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Volume XIV - The Smiling Forehead

Part II - The Deeper Side of Life

Chapter III
Sufi Philosophy

Manifestation - Gravitation - Assimilation - Perfection

THE ABSOLUTE in its manifested or unmanifested condition is intelligence and the different manifestations of this intelligence may be called light, life and love. It is the dense form of the intelligence which is light. As the sun is the source of the moon, of the planets, of the stars, of fire, of the flame, of the glow – of every aspect of light – so the supreme Spirit is the source of all aspects of manifestation.

The sun is the centralizing of the all-pervading radiance. In other words the all-pervading radiance has gathered itself together in order to centralize in one spot, and this has become the source of the creation, the whole physical manifestation. So the omniscient Spirit by centralizing in one spot has become the source of the whole seen and unseen manifestation. It is therefore that in all ages the wise have worshipped the sun as the symbol of God, although the sun is only the outward symbol of God.

A minute study of the formation of the sun and its influence in all things of life illuminates us so as to understand the divine Spirit. Heat, gas light, electric light, coal fire, wood fire, the burning candle, the flame rising from an oil lamp, all these different manifestations of light have their source in the sun; it is the sun which is showing itself in all these different forms. Often we separate the sun from all other aspects of light. So it is with the supreme Spirit which is manifested in all forms, in all things and beings, in the seen and the unseen worlds, and yet stands remote as the sun stands remote from all other forms of light. The Quran says, 'God is the light of heaven and of earth', and in reality all forms, however dense they may be, are a certain degree of radiance belonging to that Spirit which is all light. All the different colors are different degrees of that light.

The supreme Spirit, the source of all things, has two aspects: audible and visible. In its audible aspect the Spirit is the Word, as the Bible says, or sound, as the Hindus say calling it Nada. In its physical aspect the supreme Spirit is the light, in its finer aspect the light of intelligence, and in its dense aspect the radiance of all objects. The manifestation is the phenomenon of light playing in three directions. This is really the meaning of Trinity. One direction is the light that sees, the other is the light that is seen, and the third is the light that shows all things. More plainly speaking: the eyes which see and the object that is seen and the light that enables the eyes to see the object – all three are different plays of one and the same light. In the Hadith it is said, 'I have made your light and by your light I create the universe'. In other words, the all-pervading Spirit says to the centralized aspect of Himself, 'I made you first, and of you I have made the whole universe'. In this is the key to the whole creation.

The process of manifestation is like the projecting of rays out of the sun. Why does the sun shoot out its rays? Because it is its nature. And to the question, 'Why does the supreme Spirit manifest?', I will give the same answer: 'Because it is its nature'. No sooner has the all-pervading light centralized in one spot and formed the sun, than the rays begin to shoot out. In the same way, the moment the omniscient light centralized itself in one spot, it began to shoot out its rays. These numberless rays shot out are the various souls – the souls of the good and the wicked both coming from the same source.

As these rays go forward the first plane they strike is termed the angelic plane; the second plane they strike is termed the plane of the genius and the third plane is called the physical plane. Now rises the question, 'Have these rays left the supreme Spirit in order to come to the angelic plane, have they left the angelic plane in order to come to the plane of the genius and have they left the plane of the genius in order to come to the physical plane?' No, they have passed through, but while passing through they have received all that is to be received from there, learned all that is to be learned there, gathered all there was to be gathered on their way – and they still are in those planes. They do not know it, they are only conscious of that plane in which the ray has opened its eyes. In other words, we are sitting in this room, we see what is before our eyes, but we do not see what is behind our back. Thus every soul has behind its back the angelic plane and the plane of the genius, but before its eyes there is this physical plane. Therefore the soul is only conscious of the physical plane and unconscious of the planes from which it has turned its eyes.

The souls who have opened their eyes fully to the angelic plane and became interested in that plane have remained there, and the inhabitants of that plane may be called angels. The souls who did not open their eyes fully there only passed through it, and if they became interested in the plane of the genius they remained there. The ancient people called them jinn or genii. The souls who went still further towards manifestation and reached the physical plane, the ultimate call of their destiny, opened their eyes there and became interested in the physical plane. Among all living beings human beings are the most widely awake.

A person who has left America for Europe and has gone from Europe to the Orient has brought something from America with him to Europe and has taken something from Europe to the Orient. So every soul who has come on earth has brought with him something of the angelic plane and something of the plane of the genius, and he shows in his life on the physical plane that which he has brought from these two planes of existence. Innocence, love of beauty, deep sympathy, love of song, a tendency to solitude, love of harmony, all these belong to the angelic plane. Inventive genius, intellectuality, reasoning, law, justice, love of poetry, of science, all these belong to the planes of the genius. It is therefore that, without knowing this, people say of those who show any of these qualities, 'Here is an angelic person', or 'Here is a genius'.

Now coming to the subject of gravitation: gravitation known to science is the material gravitation. All that belongs to the dense earth is attracted to the dense earth, but it is the same theory to say that all that is attracted to the spirit belongs to the spirit. Therefore man is pulled from both sides. Man is pulled more so than any other creature, for he is closer to the spirit. On one side the earth demands his body, on the other side the spirit asks for his soul. If man gives in to the attraction of the earth then the body drags the soul towards the earth. If man gives himself to the attraction of the spirit then the spirit drags the body to the spirit. In this way man is subject to the law of gravitation from both sides, from the earth and from the heavens.

As to the subject of perfect assimilation, I have just explained how the soul passing through the different planes has borrowed from each of them things that belong to that plane: qualities, tendencies, ideas, thoughts, feelings, impressions, flesh, skin, bone and blood. That which the soul has borrowed he must give back when it has done its work; it was borrowed for a certain time and for a certain purpose. When the purpose is fulfilled, when the time is finished, then every plane asks for that which the soul has borrowed from it, and one cannot help but give it back to that plane. It is this process which is called assimilation. Since man is born greedy and selfish he has taken all things willingly, enthusiastically – he gives them back grudgingly and calls it death.

Assimilation therefore is to give back the physical matter which one has used on this physical plane – to give it back to the earth. It becomes assimilated by the earth and the soul becomes free of that burden which it once carried. It begins to experience a greater liberty and a greater ease, for going beyond is only releasing the soul of limitation and of a great captivity.

Life in the world of the genius is longer compared with life on the physical plane. It is this life which may be called the life in the hereafter. But there comes a time when all that was borrowed from the plane of the genius has to be given back to that plane too, for it did not belong to the soul. It is according to the same theory that our body will not have what does not belong to it; it will throw it out or, if the body cannot throw it out, it will be thrown out of life. So no one can carry the substance of another plane beyond. Each substance has its own plane and must be returned to that plane. This is the only way the soul can be freed from that plane in order to rise above it.

When the soul soars higher it must also give up the angelic qualities. They will be assimilated in the angelic plane before the soul can dissolve into the great Ocean, the supreme Spirit: that dissolving which is called merging into the real Self. One most important thing is to be learned from this process: every soul coming from the source towards manifestation gives what it brings from the source to the souls who meet it – the souls returning from the manifestation to the source – and receives from these souls certain impressions to which it is attracted. It is this exchange which is the cause of the various conditions of life in which a man is born on coming on earth. One is intelligent, another is simple, one is born in a rich family, another in a poor family, one is healthy, another weak, one will have a great purpose, another does not know what he must do. It is all determined. By what? A soul coming from the source has collected impressions on its way from souls returning to the source.7

For instance a business man was going to Jerusalem in order to lead a retired life. He met someone in Europe who, coming from the East, was going to the United States, and he said to him, 'For forty years I have been in business in the United States. If you are going there to do some business I can tell you of my experience. I have a business established there, I can give you my heritage, I can give you all help if you continue that business. I will give you letters of introduction to help you to find sympathetic surroundings'. Another man, also coming from the East, met someone who never had luck and who said to him, 'Are you going to the United States? I have been there for sixty years without one friend, with nothing but ill luck'. This disappointed the man. He came there and found the same ill luck of the person he had met, while the first one came in the midst of friends; all was prepared for him, he had only to continue the thing he was sent for.

Now we come to the final question: what must be the purpose of the whole creation? Is there anything to be gained by it? Yes, what is to be gained by it is the realization gained by the experience of life. What does divine experience mean? It means the soul's experience when this experience has led it to that height where it is no longer only an individual soul, but where it is conscious of all planes of existence, of the source and of its limitation both. When all the inspiration and power latent in man are within his reach, then that realization is called perfection and it is that perfection of which Jesus Christ has spoken in the Bible, where it is said, 'Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect'.

Question: Are not those planes rather mental conditions than places?

Answer: Yes, they are. But what we call a place also is a mental condition. Because it has a rigid physical appearance we think of it as a place, but really speaking it is a mental condition. Therefore those who have understood this have called it an illusion.

Question: Is one direction better than another?

Answer: One thing leads to another. As in life one success brings many times more success and one failure brings more failures, so the interest in one direction leads to a deeper interest in the same direction. People say that nothing succeeds like success and that it is money that can make a person rich. That law always is the same; if a person has knowledge then he is directed to greater knowledge. In the same way if a thief goes to a large city he will be the first to find thieves. Another person who is perhaps ten years in a large city will not find one thief, but I would not be surprised if the first man the other person met was a thief. Like attracts like, every impression gathers with that same impression. If a person goes towards happiness, success, riches, knowledge, wisdom, he goes deeper and deeper into it because it interests him. It is the same with all wickedness when a person is attracted to it. A little inclination towards wickedness, towards evil, leads him more and more towards it. Whether he loves it or not he gets accustomed to it and goes on in the same direction.

Question: Does cremation free the soul more than decomposition?

Answer: No, the condition of the body has nothing to do with the freeing of the soul. Only, cremation can shock the soul more than burying in the earth; since the body is made of clay it belongs to the earth. If a person says that a body belongs to water too – water is in the depth of the earth; it belongs to earth just the same.


Sufism is religion, philosophy, science, art and mysticism at the same time. The greatest scientists of today will agree with the Sufi conception that the origin of life is motion. The Sufi sees this motion in two aspects: audible and visible. Motion is first audible, then visible. Therefore we read in the Bible – which hints at this idea – that first was the Word and then came light. From a metaphysical point of view it means that motion or vibration originating in the Absolute first became manifest as the Word, audible, and after that became visible in the form of light.

What is the sun? The sun is the centralization of the all pervading radiance; the light which was spread all around functioned in one spot. There it became more radiant, more glowing, more powerful than the radiance that was left in space. This light again functioned in the moon; its different currents functioned in different planets and stars. This is exactly the picture of the origin of the creation: the all pervading light of intelligence first centralized itself, thus making itself the Spirit of the whole universe, and from there it began to manifest. The reason why in ancient times people worshipped the Sun-God was that the sun is the exact simile of God, the Spirit of the whole universe; this Spirit of the whole creation formed itself in the same way as the sun.

As there are many rays of the sun, so there are many rays of the Spirit of intelligence, in other words of God, the real Self, and each of these rays is a soul. The ray therefore is the manifestation of the sun; man therefore is the manifestation of God.

The rays spread forth and reach far, yet they are still connected with the sun. The law of gravitation, compared with the law which governs the relation between the sun and the ray, is a similar law. The ray never leaves the sun; its inner tendency is to reach far and to withdraw and to come towards the sun, in other words to merge into the sun. The same is the inclination of the soul. However much the body depends upon the dense earth and the mind revels in the intellectual spheres, the soul's continual inclination is to withdraw itself to its origin. Since the physical manifestation speaks loudest and the mind makes its own noise, the gentle cry of the soul remains unheard. Nevertheless, as it is said in the Quran, 'All have come from God and to God is their return '.

Coming from its origin towards the manifestation and going back to the goal is the soul's journey. In order to come to the physical plane the soul has to pass through two principal planes: first the angelic and then, before it reaches the physical plane, the plane of the genii. The condition of each of these planes is that, in order to pass through or to exist in it, the soul must borrow a body belonging to that particular plane. So the soul cannot pass through, cannot exist in the angelic plane unless it adopts an angelic form, and the soul has to adorn itself with a body from the plane of the genii in order to exist there. On coming to the earthly plane the soul has to adorn itself with the earthly body. This means that the soul has put on an inner garb and an outer garb, and the mantle that it puts over it shapes the soul completely as a human being belonging to the physical plane.

One garb is hidden in another garb. One might think that the garb of the plane of the genius must be smaller in size than the physical garb and that the garb of the angelic plane, covered under the garb of the plane of the genius, must be still smaller, but this is not necessarily true. All that is visible to our physical eyes must have a certain rate of vibration: the physical vibrations of matter make it visible to our eyes. The vibrations of the garb of the plane of the genius are so subtle that our physical eyes cannot see it, but therefore it is not necessarily an undergarb; as much as it might be an undergarb, so much is it an outer garb. Its size need not be as small as the size of our physical form or frame. Its size is incomparably larger.

It is the same with the garb that the soul has adopted from the angelic plane: it is not necessarily so small as to be covered by the two garbs just described, but it is even larger and finer. Only, the eyes of this plane cannot see it; its rate of vibration is greater. We see things because of their vibratory rate; if they are invisible it is not because they are invisible by nature, but because they are invisible to our sight. Since we are dependent upon our physical eyes in order to see, that which the physical eyes cannot see we naturally say is unseen. It is only unseen because we cannot see it as a form.

So it is not an exaggeration to say that man is at the same time genius and angel, for he has passed through these two planes. He does not know it, but he shows the qualities of these two planes. The love quality in man, love of beauty, joy, aspiration, all these tendencies, besides the innocence of human nature, come from the angelic plane. The purity in the face of an infant gives us proof of its having just arrived from the angelic plane; its smiles, its friendliness and its readiness to appreciate everything beautiful, its love of life, all these things show the sign of the angelic spheres.

As a soul remains longer on earth he loses the angelic qualities and adopts new qualities. An infant shows the angelic quality, and a child the quality of the genius by his love of knowing names and forms, by asking questions to his parents with great curiosity. When that stage is passed he seems to be full of miseries, worries, helplessness.

Do we not see in some people the angelic quality predominating? They are good, kind and innocent, forgiving, pure-hearted, righteous, virtuous, lovers of beauty, always inclined to high aspirations. If we studied human nature more keenly we would find a great many examples of the angelic nature. Also there are poets, composers and intellectual people, writers and inventors who show the quality of the genius – in an Eastern language called jinn.

Those who show the human quality are still more in number. They can be divided into three classes: there is the humane quality, there is the animal quality and there is a devilish quality. This is shown by the rate of their vibrations and their rhythm. Intense rhythm produces the devilish quality, moderate rhythm shows the animal quality, even rhythm shows the humane quality. The form of these rhythms may be explained thus: the humane quality is mobile, the animal quality is uneven, the devilish quality is zigzag.

Death is nothing but the taking off of one garb and giving it back to the plane from which it was borrowed, for the condition is this: one cannot take the garb of the lower plane to the higher plane. The soul is only released when it is willing – or compelled – to give its garb to the plane it has taken it from. It is this which releases the soul to go on in its travel. And as it proceeds to a higher plane, after its stay there it must again give its garb back and be purified from it in order to go further.

If people knew this they would look at life from a different point of view; they would understand the meaning of the moral: you cannot get away with anything that does not really belong to you. And they would come to realize after the study of philosophy that even their body does not belong to them; it is a borrowed property and must be returned one day. Therefore the wise disown it before they are obliged to give it up. All the spiritual exercises given by teachers are practiced for this purpose: that we may begin to disown our body from today, that we may not have the remorse of having lost something we thought to be most precious.

This knowledge also throws a light upon the question of death. Death is not really death; it is only a passing stage, it is only a change, as changing clothes. One might think, 'Do we not become less by dying?' It is not so. We become more by dying, not less, for once the physical garb has been thrown away the soul enjoys a greater freedom, a greater liberation for the reason that the limitation of the physical body is great. The physical body weighs heavy on the soul and the day when this burden is taken off, the soul feels lighter, its faculties, tendencies, inspiration and power, all manifest more freely. Therefore death is no loss.

Now we come to the question: what is it that brings about death? Either the body, owing to weakness, is not capable of serving the soul properly, or the soul has finished its mission in that plane; it no more wants it. The body clings to the soul and the soul holds the body: that is the position. When the body is too feeble it naturally loses its grip on the soul and gradually loses it more and more till it can no longer hold the soul. Or the soul holds the body as long as it has to accomplish something, and when the soul sees no purpose then it loses its hold upon the body and so gradually the body drops out of the hands of the soul. It is by this process that death is brought about.

What about birth? Human bodies are the clay needed to make a body for the soul. The soul has to knock at the door of the physical plane and a body is given to it. Cupid is the symbol of this idea, of this philosophy.8

There is give and take in the two planes through which a soul has to pass, a give and take between the souls who are going from the source towards manifestation and the souls who are returning from manifestation towards the goal. As a traveler coming from Asia to America and a traveler going from America to Asia who meet in Europe exchange money and thoughts with one another, so those souls take upon themselves the debts of one another, the knowledge of one another, the happiness, the misery of one another. In the same way we experience our life on earth. One soul, without knowing it sometimes, may take a route which leads him to riches, to success. Another soul may take a route that leads him to failure, to errors. It all depends upon what route they have taken from the beginning. Hafiz has described this idea in a beautiful way, saying that each person has his own wine, and his love is according to the wine he has taken. If it is the wine of happiness, if it is the wine of joy, if it is the wine of sorrow, if it is the wine of misery, if it is the wine of courage, of fear, of trust, of distrust, of faith, of disbelief, it is in the intoxication of this wine that he acts, presenting the effect of the wine to the world. So we each have our own wine.

In this exchange of souls going from the source to manifestation and souls coming back from the manifestation to the source, one takes the wine of selfishness, another of unselfishness. A Persian poet says, 'Before dawn the wine was poured out. No sooner I opened my eyes than a glass of wine was given to me. O Saqi, thanks for whatever wine you gave, for it intoxicated me and made me lose myself'. The dawn that the poet expresses as birth is the time when the soul began its journey from the angelic plane. The first cup it drank determined its life afterwards.

It is not true that, as they say, a man when he goes higher in evolution is richer in knowledge. No, higher evolution itself is a knowledge. The knowledge one gains from earthly sources is not a coin that is current in other planes. The coin of this plane, a plane so small, is as limited as this plane – and man makes so much of it! It is amusing when a person comes to me and says, 'I have read so many books on occult science, I think I am quite ready to be initiated'. It amuses me very much.

Imagine! Reading occult science should entitle someone to spirituality! The language of that country is different and intellectual knowledge is not current there. Learning that language is unlearning what we have learned here. Therefore the question of spiritual attainment is quite different and must be dealt with from quite a different point of view.

What I have to say in conclusion about Sufi philosophy is that what we call individuality is a momentary state, and this conception of individuality as it is found today – do not think that it will be the same tomorrow.

Omar Khayyam says,

'O my beloved, fill the cup that clears
today from past regrets and future fears.
Tomorrow, why tomorrow I may be myself
with yesterday's seventy thousand years.'

As soon as the soul has awakened, it no more gives much importance to individuality – a thing made of garbs borrowed from different planes; it is a doll of rags. All importance we give, we should give to the soul which is real, which comes from the real and seeks after the real.

Question: Is the soul not attracted by action?

Answer: The condition of the soul is likened to a mirror: it mirrors so long as it reflects the object which is standing before it. Yet that object is not engraved in the mirror, it occupies it at the moment it veils it. So the soul is covered by experiences. In other words, our experience may delude the soul, cover it, bury it, but at the same time cannot penetrate it.

7. Two lacunae in the shorthand report of this paragraph have been completed by the editors. These concern the words: 'and receive from these souls certain impressions to which it is attracted' and in the last sentence the word 'impressions'. An explanation of the phenomenon of exchange is to be found in Hazrat Inayat Khan's 'The Soul Whence and Whither' - Ed. Nekbakht Foundation, Suresnes, 1984, Chapter 40:

'The soul on its return from the goal, while in the sphere of the jinns, has some riches which it collected during its life on earth in the form of merits, qualities, experiences, convictions, talents, attitude and a certain outlook on life, although on its passing it has returned the belongings of the earth to the earth. These riches the soul in the spirit world offers, allows them to be taken from it, and imparts them to the souls coming from their source who are on their way to the earth. The souls on their way to the earth, full of heavenly bliss but poor in earthly riches, purchase the current coin of the earth in the jinn plane. Guarantees, contracts, mortgages and all the accounts that the spirit had left unfinished on the earth these they undertake to pay or to receive when coming on the earth.'

8. Cupid – In 'The Soul Whence and Whither' we read, 'What is Cupid? It is the soul which is being born. Before it appears on the physical plane it is pictured by the wise as Cupid, an angel'. Desiring to manifest on the earth, Cupid brings man and woman together. And Hazrat Inayat Khan continues, 'Duality in every aspect of life is creative and its issue is the purpose, the outcome of the dual aspect of nature'.

checked 08-Nov-2006