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Volume I - The Way of Illumination

Section I - The Way of Illumination

Part II
Some Aspects of Sufism


Every soul at times asks itself, 'Why am I here?' This question arises according to the development of one's intelligence. A man may say, 'I am here to eat, drink, and to make merry,' but this even the animals do; therefore what more has he accomplished by being human? Another might affirm that the attainment of power and position is important, but he must know that both of these are transitory. Power of any kind has its fall as well as its rise. All things we possess are taken from others, and others in their turn await with outstretched hands to seize them.

A man may say, 'We are here to gain honor.' In this case someone has to be humbled in order to give him the honor he seeks; but he in his turn may have to be humbled by a still more ardent seeker of honor. We may think that being loved is all-important, but we should know that the beauty in ourselves which makes another love us, is transient. Furthermore the beauty we possess may pale in comparison with the beauty of another. When we seek the love of another we are not only dependent upon their love, but are ourselves devoid of love. If we think that it is desirable to love someone who deserves our love, we are mistaken, for we are always liable to be disappointed in the object of our love, who may perhaps never prove to be our ideal. One is led to suppose and believe that virtue is the only thing that matters in life, but it will be found that the greater number of sufferers from moral hallucination are to be met with among the self-righteous.

Then the only purpose of our life here on earth, if there be any, is the successful attainment of life's demands. It may seem strange at first sight that all which life demands should be allowable and worthwhile attaining; but on a closer study of life we see that the demands of our external self are the only ones we know, and we are ignorant of the demands of the true self, our inner life. For instance, we know that we want good food and nice clothes, comfort of living and every convenience for moving about; honor, possessions, and all necessary means for the satisfaction of our vanity, all of which for the moment appear to us as our life's only demands; but neither they nor their joy remain with us constantly. We then come to think that what we had was but a little and that perhaps more would satisfy us, and still more would suffice our need; but this is not so. Even if the whole universe were within our grasp it would be impossible fully to satisfy our life's demands. This shows that our true life has quite different demands from those with which we are familiar. It does not want the joy experienced by this individual self only; it desires joy from all around. It does not wish for a momentary peace, but for one that is everlasting. It does not desire to love a beloved held in the arms of mortality. It needs a beloved to be always before it. It does not want to be loved only for today and perhaps not tomorrow. It wishes to float in the ocean of love.

It is therefore that the Sufi seeks God as his love, lover and beloved, his treasure, his possession, his honor, his joy, his peace; and his attainment in its perfection alone fulfills all demands of life both here and hereafter.

Then again it may be said, there is a purpose above each purpose, and there is again a purpose under each purpose; and yet beyond and beneath all purposes there is no purpose. The creation is, because it is.

Life is a journey from one pole to another, and the perfection of the conscious life is the final destiny of the imperfect life. In other words, every aspect of life in this world of variety gradually evolves from imperfection to perfection; and if life's evolution were not so in its nature, there would be no difference between life and death, for life on the surface is nothing but the phenomena of contrast. This, then, is another way of expressing what is the purpose of life.


One may try to see from the point of view of another as well as from one's own, and so give freedom of thought to everybody because one demands it oneself; one may try to appreciate what is good in another, and overlook what one considers bad; if somebody behaves selfishly towards one, one may take it naturally, because it is human nature to be selfish, and so one is not disappointed; but if one appears oneself to be selfish, one should take oneself to task and try to improve. There is not anything one should not be ready to tolerate, and there is nobody whom one should not forgive. Never doubt those whom you trust; never hate those whom you love; never cast down those whom you once raise in your estimation. Wish to make friends with everyone you meet; make an effort to gain the friendship of those you find difficult; become indifferent to them only of you cannot succeed in your effort. Never wish to break the friendship once made.

If any one causes harm, one should try to think it is because one has deserved it in some way, or else it is that the one who harms knows no better. Remember that every soul that raises its head in life gets much opposition from the world. It has been so with all the prophets, saints and sages, so one cannot expect to be exempt. In this is the law of nature, and also God's plan working and preparing something desirable. No one is either higher or lower than oneself. In all sources that fulfill one's need, one may see one source, God, the only source; and in admiring and in bowing before and in loving anyone, one may consider one is doing it to God. In sorrow one may look to God, and in joy one may thank Him. One does not bemoan the past, nor worry about the future; one tries only to make the best of today. One should know no failure, for even in a fall there is a stepping-stone to rise; but to the Sufi the rise and fall matter little. One does not repent for what one has done, since one thinks, says, and does what one means. One does not fear the consequences of performing one's wish in life, for what will be, will be.


Every being has a definite vocation, and his vocation is the light which illuminates his life. The man who disregards his vocation is a lamp unlit. He who sincerely seeks his real purpose in life is himself sought by that purpose. As he concentrates on that search a light begins to clear his confusion, call it revelation, call it inspiration, call it what you will. It is mistrust that misleads. Sincerity leads straight to the goal.

Each one has his circle of influence, large or small; within his sphere so many souls and minds are involved; with his rise, they rise; with his fall, they fall. The size of a man's sphere corresponds with the extent of his sympathy, or we may say, with the size of his heart. His sympathy holds his sphere together. As his heart grows, his sphere grows; as his sympathy is withdrawn or lessened, so his sphere breaks up and scatters. If he harms those who live and move within his sphere, those dependent upon him or upon his affection, he of necessity harms himself. His house or his palace or his cottage, his satisfaction or his disgust in his environment is the creation of his own thought. Acting upon his thoughts, and also part of his own thoughts, are the thoughts of those near to him; others depress him and destroy him, or they encourage and support him, in proportion as he repels those around him by his coldness, or attracts them by his sympathy.

Each individual composes the music of his own life. If he injures another, he brings disharmony. When his sphere is disturbed, he is disturbed himself, and there is a discord in the melody of his life. If he can quicken the feeling of another to joy or to gratitude, by that much he adds to his own life; he becomes himself by that much more alive. Whether conscious of it or not, his thought is affected for the better by the joy or gratitude of another, and his power and vitality increase thereby, and the music of his life grows more in harmony.


To the view of a Sufi this universe is nothing but a manifestation of the divine Being, and this divine manifestation is called in Sufi terms Nur-Zahur. The supreme God, from His existence as the single and only Being, has, so to speak, journeyed as far as He could towards the surface. Through His activity and His will behind it, He has manifested on the surface, from the heavens He has descended upon earth. From the most unconscious state of existence, blind, unaware of His being, as is the rock, He has gradually awakened to consciousness of the surroundings on the surface. Also in the Quran, one finds the idea that the world was created out of darkness. The gradual progress of the journey brings the Inner Being to the condition of a plant, flower and fruit, then to the state of worm, germ, and animal, until He manifests as man, Ashraf al-Makhluqat, the ruler of this universe and the controller of the heavens. In man He reaches the final goal of His destiny, when He realizes Himself as the whole being, which He has not done hitherto. God has made man in His image, as is said in the Bible.

Hazrat Ali says, 'The secret of God can be studied in His nature.' Every traveler on foot as a rule lights his torch at the approach of night. So also this heavenly traveler. Seeing darkness overwhelming Him in the lower spheres on His path, He lights a torch. It is the light of this torch which is called in the Quran Nur-i Muhammadi, that has guided Him to the surface, whence He could clearly discern and find His path back. To the knower's eye, this Nur, this light, is the real Muhammad. This light it is which has beamed forth through all the Masters of humanity and is known as the Light of Guidance.

It is the nature of every luminous object to shed light all around, and yet a particular beam of light coming forth from it gives more illumination than light spread all around. This may be seen in the light of the sun. The souls which happen to be in the zone of the beam of the Light of Guidance, whether by intention or accident, have been known to the world as the chosen ones of God. They saw God sooner, they heard Him more quickly than others, and they have been nearer to Him than others. They may be called the elect of God as it is said in the Song to the Soul of the Saint:

Before the righteous soul,
Servant of God, even the angels bend;
His lotus feet the long-desired goal
Where weary pilgrims find their journey's end
In pardon for their sin.
Thus, as the saint God comes, and man is healed,
And fortunate that happy one, within
Whose heart the mystic vision is revealed.

All souls since the creation of man who have been in this light have been Masters, coming one after the other connected by the link of the one current which first springs from the innermost being and broadens and expands in this universe.

The saints, sages, and mystics, who fare forth from the highest spheres, are attracted by this light, and they seek refuge in it from life's dark clouds. The invisible ones, who floated in this light even before man was created, are the angels.

The divine light has shone upon the mineral and vegetable kingdoms; and there too it has shown its phenomena, although its full radiance has been reached only in man. It can be seen in the developed intelligence, and this can be observed in the cosmic system as well as in the mineral and vegetable kingdoms. It is the light of the sun which shines upon the moon and the planets; each star is but a reflection of the same light; thus the whole cosmic system is illuminated by the sun alone.

In the vegetable kingdom we see one little plant, a fruit or flower, spreading its influence around it, covering that part of the forest in time with the same sweet fruit or with the same fragrant flower.

When we watch the animal kingdom closely, we see the special gift of intelligence in some animals. We find that among all birds there is a leader for every flock. Among the elephants of the forest especially, there is the wise elephant who walks in front of the herd, carefully caring the stem of a tree with his trunk. He uses it as a stick, and examines with it the path he walks upon to discover whether there are any pits in the way, for his own safety as well as that of his followers. In the jungle a troop of monkeys can be seen following the command of one among them. After he has jumped, they all jump. The foxes and dogs in the jungle have among them one who is most wary, who gives the alarm before every coming danger. In a flock of birds one wise and courageous bird leads the whole flock. And this is the case with many other birds and beasts also. This faculty of guidance, with the maturity of intelligence, fulfills the purpose of manifestation in the evolution of man.

The Quran tells that man was destined to be the Khalif of all beings, which can be rightly understood when we see that all beings in the world serve man, are being controlled and ruled by him. Obeying his command. The secret of their nature is disclosed to him, that he may use them for the purpose for which they are meant. Moreover it is man who may rightly be called the seed of God, for in him alone intelligence develops so perfectly that he not only appreciates God's works and worships Him, but he is even enabled to attain self-sufficiency and all-pervading consciousness of the everlasting life of God. Man realizes his perfection in God, and God realizes His perfection in man.

We see this tendency of guidance in a small degree in parents, who, whatever their own life may have been, yet wish their children to benefit by their experience – that the children may live rightly. There are some people to be found, in this world of selfishness, who warn their friends against going astray; and we find a leader in a community who sacrifices his own life and welfare for the benefit of his fellow men, uniting them in the bond of love and harmony. The same attribute of self-sacrifice, in its higher grade of evolution, is seen among the Masters of humanity, who act as officials of the infinite government and are known in the world as messengers. Among them are holy beings of different grades, designed by Sufis as Wali, ghaus, Qutb, Nabi, and Rasul. They differ one from the other in degree, according to the depth to which they penetrate into the world unseen, or to the breadth of the space they occupy in the universal consciousness, and also according to the width of the circle of humanity that is placed in their charge for its guidance. Nabi is the guide of a community, Rasul has a message for the whole of humanity, and each has a certain cycle of time for his message.

This can be seen by an intelligent study of the cosmos. The laws of nature teach us and prove to the knower the influence of each planet upon souls, both individually and collectively, as families, nations, and races; and even upon the whole world, the condition of each and all being in accordance with the nature of the planet under whose influence they are. Over birth, death, and every rise and fall, and over all life's affairs the planet acts as ruler. If planets, the reflections of the sun, have power upon the external affairs of humanity, how much greater must the power of the God-conscious, the reflections of the divine light, of which the sun is merely a shadow! These are the Awatads, whom the Hindus call Avatars, who are not in power, as the earthly kings are, only for the time of their life on earth, but remain in power even after they have passed from this earthly plane. The knower therefore sees in the Masters of humanity, not only the deliverers of the divine message, but also the spiritual sovereigns, controllers of the universe during their cycles.


Every aspect of the life of an individual and of the life of the world has its cycle. In the life of an individual the period from his birth to his death is the first part, and from death to assimilation in the Infinite the second part. The sub-cycles in man's life are from infancy to youth where one part ends, and from youth to old age which is the close. There are again under-cycles: infancy, childhood, youth, maturity, senility; and there are the cycles of man's rise and fall.

So there is a cycle of the life of the world, and the cycle of the creation of man and his destruction, the cycles of the reign of races and nations, and cycles of time, such as a year, a month, a week, day, and hour.

The nature of each of these cycles has three aspects, the beginning, the culmination and the end, which are named Uruj, Kamal and Zaval; like, for example, new moon, full moon, and waning moon; sunrise, zenith, and sunset. These cycles, sub-cycles and under-cycles, and the three aspects of their nature, are divided and distinguished by the nature and course of light. As the light of the sun and moon and of the planets plays the most important part in the life of the world, individually and collectively, so the light of the Spirit of Guidance also divides time into cycles. And each cycle has been under the influence of a certain Master with many controllers under him, working as the spiritual hierarchy which controls the affairs of the whole world, mainly those concerning the inward spiritual condition of the world. The Masters have been numberless since the creation of man; they have appeared with different names and forms; but He alone was disguised in them who is the only master of eternity.

Rejection of the stranger, and belief only in the one, whom he has once acknowledged, has kept man in darkness for ages. If he believed one message he would not accept the succeeding message, brought by another Master, who was perhaps a stranger to him. This has caused many troubles in the lives of all the Masters. Man refused to believe the Masters and their teachings, whether of the past or future, if their names were not written in the particular tradition he believed, or if he had not heard their names in the legends handed down for ages among his people. Therefore the people of that part of the world who have acknowledged the Hebrew prophets do not for instance recognize Avatars such as Rama, and Krishna, or Vishnu and Shiva simply because they cannot find these names in their scriptures. The same thing occurs in the other part of humanity which does not count Abraham, Moses or Jesus among its Devatas, 1 as it does not find those names written in the legends with which it is familiar. Even if it were true that Brahma was the same Devata whom the Hebrews called Abraham, and if Christ was the same Master whom the Hindus have called Krishna, yet man would not recognize as one those whom he has distinguished as different, having a higher opinion of one of them and a lower opinion of the other.

If the Masters were not the same in their mortal garb, yet in spirit they were one; if it were not so, how could one and the same truth be disclosed by them all? The Masters of humanity have been the elder brothers who guided the younger ones out of their brotherly love, and owing to their love of the Father. It is humane to sympathize with one's fellow man when he is striving for something and cannot gain it, and to help him to the attainment of the ideal for which he strives.

This is very well illustrated by the myth of Ramachandra. It is said in the Purana that once Sita, the consort of Ramachandra, was staying in the guardianship of Vashita Rishi with her sons. The younger son Lahu, one day went to see the neighboring town. He saw Kalanki, a most beautiful horse, running about the city without a rider. When he inquired whose the horse was, people told him that this horse had been let loose so that whoever was able to catch it should be made the king of that kingdom. This tempted the youth, and he ran after the horse in order to catch it. He continued running a long time, and met with nothing but disappointments. Every time he came close to the horse, thinking now he would catch it, it slipped from his hand. When he reached the point of utter disappointment, he saw his brother coming in search of him, sent by his mother, and he told him that he would not come back till he had caught the horse. The brother said, 'That is not the way to catch a horse; in this way you will perhaps run forever and will not be able to catch it. Therefore, instead of running after the horse, run to meet it.' This caused the younger brother to succeed in a moment's time. Then both brothers were taken to the presence of Ramachandra, their father, who embraced both, acknowledging the guidance of the one and the achievement of the other.

All the Teachers who came before taught for whatever community or group of people they were born, and prophesied the coming of the next Teacher, foreseeing the possibility and the necessity of the continuation of the Message until its fulfillment.

That the Messengers came successively did not mean that they were to give different messages, but that they should correct the corruption made in the message of the past by its followers. Also to revive principles in order to suit the evolution of the period, and to recall the same truth to the human mind which had been taught by the past Masters but had become lost from memory. It was not their personal message, but the divine message. They were obliged to correct the errors made by the misinterpretation of the religions, thereby renewing the same truth given by the past Masters which had in the course of time been changed from its real character. Man has ignorantly quarreled about the names and forms of Masters, traditions, principles, and their limited groups, forgetting that they are one in that which unites them.

Their messages differ from one another in their outer appearance, each message being given in accordance with the age of man's evolution, and also in order to add a particular part in the course of divine wisdom. Certain laws and principles were prescribed by them to suit the country where the message was given, the climate, the period, customs, manners and requirements.

It was most necessary for the Messengers to claim some exceptional position which might attract humanity to receive the message they had to give. Some were called Avatar; an incarnation of Brahma, such as Vishnu, Shiva, Rama, and Krishna, while others were called Payghambar, prophet, and intercessor. Their followers have had foolish disputes about the greatness of their assumption, or about what they did and taught, or about the sort of life they led while admiring and hating according to their personal liking.

The divine message has always been sent through those fitly endowed. For instance when wealth was esteemed the message was delivered by King Solomon; when beauty was worshipped, Joseph, the most handsome, gave the message; when music was regarded as celestial David gave his message in song. When there was curiosity about miracles Moses brought his message. When sacrifice was highly esteemed Abraham gave the message. When heredity was recognized, Christ gave his message as the Son of God. When democracy was necessary, Muhammad gave his message as the Servant of God, one like all and among all. This put an end to the necessity for more prophets, because of the democratic nature of his proclamation and message. He proclaimed la ilaha illa-llah (none exists but God). God constitutes the whole being, singly, individually and collectively, and every soul has the source of the divine message within itself. This is the reason why there is no longer the need for mediation, for a third person as a savior between man and God. For man has evolved enough to conceive the idea of God being all and all being God, and has become tolerant enough to believe in the divine message given by one like himself, who is liable to birth, death, joy, and sorrow, and all the natural vicissitudes of life.

All Masters from the time of Adam till the time of Muhammad have been the one embodiment of the Master-ideal. When Jesus Christ is represented as saying, 'I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end,' it is not meant that either the name or the visible person of Jesus Christ is the Alpha and Omega, but the Master-spirit within. It was this spirit which proclaimed this, moved by its realization of past, present, and future life, confident of its eternity. It is the same spirit which spoke through Krishna, saying, 'We appear on earth when Dharma is corrupted,' which was long before the coming of Christ. During his divine absorption Muhammad said, 'I existed even before this creation and shall remain after its assimilation.' In the holy traditions it is said, 'We have created thee of Our light and from thy light We have created the universe.' This is not said of the external person of Muhammad as known by this name. It refers to the spirit which spoke through all the blessed tongues and yet remained formless, nameless, birthless and deathless.

But the blind world, absorbed in its phenomena and impressed by a certain name and form, has clung to the name, forgetting the true being. It is this ignorance which has divided the children of men into so many divisions and separated one from the other by their own delusions: whereas in reality there exists one religion and one single Master, the only God. Man has considered his faithfulness to the Master in whom he believed his true religion; and to believe in the next teacher he considered a breach of faith. This is pictured in the following allegory.


There was a man living with his wife and children in a little village. He was called away by the inner voice of his soul, and he renounced his life with his wife and children and went into the wilderness, to a mountain called Sinai, taking with him his eldest son, the only one of his children who was grown up. The children having a faint remembrance of their father wondered at times where he was, and longed to see him; they were then told by their mother that he had gone away long ago, and perhaps had passed from this earth. At times in answer to their longing she would say, 'Perhaps he will come or send word, for so he promised before his departure.' Sometimes the children grieved at their father's absence, their father's silence, and whenever they felt the need for him to be among them they would comfort themselves with the hope, 'perhaps some day he will be with us as he has promised.'

After some time the mother also passed away, and the children were left with guardians who were entrusted with their care, together with the care of the wealth left by their parents.

After some years, when their brother's smooth face had become bearded and when his cheerful look had given place to a serious expression, and his fair skin, now in the strong sun for years, had turned brown, he came home. He went away with his father in grandeur; he returns in poverty and knocks at the door. The servants do not recognize him, and do not allow him to enter. His language is changed; the long stay in a foreign country has made him forget all. He says to the children, 'Come, O brothers, ye are my father's children. I have come from my father, who is perfectly peaceful and happy in his retirement in the wilderness, and has sent me to bring you his love and his message, that your life may become worthwhile, and that you may have the great happiness of meeting your father, who loved you so greatly.'

They answered, 'How can it be that thou comest from our father who has been gone so long, and has given us no sign?' He said, 'If ye cannot understand, ask your mother. She will be able to tell you.' But the mother had already passed away; only her grave was left, which could never tell. He said, 'Then consult your guardians. Perhaps they will be able to tell you from the recollections of the past; or things that our mother may have said to them might bring to their memory the words of our father about my coming.' The guardians had grown careless, indifferent, blind, quite happy in the possession of all the wealth, and enjoying the treasured gold left in their charge, and using their undisputed power and complete hold over all the children. Their first thought on hearing he had come was of annoyance. When they saw him they were quite heedless, for they found in him no trace of what he had been like before, and as they saw he was without power or wealth, and was altered in looks, in dress, in everything, they cared not for him. They said, 'By what authority claimest thou to be the son of our father, of our master, who has long since passed away, and may perhaps be dwelling in the heavens by now?' He then said to the children, 'I love you, O children of my father, although you cannot recognize me, and even if you do not acknowledge me as your brother, take my helping word for your father's word. Do good in life and avoid evil, for every work has its reward like unto it.'

The older ones, who were hardened in their ways, paid no heed, and the little ones were too young to understand; but the middle ones who hearkened to his words followed him quietly, won by his magnetism and charmed by his loving personality.

The guardians became alarmed at the thought that the children in their charge might be tempted and carried off. They thought, 'Some day even the remaining ones may be charmed by his magic; and our control over them, with the possession of their wealth and our comfort in their home, and our importance and honor in their eyes will all be lost if we let this go on any longer.' They made up their minds to kill him and incited the remaining brothers against him, declaring before them the pity of their dear brothers being led astray and carried away from their home and comfort, and how unfounded was the claim the made.

They came up to this man and arrested him, and bound his arms and legs threw him in the sea. But those children who had looked upon him as their guide and brother grieved and lamented at this. The brother consoled them, saying, 'I will come to you again, O children of my father. Do not give up hope and the things that you have not understood, being young will be taught to you fully; and as these people have behaved so harshly towards me, it will be shown them what it is to be heedless of our father's message brought by his own son; and you will be enlightened, O children of my father, with the same light which I came to help you.'

This man was a master swimmer. The sea had no power to drown him. He seemed to them to have sunk, but then he drew his hands and feet out of the knots, rose upon the water and began to swim in a masterly way, as he had been taught. He went to the father in the wilderness and told him all his experiences on his long journey, and showed his love and desire to obey his father's will and fulfill all his commandments.  To go to the children of his father again with renewed strength and power, in order to bring them to that ideal which was the only desire of the father.

A bearer of the message of their father appeared again after a few years. He did not insist on proving himself to be the son of their father, but tried to guide them and help them towards the ideal set for them by their father. The guardians disturbed already by one who came and went, insulted him, stoned him, and drove him out of their sight.; but he, renewed in his power, strength, and courage, and coming fresh from the mighty influence of his father, withstood it courageously with sword and shield, and sought refuge among those of the brothers who responded to him and sympathized with him on his last coming. They said, 'Surely he who came before was from our father, whom our brothers did not recognize and have sunk in the sea, but we are awaiting his coming, for he promised us that he would come.' He answered, 'It is myself who promised, and went to our father, and now I have come, for the promise given to you was of two natures: 'I will come again' was said to those who could recognize me in a different garb, suited to the time and the situation. 'I will send another' or 'Another will come' was said to those who were likely to be confused by the external garb. It was said to them so that they might not refuse the word of guidance sent by our most loving father.' They understood his word better, but refused to acknowledge him to be the same as the first, whom they had formerly seen and now expected. He spoke, and he showed in his works the signs of their father, but they clung to the person whom they had seen at first, forgetting his word and their father.

But the little ones, who had not known him before, felt the tie of the blood relationship, for neither were their hearts hardened nor were they set strongly in their ideas. They loved him, and they recognized him more than had ever been his experience at his former coming, while the other brothers, under the influence of the guardians, fought and rebelled against all that this man did. But, in spite of all their resistance and the suffering caused to him, he guided the children of his father, as many as he could, until the name of his father was again glorified and his brothers were guided, directly or indirectly, through the puzzles of the world and the secrets of the heavens.

This story illustrates what has happened in the lives of the messengers, especially of Jesus Christ and Muhammad, though the terms Father, Son, Brother, are merely metaphorical. There has been one Teacher only, and He alone will be. All the names which the world has fought over, are His names, and all the physical forms that have won the adoration of the truth-seeking world are His forms. Therefore, though the foolish reject the message, there are wise ones who accept it.


There are two aspects of intelligence: intellect, and wisdom.

Intellect is the knowledge of names and forms, their character and nature, gathered from the external world. It shows in an infant from birth, when he begins to be curious about all he sees; then, by storing in his mind the various forms and figures he sees he recognizes them as an addition to his knowledge of variety. Man thus gathers the knowledge of numberless forms of the whole world in his mind and holds them; some of them stand out luminously and predominate over, and cover, others. He also retains those forms which interest him. The nature of forms is to overpower one another in proportion to their material concreteness. The more concrete they are, the more luminous they appear; so the intellectual person takes an interest in their variety and law of change, and as knowledge is the food of the soul, he at least becomes increasingly interested in the knowledge of names and forms, and calls that 'learning'. This becomes his world, although it neither gives him a sense of unchanging comfort, nor does he thereby gain an everlasting peace.

Wisdom is contrary to the above-named knowledge. It is the knowledge which is illumined by the light within; it comes with the maturity of the soul, and opens up the sight to the similarity of all things and beings, as well as the unity in names and forms. The wise man penetrates the spirit of all things; he sees the human in the male and female, and the racial origin which unites nations. He sees the human in all people and the divine immanence in all things in the universe, until the vision of the whole being becomes to him the vision of the One Alone, the most beautiful and beloved God.

In giving a definition for some terms used in esotericism, one may say that consciousness is the wakeful state of the knowing faculty. Knowledge is that of which the consciousness is conscious. Conscience is a sense which is born when consciousness holds before itself a scale, on the one side an action and on the other side an ideal. Intelligence is the grasping faculty of consciousness which by every means recognizes, distinguishes, perceives, and conceives all that is around it.

Ignorance is the state of the mind when it is in darkness.

When mental vibrations flow into the astral plane, without conscious direction, it is called imagination; when they do so under conscious direction, it is called thought. When the imagination is experienced during sleep it is called a dream.

Impression is a feeling which rises as a reaction on receiving a reflection coming from the external world (physical, mental, or astral).

Intuition is an inner message, given in the nature of warning or guidance, perceived by the mind independently of any external source.

Inspiration is the rising of a stream from the depth of the heart of the jinns and manifests in the realm of poetry, music, painting, sculpture, or any art.

Vision is a spiritual dream which is witnessed either when awake or asleep. It is called a dream because the radiance of the vision brings about a semi-sleep to the seer, even when awake.

Revelation is the disclosing of the inner self. The consciousness throughout manifestation facing towards the surface, turns its back to the world within, the sight of which is therefore lost to it. But when it begins to look within, the world unseen is disclosed, and Choudatabaq, the fourteen planes, consisting of the seven heavens and the seven earths, are revealed. 'The veil shall be lifted from thine eyes and thy sight shall be keen', as it is said in the Quran. And annihilation (Fana) is equivalent to 'losing the false self (Nafs)', which again culminates in what is called Eternal Life (Baqa).


In the life of Bullah Shah, the great saint of Punjab, one reads a most instructive account of his early training when he was sent to school with boys of his own age. The teacher taught him Alif, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet. The other boys in his class finished the whole alphabet while he was mastering the same letter. When weeks had passed, and the teacher saw that the child did not advance any further than the first letter Alif, he thought that he must be deficient and sent him home to his parents, saying, 'Your boy is deficient, I cannot teach him.'

The parents did all in their power for him, placing him under the tuition of various teachers, but he made no progress. They were disappointed, and the boy in the end escaped from home, so that he should no longer be a burden to his own people. He then lived in the forest and saw the manifestation of Alif which has taken form in the forest as the grass, the leaf, the tree, branch, fruit, and flower; and the same Alif was manifested as the mountain and hill, the stones and rocks. He witnessed the same as a germ, insect, bird and beast, and the same Alif in himself and others. He thought of one, saw one, felt one, realized one, and none else besides.

After mastering this lesson thoroughly he returned to pay his respects to his old teacher who had expelled him from school. The teacher, absorbed in the vision of variety, had long ago forgotten him; but Bullah Shah could not forget his old teacher who had taught him his first and most inspiring lesson which had occupied almost all his life. He bowed most humbly before the teacher and said, 'I have prepared the lesson you so kindly taught me; will you teach me anything more there may be to learn?' The teacher laughed at him and thought to himself, 'After all this time this simpleton has remembered me.' Bullah Shah asked permission to write the lesson, and the teacher replied in jest, 'Write on this wall.' He then made the sign of Alif in the wall, and it [the wall] divided into two parts [making the sign of Alif]. The teacher was astounded at this wonderful miracle and said, 'Thou art my teacher! That which thou hast learnt in the one letter Alif, I have not been able to master with all my learning,' and Bullah Shah sang this song:

Oh! friend now quit thy learning,
One Alif is all thou dost need.
By learning thou hast loaded my mind,
With books thou hast filled up thy room.
But the true knowledge was lost by pursuing the false,
So quit now, oh friend, the pursuit of thy learning.

Every form seems to be derived from another, all figures being derived from Alif which is originally derived from a dot and represents zero, nothingness 2. It is that nothingness which creates the first form Alif. It is natural for everyone when writing to make a dot as soon as the pen touches the paper, and the letters forming the words hide the origin. In like manner the origin of the One Being is hidden in His manifestation. That is why Allah, whose name comes from Alif, is hidden under His own manifestation. The same form of Alif is the figure one in English, and in both aspects this form reveals its meaning. This meaning in its various forms is seen in all aspects of nature. As Omar Khayyam says.

A hair perhaps divides the false and true;
Yes, and a single Alif were the clue,

Could you but find it – to the treasure house,
And, peradventure, to the Master too.

My soul said, 'I desire the mystic knowledge:
Teach me if it be in thy power.'

I said, 'Alif.' She answered, 'Say no more;
If one is at home, a single letter is enough.'


It is very well known to all who have any knowledge of Sufis and Sufism, that music plays a great part in their spiritual attainment. The Chishtis, a particular school of Sufis, take a special interest in music. They call it Ghiza-i-ruh, the food of the soul, and they listen to the Qawwali, the special songs sung at their Sama 3, the contemplative musical assembly. It seems as if some potent life were there which is rarely met with elsewhere. The atmosphere is charged with magnetism, harmony, and peace which are emitted by the illuminated souls present. The Shaikh, the teacher, sits in the midst, and the other Sufis sit around him, and invoke one after the other the sacred names of God, and repeat surahs of the Quran turn by turn. This is an introduction which tunes the heart of each one present to its proper pitch, the hearts that are already prepared by zikr, the esoteric contemplation.

Their way of contemplation sets the heart in rhythm, which makes even the circulation of the blood regular, and the pulsation and the whole mechanism of the body become rhythmic. When the mind is also set in rhythm by its awakened response to tone, the Sufi's whole being becomes musical. This is why the Sufi can harmonize with each and all. Music makes all things in the world living to him and makes him alive to all things, and he begins to realize how life is dead to many in the world, and how many are dead to life.

There are different grades of progress, and the verses that are sung by the Qawwals are also of different kinds. Some verses are on praise of the beauty of the ideal which Sufis in the grade of Fana-fi-Shaikh enjoy. In this grade are those who see the divine immanence as the ideal, walking on earth.

There are verses which speak about the high merits of the 'ideal-in-name-and-not-in-form,' which appeals to those who are in the grade of Fana-fi-Rasul. These have not seen the ideal, neither have they heard its voice, but hey have known and loved that ideal which alone exists as far as they know.

Then there are verses which speak of the ideal beyond name and form. To these verses those respond who are in the grade of Fana-fi-Allah; these are conscious of their ideal as beyond name and form, qualities and merits which cannot even be confined in knowledge, being beyond all limitations. Sometimes the coming of the ideal is pictured in verses which describe the sweetness of voice, the beauty of countenance, the grace of movement, the praise, the merits, the qualities, and the winning ways of the ideal. There are verses also in which are pictured the lover in love, his agony in separation, his caution in the presence of the beloved, his humility, his envy and rivalry, and all the natural vicissitudes of a lover. It is poetry, music, and art combined. It is not a simple song; it creates the whole vision in the realm of music before the mind of the Sufi who is capable of visualizing it against positive environments. In other words the Sufi produces his ideal vision in his imagination, by the help of music.

In the Qawwali the nature of love, lover, and beloved is expressed. In this the poetry of the Sufi excels the love poems known to the world, for in it is revealed the secret of love, lover and beloved, the three in one. Apart from the philosophy of the whole being, one can see the delicacy and complexity of their poems, rich with conventions and adorned with metaphor. Hafiz, Rumi, Jami, and many others among the Sufi poets have expressed the secret of the inner and outer being in the terminology of love.

The Qawwals, the singers, sing these verses distinctly, so that every word may become clear to the hearers, that the music may not hide the poetry; and the tabla 4 players who accompany the singers emphasize the accents and keep the rhythm even, so that the being of the Sufi, already set to music, joins with the rhythm and harmony of the music. On these occasions the condition of the Sufi becomes different. His emotional nature at this time has its full play; his joy and feeling cannot be explained and language is inadequate to express them. This state is termed Hal or Wajd, the sacred ecstasy, and is regarded with respect by all present in the assembly. (Wajd means 'presence', Hal means 'condition'.)

This state of ecstasy is not different from the natural condition of man when touched on hearing a kind word spoken, or moved to tears either on separation from the one he loves. Or on the departure of his object of love. Or when overjoyed on the arrival of his long-expected beloved.

In the case of a Sufi the same feeling becomes sacred, his ideal being higher.

A pilgrimage is the same as an ordinary journey the only difference being in the aim. In a journey the aim is earthly, whereas the pilgrimage is made for a sacred purpose. Sometimes on hearing music, the Sufi is seen to be deeply touched, sometimes his feeling finds vent in tears, sometimes his whole being, filled with music and joy, expresses itself in motion which in Sufi terms is called Raqs.

When man analyzes the objective world and realizes the inner being, what he learns first and last is that his whole vision of life is created of love; love itself being life, all will in time be absorbed in it.

It is the lover of God whose heart is filled with devotion, who can commune with God; not the one who makes an effort with his intellect to analyze God. In other words, it is the lover of God who can commune with Him, not the student of His nature. It is the 'I' and 'you' which divide, and yet it is 'I' and 'you' which are the necessary conditions of love. Although 'I' and 'you' divide the one life into two, it is love that connects them by the current which is established between them; and it is this current which is called communion, which runs between man and God. To the question, 'What is God?' and 'What is man?' the answer is that the soul, conscious of its limited existence, is 'man', and the soul reflected by the vision of the unlimited, is 'God'. In plain words man's self-consciousness is man, and man's consciousness of his highest ideal is God. By communion between these two, in time both become one, as in reality they are already one. And yet the joy of communion is even greater than the joy of at-one-ment, for all joy of life lies in the thought of 'I' and 'you'.

All that man considers beautiful, precious and good is not necessarily in the thing or the being; it is in his ideal; the thing or being causes him to create the beauty, value and goodness in his own mind. Man believes in God by making Him an ideal of his worship, so that he can commune with someone whom he can look up to, in whom he can lay his absolute trust, believing Him to be above the unreliable world, on whose mercy he can depend, seeing selfishness all around him. It is this ideal when made of stone and placed in a shrine which is called an idol of God. When the same ideal is raised to the higher plane and placed in the shrine of the heart, it becomes the ideal of God with whom the believer communes and in whose vision he lives most happily, as happily as could be, in the company of the sovereign of the whole universe.

When this ideal is raised still higher it breaks into the real, and the real light manifests to the godly; the one who was once a believer now becomes the realizer of God.

1  Devatas are deities, divine incarnations
2  In Arabic the zero is written as a dot
3  Sama'  literally means hearing, listening, paying attention
4  tabla is a kind of drum

checked 18-Oct-2005