In this first portion of a series on the path of self-realisation, Hazrat Inayat Khan begins by removing some of the concepts which might stand in our way to the goal.
We see that in the words of philosophers, mystics, sages, thinkers, and prophets, great importance is given to self-realization. If I were to explain what self-realization is, I would say that the first step to self-realization is God-realization. The one who realizes God, in the end realizes self, but the one who realizes self never realizes God. And that is the difficulty today with those who search after spiritual truth intellectually. They read many books about occultism, esotericism, and mysticism, and what they find most emphasized is self-realization. Then they think that what they have to do is to attain that self-realization and that they can just as well omit God. But in reality God is the key to spiritual perfection. God is the stepping-stone to self-realization; God is the way which extends over the knowledge of the whole of creation – and if God is omitted then nothing can be reached. There is a wrong method in use today in many so-called cults, which often proves to be a failure, and which consists in teaching the beginner on the spiritual path to say, ‘I am God’: a thoughtless phrase, a word of insolence, a thought which has no foundation. It leads him nowhere except to ignorance. To the prophets and thinkers, to the sages who taught their followers the ideal of God, it had a meaning, a purpose. But today people do not recognize these, and being anxious to find a shortcut, they omit the principal thing in order to come to the realization of self.
Once a man went to a Chinese sage and said to him, ‘I want to learn the occult laws. Will you teach me?’ The sage said, ‘You have come to ask me to teach you something, but we have so many missionaries in China who come to teach us.’ The man said, ‘We know about God, but I have come to you to ask you about occult laws.’ The sage said, ‘If you know about God you don’t need to know anything more. God is all that is to be known. If you know Him you know all.’
In this world of commercialism there is a tendency, an unconscious tendency, even for a person who wants to promote the spiritual truth, to cater to the taste of the people. Either because of a commercial instinct, or with the desire to have a success, there is a tendency to cater to what people want. If people seem to be tired of the God-ideal, those who have that tendency want to give them occultism. They call it that or mysticism, because the God-ideal seems so simple. And as there is a fashion in everything, there is even a fashion in belief. Man thinks that the ideal of God is old-fashioned, something of the past. In order to create a new fashion he abandons the method which was the royal road trodden by all the wise and thoughtful of all ages, the method which will surely take men to perfection. Safety and success are sure in that path.
There may be a man of devotion and of simple faith, religious and believing in God, who calls Him the Judge, the Creator, the Sustainer, the Protector, the Master of the Last Day, the Lord, the Forgiver, and so on. And there may be another man, perhaps an intellectual who has studied philosophy, and he says, ‘God is all, and all is God. God is abstract and it is the abstract which is God.’
In point of fact the one has a God, even if only in his imagination, but the other has none. He has only the abstract. He calls it God because the others say God, but in his mind he has only the abstract. For instance when you say ‘space,’ there is no personality attached to it, no intelligence recognized in it, no form, no distinct individuality or personality. It is the same thing with time. When you speak about time you do not imagine time to be something or somebody. You say it is time, which means a conception, which you have made for your convenience. A man who says that the abstract is God, has no God. By this I do not mean to say that one or the other is right. What I wish to explain is that from a mental point of view the one has a God, even if it is only a God of his imagination, but the other has none, whether he admits it or not. Both are right, and both are wrong. One is at the beginning, and the other is at the end. The one who begins with the end will end at the beginning. And the one who begins with the beginning will end at the end.
To be continued…