Caravanserai Magazine Archive

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


1989 Volume 3. Nawab Pasnak. "The Altar of the Heart"

A sermon given during a Universal Worship service at the close of Summer School, 1989

Beloved Ones of God,
It is a great blessing for us to meet here, in this atmosphere of beauty, and hear from the various scriptures the Divine Message as it has been given at different times and places around the world. Each time the Message has come, it has been like a vibrating musical tone, sounding through the ages. When we listen to these notes with deep attention, the illusion of time and space may be wiped away for us, and we have the precious opportunity to become one with all the countless sincere worshippers who have trained their hearts according to these and other expressions.

And it is a great blessing for the world that these various notes of the Divine Message are sounded together here, as they are at every Universal Worship, making most beautiful music. Throughout history, there has been a Divine call to humanity, an urging to the human spirit to rise up, to return, as the Sufi poets would say, to its home in the heart of the Beloved. To fit the circumstances and satisfy the conceptions of the day, it has been called by various names and followed different forms, but in reality the Message is not limited to any name or form. How could it be? The Divine Presence is beyond any description, the source of all, omnipresent and all pervading. Therefore, although we may now call it the Sufi Message, it no more belongs to the Sufis than does the rain that falls. It belongs to all, for it is sent to all. Whether we hear it or not, the message is going on, everywhere, within us and without us, with or without our participation, and has been doing so since the dawn of creation. It may be found not only in the words of an inspiring teacher, but also in the gesture of a kind friend, in the innocence of a child, and even in the flight of a bird or the fall of a leaf in the sacred book of nature, if only we are able to see it. Indeed, the divine call is not unnatural or supernatural — it is perfectly natural, and we can hear it best in nature. The Koran says, "The very birds praise Him as they wing their flights." Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan has said, "The Sufi, when the eye of his soul is opened and his sight is keen, reads in the manuscript of nature the divine law, which has been read from the same source and taught by the Teachers of humanity to their followers." He goes on, "The Sufi has, in all ages traced in the Vedanta, the Zend-Avesta, the Kabbala, the Bible, the Koran and all other sacred scriptures the same truth which he reads in the incorruptible manuscript of nature, the only Holy Book, the perfect and living model that teaches the inner law of life."

Those are the words of Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, and we may remember that it was while he was alone in nature at this very spot that he was himself inspired, and we are fortunate to have that natural spot still preserved today as a holy place of pilgrimage.

Therefore, as we may trace that divine call in every name and form, and in the nature that surrounds us, there cannot be much importance in what we call it. If, for the time being we call it the Sufi Message, it is perhaps because the word Sufi, in one of its interpretations, means wisdom, and surely the only wisdom there is lies in searching for the origin of this irresistible call.

It is also known as the Sufi Message because the Sufis, just now, are privileged to present the unity of all religious ideals through this beautiful, deeply symbolical ceremony, the Universal Worship. In the history of the world, it has never before been seen that the scriptures of different religions have been placed side by side on an altar with all respect and reverence. It is a sign of the growth of tolerance in the human spirit that this is now possible, at least in some parts of the world, and it marks the way that humanity must travel in the future, led by the Spirit of Guidance.

Of course, when we consider these sacred readings from different times and places, we find that they are not so very far apart, and it does not seem so unusual to place them side by side. In the Upanishads, we heard that the soul of man becomes like a lamp, an image which the Master Jesus Christ also used when he said, 'when your eye' or your way of seeing, 'is sound, your whole body is full of light.' It is the same light spoken of in the Zoroastrian scriptures: when the faithful man has mastered thought, speech and action, each mastery producing a new paradise of harmony, then his soul at last enters the endless lights. And it is the same Divine light which the Gayan speaks of when it says, 'the heart that reflecteth the Divine light is illuminated.'

Needless to say, in holding this service, our responsibility to the faithful and to the Divine Presence is a solemn one, and we take every effort to make this moment sacred. We bring beautiful flowers which we have perhaps grown with care in our own gardens, we light candles and incense, we move with care, we play uplifting music — all so that this altar may be regarded as holy, and the ceremony performed here may be filled with significance.

But this altar is not the only one. Here before you stands the visible altar, but there is also an unseen one, upon which the external form is modelled, and that is the worshipper's heart. No matter how we prepare it, if this altar that we can see is not founded upon the altar of the heart, it can have very little meaning. If our hearts are not inspired by the Spirit of Guidance that speaks through every faith, then what can we gain by placing books side by side on a table? If our hearts do not respond to light, then what virtue can there be in lighting candles? If our hearts are not intoxicated by the source of beauty, then what benefit can there be in graceful words and music?

The Sufi looks at the vessel in which he journeys through life and says, 'This is not my body, this is the temple of God.' Perhaps he begins by saying this as a statement of faith, but in the end, it becomes an unshakeable conviction. And if this is the temple, where must the altar be? If there is any worship at all, it must begin here, within us. Then, when our hearts are open, this atmosphere and beauty may be found wherever we worship, whether it be in a beautiful Universel such as this, or in a humble home, or in the wilderness, with perhaps only a rock for an altar, or even nothing at all. The altar we can see matters very little; it is the human altar, the living heart, pouring forth its longing for the Divine Presence, eager to recognize the Message in every form, which is the sign of the true Universal Worship. And if we show respect to this altar we can see, how much more respect should we show for the hearts of fellow-worshippers of every faith and creed?

Let us try, therefore, to carry these feelings with us when we leave. Although the altar of candles and books and incense will pass from our sight, let us keep the inner altar of our hearts alight with the joy of the Divine Message, so that our life's path may be illuminated. Let us keep our inner sight turned toward the altar of our ideal, so that we may perceive the worshipping heart in every being we meet. Let us listen with deep attention to the tone of the Message resounding within our hearts, the tone which harmonizes all faiths together, so that in time it may be heard in every thought that rises in our minds, in every word which passes from our lips, and in every action that we undertake. Then we could truly be privileged to call ourselves Sufis.


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