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



1. Illusion and Reality

2. Capacity

3. Vibrations (1)

4. Vibrations (2)

5. Atmosphere

6. Light

7. Intelligence

8. The law of Rhythm

9. The Threefold, Dual, and Unique Aspects of Nature

10. Spirit Within and Without

11. Spirit and Matter (1)

12. Spirit and Matter (2)

13. Spirit and Matter (3)



Vol. 11, Philosophy

11. Spirit and Matter (1)

We often use the words spirit and matter in our everyday speech, but their meaning is not understood by everyone in the same way. There is the man who says, "Spirit is one thing and matter is another thing; matter is not spirit neither is spirit matter." This is a religiously inclined person. There is another, a materialist, who says, "There is no such thing as spirit; all that is there is matter." And then a third person comes along who says, "Do not mention the word 'matter' to me; there is no matter. It is only an illusion; only spirit exists."

One is free to believe what one wishes to believe, but when it comes to reasoning and looking deeply into life one sees it in quite a different way. Just as ice and water are two things and yet in their real nature they are one, so it is with spirit and matter. Water turns into ice for a certain time, and when this ice is melted it will again turn into water. Thus matter is a passing state of the spirit; only, it does not melt immediately as ice melts into water, and therefore man doubts if matter, which takes a thousand forms, ever really turns into spirit. In reality matter comes from spirit; matter in its true nature is spirit; matter is an action of spirit which has materialized and has become intelligible to our senses of perception, and has thus become a reality to our senses, hiding the spirit under it. It has covered the existence of the spirit from the eyes of those who look at life from the outside.

We read in the Qur'an that all comes from God and returns to Him. In philosophical terms one can simply say that all comes from spirit and will return to it. No substance can exist without spirit. Although there is a war between spirit and substance, although they are opposed to each other, at the same time no substance can ever exist without spirit. Throughout this battle between substance and spirit the substance will resist spirit and outwardly drive it away, resisting surrender or diminution by the power of the spirit. But there will come a day when it will be diminished; in other words there is no mountain which will not one day crumble.

What is death to the spirit? As spirit is nothing to matter, so is matter nothing to the spirit; it does not miss it because it is self sufficient. Spirit misses matter only in its limited, active condition. When the spirit is acting in a process towards manifestation then it needs a capacity. Through that capacity it experiences life in a limited way, but in its true nature it is self-sufficient. It stands in no need of any experience; it is itself all experience, all knowledge; nothing is wanting in it.

One may call matter positive and spirit negative, or spirit positive and matter negative; there is a reason for it in each case. If one calls matter positive it is true, because matter shows itself as the picture while spirit is the background, and we are always inclined to call the picture part positive, not the background. But if we call the spirit positive that is true too, because matter has come from the spirit and spirit will consume it one day.

It is through vibration, through motion, that spirit turns into matter. Hindus call it Nada, and they always combine this word with Brahma; together this means God-vibration. They never call it vibration alone; they always call it divine vibration. By vibration spirit arrives at two experiences; the first is that it becomes audible to itself, and the next that it becomes visible to itself. In the Bible we read that first was the Word and the Word was God; and then came light, visible life. This means that the first experience of the spirit is that life is audible and that the next experience is that life is visible.

And now coming to the idea of spirit, what is it, how do we define it? The answer is: if we define spirit it cannot be spirit; the spirit that can be defined cannot be spirit. The best definition of spirit is "that which is not matter." The chemical world has applied the word spirit to the essence taken from anything; symbolically this expresses the same meaning, though in this way "spirit is brought into matter. When one takes a bottle of essence and says, "There is spirit", it is true symbolically; but in realty spirit means something that our senses cannot perceive. It is spirit in the sense that it is essence, but in the sense that it is perceived it cannot be spirit.

Then spiritualistic people have given this name to the souls which have passed. Symbolically it is true that the body representing the material part of man has disappeared, and that the personality has gone towards the spirit; and yet as long as the personality is perceptible and has its own particular qualities, as long as it still retains its individuality, it cannot be spirit.

If we really want to define spirit, the best definition is pure intelligence. Because, occupied as we are with this world of illusion, we retain in our mind impressions and knowledge of the material world, we are not always able to experience that part of our being which is pure intelligence. We generally use the word intelligence in quite a different sense; when we say that someone is intelligent we mean that he is clever. But pure intelligence has nothing to do with cleverness; nor can one call pure intelligence the knowing quality, for it is above this.

We know intelligence as a faculty, but in reality it is spirit itself. No doubt science today may not accept this argument, as the idea of the modern scientist is rather that what we call intelligence is an outcome of matter, that matter has evolved during thousands of years through different aspects, and has culminated in man as a wonderful phenomenon in the form of intelligence. He traces the origin of intelligence to matter. But the mystic holds, as in the past all prophets, saints, and sages have known, that it is spirit which through a gradual action has become denser and has materialized itself into what we call matter or substance; and through this substance it gradually unfolds itself, for it cannot rest in it. It is caught in this denseness, gradually making its way out through a process taking thousands of years, until in man it develops itself as intelligence.

Many biologists have said that animals have no mind, but it is only a difference of words. Mind is merely a vehicle of intelligence. It is intelligence which has manifested as matter, and it is the same intelligence which gradually develops through different aspects into a clearer and purer intelligence. Therefore the lower creatures may not have that mind which a scientist perhaps sees in man; nevertheless we find a vehicle of intelligence in all, and not only in animals and birds, but even in substance we can find intelligence.

It is not only due to chemical action that a flower fades in the hand of one person and keeps fresh in the hand of another; it is not automatic when a plant grows under the care of a certain person but wilts if tended by someone else. And a still deeper study will reveal that the color and the brilliance of precious stones change in every person's hand; pearls too change their light when they go from hand to hand. The more deeply we study matter, the more proofs shall we find of intelligence working through the whole process of continual unfoldment.

What is the reason that flowers fade when touched by some people? It is the same reason as with us. The presence of one person annoys us, we cannot tolerate it; the presence of another person brings us closer. It is the same with flowers. But the phenomenon behind it all is love. Whatever is touched by a person who lacks that element becomes dead; whether he touches a flower or whether he touches an affair or whether he touches a child, whatever he touches is destroyed. For love is in itself an essence, the essence; it is the sign of spirit. All that a person touches with love will be given light and life; and lack of love causes all death and decay. Glasses will break and saucers will crack when a loveless person touches them. One may not yet have had this experience, but one day one will see that when an inharmonious person enters the house things begin to break, accidents happen, pet animals such as dogs and cats become restless.

But what is most interesting in the study of spirit and matter is the nature of vacuum and substance. Substance has a tendency to add substance to itself and to turn all that it attracts into the same substance, and vacuum has a tendency to make a greater vacuum. This shows that there is a continual struggle between substance and vacuum. Where vacuum can get hold of substance it will turn the substance into vacuum, and where substance is stronger it will turn out vacuum and make substance. The idea behind this is not what we might think.

We think of vacuum as being nothing; we recognize vacuum by contrasting it with substance. If we want to explain what vacuum is we call it absence of substance, but in reality substance has arisen from vacuum; vacuum is the womb of substance. Substance has been composed in vacuum and has developed in it; it has formed itself, it has constructed itself, and it will again be dissolved in the vacuum. There can be no form without a vacuum, visible or invisible. Everywhere there is a vacuum, but we see only what our eyes can see, and we cannot recognize as a vacuum that which our eyes cannot see. Even the pores of the body are a vacuum, although we do not always see them.

The difference between the nature of vacuum and the nature of substance is that vacuum is knowing. Therefore the prophets have called it the Omniscient God, not in the sense of a person who is knowing but of the Whole Being, the All-knowing Being. Man is so limited; he is limited because his knowledge is limited, and so he thinks, "I alone know. The vacuum which is meaningless to me, which gives no sign of life, to me is nothing." But if he goes further in investigating the nature of vacuum he will find that he himself is nothing, his body, eyes, head, bones, and skin; if there is anything in him which makes him a knowing being, it is the vacuum.

In the mineral kingdom the stone is dense; it does not know much. The reason is that it has little vacuum. The tree feels more than the stone because it has more vacuum, as the Indian scientist Jagarji Chandra Bose has pointed out. He tried to prove to the scientific world that trees breathe. Animals and birds show greater signs of life and a more pronounced knowing quality because the vacuum in them is greater still; and in man it is even more so. What makes one part of substance knowing and keeps another part without this faculty of knowing is the vacuum in one object and the denseness in another.

There is a third thing we should understand concerning this subject which is of great importance: that which stands between vacuum and substance is capacity. When we look at the sky we feel that it is a vacuum; it seems to be nothing, but in reality it is not nothing, it is capacity. Vacuum is all-knowing, but it is capacity which enables vacuum to know. And as the sky is a capacity for the vacuum to be all-knowing, so every being and every thing is a capacity, greater or lesser, which supplies a body or a vehicle for pure intelligence to work through.

There is nothing in this world, whether a stone, a tree, a mountain or a river, water or fire, earth, air, anything, which is not in itself a capacity; it cannot exist without being a capacity. Therefore all that exists, whether living or not living, is a capacity. We read in the scriptures that every atom moves by the command of God. In other words, behind everything that exists, be it large or small, in every motion it makes, even the slightest, there is the hand of the Spirit. It cannot act or move otherwise. Jelal-ud-Din Rumi describes this in his Masnavi, where he says that fire, water, air, and earth all seem to man to be dead things, but before God they are living beings, ready to answer His call.

Capacity is all-accommodating. All that we can know is known through some capacity -- higher things through a higher capacity and ordinary things through an ordinary capacity. Even when we hear a voice it is through a capacity.

  • A house is a capacity which helps us to hear it more clearly;
  • the ears are a capacity in which it becomes audible;
  • the mouth is a capacity in which the word is formed;
  • the mind is a capacity in which we perceive it.

The nature of every capacity is different, but the whole phenomenon is that of capacity.

Among Sufis there is a spiritual culture, a culture which recognizes four centers, each center being a vacuum, or a capacity, for pure intelligence to function in. This shows that man has the greatest possibility of knowing all that is knowable, and he has an even greater capacity than that: to realize all that can be known. If he only knew how he could achieve it! But, one may say, why must substance coming from vacuum learn to know, when vacuum is already the all-knowing state? The all-knowing state is not the same as a limited knowing state. To look at all is one thing, and to look at a flower with a little instrument is another thing. The conductor of an orchestra may hear the whole orchestra at the same time, and yet he may want to hear one instrument alone to know in how far it is correct.

It is not enough for us to see and to hear, to feel and to touch all these experiences going on at the same time; we like to experience through every sense singly in order to get a definite experience. That is the nature of the spirit.