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




Forms of Hindu Worship

The Basis of the Caste System among Hindus



Forms of Buddhistic Worship








The Duties of the Faithful in Islam

The Four Grades of Knowledge in Islam

The Idea of Halal and Haram in Islam



An Advanced Form of Idolatry

The Higher Form of Idolatry

The Sufi's Conception of God

Vol. 9, The Unity of Religious Ideals

Prophets and Religions


Idolatry seems to have been prevalent through all ages as a principal form of religion, though the names of the gods have differed among different people. The idea of gods and goddesses came from the two sides of man's nature -- one idealism and the other veneration. Man, however primitive in his evolution, had, it seems, a desire to look up to some object or some being, as higher and better than himself. Sometimes he created an ideal from his own nature, and sometimes he was helped to such an ideal by another. There is no race in the world that can say, "We never had idolatry among our race" -- although many there are who would today look at it with contempt.

Man has known God more from goodness than from greatness, for no man admires power. Man surrenders to power -- that is all that is due to it -- but man admires goodness. Therefore there are two things that have brought about the ideal of worship: praise of goodness and surrender to a greater power. Support, protection, providence, mercy, compassion, forgiveness were counted as goodness. The creation and destruction of everything and all things were accounted as power. Combining these two, goodness and greatness, man completed the idea of God, and, since God is one, he could not make Him two; though as many men as there are, so many gods there are, since each person's ideal is peculiar to himself.

Man, who could not complete the ideal without forming an idea of personality, could only be satisfied by some certain form, which he would naturally prefer to make rather like his own, or at least he would make a combination of different likenesses, or any likeness that his mind could grasp. As one man has differed from others in his ideas and thoughts, so each differed from his fellow men in his choice of the ideal idol. Therefore, if one called a particular idol "my god," and his friends and followers and relations also accepted that god, then the one who was opposed to that person said, "My god is different from yours," and he made another god. If any disadvantage came from idol worship, it was only this: that instead of bowing to one God, and uniting with his fellow creatures in the worship of one God, men have taken different and separate routes in the name of different idol-gods, and many idolators turned their backs on one another.

Idol worship has been taught to mankind that man might learn to idealize God even if he were not developed enough to understand the ideal of God in its true sense. This was a training, as a little girl receives her first training in domestic life by playing with dolls. Man can only idealize God as man, for, in the first place, every being sees in another himself. A rogue would be afraid of the roguery of another, and a kind person would be expecting kindness from his fellow man. Man has always thought of ghosts, spirits, jinns, fairies, and angels as being in human form! Although sometimes, to make them different, he has added to them wings or horns or a tail, yet he has kept them as close to the human form as possible. And so it is no wonder that his highest ideal he has pictured in the form of man, and has called it the reverse; instead of saying, "I have created God in my own image," he says, "We have created man in Our own likeness." Even such ideals as the idea of liberty are pictured by the man of today in the form of a woman or man, the sign of which exists in the port of New York and on the postage stamps of France.

Man has in all ages been dramatic. He is an actor by nature, and it is his great pleasure to make his life a drama and play a part in it himself. It is this spirit also that is hidden under the church and nation, and it is this spirit which wears a crown and accepts the patched robes of a dervish. And when this same natural attitude plays its part in religious or spiritual life, its first tendency is to place before itself a Lord, a King, a Master, before whom to bow; and it is this that has given man a tendency to idealize God in a human form or to idealize a human name and form as God.

Though there exists, and there has existed, and there will exist, diversity of religions, faiths, and beliefs, yet human nature will remain always the same everywhere, in all parts of the world and in all ages; and the knower of this nature will understand the religion of all, and all he will consider as belonging to his religion, the only Religion of Wisdom.

Man is accustomed to believe in the reality of things that he can touch and perceive, and any ideal, that is beyond his touch and perception, he believes in and yet cannot be certain of its existence. Not only that, but the absence of that ideal prevents his expression of worship. He doubts and wonders to whom he is praying, whether there exists such a being as God; and, if there exists such a being as God, what He looks like. And, as every person is not capable of a beautiful imagination that could please him, so everyone is not capable of picturing in his mind the ideal of his worship. Therefore it is musicians who have composed music, though everybody can sing or hum a little to amuse himself; and it is the painter who paints a picture, though everybody can draw a little to amuse himself; and so it is the imaginative--those whose imagination reached above the height of the ordinary imagination--who gave a picture of their imagination to the world in the form of a myth which was reproduced by art and made into an idol. This was the only way that in ancient times it seemed best to adopt for the upliftment of humanity.

The Hindus were the first in the world to form the conception of three aspects of the Divinity, which they called Trimurti: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva -- the Creator, the Sustainer, and the Destroyer. How true it is that these three powers in life seem to keep the balance of the whole universe, and those three aspects work in everything in the world!

  • The picture of Brahma was made with four arms, which signifies that, besides the physical arms, there are mental arms, which are necessary in the scheme of creation.
  • And Vishnu is pictured seated on a cobra. This indicates the power of destruction that is waiting like a cobra to devour every activity; to take away fame from the famous, wealth from the rich, and power from the powerful. He who can rest upon this power is the sustainer of all activities and interests in life.
  • The picture of Shiva is that of an ascetic, from whose head spring rivers, whose neck is a cobra, ashes on his body, a bull his vehicle. In this picture the cobra signifies destruction accepted -- all that men fear is wrapped round one's neck; ashes are significant of annihilation -- everything that has gone through a perfect destruction turns into ashes; rivers from the head show a constant spring of inspiration, as the inspiration of the mystic is limitless; the bull signifies one with simple faith, who, without reasoning, accepts the truth, which by intellect one can readily accept.

There are three goddesses who show the other aspect of these natures:

  • Saraswati, the goddess of Brahma, who rides on a peacock, with four hands, two holding a vina, in one hand a rosary, in the other a book; which means that music is creative, learning is creative, contemplation is creative, and in art is the beauty which the peacock represents.
  • The goddess of Vishnu is Lakshmi, who is standing on a lotus, with a crown of gold, with four hands, in one hand a chakra, an ancient weapon, in another kawel, a lily, which represents that wealth has all the beauty of life at her feet, and delicacy and tenderness in her hands. The weapon represents the power that is needed to hold wealth: two arms, one to collect, the other to give; the crown of gold signifies that the honor of the wealthy is his wealth.
  • The third goddess is Parvati, the consort of Shiva.

These are lessons given to humanity to study the different aspects of life with the thought of sacredness.

The Universe, to the eyes of the wise in all ages, has become one single Immanence of the Divine Being; and that which cannot be compared, or which has no comparison, was difficult to explain in the human tongue. Therefore, the idea of the wise in all ages has been to allow mankind to worship God in whatever aspect they may be capable of picturing Him. One can trace back in histories and traditions that trees were worshiped; animals and birds; rivers and seas; planets, the sun and moon, were worshiped; heroes were worshiped, of all kinds; there has been worship of ancestors, of spirits, both good and evil; and the Lord of Heaven was worshiped by some as the Creator; by some as the Sustainer; by some as the Destroyer; by some as the King of all. And the wise have tolerated all aspects of worship, seeing that they all worship the same God in different forms and names, and yet do not know that another person's god is the same God Whom each has worshiped.

Therefore the religion of the Hindus was to see these many gods in one God, and to recognize that one God in all His myriad forms.

There came a time when God was raised from idol to ideal, and it was an improvement, no doubt. And yet even in the ideal He is still an idol, and unless the question of life and its perfection were solved by the ideal of God, by one's love and worship of Him, one has not arrived at the object for which religion stands.

The need of the God-Ideal is like the need of a ship to sail through the Ocean of Eternity; and as there is danger of sinking in the sea without a ship, so there is danger of falling a prey to mortality for the man without the God-Ideal. The difficulty of the believer has always been no less than the difficulty of the unbeliever. For a simple believer, as a rule, knows God from the picture that his priest has given him--God the Good, or Cherisher, or Merciful; and when the believer in the Just God sees injustice in life, and the believer in the Kind God sees cruelty around him, and when the believer in the Cherisher God has to face starvation, then comes the time when the cord of his belief breaks. How many in this late war have begun to doubt and question the existence of God, and some became quite unbelievers.

Idolatry, in a way, has been a lesson to practice one's faith and belief patiently before heedless gods of stone, and to prostrate oneself and bow before the idol god whom man's own hands have made. No answer from him in man's distress, no stretching out the hand in man's poverty, no caress or embrace of sympathy comes from that heedless god; and yet faith and belief is retained under all circumstances, and it is such belief, which is rounded on the foundation of rocks, that stands in the rains and storms unshaken and unbroken. And, after all, which is the abode of God? It is man's belief. And upon what is He seated? His throne is man's faith. So idolatry was the primary stage of strengthening faith and belief in God, the ideal which alone is the source of the realization of Truth.