In the Shade of a Tree

When Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan founded the Sufi Movement, one of the objects enshrined in its articles was : To help to bring the world’s two opposite poles, East and West, closer together by the interchange of thought and ideals, that the Universal Brotherhood may form of itself… But those words were written a century ago, and since then there have been so many changes in the world that one might wonder if there still remains much to do in this regard. Every tuktuk driver and sweeper in Delhi has a mobile phone now, and liberally scattered all through the west are curry houses and yoga studios, while the scientists of India are preparing to land people on the moon. How much closer could East and West get?

But these similarities are in the material world, not in the world within. Hazrat Inayat Khan certainly recognised the differences of material culture between the East and West of his time, and believed that much in the West could help the East. But looking past the surface of daily life, Pir-o-Murshid saw one major distinction, which was that in the East the foundation of life and thought was religious, while in the West religion was already being cast aside in favour of the growing fascination with the material and the commercial. In the East, he pointed out as an example that the ideal of the unity of the human race, the principle of ‘brotherhood’ (as the language of the time puts it) was viewed as a religious concept, while in the West it was expressed as patriotism, a political ideal. The eastern understanding of the principle has the potential to embrace everyone, regardless of their belief, whereas the western understanding often generates an attitude of ‘if you are not with us, you are against us,’ – creating division and not unity.

In a lecture on the theme of mastering our destiny, Hazrat Inayat Khan clarified his perception of these two ends of the spectrum. The spirit of those [in the East] who went to mountain caves or lived in the forests was a meditative one. One might think it was an undesirable life. Yes, perhaps undesirable to follow, but in relation to what they reached, the experience they gained was most desirable. There is much that could be exchanged between East and West. The West has improved and cultivated and invented many things which should go to the East. And the experience of those in the East who went to the forests and sat in meditation under the shade of trees should be taken to the West. It is this that will bring East and West closer, to the best advantage of the whole of humanity.

These words might make us reflect on the western attitude to nature, which is generally seen as a place for physical recreation; hiking, running and climbing are enthusiastically promoted, and if one doesn’t break into a sweat, one hasn’t yet reached the goal. Some, though, visit nature with reverence, and that is closer to the eastern attitude. If more of us would simply sit under a tree and meditate, it would not only bring east and west closer together, but we might learn the real meaning of the saying in Gayan Boulas : The lover of nature is the true worshipper of God.

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