The Life and Teachings of Sufi Hazrat Inayat Khan
12 November 2015
Inayat Khan was born in Baroda, India on July 5, 1882. As a youth, Inayat was brilliant in poetry and music, yet his deepest inner calling was in spiritual matters. As a youth, one day as Inayat was praying, he thought to himself that there had not been an answer yet to all the prayers he had offered to God and he did not know where God was to hear his prayers and he could not reconcile himself to going on praying to the God whom he knew not. He went fearlessly to his father and said: “I do not think I will continue my prayers any longer, for it does not fit in with my reason. I do not know how I can go on praying to a God I do not know.” His father, taken aback, did not become cross lest he might turn Inayat’s beliefs sour by forcing them upon him without satisfying his reason. He was glad, on the other hand, to see that, although it was irreverent on the child’s part, yet it was frank, and he knew that the lad really hungered after Truth and was ready to learn now what many could not learn in their whole life.
He said to him: “God is in you and you are in God. As the bubble is in the ocean and the bubble is a part of the ocean and yet not separate from the ocean. For a moment it has appeared as a bubble, then it will return to that from which it has risen. So is the relation between man and God. The Prophet has said that God is closer to you than the jugular vein, which in reality means that your own body is farther from you than God is. If this be rightly interpreted, it will mean that God is the very depth of your own being.” This moment to Inayat was his very great initiation, as if a switch had turned in him, and from that moment onward his whole life Inayat busied himself, and his whole being became engaged in witnessing in life what he knew and believed, by this one great Truth.
Inayat’s early life primarily revolved around music, and he was given many awards and medals of honor for his magnificent singing. In 1903 Inayat published a Hindustani collection of some 75 songs.
Following a vision of meeting a Sufi teacher, he met Muhammad Abu Hashim Madani, who trained him in the ways of the Chishti, Naqshbandi, Qadiri, and Suhrawardi Sufi orders.
When Inayat heard his Murshid’s words on metaphysics he became so keenly interested and filled with enthusiasm about what was being said that he took a note-book from his pocket, intending to take notes of it. But as soon as the Murshid saw the pencil and notebook in his hand, he instantly began to speak of an altogether different subject. Inayat realized by this that his Murshid meant that his words must be engraved on the soul, they were not to be written with a pencil on the pages of a note-book.
Inayat would return home silent and remain speechless for hours, pondering over the words which had fallen upon his ears. His friends began to wonder what could have happened to him in such a short time, that his whole life should be so changed. He had now become quite a different person in his speech, actions, ways, expression, in his attitude and in his atmosphere. In all these, he showed a marked and definite change. It seemed to them as if, while a traveler walking at a certain rate of speed should have journeyed a mile, Inayat had suddenly made such an advance as to cover a hundred miles in the same space of time.
Inayat’s Murshid used to wear shoes embroidered with gold. One day, when Inayat’s eyes strayed to these shoes, a thought arose in his mind: why Murshid with all his simplicity should wear such costly shoes? At once his conscience pricked him, he felt so guilty that such a thought of one who was above question should have entered his mind, that instantly his face turned pale. But the Murshid knew all about it and only said with a smile: “The wealth of this earth is only worth being at my feet.”
In looking back on those days with his teacher, Inayat said:
‘I remember my murshid giving me, in blessing me, this wish, “May your faith be strengthened.” Being a young man, I thought, “Is that all he is saying to me?”—not, “May you be inspired, or illuminated, or prosperous,” or something else? But when I think of it now I know that in that blessing there was all. When belief is strengthened, then there is everything. All that we lack in life is mostly because of our lack of belief. But again, it is not something that one can learn or teach or that one can give to anybody. This comes from the grace of God.’
Inayat began a tour of the sacred sites across India, and early in that adventure, he met the son of Guru Manek Prabhu, who asked:
“What has brought you here?” said he, and Inayat replied: “I have heard that the home of Manek Prabhu is not only a religious temple but a centre of music also and as I have taken this tour to pay homage to the holy men living on the soil of India, I first chose to visit this place.” “But I am very surprised that you have chosen our place, instead of choosing the place of some Muslim Saint,” remarked the astonished youth. To this Inayat replied: “Muslim or Hindu is only outward distinctions, the Truth is one, God is one, and life is one. To me there is no such thing as two. Two is only one plus one.”
After touring widely in India and briefly settling in Calcutta, Inayat began to realize that the time had come for him to begin a new phase of life.
Inayat lived in Calcutta for several years and there received the news of the death of his beloved father, which was to him a blow inexpressible in words, though thus his life became free from any duty binding him as a sacred tie, as he had felt his duty toward his parents to be. Soon after this another misfortune befell him, namely the loss of his medals. In a moment of abstraction the case of medals was left in a car, which could not be traced despite all his efforts. But in place of the disappointment which at first oppressed him, a revelation from God touched the hidden chords of his mind and opened his eyes to the truth. He said to himself: “It matters not how much time you have spent to gain that which never belonged to you, but which you called your own; today you comprehend it is yours no longer. And it is the same with all you possess in life, your property, friends, relations, even your own body and mind. All which you call ‘my’, not being your true property, will leave you; and only what you name ‘I’, which is absolutely disconnected with all that is called ‘my’, will remain.” He knelt down and thanked God for the loss of his medals, crying: “Let all be lost from my imperfect vision, but Thy true Self, ya Allah!”
Shortly before the death of his beloved teacher, Inayat had been instructed:
“Fare forth into the world, my child, and harmonize the East and the West with the harmony of thy music. Spread the wisdom of Sufism abroad, for to this end art thou gifted by Allah, the most merciful and compassionate.”
To fulfill that mission, Inayat along with his cousin and brother sailed from India to America on September 13, 1910. In his autobiography, Inayat wrote of that voyage:
‘I was transported by destiny from the world of lyric and poetry to the world of industry and commerce on the 13th of September 1910. I bade farewell to my motherland, the soil of India, the land of the sun, for America the land of my future, wondering: “perhaps I shall return some day”, and yet I did not know how long it would be before I should return. The ocean that I had to cross seemed to me a gulf between the life that was passed and the life which was to begin. I spent my moments on the ship looking at the rising and falling of the waves and realizing in this rise and fall the picture of life reflected, the life of individuals, of nations, of races, and of the world.
‘I tried to think where I was going, why I was going, what I was going to do, what was in store for me. “How shall I set to work? Will the people be favorable or unfavorable to the Message which I am taking from one end of the world to the other?” It seemed my mind moved curiously on these questions, but my heart refused to ponder upon them even for a moment, answering apart one constant voice I always heard coming from within, urging me constantly onward to my task, saying: “Thou art sent on Our service, and it is We Who will make thy way clear.” This alone was my consolation.’
In addition to the musical performances, Inayat gave Sufi lectures that were often held in bookstores or homes. Rabia Martin, of San Francisco, became one of his first students and was soon appointed as his American representative.
Inayat traveled widely in America and Europe from 1910 until 1920, when he set up a residence in France, where he focused on summer schools, classes and lectures.
His message was always aimed at unity, bringing together all of humanity, rising above the differences and distinctions that have separated us. In this Sufism, there are no barriers of race, creed or religion, it is not a religion, but rather a way of life that enhances and fulfills every religion. As Inayat Khan said, “The Sufi sees the truth in every religion.”
Inayat promoted unity and understanding in every aspect of life, and said “religion is the foundation of the whole life in the world, and as long as an understanding is not established between the followers of all different religions, it will always be difficult to hope for better conditions.”
The Sufi Message of Inayat Khan is the echo of the same Divine message which has always come and will always come to enlighten humanity. This is not a new religion or a new message; it is the same message of Unity and Brotherhood which has been given to humanity again and again, yet so few hearts are open to hear it.
Speaking to his students, Inayat described the central theme of his efforts as:
The central theme of the Sufi Message is one simple thing, and yet most difficult, and that is to bring about in the world the realization of the divinity of the human soul, which hitherto has been overlooked, for the reason that the time had not come. The principal thing that the Message has to accomplish in this era is to create the realization of the divine spark in every soul that every soul according to its progress may begin to realize for itself the spark of divinity within. This is the task that is before us.
Now you may ask, what is the Message? The Message is this: that the whole humanity is as one single body, and all nations and communities and races as the different organs, and the happiness and well-being of each of them is the happiness and well-being of the whole body. If there is one organ of the body in pain, the whole body has to sustain a share of the strain of it. That by this Message mankind may begin to think that his welfare and his well-being is not in looking after himself, but it is in looking after others, and when in all there will be reciprocity, love and goodness towards another, the better time will come.
Addresses to Cherags, Our Sacred Task, Hazrat Inayat Khan (unpublished)
The need of the world today is not learning, but how to become considerate towards one another. To try and find out in what way happiness can be brought about, and in this way to realize that peace which is the longing of every soul; and to impart it to others, thereby attaining our life’s goal, the sublimity of life.
Sufi Mysticism, Problem of the Day, Hazrat Inayat Khan
To further elaborate on the mission and the methods employed to develop one’s inner life, Inayat wrote:
There are ten principal Sufi thoughts which comprise all the important subjects with which the inner life of man is concerned:
1) There is one God, the Eternal, the Only Being; none else exists save God.
2) There is one Master, the Guiding Spirit of all souls, who constantly leads all followers towards the light.
3) There is one Holy Book, the sacred manuscript of nature, which truly enlightens all readers.
4) There is one Religion, the unswerving progress in the right direction towards the ideal, which fulfils the life’s purpose of every soul.
5) There is one Law, the law of Reciprocity, which can be observed by a selfless conscience together with a sense of awakened justice.
6) There is one human Brotherhood, the Brotherhood and Sisterhood which unites the children of earth indiscriminately in the Fatherhood of God.
7) There is one Moral Principle, the love which springs forth from self-denial, and blooms in deeds of beneficence.
8) There is one Object of Praise, the beauty which uplifts the heart of its worshipper through all aspects from the seen to the unseen.
9) There is one Truth, the true knowledge of our being within and without which is the essence of all wisdom.
10) There is one Path, the annihilation of the false ego in the real, which raises the mortal to immortality and in which resides all perfection.
The Objectives of the Sufi Path:
1) To realize and spread the knowledge of unity, the religion of love and wisdom, so that the bias of faiths and beliefs may of itself fall away, the human heart may overflow with love, and all hatred caused by distinctions and differences may be rooted out.
2) To discover the light and power latent in man, the secret of all religion, the power of mysticism, and the essence of philosophy, without interfering with customs or belief.
3) To help to bring the world’s two opposite poles, East and West, closer together by the interchange of thought and ideals that the Universal Brotherhood may form of itself and man may see with man beyond the narrow national and racial boundaries.
The Way of Illumination, Sufi Thoughts, Inayat Khan
Inayat continued to travel widely throughout Europe and the United States, offering the message to all who were ready to hear it. His lectures were transcribed and edited by his students to create the series which is today often called “The Sufi Message”.
In 1926 as he was becoming physically exhausted from his schedule of travel and work, he decided to go home to India to rest. However, his popularity was so great in India that he found himself once again endlessly traveling to spread the Message, and while traveling he became ill with pneumonia.
Following a brief period of illness, Inayat Khan departed from this world in Delhi on February 5, 1927, at the Tilak Lodge on the banks of the river Yamuna. His Dargah is in New Delhi.
Based on material contained in wahiduddin.net/hik/hik_origins.htm