We continue with the series of lectures on a theme that is central to the work of Hazrat Inayat Khan. In the story about the visit of Usman Haruni to the temple of Kali, the student is traditionally identified as Moinuddin Chisti, who subsequently became one of the greatest spiritual figures of India. The previous post may be found here.
In all ages and to all peoples the message of God has been sent. And that message has been kept by those who received it in the form of a scripture, and the name of the messenger and his honor have been held high by those who have followed that particular message. No matter at what time in the history of the world the message came, one thing is sure: that it has always penetrated the heart of man and left its impression and its influence, ever multiplying and spreading, proving it to be the message of God. And there is no better instance of this truth than the coming of Jesus Christ, and the fact that he gave his message to so few – mostly to fishermen. Even though the conditions in which the Master had to deliver his message were difficult, yet the message was God’s, and it did not fail to make a lasting impression on the souls of men.
Since it is the message of God, whenever it comes, it is from the same source. When it came a thousand years ago, it was His message; when it came a hundred years ago, it was His message; and if it came today, it would be also His message. How ignorant man has been through all the ages! And he shows his ignorance even today, for whenever the message has come, man has fought and disputed and argued. Man has held fast to one prophet, and ignored the others, because although he knew his religion, he did not know the message. He has taken the book as his religion, without recognizing the message.
If that were not the general tendency, then how could Jesus Christ with His most spiritual message have been crucified? There had been prophecies, and besides prophecies, the Master himself was the evidence of his message, as the saying has it: ‘What you are speaks louder than what you say.’ And how thickly veiled man’s eyes must be by the religion, the faith, the belief he holds, for him to accept only one messenger, and to reject the message given by other prophets, not knowing that the message is one and the same!
It is one thing to love, and another thing to understand. The one who loves the messenger is a devotee; but the one who knows the messenger is his friend. There is a tendency in the human race, which has appeared in all ages: it leads man to accept every expression of the message which has been given him, to be won by it, blessed by it, and yet to fail to recognize who the messenger is. The followers of each form of the message profess devotion to their Lord and Master, by whatever name he had in the past, but they do not necessarily know the Master. What they know is the name and the life of the Master that has come down to them in history or tradition; but beyond that they know very little about him. If the same one came in another form, in a garb adapted to another age, would they know him or accept him? No, they would not even recognize him, because it was not the message but the form that they accepted in the past; a certain name or character; a part but not the whole.
There is a story about a great Sufi in India, whose name was Usman Haruni. He was a murshid to whom came thousands of disciples, among them many of the most learned and philosophical people of the time. He taught them the deepest truths of mysticism, and most of all to worship the nameless and formless God. But there came a time when he said to them, ‘So far I have worshipped according to tradition, but now I feel that I must go and prostrate myself before the image of the goddess Kali in all humility.’ His pupils were aghast. That he, whose conception of God had been so lofty, should go and bow before the hideous image of Kali, to worship whom was to break the law of their religion, was beyond anything they could conceive, and caused them to fear that their master had lost his reason. Some even thought that he was treading the downward path.
So, when the teacher went to the temple of Kali, only one of his pupils went with him, a youth whose devotion to his master was very great. As they went, the teacher said to this disciple, ‘You should go back. They are many, and are surely in the right; I am perhaps in the wrong.’ But the young man still followed. When the temple was reached, the teacher was so greatly moved by the thoughts that the image of the goddess suggested to him that he prostrated himself in humility. And the disciple, standing by, looked on with sympathy at the thought of how many followers his master had had, and of how, in one moment, all had turned from him. When the teacher arose he said, ‘Do you still follow me?’ And when the disciple said that he did, the holy man asked him further, ‘But perhaps you do not understand why you follow me?’ Then the youth said, ‘You have taught me the first lesson of the spiritual path: that none exists save God. How then can I exclude this image of Kali, if you choose to bow and prostrate yourself before it?’
To be continued…