Recently we posted Hazrat Inayat Khan’s short text on the Buddha, reflecting upon his teaching from a Sufi point of view, a lecture that was probably given in connection with a Universal Worship service. It was followed by a post of the Buddha’s last words to his disciples. For anyone wishing to see more deeply into the meaning of the Universal Worship, founded on the principle of the unity of religious ideals, it is useful to learn something about each of the traditions mentioned in the service.
To understand the Gautama Buddha’s teaching, we should know a little of the context in which he taught. At that time the established religion had become highly ritualised; there was a priestly class who conducted prayers and ceremonies, no doubt often in a very mechanical fashion, and those not born to this caste had no direct involvement in spiritual affairs. At the same time there was a fringe of dissatisfied seekers who attempted to find spirituality through extreme asceticism. As a young man Gautama lived a privileged life, but when he became aware of the realities of suffering, disease, old age and death, he left his home and began to search for the reality he felt must lie behind the illusion. He first followed the path of asceticism, and only turned away from it when he recognised that he was in danger of dying without having reached his goal. After taking a little food and regaining some strength, he entered a prolonged meditation through which he came to realisation, understood the cause of suffering, and saw the method of liberating oneself from the constantly turning wheel of birth and death.
The Buddha then began to teach what he called ‘the middle way,’ meaning neither rituals nor asceticism, but a practical discipline to master the mind and realise one’s true nature. What Hazrat Inayat particularly appreciated in the Buddha’s message was the universality: the light of illumination is present in everyone. As he was preparing to leave this world, the Buddha told his disciples, ‘Be a light unto yourselves. Do not rely upon anyone else.’ As we say in the prayer Salat, ‘Thy Light is in all forms, Thy love in all beings.’ We are all children of the One.
Each one of us, then, has a precious opportunity regarding our own inner condition. It is not because of some label that we have acquired in life, whether of a profession or a family or a faith, that we will find peace at last; it is only by awakening to the light of our true nature. It is a journey filled with difficulties, but it lasts a whole lifetime, so we should never give up. In this connection, and speaking of the avatar Rama, whose life was one long battle, Hazrat Inayat Khan said, The life of man, however great and spiritual, has its limitations. Before conditions of life, the greatest man on earth, the most powerful soul, will for a moment seem helpless. But it is not the beginning that counts, it is the end. It is the last note that a great soul strikes which proves that soul to be real and true.