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



Sufi Thoughts

Some Aspects of Sufism

The Sufi



Seeker of Truth

The Coming World Teacher

What think ye of Christ?

Considering Initiation

What Is Initiation


Objective of Initiation


Is Sufism a religion?

Is Sufism a belief?

Is Sufism Muslim?

Is Sufism theosophy?

Sufi's attitude toward right and wrong

Vol. 1, The Way of Illumination

The Sufi

Seeker of Truth

What is a Sufi? Strictly speaking, every seeker after the ultimate truth is really a Sufi, whether he calls himself that or not. But as he seeks truth according to his own particular point of view, he often finds it difficult to believe that others, from their different points of view, are yet seeking the same truth, and always with success, though to a varying degree. That is in fact the point of view of the Sufi and it differs from others only in its constant endeavor to comprehend all others as within itself. It seeks to realize that every person following his own particular line in life, nevertheless fits into the scheme of the whole and finally attains not only his own goal, but the one final goal of all.

Hence every person can be called a Sufi either as long as he is seeking to understand life, or as soon as he is willing to believe that every other human being will also find and touch the same ideal. When a person opposes or hinders the expression of a great ideal, and is unwilling to believe that he will meet his fellow-men as soon as he has penetrated deeply enough into very soul, he is preventing himself from realizing the unlimited. All beliefs are simply degrees of clearness of vision. All are part of one ocean of truth. The more this is realized, the easier is it" to see the true relationship between all beliefs, and the wider does the vision of the one great ocean become.

Limitations and boundaries are inevitable in human life; forms and conventions are natural and necessary; but they none the less separate humanity. It is the wise who can meet one another beyond these boundaries.

The Coming World Teacher

What is the Sufi's belief regarding the coming of a World Teacher, or, as some speak of it, the "second coming of Christ'? The Sufi is free from beliefs and disbeliefs, and yet gives every liberty to people to have their own opinion. There is no doubt that if an individual or a multitude believe that a teacher or a reformer will come, he will surely come to them. Similarly, in the case of those who do not believe that any teacher or reformer will come, to them he will not come. To those who expect the Teacher to be a man, a man will bring the message; to those who expect the Teacher to be a woman, a woman must deliver it. To those who call on God, God comes. To those who knock at the door of Satan, Satan answers. There is an answer to every call.

To a Sufi the Teacher is never absent, whether he comes in one form or in a thousand forms. He is always one to him, and the same One he recognizes to be in all, and all Teachers he sees in his one Teacher alone. For a Sufi, the self within, the self without, the kingdom of the earth, the kingdom of heaven, the whole being is his teacher, and his every moment is engaged in acquiring knowledge. For some, the Teacher has already come and gone, for others the Teacher may still come, but for a Sufi the Teacher has always been and will remain with him for ever.

What think ye of Christ?

What is the position of the Sufi with regard to Christ? The question asked by Jesus Himself, "What think ye of Christ?" itself provides the answer. The emphasis is on the "ye." There are as many thoughts of Him as there are people who express them. The Sufi does not limit himself by expressing them. Christ is the name of his ideal, or Rasul as it is called in Arabic. All that centers in Rasul centers in Christ; the two conceptions are one. All the names and functions which have helped to form the conception of Christ, Prophet, Priest, King, Savior, Bridegroom, Beloved, all these are understood by the Sufi. By constant meditation he realizes all these aspects of the One, and beyond that Allah or God.

Considering Initiation

In considering the question of being initiated into the Sufi Order:

  1. There is in the first place the inclination to know something different from what is taught in the world. One feels the desire to seek for something though one knows not what. One feels that the opposites, good and evil, right and wrong, friend and foe, are not so far apart as one used to think. At the same time the heart is felt to be more sympathetic than ever before, and the sense of justice makes one wish to judge oneself before judging others. This all shows that one may look for a guide through these unknown paths.

  2. Then there is the feeling, especially after reading or hearing something about Sufism, that one is already really a Sufi, that one is at one with the circle of Sufis. One may now feel drawn to the spirit of the Teacher from whose hand initiation may be taken.

  3. And thirdly there is the feeling, after studying the books published by the movement, or after speaking with the Pir-o-Murshid, that the message is genuine.

What Is Initiation

Then the question arises: what is meant by initiation? Initiation, or in Sufi terms Bayat, first of all has to do with the relationship between the pupil and the Murshid. The Murshid is understood to be the counsellor on the spiritual path. He does not give anything to or teach the pupil, the mureed, for he cannot give what the latter already has; he cannot teach what his soul has always known. What he does in the life of the mureed is to show him how he can clear his path towards the light within by his own self. This is the only purpose of man's life on earth.

One may attain the purpose of life without a personal guide, but to try to do so is to be like a ship traversing the ocean without a compass. To take initiation, then, means entrusting oneself in regard to spiritual matters to a spiritual guide.

The next thing to be decided is: if I must have a personal guide, whom shall I take as guide? There is no stamp of spirituality, or seal of perfection marked upon any man's forehead, which enables one to say, "This is the man from whose hand to take the Bayat." Neither his appearance nor his words can be relied on as evidence of his worth. The only thing that can be relied upon is the appeal of his soul in one's heart. Even so, one must satisfy oneself whether it is evil appealing to the devil in one or God appealing to the good in one.

There are three ways in which people trust.

  1. One is not to trust a person until he proves in time to be trustworthy. To those who trust in this way there will be no satisfactory gain on this path, for they will go on, like a spy, trying and testing the Murshid with their eyes focused downward. Hence they can only see the imperfect self of the teacher, and will never be able to see the beauty of the perfect self, above and beyond the limits of their view.

  2. The second way of trusting is to trust and to continue to do so until the person is proved unworthy of trust. Those who trust in this way are better suited than the first, for if their trust makes their sight keen they will have every prospect of development, provided that intelligence guides them all the way.

  3. But the third way of trusting a person is to have an absolute trust, and to continue until it be proved true. This is the trust of devotees. It is these mureeds who make the Murshid. It is such worshippers who make God. "By faith, a tongue is produced from the rock, and it speaks to us as God, but when faith is lacking, even God, the Eternal Being, is as dead as a rock." The word of the Murshid is as useless to the doubting mind as a remedy to the unbelieving patient.


To become an initiate in the Sufi Order therefore implies

  1. a willingness to agree with its teachings and objects;
  2. a willingness to cease to attach importance to the differences of the world's various faiths, and to see in all the Masters only one embodiment of the divine Spirit, and
  3. thirdly it implies that one is not already following another course of spiritual training. In such a case, why go to another kind of teacher as well? It would be like travelling in two boats, one foot in each. When each boat goes its own way, although they meet in the end at the same goal, yet the traveller will sink in the sea. No one could seek guidance under two teachers except out of lack of patience with the one or lack of confidence in the other, making him still cling to the first.

Objective of Initiation

The objects one should have in taking initiation under the Murshid are:

  • to realize the self within and without;
  • to know and communicate with God, whom alone the world worships;
  • to kindle the fire of divine love, which alone has any value;
  • to be able to read nature's manuscript and to be able to see into the world unseen;
  • to learn how to control oneself;
  • to light the torch of the soul and to kindle the fire of the heart; and
  • to journey through this positive existence and arrive in this life at the goal at which every soul is bound in the end to arrive.

It is better to arrive in the light than to be only transported through the dark. "Who is blind here will be blind in the hereafter."

Therefore, one does not take initiation for the sake of curiosity to see what is going on in a "secret" Order. Such a one will certainly not be able to see what he wishes to, for only the eye of sincerity can see. The eye of curiosity has the cataract of doubt, and is blind already.

Neither does one take initiation for the sake of gaining some material advantage in one's occupation. Initiation is not a scientist's process, or an engineer's invention, or a business enterprise; it is not something that can be stolen, nor anything to be bought. It is revelation, which has new offspring at every moment, which can never be stolen by a thief. The only process for gaining it is righteousness, and when its light is covered under a bushel, even the Jam [drinking glass] of mystery stolen from Jamsheyd will serve no better than an earthen bowl.

One does not take initiation for the sake of attaining happiness. It is true that one cannot attain wisdom without deriving a certain advantage from it, as it is more advantageous to be wise than ignorant. But it is not for this that the journey is entered upon. However, as he progresses on the spiritual path the Sufi becomes aware of a wonderful peace, which inevitably comes from the constant presence of God.

Many people of various beliefs and faiths have written about the practice of the presence of God, and all speak of the happiness they receive from being in His presence. So it is no wonder that the Sufi also, should he wish to speak of it, should testify to similar happiness. He does not claim to a greater happiness than his fellow-men because he is a human being and subject to all the shortcomings of mankind. But at the same time others can decide about his happiness better even than his words can tell it. The happiness which is experienced in God has no equal in anything in the world, however precious it may be, and everyone who experiences it will realize the same.

One should not seek initiation if one has set before oneself certain principles one does not wish to abandon. One might find that the foundation one has built does not correspond with the building now to be erected upon it. Such is the person who goes from one teacher to another, from one method to another, and is never able to gain that which is only to be obtained through steadfastness. Those who have a desire to teach while coming to learn should not pose as disciples; they must come as teachers.


Are there any conditions imposed on a would-be initiate? No one need fear taking initiation from the idea that he undertakes something he may not be able to fulfil. If he does not wish to progress beyond a certain point, that is only for himself to say.

The only thing that happens when a person is initiated, is that from the hour of initiation one is the brother of all in the Sufi Movement, of all other Sufis outside the Sufi Movement, of all knowers of truth, whether they call themselves Sufi or not, and of every human being, without distinction of caste, creed, race, nation, or religion; one is the companion of the illuminated souls of the Sufis living on earth and of those who have passed to the other side of life. Thus one is linked with the chain of Murshids and Prophets, and so enabled to receive the light running through this current, through the chain of the Masters. And one is the confidant of the Murshid and of the Order.

Therefore the initiate takes a vow in his heart to make use to the best of his ability of all he receives from the Sufi teaching and practices, not using any parts for selfish purposes.

These teachings have been kept secret for thousands of years, so why should they go out of the Order without the Pir-o-Murshid's authorization? One may ask why there is any secrecy about the teaching. If true, why should it not be scattered broadcast? This implies that secrecy is objectionable. The answer however is quite easy.

  • A certain secrecy is necessary in that some of the Sufi conceptions might easily be misunderstood and misused, were they exposed to the general public. The earnest pupil will not speak of them without due consideration of his audience.
  • A further point is that when a teacher is not absolutely dependent on his pupils, he will prefer to select his pupils. If a person wished to go to the very best master of the violin, he would seek out a virtuoso of fame. But the latter might not care to spend time upon him; he would if he were sure the pupil would faithfully do all he was asked to do, and attain to something like the standard of the virtuoso himself. Whatever instruction he gives this pupil is naturally "secret"; it is a personal matter; the pupil may hand it on to his own pupils later, but he does not have it printed and circulated indiscriminately. The secrecy is no more than this.

It may also be said that every school which gives the initiate special personal instruction trusts that respect shall be paid to that which it teaches. All teaching can be misconstrued and perverted and made to appear ridiculous. To do this with Sufi teachings, consciously or inadvertently, will not help the pupil. A certain medicine may be good for a sick person at a certain time, but this does not mean it should be used by every sick person in the world. Nor would it be any advantage to anyone, if the exact medicine were to be published indiscriminately. If there should arise need to say what it was, the doctor would not withhold the information.

Where there is a need to explain the Sufi teachings, the Murshid will explain them. The books published by the Sufi Movement set forth many of the teachings, so that it cannot be said that they are kept rigidly secret. But the very intimate thoughts to which the Sufi is accustomed, are naturally not uttered indiscriminately, any more than an ordinary person will speak of his private affairs to a stranger.

The fruit must be of a certain degree of ripeness before its taste becomes sweet. So the soul must be of a certain development before it will handle wisdom with wisdom. The developed soul shows his fragrance in his atmosphere, color, the expression of his countenance, and sweetness of his personality, as a flower spreads its fragrance around, and as a fruit when ripe changes its color and becomes sweet.

One may ask why the awakened ones do not awaken people in the world from the sleep of confusions. The answer is, that it is not to be advised that little children, whose only happiness is slumber, should be awakened. Their growth depends on their sleep. If they are kept up late they become ill, and will not be so useful in the affairs of life when they are grown up. Childhood needs more sleep, and the children must sleep. Such is the nature of immature souls. They are children, however old their bodies may appear. Their fancies, their joys, their delights are for unimportant things in life, as the life of children is absorbed in sweets and toys. Therefore those who are awakened walk slowly and gently, lest their footsteps may disturb the slumber of the sleeping ones. They only awaken on their way those whom they find tossing in their beds. They are the ones to whom the travelers on the spiritual path give their hand quietly. It is for this reason that the spiritual path is called the mystical way. It is not unkind to awaken a few and to let many sleep, but on the other hand it is great kindness to let those slumber who require sleep.

During his mureedship the initiate should avoid wonder-working; claiming to know or possess something unfamiliar to one's fellow-men; casting out devils; communicating with spirits; character-reading; fortune-telling; appearing over-wise in conversation with others about spiritual things, and looking to others for approbation. Also sanctimoniousness, over-righteousness, and teaching and advising others before having learnt one's own self, which is as dangerous as giving the same medicine to another that the doctor has prescribed for oneself.

During discipleship, the habit of discipline should be adopted which makes the ideal mureed. Self-denial is the chief religion, and this can only be learnt by discipline. It is as necessary in the path of discipleship as for a soldier on the battlefield; in the absence of it the mureed holds fast the very thing which he wishes to crush by taking the initiation. "Mastery is in service, and it is the servant who alone can be master."

One should also have a respectful attitude to the Murshid. This is not to raise the honor of the teacher in his own eyes, or in the eyes of others. It is to learn a respectful attitude by first having it towards one who deserves it. The mureed may then be able to develop in his nature the same respect for all, as a little girl by playing with a doll learns the lesson of motherhood. To respect another means to deduct that much vanity from ourselves, the vanity which is only the veil between man and God.

During the period of mureedship sobriety, an equable mind, a serious habit, regularity in all things, diligence, a desire for solitude, a reserved demeanor, an unassuming manner, a pure life, and uninterrupted daily spiritual meditations, are desirable.

The Sufi is the student of two worlds, the world within and the world without. The world within is equivalent to what is popularly named "the next world", because of the widespread belief that time is the all-important factor; that we have a life now, and another life at another time. The Sufi knows otherwise. The world without has two aspects, the social world in which we are placed, and the greater world which is the topic of history, past, present, or prophetic. The world within can be entered only by the student himself, though he may learn about it as "esotericism", a subject which also has two aspects, that of the forces in the mind and that of the divine light. The latter is the real goal of the Sufi's enquiry, it is his Shekinah, it is his Holy of Holies.

Is Sufism a religion?

Is Sufism a religion? It should be clear from the above explanation that the religion of the Sufi is not separate from the religions of the world. People have fought in vain about the names and lives of their saviors, and have named their religions after the name of their savior, instead of uniting .with each other in the truth that is taught. This truth can be traced in all religions, whether one community call another pagan or infidel or heathen. Such persons claim that theirs is the only scripture, and their place of worship the only abode of God. Sufism is a name applied to a certain philosophy by those who do not accept the philosophy; hence it cannot really be described as a religion; it contains a religion but is not itself a religion. Sufism is a religion if one wishes to learn religion from it. But it is beyond religion, for it is the light, the sustenance of every soul, raising the mortal being to immortality.

As matters stand today, each one claims his own religion to be the best, and he has his own religion. The Sufi tolerates all, and considers them all his; therefore he does not belong to a religion but all religions belong to him. He can see all the religions like so many forms in a school: some are in one, others are in higher forms, that is, some study life more deeply. And in each class in the school there are pupils who like to play.

To say, "You are not of my religion; my religion alone is true," is as reasonable as to say, "You are not a lawyer, a merchant, a scholar; your way of carrying on life is false; you must become as I."

To say, "All who are in my religion are saved" is as reasonable as to say, "Every lawyer, merchant, scholar (as the case may be) is earnest, and performs his work perfectly." Some speak of "nominal" Christians, and "true" Christians; this is only another way of saying that some persons are earnest about their work and others play.

Is Sufism a belief?

Is Sufism a belief? What do we mean by the word "belief'? It is the nature of mind to believe, and disbelief comes after. No unbeliever was born an unbeliever; for if a soul disbelieved from childhood he would never learn to speak. All the knowledge that man possesses he has acquired by belief. When he strengthens his belief by knowledge, then comes disbelief in things that his knowledge cannot cope with, and in things that his reason cannot justify. He then disbelieves things that he once believed in. An unbeliever is one who has changed his belief to disbelief; disbelief often darkens the soul, but sometimes it illuminates it.

There is a Persian saying,
"Until belief has changed to disbelief, and, again, the disbelief into a belief, a man does not become a real Muslim."

But when disbelief becomes a wall and stands against the further penetration of mind into life, then it darkens the soul, for there is no chance of further progress, and man's pride and satisfaction in what he knows limit the scope of his vision.

A constant "why" arises in the minds of the intelligent, and when this "why" is answered by life to man's satisfaction, he goes on further and further, penetrating through all different planes of life; but when this "why" does not get a satisfactory answer from life, then doubt, dismay, and dissatisfaction arise and result in confusion, bewilderment, and despair. Sometimes belief proves to be worse than disbelief. This is when a person, set in his belief, hinders his own progress, not allowing his mind to go further into the research of life, refusing guidance and advice from another, in order that he may preserve his own belief. Thus a belief, which is preserved as a virtue, becomes the greatest sin.

Both belief and disbelief, by practice, in time become natural tendencies; the person who is inclined to believe gets into a habit of believing all things and everything, and an unbeliever in time comes to disbelieve everything whether right or wrong. The optimistic temperament is the temperament of the believer, and pessimism is as a rule the nature of the unbeliever. The prophets have always promised a reward for the believer, and have threatened the unbeliever with punishment, because the chance for spiritual enlightenment is only in the life of the believer, while the unbeliever covers his soul by his own disbelief.

Sufis are inclined to recognize four stages of belief:

  1. Iman-e Muhmil, when someone believes in a thing which others believe in, but no matter how strong his belief may be, when those in his surroundings change their belief, he will likewise change his.

  2. Iman-e Kamil, the next stage of belief, is the belief of the idealist who has faith in his scripture and savior. He believes because it is written in the scripture, or taught by the savior. His belief, of course, will not change with the weather, but still it may waver, if by any means reason were awakened in his soul. At least it would be dimmed just as the light of a candle would become dimmed by the rising sun. When the sun of the intelligence rises, it would break through and scatter the clouds of emotion and devotion made by this belief.

  3. Haq al-Iman, the third stage of belief, when man believes because his reason allows him to believe; such a man is journeying through life with a torch in his hand. His belief is based on reason, and cannot be broken except by a still greater reason, for it is the diamond that alone can cut the diamond, and reason alone can break reason.

  4. 'Ain al-Iman, the fourth stage of belief, is a belief of conviction; not only reason, but every part of one's being is convinced and assured of the truth of things, and nothing on earth can change it. If a person were to say to him, "Do not cross over this place, there is water here," he will say, "No, it is land, I can see for myself." It is just like seeing with the eyes all that one believes. This belief is the belief of the seer whose knowledge is his eyewitness, and therefore his belief will last for ever and ever.

Of course, as a soul evolves from stage to stage, it must break the former belief in order to establish the later, and this breaking of the belief is called by Sufis tark, which means abandonment; the abandoning of the worldly ideal, the abandonment of the heavenly ideal, the abandoning of the divine ideal, and even the abandoning of abandonment. This brings the seer to the shores of the ultimate truth.

'Truth is that which cannot be fully spoken, and that which can be spoken is not necessarily the truth.'

Is Sufism Muslim?

Is Sufism Muslim? Is a Sufi a Mohammedan? In joining a Sufi community, is one associating with Muslims? Is a Sufi a follower of Islam? The word Islam means "peace"; this is the Arabic word. The Hebrew word is Salem (Jerusalem). Peace and its attainment in all directions is the goal of the world.

But if the following of Islam is understood to mean the obligatory adherence to a certain rite; if being a Mohammedan means conforming to certain restrictions, how can the Sufi be placed in that category, seeing that the Sufi is beyond all limitations of this kind? So far from not accepting the Qur'an, the Sufi recognizes scriptures which others disregard. But the Sufi does not follow any special book. The shining ones, such as Attar, Shams-i-Tabriz, Rumi, Sa'di, and Hafiz, have expressed their free thought with a complete liberty of language. To a Sufi, revelation is the inherent property of every soul. There is an unceasing flow of the divine stream, which has neither beginning nor end.

What is the position of Sufism with regard to Christianity? There is a place in the Sufi understanding for all the teachings contained in that faith, and there can be no antagonism in the mind of him who understands. The writings of the Christian mystics evidence the intensity of their pursuit and devotion to the Beloved -- and there is only one Beloved. The devotion to the Sacred Heart will be found to be a link with the Sufi philosophy, which recognizes and practices it in the truest sense.

Is Sufism mysticism? As green is considered to be the color of Ireland, yet it cannot be said to belong exclusively to the Irish people, for anybody can wear green, and green is found all over the world, so mystics in Islam have been called Sufis; but Sufism, divine wisdom, is for all, and is not limited to a certain people. It has existed from the first day of creation, and will continue to spread and to exist until the end of the world. Sufism is a mysticism if one wishes to be guided by it in the unfoldment of the soul. Yet it is beyond mysticism.

Is Sufism theosophy?

Is Sufism theosophy? Sufis have no set belief or disbelief. Divine light is the only sustenance of their soul, and through this light they see their path clear, and what they see in this light they believe, and what they do not see they do not blindly believe. Yet they do not interfere with another person's belief or disbelief, thinking that perhaps a greater portion of light has kindled his heart, and so he sees and believes that the Sufi cannot see or believe. Or, perhaps a lesser portion of light has kept his sight dim and he cannot see and believe as the Sufi believes.

Therefore Sufis leave belief and disbelief to the grade of evolution of every individual soul. The Murshid's work is to kindle the fire of the heart, and to light the torch of the soul of his mureed, and to let the mureed believe and disbelieve as he chooses, while journeying through the path of evolution. But in the end all culminates in one belief, Hurna man am, that is, "I am all that exists"; and all other beliefs are preparatory for this final conviction, which is called Haq al-Iman in the Sufi terminology.

As soon as the word "theosophy" is taken to mean certain fixed beliefs or disbeliefs, there is a difference from Sufism. Beliefs and disbeliefs are the cause of sects, each of these being blinded from the vision of the singleness of the whole of existence. As soon as thought is restricted, it ceases to be Sufism.

Is Sufism a school of thought? Wisdom is not restricted to one geographical spot such as a country, a city, a building or meetingplace. Sufism cannot be correctly described as a school of thought, if by that is meant the instruction of a certain doctrine; but it might be correct to speak of it as a school of thought in the sense that through Sufism one learns wisdom, just as in a school one learns wisdom of a certain kind. Sufism is beyond philosophy.

Sufi's attitude toward right and wrong

In regard to the Sufi's attitude towards right and wrong -- that these are man-made -- one may ask how then it can matter what a person does.

The answer is, it matters to those to whom it matters, and it does not matter to those to whom it does not matter. In this respect, if the Sufi has to say anything to his follower, it is this: refrain from doing that which hinders you from accomplishing the purpose in your inner and your external life. Do not act against your ideal, for it will never be satisfactory to you; you will not be pleased with yourself and this inharmony in your inner and your external self will prevent peace, which is your life's craving, without which life becomes unhappy. "Right" is the straight path which the soul is inclined to take in life, but when one walks astray, leaving the straight path in life owing either to negligence or ignorance, or by reason of weakness, or by the attraction of some temptation on the way, one can say that is wrong.

What is good and what is evil? There are two answers to this question.

  1. First it may be said: good is that which you consider to be good, and the effect of which is agreeable to you both in its beginning and end. Evil is that which you consider to be evil and the effect of which is disagreeable in the beginning as well as in the end. If good and evil have no agreeable or disagreeable effect at first, or have a contrary effect at the beginning, whether they are really agreeable or disagreeable will appear in the end.
  2. The second answer is that all things that seem good and evil are the opposite ends of one line, and it is difficult to say where evil ends and good begins, for these are comparative terms; a lesser good would seem evil when compared with a greater good, and the lesser evil in comparison with the greater evil would appear good. If there were no evil, good would not have been valued. Without injustice, justice would not have been appreciated. Therefore the whole of life's joy is expressed in duality.

Why is there so much suffering in life, when God is described as merciful? If God were a separate being from man, and if He rejoiced in the suffering of man, then He could be blamed. But He, as the Sufi realizes, is the sufferer and the suffering; yet He is beyond all suffering. This fact can be understood, not merely by believing in God, but in knowing Him.

Suppose your hands dropped a heavy weight upon your feet and hurt them, are your hands to be blamed? No, for they share the pain with the feet, and although the feet seem to have been hurt, yet the one that feels hurt is your absolute being. In reality that being feels hurt, and therefore the hand shares the hurt of the foot.

So it is with God. Our very life is His, and He is not void of the feeling of joy or of pain which we feel. In reality, He feels what we imagine we feel, yet at the same time His perfect Being keeps Him above all earthly joys and pains; and our imperfection limits us, so that we become subject to all joys and pains, however small they may be.

According to the Sufi the difference between sin and virtue is like the difference between good and evil. They are comparative terms. Lesser virtue compared with greater virtue appears to be sin, and lesser sin compared with greater sin is considered virtue. The inclination of the soul is towards good; it is only when the soul is helpless in the hands of the lower self that it is inclined towards evil.

Again, it may be said: sin and virtue are the standards of good and evil made by the teachers of religion; it is the standards of morals that keep the world in order, and it is the breaking of this order that causes the decline of religion, with the effect of wars, famines, and disaster. In order to uphold this order, messengers are sent from time to time, and spiritual controllers are appointed in every part of the earth.

One might ask, "Why tread the path of righteousness and piety; why spend your life in teaching and preaching to humanity?" It is natural. Every loving and illuminated heart has a desire to see others partake in its vision of glory. On the other hand, it seems that some persons are quite happy in committing sin.

Is there then no restriction to be imposed on sin? The answer is: sin can never make one happy. Even were there pleasure in it for the time being, it would re-echo, and the re-echo of a false note is never pleasing to the musical ear. If a person were really happy in his "sin", one might be satisfied that it was really his virtue, and that it is only to us, from our point of view, that his action is sinful. Therefore the Sufi attends to his own journey, and does not judge others.

If there is only a comparative difference between good and evil, sin and virtue, why should there be punishment for evil and reward for good? The effect of good itself is a reward for good, and the effect of evil is itself a punishment. From our limited view, perhaps, we attribute these effects to a third person, to a divine ideal. But what then of the belief of the orthodox, that if anybody asks forgiveness before his death, his sins would be forgiven by God? It seems hard to believe that a person who has sinned all through life could be forgiven at a simple request made at the hour of death. The answer is, that it is absolutely true that the whole of life's sins may be forgiven by divine mercy in one moment, just as a chemical solution may wash away the stains of years from the surface of a rock in a moment.

The real question is, is the request earnest enough? It is not so easy as it seems, for this is a matter of divine mercy; and if a person has continued to commit sins, at every sin he has lost his belief in the judgment of the divine Being and in His power. Therefore he has sown the seed of disbelief in his heart and has reared this plant by his sins. That being so, how can he in the end develop sufficient faith in a moment to believe in divine mercy? The simplest thing becomes the most difficult for him.

For this reason, the teachers of humanity have taught man faith as the first lesson in religion. Those are forgiven the sins of their whole life, who have always believed that any moment death might come and have safeguarded themselves against doing anything that does not meet with the pleasure of their Lord, and whenever, owing to human imperfection, they have failed in doing right, they most earnestly have asked forgiveness.