With this post we begin an autobiographical note in which Hazrat Inayat Khan tells of his awakening interest in Sufism while still a young man. At the age of eighteen, he had left his home in Baroda and begun to tour India with the aim of creating a universal form of music that would restore this art to its sacred place and purpose. He won great honours, including a close friendship with the Nizam of Hyderabad, but in spite of his success he remained restless and dissatisfied.
At Ajmer I visited the tomb of Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti, the most celebrated Sufi saint of India. The atmosphere of his last resting-place was in itself a phenomenon; a sense of calm and peace pervaded it, and among all that throng of pilgrims I yet felt as if I were the only one present. At nightfall I went home and said tahajud, the midnight prayer.*
And lo! at the end of my prayers there came to me a voice, as though in answer to my invocations. It was the voice of a faqir calling the people to prayer before sunrise, and he sang,
Awake O man, from thy fast sleep!
Thou knowest not that death watcheth thee every moment.
Thou canst not imagine how great a load thou hast gathered
to carry on thy shoulders,
and how long the journey yet is for thee to accomplish.
Up! up! The night is passed and the sun will soon arise!
The unearthly quiet of the hour and the solemnity of the song moved me to tears. Sitting on my rug with my rosary in my hand, I reflected that all the proficiency and reputation which I had achieved were utterly profitless in regard to my najat or salvation. I recognized that the world was neither a stage set up for our amusement, nor a bazaar to satisfy our vanity and hunger, but a school wherein to learn a hard lesson. I then chose quite a different path to that which I had followed until then; in other words I turned over a new page in my life.
The morning broke and the birds began their hymn of praise to God. I heard men and women pass by below, some going to the mosque, others to the temples, and the general masses to the toil that yields their daily bread. Then I too fared forth and, lost in thought, not knowing my destination, made my way towards the jungle, with an inner yearning to be apart from the world and give an outlet to the thoughts and emotions with which my mind was so occupied.
*Tahajud is a voluntary prayer, not one of the five obligatory prayers in Islam.
To be continued…