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Volume XII - The Divinity of the Human Soul

Part II: Confessions

Chapter 6

'The lover remains solitary among people and mingles with them as little as water with oil.'
   - Rumi

FOLLOWING my decision and the call of God, I left India in 1910 to sojourn in the Western world, strong in the courage of the most blissful command I had received from my Murshid and in the glory of the noble object he had awakened in my soul.

Naturally it was a great change in my existence to leave India, the most spiritually awakened land, and start for the West, and especially for America, that modern home of material progress. It was the very opposite of the dream I had just experienced. The great activity of the people and the rapidity of things in general, the rush of machinery above, below, and all around; the transitoriness of affairs; men running hither and thither for trains and cars with newspapers and parcels in their hands – all this kept me under a complete spell of silence and bewilderment.

It was as if I had gone to sleep at home and had found myself in a bazaar on awakening. But being a Sufi I very soon became accustomed to this change of life by attuning myself to my surroundings, and I found that they were indeed true lovers of Dunya, the material world about which Rumi has written in his Masnavi.

Every race and nation has its infancy, youth, and age, as also its birth and its death. And just like every individual it even undergoes the evolution one passes through during the different stages of life. For from a philosophical point of view all the sons of the world are like little children, and their most important affairs are of no importance than a child's top. As a new nation America naturally appears childish owing to its youth, although its material progress is proportionately as great as the spiritual progress of India. But America is a land of promise; in time it will rise to be an ideal child among the children of God and a leader of reform.

It was very hard for me to keep a balance between my mission and my profession, which were so different from each other. On the one hand I had to be a teacher, and on the other and artist, and especially the interpreter of an art which was so little known abroad. This could never be understood by a people accustomed only to look at the external aspect of things. It was not as in India where Kabir, the great poet, preached while he sat weaving at his loom; where Guru Nanak taught within his prison. For some of the greatest teachers the East has produced were also masters of music, such as Narada, Tumbara, Bharata Muni, Tansen, Tukaram, Surdas, Amir Khusrau, Mirabai, Avicenna, and Farabi.

Also, being a stranger, without any influence or good introductions, which a teacher never requires in the East, it was a long time before I became acquainted with the right people. In due time, by the mercy of God, my path was opened and I cam into contact with those interested in music.

At first I performed and lectured on music at Columbia University, winning the warm commendation of several professors and students. This was the beginning of my professional career in the West, and I started on a tour comprising nearly all the well-known cities of the United States, where I spoke at universities, before intelligent and appreciative audiences, on philosophy and music. This duality heightened their interest in my work, and as I grew familiar with the American people I began to realize to my joy that, despite their commercial trend and materialistic ambitions, God has not deprived them of that treasure which is love.

Their hearts are even as ours although their artificial life makes it more difficult for them to achieve that peace which we can so easily attain in the calm of the East. They also have a strong desire for spiritual progress, for as far as man is concerned, it matters not whether he belongs to the East or to the West; in time he is inevitably attracted to that eternal Source of Love which can never be eluded.

When I arrived in San Francisco I found much to interest me there, and my desire for the revelation of truth had its outlet. I have never approved of the idea of mission work, especially at this period of human evolution when a new awakening is imminent all over the world. I escaped the appearance of being a religious zealot or one who wishes to convert people, for I bore that message of universal truth which would harmonize East and West by spreading the idea of unity and which is Sufism.

I spoke at the universities of Berkeley and Los Angeles in California, where my music and my discourses on philosophy, as expressed in the realm of art, attracted much attention. Although my professional tour did not permit me to do as much as I otherwise could have done, yet it was the only means of fulfilling my mission, which had no other support than that of God. This tour aided me greatly in establishing the Sufi Order in America, with the following objects at heart:

(1) To establish a human brotherhood with no consideration of caste, creed, race, nation, or religion; for differences only create a lack of harmony and are the source of all miseries.

(2) To spread the wisdom of Sufism, which has been until now a hidden treasure, though it is indeed the property of mankind and has never, belonged to any particular race and religion.

(3) To attain that perfection wherein mysticism is no longer a mystery but redeems the unbeliever from ignorance and the believer from falling a victim to hypocrisy.

(4) To harmonize the East and West in music, the universal language, by an exchange of knowledge and a revival of unity.

(5) To promote Sufi literature, which is most beautiful and instructive in all the aspects of knowledge.

Praise be to the name of God, that those who were attracted by the message of truth were for the most part in earnest and very devout. Indeed, their sympathy made me almost forget my yearning for the East, and I felt at one with them. Some very wealthy mureeds wished me to give up my profession, and proposed to help me materially in order that my needs should be satisfied without trouble, and that I could thus be enabled to devote all my time to the Sufi call.

I gratefully refused this proposal, for, being a Sufi, I did not care about appearances, believing always that the self was the one dependable staff of life; while music, being my very religion, was much more to me than a mere profession, or even than my mission, since I looked upon it as the only gateway to salvation.

My associates, among whom were my two brothers, Maheboob Khan and Musharaff Khan, and my cousin Muhammad Ali Khan, rendered their utmost service by devoting themselves to the establishment of the Sufi Order which, in due course, was set on a firm basis. As mysticism had hitherto been made a hidden and esoteric thing by some teachers who taught it only to those who belonged to their own race, religion, nation, or class, it was my task to impress upon the world that it belonged to them all; and that as I had acquired it from man, I must impart it again to man, without questioning his right, his caste, or his creed.

After my American journeying I came to Europe and visited England, where I immediately sought for my own countrymen in the hope of seeing familiar faces once again, as I had beheld so few since leaving India. But to my great disappointment I discovered them to be the very reverse of my expectations; some seemed to be avoiding their fellow country-men purposely, and the others were set on keeping to their own clique. This revealed a wrong influence of Western culture upon their lives.

At last, by continual effort, I gathered my spiritual fellows from among the Europeans around me, and these proved to be more at one with my soul than my own people. I found much more sympathy and response from the English than I had ever expected from them when in India. Their gentle and courteous nature revealed a sharp difference between the Old World and the New. But there was little curiosity concerning India and her people, and I found it very difficult at first to come into contact with minds open to philosophy.

It was on hearing the voice of the Suffragettes that I felt a new religion of sex arising, which would bring freedom to women in all phases of life. Woman seemed to me to be prepared for science, art, religion, and philosophy, while her suffering in life also brought her nearer to the wider fields of intellect. I saw a lack of harmony between men and women, that harmony upon which the true happiness of nations depends. The secret of this sad state, which is unknown to either sex, lies in the lack of thought cultivation and in the desire for worldly gain at the sacrifice of all else, while both sexes must meet on the same plane of evolution before the ideal phase can possibly be reached.

I appeared several times in public, and eventually before royalty, and thus prepared the ground for sowing the seed of Sufism in England. A Sufi Publishing Society was established, a most necessary organ for the propagation and maintenance of the Order, founded with the laudable object of publishing works on both ancient and modern mysticism, philosophy, religion, art, science, literature, and music.

My journey to Paris was more for music than for philosophy. Through the kind efforts of such friends as Debussy, the famous composer, I was able to carry out my mission through the medium of my art with great success. As my long stay in the West, as well as my close friendship with several musical scholars, had trained my ear to Western music, I especially appreciated that of France, which is so full of love and emotion. I spoke at the Musical Congress, the Musee Guimet, and at the University. The sensitive and idealistic tendency of the French helps to develop those qualities of the heart, which are attuned to devotion. Their Catholic training also influences them towards the devotional aspect of worship.

My visit to Russia struck another chord in my nature, for it recalled the East to me again. I found the people open both to modern progress and ancient thought. I met the leading musicians, poets, and literary men, who proved to be absorbed in their work, appreciative, kind, and hospitable, all of which promises much for their national advancement. Their voice cultivation and keen interest in all aspects of art especially pleased me. This concern shown by many prominent Russians made a lasting impression upon me. I also found there that Eastern type of discipleship which is natural to the nation where religion and self-sacrifice are still in existence, although the bigotry of the Orthodox Church stands in the way of the highest spiritual awakening.

Before I could bring my message of peace to the rest of Europe this distressing war convulsed the world.

checked 18-Oct-2005