The recent post of Hazrat Inayat Khan on the Path of Attainment emphasises the difference between sacrifice and renunciation. In everyday speech, these terms sound very similar, but on the spiritual path they mean quite different things, and in the following text Hazrat Inayat Khan makes more clear the distinction between them.
To those who move about on the surface of life, interest and indifference are like their right hand and their left hand, whereas to souls who have touched the depths of life, interest and indifference are just like the two poles of the world. One has to turn one’s back to the north pole in order to go to the south pole, and one has to turn one’s back to the south pole if one has to go to the north pole. Generally man says, “Today I am interested in this or that,” and tomorrow he says, “I have lost my interest.” Or he says that he might be interested in some thing or other, but before he has time to become interested in it he has already become indifferent.
Interest may be called life; indifference death;
interest light; indifference darkness.
And yet through the darkness there is a goal to be reached,
as well as there is something to be attained through the light.
Interest is necessary to tread the path of attainment; indifference is needed to attain the goal of renunciation. If a person is deep, sincere, and yet does not know these opposite poles, in spite of the depth he has and in spite of his sincerity he will be pulled from both sides by interest and indifference. Interest may be called life; indifference death; interest light; indifference darkness. And yet through the darkness there is a goal to be reached, as well as there is something to be attained through the light. A person who is one day interested and next day indifferent, has no depth either to his interest or to his indifference. Neither can he attain something through his interest, nor can he reach something through his indifference.
It is the power of motive which stands as the greatest power, as a secret behind this creation, and it is the absence of this power which very often gives indifference. It stands as a mystery behind that life which is assimilating. When a person says, “I would like to rise above things, but I cannot”, it is because he lacks the power of indifference. The one who has gone far on the path of interest can also go far on the path of indifference.
Renunciation is the ultimate goal of indifference, as attainment is the outcome of interest. These two things, wrongly used, bring wrong results; rightly used they bring right results. The one who does not give himself heart and soul to the object of his attainment, however small the object may be, is not entitled to take the path of indifference until he has attained it; until then he is not entitled to utter the name of renunciation. He cannot renounce, for he does not know what renunciation means. Renunciation is a great thing; but when? At the end of attainment; not at the beginning. It is as with freedom, which is a great thing to achieve, but not in the beginning; one should begin with discipline. The one who begins with freedom ends with discipline, as the one who begins with renunciation ends with interest; but it is a wrong beginning, and therefore there is a wrong end.
In the “Arabian Nights” there is a most interesting mystical story which gives us some idea about what the path of attainment means. It is the story of Aladdin who, on asking for the hand of a princess, was told that he should first bring the magic lantern, before he could attain the king’s daughter. And he went to look for it; and then the story goes on, telling how many forests he passed and how many rivers he crossed, and how through wind and storm and through all troubles and difficulties he went to the top of mountains and descended to the depths of the earth. He went through the water, through the air, through the fire, through all tests and trials, until he reached the end of his ordeal and found at last the magic lamp by which he attained his object. and this is the rule which one should always keep in view: that nothing in life which is of some worth can be attained without going through tests and trials and difficulties, persevering through it all with patience and endurance; it is this which in the end brings victory.
The picture of indifference is given in a story of the emperor Akbar, who went to pay a visit to a dervish living in the mountains. His grand-vizir accompanied him. When he arrived near the rock where this dervish was lying, his legs outstretched*, the emperor and the vizir bowed before him. The dervish answered by nodding his head. The vizir could not understand this manner in which the emperor was received by that dervish, the emperor who all day long was shown proper courtesy by thousands of people. The vizir asked sarcastically, “How long is it, dervish, that you have stretched your legs?” The dervish answered, “Since I have folded my arms.” What he meant to say was, “If my arms were stretched out in need I would have given the same courtesy to the emperor as all others give, but since I have taken back my outstretched arms, and folded them, I have stretched my legs. What does it matter who comes?” It is such personalities, such souls, who are entitled to speak of indifference. Souls with a thousand anxieties and a million worries, twenty thousand problems before them, when they think of renunciation, when they speak of indifference, they make a mistake. Besides, one can never have interest and indifference at the same time; it is either one thing or the other.
And now we come to the question of the Sufi Message. There are mureeds who are interested in their own advancement, and there are mureeds who are interested in the furtherance of the message. Those who are interested in their own advancement may just as well be indifferent to the furtherance of the cause, but those who are interested in the Movement, in Murshid, in the furtherance of the Message, who think that they can contribute, their most valuable contribution is a continued interest without the slightest shadow of indifference.
There are some who have the interest of the Message at heart, but one day, in their enthusiasm, they say, “I would like too do everything in my power; it does not matter how little I can do but I would like to do all I can,” and the next day they say, “What does it matter whether I do it or someone else? It is the message of God for humanity, and somebody will do the work; if I do not do it, what am I? I am a poor, humble person; I occupy no position in the Movement. Besides, it needs great resources to do something, which I lack; I have a great desire to work for the message, but at times I feel: can I really do it?” They look at a thousand difficulties which discourage them from doing anything. When such a thought rises in the heart of a worker it comes as a shadow which darkens the path that he wishes to tread. Only those mureeds and workers will be able to accomplish something worth-while who will not mind what position they are placed in, what work, small or great, they have to do in the Order, without becoming discouraged, with patience and endurance in spite of all difficulties. Is there any difficulty that cannot be surmounted? No doubt those who have every desire to serve the Cause yet have such difficulties that they seem insurmountable, may give their thought and help the cause by their prayers; but for those who have time at their disposal, strength and health granted by God, and opportunity, it is necessary to know the nature and the power of motive, and to know the danger of the shadow of indifference falling upon it. It is in this way, with united efforts, that we shall be able to bring that Message which we are destined to bring before humanity.
*In the East, it is a sign of courtesy to tuck the feet out of sight of a visitor. Note that the mere nodding of the head of the Dervish in response to the respectful bows of the Emperor and the Vizier also shows indifference.