Hazrat Inayat Khan taught about every aspect of life, both on the inner plane and in the outer world, as this lecture on ‘conventionality’ shows. He gave this lecture to students in July of 1923, and following the lecture there was an interesting series of questions and answers on the topic, which will be available in a second post. Although this lecture was offered at a time when the world still shook from violent revolutions against aristocratic rule in many countries, it is easy to see how this wisdom could be helpful today as well.
Conventionality is no doubt man-made, as art is man-made; but, as in art is found the finishing of nature, so in conventionality there is the finishing of civilization. Conventionality is no doubt acquired, not inherited, but at the same time the love of conventionality is inherited also. Children born in families in which conventionality has existed for a long time are born with a tendency towards it and it becomes natural for them to learn it. Also, while learning, they do not feel it to be foreign to their nature.
No doubt the extreme of all good and bad things is to be avoided. Nature has helped as far as that the soul is born on earth, and then comes education, in which is the fulfillment of the purpose of life. Conventionality is not the goal, and yet this, which makes civilization, is a bridge which is connected with the goal of life. Conventionality loses its virtue, as do all things, when they become void of sincerity, for sincerity is the soul of every virtue.
Now, coming to the question, “What is conventionality?” It is a law of manner which is used in life for the convenience and comfort of man. All that is man-made is as imperfect as man. Therefore if one would try to find out the mistakes of conventionality, one could find them in every civilization existing at any period of history. Nevertheless, the most civilized at any period have been the most conventional people of the time.
During the age of aristocracy, conventionality increased in every part of the world, and became the main part of education for that time. And when revolt arose against the spirit of aristocracy, every good and bad thing that aristocracy possessed was condemned. Whatever line of reform the people in the world may adopt, they cannot be free from conventionality and yet progress. These two things cannot be separated. Only what can be done is to break one form of conventionality and build another form – call the first form conventionality and the next Bohemian life, it all comes to the same. There is one thing that must be considered, that freedom is the soul’s purpose, and if, without hindering the conventionalities, one can rise above them so as to breathe the breath of freedom, that would be the true democracy. Democracy void of culture and refinement can very well be called anarchy.
But there are two laws which, if one considers them deeply, will become useful in living the right life. It is one thing to strive to achieve beauty, comfort, happiness and peace in life for oneself; and it is another thing to share the above-said things with the others — that is where comes the necessity of conventionalities. The one who is a slave to conventionality is a captive; the one who is the master of conventionality is the possessor of that kingdom of which it is said in the Bible, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the kingdom of the Earth.”