Caravanserai Magazine Archive

Published 1988-2000 semi-annually on behalf of the Sufi Movement International by the Sufi Movement in Canada.


1989 Volume 3. Hidayat Inayat Khan. "Teachings of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan on Esotericism"

The following is a condensation, from a number of sources, of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan's teachings on inner culture and development. Murshid-Zade Hidayat completed his interpretation in 1988. It appears here with minor revisions.

If anyone asks what is esotericism, what are its tenets, what are its principles, what are its dogmas and doctrines, the answer is that if esotericism were to be tangible, then it would not be esotericism. Esotericism must be considered as being something which is beyond understanding, and therefore one would be at a loss to discuss comparative doctrines, dogmas and principles as they may be known in some doctrinal schools, because as already mentioned, esotericism has none, and believes that wisdom does not fit into preformed conceptions.

Inner consciousness is revealed when closing one's eyes to one's limited self, and opening the heart to that God Who is all in all, Who is intelligible and yet at the same time beyond human comprehension. It is the consciousness of God Who is never absent which gives illumination to the soul on its journey through this world of attachments.

What is looked for in the esoteric school of the Sufis? It is a gradual unfoldment of the soul; it is the light shining within oneself which gradually illuminates all around us; it is the joy that one feels in experiencing all the beauty of a sublime horizon which spreads out more and more each day; it is the feeling of greater energy, courage, hope and inner security; all of which makes life become more worth living.

The esoteric exercises which one practices must be considered as a winding, a winding which keeps the inner mechanism going. And if one cannot continue the practices in a regular way, one fails to keep the inner mechanism at a right pitch and in an appropriate rhythm.

A thought which is automatically repeated continues all along in one's subconscious through day and night, notwithstanding sleep or any occupation in which one is involved, and this unconscious persistence of thought brings a beneficial result. One example of this is combining the rhythm of breath with the steps taken while walking and continuously repeating a chosen word (mantram or wazifa) which is pronounced on each step. This practice can bring a much greater benefit than just repeating a sacred word at an appointed hour, and the result is that one reorients one's lines of thought in the direction which corresponds to the significance of the word which one has chosen to repeat.

The breath is the current which runs through all planes of consciousness, channelling life in its physical and mental aspect of our being. Neither body nor mind are in themselves one's life, but it is the breath which unites spirit and matter. The breath could be pictured as an elevator which takes one from one floor to another, as well as being a transmitter sending out thoughts and feelings along the wave-lengths of one's concentration. Breath is in itself all mystery there is.

Impurity of breath turns body and mind impure, whereas purification of breath gives purity to both mind and body. This brings us to the question, how can breath be purified? From a mystical point of view, it is said that when the breath is intentionally focussed on the earth element, the aspect of the breath which corresponds to that element discharges itself of the pollution of the earthly vibrations of the ego, and in return the breath receives the pure energy of the earth element. A similar process occurs with the vibrations of the other elements in the breath — water, fire, air and ether — which render back to the breath purified energy after one has exhaled upon any of these elements the pollution of one's conscious self. Purification of the breath through concentration upon the elements not only offers spiritual help on the esoteric path, but also promotes physical health and vitality as well.

Development of breath does not necessarily mean development of volume, but refers essentially to length of exhalation, fineness of inhalation and ability to direct the breath mentally. The volume of the breath is specially important for athletes, who must master their muscular effort, and for singers, who require a voluminous breath in order to produce a powerful voice, but this is not what is meant when referring to the development of the breath from an esoteric point of view.

Mahadeva, who was the king of the yogis, has said that there is nothing on the face of the earth that cannot be accomplished by mastering the breath. The training of the breath is the first and the last step on the esoteric path. It is of essential importance for the development of physical well-being, as well as providing the support of spiritual thought, in the same way that a copper wire may carry an electric current.

Thought is a power which can be kept under control by directing it upon a given subject, which is understood as being concentration; otherwise, it wanders at its leisure, improvising without any reasonable intent. This wandering can be either constructive, from the point of view of the mind world, which is called imagination, or that same thought could just be running from one subject to another without any logical or constructive consequence, which denotes mental instability. Obviously, it is the power of will which determines the condition of thought.

The will power constitutes, therefore, the intensity of concentration, as well as being the instigator which retrieves the fragments of thought from the storehouse of our memory. It also is the power which holds those fragments together, making out of them one vision, either to concentrate on as a single object, or to elaborate upon, creating from it an unlimited pattern. The will power develops the ability of concentration, whereas conversely, exercising the power of concentration develops the power of will.

One could perhaps say that concentration is the training of the mind by holding in thought the characteristics of a chosen object, whereas contemplation is a more intense level of thought. Contemplation begins when the object of concentration has taken hold of the mind, which is yet still conscious of its individuality, meaning that the principle of duality still applies.

Now, coming to the mystical experience of thought, this is realized through meditation, which can also be considered as a training of the mind. The purpose of this training, however, is to obtain passivity of thought in the loss of self-consciousness, where the principle of duality is now transcended.

The whole universe is based on the principle of rhythm, of which motion is the expression, and since we are ourselves a miniature universe, it is clear that rhythm is the basis of all motion within us. Rhythm, like an inner pendulum, secures the continuity of our breathing, and therefore it is obvious that the quality of the working of our mind and body depends upon the rhythm and the characteristics of our breath.


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