Toward the One,
the perfection of Love, Harmony and Beauty, the Only Being,
united with all the illuminated souls, who form the embodiment of the Master,
the Spirit of Guidance.
Traditionally, the Invocation given by Hazrat Inayat Khan is repeated at the beginning of certain Sufi events: the Universal Worship ceremony, for example, as well as meetings of the Inner School. The words are appropriate for a beginning because they describe a journey and the manner in which we hope to travel: our destination is Unity, Perfection, the Real, the One and Only Being, and as in a caravan crossing the wilderness, we journey in that direction together with other travellers, the illuminated souls who, all together, make up the physical manifestation of the ever-present Spirit of Guidance.
In truth, all beings travel on that journey toward the One, but not all go forward consciously. Therefore, the Invocation reassures us, affirming that by our attunement we go in good company, with companions who know the way. But what do we understand by the term, ‘illuminated souls’?
There are many conceptions around illumination, most of them based on speculation rather than experience. People suppose that ‘illumination’ should mean something beyond human, a person with angel’s wings and a visible halo, gifted with omniscience and extraordinary powers, far removed from everyday life. And of course, if this is the concept that people hold, there is consequently a doubt that ‘illuminated souls’ could even exist; perhaps such celestial examples are only a story we tell ourselves as we stumble, groping in the dark–or perhaps they existed once in another age, or in some far-away, exotic location, such as a secret valley of the Himalayas, but certainly not in my own neighbourhood. Hazrat Inayat commented that people could not imagine that an illuminated soul would take a train, walk on the street or eat in a restaurant.
In one sense, the expression ‘illuminated soul’ is a repetition, a tautology, like saying ‘good goodness,’ or ‘quiet peacefulness.’ The soul, we are told, (and some have discovered for themselves) is light itself, Divine Light acting within a temporary cloak. And, if the soul is light, then what does it mean to say it can be illuminated?
But while the spark of Divine Light is indeed present in all beings (for how could it be absent?), the question is, are we conscious of that light? Many are so caught up in the endless play of the world of form, looking outward rather than inward, that the real miracle of their own nature escapes them. An ‘illuminated soul’ is one that has recognised its own reality, that has become conscious of consciousness unconditioned by name or form.
And if one comes to that realisation, that we are each and all rays of the Divine Light, then does that awareness confer miraculous changes? Yes, if the prisoner released from prison calls the return to freedom a miracle. When the soul becomes aware of its own light, it does not mean that the rules of the physical world are changed; there will still be toothache and unwelcome letters from the tax office, but it means that the soul no longer feels defined by the unavoidable pains and frustrations of life.
This is not a realisation that one can simulate. One cannot say, ‘I read the last page of the book, I know I have Divine Light somewhere, so I’m illuminated now.’ To recognise that reality, the rags of ‘me’ have to be cast aside, and the most most direct way to that liberation is through devotion to the Divine. Some fly that long way in an instant, and others travel step by step, but it is the same journey for all.
There have been countless illuminated souls, known and unknown to the world– from different backgrounds, traditions and nations, but the one thing they have all had in common was this: a sincere wish, from the bottom of the heart, that all souls could come to the same recognition. Therefore, we remember them in the Invocation.
One other lesson implicit in the Invocation is that illumination does not signify the end of the journey; the illuminated souls are travelling, too, and it is a tremendous blessing that we can journey with them.