In the recent post about the Religion of the Heart, Hazrat Inayat Khan begins by answering a question, one which is certainly sometimes put to us. He says, “If anybody asks you: “What is Sufism? What religion is it?” you may answer, “Sufism is the religion of the heart…” And in a few sentences, he gives a beautiful and profound explanation of the entire spiritual journey, a teaching that one could memorise and follow as a scripture for a whole lifetime. But the impulse to ask questions is like a child that does not want to sleep, and another question that sometimes comes is, ‘And what is the heart? What do we mean by that word?’
In a way, it is a more difficult question to answer, because potentially the heart has no limits. According to one Hadith (that is, a saying ascribed to the Prophet Mohammad), Allah declared, “Neither my earth nor my heaven can contain me, but the heart of my believer can.” If the heart can contain that which has no end, what words could possibly contain the heart?
It is with this quality in mind that Hazrat Inayat often referred to the heart as an ‘akasha,’ a word which means ‘capacity’ or ‘accommodation.’ It is not what it is that matters, but what it contains. And as Murshid Hidayat was fond of saying, the heart is a cup with room for only one: either ‘myself,’ or the Divine Beloved.
This means, paradoxically, that we must empty the heart before it can contain the Infinite, empty it of all our own concerns and limitations, and offer it as a cup for the Beloved to use. Hazrat Inayat says that the heart is like the space in the middle of an apple. When we look at the apple, we only see the plump roundness of it, and if we bite into it, we take the sweet flesh until we throw away the core, and feel satisfied. But from the point of view of the apple, it is the empty space harbouring seeds of the future that is important; the sweetness was only an external manifestation of that inner longing.
If we wish to walk with the Divine in our heart, we must learn to let go of all that is lifeless and limiting. In the recent text about the Master, Saint and Prophet, Hazrat Inayat distinguishes between the words of the world, which are like pebbles, and the living word which is like a seed. A small pebble and a seed may resemble each other, but if you put the pebble in the ground, nothing will come of it, whereas if you sow the seed, new life will arise. We could ask ourselves, then, what are we carrying in the heart-space? Lifeless pebbles that offer no future? Or something that will bear fruit?