For there to be a change from the lonely state of delusion—if we are really to fulfill our purpose in life—we have to go about it in a very strong way. We have to plug in to something so enormously great that we can’t say we grasp it, but rather that we are grasped by it. Our minds tell us that it is the divine splendor, but all our ideas and representations fall by the way and seem so futile, and what we do to bring about the change we seek seems to be so very inadequate.
Perhaps we are shaken to our foundations when we do spiritual practices, and it seems like a big deal until we realize that it is just a pinprick in the whole process of life; but sometimes things happen that cause us to be transported. Something is suddenly triggered off, or it seems as if we have lost our precarious foothold on the world. Sometimes it’s so strong that our foundations are made to quake by the power that is coming through.
This is because the world as we thought we knew it is such a very small, fragmentary expression of reality. It’s like a ripple on the ocean of reality, and at no time can we ever expect to grasp all the greatness of reality, which is the greatness of God. And yet it seems that the objective is the homonization of God—that He should become a being with a body through us. This is the making of the king.
We have to reach beyond the world so that God may become a reality in us. It may seem terribly presumptuous to say that, since only in the rasul, the prophet, can the divine Being reach fulfillment; but we are, perhaps, sketches in the preparation of various works of art—the trials and errors that must be made so that one day there may be a masterpiece. However fragmentary it may be, when the being of God comes through, we are overwhelmed with delight. It’s like a sign from the One we love that there is indeed a little bit of reciprocation after so much abandonment ensuing from our alienation. Of course, we can only manifest God inasmuch as we know God, and we can only know God inasmuch as we know Him in ourselves. We discover Him in ourselves: that is our passive response to His action in us. Still, this response seems so very small and inadequate: what do we know of Him that we may manifest Him? What we know of the universe is so little, and the whole universe is so little in comparison with the divine perfection. How can we claim to manifest the divine perfection?
When We Are Prepared to make an effort to depart from our usual alienation and have the courage to go through the dark night, when there seem to be no results from our efforts and we have to cope with the abyss of our personal selves and struggle with despair because we are not reaching beyond—even when we are tested in the extremes of abandonment—at the moment when everything seems to be useless and lost, there is sometimes a tiny indication—ayat as the Sufis say—a sign, or perhaps a symbol, as if we were able to perceive the signal of a being in outer space who is beckoning us to believe in his presence: a silent voice that we suddenly plug into. This is just a metaphor, of course; we might say that what happens to us is that we are suddenly catapulted while we are trying in vain to lift our consciousness, when all the thoughts of the world in all their sham come back because of the conditioning of the mind. We go on struggling, and suddenly it’s as if something were unleashed, and we are catapulted into what seem like other spheres. It’s as if there were several universes, one within the other, or in totally different space-time relationships—we don’t know.
There is no element of comparison: what we find is totally different from what we thought. As a matter of fact, our representations, including the attempts at description I have made here, are not only totally inadequate, but may stand in the way of our experience. We have to be prepared to find that it is totally different from anything we have ever thought. For instance, we may hope to reach upwards into other universes, and it may turn out to be the other way around: something of the nature of the modes of the being of God may begin to make itself manifest in our being; and our receptivity or capacity to let it come through is our response to what is coming through.
It is only in the divine essence that all is one without any multiplicity whatsoever—which means without the deterioration, degradation, or alienation that arises from the individual will. There is a coordination behind everything, and we know that it’s an unbroken wholeness, but do we know what unity means? We can only know unity when we are carried beyond our idiosyncrasies, our wills, and our individual consciousness, and stripped of all those qualities of our being that have alienated us from the divine hallmark that constitutes the essence of our being.
This Is What We Are Doing in the spiritual path: undergoing a stripping of what the Sufis call nazutiat, the physical plane. Everything is included in the divine nature, but it has been alienated, degraded, deviated, limited, and fragmented, and it is suffering entropy or disorder. It’s all beyond our understand- ing: it seems so contradictory. Is it a fulfillment of His nostalgia—ishq—that He should become a being in the physical world, which so alienates itself from His original purity? Then what is the meaning of the stripping into the beyond that is beyond the beyond? The mind will never be able to encompass all of this; we only know that we are groping, and sometimes guided; and when we depart from our secure foothold in our minds, we are overwhelmed with the sublime splendor that is itself a garb—the veil covering the face of the Beloved.
So from the human vantage point, even the splendor that we so glorify is a veil, and we can be so enamored of the glory that we fail to experience communion with the Being; yet what avers itself to be a veil from our point of view is from the divine point of view that with which He manifests Himself. Then we realize that by knowing Him or knowing whatever we can of Him through ourselves, we are still not reaching Him. We can only really know God by loving—and that is a very painful path, because it doesn’t seem to be reciprocated: we go from abandonment to abandonment—and even through betrayal.
It Seems Easy At First: how could anyone not love all that is beautiful and wonderful? We soon learn that this is like loving a person for the beauty of his face, which is not loving, but admiring. The path of love is a path for the madmen who are prepared to be thwarted in this, the most sacred thing in the world. The power behind which the whole universe revolves is the power of love. We know love as liking people, as passion, as compassion; we know it in tenderness, in kindness, in admiration, in friendship, and in many other manifestations and expressions of love. But if you could ever reach love in its unadulterated, overwhelming reality, it would shatter you more surely than the most overwhelming knowledge of meaningfulness. In fact, you can only manifest the divine Being by involving yourself in the trauma of divine love, when you realize that all you thought you knew was absolutely worthless.
We cannot existentiate God by knowing Him, because our knowledge of Him is so totally puny—except for those moments when, as al-Hallaj says, God descends from His pinnacle into your heart and overwhelms you with His knowledge; and then there is no way in which you can possibly encompass it or reflect it, or in any way respond to it.
I Know I’m Talking nonsense here. That’s the language of the Sufis: it doesn’t tally with the knowledge of the world, and it cannot fit into any compartment, yet it is the ultimate realization. In comparison, any knowledge that a philosopher or scientist can cull from the nature of phenomena is as inadequate as Newton’s theory in comparison with Einstein’s. This is the knowledge that transforms beings, and that creates the human being whose dimensions are far vaster than one could ever know.
Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan (1916-2004) is the founder of the Abode of the Message, which serves as the central residential community of Sufi Order International, a retreat center.