Are we hallucinating?

In the first portion of the series ‘Aspects of Sufism,’ in which Hazrat Inayat Khan discusses the purpose of our life on earth, he uses the startling term ‘moral hallucination.’ It is remarkable both because Pir-o-Murshid Inayat seldom speaks of hallucination, and also because, without naming any group or belief directly, he clearly shows his view of the claims sometimes made for moral virtue. After having considered honor and love as possible purposes in one’s life, our Master comes to the question of virtue, and says, “One is led to suppose and believe that virtue is the only thing that matters in life, but it will be found that the greater number of sufferers from moral hallucination are to be met with among the self-righteous.”

“Moral’ is one of those words that refer to things or qualities so much a part of our understanding that it is difficult to define them. Generally speaking, moral means correct behaviour, but it is when we try to determine what is meant by correct that we come into difficulties. For example, thousands of years ago, when Zarathustra gave guidance to the people of Persia, he laid special emphasis on the need to treat dogs well. Centuries. later, when the religion of Islam appeared, the dog was considered to be unclean, and most Muslims don’t want one in the house. If we look at the context, though, this becomes clearer: the pastoralist Persians had a place, a need, even, for the dog to help them tend their flocks, and it would have been correct behaviour to treat these creatures well. The desert dwelling Arabs, trying to keep scavengers out of their tents, didn’t view dogs in the same way, and it was more ‘correct’ to exclude them from one’s home.

In other words, morals can help us navigate the puzzles of life, but they come with a peril. Whenever we draw a line and say, ‘This is correct, and that is not,’ it is less than a half-step to the declaration, ‘Those who follow this rule are right, and those who do not are wrong.’ And that is no doubt why Hazrat Inayat speaks of the ‘self-righteous,’ meaning those who are pleased with themselves for their moral superiority. From a Sufi point of view, whatever divides is regrettable; the spiritual person seeks for unity, not division. A moral of any value is not given so that we can feel correct and superior, but so that there can be happiness. As we find in Vadan Chalas, “What virtue is that, O righteous man, which gives no happiness?” And we must take care about expecting others to follow what we consider to be correct morality, for that will only lead to conflict and ever deepening division. If we view the question seriously, we each have enough to do to govern our own behaviour without trying to supervise the way others act.

What is more, as the example of the dog shows, what may seem right in one moment may in another instant seem wrong, and trying to impose hard rules only spreads hard stones in our path. The person who wishes to live a virtuous life must let go of fixed and rigid codes, and see each moment with the eyes of the illuminated souls, whose ‘hearts are constantly reaching upward.’ Then we may begin to experience the truth of this saying from Gayan Boulas : “There is no action in this world that can be stamped as sin or virtue; it is its relation to the particular soul that makes it so.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.