Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan

Mysticism, the essence of all knowledge
Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan


I shall speak this evening on the subject of Sufi mysticism. If one speaks about Christian, Jewish or Moslem mysticism, it is a way of speaking, but the spirit of mysticism is one and the same. You cannot divide it, you cannot make it separated. But in this world of differences and distinctions we cannot help giving some name. If we do not, others will. It is just as well that we give some name that we prefer.


Mysticism is the essence of all knowledge; science, art, philosophy, religion, literature, all come under the heading of mysticism, for mysticism is the basis of all knowledge. A clear science as medicine, as it has developed today, when you trace its origin you will find that it has come from the source of intuition. It is the mystics who have brought it to the world. Avicenna, the great mystic of Persia, has given more to the world of medicine than many discoverers of medicine in the world's history. We know that science means a clear knowledge, based on reason and logic. But whence did it start and how?  Did it start from reason and logic? First it came by intuition, then reason came and logic was applied to it. In the lower creation there are no doctors, the animals are their own physicians. They know best whether their cure needs standing before the sun or bathing in a pool of water, running in the free air or sitting quietly in the shade of a tree.  I have known a sensible dog who used to fast every Thursday of the week. No wonder that people in India said that he was an incarnation of a Brahmin. But it puzzled me how the dog could distinguish  every Thursday.


People think that to be a mystic means to be a dreamer, an unpractical person who has no sense of the worldly affairs of life. But I call such a mystic a half-mystic. A mystic in the fullness of the word must have balance. He must be as wise in worldly matters as in spiritual things. People have a wrong conception of what a mystic is. They call a fortune teller or a medium, a clairvoyant or a visionary person a mystic. I do not mean to say that all these qualities are not in a mystic, but they do not make a mystic. A mystic may have all these qualities but he has many other qualities. A real mystic could prove to be an inspired artist, a wonderful scientist, a powerful statesman. He must have the qualities for business, for industry, for social and political life just as much as the materialist. I do not like people to tell me, "As you are a mystic, I thought that you would not take notice of a little thing". Why should I not take notice of it? I take notice of every little detail. Only, every little detail does not occupy my mind so much that it is the first thing I notice. In order to be conscious of God it is not necessary to be unconscious of the world. We see one vision with our two eyes. So we see both aspects, God and the world, at the same time as a clear vision. It is difficult, but not impossible.


One might ask how I describe mysticism, what it is. Mysticism is an outlook on life. Things that seem real to an average person, in the eyes of the mystic are unreal, and things that seem unreal in the eyes of the average person, in the eyes of the mystic seem real.


God, for the mystic, is the source and goal of all. God is all, and all is God. At the same time a real mystic is not someone who says - as an intellectual student of philosophy says - "I do not believe in any God, but I believe in the Abstract". It is unpoetic, without ideal. He may have the truth, but it is a flower without fragrance. You cannot worship the abstract, nor can you communicate with the abstract, nor give something to the abstract, nor take something from it. To worship nothing is nothing. You must have something before you to love, to worship, to adhere to, to look upward to, to place high. And if you say, "God is everything and all", it is true, but at the same time what is it?  "Everything", in other words, means nothing.


The mystic says, "If you have no God, make one". It is the man without ideal and without imagination who ignores God. A cup of water is as interesting as the ocean, or perhaps more when one is thirsty. A personal God is as important or even more important than the idea of the abstract, from which you gain nothing. We human beings have out limited mind. We can grasp the idea of God as far as what we can conceive of God. For instance, you have a friend whom you love and whom you wish to praise. Yet he stands above your praise. What you can do is to say, "How kind, how good, how patient, how wonderful is my friend". That is all. Your words cannot make him greater, your words cannot even express fully what you yourself think of your friend. At the same time that is all you can do: to make a conception of your friend for your own understanding. It is the same with God. Man cannot comprehend God fully. What he can do is to make one for himself of his own conception. Man likes justice and says, "God is the judge of all"; man likes love, kindness and says, "God is compassion, mercy". Man says, "God is the father in heaven, and God's quality is the quality that is expressed in the love of the mother". A man who has revered his king says, "God is the King of the universe". He expresses as much as he can to his best ability; he cannot do any more. Even if he were able to say more, even that would not be appropriate to what God is. It is all for one's own self, in order to make something which is unlimited comprehensible for oneself. One makes it limited for one's own use.


The mystic, therefore, does not say, "My realization of God is higher than yours; so I stand away from you". I have seen a mystic walking with peasants in a religious procession, singing hymns with them before a god of stone. He himself was greater than the god in the procession, and yet he was singing with the same reverence as everybody else. He never had any desire to show that his belief, his realization was higher, greater than the realization of the others.


The idea of God as abstract is the intellectual conception of those who have studied philosophy. For the mystic He is a reality. The mystic does not think of God as abstract, but he knows God to be so. It is not a question of knowing but of being. God, for the mystic, is the stepping stone to self-realization. It is the gate, the door to entering the Heavens. God, for the mystic, is the key with which to open the secret of life. God, for the mystic, is that abode from where he comes and to where he returns and finds himself at home.


It is told that a seeker went to a sage in China and said, "I have come to learn truth from you". The sage said, "Many of your missionaries come to us and teach here about your faith. Why do you come to me?"

- "Well, what they teach is God. What we know is about God. Now I come to ask you about the mystery of life".

- "If you know God, that is all there is to be known, there is nothing more. That is all the mystery there is".


For the mystic, therefore, God is all there is.


Now there is the question of the mystic's conception of Christ. Do we not know that one person is better than another, and is it not true that there is God in man? If that is true, the mystic asks what objection there is, if one person knows Christ to be God, and if another calls Christ a man. If God is in man, then what does it matter if Christ is called God. And if Christ is called man, it only raises man to that standard; God has created him. Both persons have their reasons and both are right. Yet both oppose one another. Some say, "But Christ is called divinity!" But if divinity is not sought in man, in whom do you seek it? Is divinity to be sought in a tree, in a plant, in a stone? Yes, in all is God. But at the same time, divinity is awakened, God is awakened, God can be seen in man.


The tolerance of the mystic is different. He says that we have taken the names from history from our ancestors. The people of one nation or race or religion say, "In Jesus Christ we see the Lord". Under that name they have seen their ideal. People of other countries say, "In Buddha we have our God". They have seen their divine ideal in Buddha.  Other names they can find, for their consolation, to support their ideal, in the history of some who once have existed.  The Muslims say, "Muhammad -", the Hindu says, "Krishna is the object of our worship". As long as they have not realized the spirit of their ideal, they will dispute, quarrel and fight, saying, "My teacher is great" - "Mine is greater still", not seeing the one and same Spirit manifest in the greatest excellence. Our comprehension  has raised him. We cannot raise him enough, if we call him by a certain name and limit him, separating him from other parts of the world. If we call him Christ we separate him from all others; if we call him Krishna we separate him from all others. But when we seek the Unlimited in our divine ideal, we can call Him by all names, saying "Thou art Christ, Thou art Buddha".  Just as a loving mother can call her child "my little emperor" and give him all beautiful names.


Some little girls were disputing. One said, "My mother is better than yours". Another said, "My mother is better". So they disputed and argued and were quite disagreeable to one another. Finally one of them said, "It is not your mother or their mother, it is the mother who is always best". It is the mother-quality, her love and affection for her children.  It is this point of view that the mystic takes toward the divine ideal. He says, "It does not matter whether you take a historical name or make up a special name, whether you say lily or rose. If it is your divine ideal, it is all right. My divine ideal is the same". He means that it makes no difference. If we have devotion, if we have reverence, if we have a high ideal before us, it is all that is needed.




Then we come to the morals, the principles of the mystic. The moral principle of the mystic is the principle of love. The greater your love, the greater your moral. If you are forced under a certain principle, a certain regulation, certain laws, you may show to be virtuous, but that is not real virtue. Real virtue must come from the bottom of your heart, your own heart must teach you the true moral. And so the mystic leaves morality to the deepening of the heart quality. The more loving the heart, the greater the morality a person has in life. There is no greater teacher of moral than love itself, because the first lesson one learns from love is, "I am not, you are". This is self-denial, self-abnegation. You cannot take the first step in the path of love without denying yourself. As long as you do not deny yourself, you have not taken a step in love's path. You may claim to be a great lover, a great admirer, to be very affectionate - it all means nothing. As long as the thought of self is there, there is no love. If the thought of self is removed, then every action, every deed one performs in life is a virtue. It cannot be otherwise. A loving person cannot be unjust, cannot do something cruel. Even if it be wrong in the eyes of a thousand people, it cannot be wrong in reality. In reality it is right, because it is inspired by love.


Then there is the religion of the mystic. His religion is to progress steadily towards unity. One may ask, "How can he make this progress?" There are two ways. In one way he sees himself in another: in the good, in the bad, in all. So he expands the horizon of his vision. By this study, continually made during his life time, and going on in this study, he comes closer to the oneness of all things. The other way of developing is to be conscious of one's own self in God, and of God in one's self. It is deepening the consciousness of one's innermost being. So the progress is made in two directions: outwardly by being one with all one sees, and inwardly by being in touch with that one life which is everlasting, by dissolving into it, and by being conscious of that One Spirit which is the existence, the only existence.


The law of the mystic is the understanding of the law. The average man says, "That person has taken the best of me. I must sue him". The mystic's outlook is different. He says, "No one can get away with anything from this world without paying for it. If he has to pay in advance he must pay in cash, and if not in cash the bill will be presented in time. For every grain of food one eats, every drop one drinks, every breath of air one takes there is a tax to be paid".  One is continually paying and yet one does not know it. This shows that behind all there is a perfect justice working just the same. One cannot get the slightest comfort and pleasure without having to pay for it, and yet nobody knows about it. Every pain has its own reward. Therefore, behind all the falsehood and injustice we see continually there is a perfect wisdom working day and night. The mystic sees it in everything with open eyes, and that is the great phenomenon. For the mystic life is a puzzle, next it is bewilderment, and thirdly life is a phenomenon. 


Life is a puzzle when the law is not understood; a very interesting puzzle. There is no better game than to be in that puzzle, to try and understand it, to solve it. It is so interesting that there is no sport or game that can be compared with it.


Then life is a bewilderment: to see how everybody looks at it, and how in reality it is. There comes a stage when the mystic says, "They are all mad, or I am mad. Someone must be mad". For all have one point of view, and his point of view is different. Yet he can see from the point of view of all, and from his own which is quite the contrary. For instance, there is the teaching of Christ, where he says, "If anyone asks you your coat, give him you overcoat too". A worldly man will say, "It is not practical. If someone asks me this every day, I shall have to buy another one every day!" At the same time it is more than practical from the point of view of the master: whatever you give, you cannot give it without getting it back in some way or other. A pure thought, goodwill, a little service, your time, whatever you give, it is never lost. It all comes back to you according to your willingness in giving. Something comes to you a thousand fold more. One is never the loser by being generous, one only gains.


The mystic, therefore, sees the law working in all things. This gives him an insight into life. He begins to see why misery has come, why pleasure has come, why pain has come, why one is prospering and the other not, why one is progressing and another not. All these things become clear to him, because he sees the law working in all things. Therefore, the law of the mystic is not the law of the people. It is the law of nature, it is the real law.


The way of the mystic to perfection is the way of annihilation of the false ego. In man is a real ego, and that real ego is divine. But that divine is covered by a false ego. Every man has a false ego, because it begins to grow from the birth of the child.


There is a story about a dervish. A young man met a dervish on a journey and became very fond of him, as he heard from him beautiful things pertaining to life and nature. When parting the young man asked, "Shall I have the pleasure of seeing you again? Where can I find you?" The dervish gave him the name of a village and the address he gave was the Place of Liars. The young man was amused at the idea that such a lover of truth and reality lived in a place called The Place of Liars. When he came near the village and asked for it, no one knew it, but finally people brought him to the dervish. The first question he asked him was, why he had given that name. The dervish said, "Come along with me". His place was a graveyard, and he said, "Look here, this man who is buried here, they called him once a general, the head of an army. Today you are walking over his head. This man here was a cadi, a leader in the town. Now he is lying here helplessly. Whether he did justice or not, today he is dead. Were they not all liars, calling themselves this and that, and knowing themselves as this and that?  What are they? If they are not this and that today, they were not even then what they claimed to be. Therefore I call them liars". 


Men develop in themselves a false ego, and that false ego is an identification with something that they call themselves to be. They say, "I am a professor, I am a lawyer, I am a barrister, I am a doctor, I am a priest, or a king or a lord or something".  But whatever they claim to be, they are not that. Be their claim humble or proud, they are not that.


Therefore, the perseverance of a mystic in the spiritual path is to wipe it clean as much as he can by meditation, by concentration, by prayer, by study, by everything he does. His one aim is to wipe it clean as much as he can, that one day reality may manifest, which always stays buried under the false ego[5]. By calling the name of God, by repeating the name of God everywhere in the form of prayer or in dhikr or in any other form, what the mystic does is to awaken the spirit of the real ego. That it may manifest just like a spring that rises out of a rock or a mountain. As soon as the power and strength has come into the water, it breaks through the stone and rises as a spring. And so it is with the divine spark in man. By concentration, by meditation it breaks out and manifests. Where this spirit manifests, it washes away the stains of the false ego and becomes a greater and greater stream. It becomes the source of comfort and consolation and healing and happiness for all who come in contact with that spirit.




Question: Is celibacy essential to mysticism?

Answer: A mystic is not limited to any particular rules, but for certain experiences celibacy is of great importance. The real mystic never restricts himself to a certain law, not even to that of celibacy, but if it is necessary in his life that he should fast or be celibate or live a vegetarian life or live in a remote place in seclusion, he can prescribe it to himself and find benefit in it. At the same time one cannot say that a mystic must do this or that or must live a certain life. Solomon in his palace, with all his grandeur, with his kingdom, was as wise a man and as great a mystic as a hermit living in the forest away from all that. One cannot judge a mystic by his appearance. If he is a mystic, he is a king, whether in the midst of the treasures of a court or sitting clothed only in a mantle. He is a king wherever he is. Money, a court, living in the world, do not take him away from mysticism, nor being in solitude.  If he chooses it, it is his fancy. If he wishes to be in the crowd, he may just as well be there. When a person thinks of a high ideal it does not touch him whether he is in the forest, in a remote place, or in a baker's shop. People think that mystics are wonderful people who sit in solitude, who fly in the air. It is good as a conception, but when it comes to the truth there is no aspect of life that can deprive a mystic of his mystical spirit. He may be rich or poor, in the midst of the world or away from everything, he is a mystic just the same.




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