by Dr. H.J. Witteveen
We can experience peace in our heart when we open ourselves to the divine spirit. And we can practise it in our outer life by creating and maintaining harmony. But how can we follow such an ideal in our daily life, which is always so full of conflicts and differences? In his book Moral Culture Inayat Khan provides a number of very practical and down-to-earth recommendations for our behaviour. The title is typical of his approach, which is one of evolution, of inner growth, not of rigid prescriptions. It is a gradual step-by-step development of widening our outlook and understanding and of overcoming our narrow egocentric tendencies. Instead of immediately being confronted with the highest moral ideal, we can start to follow this teaching at a level where for most of us our learning starts, in our simple daily life. We have many different kinds of relationships with friends and enemies, with acquaintances and relations, with masters and servants - and with God. At this stage, we feel quite separate from all these other beings, we are sensitive to what they do to us and we are often prone to antagonistic feelings. At this stage we should aim to follow what Inayat Khan calls the law of reciprocity. 'This moral is natural to the one who sees the difference between himself and another, who recognizes every man as such and such.' [Note - all quotations from The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan, vol. III] This law leads to balance, fairness and justice in our dealings with others. Thus it is a first approach to harmony.
The ideal of reciprocity may seem relatively easy, but we have to realize that our ego always tends to cause a certain asymmetry in our judgements. As Inayat Khan remarks with keen psychological insight: 'The self is always dearer to everyone, and when weighing our dealings with others we naturally give them more weight, and do not give the dealings of others with us the same weight.'
To attain real reciprocity, this asymmetry has to be overcome:
Therefore, in order to make a balance, we must always consider that a kind action, a good thought, a little help, some respect shown to us by another, are more than if we did the same to our friend; but an insult, a harm done to us, a disappointment caused to us by a friend, a broken promise, deceit, or anything we do not like on the part of a friend, should be taken as less blameworthy than if we did the same.
Understood in this way, reciprocity becomes a first and important step in our moral development. And in his beautiful explanation of the meaning of this law of reciprocity in our different relationships, Inayat Khan always leads us to look beyond our limiting ego-concept. Thus, he urges us in general terms that: In dealing with another we ought first to consider in what relation we stand to him, and then to consider what manner of dealing would please us on the part of another who is related to us in the same way as we are to him. In all favourable actions we ought to do more than we should expect another to do for us; and in unfavourable actions we ought to do less than what we should expect on the part of another.
In this way we can gradually expand our sympathy from those next to us to those further away and observe our duties to them. But we are warned that: 'A sense of generosity and willingness should go hand in hand with duty; if not, instead of a blessing it becomes a curse.' This makes it clear yet again that our feelings, the motives behind our action, are more important than the action itself. Sincerity and sympathy give value to what we do for others.
All this is, of course, a concrete application of the expansion of consciousness[.] but reciprocity must also be applied in our relations with enemies. On this Inayat Khan is very realistic when he tells us that 'paying back insult for insult and harm for harm is the only thing that balances.' At the same time we are recommended to be very careful: 'Our dealings with our enemy should be considered with more delicacy than our dealings with a friend.' Thus the law of an eye for an eye should not be applied 'as long as there is a chance of meeting the enemy's revenge by kindness.'
And in general, Inayat Khan advises us that: Precautions must be taken that nobody should become our enemy; and special care must be taken to keep a friend from turning into an enemy. It is right by every means to forgive the enemy and to forget his enmity if he earnestly wishes it; and to take the first step in establishing friendship, instead of withdrawing from it and still holding in the mind the poison of the past, which is as bad as retaining an old disease in the system. This clearly demonstrates the aspect of mental purification [.] as an essential aspect of inner life and mysticism. In this way - and similarly in our other relationships - the correctly balanced reciprocity leads us to begin to understand others better by placing ourselves in their position, by looking at things from their point of view. Thus we can overcome exaggerated or imagined antagonisms in others and develop forgiveness and sympathy. This will lead us to the second stage in moral evolution: the law of beneficence, where man, recognizing himself as an entity separate from others and recognizing others as distinct entities themselves, yet sees a cord of connection running through himself and all, and finds himself as a dome in which rises an echo of good and evil; and in order to have a good echo he gives good for good and good for evil.
Here, having begun to understand others and becoming conscious of how our relationships with them function, we begin to see how our thoughts and feelings are reflected in the minds of other people. And in the 'palace of mirrors' of the mind world, sooner or later, their echo returns to us. Then our concern will be to radiate only loving and friendly feelings, so that these vibrations will come back to us in the dome of the universe. This consciousness of the cord of connection running through all seemingly separate beings leads to Inayat Khan's psychological advice - which pervades the whole Sufi Message - always to focus our mind on the good side of things, situations and people. This is neither blindness nor lack of insight; but it means that we choose consciously to which impressions we give attention so that they can deepen and grow in our mind.
It is the attitude of seeing and not seeing, leading to a certain knowing innocence. Through this attitude we can become master of our feelings and thoughts and in this way master of our life. For in our experiences life gives us back what we create and radiate though our mind.
All this implies a very practical rule: to avoid judging and criticizing other people. We are always strongly tempted to do this; our mind likes to analyze others from our own point of view; and then we can feel that we are better. But in reality, by focusing our mind on weaknesses and shortcomings in others, we tend to create or encourage these weaknesses in ourselves, and our relationship with the person whom we criticize will be adversely affected by this. Untactful criticism can antagonize the other person and will often make him or her defensive and will therefore strengthen his or her faults. Even if we express our criticisms in his or her absence to a third person, it will influence our relationships negatively.
Inayat Khan uses this approach to explain the meaning of Christ's saying: 'Resist not evil'. Evil may be likened to fire. The nature of fire is to destroy everything that lies in its path, but although the power of evil is as great as the power of fire, yet evil is also as weak as fire. For as fire does not endure, so evil does not last. As fire destroys itself, so evil is its own destruction. Why is it said, do not resist evil? Because resistance gives life to evil; non-resistance lets it burn itself out.
This means that we should not react in the same manner, with anger to anger. Although a natural reaction, this implies that one allows oneself to be infected with the same mood, the same evil so that it is allowed to spread and receives more nourishment. A chain reaction may then be the result. By avoiding this, by controlling one's reaction, one can stand like a rock in the sea. One need not agree to the thoughts or wishes of the other; but by not allowing oneself to be influenced in one's own heart by negative feelings, one is much more likely to find a harmonious solution or compromise through inner strength and understanding.
Harmony should, however, always be seen in a sufficiently wide context: not only with the person with whom we are in immediate contact, but also in relation to others who are involved, in relation to a wider community and to our ideals.