In this first instalment of a series on the subject of faith, Hazrat Inayat Khan makes clear that he is not speaking of religion, in whatever form, but of something more fundamental.
When the question of faith arises, the orthodox always think that it is their religion which is being spoken of. To have faith in a religion, in the priests or clergy, in a certain dogma, ceremony, principle, or in a certain form of teaching, this is what is usually understood by the word faith. On the other hand, those who are intellectual and look at life from a different point of view say, ‘Faith is blind; why should we believe blindly?’
To a mystic, faith is the unique power that works through the whole of creation. The mystic does not mean by faith a belief in a certain religion or dogma or ceremony or book or teacher; he means trust, a trust even in the absence of reason.
Many people possess this quality naturally, while others do not seem to possess it. We may think that one person has brought faith with him and another has not, because they have or have not that quality, but when we study life minutely we find that there is no soul which does not possess faith. How true it is, as the Prophet saysL ‘Every soul when born is a faithful follower; it is afterwards that he turns to the contrary.’ This really means that every soul is born on earth with a simple faith, and it is only afterwards that he doubts. If it were not so, we should never have been able to learn the language we speak. Was it not learned by faith, from infancy? When the mother says, ‘This is a tree,’ the child says ‘tree’; when she says, ‘This is water,’ the child calls it ‘water.’ And there are many things which the parents speak of, apart from ordinary everyday matters, and the child believes them, as they want him to believe. Whether the names given to the things are right or wrong, the child takes them as his guardians wish him to take them, for that is his natural tendency.
In the beginning every soul has faith. Then how is it that man loses this quality which nature has bestowed on him? He loses it by the knowledge of names and forms. As he grows, he covers up his faith with the knowledge of names and forms, calling that ‘learning’. At every step in his progress towards knowledge, he compares things, and considers some things better than others, saying of one thing, ‘This is true,’ of another, ‘This is false,’ ‘That is what I can believe and rely upon,’ and ‘This is what I cannot believe and rely upon.’ The one thing he calls true, the other false, but in reality neither is true or false.
It is only at the beginning of knowledge that man passes through this stage. Later, when a person has raised himself above ordinary knowledge, he arrives at a stage where he is able to say, ‘All that I have called true is not true, and all that I have called false is not false.’ He finds that whatever difference there is, is only a difference of comparison. This point of view is difficult and vague, and not everybody perceives it.
The course of human life involves so many disappointments, so many failures, so many heart-aches, that no one can avoid doubting. There is a peasant saying, ‘He who has once burned his tongue with hot milk tries to cool even buttermilk by blowing on it.’ When a man has been deceived by one person, he distrusts ten people; when he has found one person unreliable, he may perhaps consider a hundred others to be so, too. After failing in one thing, he suspects he will fail in a thousand things. So many things take away that natural and powerful quality which was at first present, that faith which is the secret of the whole creation, the secret of all success that can ever be attained in life. This faith is broken by life’s discouraging experiences. When confidence in others is lost, then confidence in self is lost also; and the more it is lost, the more failures one meets. A doubting person considers himself to be wise and one of simple faith to be a fool. Whoever he sees, he suspects; whatever he hears, he questions whether it be right or wrong. He will doubt even his friend in business, waiting for the time to come when he can trust him – but that time never comes. His very doubts create doubts in the mind of the suspected person; and often the doubts come true, as the effect of the doubter’s thought; or at least it creates an illusion which for the moment shows the picture of his doubts.
How truly the story of Othello demonstrates this! The more he doubted Desdemona, the more proofs for his doubt life created. His doubt was fed more and more by the illusory proofs, until in the end he could not possibly believe the least thing contrary to his doubts. So it is with our own lives. We doubt; and by that very doubt, that which we fear happens, because it is created by us in the other person’s heart. Whether the actions we see support our doubt or only seem to support it, yet our suspicion creates the desire in the doubted person.
We can experience the same thing with dogs. If we have the least fear of a dog barking or biting, he will bark and come up to bite us. If there is no fear in us, the dog will not come towards us. The fear which makes us suspect that the dog will bite is enough to give the dog the desire to bite, because we are looking for it to do so.
If we could only develop the quality which is called faith, about which so much is said in the scriptures, in the Bible, in the Qur’an, we should find what power it would carry. It is the secret of all success.
To be continued…