When I was a newly saved Christian attending an evangelistic church, I was taught in Sunday school that there was only one holy book – the Bible. If I had to burn all the books in the church library except one, I would be expected to choose the Bible. I have gone through several spiritual transformations since then, so that expectation seems somewhat limiting to me now. But back then, I had recently gone through a paradigm shift from agnostic to believer. Something had been awakened. I was blind, but now I saw. Getting my first set of sacred scriptures was new and exciting, like getting my first bicycle.
The God beyond the Church
Then somewhere down the line, things in church stopped adding up to the ideal expectations that had been birthed by my new faith. I went to other churches to start over, like trying different brands of cereal, but they never tasted right. This caused suffering, a sense of a loss and a painful longing for that “spark” of hope and promise I felt the hour I first believed. It seemed to me that just when I thought I had found the Promised Land, “they paved Paradise and put up a parking lot” (Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi*).
I searched far and wide trying to reignite that “spark”. Recently it seems like I have taken the grand tour of all the world’s religions, philosophies and various offshoots. I learned a lot of things you would not learn in a church library. Something more was awakening, but the loss and longing was still there, even more painful because I had traveled so far down this road that I was getting weary. I found myself identifying with King Solomon’s laments in Ecclesiastes:
“Vanity, Vanities, All is Vanity (1:3) and “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” (12:12).
As Christians well know, Jesus rebuked the learned teachers of his time, telling the Pharisees:
“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39).
Jesus was attempting to draw them out of their books and into The Way, The Truth and The Life that was dwelling in the world immediately before them.
Our absorption with books, projects and technology can cause us to miss the boat. The gifted American philosopher Henry David Thoreau became more aware of that by studying Vedic literature, and sought relief from the alienating effects of the industrial revolution by escaping to the rural charms and simplicity of Walden Woods. He wrote in his book, Walden:
“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
Thus, there may come a time in our spiritual evolution when we are inclined to step away from the books, to turn off the computer, to use “The Force” so to speak. Our Zen masters from time antiquity have invited us to retreat, to breathe and meditate in peace, opening up a realm previously hidden, full of beauty, mystery, depth and subtlety. Somewhere down that path is Semadhi, when our inner being accelerates from PHD to Monk in 60 seconds, breaking the barriers of time and space, rising above the clouds to catch a glimpse of eternity, a revelation beyond words. Astronaut Edgar Mitchel had to travel into outer space to experience his revelation. But we can experience it right now, and more regularly in our own simple space, without technology, without contaminating our bodies with drugs, and without having to submerge ourselves in $100,000 sensory deprivation tanks.
Wisdom of the Sufi Monks
No matter how much we learn from our sophistications, it seems that it is never enough to satisfy that emptiness and longing which Sufi poet Rumi likens to a yearning for God as we would yearn for a beloved soul mate who has been taken from us. King Solomon touches on the same theme in the Song of Songs. As Joni Mitchel expresses this in her song:
“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
This is an existential pain that ordinary thoughts cannot heal. We need new thoughts, thoughts worthy to the task.
Hazrat Inayat Khan was one such conveyor of new thoughts which fit the bill. He was a gifted musician born in India who became a founder and teacher of Universal Sufism before he died in 1926. Universal Sufism is not based on Islam, although it historically evolved from it. It has a wide eclectic and international membership, including several groups in the United States. His teachings are still very popular in the Universal Sufi movement.
Hazrat describes his “10 thoughts”, each of which can stand alone as a major principle that can be further illuminated, but which are all interconnected and all necessary for personal spiritual development. This is a somewhat similar the relationship of the eight branches to the Eightfold Path taught by Buddha in the 5th century BCE.
In this post we will focus on Hazrat’s “Third Thought”, highlighted below. Meanwhile, glance at the other nine to get an idea of what Hazrat taught.
Hazrat’s Ten Thoughts
“There are ten principal Sufi thoughts which comprise all the important subjects with which the inner life of man is concerned:
1) THERE IS ONE GOD – the Eternal, the Only Being; none else exists save God.
2) THER IS ONE MASTER – the Guiding Spirit of all souls, who constantly leads all followers towards the light.
3) THERE IS ONE HOLY BOOK – the sacred manuscript of nature, which truly enlightens all readers.
4) THERE IS ONE RELIGION – the unswerving progress in the right direction towards the ideal, which fulfils the life’s purpose of every soul.
5) THERE IS ONE LAW – the law of Reciprocity, which can be observed by a selfless conscience together with a sense of awakened justice.
6) THERE IS ONE HUMAN BROTHERHOOD – the Brotherhood and Sisterhood which unites the children of earth indiscriminately in the Fatherhood of God.
7) THERE IS ONE MORAL PRINCIPLE – the love which springs forth from self-denial, and blooms in deeds of beneficence.
8) THERE IS ONE OBJECT OF PRAISE – the beauty which uplifts the heart of its worshipper through all aspects from the seen to the unseen.
9) THERE IS ONE TRUTH – the true knowledge of our being within and without which is the essence of all wisdom.
10) THERE IS ONE PATH – the annihilation of the false ego in the real, which raises the mortal to immortality and in which resides all perfection.”
The Sacred Manuscript of Nature
Hazrat further elucidates for us the meaning of “The Sacred Manuscript of Nature:
“There is one Holy Book, the sacred manuscript of nature, the only scripture which can enlighten the reader. Most people consider as sacred scriptures only certain books or scrolls written by the hand of man, and carefully preserved as holy, to be handed down as divine revelation. Men have fought and disputed over the authenticity of these books, have refused to accept any other book of similar character, and, clinging thus to the book and losing the sense of it, have formed diverse sects. The Sufi has in all ages respected all such books, and has traced in the Vedanta, Zend-Avesta, Kabbalah, Bible, Quran, and all other sacred scriptures, the same truth which he or she reads in the incorruptible manuscript of nature, the only Holy Book, the perfect and living model that teaches the inner law of life. All scriptures when compared to nature’s manuscript, are like little pools of water before the ocean. To the eye of the seer every leaf of the tree is a page of the Holy Book that contains divine revelation, and he or she is inspired every moment of life by constantly reading and understanding the holy script of nature.”
As the words to the song by Joni Mitchel infer, our modern culture has a habit of turning life into stone, the same process that occurred to Lot’s wife when she looked back at Sodom. Another verse to Joni’s song suggest how our society over-processes nature instead of opening up to everything nature has to teach us:
“They took all the trees. Put ’em in a tree museum. And they charged the people. A dollar and a half just to see ’em”
I think we will find that the Universal Sufi teachings are harmonious with most other esoteric beliefs, and have an advantage in being well-organized, simple and fun to follow, while at the same time deeply meaningful and life enhancing.
This post adds a new perspective to the Spirit of the Scripture. Normally we examine written scriptures to dig out the deeper truths within them. We focus on non-literal interpretation, allegory, and detecting coded patterns which unlock hidden meanings. Hazrat makes it clear that the deeper meanings we find or infer from all written scriptures originate from a more complete and accurate universal enlightenment, one which manifests (to those who are open and ready to receive it) as a personal gnosis, Semadhi, and which springs forth from our interactions on a daily basis with nature.
May we find grace to enjoy that sacred manuscript of nature this very day, this very hour.