A question arose recently about devotion, saying — more or less — ‘If all is One, does not devotion encourage duality, inasmuch as it describes a relationship between the devotee and that to which s/he is devoted? If ‘I’ am here on earth, worshipping ‘Thou’ in heaven, where is unity?’
In Indian thought, which has occupied itself for perhaps five thousand years or more with this kind of enjoyable spiritual puzzle, it has come to be understood that there are different paths to the goal, paths that suit different temperaments. Each path has its qualities, and none is inherently better than another, although it is usually the case that one may be more useful for one particular person.
There is the path of the body, of disciplining the physical form and impulses, which we see in hatha yoga. There is the path of the mind, in which one learns to cut down one’s own dogmas and preconceptions with the sword of clear reason, exemplified in jnana yoga. There is the path of the heart, wherein the little self is washed away in floods of love, which is seen in bhakti yoga. And there is a path which is a balance of all three, known as raja (‘royal, kingly’) yoga. Hazrat Inayat Khan says that Sufism is most similar to raja yoga, as it is a balanced approach, involving discipline of the body, purification of the mind, and cultivation of the heart.
But although Sufism is a balanced path, few of us come to the path in a balanced condition. In our present, materialist age, where ‘commercialism is all-pervading,’ as Hazrat Inayat said, and individuality is valued above all else, devotion is naturally viewed with some suspicion. Western democracy holds that ‘all men are equal’, a principle usually taken to mean, ‘no man is above me,’ so that signs of devotion such as the eastern custom of touching the feet of an elder relative or a respected teacher begin to seem like aberrations. And if we do not feel comfortable showing devotion to fellow humans, how can we be expected to show devotion to the Unseen?
Sufism maintains a balance amongst these three methods of working because they do not lead to different goals, but complement each other; all methods of spiritual work lead to the same placeless Place, and for a Sufi, none can be dismissed. Yes, when the devotee bows down, whether before a stone idol or an unseen God, he begins from a place of duality, but every beginner on the spiritual path is in that state; if we did not have the perception of being separate from the Source, we would not need to embark on a journey at all. Devotion, properly fulfilled, leads to the recognition of Unity. As the recent post about the allegory of the play Una explained, the culmination of devotion is the willing dissolution of the little self in the One Self of the beloved. It is described very beautifully by Hazrat Inayat in this saying from the Raga section of Vadan:
When Thou didst sit upon Thy throne, with a crown upon Thy head,
I did prostrate myself upon the ground and called Thee my Lord.
When Thou didst stretch out Thy hands in blessing over me,
I knelt and called Thee my Master.
When Thou didst raise me from the ground, holding me with Thine arms,
I drew closer to Thee and called Thee my Beloved.
But when Thy caressing hands held my head next to Thy glowing heart and Thou didst kiss me,
I smiled and called Thee myself.