The Mystical Utility of the Imagination

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Hazrat Inayat Khan, circa 1920

Published by wordcatalyst.com
PR–476

At the Window Pane

“The natural initiation may come to a person at any time of his life. It does not come to everyone, but only to some. And for this initiation one need not go to a teacher; it comes when it is time for it to come. It comes in the form of a sudden change of outlook on life; a person feels that he has suddenly awakened to quite another world; although he remains in the same world it has become totally different to him.”
–Hazrat Inayat Khan (Three Aspects of Initiation)

The wide-eyed boy lingers at the window pane
Looking out at slants of raining sadness.
But there’s rhythm from a dark
Symphonic horn and yes a gladness;
A basking-in from rose and thorn
Blood vermilion dance
To eclipse such sadness
As descants close the arc
(Like the ocean does the sand)
A divine madness brings round the circle
(It’s romantic when the Ring does the asking)
Which band symbolic born
Slips around his finger
As he holds his own hand.

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,
As you may recall (it is oft said) that this is a Sufi blog. But that begs the question what is Sufism? And I speak mainly from my own experience, since my time as a Sufi mureed (initiate) was seven years (1972 to 1979) of studying the writings of Sufi Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan, who was of the Moinuddin Chishti school. (As I was taught, there were four main schools of Sufism). This Chisti one placed an emphasis on the arts, as their path toward God. Indeed Inayat Khan was a celebrated musician. And the order I belonged to was heavily nto the arts. Each year we put on a musical play, on mystical themes. There were also many singers, dancers, artists and poets. Well, at least two I can think of. Me and Rachel Dacus–then Abrams (Well-published now–google her!).

The photo above is of Inayat Khan with his instrument, which I believe is called a vina.

But the arts carry certain connotations, such as the immense value of the imagination. (Try to write a poem, or compose a song without using your imagination!)

And so big surprise that Hazrat Inayat Khan seemed to agree with my favorite quote from the poet John Keats, “I am convinced of only two things, the sanctity of the heart’s affections, and the truth of the imagination.”

Here is what Inayat Khan had to say about the mystical utility of the imagination:

“Somebody can be praised by one and hated by another, and ten people may all have a different idea of the same person, because each understands him according to his state of evolution. Each sees that person according to his own point of view, each looks at him through his own eyes, and therefore the same person is different to each being. In the mind of one the person is a sinner, in the mind of another he is a saint. The same person who is considered gentle and good by one is considered the opposite by another. If this can be so in connection with a living being, it is equally possible that various ideas of the deity should be formed in each heart, and that each soul should mold his own deity according to his own evolution and according to his way of idealizing and understanding. Therefore the deity of every heart is different and is as that person has imagined; but the God of every soul is one and the same, whatever people imagine. It is the same God that they all imagine, but their imaginations are different and it is the lack of understanding of this that has caused the differences in religion.”

And for this reason Inayat Khan often quoted the Prophet Mohammed who said, “Every man has his own religion.”

And an objection might be raised saying, but what if God is nothing like what is imagined?

Since God is infinite and we are not, our brains and intellect are not, and so perforce it comes down to imagining stuff.

I fancy some will throw up their hands saying well then what chance is there we’ll have any accurate conception of God?

But this presupposes this to be an important question.

After all, understanding in this sense being impossible, is that ipso facto a problem?

Especially since in trying to understand the infinite with our finite brains is a wild goose chase, since as the cofounder of my Sufi order, Meher Baba said, to try to understand God with your brain is like expecting to see with your ears. It’s the wrong organ. The right organ for that is the heart.

Or, again to quote Inayat Khan, ”As one can see when the eyes are open, so one can understand when the heart is open.”

I will carry this further. We can imagine God to be in a totem pole or a doll, and God will manifest in that. Just like Pinocchio turned into a real boy.

Inayat Khan liked to tell this story:

Moses once passed by a farm and saw a peasant boy talking to himself, saying, ‘O Lord, Thou art so good and kind that I feel if Thou wert here by me I would take good care of Thee, more than of all my sheep, more than of all my fowls. In the rain I would keep Thee under the roof of my grass-shed, when it is cold I would cover Thee with my blanket, and in the heat of the sun I would take Thee to bathe in the brook. I would put Thee to sleep with Thy head on my lap, and would fan Thee with my hat, and would always watch Thee and guard Thee from wolves. I would give Thee bread of manna and would give Thee buttermilk to drink, and to entertain Thee I would sing and dance and play my flute. O Lord my God, if Thou wouldst only listen to this and come and see how I would tend Thee.’

Moses was amused to listen to all this, and, as the deliverer of the divine message, he said, ‘How impertinent on thy part, O boy, to limit the unlimited One, God, the Lord of hosts, who is beyond form and color and the perception and comprehension of man.’ The boy became disheartened and full of fear at what he had done. But immediately a revelation came to Moses: ‘We are not pleased with this, O Moses, for We have sent thee to unite Our separated ones with Us, not to disunite. Speak to everyone according to his evolution.’

And to nail down the the mystical utility of the imagination, Hazrat Inayat Khan wrote,

“All works of art and music and poetry come from imagination, for imagination is the free flow of mind, when the mind is allowed to work by itself and bring out the beauty and harmony it contains. But when it is restricted by a certain principle or rule, then it does not work freely… No one has believed in God, no one has loved God, and no one has reached the presence of God who has not been helped by his imagination.”

And according to Inayat Khan, this is his destiny:

Then there is the person who has imagination which is strengthened by faith. He not only prays to God, but he prays before God, in the presence of God. Once imagination has helped a man to bring the presence of God before him, God is awakened in his own heart. Then before he utters a word, it is heard by God. When he is praying in a room, he is not alone. He is there with God. Then to him God is not in the highest heaven but close to him, before him, in him. Then to him heaven is on earth and earth is heaven. No one is then so living, so intelligible as God; and all names and forms disappear before Him. Then every word of prayer he utters is a living word. It not only brings blessing to him, but to all those around him.

It might take a long time, admittedly. And while Inayat Khan never explicitly talked about reincarnation,* it was obviously something he believed in, from the connotation given in his writings of the perforce gradual and drawn out nature of our spiritual development.

But then there is always grace (which keeps things from being cut and dried) and so the issue is complicated. As seen in my poem above.

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*Sufism is originally derived from Islam, which does not talk about reincarnation. And neither does Christianity, though I have heard rumors it was in the Christian tradition until the fourth century when it was no longer talked about. And if you read much about Inayat Khan you will gather that he was big on not rocking boats, going with the flow of everyone’s belief system, saying that what mattered was the heart behind it all. Hence unlikely that he would dwell on anything controversial, except as was connoted in his writings, which as I say are rife with talk which would not be meaningful without reincarnation.

And Meher Baba, who thirty years later reoriented my Sufi order, quite explicitly confirmed the reality of reincarnation.

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