Near the close of the Summer School of 1926, on September 3rd to be precise, Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan used the opportunity of a Collective Interview to discuss a very important topic with a chosen group of mureeds. The Collective Interviews were meetings with students to whom the Master wished to give special instruction. These closed sessions no doubt caused envy and gossip amongst those who were not invited, and probably inflamed the egos of those who were admitted, but the Master had a reason for this exclusive treatment: he wanted very much to establish a group that could keep the work going forward in his absence. He knew he would be leaving shortly for India, and probably suspected, if he did not know with outright certainty, that he was unlikely to return. Therefore, the Message to which he had devoted all his life-force would have to be cared for by others.
So what was the important topic which Hazrat Inayat chose to address on that Friday afternoon in Suresnes? Not deep philosophy, nor subtle aspects of esoteric experience. He spoke to them of sympathy.
The Master began by saying that we must always strive to be sympathetic – with those who can benefit from our sympathy, of course, although that is easy; and while it costs us more, with those who we hope might someday be able to benefit from it; but with still more effort we must also be sympathetic with those who – to our view at least – seem to merit no sympathy whatsoever. Nevertheless, he went on to caution the students that we must be very careful of the way in which we express our sympathy. There are times when sympathy may be expressed fully, and times when it should remain silent.
Hazrat Inayat then gave a couple of examples of misplaced or misguided sympathy, instances no doubt drawn from events in the Summer School itself. Remember that swirling around the precious moments when the charismatic Pir-o-Murshid came to the podium to give light-filled addresses, illuminating talks whose transcriptions we now cherish, there was a changing community of participants, some there for a week or two, and some for months, some for whom Sufism was something new, and others who had known and worked with the Murshid for many years. Inevitably, there would be interactions that were more human than divine. To illustrate his point, the Master said, if someone is gazing at a tree – for the terrain Soufi where the lecture hall was built was filled with apricot and plum trees – they might very well be engaged in a meditation, or perhaps seeing some aspect of the Sufi teaching reflected in the greenery. To interrupt their silence by thrusting a cup of tea upon them might be the opposite of sympathy. Similarly, if someone is sitting against a tree in silence, to ask them, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ might be more intrusive than sympathetic. In the transcription of the Collective Interview, it is evident that for Hazrat Inayat Khan, whose very nature was courtesy itself, to even speak of these moments cost him a great deal, but he felt a duty to help the students forward.
The students who heard that instruction have now all given their dust back to the earth, and the care of the Message has passed on to others. If we, in our turn, wish to serve, we could also learn this lesson, that enthusiasm and energy must be balanced by perception and artful expression. The Message will not spread by our efforts if we ourselves do not show its effect in our own manner. As Murshid explained above, we should cultivate sympathy to all, but it must be expressed one person at a time – and the essence of sympathy is consideration: never mind my concepts of kindness – what will suit the person in front of me now? That is why we find in Gayan Suras this saying :
Verily, the one who considers human feelings is spiritual.