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The Sufi Message, Volume I
The Way of Illumination; The Inner Life; The Soul, Whence and Whither?; The Purpose of Life

Hazrat Inayat Khan

Published by Servire/NE in 1979
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2018


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When I returned to New Orleans in 1976, I began doing a lot of reading. I found an amazing bookstore run by Donna France on Phlox Street in Metairie which was filled with books by new authors to me. One of them was a weird-looking guy with an even weirder name, Hazrat Inayat Khan. I had just heard about Sufi dancing and was determined to find out about the Sufis and their traditions, so studying the works of this Cambridge-educated Sufi seemed a good place to start. I began with Volume I in March, 1984 and over the years I have located copies of the rest of the twelve volumes and read them. Unfortunately I had not begun my practice of writing reviews immediately upon reading a book at that time, but I have reviewed six of the volumes since that time. This will be my seventh volume reviewed.

While seeking Sufi authors I found Idries Shah and read many of his works, especially his droll and insightful stories about Nasruddin, the Sufi jokester whose pranks always packed a punch. Many of his escapades have found their way into American stories, losing their Sufi origin. The story of the lost key under a streetlight is a great example. I've heard it quoted several times by people who never heard of Nasruddin. But only in Hazrat Inayat Khan have I found a deep spirituality comparable to that of Rudolf Steiner. One could read Khan and never discover his religion; his religion was spirituality not connected to any form of worship, similar to Steiner, even though Khan's roots were Middle Eastern and Steiner's roots were European.

There is a Sufi Message as the title claims, but it is a message worthy of reading by all peoples, not just the eastern Sufi mystics. Khan relates them to us as ten principal Sufi thoughts and all persons, who are aware of their inner life, can relate to them.

Thought 1: 'There is One God, the Eternal, the Only Being; none exists save He.'

By whatever name you call God in your belief, the Sufi sees God as beyond the limitations of a name. The Sufi walks through life forgetting about himself, set firmly on the path of love and life.

Thought 2: 'There is One Master, the Guiding Spirit of all Souls, who constantly leads His followers towards the light.'

God speaks to everyone, but for the deaf ears among us to hear, He must speak through the lips of a human being. To insist on only one teacher is to separate yourselves from others, leading to all kinds of inhumanity to humans.

Thought 3: 'There is One Holy Book, the sacred manuscript of nature, the only scripture which can enlighten the reader.'

This is the same holy book that Thoreau(1) read out of everyday as he walked through his native Concord. He would have agreed with this statement by Khan, "To the eye of the seer every leaf of the tree is a page of the holy book that contains divine revelation, and he is inspired every moment of his life by constantly reading and understanding the holy script of nature." (Page 16)

Thought 4: 'There is One Religion, the unswerving progress in the right direction towards the ideal, which fulfils the life's purpose of every soul.'

Religion leads one to an ideal, worldly and heavenly. Sufis care less for religions or places of worship as all convey to them the religion of the soul.

Thought 5: 'There is One Law, the law of reciprocity, which can be observed by a selfless, conscience, together with a sense of awakened justice.'

A lesson I learned from my father-in-law, Dick Richards, in a good deal both sides profit.

Thought 6: 'There is One Brotherhood, the human brotherhood which unites the children of earth indiscriminately in the Fatherhood of God.'

Khan points out that the wars between nations today can be equated to the puerile family fueds of the past.

Thought 7: 'There is One Moral, the love which spring forth from self-denial and blooms in deeds of beneficence.'

Khan says, "All ignorance is the lack of love. . . . The eye can only see the surface; love can see much deeper."

Thought 8: 'There is One Object of Praise, the beauty which uplifts the heart of its worshipers through all aspects from the seen to the unseen.'

Khan worships beauty in all things, saying, "Everywhere I look, I see Thy winning face; everywhere I go, I arrive at Thy dwelling-place."

Thought 9: 'There is One Truth, the true knowledge of our being, within and without, which is the essence of all wisdom.'

Life is a puzzle with an enigma on each end: what happens before we are born, what happens after we die? Khan answers this way: "Those whose hearts have been kindled by the light from above, begin to ponder such questions but those whose souls are already illumined by the knowledge of the self understand them. It is they who give to individuals or to the multitudes the benefit of their knowledge, so that even men whose hearts are not yet kindled, and whose souls are not illuminated, may be able to walk on the right path that leads to perfection."

Thought 10: 'There is One Path, the annihilation of the false ego in the real, which raises the mortal to immortality, in which resides all perfection.'

Khan says, "I passed away into nothingness — I vanished; and lo! I as all living." He adds, "The Sufi, realizing this, takes the path of annihilation, and, by the guidance of a teacher on the path, finds at the end of this journey that the destination was himself."

In a simple 1960's cartoon, I found a philosophy of living that has proven useful to me. It showed a man walking on stepping stones across a wide stream. He has stopped in the middle of the stream because there were no more stepping stones, but a sign reading, "Coming Soon: Another Stone". Khan says something similar in this passage:

[page 25] One does not bemoan the past, nor worry abut the future; one tries only to make the best of today. One should know no failure, for even in a fall there is a stepping-stone to rise; but to the Sufi the rise and fall matter little. One does not repent for what one has done, since one thinks, says, and does what one means. One does not fear the consequences of performing one's wish in life, for what will be, will be.

In this next passage, Khan tells us, in effect, the we can let our delight in the stranger remove the darkness of the ages. Each religion brings a stranger to us in darkness, one we do not trust because we cannot get past his strangeness. This has caused numberless problems for human beings over the ages.

[page 31] Rejection of the stranger, and belief only in the one whom he has once acknowledged, has kept man in darkness for ages. If he believe one message he would not accept the succeeding message, brought by another master, who was perhaps a stranger to him. This has cause many troubles in the lives of all the Masters. Man refused to believe the masters and their teachings, whether of the past or future, if their names were not written in the particular tradition he believed, or if he had not heard their names in the legends handed down for ages among his people.

The therapeutic insights of Milton Erickson came in the stories he told, such as how he led a reluctant cow into the warmth of a barn in freezing weather in winter-time. His brother would pull on the rope attached to the cow's neck, and the cow would resist with all its might. Finally he would drag cow skidding over the snow into the barn. Milton's approach was to aim the cow away from the open barn door and pull so that the cow resisted and moved backwards into the barn without any effort by Milton.
       One doesn't know if Milton's brother ever learned how to easily get the cow into the barn, but the people Milton told this story to learned that one must approach a problem in the direction it is already intended to go. The spiritual insights of Hazrat Inayat Khan often came in stories, such as this one describing how to catch a stray horse.

[page 32] This is . . . the myth of Ramachandra. It is said in the Purana that once Sita, the consort of Ramachandra, was staying in the guardianship of Vashista Rishi with her sons. The younger son, Lahu, one day went to see the neighboring town. He saw Kalanki, a most beautiful horse, running about the city without a rider. When he enquired whose the horse was, people told him that this horse had been let loose so that whoever was able to catch it should be made the king of that kingdom. This tempted the youth, and he ran after the horse in order to catch it. He continued running a long time, and met with nothing but disappointments. Every time he came close to the horse, thinking now he would catch it, it slipped from his hand. When he reached the point of utter disappointment, he saw his brother coming in search of him, sent by his mother, and he told him that he would not come back till he had caught the horse. The brother said, 'That is not the way to catch a horse; in this way you will perhaps run for ever and will not be able to catch it. Therefore, instead of running after the horse, run to meet it.' This caused the younger brother to succeed in a moment's time. Then both brothers were taken to the presence of Ramachandra, their father, who embraced both, acknowledging the guidance of the one and the achievement of the other.

Similar to Milton's story, the younger brother's perception of the difficulty of the task kept him from succeeding.
       How does an initiate (mureed) come to trust his master (murshid)? Khan gives us three ways and gives us insight into what goes into becoming a Sufi.

[page 47, 48] There are three ways people can trust. One is not to trust a person until he proves in time to be trustworthy. To those who trust in this there will be not satisfactory gain on this path, for they will go on, like a spy, trying and testing the Murshid with their eyes focused downward. Hence they can only see the imperfect self of the teacher, and will never be able to see the beauty of the perfect self, above and beyond the limits of their view.
       The second way of trusting is to trust and to continue to do so until tbe person is proved unworthy of trust. Those who trust in this way are better suited than the first, for if their trust makes their sight keen they will have every prospect of development, provided that intelligence guides them all the way.
       But the third way of trusting a person is to have an absolute trust, and to continue until it be proved true. This is the trust of devotees. It is these mureeds who make the Murshid. It is such worshipers who make God. 'By faith, a tongue is produced from the rock, and it speaks to us as God, but when faith is lacking, even God, the Eternal Being, is as dead as a rock.' The word of the Murshid is as useless to the doubting mind as a remedy to the unbelieving patient.

The goal of a Sufi is "to kindle the fire of divine love, which alone has any value; to be able to read nature's manuscript and to be able to see into the world unseen; to learn how to control oneself; to light the torch of the soul and to kindle the fire of the heart . . ." Khan adds, "It is better to arrive in the light than to be only transported through the dark. 'Who is blind here will be blind in the hereafter.'"

One should not undergo initiation to learn what goes on in a secret order. Khan warns, "The eye of curiosity has the cataract of doubt, and is blind already." (Page 49)

Why do Sufis tell droll stories of such pranksters as Nasruddin? Because they know it is better not to awaken others from their sleep of confusion. They are little children, immature souls, who are best allowed their sleep if they are to grow.

[page 52] Therefore those who are awakened walk slowly and gently, lest their footsteps may disturb the slumber ot the sleeping one. They only awaken on their way those whom they find tossing in their beds. They are the one to whom the traveler on the spiritual path give their hand quietly.

Sufism is not a religion, but considers all religions part of it. Khan admits that the Christian devotion to the Sacred Heart has a strong link with the Sufi philosophy of the One Beloved, which is the Sufi way of illumination in its essence.
       "The inner life is a birth of the soul; as Christ said, that unless the soul is born again I cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." One can see here the respect that Hazrat Inayat Khan has for Christ Jesus.

[page 80] Once man has experienced the inner life, the fear of death has expired; because the he knows death comes to the body, not to his inner being. When once he begins to realize life in his heart and in his soul, then he looks upon his body as a coat. If the coat is old he puts it away and takes a new one, for his being does not depend upon this coat. The fear of death lasts only so long a man has not realized that his real being dos not depend upon his body.

Sarmud was a great Sufi who lived in the Moghul Empire, and, as a man of ecstasy, lived every moment of his life in prayer. Rightly understood, most of the laws of religion are laws for children, and everyone in this empire was required to attend the place of prayer. "What," Sarmud must have thought, "I must wait until Sunday to pray?" and he refused to interrupt his own prayers to attend their prayers, so they beheaded him.

[page 83] The consequence was that the Moghul Empire declined and its downfall can be dated from that time: the entire Moghul civilization, unique in its period, fell to pieces.

The Hindus avoided falling into many pieces because their religion worshiped God as existing in every aspect of the human being.

[page 83] It is that which makes the Hindu religion perfect. When people say, 'This place is sacred, and that other place is not sacred; that particular thing is holy, and all other things not holy,' in this way they divide life into many pieces, the life which is one, the life which cannot be divided.

In my Final Paper for the graduate seminar, Teaching & Learning in the College Classroom, I began with a poem called "Thus a Teacher, So Also a Learner". That poem got its original inspiration from the following passage by Khan in which he compares learning as forming a knot in one's mind, and unlearning to removing a knot in one's mind.

[page 94] Now the question is, how does one unlearn? Learning is forming a knot in the mind. Whatever one learns from experience or from a person, one makes a knot of it in the mind; and there are as many knots found as there are things one has learned. Unlearning is unraveling the knot; and it is as hard to unlearn as it is to untie a knot.

One's whose mind is made up about a subject has a very tight knot to be loosened, and it is the job of the Teacher to help loosen that knot, so teaching is loosening a knot in a formed (knotted) mind. Often planting a fruitful seed of learning required a lot of plowing to remove the knotted roots of old learnings.

[page 94, italics added] How much effort it requires, how much patience it requires, to unravel when one has made a knot and pulled it tight from both sides! So it requires patience and effort to unravel the knots in the-mind. And what helps the process. The light of reason working with full power unravels the mental knots. A knot is a limited reason. When one unravels it, its limitation is taken away, it is open. And when the mind becomes smooth by unlearning and by digging out all impressions, of good and bad, of right and wrong, then the ground of the heart becomes as cultivated ground, just as the land does after ploughing.

The italicized phrase in the above passage grew into my creation of the limitation eraser years later. If you do not have a Teacher around to help you remove some limitation, if there is no one to help you loosen a tightly-formed knot in your mind, then the limitation eraser is ready to assist you. Simply state your limitation, take a deep breath, and then finish the sentence with the words "up until now."
       When life begins to seem indifferent to a man's soul , the Hindus say he has become a Vairagi.

[page 100] It is a person who has lost the value in his eyes of all that attracts the human being. It is no more attractive to him; it no more enslaves him. He may still be interested in all things of this life, but is not bound to them. The first feeling of the Vairagi is to turn away from everything. He shows the nature of the deer, which runs away at the flutter of a leaf; for he becomes sensitive and convinced of the disappointing results that come from the limitation and changeableness of life in the world. Hurt within, he becomes sensitive, and the first thing that occurs to his mind is to fly, to hide somewhere, to go into a cave in the mountains, or into the forest where he will meet no one.

Decades ago, I had a friend in such a condition who spoke of moving into a cave in the Himalayan mountains. I was sympathetic to his wishes, but suggested perhaps the small, one room apartment he was living in could become that cave for him.
       In his description of the traits of a Vairagi, Khan says, "He never allows himself to deceived a second time; once disappointed is sufficient." As I read the italicized portion of Khan's words some thirty-three years later, I realized that it was the seed of my first Matherne's Rule, Once in a Row is Enough.
       Another rule of mine has the pronounceable acronym EAT-O-TWIST which stands for Everything Allways(2) Turns Out The Way It's Supposed To. Note that the verb supposed does not refer to something required, but rather refers to something expected. This quality of expecting something to happen creates a desire in the human heart which, rightly understood, is inevitably fulfilled, whether in this lifetime or a succeeding one.

[page 172] There are objects which remain unfulfilled in one's lifetime on earth; they are accomplished on the further journey in the spirit world. For nothing that the human heart has once desired remains unfulfilled. If it is not fulfilled here, it is accomplished in the hereafter. The de ire of the soul is the wish of God; small or great, right or wrong, it has a moment of fulfilment. If that moment does not come while the soul is on the earth-plant it come to the soul in the spirit world.

There was only one prayer that Christ Jesus left for humans, The Lord's Prayer, and it contains within it an evocation of EAT-O-TWIST, rightly understood.

[page 176] The soul of man is the spark of God. Though this spark is limited on earth, still God is all-powerful ; and by teaching this prayer 'Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven', the Master has given a key to every soul who repeats this prayer; a key to open that door behind which is the secret of that almighty power and perfect wisdom which raises the soul above all limitations.

Whatever we desire or expect in our heart of hearts will be granted to us, so it is essential that what we desire be moral, be worthy of our highest ideals, and that our goals should ever be optimistic. I recall the story of a pessimist and an optimist falling from a tall skyscraper: the pessimist kept saying all the way down, "I'm doomed!" and the optimist kept saying, "So far, so good." In which way do you want your life to proceed? EAT-O-TWIST! Hazrat Inayat Khan gives us a story which illustrates the difference between the world of the optimist and of the pessimist.

[page 178] A man who had heard of there being a tree of desire was once traveling; and he happened to find himself under the shade of a tree, which he felt to he restful and cooling, so he sat there leaning against it. He said to himself, 'How beautiful is nature; how cooling is the shade of this tree, and the breeze is most exhilarating; but I wish I had a soft carpet to sit on, and some cushions to lean against.' No sooner had he thought about it than he saw himself sitting in the midst of soft cushions. 'How wonderful,' he thought, 'to have got this'; but now he thought, 'If only I had a glass of cooling drink'; and there came a fairy with a most delicious glass of cold drink. He enjoyed it, but said, 'I would like a good dinner.' No sooner had he thought of a dinner than a gold tray was brought to him, with beautifully arranged dishes of all sorts. Now he thought, 'If only I had a chariot, that I might take a drive into the forest'; and a four-horse chariot was already there, the coachman greeting him with bent head. He thought, 'Everything I desire comes without any effort. I wonder if it is true, or all a dream.' No sooner had he thought this than everything disappeared, and he found himself sitting on the same ground leaning against the tree.
       This is the picture of the spirit world. It is the world of the optimist. The pessimist has no share in its great glory, because he refuses to accept the possibility which is the nature of life. Thus he denies to himself all he desires, and even the possibility of achieving his desires.
       The pessimist stands in his own light, and defeats his own object here, and even more so in the hereafter, where the desire is seed which is sown in the soil of the spirit world. Optimism is the water which rears the plant; but the intelligence at the same time gives that sunshine which helps the plant to flourish on the earth.

One can only offer this advice to the pessimists: "Stop standing in your own light." You have been using EAT-O-TWIST backwards and receiving dark deeds, up until now. From now on, expect to perceive deeds of light.
       The English pray, "All's well that ends well", and think it to be a good motto, but the Sufis pray, "Make our ends good", always aware that, though there be tough going presently, do not mind, because the real success will be in the end, in their completion. (Page 226)
       With those ending words, we close this review, knowing we have steered you over some rough sections of road, but hoping you are pleased with the smooth sections of road you now find before you.


Footnote 1.
Read my reviews of Thoreau's 14 Journals beginning here:

Return to text directly before Footnote 1.

Footnote 2.
I coined the word allways to refer to in all ways and at all times. More details on EAT-O-TWIST can be found in The Invented Reality edited by Paul Watzlawick and my explanation of Rule#10 at

Return to text directly before Footnote 2.

Any questions about this review, Contact: Bobby Matherne


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