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The Mystical Ideal

This is a brief excerpt from Pages in the Life of a Sufi written by Inayat Khan's brother Musharaff Khan (1895-1967).

It is not within the scope of this small book to give a detailed account of our travels, or to explain Inayat Khan's philosophy with any fullness. But I may still mention a few of the chief ideas of the Sufi Message which he sought to make more widely known. He was fond of picturing this world and the surrounding space as a vault, a dome, in which every movement and thought has its echo. This echo returns as the answer to each word and deed. Religion is the recognition of this law, and the further one proceeds into the inner and spiritual life, the more clearly one understands reward and punishment, success and failure, the echo and re-echo of cause and effect. It is the desire of the mystic to fill this dome with sounds that are harmonious and pleasing and beneficent to man.

We believe that there is a law and order in the architecture of the Universe. We believe it is possible for man to gain an insight into the working of this law. And that every line of life which gives scope to the intelligence, progresses towards this law and becomes in the end a spiritual life. The nature of this law is symbolically expressed in religion, but with religious people symbolisms may become fixed and lose their original meaning and vitality.

The history and evolution of the world has, according to the Sufi, covered a far vaster period of time than is generally estimated by modern thought. And in his perception, the Universe appears as having its limits, although these are beyond the grasp of human definition. He finds that the whole is subject to a law which works in every part; and that knowledge of a part leads to knowledge of the whole. "Verily not one atom is moved without moving the whole Universe." As Jesus Christ has said, even the hairs of the head are numbered and a sparrow is of account.

But what is the mystical life? "Be ye perfect as your father in Heaven is perfect", this is the divine precept. Mysticism is the progress to this perfection. There are two lines of progress. There is the perpendicular line by which one may rise through purification, by knowledge of the self, into another life, different from this life of the senses and matter, into a spiritual life. And there is the horizontal line of progress, by which, through gradually extending sympathy, one may learn to know and love one's neighbour as one's self, and so learn the divine love which is unlimited. The ancient symbol of the Cross, the cross which every architect will tell you is the basis of every structure, is a symbol of the joining of these two lines of progress towards connection with Divinity. Both lines of progress lead towards the same goal, since spirit and matter are one, both being manifestations of the central Reality.

Seventy thousand veils separate man on earth from God, the One Reality. The veils have given man forgetfulness, nisyan, and for this reason man is called insan. Man is in prison separated from God by these veils, and the whole purpose of Sufism and the mystics is to find a way of liberation from this prison, and to unite him again with God, while still in this body. The body is not to be put off, it is to be made fine, a help and not a hindrance.

The Murshid or teacher in the Sufi teaching helps the disciple, making his way smooth through the different stages of this spiritual path, so that he may overcome the nafs, the false ego, which is the consciousness of the dark veils of separation, and that he may recognize his real self, and regain consciousness of God and of his inheritance as a son of God.

A man feels safe on dry land, for there he can stand firm. But he fears the ocean, for he may drown there, he may lose his life in the deep waters. Thus man fears mysticism; but the mystic risks the life in this everyday world in order to walk also in a world which is not a material world, to walk in a world which in contrast may be called a world of waters. He pictures himself as walking on the waters or as being, like a fish, at home in them. How marvellous that a little fish should know its way in the rivers and seas.

And the mystic describes his sustenance as not only of this world, but as caught for him also in that other world. He has described it as a fish that is caught by a holy virgin, which means by sincerity and purity of motive and purpose. Thus in all countries and ages, the fish has been used as a symbol of the mystical life, and of the mystic food which gives a foretaste of heaven.

The mystic is the free man. In this changing life on earth there is one thing which is real, says the Sufi: that is that part of one's self which receives the impression. Man too often puts himself in a spider's place, making his own web. He becomes so dependent and imprisoned in his web that, which of his thoughts are his own? But the mystic learns through his journeying to be conscious of his immortal soul, and thus he learns freedom, and enters with joy into the service of his life on earth and his divine inheritance. Everyone has at times a high feeling, a heroic feeling, a feeling of liberation, of happiness and gratitude unlimited. To live upon this note is the best prayer. This high feeling is the mystic's reward and his aim. It is his Saki (cup-bearer, wine-giver), offering him his wine, pressed from the vine of life.

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Musharaff Moulamia Khan, Pages in the Life of a Sufi, East-West Publications, 1982

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