Once Hazrat Inayat Khan was asked by a dinner companion, a lady who had evidently enjoyed some good meals in her life, if it were spiritual to fast. With a quiet smile, the Master told her it is as spiritual to fast as it is to enjoy a good dinner, and this answer seemed to please her very much.
Of course, we might expect that Hazrat Inayat would be tactful and considerate when he chose his words, but he was not merely sparing the lady’s feelings. In Sufism, there is no fixed principle that makes something either good or bad; both fasting and enjoyment have their place in life. As Hazrat Inayat explains in this post, while the Sufi Message, identical with the Message in all ages, urges us to seek the happiness of all humanity in whatever way we can, it is also true that what may be right at one moment may at another moment be wrong. If we expect a Sufi to follow convention, we will often be surprised. Consider the tale about Baba Farid and the dervish who took it into his head to ask for the Shaikh’s old comb. Fulfilling the principle of generosity, Baba Farid had already given the dervish something, but when he wanted more, and began to insist, and attempted to barter ‘blessings’ for what he wanted, the Shaikh’s reply was not conciliatory but blunt and dismissive.
We try to codify life, to say that some actions, words and beliefs are acceptable, and others run against the Law, but since the beginning of time the wise have told us that divine reality is beyond all names and forms, that the created world is no more than a shadow of the Divine Spirit. We cannot follow the light if we are looking only at the shadow, and therefore the guidance of the light may sometimes appear to contradict what the shadows tell us is good. That is the meaning of the famous passage in the Bhagavad Gita: Arjuna, looking out with a heavy heart at the impending battle, in which members of the same extended but now divided family will be obliged to shed each others’ blood, thinks of abandoning the fight. His charioteer Krishna, however, the Spirit of Guidance embodied, tells him that he cannot escape his destiny; the soul stands above all, unstained by any action, but within the turbulence of the manifest world it is at this moment Arjuna’s duty to fight.
The world is in great troubles now, and those on the spiritual path must do all that they can to help – but to understand what they are called to do, they cannot follow a dogmatic script, but they must consult the light in their own heart. As the verses of Ecclesiastes tell us, there is a time to gather stones and a time to scatter them. Wisdom is in asking the light what is needed in this moment.