If we see someone in pain or a child in danger, it is a human impulse to help in some way. The urge seems to jump from eye to body without even passing through the mind. But if we are unable to act, we feel distress and frustration and often guilt, even though the means to ease the situation may not be within our reach.
At the moment there are terrible conflicts in a number of parts of the world, and we can follow in vivid detail the explosions, the shattered lives, and the sorrow and grief of the families, told in many versions, some more complete and factual and others more partial and partisan. Watching from a distance, with no obvious means to extinguish the fire, it is normal to ask: what can we do? And if we are attempting to follow a spiritual path, we may question what guidance that path offers to us. How should a spiritual person respond?
As Sufism is not a religion, it does not attempt to give a set of morals to the world; religions have already given that advice, although it is seldom heeded by the religious adherents. Sufism only offers counsel to the individual, for each must choose their own path through life. Hazrat Inayat Khan said: If a Sufi has to say anything to a follower, it is this – Do not act against you ideal, for it will never be satisfactory to you; you will not be pleased with yourself, and this inharmony in your inner and your external self will prevent peace, which is your life’s craving, without which life becomes unhappy.
The keystone that holds up the arch of this teaching is the ideal – if we act in accordance with our ideal, Pir-o-Murshid tells us, we may know happiness and peace, but if we go against our ideal, that will not be possible. It sounds simple and obvious, but in reality many do not have a clearly formed ideal, or their ideal is not sufficiently evolved to guide them well. For example, Hazrat Inayat Khan often emphasised the importance of the God ideal, but no doubt both sides of the conflict between Isreal and Palestine would say they are absolutely obedient to their God ideal. That does not mean that the ideal of God is a pointless fiction – not at all. It only means that the ideal of the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, of the One Being in whom we are all members of a single family, has not yet been made a living reality.
In our outer life, each person will have their own personal capacity to help, and our ideal will direct us to act – but only if we also do our inner work, to make the ideal a bright living star of guidance. The outer work must be built upon the inner work, or it will bring no satisfactory result. That is why the Gayan Alapas advise us : O peace-maker, before trying to make peace throughout the world, first make peace within thyself!