The Teaching of Hazrat Inayat Khan      

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Social Gathekas

Religious Gathekas

The Message Papers

The Healing Papers

Vol. 1, The Way of Illumination

Vol. 1, The Inner Life

Vol. 1, The Soul, Whence And Whither?

Vol. 1, The Purpose of Life

Vol. 2, The Mysticism of Sound and Music

Vol. 2, The Mysticism of Sound

Vol. 2, Cosmic Language

Vol. 2, The Power of the Word

Vol. 3, Education

Vol. 3, Life's Creative Forces: Rasa Shastra

Vol. 3, Character and Personality

Vol. 4, Healing And The Mind World

Vol. 4, Mental Purification

Vol. 4, The Mind-World

Vol. 5, A Sufi Message Of Spiritual Liberty

Vol. 5, Aqibat, Life After Death

Vol. 5, The Phenomenon of the Soul

Vol. 5, Love, Human and Divine

Vol. 5, Pearls from the Ocean Unseen

Vol. 5, Metaphysics, The Experience of the Soul Through the Different Planes of Existence

Vol. 6, The Alchemy of Happiness

Vol. 7, In an Eastern Rose Garden

Vol. 8, Health and Order of Body and Mind

Vol. 8, The Privilege of Being Human

Vol. 8a, Sufi Teachings

Vol. 9, The Unity of Religious Ideals

Vol. 10, Sufi Mysticism

Vol. 10, The Path of Initiation and Discipleship

Vol. 10, Sufi Poetry

Vol. 10, Art: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Vol. 10, The Problem of the Day

Vol. 11, Philosophy

Vol. 11, Psychology

Vol. 11, Mysticism in Life

Vol. 12, The Vision of God and Man

Vol. 12, Confessions: Autobiographical Essays of Hazat Inayat Khan

Vol. 12, Four Plays

Vol. 13, Gathas

Vol. 14, The Smiling Forehead

By Date



Unity and Uniformity


The Sufi's Religion

The Aspects of Religion

How to Attain to Truth by Religion

Five Desires Answered by Religion


Aspects of the Law of Religion


The Effect of Prayer

The God Ideal

The Spiritual Hierarchy

The Master, the Saint, the Prophet

Prophets and Religions

The Symbology of Religious Ideas

The Message and the Messenger


The Spirit of Sufism

The Sufi's Aim in Life

The Ideal of the Sufi

The Sufi Movement

The Universal Worship




Seven Grades of the Spiritual Hierarchy

The Ways of Wise

Vol. 9, The Unity of Religious Ideals

The Spiritual Hierarchy


The idea of the spiritual hierarchy has been a question which has always been discussed in all ages, and especially at this time, when people have their conceptions much more separate and different, along spiritual lines, than before. The spiritual hierarchy is not man's imagination; it is not only a poetic idea, but it is as real as one's own being. Among hills and mountains there are small mountains and there are big mountains; among rivers there are larger and smaller rivers; and in all things of Nature one finds the evidence of Nature's hierarchy. What gives us the best picture of life is the heavens, with the planets, and the sun apart as a light and life-giver. When we consider all the planets, including the moon, we shall find they are all receptacles of light, and they all reflect the light of the sun according to their capacity.

The moon functions as a receptacle of the same light to the greatest degree. According to the mystical point of view, if it were not for the moon the whole cosmos would go to pieces, for the reason that the central currents of the sun are functioning in the moon, which reflects the light of the sun in fullness. Only the difference is that, as it is the reflection of the sun -- although in its fullness -- it has finer currents of light, it is soft and cooling, attractive, and its light is beautiful. Therefore the light of the sun is called jelal by the Sufis, and the light of the moon jemal. The former expresses power, and the latter beauty. The former is creative; the latter is responsive.

Suppose, then, if the sun has the light, then the moon possesses the light of the sun, not its own. If God is the Knower and the All-wise, the one who gives His Message gives God's knowledge, not his own; it is the light of the sun; so it is with the Messengers at all times. People have heard them speak, and therefore they call it the Message of Buddha, or of Christ, or of Muhammed; but, really speaking, the Message was of God.

All souls in the world are the receptacles of God's Message -- not only human beings, but even the lower creation. All objects and all conditions convey to us the Message of the One and Only Being. But the difference is that, although they convey the Message of God, they do not know it; they are not conscious of it. Not only objects are unconscious, but even human beings are unconscious. If they only knew that there is nothing in this world which is not the instrument of God!

As there are more useful and less useful objects, so there are more and less important human beings. If they were all equal, there would not have been the diversity of different ranks and positions in a state; there would not have been generals or colonels in the army -- all soldiers; there would not have been high and low notes on the piano, but all one key, one note, one sound; there would not have been different rooms in the house -- every room would have been a drawing-room. But it shows that it is the necessity of life that there should be a hierarchy -- hierarchy by election or hierarchy by appointment -- for the world cannot exist without it. Aristocracy and democracy are not two things, but one. There is but one chief thing, which is hierarchy. When it is right, it is called aristocracy; when it goes wrong, and when there comes a new spirit to rebuild it, this process is a state of democracy. It is natural that man is agitated with one thing when he wants to build another thing. He revolts against everything that was before, and so, in rebuilding, this revolting spirit often acts to his disadvantage.

As externally there is a system of government, so inwardly there is a system of government. One can see this government in every family also. There is a king in every family; there are ministers, counsellors, partakers of his responsibility, and servants who are paid for their work. Taking the whole universe as one whole, there is also a system of government, as there is a system of government in the sky: there is the sun, then there is the moon, which is directly focused to the sun, and there are the principal planets, which surround it, and there are the stars. And on the model of the heaven the inner and outer governments of the earth are arranged.

In the same way man's body is arranged: there is one principal factor; then there are working factors, as servants; then principal ministers; and when one takes the existence of man, from his soul to his body, it is one complete kingdom, which constitutes all the necessary officials and servants, making one's being as a kingdom. In that way it shows that the king will always exist. No democratic view, however much against the aristocratic form, will ever succeed in life without forming the kingdom. The difference is that, if he will not call the one king, he will name him president.

In the spiritual hierarchy there are seven grades of spiritual souls who form the spiritual standard; and each grade is divided into two classes, jelal and jemal. And, descending from the combination of these two spirits, there comes a third line as a central line, which is the spirit of prophecy and which is called the Spirit of Guidance.

It has never been necessary for any of these members of the hierarchy to acclaim themselves, especially for the reason that in this world of falsehood there are false claims; and even the real claims, in the worldly life, are no more true than false; and also as there has been no reason why the claims should be made, since the holders of these offices can serve the purpose better by being silent than by announcing themselves as So-and-so.

And, when every office in the world brings to man a certain amount of vanity, and as vanity is the greatest enemy of spiritual people, and as there is the jealousy of human nature always at work, and as competition and rivalry are the very source that give stimulus to the life in the world, the office has always been concealed by the spiritual officeholders, except by the teachers who had to give the Message of God to people and teach them. And how many in the world would not believe unless they knew he was the office bearer from God!

The teachers had their lives as the example of their office; except that, they had no other evidence. Miracles are known afterwards; legends are formed afterwards; poems are made afterwards; temples are built afterwards; following has increased afterwards; their words have been valued afterwards. But during their lifetime they met with nothing but opposition and the constant change of the followers, agreeing one day, disagreeing another day; and all sorts of difficulties they have suffered, even such as crucifixion.

The teacher's position is more delicate than that of the Master, because he must claim, and be among people. And being among people is to be as a bird of a different forest having arrived in a strange land, and all other birds, finding him different from them, wish to fight him and torture him, and wish to kill him. That has been the condition of the Prophet in all times, and the same will always be. The last One left a warning for the coming One, which was this: that prophecy was sealed. He did not mean by this that the work of the Spirit of Guidance was sealed. It was a clue to the Successor, now that the claim was sealed, that the work must be done without a claim, and it is the work that is done that should prove its genuineness, instead of a claim.

According to the Sufi conception, there are several degrees distinguished as different stages of responsiveness; in other words, of higher initiation. Among them there are five principal ones: Wali, Ghous, Qutub, Nabi, Rasul, the sign of Rasul being the crescent, which represents a responsive heart. People call them Masters, but they are in reality pupils; for, in point of fact, no one in the world is a Master save God. Man's privilege is to become a greater pupil. Therefore none of the Great Ones have called themselves Masters, nor have they considered themselves to be so. What they have known in their lives is the privilege of opening their hearts wider and wider to reflect the light of the Master, Who is God Himself. The progress of these high Initiates is in their responsiveness, for they have never connected themselves with what they have expressed.

Very often parents say something to their child in which there is the Voice of God; very often a kind friend suggests something to his friend, out of his love and sympathy, which happens to be a Message of God; sometimes a teacher says an inspiring word, which is as a word coming direct from God; even from an innocent child a word comes which comes as a warning from God; for all laces are His faces, and from all lips it is His Word that comes, whenever it comes. But those who can respond to Him, they become as His appointed servants. People call them Chosen Ones; God has chosen all, for all souls are near to the Creator. But the soul who is attached to the lips of God as a horn becomes the herald of His Message, and through his lips what comes is not his words, but the Message of God.

Seven Grades of the Spiritual Hierarchy

There are seven grades recognized by the Sufis of those in the spiritual hierarchy: Pir, Buzurg, Wali, Ghous, Qutub, Nabi, Rasul. These are the degrees which come from the inner initiations -- the inner initiations to which one becomes entitled on having the outer initiations which are necessary. It is beyond words to express what inner initiation means and in what form it is given. Those to whom the inner initiation is unknown may explain it as a dream or as a vision, but in reality it is something higher and greater than that. I can only explain it by saying that the definite changes which take place during one's journey through the spiritual path are initiations, and it is these initiations which include man in the spiritual hierarchy.

In the life of a Saint or a Master there are five degrees known [12 through 16], and in the two last degrees [17, 18] the progress of the Saint and of the Master is silent, but in the life of a Prophet these seven degrees manifest to view. For a Saint or a Master there is one facility -- that he can do his work by avoiding the notice of the world. But the life of the Prophet necessitates his coming into the world, and thus, as he progresses from grade to grade through his life, he cannot very well cover himself, however much he may want to, from the gaze of the world, though the Sage of every category -- Saint, Master, or Prophet -- and every degree, always prefers not being known to the world; and as he progresses, so that desire increases more.

But it is not only out of modesty or humbleness, but also for the protection of the spiritual ideal which is developed in him, for it attracts dangers of all sorts by being exposed to the common gaze. All beauty is veiled by nature, and the higher the beauty, the more it is covered. And that makes it easy for a wise person to find out the difference between a true Prophet and a false Prophet, for one beats his drums and the other tries to keep in the background -- if only his work in the world would let him keep back. It is his efforts in accomplishing something that bring him to the notice of the world. However, his longing is to be unknown, for the One who really deserves being known is God alone.

  1. The work of the Pir is helping individuals toward the unfoldment of their soul.

  2. The work of the Buzurg is to help by the power of his soul those who wish to advance spiritually.

  3. Wali is the Initiate whose will has come close to the Divine Will, and he shows it in the harmony which reigns in his own life -- harmony with friends, and he himself will be in harmony with the adversary also. He shows harmony with the changing weather and its different influences, and is in harmony with all he eats and drinks. He is in harmony with the place he lives and moves about in, and he harmonizes with all atmospheres. And so his will becomes the Will of God; in other words, the Will of God becomes his will. He controls a community, keeping it on the right track. He does that work, for which he is appointed, mostly in an unknown way. The greater a person is in spiritual advancement, the less assuming he becomes; and he avoids every show of piety or spirituality.

  4. Ghous is the next grade of the Initiates. The influence of the Ghous is wider. He gives up his personality wholly to the Divine Guidance. Therefore in the district, wherever this Ghous may be, an atmosphere will be created of protection from all kinds of dangers caused by floods and storms and by plagues and famines; and he helps the spiritual well-being of a community.

  5. Qutub is the third degree of a Master, of a still higher grade, whose mind becomes focused to the Divine Mind, and who has, to a smaller or greater extent, power over all elements and influence upon life. There is under him a dominion in which he is responsible for the order and peace of souls. He governs spiritually a country or a nation.

  6. Nabi is the apostle whose spirit reflects the Spirit of Guidance, called in Sanskrit Bodhisatva, whose work mainly is the giving of the Message in the form of warning, awakening, preaching, teaching, and inspiring those to whom he may be sent. He comes into the lives of those who are meant to be guided along the spiritual path. He is sent to the nations when the nations are meant to change their conditions. He is sent to a community or race to give warnings. He is meant to be a reformer in the times when a reformer is needed. He elevates individuals and bears a Divine Message.

  7. Rasul is the World Messenger, who comes to the world for all the people in the time of the world's need, and brings with him that inspiration, influence, and power which will harmonize humanity. He may be a king or a pauper; in all conditions he will fulfill the purpose of his coming on earth. Answering the cry of humanity, he fulfills the purpose of his mission on earth.

The question: "Where does one receive the initiation of the higher orders?" may be answered that no man in the world has the power to give the above said higher initiations. They are initiated by God Himself, and they prove their initiations, not in their claims, but in their works.

The soul that rises to that stage where manhood finishes and Godhead begins, enters the initiation of the spiritual hierarchy. But the soul, which has risen to that stage, is neither man nor God. He is not God, because he is limited man; and he is not man, because he is God-conscious.

The Ways of Wise

It is not easy to learn, and after learning, to practice, how to make life in the world with harmony and peace. The desire of every person in the world is to possess all he wants, whether it belongs to him or whether it belongs to anybody else. He wants all things to last, if they are any use to him; he wants all those dear and near to him should abide close to him; all he doesn't wish to see must be exiled from the town, and at the same time even the whole of nature must work to suit him: the cold must not be more than he wants, the heat must not exceed his desire, the rain must obey him, pain must not approach near.

There must not be anything difficult in life and all things and people must be perfect in the perfection of God; everybody must act in life as he wishes them to; he alone must be the engineer and all others his machines. They must have all the endurance he demands of them; at the same time all must be as sensitive as he wants them to be. No one should move against his desire; not even a bird must fly in the sky, nor even a leaf must make a flutter: all under his command. He alone must live and all others must live, but under him. This attitude I have not spoken of someone in the world, but every individual. The world is a place where every individual wishes to be the king, so many kings and only one kingdom, and the whole tragedy of life is accounted for by this.

The wise, out of wisdom, make life easy. But among the wise there are two categories: one is the Master, the other is the Saint. The attitude of both in life is quite contrary. The attitude of the Saint is to feel sympathy for others and to see the difficulties of the situation in life of others as of himself, and to sacrifice his wants for the need of others, realizing that he knows that life is difficult, and those who are void of wisdom have still more difficulties as they know not how to surmount the difficulties of life. Out of his love, mercy and compassion he thus sacrifices his life to the service of his fellow man by making life easy for them.

In the first place he sees the worst enemy of his fellow man in himself, knowing that the nature of every ego is hostile, and by being resigned to the will of his fellow man, by sacrificing his life's advantages for his brother, he feels he has given his fellow man some relief that he could give him on his part. By practicing this moral through life at every step that a wise man takes, he becomes a source of happiness to all he meets and with whom he comes in contact in life, and his spirit becomes deepened in saintliness. The spirit of a saint results in being tuned to the whole universe; he is in tune with the climates, with the weather, with nature, with animals, birds; he becomes in tune with the trees and plants, in tune with all atmospheres, with all human beings of various natures, because he becomes the keynote to the whole universe. All harmonize with him, the virtuous souls, the wicked souls, angels and devils, all become in tune. He becomes in harmony with every object, with every element; with those who have passed from this earth he is in tune, those in the atmosphere he is in tune with and with those who live on earth. The moral of a saint is very difficult, but the spirit of the saint is a benediction to himself and blessing to others.

Then there is the way of the Master which is quite opposite. He conquers himself, he battles with life, he is at war with destiny, he invades all that seems wrong to him, he finds the key to the secrets unknown to him, he instead of being resigned to all conditions, all things, all people, turns them to the shape that he wishes and molds as he likes the personalities which come in touch with him. He tunes personalities in the tune which would suit his orchestration. He has command over objects, he produces effects in objects which are not there naturally. He can even rise to a state where he can command nature, and the spiritual hierarchy is made of the Masters. For the world is ruled, it is governed; although outward governments are different, inward government is the spiritual hierarchy. In the East such ones are called Wali, whose thought, whose feeling, whose glance, whose impulse can move the universe.

And yet neither of them, Saint or Master, comes to claim before the world, "Look at me--I am a Saint," "I am a Master," "I can do this," or "I am such a virtuous person," or "a good person." They keep themselves in humble guise, one like everybody in the world. It is not a claim, it is an action which proves the Master. And yet what do they care if the world acclaims them as a Saint or as a Master? What benefit is it to them? It is only a benefit to the one who is false, because he is glad to be something he is not; he who is all does not wish that everybody should recognize him as such. A person with his riches knows that he is rich, he need not put on fifty rings to tell everybody how rich he is; but the one who puts on fifty rings is seldom rich. There is a beautiful simile known in India, that it is the empty vessel that makes the noise; when it is filled with water it makes no noise. In short, sincerity is the principal thing to attain in life. What little is gained sincerely and held unassumingly is worth much more than a greater gain void of sincerity, for it is a hill of sand; once the storm will come and blow it away. Verily, truth is the treasure that every soul is seeking.