A recent post of a text by Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan on the question, ‘What is a Sufi?” concluded with thoughts about the sacred step of initiation. Hazrat Inayat says that initiation cannot be bought, and if it is pursued for curiosity, which he says is inherently blinded by the cataract of doubt, it will bring no result. The only process for gaining the privilege of initiation, he tells us, is righteousness. But what is that?
Words in different contexts can have different meanings. If we meet a hungry lion and hear it exclaim, “Oh, I love humans!” we can be fairly certain the word love doesn’t have the same meaning as when our grandmother says, “I love you” – or at least the consequence will be different, and probably less pleasant. The words righteous and righteousness have been used in religious contexts to emphasise the duty of the faithful to follow divine law. As it is the religious authorities who usually – and inflexibly – enforce this obedience, there is plenty of room here for the exercise of power politics on a human level. Those who have rebelled against such control have perhaps also rebelled against the word ‘righteousness’, but does it mean that there is, therefore, no such thing as right and wrong?
Hazrat Inayat says that the laws given by the community, the state, the religious bodies and even the prophets all have their limitations, but that each one of us has within us, as an inherent part of our being, the faculty of distinguishing between right and wrong. The perception by means of the faculty, as well as our response to it, depends upon our evolution and our layers of habits and impressions, but the faculty itself is divine in origin and universal.
Whether something should be considered right or wrong, Pir-o-Murshid continues, depends upon the motive, the result, the time and the place. He says, “Wrong action with the right motive may be right; and a right action with wrong motive may be wrong.” In short, there is no single action that can be right in all circumstances and in all times and places, but we can be sure that if we listen deeply within ourselves, we can always hear the voice of our conscience urging us in one direction or another.
For this reason, the righteousness that can lead us to the spiritual state of initiation is not found in adhering to some given moral code, but in the willingness to examine ourselves, and to correct ourselves when we fall into error. To fail to do so is what is called ‘hypocrisy,’ a defect which we see everywhere, but which, because of its very nature, almost no one recognises in themselves.