Editor's note: This excerpt from one of Inayat Khan's books may be best read with a little translation (ex: "god" = the universe, or, a symbolic synonym for the best ideals that cultures ascribe to god such as compassion, wisdom and mercy; "man" = humanity, 'the religion" = a non-ideological integration of the best aspects of all religions, etc )
No one with any sense who observes keenly the present condition of humanity, will deny the fact that the world today needs the religion. Why I say the religion and not a religion is because there are many religions in existence which might be called a religion; but what is needed is something else; it is the religion. Must this be a new religion? If it were to be a new religion it could not be called the religion; then it would be like many other religions. What I call the religion is that which one can see by rising above the sects and differences that divide men; and by understanding the religion one will understand all religions.
I do not mean that all the religions are not religion; they are the notes; but there is the music, and that music is the religion. Every religion strikes a note, a note that answers the demand of humanity in a certain epoch. Yet the source of every note is the same music which manifests when the notes are arranged harmoniously together. All the different religions are the different notes, and when they are thus arranged together they make music. One might ask why at each epoch not all the music was given; why only a single note. The answer is that there are times in the life of an infant when a rattle is sufficient; for the violin another time in life is more appropriate. During the time of the Chaldeans, Arabs, Greeks, and Romans, different religious ideals were brought to humanity. To the few music was brought, to many only a note; and this shows that this music has always existed, but that man in general was not ready to grasp it and so was given only one note.
The consequence was that the one who was given the C note fought with another who was given the G note, each saying, 'The note given to me is the right note!' But in reality all are right notes. Thus there is an outer substance of religion that is the form, and an inner essence, which is wisdom; and when wisdom has blessed the soul, then the soul has heard the divine music. Those who tuned their hearts, who raised their souls high enough, heard this divine music. But those who played with their rattle, their single note, disputed with one another. They would have refused a violin; they were not ready for it and they would not have known how to use it.
Today the world is more starved for religion that ever before. The reason is that some simple souls, attached to the faith of their ancestors, hold their faith in esteem. For they consider religion necessary in life. But many others, with intelligence, reason and understanding of life, rebel against religion, as the child grows away from its rattle, for it is no longer interested in it. So today, the condition is that religion remains in the hands of those who have kept to its outer form through devotion and loyalty to their ancestors' faith; and those who are, so to speak, grown-up in mind and spirit and who want something better, but cannot find anything. Their soul hungers for music, yet when they ask for music they are given a rattle; and then they throw away the rattle and say that they do not care for music. Yet at the same time they have an inner yearning for the soul's music, and without it their life remains empty.
There are few that recognize this fact, and fewer still who are willing to admit to it. The psychological condition of humanity has become such that a person with intelligence refuses the music, he does not want it; but because he still wants something, he calls it by another name. Traveling for ten years in the Western world, I have come into contact with people of great intelligence, thinkers, men of science; and in them I see the greatest yearning for that religious spirit. They are longing for it every moment of their lives, for they feel, with all their education and science, that there is an emptiness in themselves, and they want it filled. Yet if one speaks to them of religion, they say, 'No, no, speak of something else; we do not want religion!' This means that they only know the rattle part of religion and not the violin part. They do not think that anything can exist that is different from a rattle, and yet there is perplexity in their heart and a spiritual craving which is not answered even by all their learned and scientific pursuits.
Therefore what is needed in the world today is a reconciliation between the religious man and the one who runs away from religion. But what can we do when even in the Christian religion we see so many sects, one opposing the other, while the Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, and many other religions also consider that no religion is worth thinking about except their own? To me these different religions are like the different organs of the body, cut up and thrown apart. It seems as if one arm of the same person were cut off and were rising up to fight the other. Both are arms of the same person, and when that person is complete, when all these parts are brought together, then there is the religion.
Then what is the purpose of the Sufi movement? To make a new religion? No, it is to bring together the different organs of one body as they are meant to be united. And what is our method, how do we work to bring about such a reconciliation? By realizing for ourselves that the essence of all religions is one, and that that essence is wisdom; by considering that wisdom to be our religion, whatever be our own form. The Sufi movement has members belonging to many different faiths and who have not given up their own religion. On the contrary, they are firmer in their own faith through understanding the faiths of others. From the narrow point of view, people may find fault with them because they do not hate, mistrust, and criticize the religion of others. They have respect for the scriptures which millions of people have held to be sacred, though these scriptures do not belong to their own religion. They desire to study and appreciate other scriptures, and to find confirmation of the fact that all wisdom comes from one source, both the wisdom of the East and of the West. The Sufi movement, therefore, is not a sect; it can be anything but a sect; and if it ever became one it would be quite contrary to the ideal with which it was begun. For its main ideal is to remove differences and distinctions which divide mankind, and this ideal is attained by the realization of the one source of all human beings, and also the goal, both of which we call God.
Interested to read more? Check out The Religion of the Heart.
Born in India in 1882, Inayat Khan was considered India’s greatest musician of the day. He was the first to bring both Indian music and Sufi mysticism to the western world in 1910. His writings and teachings have been constantly in print since the early 1920’s. Although his life was relatively short, his influence has continued to grow as his books and universal teachings are discovered by spiritual seekers from all traditions.