Someone once came to Hazrat Inayat Khan with what they were sure would be a great treat for the master: a recording of some music. Remember that in those days, before the advent of radio, one seldom heard music outside a concert hall. Recordings certainly existed, and Hazrat Inayat himself had made recordings even before he came to the West in 1910, but they were still rather rare and precious, a little like a hand-copied book kept as a trophy in a Renaissance library. To the visitor’s surprise, though, when he proposed that they listen to the recording, the teacher politely declined.
The music in the recording is not specified, but it seems to have been the Symphonic Suite by the French composer Paul Dukas, based on Goethe’s poem, ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.’ The tale, which has been repeated numerous times in various ways, including as a Disney animated film in 1940, is of a young apprentice left alone by his master, who gets into difficulty by his clumsy efforts at working magic. The result is a cascading chaos that is only resolved when the Sorcerer returns and restores order. Dukas wrote very programmatic music, so the Suite clearly evokes the successive events in the poem.
Why did Hazrat Inayat not want to listen to the music? Because of the science of impressions. Everything that we experience, every image we see, every word spoken to us, and of course what we touch and taste and smell, all leave an impression in the mind. There is also the impression of atmosphere: those who have visited the Dargah of Hazrat Inayat in Delhi know that, notwithstanding the urban uproar outside the walls, there is a deep feeling of peace there which makes a profound impression, seeming to touch the center of one’s being. But our layers of impression come not only from the external world; our own words and actions, and our thoughts and feelings too, leave an impression in our consciousness. For example, if we choose the wrong word in speaking to someone, we may carry that impression for a long time. What is more, by pondering over a memory–be it pleasant or otherwise–we re-impress ourselves wth it, making the effect still stronger.
This anecdote, therefore, is very instructive for the student on the spiritual path. We could take a lesson from the example of Hazrat Inayat Khan, and guard ourselves from unwanted impressions coming from the outside world. Indeed, the need seems much more acute now: the Symphonic Suite looks rather benign in comparison to the unending barrage of strident unpleasantness and violence that pours forth from popular media. But we could also think about how to guard against generating more unwanted impressions ourselves: watching our speech and action, and learning to direct our thoughts and feelings along channels that are more helpful.