to the world, have given it as the message of God. This means that it is not that what they have said was theirs, but it was a reproduction of what was said to them. They had become a vehicle to echo what once had been said to them. There is always the possibility of asking the question why it should be given to especially endowed ones and why not to every soul. If we are all God's creatures, why should not every soul have the capability of hearing the Verb of God, why should not every soul be a messenger of God and be blessed and endowed with that privilege? Why should there be a partiality on the part of God? The answer is that, no doubt, every soul is justified to be endowed with the same bliss as Moses and the prophets, but if the soul is not capable, it is because, just like with music, some are musical and others are not, although music is natural.

With a scientific understanding of things and with a logical searching into truth, one can understand that it is not necessary that the person who speaks may hear what another says. It is the one who closes his lips who hears; it is not the one who speaks much. There are many impatient people in the world who are always anxious to speak, but not ready to listen. They always want to be speaking, and their defect grows and becomes a disease. A person feels uncomfortable if he has not spoken and held the attention of another who may have been his victim for an hour. He has tired this person's brain and exhausted his tolerance. There are many who are anxious to speak, and generally these people who speak so much are found to be rather stupid. This is because all that they have they give away, and they do not know the secret of gaining and holding. Therefore, they are not tired, for they do not desire to gain. Such a person, who is limited, exhausts his resources; he does not wait to get new material. You will often find that the person, who is accustomed to speak, has very little desire to listen. He wants others to have patience to listen to him, but he has very little patience to reciprocate. If you wish to take one tenth of the time which he occupies in speech, he may become angry.

There are two things upon which the whole of life is based: one is the part of life which is expressed, the other the part of life which responds. The part which is expressed is active, the part which responds is silent. That which responds is capable of reflecting that which it receives. Therefore, that which is expressing all the time loses that which it has, and never obtains an opportunity to gain something new. At the same time, it is not capable of collecting or reflecting.

In any assembly of people there are generally two types: one who is always talking, thus giving out and perhaps wasting that which he has, and another who listens; he gains, for he retains that which he had, and he receives from others what they had. Thus he may gain wisdom from the foolish as well as from the wise. The one who has spoken may be proud of how he talked to others, but this pride becomes a dangerous disease. By speaking too much such a person becomes proud of thoughtlessness or selfishness, of brightness or foolishness. He is proud of telling the truth, although it may be unpleasant or cause offence to others. It would be better not to tell such truth, boldly but foolishly and unkindly, for he may turn a person against himself and others. Therefore, silence shows thoughtfulness, patience, indulgence and tolerance. The tendency towards speaking much shows lack of consideration, lack of control and tolerance, and may end in insolence and other weaknesses.

This does not mean that speaking is a sin or that silence is a virtue; sometimes they are the opposite. Sa'di, the poet, says that the beauty of art and music may be spoiled by two things: by praise coming from the foolish and silence from the wise. When a wise person is silent on hearing something beautiful, his silence may be interpreted as a snub. The praise from a foolish person is as degrading to art or music as is the silence from the wise. Therefore, speaking is not always bad. The point to remember is that you cannot at the same time both hear and speak. Therefore discrimination should be exercised.

Now coming to the different activities of the universe, we find that every activity, whether of an object or a living thing, is always saying something. That is what is meant by the old stories which say that plants and trees, stones and rocks, animals and birds all speak to the saints and seers who listen to them and understand their language. It is true, they do always talk, not only in the old days but even now. Every thing has a tongue and speaks its own language if we could only understand it. Why do we not know and understand it? Because we are more ready to speak than to listen. By this I mean that, although we appear to be silent and the body is inactive, yet the mind is speaking and active. So it cannot listen. Therefore, the person who is quiet is not necessarily silent.

The atmosphere of a person is expressive or, in other words, is always speaking. It is his atmosphere which tells you what he has been and what he has done. You will feel, and even the objects in the room will sense, what a person has done or will do. A person, who has just disappointed another or wounded the heart of another, may enter a house, and his very presence will cause a sense of depression or sorrow to the people in that house. But so it is also with love, goodwill and kindness; as predominant qualities in a person they will speak even when the person is silent. One's atmosphere speaks and even every atom of your body and the circulation of your blood is eloquent, for everything has its own language and self-expression

The Qur'an says that every part of our being will give evidence of our actions. Our personality itself speaks and that is why we cannot listen. Is it not true that many times we are so happy or so sorry that we do not hear it, when another person speaks or that we do not remember his words. It is because our mind was speaking to us at the same time. Therefore, the external silence of sitting quiet is not true silence. Every activity of life, every bird, beast, man or any object of nature is speaking, and you are speaking also, even though you appear to be quiet. Therefore, you cannot hear the inner voice of nature. When you are constantly speaking, how can you hear the voice of silence?

There is the word seer in the English language which indicates a person who sees, not as everybody else sees, but who sees through people and things in life. In the Qur'an there are two words sami and basir. Sami means one who hears and listens, whereas basir explains one who sees, the seer. There is a beautiful hint given in the Qur'an which says: "We have shown a vision which has revealed our secret". This pertains to the Prophet and his vision, which reveals that God is the essence of purity and that He is the Hearer and Seer of all things and beings. What does this really show us? That a vision may be revealed to a soul, which by its contemplation of God has become so purified that it becomes capable of seeing and hearing on the inner planes. By this we may further understand that the soul which is purified becomes capable of hearing and seeing the world within. But purified from what? The answer is, purified from all external activities. And the only means of this purification of the soul lies in true silence.

There is a very interesting story in the ancient tradition of the Jews. Once Moses was travelling by the side of a river and suddenly, while contemplating nature and feeling himself close to it and admiring its beauty, an inspiration came to him as an inner voice, saying: "Moses, hark!" He felt that he should stop, that he might hear and understand what he was listening to in the sounds of nature. So he listened to the water running over the rocks and the noise of the wind going through the trees, and then he heard some beautiful sounds and heard the details in these sounds. He perceived, as he listened more attentively, some higher and lower sounds, which greatly interested him, and he understood the harmony of one sound with the other in a way that revealed to him a scale of notes. When he returned he gave to his pupils this scale which he had learned from nature, and he asked them to imitate that scale, since all art is a close imitation and following of nature. The better art is, whether in painting or music, the more it must imitate nature.

The history of art shows that, whenever it has taken a direction opposite to nature, in that period it has declined and in the end became a failure. In the first place, art cannot produce that which does not exist. In the second place, what appeals to man is what is akin to nature. Whenever it is not akin to nature, however artistic it may be, it will not make a lasting appeal to man. With all the great undertakings of musicians, the folklore of a country has always a special charm and beauty. With all the great decorations of painters, there is perhaps some natural touch that brings it closer to nature and which wins a man's admiration. It is his close observation of nature and his skill to produce natural effects which constitute the soul of the artist. It is because of this aspect of art that Moses said to his pupils: "Call this scale of nature Musa qe (Moses, hark)", which then became “music”. The name was applied by the Arabs and we now call it music. Thus we have the foundation of music from nature itself.

Hebrew tradition says that Moses was inspired on Mount Sinai when the Lord talked to him. When the Hebrew tradition speaks of the Mount Sinai, this is symbolical. When a person has risen above the world's activities by his silent meditation and contemplation and has raised his consciousness to that state which is above all material things, he reaches the sphere of silence which is called the mountain-top, from whence comes the Voice of God. This means that in order to hear the Voice of God we must climb on to the top of the mountain that is the mountain of matter and worldly conditions. It is by rising above the activities of the body, the emotions and the mind, that we pass beyond the earthly plane. Then we can hear the Verb of God from the higher spheres. It is this word which is known as the voice of silence.

A still better picture is that of Muhammad and his experience. His life began in humble conditions, and first he helped his uncle in his business which gave him practical experience and a capacity for administrating. Then he helped his country in its defense and thereby became a leader. Up to that time there was no trace of his becoming a prophet of his race. He was a normal worldly man with wife and family. Then after these varied experiences and interests in his people's welfare and seeing the various aspects of life, there came to his mind the idea that the worldly conditions of his people could be changed for the better and that many adverse conditions should cease to exist. But in this ideal did he not reflect the desire of every good man? When we see the false good and the selfishness in the world, it naturally gives us a desire to be able to rid the world of these unhappy conditions, so that we might make the world a better place to live in. But it is not everyone who has the courage or the will to strive to improve worldly conditions. We have so many attachments to worldly conditions that we find ourselves ruled by them, so that we cannot escape and cannot live in the world by ourselves. This is the experience of many idealists in the world today. But this great human desire so appealed to the Prophet, who was imbued with courage and determination, that he constantly thought of the problem. He asked permission of his wife Khadija to go to the mountain to contemplate there in silence. She naturally let him go to the mountain, supplied him with food and encouraged him in his ideals. But sometimes he even went without food, so that nothing should disturb his silent meditation. His main idea was: how can this world be made worthy of God's creation? How can I myself be made better, so that I may become more harmonious in the world? "For the present - he said to himself - I see discord where there should be peace". He made frequent visits to the mountain and stayed there for hours, sometimes for whole days.

When we indulge in things of the world, in games and in light amusements, how can we enjoy them, when we know that there is so much suffering and discord around us? How much would the soul enjoy the peace that the inner silence could give! If we have only touched the fringe of the sphere of silence, we should know the joy that peace can give and we should know its beauty and value to the soul. So Muhammad began to forget the comforts of the world, his food and home and the things of normal life. More and more he became attracted to the quiet of the mountain and the solitude of the desert in which one seldom even sees a bird. Not a plant moving, not an animal to make a sound, there is absolute silence in the desert. Muhammad was a thinker and a visionary, he had faith and courage. He was always waiting for the sign of some guidance, to get some key to resolve the problems of life as he saw it. With his perfect faith, devotion and trust, in that eternal silence and realizing the infinite patience of God, he waited for something to tell him what he might do to relieve the world's trouble. This anxiety to help others was felt in the depth of his heart, but he also knew the joy which silence can give. And then, as the Qur'an says, there came to his inner ear the Voice of the Lord. But a Sufi would say, the Voice of the Lord was heard, when all other activity on his part had been suspended. When he was no more conscious of himself, he had become the pure virgin soul waiting for the Lord. He was like a photographic plate ready to take a picture, in a passive and responsive state. And then it seemed that the Lord came to him and spoke. When the Voice was heard it seemed that the tongue of speech was in the rock, in the trees, in the sun, the moon and the planets, and everything around him spoke to him. He felt the Lord spoke to him through the water, through the wind, and even in the silence of the desert. There was nothing anywhere that was not the tongue of God which could speak to him.

The perfect silence which he had discovered, revealed the Voice which began to speak from all directions, for God is everywhere, above, below, within and without. God will speak to us if we listen, and the beauty of the speech was this: "Cry in the name of the Lord who has created this world out of what you call nothing". How very wonderful is this revelation for the one who always thinks that the origin of all that has been created must be something. The first lesson that is to learn, is how to listen. Or as Christ said: Seek first for the Kingdom of God which was created by His Will, out of what you might call nothing. But in that nothingness you find everything.

The poet Amir gives us a beautiful picture, saying that from this part of life, which is tangible and perceptible, you can find that part of life that is above it, beyond it and which you may call nothingness; and yet in that part of life you may see that it is everything. Therefore, you may find that nothing is everything and everything that you know is really nothing. This is the first and the last lesson which the Seers have given to mankind. Did not Christ state the same principle when he urged man to seek for the truth, to seek for the Kingdom of God, after which all things and all knowledge and all powers will be added unto you? Seek therefore first the source of all things and of all activities in Him in whom all things live, from whom all come, and in whom they will be finally re-absorbed.

There are two kinds of people in this world: one kind is religious, pious, and believes in a certain teacher, religion and church-service, and they believe that faith in their teacher and scripture and Church is the only faith worth adopting. No doubt they are in good faith and it has its good aspects. Then there are others who are enquirers and seekers of truth, who wish to know the inner silence and the warning of the Voice of God. You may ask: How can we hear something that we have not known or heard? I would say, our yearning of heart tells us that there is some voice calling and, if we could only listen, surely there is a voice waiting to speak. It is a voice in the silence which the soul seeks and the Sufi message helps us to understand these mysteries.

This comes as the work of the mystic. It is not the mystic who opens your ears or gives you something whereby you may be able to see. The mystic's mission is to give you a work to do for yourself. There are two types of people who may help: one person can give you the knowledge you want, and another person cannot give you the knowledge, but he can tell you the method by which you can gain it. Mostly the work of the Sufi is of the latter type. No doubt the former method of development is possible in the case where a pupil is responsive and just ready to receive some exposition of the truth. But perhaps the other method is better, which tells you how to earn the spiritual wealth you need, and how to bring your whole being, mind, body and innermost self, into that state of silence which prepares you to hear the word for which your soul has always longed and waited. There cannot be greater wealth and happiness than this.

Therefore, in the East the help of the guru or murshid is highly esteemed and the pupil thinks that there is nothing he can give or do in the way of service to repay his teacher. If he could give all his possessions or even his life, the true mureed feels that he could never repay his Murshid, because there is nothing more valuable than what he can give us. Yet, strange to say, it is our own wealth of spiritual knowledge that he gives us; it is not his, but our own, though we did not know such spiritual wisdom was our inheritance and innermost possession. The work of the murshid is to reveal this mystery to us and bring it to our conscious realization.

The Vedanta says that there are six steps which prepare a person to attain this ideal state of true silence. First is the control of the body and second the control of the mind. Despite contrary opinion, it is not easy for a person to attain real control of the body and still less of the mind. The control of the body means that every muscle and every nerve is under our conscious direction and control, so that the energy which runs through the whole body and through every atom should be conserved. This is not easy to attain. And as to the control of the mind, its constant diversion with thoughts, ideas, memories, hopes, fears, anticipation, most of which come uninvited, shows how difficult it is to attain control of the mind.

Then there is the third stage, called shradha which means faith, which is in itself a form of control over the feelings. When a person lacks this aspect of faith, it is because he has not yet sufficient control over his feelings to maintain faith in the face of adverse conditions which might engender fears. This does not mean faith in religion but faith as a human quality, which has been definitely developed and consciously attained. There are two classes of individuals: one who gives you his wealth to hold for safety, he has faith and he feels his wealth is safe in your care, so he can be peaceful. Another person may give you his treasure to hold, but afterwards he does not fully trust you. So he feels ashamed and embarrassed and cannot look straight into your eyes, for he is full of doubt. He cannot help his changed feeling, because it is due to lack of control which becomes lack of faith. Where there is confidence, called faith, it gives one strength and mighty strength, which also gives you peace.

I remember the words of the benediction given to me by my own Murshid, and today I realize its value more than ever. At the time I may have thought that I could have desired another wish, but he simply said, "May your faith be strengthened". Our progress and success in life, relief from difficulties and struggles, all depend on our faith. Christ, from the beginning to the end of his mission, taught this principle again and again: Have faith and trust in God.

The fourth stage is the melting of what we may call the heart, which under normal conditions of life has a tendency to become hard and frozen. In this path of the quest for true silence it is necessary to keep the heart in a liquid condition, instead of allowing it to turn into ice; for if it becomes icy it turns one's whole being and activity into coldness. The unhappiness which is caused in the world is mostly accounted for by this coldness of heart which must be avoided by the Sufi.

The fifth stage is keen observation of all things. When a person looks on the surface of things, he knows only what is outside and so he is easily deceived. If a person speaks to him with flattery, he is impressed and may be pleased but, if a person speaks harshly, he feels hurt or insulted without considering the merits of the case. He takes everything from the surface aspect and so often misunderstands and mistakes friends for enemies and vice versa. Thus he always deceives himself. Keen observation is very necessary in order to understand things clearly and to see into the depths of life. Thus observation means also to see not only the present but the future, and to have a wider and deeper outlook which comes as a result of close observation.

The sixth thing necessary is an ability to synthesize and unify. For instance, instead of separating yourself from others by the thought of how you may differ from them, you should find out how and in what manner you agree. Instead of classing people as being of this or that nation, we should call them but human beings. Instead of thinking about heaven and earth separately, we should think of them as both being this creation of God. Synthesis is desirable in all these aspects of life, for separating tends to divide every atom within you and every thing around you, and so you will never be satisfied nor find peace.

When these six qualities are developed and fully attained one reaches that seventh stage, which is diving deeply and penetrating into the depths of life and of your own heart. There lies the shrine of the inner silence and the spiritual bliss of the Voice of God may then be realized.  



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