Hazrat Inayat Khan now concludes his discourse on the contrast between illusion and reality, finishing with a caution that even a realised mystic would hesitate to say that all the world is illusion, since only the one who is truly free of it may make such a statement. The previous post in the series is here.
One might consider abstract thought to be a method of knowing reality, but it depends upon what one understands by abstract thought. There are people who live in the abstract, and yet they are far away from reality. There is an Indian story about a fish, which went to the queen of the fishes and said, ‘I have always heard about the sea, but where is the sea?’ Then the queen explained to this fish who had come to her to learn, ‘You live, move, and have your being in the sea. The sea is within you and outside of you, and you are made of the sea and you will end in the sea. The sea is what surrounds you and is your origin and your end and your own being.’ Just as the fish was ignorant of the sea, so even those who experience the abstract may be ignorant of its reality. One may stand near the water all one’s life and yet remain thirsty, not realizing that it is water.
One day a man asked Buddha, ‘What is ignorance? You have spoken so often about it; can you illustrate it, can you explain it?’ Buddha said, ‘There was a man who was clinging to the branch of a tree on a very dark night. All night he clung to that branch, and in the morning he saw that the ground was only one foot beneath his feet. And all the fear and anguish and torture he had felt throughout the whole night vanished with the breaking of the dawn.’
Such is the nature of ignorance and reality. A person may continue to be unaware of the truth throughout his life and suffer all the consequences of this ignorance, for there is no greater misfortune than ignorance. It is the root of all unhappiness and misery. One may continue to suffer one’s whole life through ignorance, when the knowledge of reality is quite near if one only cared to find it.
The other difficulty is that human nature begins to look for complexity, for the nature of illusion is complex; man values complexity and thinks that what is complex is valuable and worthwhile, and that what is simple is worthless. Truth, however, is simple, simpler than all the knowledge of illusion, but for that very reason man cannot value it, for he has valued the illusion so much that he cannot value reality.
And yet for us limited human beings to say that this world has no reality seems blasphemy. It is all right for us to feel this, but it is not right to say it, because if we are to say it we must prove it, prove it by our independence of this illusion – which we cannot always do, as we are too dependent upon it. A claim which has not been put into practice is not a good claim; that is why a mystic will always refrain from saying such a thing as that all this is an illusion; but he tries to feel it more and more everyday. And when it happens that he does not feel this way he is sorry. He thinks that he is far from reality; but when a glimpse of it comes to him, he realizes that he is face to face with his Lord, because then he stands in the light of reality.