In the midst of a pandemic that seems to be accelerating rather than slowing down, and with social disorder and political tensions rising everywhere, with the consequences of the neglect of our environment becoming more evident every day, we could ask ourselves : what is wrong with the world? Everyone wants peace, happiness, and well being, and there are many, many efforts through innumerable organisations and programs to achieve these ends, and yet every day seems to bring more bad news. Why? If we all want the same, why don’t we achieve it?
From a Sufi point of view, the problem lies in an illness of the spirit. In Gayan Boulas, Hazrat Inayat Khan says, “The present spirit of humanity has commercialism as its crown and materialism as its throne,” and he often mentioned these two terms when describing the plight of the world and what it needs today. But what does he mean by ‘commercialism’ and ‘materialism’?
Commerce exists through exchange, the give and take of the market-place, in which both sides of an interaction are looking for their own advantage. In the spiritual sense commerce is not wrong, or demonic; the problem appears when it becomes the crown of life, for then we value only that which can be bought and sold. And materialism means not only the valuing, or one might say the worshiping, of material goods, but ultimately the denial that there is anything other than matter – the belief that the finer world of spirit is non-existent*. This not only leads to profound dissatisfaction, since the material world and our physical experience are unreliable and transitory, as we all learn sooner or later, but it also prevents us from understanding ourselves, which is the only study that gives real satisfaction.
The remedy, says Hazrat Inayat, is the cultivation of an ideal, for by that we begin to overcome the selfishness that has brought the world to its present condition. By having something to look up to, by holding it always before us and by endeavouring to serve it, we learn to control our ego, which otherwise burns and rages out of control, consuming everything in its vicinity.
Ideals have been taught in religion, through the beauty of worship, but many now feel unable to learn from that source. Therefore the need is to awaken the world in a new way to the same eternal Truth, to the divine ideal which each one carries within. That is the work of the Message that we have inherited from Hazrat Inayat Khan – but we will only be able to pass it along to the extent that we ourselves have made it a reality in our own hearts and lives.
*Some scientists, for example, are profoundly puzzled as to how the arrangement of molecules and cells in the brain can produce consciousness. The mystic, on the other hand, experiences consciousness as all-pervading, and views the brain as a useful lens, but not the originator of awareness.