In the first instalment of this series, Hazrat Inayat Khan considered some common conceptions of the aim of life, such as the attainment of virtue, power or pleasure. Here he takes us further, by subtle steps, to a more fundamental answer.
Turning now to the traditions, we find that the Quran says, “Know thyself and know God,” and another Sura: “Know God in nature.” But in nature we find nothing perfect, nothing that we can call God, no perfect man, no perfect woman. If he is very learned, he is not brave; if he is very brave, he knows nothing; if he has great imagination, he will not know how many pence there are in a shilling, and he is defective in this way. If she is beautiful, she has no intelligence or learning; if she has learning, she has no beauty; if she has a very great personality, she has no intelligence; if she has much intelligence, she has no charm of personality.
In what nature, then, can we see God? In your [inner] nature, in the ego, in the self. How can we see God in the ego? If, leaving the tradition, we see with our scientific view, we see that this self consists, first of all, of flesh and blood, bones and skin, and the breath that keeps all together. The breath is the life; when the breath is gone out of the body, the life is gone. The breath has formed the body.
And what is the breath? The breath is the sound. When it is heavy, it is a sound that our ears can hear. When it is light, it is a fine sound that our ears cannot hear. When a person is fast asleep, we hear the snoring, the breath. If you go near a horse or a cow and listen attentively, after a little while you will hear a fine sound, the breath. This shows us that the breath is the sound, and that by the sound all has become. This is why by the Hindus it is called Nada Brahma, the sound God. In the Quran it is said, “Kun fa yakun,” “Be, and it became.”
But, besides the breath, if we look into ourselves, we see that there is something else. There is something that witnesses the breath. That is the consciousness, which in its individual aspect we call soul. Then a person knows through his understanding that he is an invisible being. Then he says to his soul, “You have been so long deluded by this body. You have thought that you are the body. You are not. You are an invisible being.” But then the thought comes, “Perhaps I am not an invisible being. Perhaps it is an imagination. If I were an invisible being I could go to Russia, I could go to New York. I cannot go to Russia or New York, I must take the steamer and the train. If I want news, I must send a telegram.”
This is the perfection of which the Gospel speaks. “Be ye perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect,” means this: that the spirit is conscious of the body, and the body is conscious of the spirit. When this is so, then man is perfect. The soul gives him everlasting life, the body becomes the means of experience for him. But men are either conscious of the body only, or if they are conscious of the spirit, they are conscious of the spirit only.
How to become conscious of the spirit? Our great Sufi poetess, Zebunnisa,* says, “Thou art a drop in the ocean. But if thou wilt hold the thought of the ocean, thou wilt be the same.” If we are conscious only of our self, we are like the animal, seeking all for ourselves, taking all for ourselves. There are some who are conscious of their little group, or of their family; their family, their little group adores them. There are some who are conscious of their nation; their nation adores them. Their nation’s welfare is their welfare, their nation’s downfall is their downfall. Some, the Masters, have the whole humanity always before their eyes. They are conscious of the whole humanity. They think, “If I have not eaten, but my brother has eaten, it is all right. If I have had nothing, but my brother has had, it is all right.” By the consciousness of the whole, the soul gains its freedom. It is not bound to any place or any condition. The more we open ourselves, the more we fulfill the aim of life.
I myself have known in Hyderabad a judge, who was sitting all day in the law-courts, and at luncheon heard a boy singing in the street. In India the boys are very fond of singing in the street. The boy was singing a very vulgar song. The judge sent for the boy and made him sing the song. He made him sing it a second time, and then a third time, and again and again, a great many times. The song was a very common song. The words were not made by a poet, and the music was not made by a musician. It was a lover singing to a girl, “You look at me as if you would eat me up,” a very vulgar expression. The judge saw all day how, in the world, each one tries to devour the other, to get the best of him, and the song moved him so much that from that day he took a life of retirement. He gave everything away, and became a dervish.
The judge interpreted that the world, the girl, looks at him as if it will eat him up. That means, the attractions and temptations of the world finish a person’s life before he could awake to realize the truth of his life. But this is not the true aim of life. The aim of life is liberation. That illumination only is important. That only is worthwhile. The time of life, all the effort should be given for that, to realize, to recognize God Who is within.
A Hindu poet, Hali**, says, “O eyes longing to see God, look within, the God Whom you worship everywhere is within.” That means, the eyes should be turned inward, to see God within ourselves. Man’s aim should be to recognize that God, and by realizing Him, to be free: to realize his life, independent and immortal, free from death and decay, free from the troubles and cares and sorrows of the world.
* Zebunnisa (1638 – 1702) was the eldest daughter of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. She was highly intelligent, becoming a hafiza, one who has memorised the Quran, by the age of seven. Although she had many suitors, she never married. For the last twenty years of her life, she was imprisoned by her own father.
**Possibly the Urdu poet Altaf Hussain Hali (1837 – 1914)
To be continued…