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Freedom and Involvement


Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

Spacer As we exhale, we consider that we are an extension of the Divine exhaling. In the course of that exhaling, in that flow, the sublime mystery moving the universe gets manifested and actuated at the existential level, in the universe, and in the cosmos, and in us. Our motivations become an expression of that Divine nostalgia, that the treasures hidden virtually in the world of mystery should become actuated in what we call the world of reality.

Spacer This is typically Sufi because whereas the way of the ascetic is to give up the world, this is really a validation of our wish to build a beautiful world of beautiful people. Instead of thinking that goes counter to the spiritual ideal, it is the fulfillment of the Divine purpose. We don't have to have guilt feelings if we want to build a beautiful house, and have beautiful music or clothing, as long as it is really an expression of the Divine impulse that we call Ishq Allah. As soon as that impulse gets distorted by our ego, our identifying with a fraction of ourselves, it can turn against itself and have disastrous effects, cruelty, and violence, and all those things we see in the world today. So really the Sufi method here is to try and feel that Divine impulse in our motivations.

Spacer As we inhale it's the other way around. We are trying to actuate our nostalgia for making the sublime into beauty and majesty, the feminine and masculine. In order to do so, we involve ourselves with people, and with situations which are confining; therefore it is always at the cost of our freedom. We are pulled in the opposite direction at the same time, which is our longing for freedom. So as we inhale, we give vent to this need for freedom.

Spacer Our inhaling is an extension of the Divine inhaling whereby, according to Sufis, God draws the quintessence of what has been gained by existence back into the software of the universe as feedback. That's why Jalaluddin Rumi says, "Tonight the umpteen stars give birth to the life eternal." What he is saying is that which is ephemeral will become eternal. As we inhale we give vent to our need for freedom, because in order to extract the quintessence of what we have gained by life, which is wisdom, we need to give up the dross, to give up a lot of the contingent aspects. To put it more clearly, this could be illustrated by the extraction of perfume from a flower. The dross has got to be rejected so that we can just keep the essence. This is what we're experiencing. Our need is not to give up the world but to try to extract the quintessence of the wisdom of what we've gained by our experience that will never die. It also means letting go of those aspects of our life that confine and limit us.

Spacer That is what we have to look into very deeply. What does it mean exactly? Pir-o-Murshid said something that has been recorded in two ways and I'm not sure which is correct. One is "You loosen the ties, "and the other is "You break through the ties." We need to look into those ties to see if they confine us externally, in a circumstantial way. You know we can be free in our spirit while bound in our circumstances. To free ourselves from circumstances would not be real freedom. Rather, we must ask, "How have I developed dependence upon conditions in my thinking and in my emotions?" That would be an addiction. "Can I, therefore, accept limitation in my circumstances while finding a way of freedom in my soul?" This is a thought that we are grappling with in our lives, the degree to which we find freedom, and the degree to which we are involved by our interests.

Spacer On this subject Pir-o-Murshid is very, very clear. He says everything that has been gained in life is the result of interest. This is not the way of indifference, the way of the ascetic. He says, "The power that you gain by pursuing your interest will give you the ability to take upon yourself a greater challenge than you have taken on so far."

Spacer We gain in power by pursuing our purpose in life. For Murshid, the purpose in life is extremely important. How we handle situations and what we accomplish in life is very important. Then he says, "Your motivation does limit that power." If our motivation is for personal gain, for example, that certainly limits our power. The ultimate thing is for our motivation not to be personal, but for service. If we can do that, then he says, that could be interpreted as being indifference or detachment, which is the way of the ascetic. The ideal is to be in life, to involve ourselves and yet somehow, in the depth of our soul, not to become dependent on the underpinning of the circumstances. I keep on repeating an idea of Shahabuddin who once said, "The support system takes over." That's exactly what happens to us in our lives, the support system takes over. For example, one might put so much energy into building the base camps for an Everest expedition that there is no energy and no money left to reach the top. Thatís what we're doing.

Spacer This requires a lot of insight on our part. If we are a teacher, that is if we take responsibility to help guide people in their lives, we have to understand the motivations of those people. We will have to have had those motivations in ourselves, so we're able to understand where those motivations come from. Then we've got to have found some kind of freedom. Otherwise we can't free other people from their dependence upon conditions. The conditions break down, so we've got to help people find some kind of immunity against disaster. That is the way of indifference, of detachment. This is a very subtle teaching. It cuts right into our problems.

Spacer We need to be very careful when we do the breathing practices that we don't determine the inhaling and exhaling ourselves, that we don't cut in with our will. The way to avoid that is to think that the rhythm of our breath, the ebb and flow, is an expression of the ebb and flow of the total universe. Here we have this ebb and flow, Divine exhaling and Divine inhaling. If we do that, then our breathing can be much slower without forcing ourselves.

Spacer We exhale and experience the descent of the total being, as us, into the cosmos in search of the fulfillment of Ishq Allah, a longing to bring heaven on earth, to make our dreams come true. We experience the nostalgia that is a basic drive behind our life. Just feel that nostalgia very deeply, that very deep nostalgia, what life means to us. Personal wishes are, perhaps, very inadequate expressions of our deep nostalgia, which we cannot define in words. If we can get in touch with our deeper feelings, then we realize what is really important for us.

Spacer Then as we inhale, we can look upon our life, our situation. It's clear that in order to pursue our nostalgia, we had to involve ourselves in responsibilities which were constraining, and in relationships which represent some kind of curtailment of our freedom. We see how it is our understanding of that involvement that gives us a sense of freedom. Ultimately, what is important is our realization, how our realization can be affected by our lives, or how independent our realization can be from the limitation of our circumstances.

Spacer Maybe we feel a need. It's not just a longing. It's an imperative, almost desperate, need for freedom. The more involved we are, the more imperative our need is. The whole of Buddhism was a quest for freedom. The message that Pir-o-Murshid announces is the message of spiritual freedom. We see that in general we involve ourselves in situations out of concern for personal freedom. There is chaos. That's a price we pay for the most valuable thing, which is freedom, except that, in general, the idea of freedom is misunderstood. Real freedom is to be able to pursue the purpose of our soul. Our personal interests do not represent our freedom. In fact they represent confinement, a trap. We aren't free just to be able to follow our fantasies, our whims. That's not freedom. We are in search of the ultimate freedom. That will be enhanced as we inhale. Buddha calls it freedom from conditioning. We are conditioned and we don't know it. That's why the Sufis say, "Oh man you are free. It's your ignorance of your freedom that is your captivity." It's not the external circumstances that confine us. It's not realizing our freedom.

Spacer To be free in ourselves would mean that nobody can insult us, nobody can hurt us, nobody can grab us with their will --just like that woman in the South who was being lynched who said, "You can do what you like with my body, but you can't touch my soul." That's why the Muslims say that they never crucified Christ. All they grabbed was his body. Can we just feel what it's like to be free, free in our being?

Spacer One of the features of this freedom, that Pir-o-Murshid says is in the core of our being, is something like a mirror that cannot be stained by the impressions upon it. The immaculate core of our being is totally immune from our own guilt. It's the saving grace, the ultimate refuge against our dissatisfaction with ourselves. It's a mitigating factor that can turn the tables on the law, because grace is always an exception to the law.

Spacer In this context, I think we are ready to look at our motivations. That is called muhasibi; we observe ourself as though we were another person, objectively, without personal bias, without efforts of justification or any kind of judgmental assessment whatever. It starts by asking ourselves very simple questions like, "Why am I doing what I'm doing?" The second question is, "What are my motivations in my relationship with another person? Is it something that I want to gain for what I think is my own well being, or what I consider the well being of that person, or is it an oath or whatever?" It's a matter of being very honest. Is there any manipulation there? Or is it absolutely up front? Muhasibi can be extended to dialogue between people, asking each other what we are expecting from the other, or expressing disappointment because our expectations were not met; but we have to be very clear as to what those expectations are.

Spacer Then we have to ask ourselves the next question, which is much more difficult to answer. That is, "What is it that I value? What are the things in life that I prioritize over others?" In fact we could make a whole catalog of values, what is called a scale of values. "I like this, in fact Iím trying to pursue this thing that I delight in. It's true there is something else that I value more. If it came to having to make a choice, would I opt for the thing I value more? That is, would I sacrifice the thing I value less. If I'm not prepared to do that, then I cannot say the value I would have liked but have not pursued is a real value. It's fictitious because I can't implement it by my actions." That is what Pir-o-Murshid calls the ideal. Pir-o-Murshid was very realistic when he said, "Shatter your ideal on the rock of truth." We can formulate all kinds of ideals, but I don't think they qualify as motivations unless we are prepared to make the sacrifice that is required to pursue them. They remain idyllic.

Spacer This practice must be done without judgment. It's not, "I should be pursuing a higher ideal, but I'm not prepared to make the sacrifices." No, if we deny ourselves our personal wishes excessively, we will feel sorry for ourselves and will not have the joy we need in order to pursue our higher ideals. It's different for each person. We have to know exactly what balance to maintain between those ideals that we really wish to pursue and those personal needs that will keep us from being sorry for ourselves, and give us a certain amount of fulfillment.

Spacer The next step is the culmination: to see how our motivations are an expression of the Divine impulse towards manifestation. It is to feel that impulse, to become conscious of it moving us towards the fulfillment of our life's purpose, instead of being constrained within our personal identity. The way to do it is to think of ourselves as a funnel which includes the large end and the small end and all that is in between.

Spacer There is no doubt that pursuing our ideal gives us what is called spiritual power, and confidence, and validation of our self-image. In fact it makes us into a hero. Pursuing our personal objective gives us a kind of personal power, it might be ruthless and merciless and can lead to manipulation, causing a lot of suffering amongst victims of our whims, as we see in the history of the world. That's not power. It can all of a sudden collapse when confronted with Divine power, or even when confronted with the truth, like some of the Nazi war criminals who were confronted with the commission of investigation. They started collapsing. They were very powerful, but their power didn't last. Christ did not relent when facing the power of Rome.

Spacer I say this because, if we purport to be teachers, just giving guidance and understanding, that's not what people are ultimately looking for. We have to become a powerhouse upon which they build their houses. It's true that we're not teaching people to believe in this or that or the other thing; but I think that once we have seen something, that's what is called realization, then our faith comes into the picture. Then we trust what we've seen. Ultimately our faith is what people are hanging onto in their disbelief. As Pir-o-Murshid describes it, itís like swimming, but we're swimming with a person who is floundering in the water. Not only do we have to be able to keep ourselves afloat, but we have to keep afloat that person who is a dead weight and not able to save him/herself. Thatís where our faith is being very much tapped by people of little faith. If we start doubting what our realization revealed, then we cause the person who is looking to us for our support to sink in the water. It is better not to undertake that project at all to start with. When we realize that we embody the power of the hierarchy of the masters, saints, and prophets, we establish a connection. It gives us empowerment.

Spacer Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, Copyright 2001

Spacer (From the Booklet 'A Longing for the Unattainable')

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