Breaking Open

Why do things happen the way they do, and how do we reconcile with the reality of this terrible world, those of us who want to believe in a loving divine reality?

Recently, someone speaking of a terrible loss to our community said “God knows best.”   We say things like that to each other in this Judeo-Christian culture when the unacceptable must be accepted, the irreconcilable must be reconciled and those who are left must somehow go on.  Yet if we’ve experienced even a taste of God’s love, the degree to which God is in love with God’s creatures, how could we even think such things?  Surely in the face of such terrible events, God’s heart is the most broken and bleeding of all.  Surely such a small event as the one referred to—and after all it is a small event in the history of this dreadful world—could not possibly be intended by the God of our understanding!

“We don’t  know who anyone is” –Pir Inam, Ajmer, India

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Perhaps even less do we know who God is, even as we are God’s expression, the thoughts in God’s mind, the source of God’s being in the form of divine limitation.  And in that we are God’s limitation, the conundrum is that we are also God’s perfection, the vehicle for God’s growth.  I remember my beloved teacher Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan  once saying—I don’t know if he was quoting or not, it sounded like him—that if we knew what love truly was, we would be shattered in our understanding.  Do events such as those that bring us lowest serve to teach us the highest truths?

Perhaps, in these moments, we have the opportunity to come closer to God’s understanding.  On the one hand, there’s no point in trying to pretty it up with little phrases that are designed to make us feel better, yet the enormity of the Divine reality—perhaps—contains even concepts such as these.

What will you do, God, when I die?
I am your pitcher (when I shatter?)
I am your drink (when I go bitter?)
I, your garment; I, your craft.
Without me what reason have you?

Without me what house where intimate words await you?
I, velvet sandal that falls from your foot.
I, cloak dropping from your shoulder.
Your gaze, which I welcome now as it warms my cheek,
will search for me hour after hour
and lie at sunset, spent, on an empty beach among unfamiliar stones.
What will you do, God? It troubles me.  —Rilke, Book of Hours

God bless us one and all.  And bless you too, God.  Whatever is happening in all this, I’m glad to be the expression of it, because how else would I get to know you—and you me?

A June Wedding

1969304_10202882084312174_570770412697019908_nThere is an Arabic term Urs, that is used by the Sufis, to mean the anniversary of the death of a saint.  Literally, it means wedding, as the belief is that when a saint dies, he goes into the arms of God and becomes one with his highest ideal.  Or hers.  (I am of the generation that pretty much accepted sexist gender in grammar, and I’m still prone to step on even my own toes by using the masculine term, so I apologize to all of us for that.)  Putting aside the question of who decides who is a saint, this is the Urs of Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, who would have laughed heartily at the idea of being identified as a saint.  But we, of course, his children, love him so much that perhaps we have loved him into being just that.

I should mention, here, that the Urs of a saint is usually celebrated at the tombPir Dargah or burial place of that saint, and so that is where the main celebration of Pir’s Urs will happen today.  But there is more to the Urs than that, which is a good thing for those of us who can’t make it to India, and there will be celebrations all over the world, in geographical locations and in the hearts of his followers.  It is said that on the Urs, one’s connection with the teacher or saint is particularly accessible, and that a boon is granted to the one who requests it.  I think this boon is particularly in the category of a spiritual blessing, i.e., one can’t request a million dollars and hope to get it, but it is my experience that this blessing, when it comes from the saint, is usually well worth asking for.

Blessed be to my own beloved Pir (teacher), who loved me away from self-destruction and brought me to realization.  He was probably not a saint in the accepted sense, although in terms of what he did best, he definitely qualifies in my opinion, for he took me and all of his children where we most wanted to go, and he took us there in style, elegance and and with complete commitment.  Perhaps it is true that this journey we are on is endless, but I myself am endlessly grateful to be on it with such an amazing traveling companion.  He left us a number of years ago (seven?  eight?), but as another Indian “saint” said when his students mourned his imminent death, “Nonesense!  Where would I go?” (Ramana Maharshi)  My beloved Pir may have moved into another office, so to speak, but he continues to be present to all who seek his presence, and to teach his students and guide his work as successor to his father, Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan.  And in the continuation of his earthy work by his son, Pir Zia Inayat Khan, the Silsila (chain of those who pass on the teaching) remains unbroken.

Pir and ZiaWhether these concepts are symbolic or actual, they work.

He worked hard and he played hard.  A good example.  And before he left, he told us that if we wanted to contact him after his death, we would find him working in the planes of Light.heavenly-landscape.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Gatherings and Gurus

The important thing is not to think much, but to love much; and so, do that which best stirs you to love.

Saint Teresa of Avila

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  It’s quite chilly this morning, and thunderstorms are predicted.  I’ve lived in many places over the years, and loved many Springtimes, but I think I love these Piedmont Springs best, because after they are over, we have the usual hot, steamy Southern summers I knew as a child in Southern West Virginia and, much later, in Tennessee.  Our Springs, however, last right up to the end of May, and are generally quite temperate.  I remember years back, when I lived in the Washington, D.C. area, we spoke of the long, hot Springs….and they were, cherry blossoms notwithstanding.  Here, the Spring is usually cool, and sometimes even cold, before the relentless heat and humidity of June through August set in.  I am not a hot weather person.  Today, I had to get up and turn on the heat for awhile, at least, in order to stand staying up.   I am thankful for down comforters. Thunderstorms are predicted for today.  I like those, too, and I love to look out my office window and watch my “Ents” swaying shoulder to shoulder in the high winds.

Last night, we went to a “Gathering of the Peacemakers” at the Oasis (http://oasisincarrmill.com), our local “New Age/Metaphysical/Interreligious/All of the Above” cafe, presided over by my new/old dear friend Robert (one of those relationships where, upon meeting, you have the strangest idea that this is someone you’ve always known), a delightful Bob Marley-type mystic, who conceived the idea of his cafe as a place for like-minded people to meet and share wisdom and friendship.  It seems to work quite well, and I always enjoy going there, whether it’s for a film or a talk or just a cup of excellent coffee served with panache and Zen-like ceremony.  The “Gathering,” I think, was meant to be an occasion for the exchange of high-minded ideas and ideals, and many interesting people came, but what they talked about, mostly, was…themselves.  There are a lot of idealistic people out there looking for community and craving support and friendship, and my feeling was that this gathering ended up being more about that than anything else.  I also noticed that although many of them seemed to know each other, there was a minimum of mingling afterwards, although living in the country, we departed fairly promptly.

I “grew up” in this movement during the late sixties and through the 80s, during what I’d call the “Baba Ram Dass Era,” when communities of this kind were more defined and cohesive.  I believe that this was because it was the era of the “guru,” and most of us had them, because that’s the idea we woke up to upon emerging in our spiritual adolescence, and there were Krishna Consiousness communities and Hindu/Yoga communities of various sorts, and Buddhist Communities, Sufi communities, and numerous others.  But now, many people don’t seem very interested in having spiritual teachers.  They don’t want to be initiated or make any kind of commitment that is at all formal, and they are suspicious of people who call themselves teachers, and so they should be.  They have good reason to be, given some of the bad and even scandalous behavior we have heard about among the various “gurus.”  My own teacher–I wouldn’t call him a guru, and I doubt that he wanted to think of himself that way–Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan–always said that the way to know if a teacher was false was if that person tried in any way to impose on your independence and autonomy.  If they did, he said, they weren’t the real thing.  But I believed then in the idea of having someone to show me the ropes on this path, and I believe in it now.  And my initiation was the most precious and important event of my life, because, as Pir Vilayat said, it was the reiteration of the promise we made in pre-eternity, our commitment to the awakening of God in humanity.  Inayat Khan, his father, said that initiations come in many forms, both inner and outer, and that the outer initiation is only the confirmation of what has already happened inside.  Even so, my “outer” initiations were very meaningful and sacred to me, and they always had the effect of galvanizing me and moving me forward in ways that were often painful and confusing, yet ultimately very rewarding.  And my relationship with my teacher(s) was the ultimate in relationship, because here was a person who was saying “I am with you for the duration, and I will not let you down,” and accepting everything that went with that promise, also often painful and confusing… yet leading, finally, to what I longed for most.  The need of the time was such that it wasn’t long  before I too became a teacher of sorts, more of a guide, really, but certainly not a guru, more of a representative of my teacher, an intermediary as it were, in the connection of souls in this particular caravan now called the Sufi Order International.  That was and is hard, because it also entails making a permanent commitment to the person I promise to do my best to help on their way, but without giving advice or impinging on their free will in any way, as mentioned above.

There are different kinds of initiation that souls experience. One is natural initiation, a kind of natural unfoldment for which the soul cannot give any cause or reason. It comes to the soul although no effort or attempt is made by the soul to experience it. Sometimes this initiation comes after great illness, pain or suffering. It comes as an opening up of the horizon, it comes as a flash of light, and in a moment the world seems transformed. It is not that the world has changed; it is that the person has become tuned to a different pitch. He begins to think differently, feel differently, see and act differently; his whole condition begins to change. One might say of him that from that moment on, he begins to live. It may come as a vision, as a dream, as a phenomenon – in any of these forms – one cannot determine the manner in which it will manifest. –Inayat Khan

As for the person who becomes initiated, that is a tall order, and I can see why many in this day sort of dance around the edge of that, attracted by the ideals of these various paths, but not entirely comfortable with making that ultimate commitment.  Initiation, said Inayat Khan, is taking a step forward on a path one does not know, and it is.  And there are many false prophets, and if one hasn’t developed the art of listening to the direction coming from within, it is a rather frightening decision to contemplate.  Many people impulsively take initiation and fall away rather quickly, but the eternal nature of it still plants a seed of realization, and no one remains unchanged by the experience.

Another initiation known to the mystics is the initiation that one receives from a person living on the earth. Every mystical school has its own initiation. In the Orient, where mystical ideas are prevalent and are regarded as most sacred, any person who wishes to tread the spiritual path considers initiation to be the most important thing. If a soul such as Jesus Christ had to be baptized by John the Baptist, then no soul on earth can say, ‘I have risen above initiation.’ Is that then impossible? Nothing is impossible. It may be possible for a person to jump into the water with the intention of swimming to the port of New York, but his life will be more secure if he books his passage with the normal shipping lines. And the difference between these two souls is the same, or even greater – between the one who wishes to journey on the spiritual path by taking initiation, and the other who refuses to do so. –Inayat Khan

Initiation seems to be one of those relationships that are of an ultimate nature.  We have relationships with our parents, with our siblings, with friends, with children . . . and the list goes on.  Each of these relationships changes us, for better or for worse, but none of them are entirely without self-interest.  The relationship we have with our spiritual teacher is supposed to be exactly that, however, on the part of the teacher:  entirely without self-interest of any kind.   We seem to long for such a relationship, which is why people go to church, or take a guru, or attend metaphysical seminars and retreats, in whatever form and on whatever path they  are attracted to.  Or they attend gathering such as the one last night, and speak of the books they have read, and the teachers they are discovering,  But a teacher whose book you read is not the same as a teacher who gives you what they have to offer “chest to chest” as the Sufis say.   This relationship(s) we have with teachers, these books we read and lectures we attend, all remind us of the deepest longing of our souls for the source of our beings, which some of us call God.

Initiation by a spiritual teacher means both a trust given by the teacher to the pupil, and a trust given by the pupil to the teacher. And the progress of the one who is initiated depends upon how much he gives himself to the teacher’s guidance. One might give only a finger, another even a part of a finger, while a third would give his whole hand. That makes a great difference. A pupil says, ‘Well, I will give a certain amount of my time and thought to your guidance, will that be enough?’ Then the teacher says, ‘Yes, if you think it is enough.’ In reality, however, it is never enough. Then one might wonder if one would not be giving up one’s own point of view in order to follow someone else’s point of view; but actually, if one has a point of view, one never loses it. The point of view that one loses is not one’s own. By looking at a thing from another person’s point of view, one only enlarges one’s own. Then, one has two points of view instead of one. If the thought of the pupil happens to be different from that of the teacher, then by taking the teacher’s thought, his own is doubled. The pupil keeps his own point of view just the same, only now he has something for his vision from which to make his choice. The horizon of his thought is expanded. But the pupil who closes himself and says, ‘I will guard my point of view or it will escape me,’ will never derive any benefit from this attitude.  –Inayat Khan

I wonder if this observed tendency to go it alone, while seeking such guidance as won’t break down the barriers of time and distance, is a symptom of the times we live in, when Facebook stands in for friendship and e-books stand in for teachers.  Are we so afraid of true connection that we have seized on these shadows of it in order to meet our deeper needs?

The teacher, therefore, tests his pupil continually. He tells him and he does not tell him, for everything must come in its right time. Divine knowledge has never been taught in words, nor will it ever be so taught. The work of a mystical teacher is not to teach, but to tune, to tune the pupil so that he may become the instrument of God. For the mystical teacher is not the player of the instrument; he is the tuner. When he has tuned it, he gives it into the hands of the Player whose instrument it is to play. The duty of the mystical teacher is his service as a tuner.  –Inayat Khan

Last night, we heard about philosophers, theologians, indigenous tribal elders, teachers, shamans, and gurus… yet it seemed that many people there were struggling with what to do with these ideas, how to put them into practice.  Some seemed lonely. It is true that loneliness is a requisite feature of the path to wholeness, but I wonder if the determined loneliness one gains from this distancing that the age of technology makes possible is necessary or even helpful.  I honestly don’t know, but I think I will be glad and grateful to the end of this life that I took the path of initiation, of relationship and community.  It is, for me, the path to true love.  And because I see that this way is not chosen by everyone–and need not be!–I would like to explore this topic more.  Stay tuned, if this topic interests you.

Also, there are no fixed rules to follow on this path. For every person there is a special rule. But there is one law which applies to everything in life: sincerity, which is the only thing that is asked by a teacher of a pupil, for truth is not the portion of the insincere.  –Inayat Khan

 

Love and Freedom

Death takes away the weariness of life and the soul begins anew. — Inayat Khan

My husband just found out that his only remaining brother was killed in a car accident last week.  His family was not a very close one, for various reasons, and all of them have died now.  This particular brother could have been described as rather a “lost soul,” because David suspects that he had numerous mental and physical problems, although his family was very careful to veil these.  I think it was a generational thing:  when I was a child, parents did not rush to take their children to a therapist or try to get them into special programs in school if they were dyslexic or hyperactive or had any of the many issues that are currently fashionable for explaining children’s behavior.  In those days, if your child had problems, they were either punished to “make” them behave (thus, no doubt, exacerbating their problems), or their problems were denied and attempts were made to veil them.  In this case, the statement I often heard was “poor little Leon was anemic.”  Evidently, this explained his scholastic failures and what my husband is fairly sure–as a mental health professional–was schizoaffective disorder, or what I would call a unique way of being in the world.  A “lost soul,” as I’ve already said…but was he?  He did serve in the military, in Germany, and that seemed to work for him, or at least we never knew otherwise; perhaps the clear discipline and routines of military life were helpful, although he never rose in the ranks, and was given an honorable discharge when his time there was finished.  After that, he had a series of jobs, and lived at home with his parents for many years, until both parents, successively, died.  His older brother and sister-in-law took over the family home, which they had evidently inherited, and adopted  children; while Leon lived in the attic until the older brother died and the sister-in-law left.  The house, by then in a state of complete disrepair and filth, was sold.   He then moved on to a series of jobs and residences, may well have been a “street person,” and was, finally, killed going to work at his “graveyard shift” Walmart job.  It was dark and rainy, and he didn’t cross the street at the crosswalk and so died . . . violently and alone.  My husband didn’t hear about any of this until a week later, when a cousin saw the news on the television and when he didn’t hear from him contacted another cousin who contacted him on Facebook.

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You might ask, where was my husband while all this was happening?  One relative criticized him for not moving his family back “home” and becoming Leon’s “custodian.”  Leon, when presented with this idea, was not happy, and my husband chose to live his own life with his own family, which means me and our daughters.  These were rough years, because one of my daughters had myriad problems, as has been mentioned elsewhere here, and he had his work cut out for him, professionally as well as at home.  He wrote to his brother often, sent Christmas presents, and at least tried to call him at a succession of phone numbers his brother gave him, none of which he answered.  I know for a fact that he worried about his brother, yet didn’t feel inclined to try to somehow “take charge” of him.  He did contact his doctor at the VA hospital, but that didn’t make any real difference.  In any event, his brother seemed able to hold a job, although he was occasionally known to lose his temper, jeopardizing at least one job.

And now he’s gone.  My darling husband and I have been processing it for the past couple of days, and I know he has been grieving, while trying to get information through friends and relatives, some of whom were attempting to claim his “assets,” such as they may have been.  But I think my husband’s chief feelings have been ones of guilt:  should he have “taken better care” of him, should he have tried to have him institutionalized, should he have stayed nearer, etc.?

It is easier to do one’s duty to others than to one’s self. If you do your duty to others, you are considered reliable. If you do your duty to yourself, you are considered selfish. — Thomas Szasz, MD

I pointed out that it seemed to me that the conundrum was whether he had “not taken responsibility” or chosen to encourage his brother to be free to live in his own way, as he himself did,  in his.  Life, to quote my beloved teacher Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, is about “reconciling the irreconciliables.”  Or, in my own terms, accepting the unacceptable.  How many situations are presented to us, in this planetary life, that have no ready solutions, and are truly unjustifiable in terms of the values we are shaped with as we grow into earthlings.  We like to think that love is the greatest law we live by, but in fact power and control are the watchwords of those who have the means to shape the world according to their desires.  The archetypal “street person” is called “mentally ill,” said to be “milking the system” for a living, yet when questioned often presents with a desire for freedom, even at the cost of hunger and lack of resources of all kinds.  Perhaps they are the strong ones, those who refuse to surrender to those in power and their invented realities.

He who does not accept and respect those who want to reject life does not truly accept and respect life itself.  –Thomas Szasz, MD

Insanity – a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.  –R.D. Laing

I think most of us wonder, from time to time, whether these lives we are living in the world have any meaning, whether what we have lived through and said and done have been of use to anyone.  I certainly do.  Yet here we are in the presence–or recent absence–of someone who probably never once thought that he had any importance to anyone other than his mother….and look what he is teaching us.

Existential Dhikr

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A person can call themselves a Sufi and live their lives in the context of the essential message of Sufism, that of love, harmony and beauty in the unity of all religions.  No requirements at all save living as well as one can.

Or one can become a Sufi in the interest of becoming self-realized,  thus taking initiation in what is called the “esoteric school” of this particular Sufi Order (there are numerous others).  If one chooses this latter option, then this process of self-realization becomes one of not just learning to see God, but realizing oneself to be the divine glance, the very expression of Divinity, as the Sufis say.  The practice that is most basic to this process, after exploring the attributes of divinity, is that of dhikr (a phonetic spelling).  There are many forms of the dhikr, slow and fast, inner and outer, moving and still, silent and vocal, group and individual….and all take the form of the phrase “La illaha il’llah Hu.”

“There is no God but God” is an exoteric definition of this phrase.

“There are no beings, just the one Being” is an esoteric understanding of what dhikr means.

I have been working recently with that is called the “Slow Dhikr,” sometimes the “Positive Dhikr,” or even “The Dhikr of the Broken Heart.”  You see, there is a negative dhikr and a positive dhikr:  a negative dhikr negates all that one thought oneself to be and affirms what Is.  A positive dhikr begins and ends from the standpoint of what Is.  Does this make sense?  Perhaps not, because dhikr can’t be understood intellectually, it has to make itself known emerging from within and back into itself.

Here is what is coming through in my “Existential Dhikr:”

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“La illa ha” . . . There is a Unity with no end and no beginning, self-observing and ever-becoming, and its reality can be known not by contemplation, but by becoming that Unity. The stars and planets of all the universes circle around their evolving understanding of themselves, musing about this experiment they are becoming.  There is no self, there is only Self.  Lord Buddha wanders into the Wilderness and discovers….vastness.  Thought becomes Mind.

“Il” . . . A Great Decision becomes made and  Unity falls into Being, into Multiplicity, out of the great cry of love that its evolution perpetuates.  It is a terrible and a magnificent moment, as whatever God is takes on a limited form in order to become Itself.  To a Christian, this stage of God’s becoming might be seen as the birth of the Christ.

“‘la (Allah:  yes and no, being and nonbeing, Crazy Love)” . . .  A great Individuality arises, like a tree rising from its roots or a flower blooming . . . a mountain grows toward the Sun, taking its roots with it.  All waters flow toward the Sea.  The human Being grows upward into its potential.  The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) says, in a Hadith, that to become human is to surpass in realization even the angels, for the angels are lost in contemplation of God, while the human has the potential to realize God, or primal Being.

“Hu.”  Often the culminating moment of “Hu” is said into the vastness, but here it is being said into the heart, the sacred, ultimate syllable that evokes what is left after all that becomes, a moment of divine resignation, an acceptance of the agony of limitation when limitation sees what it really is.  As Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan remarked, “transciency is eternalized through resurrection.”

Hu.  It transforms thinking, genetic expression, physical and mental processes, perspective and will.

Hu.  The war is won and begun again and again everlasting.

Invincible Spirit, 1969 – 2004 by Shams Kairys

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Invincible Spirit
Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan (1916-2004)

Shams Kairys

Pir Vilayat loved to fly. Often his guided meditations would transport one to resplendent vistas at rarefied altitudes dazzling the mind into a state of cosmic wonderment. It is no surprise that the camp he convened high in the French Alps for many summers, where sudden storms shook the crags upon which our tents were perched, was called Camp des Aigles. In fact, he kept eagles and falcons throughout his life, some of which he rescued from mistreatment, enjoying their flight as if it were his own. He did fly himself, first training as a pilot with the Royal Air Force during the Nazi advance, later just for delight, even hang-gliding in his seventies. And seeing him conduct a choir, one of his utmost joys, with his eyes flashing and his robes flapping, one could imagine he might soar aloft on the strains of Bach like a great bird in the brilliant sky.

My joy was making a half loop, then turning off the engine and drifting in the wind amongst the clouds upside down, hanging on my straps in an open cockpit. Here I was at home, set free in the vastness. My dearest wish would have been to live up there permanently. I would exult in the many splendoured array of colors in the clouds, and their evanescent formations, and I would turn my plane into the sun, drinking in its sheer effulgence as I glided upon thin air.

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I first saw Pir Vilayat in 1969 giving a talk in a little chapel on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. The princely man standing on the dais seemed dropped into place from a faraway realm, wearing distinctive garb from the East, speaking in a melodious voice with an Oxford accent and an astounding vocabulary. He was aristocratic yet engaging, erudite yet ardent, earnest yet not dogmatic. I don’t remember the subject of the discourse, but my response is indelible. At that time, my training in literary criticism was at such a pitch that everything I heard and read was subject to critical analysis. Yet that evening I found myself simply listening to what was said on its own terms, even when those terms would ordinarily have roused skepticism, disarmed by the authenticity of the speaker.

The measure of your greatness is the measure of your magnanimity, your willingness to carry people in your heart. If we are encapsulated in our self-image, we are puny. A great being has stature, something cosmic comes through. Think of people who have really dedicated themselves to service. If we’re great enough, then we have room in our heart even for a person who has hurt us. So we can counter resentment, which can degenerate into hate, then to cruelty and even to war. As a dervish would say: “Shake yourself awake! You have been invited to the divine banquet! Don’t you realize that the divine being is present in you?” In fact, the whole of creation is an act of magnanimity, talking in Sufi language now.
God descended from the solitude of unknowing so that a further knowledge could be acquired by experience in the world. But more so, God descended from the solitude of unknowing out of love for the possibility of you. So it was love rather than understanding. Rumi certainly put it right when he said, “Would the gardener have planted the seed if it were not for the love of the flower?” The whole of Sufism turns round this very powerful force of love.

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Pir Vilayat gave abiding devotion to his own teacher, his father, the renowned Indian musician and sage Hazrat Inayat Khan, who died when Vilayat was just ten years old, leaving him with a treasury of teaching, a mandate to succeed him and the independence to fulfill it in his own manner. While raised a Muslim, Hazrat Inayat Khan embraced early in life the mystics and prophets of all traditions, and was encouraged by his teacher in the Chisti Sufi lineage to bring a message of universal wisdom to the West. He embarked for America in 1910, stepping into the unknown with mighty conviction. In the following sixteen years he traveled throughout Europe and the United States, speaking to the hearts and souls of those he met, while tirelessly developing an international school and movement to awaken humanity to the divinity within the human heart, and to inspire lives of fruitfulness, kindness and service. As Pir Vilayat noted, “Hazrat Inayat Khan announces the spirituality of the future— making God a reality, rather than a belief, by incorporating more and more of the bounty of the universe in that wonderful work of art that is the personality.”

Many children used to play in the field opposite Fazal Manzil, our home in Suresnes, near Paris, when their parents would come for the summer school—Dutch, French, English, German, Swedish, Italian. We would lie down and peer through the high grass waiting for the moment when the front door opened and we could see that kingly figure emerge, descend the front steps and wend his way slowly along the path to the lecture hall. Such great majesty came through as he walked, and he seemed to be carrying the whole world on his back. One could feel love and reverence emanating from those assembled as he entered the hall and, speaking from the depths, greeted them with, “Beloved ones of God…” There was a pervasive air of sacredness, yet his discourse was often punctuated with hearty joviality. He could not possibly be my daddy or that of my brother or sisters! No, he was the father of us all, young or old, the grand patriarch around whom our lives revolved. He made a little spot on Earth a paradise by his presence.

Years later, introducing a recording of a “mantrum chanted by the Tibetans” to a retreat group, Pir Vilayat provides a glimpse of his own sense of mission, and his utter dedication to it: “You’ll observe the tremendous power that comes through, incredible power. It takes that degree of commitment to unleash the divine power. It’s not something that can be done half-heartedly. It means a total commitment.”

As a young man, my mother tried to save me from all the hardships that my father underwent, and so encouraged me to be a musician as my brother and sisters. Then one day Murshida Fazl Mai, the lovely old lady who lived with us and was like my grandmother, said, “Vilayat, if you become a musician, that will not prepare you for the task that your father cast upon you to be his successor.” So all that came back. I must have been about 15 or 16. Then I knelt down like a knight and made a pledge: “I dedicate my life totally to my father’s wish, and to do whatever it takes to prepare myself for it.”

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Pir Vilayat did not choose a soft path. Where he might have acceded to circumstances as presented, or preferred to go off and meditate in a remote cave, he willingly entered the fray of life in accord with his acute sense of commitment and justice. While an essential thrust of his teaching was to experience transcendent states and apply the spiritual insight so gleaned in everyday life, his forceful call for the awakening not only of consciousness, but of conscience—matching one’s actions to one’s ideals—is perhaps the most challenging and invigorating aspect of his teaching. Opening this dimension required that Pir Vilayat address the real ills of people, and the real horror in the world, a sobering task for one focused on building “a beautiful world of beautiful people.”

He did not shrink from evil, but faced it fiercely. He decided to volunteer to combat the Nazi onslaught defensively as an officer on a British Royal Navy minesweeper, an extremely dangerous mission. As a young journalist, his intrepid reports of French atrocities in North Africa resulted in United Nations and international pressure on the French government to stop these actions. There are stories of him rushing from the back of a bus in India that had been stopped by a band of dacoits, commanding that they remove the log they had placed across the road and let the bus pass—and they did. Another time he made a taxi driver who had swerved at a dog pull to the side of the road so that he could disembark. He was wary of personal anger, but he was a great exponent of righteous indignation in defense of others, and led an Amnesty International letter-writing campaign for many years on behalf of prisoners of conscience around the world. Perhaps his signature legacy is the Hope Project, a model program he founded that provides food, education, and medical and social services for the destitute shanty dwellers of the neighborhood surrounding the tomb of his father in Delhi. Year after year he would modestly proffer his beggar’s bowl after his seminars to collect crumpled bills for the dark-eyed children of poverty whom he carried in his heart.

Yes, the heart is broken, but it is alive! We need a conspiracy of conscience, a collective chivalry where everybody is committed to working together on behalf of the whole. In our dismay at a disturbed world teetering at the edge of disaster (or is it being afflicted by exceedingly hazardous birth pangs?), as we quiver at the threat of wreaking further unimaginable escalating havoc upon our erstwhile beautiful planet and killing or causing excruciating pain for millions, perhaps billions, of innocent people, we are shaken out of complacency and challenged into exploring the core issues at the social scale and in ourselves. Discovering the degree to which the emotions of hate and disregard of suffering erupt mercilessly when people are threatened or frightened is so distressing! War, violence, cruelty, with all its trail of misery, starts in each one of us. Our spiritual values are at stake. Never has the message of the awakening of conscience been so urgently relevant! What if we emboldened ourselves to turn the tables on violence by bestowing pardon and forgiveness? What if we gave love a chance?

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For all his extraordinary qualities, Pir Vilayat was very human. He had loves and losses, lapses and surges, regrets and forgivings—and profound sorrows. His revered father returned to India and died when only 44 years old, leaving the whole family bereft. Later, the looming menace of the Third Reich darkened his youthful prospect, and soon he experienced war close at hand, including the loss of comrades, and narrow rescue from freezing waters, when his minesweeper was sunk. Then, within a few years, he suffered the death of his sister in the war, the death of his fiancée in a motorcycle accident, and the death of his mother. Shaken and shattered, he listened to Bach’s B minor Mass every night for months to heal his spirit.

Of these losses, most stinging was the demise of his beloved sister Noor after her heroic work as an undercover agent in occupied France. Imagine him frantically searching for news of her day after day at the end of the war, his heart wrenched when he finally learned that she had been betrayed and captured, tortured, and then executed at the concentration camp at Dachau, uttering “Liberté!” with her last breath. The ache of this devastating loss stayed with him his whole life—he said he could not enjoy wonderful food without thinking of the acrid potato-peel soup Noor was forced to eat—impelling him to personally grapple with resentment and forgiveness. Over fifty years later, Pir Vilayat conducted a performance of the B minor Mass at the Dachau memorial to commemorate Noor, and all victims of oppression. The day was overcast, darkening as the Mass moved through the Crucifixus section, when suddenly, as the Resurrexit was sung, a great shaft of light broke through the clouds and shone upon the place.

After this sorrowful series of events, another crushing blow fell when Pir Vilayat was denied his position in the Sufi Movement founded by his father. Bracing himself, he faced life anew, and, renewing his resolve to carry on his father’s work, he painstakingly began forging his own legacy. This struggle is echoed in a saying from Goethe that he often cited: “That which you inherit from your forefathers, you must conquer in order to possess.” Reclaiming his lost inheritance became a lifelong quest that led him to sit with ascetics in the Himalayas; take rigorous Sufi retreats in Ajmer, Hyderabad and at the Mount of Olives; search the world’s treasury of spiritual revelation; and ultimately develop a counterpart organization, Sufi Order International, that would provide the scope for him to bring a new dispensation to the heritage of the past and rally a new generation to the message of love, harmony and beauty brought by Hazrat Inayat Khan.

My father once told me to find the great rishis at the source of the Ganges and the Jumna. Then I had an opportunity to go to India at last. In fact I hitchhiked to India several times because I didn’t have much money. It was a wonderful way of visiting the world. I was still quite young when I had my first encounter with a rishi sitting in a cave. I had come a long way. I had walked three days and three nights in the snow, and had caught pneumonia. I was also rather scared because there were tracks in the snow that I thought might be the tracks of a bear. But they turned out to be the footsteps of a rishi. The first thing he said to me was, “Why have you come so far to see what you should be?” I was rather inexperienced, so I just said, “It is so wonderful to see this.” Today, I suppose I would have said, “To become what I might be, I have to see myself in another myself who shows me who I truly am.”

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Considering his solar nature and his tendency to dispel darkness, it’s no wonder that Pir Vilayat grappled with Jung’s warning, “If you do not face your shadow, it will appear in the form of your fate.” In response, he confronted the pitfall of using spiritual practice as a means of “getting high” without attendant self-assessment, and advocated scrupulously shining the light of awareness into the recesses of one’s mind and heart. Opening to his own struggles and failings, and deconstructing the role cast for him by his followers, brought him to a new level of candor with those he taught.

It has become clear to me that, because I have been emphasizing the idyllic dimension of people while underplaying the “shadow,” some have been lulled into a highfalutin image of themselves and of myself which matches neither the reality of their being nor of mine, and brooks contradictions in how they handle situations. Anyone volunteering to embody the archetype representing people’s higher self will have to choose between artfully concealing one’s shadow and, when discovered, justifying it hypocritically, or alternatively, exposing oneself to scrutiny and criticism by all. Should one have the honesty and courage to confront one’s shortcomings, one will better understand people’s problems through seeing oneself in others and others in oneself, thus affording real help to those who also need to transmute their shadow elements.

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Pir Vilayat’s passion for freedom led him to challenge constraints of convention, conditioning, and “sclerosed” ways of thinking. His was a quest to fashion himself afresh, to garner the prerogative to participate in the unfurling of creation.

Once while on retreat in the Alps, after a stormy night in the mountains precariously sheltered beneath the roof of a shepherd’s shed, I observed the dark clouds and heard the thunderclaps gradually receding into the distance, swept away by a raging wind. As if in sympathetic resonance, my consciousness began to melt away, scattering into an infinite, edgeless universe. Vanishing along with the storm were my concepts about the world, the cosmos, my personal circumstances, unresolved problems, values, actions, even all my teachings—suddenly all these thoughts seemed so futile, worthless, and misleading! Rather than flounder in a “dark night” of negativity brought on by the collapse of these mental structures, I clung to the very meaningfulness that had just shattered my commonplace thinking. It was the consummate quantum leap, bringing vividly alive the last words spoken by my father, Hazrat Inayat Khan, on his deathbed: “When the unreality of life pushes against my heart, its door opens to the reality.” All my life I had prided myself on what I thought were valid theories about unmasking the hoax of habituated responses to life. But instead of dismissing all these constructs, I realized that they had acted as stepping-stones that led me to this ultimate breakthrough, while “I” became immersed in the sublime, wordless state of unity beyond life —existence unveiled into eternity.

Brandishing the mantra “What if . . .?” he explored the advancing verge of evolution and pioneered a forward-looking spirituality that would transcend the limited and limiting thinking of the past. Indeed, for him, as epitomized in one of his favorite sayings, “The pull of the future is stronger than the push of the past.”

Since the challenges of our times are, in some ways, more demanding than those faced by our predecessors, our free-wheeling into the future must integrate a greater complexity. Meditation needs to give us the means to reduce stress, improve decision-making, and overcome resentment and poor self-image. We need in meditation to honor our concerns about the environment, the population explosion, political oppression and social justice. We need to take into consideration futuristic views in physics and in psychology, and join the nascent trend to explore new expressions of our need for the sacred, emancipated from hackneyed forms of sanctimoniousness, superstitions, prescriptions, and dogmatism.

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Pir Vilayat delivered a resounding message of meaningfulness that offers a healing prospect for beleaguered souls. For him, the perceptible realm is a revealing veil behind and through which a sublime resplendence transpires. Our life is an extraordinary opportunity to fulfill the “divine intention”—to bring to light the treasure hidden in our being that is wanting to manifest, thus conferring a unique bequest upon the whole of creation. So he affirms a momentous potentiality for human being as a consecrated laboratory for the evolution of the universe. Our lives are a dynamic process in which potentialities unfurl as we interact with the world. Thus even our problems can be regarded as a way we are drawn out and shaped so that, ultimately, we conspire with the universe to bring forth something of eternal value through our temporal lives. This approach establishes experientially the possibility of a co- extensive moiety for our participation in the universe, wherein remembrance of the sacred can be renewed at a moment’s notice. “Training oneself to see things from the divine point of view is key to understanding the essence of Sufism: it is the ‘global compass’ that offsets the personal vantage point, the ‘true north’ orienting one’s direction in life. There can be progress only by shattering your understanding to allow a greater understanding to come through.” Thus spirituality is about reaching beyond limited notions of ourselves to discover and embody the wonder and mystery of a vaster reality.

The more one penetrates the mystery of life, the more one is bemused, and amazed. It starts by being overwhelmed by the meaningfulness of life, with all its drama and the tremendous achievements of our great civilizations. There is a kind of enthusiasm that goes with this realization—that we are able to be part of all this is the greatest privilege that one could ever imagine! Physicists say they never cease to be amazed not only by the meaningfulness, but by the elegance of the universe. So it goes beyond understanding— your admiration is superceded by ecstasy, by your state of be- wondering, and it reaches beyond that into glorification.

The cells have the faculty of absorbing light, not only from the sun, but also from the stars and from cosmic rays, because the whole of space is not just studded with lights—it is an ocean of light. Dynamized by this light, the electrons within the atoms within molecules within the cells start using that energy to free themselves from the constraint of their routine orbital, and they begin to dance. The freedom that they enjoy because they are feeding on light is something that one has to experience. The dance of the atoms! As matter of fact, they exult in joy. If we become conscious of what’s happening in our body, then our souls exult in joy and participate in the choreography of the heavens.

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If human life is an expression of the divine impetus bursting into existence through the material of the cosmos, then awe-inspired response is natural. Religion no longer needs to be about binding people to creeds and admonitions, but may become primarily a message of spiritual liberty that celebrates our ineluctable life in God.

You could say that divine freedom is delegated to each one of us, so instead of thinking that our free will violates or even contrasts with the divine will, consider that it customizes and thereby enriches it. The beauty here is that there is order and there is freedom within the order, and there are degrees in which that freedom can manifest itself. A very wonderful example is St. John’s Passion where you have “It has been fulfilled,” the words of Christ have been fulfilled. There is this voice, along with the viola da gamba playing a bit different line, and they never dovetail but are just listening to each other. It is like two eagles in a sky that are free and at the same time they are watching each other and maintaining some kind of contact. I am thinking of the words of Bach when he says [apocryphal quotation]: “In the science of my art and the art of my science I am trying to create a model for the human commonwealth. Not a melody with subsidiary accompaniments, but for each theme an instrument and for each instrument a theme. Not the imposition of one theme upon another, but rather, each enjoying a degree of freedom yet each trimming its initiative in the interest of the whole. Such is the symphony of the stars.”

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Spiritual awakening was not an abstract goal for Pir Vilayat, but an experiential cauldron of intensive investigation and experiment. He conjoined Yogic, Buddhist and Sufi teachings to elucidate ascent through the stages of awakening, and drew on contemplations from the mystical traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam to inform his own course of transformational meditation. He elaborated traditional Sufi practices of zikr and wazifa in an endless stream of new variants and formulations, and sounded the call of the dervish to “Die before death and resurrect now!” He expounded “stereoscopic consciousness,” toggling between cosmic and personal points of view to extrapolate a perspective which encompasses both, what he called “awakening in life rather than beyond life,” or “samadhi with open eyes.” Declaring “the map is not the terrain,” and exploring the holographic paradigm of a dynamically interwoven universe, he acclaimed the magnificent reality unfolding “within us, through us, as us.” He strove to “reconcile the irreconciliables,” and extended our comprehension of the divine by describing realms often considered beyond depiction, employing “creative imagination” to exult in pristine vistas and plumb archetypal landscapes of the soul. And he worked throughout his life with breath, thought and light to fashion a subtle technology for igniting realization and illumination.

Imagine that you are infusing your aura with a flood of light. Now what does that mean in practice? It could be illustrated by a mother showing her child a picture with a pixie hidden in the tree. The mother asks the child, “Can you see the pixie?” “No Mummy, I can’t see it.” “Look again.” “No, l don’t see it.” “Okay, now look again, look closely . . .” “Yes!” All of a sudden the child sees the pixie, and her face, her whole being, light up! That is what is meant in the Qur’an by “a light upon a light,” when the light of intelligence strikes and your whole aura bursts into brightness more intensely than ever before.

In one distinctive practice, Pir Vilayat drew upon his lifetime apprenticeship with the wise and holy guides of humanity—from Plotinus to Buddha to Christ to Ibn ‘Arabi to Bach to Einstein— convening an inner interchange with them across time and space, then opening the dialogue outward for us all to hear, as he did in his final opus, In Search of the Hidden Treasure.

Among the many things I am looking for, perhaps paramount is awakening. If I feel that I am caught in a perspective, I’d like to know how to awaken from it. Hazrat Inayat Khan offers an all- encompassing embrace that integrates the sometimes antinomous points of view of the great beings of the past in a cosmic symposium. They are there, but I’m like the bee that makes honey out of the pollen. By contemplating them we build a bridge with our thoughts and our hearts through which they can inspire, and thereby guide us. I’m looking to the know-how that has dawned upon us from these holy beings, to explore what light their views, realizations, and attunements project upon our human problems, and to keep abreast with the forward thinking of humanity as it advances towards a unified world-view.

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In light of his solemn undertaking, Pir Vilayat could be surprisingly funny. His impish humor, outbursts of laughter (sometimes at his own jokes), or animation at a serendipitous thought—eyebrows rising, eyes wide, mouth open round—could kindle sudden delight, even hilarity, amongst those gathered. This merriment was the leading edge of a deeper ecstasy, where pain and joy converge. His soulful and spirited singing of verses from his father, such as “Why O my feeling heart?” or playing Kol Nidre on his cello, poignantly blended power and tenderness. When he entered a room the atmosphere became charged with the force of his magnetism. He was the life of any party, full of fascinating stories, witty comments and penetrating questions. And he could just as quickly be moved to tears when recounting stories of great spiritual courage, remembering his sister Noor, or feeling the suffering of others.

His tremendous personal warmth touched even those unknown to him whom he met in his travels, and his unmistakable spark of brilliance drew many to him. He spoke at a continuous succession of seminars, conferences and retreats, always pressing the threshold of the ineffable, perhaps mindful of the fierce dervish he had met in Pakistan who exclaimed, “Wrap yourself in my beard, lose yourself in my glance, and never say anything you think can be said!”

I remember my father saying, “You think that my purpose is to give talks?” He said, “No, I am working on the higher planes with people.” So I hope that we have been working on several levels at the same time, because ultimately it can’t be said in words.

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Pir Vilayat’s life was kaleidoscopic, if not gyroscopic. He swept into town like a whirlwind (stories of storms accompanying his arrival are legion), and left in a flurry, stirring new life in his wake. His penchant for change, visionary flights and new projects could be maddening to those attempting to organize things, yet he said he preferred honesty to efficiency, and dauntlessly eschewed the mediocre. Sure-footed guide and steadfast friend, he often drew us to powerful places in nature, heightening our soul’s “nostalgia” to become what we might be. The multi-cultural, multi-lingual influence of his Indian father, American mother and European education expanded ultimately into a multi-dimensional perspective that was expressed in many facets: creative social inventions like the

Cosmic Mass, the Abode of the Message, Omega and Zenith Institutes, the Universel, and interfaith symposia and cutting-edge conferences; his love of science, about which he read avidly; the astonishing cornucopia of names and ideas that he drew upon; the seven books and numerous articles he wrote; his deep listening to the world’s classical music for renderings of the compass of emotion, human and divine; his advocacy for the kinship of all life. And he inspired a motley group of good-hearted rebels and seekers with a new sense of purpose and possibility, unleashing individual creativity in building spiritual community, forming widespread centers and contributing to the larger world.

Pir Vilayat chose to not insulate himself from others. During his incessant travels he met with a continuous stream of people, at airports, during car rides, at the homes of those who hosted him in each city, before and after meetings, at breaks and at meals. Everywhere he went, people sought to have some moments with him, for inspiration and insight, for counsel, consolation or blessing, or simply to enjoy his presence. All the while he dealt with organizational demands, revised plans, seminar preparation, music selection, rehearsals, interviews, equipment failures, lost items, book deadlines, long-distance phone calls, express mail packets, e-mail, special requests and needs of friends and family. His spaciousness and good cheer in the face of this deluge, his little gestures of kindness and gratitude, never failed to touch those around him, making parting from him all the more poignant.

I feel that we’ve been sharing something very beautiful together and that will always remain even if I don’t see you again or you don’t see me. I hope that we’ll always be in touch on a deeper plane. We shall carry each other in our hearts.

One evening, arriving home to his family in California from a trip of many weeks, with piles of business to attend to, Pir Vilayat was surprised to find me waiting in the pod—a snub-nosed conical spaceship of a structure outfitted as his office—in preparation for an individual retreat that had been scheduled months before. He graciously gave me an orientation, then I went down into the back garden to set up my tent. As night fell the temperature dropped, and I soon put on all the clothing I had brought and wrapped myself in my sleeping bag, while trying to focus on the prescribed practices. It grew quite dark, when suddenly I heard a sound of rustling in the bushes, then a little “knock” at my door as my name was spoken, and I unzipped the tent flap. There stood Pir Vilayat, with a folded blanket in his hands, looking at me with a warm gaze. He passed it to me, saying only, “I thought you might be cold.”

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As Pir Vilayat’s health failed over many months in a cascade of painful ailments, lightened by the loving care of his younger son Mirza, I received this message from Sharif Graham in Suresnes: “I hope Pir Vilayat lasts until your visit; he seems very weak. This morning when we visited, he asked me, ‘Are you going to the galaxies?’ I said, ‘I hope so. Are you going there?’ He answered with an enthusiastic ‘Yes,’ and I said, ‘Well, then, I’ll see you there.’ Then he smiled, the first smile I have seen in some time.”

When I did arrive I found my beloved Pir looking less wizened than I had expected, his skin smooth, his breathing steady, “asleep” on his side. With his great hands, silvery mane, white beard tinged with gold, high brow and deep set eyes, he reminded me of an aged lion curled in the grasses, recapitulating scenes from his life as his body closed out its mission. In an atmosphere of prayer, remembrance, and rapt quietude, he passed away gently the next day, surrounded by beloved family—Mary, his wife of 52 years, Clare, his sister, his sons Zia and Mirza, and their mother, Taj—and a handful of friends, on June 17, 2004, two days before his 88th birthday.

Before Pir Vilayat’s body was taken to Delhi to be interred near the tomb of his father, it was placed in a simple coffin in the temple in the garden, draped with Indian silk, an embroidered winged-heart emblem just above his heart, surrounded by an arc of tall candles. Soon an aura of many-colored rose petals grew on the floor around the coffin as pilgrims arrived from near and far, sitting in the peaceful atmosphere, and sharing moments of reminiscence and

tender feeling. On the third day, a grand Cosmic Celebration was conducted, including music, song and chant from many traditions, as well as quotations from scripture and sayings from Pir Vilayat, commencing a series of such memorial services held around the world. I opened by playing Pir Vilayat’s violin. Meditative melodies mixed with cosmic sounds as the music welled from the depths, then through my heart, ending with a chord on the higher strings evoking a light-like brightness, repeating, intensifying, then slowly softening into silence.

Shortly after, Pir Vilayat’s son and successor, Pir Zia Inayat-Khan, wrote: One of his favorite practices is to meditate looking up into the stars at night. I think if you do so you’ll find the imprint of his spirit, as he always reminded us that the physical body is only the hard core of a larger identity, of which one of the dimensions is the aura, which pervades space at the astounding speed of 186,000 miles per second and is the means whereby the personality, the sum of one’s experience, is sublimated, subtilized and radiated into the heavens to become a ripple within the great wave interference pattern of the galaxies. We can discover Pir Vilayat truly in that great moiré of the heavens. The signature of our beloved Pir’s inimitable spirit is inscribed in the starry sky.

The Battle of Life

BG Krishna instructs Arjuna 2

I have been thinking, lately, about how despite all the inner work one does, the battle with the limited self must continue throughout life.  Presumably, this is because what we call the “ego” or the “nafs” (in Sufi terminology) is necessary to our experience on the earth plane.  As I understand it, it works as a sort of anchor to hold us to this plane of materiality, and the overcoming of its limitations seems to be the primary vehicle for learning what we come here to learn.  The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him, said in a Hadith that the human being is actually higher than the angels, because in coming here for the earth experience, the soul has the opportunity to actualize the God-self, while the angels remain caught in contemplation of God.  The descent of the soul out of the unity of divine Being into humanity is the ultimate descent, its limitation being symbolized by the crucifixion of Christ.

Inayat Khan, in The Unity of Religious Ideals, illuminates the battle with the limited self by telling the story of Krishna and Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita, which metaphorically describes the inner battle with the limited self in the war that Arjuna must fight.  In his fear and anguish, caught between two sides, he consults his charioteer, Krishna, and gradually Krishna helps him to see what the battle really means, and how to win it.  It is a good way to describe the battle of the soul with the ego, because in reality, the inner battle can only be fought through outer circumstances.   Inayat Khan writes:

 . . . the latter part of Krishna’s life has two very important aspects. One aspect teaches us that life is a continual battle and the earth is the battlefield where every soul has to struggle, and the one who wants to own the kingdom of the earth must be well acquainted with the law of warfare. S/He must learn the secret of an offensive, the mystery of defense, how to hold her or his position, how to retreat, how to advance, and how to change position; how to protect and control all that has been won, how to abandon that which must be given up, the manner of sending an ultimatum, the way of making an armistice, and the method by which peace is made. In the battle of life man’s position is most difficult. S/He has to fight on two fronts at the same time: one enemy is himself, and the other is before him. If s/he is successful on one front and fails on the other front, then his or her success is not complete.  (Inayat Khan, Volume IX, The Unity of Religious Ideals)

A well-known aphorism comes to mind here:  Choose your battles, as the saying goes.  Recently, I found myself in conflict with some colleagues, and this whole idea was brought home to me quite thoroughly:  those colleagues got the jump on me in a situation where they ought to have shown more ethical and professional discretion, and I found myself powerless to do much of anything about it when I realized what had happened.  How to deal with this, I wondered, and as someone with a strong inner life, I was frustrated to find myself ready to “spit nails.”  On an outer level, I did what I could do:  there were three people with whom I found myself in this situation, and one of them was fairly innocent, because he was on the outside and was used to accomplish the ends of the other two.  Another of these colleagues was someone I had long ago realized was going to do what she would do without any thought for ethical protocol or what the Sufis call adab, or fineness of manner.  Such a person cannot be fought, except within.  More on that later.   The third of these people was someone who is mostly just a bit inexperienced, and was probably just thoughtless in this situation.  In pain and suffering, I confronted her, as wisely and compassionately as I could, and endured her rage, remembering that I was once exactly where she was, and knowing that she would eventually grow through her hypersensitivity.

But the one in the middle, the one who had proven herself unbeatable without resorting to her own machinations in order to “win.”  What about her?  Vanquishing an enemy such as this is fairly impossible in outer circumstances, because one demeans oneself if one resorts to the tactics the other person is willing to use in order to attain her ends.  Thus, it occurred to me that first, I needed to look inside to find out why this person had such power over me.  The answer came immediately, in identifying the bodily sensations that arose at the thought of this person’s treachery:  I realized that she invoked the fear and powerlessness that came over me as a small child with an older sibling who later was revealed to have clear antisocial tendencies, and who tormented me, as the “baby of the family,” throughout my childhood.  This kind of family dynamic is fairly common in dysfunctional, alcoholic families, as mine was; and while I would like to say I overcame my fear and frustration, I think that in the continued appearance of similar people in my life, I still have a ways to go.  So there I am:  Arjuna on the battlefield of the soul.

What is to be done when one cannot fight outwardly without making a fool of oneself, to say nothing of making public one’s fear and frustration?  How do we deal with behavior it would demean us to even recognize, let alone fight?

The battle of each individual has a different character; it depends upon a man’s particular grade of evolution. Therefore every person’s battle in life is different, and of a peculiar character. No one in the world is exempt from that battle; only, one is more prepared for it while the other is perhaps ignorant of the law of warfare. And in the success of this battle lies the fulfillment of life. The Bhagavad-Gita, the Song Celestial, from the beginning to end is a teaching on the law of life’s warfare. (Inayat Khan)

When Inayat Khan came to the West, an Indian in what was then a very strange and alien culture, he came with a purpose:  to spread the Message of the unity of all religions, to teach his own understanding of Sufism, a philosophy that superceded differences and distinctions, one that went beyond dogmas, theologies and philosophies:  simply, love, harmony and beauty.  To those who met him, he seemed to be a simply astounding presence, the true embodiment of spiritual realization.  Yet in a sense, he was somewhat of an innocent in the culture of a war-torn Europe.  It didn’t take long for a sizeable group of students to be attracted to him and his Message, but they were very human beings, and the constant battle of politics and personalities became more and more discouraging to him.  One of my life’s teachers, Shamcher (one of his early students) said to me that “the Sufi has two points of view:  his own and that of the other.”  Murshid (the name his students called Inayat Khan, meaning “teacher”) was beset on either side with students complaining about other students, power battles, battles with the outer world, constant poverty while he tried to do his spiritual work and still support his family; at one point, when a student kept coming to complain about another, he simply said, “Well, that’s what he did today.  Let us see what he will do tomorrow.”  How does such a being–or any being–maintain equanimity in the face of this kind of constant negativity?   And the battles continue today, as they seem to in every church, spiritual and secular organization, all of which seem to exist in order to facilitate opportunities for the soul to fight its battle with its ego.  Shamcher humorously said, “God wanted to create Hell, so he created the committee.”

Arjuna speaks:

 Drive my chariot, Krishna immortal, and place it between the two armies.

That I may see those warriors who stand there eager for battle, with whom I must now fight at the beginning of this war.

That I may see those who have come here eager and ready to fight, in their desire to do the will of the evil son of Dhrita-Rashtra.  (From the Bhagavad Gita)

If you are reading this and it evokes similar situations you have had to fight, and you are hoping I am going to offer you some solution, I hate to disappoint you, because I don’t have any easy solutions for you.  I fight this battle every day of my life, and I have come to realize that I am not alone in this battle.  

Krishna, of course, represents the God-ideal, and it is God who is both sides of the battle, the war, and Arjuna.  It strikes me, here, that the important idea in this brief verse is in seeing:  put me in the middle, the passage says.  Let me see both sides equally, both good and bad.  Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, the son and successor of Inayat Khan, often told his students, of which I am one, that we ought not just learn to see with the eyes of God, but to BECOME the divine glance.  How else do we learn to fight if we cannot not only see, but become that Glance?  While I–or you–may need to become aware of my personal issues, the impressions I have retained in the battle of life, the wounds that have not yet completely healed, the “ego-trips” I put myself through, it seems to me that I cannot win my battles–or my ultimate Battle–until I learn to see the entire battlefield with the eyes of God.

When Krishna heard the words of Arjuna he drove their glorious chariot and placed it between the two armies.

And facing Bhishma and Drona and other royal rulers he said:  ‘See, Arjuna, the armies of the Kurus, gathered here on this field of battle.’

Then Arjuna saw in both armies fathers, grandfathers, sons, grandsons; fathers of wives, uncles, masters; brothers, companions and friends.

When Arjuna thus saw his kinsmen face to face in both lines of battle, he was overcome by grief and despair, and thus he spoke with a sinking heart.  (Bhagavad Gita)

Arjuna is overcome with despair:  Lord Krishna has enabled him to see through His eyes, and he now sees both sides.  How can he fight?  How can he take sides?  He weeps at the idea of killing anyone, because no one is an enemy, they are all parts of himself.  Lord Krishna,however, lets him see that on this occasion, the fight must be fought, and that on another level, it makes sense to fight it, and it is okay to fight.  There is a reality beyond the apparent battle:

Krishna speaks:

Thy tears are for those beyond tears; and are they words words of wisdom?  The wise grieve not for those who live; and they grieve not for those who die; for life and death shall pass away.

Because we all have been for all time:  I, and thou, and these kings of men.  And we all shall be for all time, we all for ever and ever.  (Bhagavad Gita)

Arjuna is catapulted beyond the apparent and into the real.  He sees that, whatever this battle is about, there is a greater reality that is beyond it that must be kept in mind if he is to win.  He sees beyond the veil, from the apparent to the real.  Then why is the battle taking place?  And why must it be won?  Must it even be fought?

Many people today ask why, if there is a God, should wars and disasters take place. And many give up their belief when they think more about it. The image of Krishna with a sword, going to war, shows that God who is in heaven, and who is most kind, is yet the same God who stands with a sword in his hand; that there is no name, no form, no place, no occupation, which is devoid of God. It is a lesson that we should recognize God in all, instead of limiting Him only to the good and keeping Him away from what we call evil; for this contradicts the saying: ‘In God we live and move and have our being.’  (Inayat Khan)

Rumi said,”If I told what I knew, the world would be in flames.”  How do we know what is transpiring beyond that which occurs?  How do we get beyond the petty grievances and frustrations, the battles of everyday living?  By learning to see.  It seems to this person that no matter what we call our ideal, whether to us it is a God ideal or an idea or a concept or a theology or philosophy, it is is truly our own, it will lead us to reality.  In time, we learn to see which battles must be fought and which must be given up.  We see who the enemy really is, and we learn to see ourselves in that enemy.  Gandhi said that we can only win over our enemy if we love her or him more than ourselves.

There is always more work to do.

Krishna_Splits_the_Double_Arjuna_Tree