In this final instalment of the series, Hazrat Inayat Khan concludes his teaching about right and wrong, good and evil, reward and punishment, and about divine forgiveness, a theme that he began in the previous post.
According to the Sufi the difference between sin and virtue is like the difference between good and evil. They are comparative terms. Lesser virtue compared with greater sin is considered virtue. The inclination of the soul is towards good; it is only when the soul is helpless in the hands of the lower self that it is inclined towards evil.
Again, it may be said: sin and virtue are the standards of good and evil made by the teachers of religion. It is the standards of morals that keep the world in order, and it is the breaking of this order that causes the decline of religion, with the effect of wars, famines, and disaster. In order to uphold this order, messengers are sent from time to time, and spiritual controllers are appointed in every part of the earth. One might ask, ‘Why tread the path of righteousness and piety; why spend your life in teaching and preaching to humanity?’ It is natural. Every loving and illuminated heart has a desire to see others partake in its vision of glory. On the other hand, it seems that some persons are quite happy in committing sin. Is there then no restriction to be imposed on sin? The answer is: sin can never make one happy. Even were there pleasure in it for the time being, it would re-echo, and the re-echo of a false note is never pleasing to the musical ear. If a person were really happy in his ‘sin’, one might be satisfied that it was really his virtue, and that it is only to us, from our point of view, that his action is sinful. Therefore the Sufi attends to his own journey, and does not judge others.
It there is only a comparative difference between good and evil, sin and virtue, why should there be punishment for evil and reward for good? The effect of good itself is a reward for good, and the effect of evil is itself a punishment. From our limited view, perhaps, we attribute these effects to a third person, to a divine ideal. But what then of the belief of the orthodox, that if anybody asks forgiveness before his death, his sins would be forgiven by God? It seems hard to believe that a person who has sinned all through life could be forgiven at a simple request made at the hour of death. The answer is, that it is absolutely true that the whole of life’s sins may be forgiven by divine mercy in one moment, just as a chemical solution may wash away the stains of years from the surface of a rock in a moment. The real question is, is the request earnest enough? It is not so easy as it seems, for this is a matter of divine mercy; and if a person has continued to commit sins, at every sin he has lost his belief in the judgment of the divine Being and in His power. Therefore he has sown the seed of disbelief in his heart and has reared this plant by his sins. That being so, how can he in the end develop sufficient faith in a moment to believe in divine mercy? The simplest thing becomes the most difficult for him.
For this reason, the teachers of humanity have taught man faith as the first lesson in religion. Those are forgiven the sins of their whole life, who have always believed that any moment death might come and have safeguarded themselves against doing anything that does not meet with the pleasure of their Lord, and whenever, owing to human imperfection, they have failed in doing right, they most earnestly have asked forgiveness.