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Chapter 7  -  Direct Experience

We are blessed with the opportunity to participate in two aspects of life: worldly life and spiritual life, the outer and the inner, the exoteric and the esoteric, the surface and the depth.

We are instruments of Life, and we have been given the power and ability to choose whether to enjoy the journey or resist it. In order to enjoy the journey, we each must learn by means of our own direct experience the glorious benefits of living in harmony with Divine Presence.

The Nature of Religious Experience

We each have a deep inner longing which can only be truly fulfilled through our own direct experience of Divine Presence, not via opinions or dogma from others. In fact, those who do not rise above dogma have little or no direct experience of Divine Presence. In order to discover our purpose in life, we need direct experience, not dogma.

Dogma, traditions and tales of other's lives can be very useful as a first step on the spiritual path, by helping one to begin to form the high ideals upon which the inner life depends. However, dogma is merely an introductory step on the spiritual path. Beyond that, the sublime richness of the inner life cannot be fully discovered until one's own direct experience of Divine Presence supersedes any further need for such dogma.

When one has direct experience of the awesome wonder of Divine Presence, the dogma then begins to seem so limited, so shallow, and one's consciousness is filled with a sense of wonder, awe and gratitude. To find the peace and joy which are our inherent birthright, we can use the stepping stone of dogma to launch our greater journey into the wondrous depths of Divine Presence.

The foundation of religious experience is the mystical realization that we, and all that we can perceive around us, has been created and maintained by an intelligent creative force which is far beyond our comprehension. Through this creative process, we are all related, and inter-related. The fabric of one's own life is interwoven with all of creation. We are not the separate and independent creatures which the ego imagines, but rather we are the interwoven threads of a majestic tapestry which is being woven by unseen hands. And all around us, if only we will learn to see and understand, there are signs, proof positive, of the Divine Presence, that wondrous power which creates, nurtures and permeates all that exists.

We are instruments of Life!

We are the instruments by which, and through which, a wondrously grand plan is unfolding, fresh and new in every moment, right before our eyes.

We often forget who we are, and begin to act as if the world revolves around our own opinions and preferences. But that is not the case. Life is not about us. Life itself is not concerned with our opinions or our preferences. Life is not our servant, but rather we must become sincerely devoted instruments of Life. In truth, you are a spark of Divinity.

When we live in harmony with the ways of Divine Presence, allowing loving-kindness, generosity and compassion to flow freely into the world through all that we do and say, then this journey called life becomes a great pleasure. But when we are not in harmony with the ways of Divine Presence, and allow ourselves to be ruled by expectations, resistance, hatred or anger, then everything seems to go wrong and we can find neither lasting peace nor enduring happiness.

In order to enjoy enduring happiness and lasting peace, we must become willing and serviceable instruments of the Divine Presence, thereby bringing loving-kindness, sympathy, compassion and generosity into the world though all that we say and all that we do. In being an instrument of Divine Presence, the purpose of one's life is discovered.

What about poverty and pain and violence?

Everything in this world has its opposite, or more properly stated, everything in this world becomes recognizable only by means of its presence contrasted with its absence. A shadow, which is often called darkness, is really nothing more than the absence of light. Without such contrasts, nothing could be recognized. In this world, we recognize all things by means of their contrasts. 

What if all the world was completely white, nothing but brilliant white? What could we see then? If there were no shadows, no colors, no varying shades, no shadows, then all that we would see is white and more white, everything would be the same, and without any contrasting colors or shadows we could not distinguish between one thing and another. In fact, in order to see something we must have the contrasts, the varying colors, and the shadows.

Hidden things are manifested by their opposites, but as God has no opposite He remains hidden. God's light has no opposite in the range of creation whereby it may be manifested to view.

Jalaluddin Rumi, translation by Hazrat Inayat Khan

Differences and distinctions are necessary to help us learn, but whenever we become obsessed with looking at the contrasts and differences among the parts, we fail to see the whole. And when we are not seeing the whole, we ourselves are not whole either.

We must learn to see clearly, to be aware that absence is only overcome by presence. That is, darkness, which is merely the absence of light, is only overcome by the presence of light. Similarly, violence is merely the shadow of peace, or a veil obscruing peace, and that violence will always be overcome by the presence of peace. Violence is what happens when the natural flow of peace and tranquility is obscured.

In the beginning, as a place to start, we learn about this world by discovering oposites. But truly speaking, there are no opposites. There is only the presence of something, or the absence of something. In order to see more clearly, we must rise beyond the idea of opposites, and see how the essence of things is being either manifest or obscured.

The idea of opposites keeps us in an illusion.

Sufi Teachings, Hazrat Inayat Khan

To be whole, we must not let the contrasting difference and distinctions be all that we see. We must also learn to recognize what Light is behind those difference and distinctions. That is, we must learn to consider all that we see as signs which point toward, and help us to learn about, the One whose brilliant light of love can overcome any darkness. And, in doing so, we will become more perfect instruments of Divine Presence.

O Sun, fill our house once more with light!
    Make happy all your friends and blind your foes!

Jalaluddin Rumi, Look This is Love, Annemarie Schimmel

What can we do about suffering?

Suffering is our own personal reaction to a specific situation. In order to ease one's suffering, one's reaction to the situation must be changed. Suffering is not necessary, and we can put an end to suffering by shifting our attention to the wonders of Divine Presence which are always available in the present moment.

There are many sources of pain which should be dealt with, but there is no need to suffer. Pain is an indication that there is a problem which needs attention, but suffering is always rooted in our own desires, our own expectations, our own imagination.

When we completely accept the present situation, then the suffering vanishes. The pain may still be there, but the suffering will be gone. And then, from the clear-sighted vantage point of acceptance, one may most effectively pursue a remedy for the pain.

For example, one might experience the pain of hunger, and then might begin to become angry or in some other manner resist the situation. The original hunger pain was bad enough, but when we resist what is, and become upset or angry, then we have created suffering. A better strategy, rather than resisting the situation, is to clearly see what is happening, accept the situation which has already occurred, and take some positive action to remedy the situation.

Why are we not always given what we want?

The world does not revolve around our opinions, our desires or our preferences. There is a grand plan unfolding, and we are merely the instruments by which that plan comes into fruition. If we live in harmony with, and in constant remembrance of, the Divine Presence, then we stand on the firm ground of unwavering contentment and happiness regardless of the turbulence and turmoil of outer appearances.

When we crave for what we prefer, what we want, and what we think is fitting, we often notice that sometimes our prayers are answered and sometimes they are not answered. Why is that? The answer is really very simple. When we ask for something which in harmony with the Divine Presence, then it comes into being. But when we ask for something that is not in harmony with the Divine Plan, then it does not come into being.

The path to enduring happiness is to take every step of this grand journey with loving-kindness, generosity, sympathy, compassion and acceptance. When each step of one's journey is accepted and enjoyed as yet another act of loving-kindness, another act of beneficence, another act of compassion, then all of life is filled with the joys of the journey, and the craving for one's own preferences drops along the wayside, much the same as a child's interest in what was once a favorite toy will naturally fade and drop away as the child moves into another phase of life.

Many strive for happiness through the fulfillment of worldly desires such as fame, wealth, or possessions, but none of those will bring enduring peace or lasting happiness. Lasting happiness is only found in the calm acceptance and awesome enjoyment of the wonders of Divine Presence. 

Viewpoint is the Key

The key to enjoying this journey is to view life from the most beneficial viewpoint. If one is standing in the midst of a dense jungle, there may be a great variety of things to see nearby, but one cannot see very far. On the other hand, when one climbs to the top of a mountain, far above the trees, the world looks entirely different. To gain perspective, to see the big picture, one needs a change of viewpoint.

Anguish and distress are always caused by an unfortunate viewpoint. In order to rise above the differences and distinctions which bring such anguish and distress, we must change our own viewpoint. That is to say, it is not the circumstances which cause us suffering, it is our viewpoint and our subsequent reaction to the situation which causes our own suffering.

To enjoy life and to discover the peace and happiness which are our birthright, we must learn to see from an elevated point of view. Whenever we cling to the part, and fail to remember the whole, then there is inevitably great anguish and distress.

How can one explain spiritual progress? What is it? What is it like? Spiritual progress is the changing of the point of view.

There is only one way to recognize this progress, and that is to see the progress in one's own outlook on life, to ask oneself the question, 'How do I look at life?' This one can do by not judging others, but by being only concerned with one's own outlook.

Sufi Mysticism, Hazrat Inayat Khan

The Importance of Intention

It is not merely what we do, but what is really important is why we do something. The greatest intention, and most beneficial reason to do anything is to be in harmony with, and an instrument of, Divine Presence.

That which is done with loving-kindness, awareness, generosity and compassion is always in harmony with Divine Presence, and will always bear beneficial fruit. That which is done with anger, lack of consideration, selfishness or hatred is not in harmony with Divine Presence, and will always bring pain and suffering.

Life is a journey, and the quality of our journey is determined by the sincerity and dedication of each step. We must sincerely strive to assure that each step of our journey is in harmony with the Divine Presence, bringing beauty, loving-kindness, generosity and compassion into the world.

We must come to the realization of the One Life running through all. To a certain degree we attain to the realization of unity by contemplation, religion, and prayer. But what is most necessary is sincerity in our way of life. What we are is all that really matters. Contemplation and meditation help in this, but our manner of life is what is all important, sincerity in our actions, and living life practically and not in theory.

Spiritual Liberty, Hazrat Inayat Khan

If we truly intend to experience enduring peace and lasting happiness, then with each and every step of this grand journey we must always speak and act with the utmost of mercy, with the greatest of loving-kindness, with selfless generosity, and with the ultimate of beneficence toward all of creation.

All tragedy of life, all misery and inharmony are caused by one thing and that is lack of understanding. Lack of understanding comes from lack of penetration. The one who does not see from the point of view from which he ought to see becomes disappointed because he cannot understand. It is not for the outer world to help us to understand life better; it is we ourselves who should help ourselves to understand it better.

The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Smiling Forehead

In order to make spiritual progress, we must rise above mere appearances, and discover the glory and wonder of the One Cause who is behind all causes, the One whose Divine Presence shows us the way to enduring peace and lasting happiness.

There is only one virtue and only one sin
        for a soul on the path:
virtue when he is conscious of God           
              and sin when he is not.

Abu Hashim Madani

With every step in this wondrous journey, we must, through deliberate intention, allow our thoughts and deeds to be filled to overflowing with the loving-kindness, generosity and compassion of Divine Presence.

Living in Harmony with Life

There is no greater futility than trying to resist or struggle against whatever Life has already brought into being. In order to experience enduring peace and lasting happiness, we must change our own viewpoint, begin to accept what is, and strive to live in harmony with Divine Presence.

The fundamental laws of this world will always prevail, whether we like it or not. Anguish and distress will always arise whenever we to try to resist the fundamental laws of nature:

Everything is continually in a process of changing from one form to another form.

Every person, every plant, every animal, and every grain of sand will eventually be transformed into some completely different form. We cannot stop the process of change, and our happiness and peace of mind depend upon realizing a viewpoint which welcomes and embraces the changing forms of Life.

Today's harvest is the result of seeds which were previously planted.

As the old saying goes: If you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you're getting. If you truly want a different harvest in the future, then you must begin to plant some different seeds in the present moment.

We can choose to live in harmony with the grand principles of Divine Presence, or we can cling to the troublesome ways of the ego with its self-centered opinions and self-serving preferences. One path leads to enduring peace and lasting happiness, while the other path leads to anguish and despair. The choice is our own. 


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Wishing you love, harmony and beauty,

Dec 31, 2008