We were contemplating a visit to purgatory, perhaps a long one, and it was evident that some members of the group were not looking forward to it. As they themselves explained, it was a consequence of their religious upbringing, in which ‘purgatory’ was depicted as a place where vengeance, supposedly of divine origin, would be inflicted upon anyone who broke the endlessly multiplying sacred rules. They did not say so, but they were probably dismayed to find this word popping up in a Sufi discussion.
The conversation had begun with this phrase from Gayan Chalas, Purgatory is that state which mind experiences between the birth of thought and its materialization. Since the saying seems to promise purgatory for every single thought, it is not surprising if there were glum faces in the circle. But perhaps we need to ask, what does Hazrat Inayat Khan mean here by purgatory? Does he mean it to be a place of punishment? Or is he speaking of something else?
When we think about the world of manifestation, it is evident that everything that forms will someday be dispersed. It is true of stars and mountains, it is true of our physical bodies, and it is also true of the subtle forms that we call thoughts. This is what is referred to in this saying from Gayan Boulas : Death is a tax the soul has to pay for having had a name and a form. The soul itself is life and cannot perish, but from having reflected the impression of limitation, it must also experience the consequence, meaning the dissolution of the form.
Therefore, we will also experience the consequences of every thought that is born in our mind, meaning the natural working out of its life until sooner or later it dissolves and we are ‘purified’ of our attachment to it. In this sense, purgatory is simply a place where we are purified, where pure consciousness is cleared of the waves of form.
Suppose, for example, that the thought comes of breeding a new form of rose. The person who has the thought will have to learn how to care for roses, and how to breed them, how to develop new strains, and perhaps how to overcome unexpected weaknesses of the new varieties, until at last, one day, the sought for rose will appear. All of that involvement and labour is part of the working out of the initial thought, and could be seen as the purgatory of the mind. But purgatory is not the destination – the traveller only passes through that region on the way to heaven, and it is when a thought has been fulfilled and we can stand above it that we glimpse heavenly peace. Artists and creative people in every medium can understand this very well.
The phrase from the Gayan need not be seen as threatening, therefore, but as instructive. And, as several members of the group observed, we could also learn from it the wisdom of being a little bit choosy with regard to which thoughts to keep and which to toss out. We could ask ourselves, does this thought really merit an indeterminate time in purgatory?