A JOURNAL OF TRANS-ETHNIC SPIRITUALITY
VOL. 2, ISSUE 2
"Going Beyond the Form in Our Worship"
Cherag Regina Coeli McKnight
Pir Vilayat went on to tell of his experience of leading a group in meditation in which they were focusing on bringing light into their auras. He opened his eyes, and he saw that the meditators were no more luminous than before. "What am I doing here?" he asked himself. Later that day, at the worship service, when they were singing and praising and lighting candles, he saw that in that same group "the light was tremendous." And so, worship is clearly and important aspect of spiritual practice. It is important for us to discover our nostalgia for the sacred. Through worship, the heart literally is opened to the Divine Presence.
Thus, it is important that we not think of the Universal Worship service as just a ceremony. In the Universal Worship, we are participating in something whereby we are being transformed, lifted from our humanness into our spiritual dimension. So, going beyond the form of the worship service, let us try to access the deeper aspects of it.
Pir Vilayat says that the Cherag (the minister) presides not as a personality but as a representative of God on earth. Cherags are trained to invoke the presence of the masters, saints, and prophets and to get into the attunement of the masters. The Cherag works to get beyond personality-identification, concern with performance, self-judgment, and ego. It is helpful for the congregants to view him or her in that light, as well.
The service opens with the Invocation: "Toward the One, the Perfection of Love, Harmony and Beauty, the Only Being, united with all the Illuminated Souls, who form the embodiment of the Master, the Spirit of Guidance." Taj Inayat has beautifully expressed the deep significance of the invocation. As we repeat "Toward the One. . .", we can be aware of a surrendering of our identity, as the light of the moon and star is overawed by the rising sun. As we repeat "United with all. . .", we can use Taj's image of many rivers merging into the ocean, and we can be open to that living stream of blessing. Taj writes, "If you invoke these beings, this blessing, and this radiance, and come empty to be filled, you can receive this blessing. One needs only to truly want to. Feel the opening of all barriers between Heaven and Earth, between ourselves and the Buddhas and the Christ beings and the Illuminated Souls whose presence is always here. By invoking them and opening to them, we feel their blessings in our being more strongly and we
then become a channel for this blessing to the world." That can be the effect of our invocation when it is said with consciousness and intention.
Pir Vilayat says that the lighting of the candles is the high point of the service. It fills the space with Presence, because with the lighting of each candle, we are invoking the presence of the masters, saints, and prophets of that tradition. We must think of these beings; we must invite them. Pir recalls that his father, Hazrat Inayat Khan used to say that it is better that there be few people and more angels at the Universal Worship service than that there be a lot of people and no angels!
The scriptures are the message of God to humanity at different times and places on the planet. When he or she reads each scripture, the Cherag attempts to be in the consciousness of the prophet, and we as congregants can receive the readings in that spirit. When the scriptures are presented to the altar, it is our offering. We are offering our reverence, our homage, and our gratitude--not a dead goat. It is a gift of ourselves.
Pir Vilayat reminds us that we must realize the Masters, Saints, and Prophets as living presences. Buddha, Christ, Shiva, Zarathustra, Abraham and Mary are a part of our being. He suggests that we not limit ourselves to thinking of those beings as past. He says;
"If Mohammed were living today, he wouldn't say cut off the hand of somebody who's stealing. In fact, he might be president of the Commission on Non-Violence. Buddha might very well be married, and he might very well be a psychotherapist. And Christ, I think he might be in El Salvador . . .The Universal Worship is an opportunity to get into the consciousness of sublime beings so that eventually we can start manifesting something of their being."
Again and again, Pir Vilayat has emphasized the aspect of worship as a reflection of the Cosmic Celebration in the Heavens, and he emphasizes our need for glorification, for our awakening to the sense of glory and splendor which we have lost in the trivial day-to-day mechanics of our lives. The purpose of worship is to help us awaken to the divinity in our being.
In the words of Hildegard of Bingen;
"Be not lax in celebrating. Be not lazy in the festive service of God. Be ablaze with enthusiasm. Let us be an alive, burning offering before the altar of God."
The Art of Personality - Hazrat Inayat Khan
Nature, people say, is created by God and art by man; but in reality in the making of personality it is God who completes His divine art. It is not what Christ has taught that makes his devotees love him; they dispute over those things in vain; it is what he himself was. It is that which is loved and admired by his devotees. When Jesus Christ said to the fishermen, 'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men', what did it mean? It meant, 'I will teach you the art of personality, which will become as a net in this life's sea.' For every heart, whatever be its grade of evolution, will be attracted by the beauty of the art of personality.
What does mankind seek in another person, what does man expect in his friend? He wants him rich, of a high position, of a great power, of wonderful qualifications, of wide influence; but beyond and above all he expects from his friend the humane qualities which are the art of personality. If one's friend lacks the art of personality, all the above things are of but little use and value to him.
There is a question: how are we to learn it? We learn it by our love of art, by our love of beauty in all its less various aspects. The artist learns his art by his admiration of beauty. When a person gets an insight into beauty, then he learns the art of arts, which is the art of personality. A man may have a thousand qualifications, or rank, or position; he may possess all the goods of the earth, but if he lacks the art of personality he is poor indeed. It is by this art that man shows that nobleness which belongs to the kingdom of God.
The art of personality is not a qualification. It is the purpose for which man was created, and it leads man to that purpose in the fulfillment of which is his entire satisfaction. By this art man does not only satisfy himself, but he pleases God. This phantom play on the earth is produced for the pleasure of that King of the universe whom the Hindus have called Indra, before whom Gandharvas sang and Upsaras danced. The interpretation of this story is that every soul is destined to dance at the court of Indra. The art of personality is, in reality, learning to dance perfectly at the court of Indra. But the one who says, 'But how can I dance? I do not know how to dance,' defeats his purpose. For no soul is created to stand aside and look on, every soul is created to dance in the court of Indra. The soul who refuses certainly shows its ignorance of the great purpose for which the whole play is produced on the stage of the earth.
Gentleness is the principal thing in the art of personality; one can see how gentleness works as the principal thing in every art.
Gratefulness in the character is like fragrance in the flower. A person, however learned and qualified in his life's work, in whom gratefulness is absent, is devoid of that beauty of character which makes personality fragrant. If we answer every little deed of kindness with appreciation, we develop in our nature the spirit of gratefulness; and by learning this we rise to that state where we begin to realize God's goodness towards us, and for this we can never be grateful enough to His divine compassion
The art of personality is to cut off the rough edges of this spirit of vanity, which hurts and disturbs those one meets in life.
The art of personality, therefore, does not teach the rooting out of the seed of vanity, which cannot be rooted out as long as man lives; but its crude outer garb may be destroyed in order that, after dying several deaths, it may be manifested as the plant of desires.
Dignity, which in other words may be called self-respect, is not something which can be left out when considering the art of personality. When one asks what it is, and how this principle can be practiced, the answer is that all manner of light-heartedness and all tendency to frivolity must be rooted out from the nature in order to hold that dignity which is precious to one.
So for a wise man, a certain amount of weight is required in order to live, which gives balance to his personality. Wisdom gives that weight;its absence is the mark of foolishness.
The more one studies and understands the art of personality, the more one finds that it is the ennobling of the character which is going forward towards the purpose of creation. All the different virtues, refined manners, and beautiful qualities, are the outcome of nobleness of character. But what is nobleness of character? It is the wide outlook.
There is a sense of economizing to be found more or less in every soul; and when this tendency works with those around one and those with whom one comes in contact, one develops one's personality. The desire to spare another, to have patience instead of trying his patience to the uttermost, is the tendency to economy, a higher understanding of economy. To try to spare another from using his energy in the way of thought, speech, and action, all saves his energy for the other and for oneself it is adding beauty to one's personality. A person ignorant of this in time becomes a drag upon others. He may be innocent, but he can be a nuisance; for he neither has consideration for his own energy nor thought for others.
After having acquired refinement of character, and merits and virtues that are needed in life, the personality can be finished by the waking of the sense of justice. The art of personality makes a statue, a fine specimen of art, but when the sense of justice is awakened that statue comes to life; for in the sense of justice lies the secret of the soul's unfolding. Eveyone knows the name of justice; but it is rare to find someone who really is just by nature, in whose heart the sense of justice has been awakened.
A friendly attitude, expressed in sympathetic thought, speech, and deed, is the principal thing in the art of personality. There is limitless scope to show this attitude, and however much the personality is developed in this direction, it is never too much. Spontaneity and the tendency to give, giving that which is dear to one's heart, is what shows the friendly attitude. Life in the world has its numberless obligations, towards friend and foe, towards acquaintance and stranger. One can never do too much to be conscientious in one's obligations in life and to do everything in one's power to fulfil them. To do more than one's due is perhaps beyond the power of every man, but in doing what one ought to do one does accomplish one's life purpose.
As a gift is nothing without the giver, so a charm is nothing without a personality that gives confidence to the patient. Therefore a charm written by an ordinary person has no effect; the personality of the person who writes the charm should be impressive, his piety, his spirituality, his love, his kindness, should all help to make the charm that he gives valuable and effective.
Selections from: The Privilege of Being Human by Hazrat Inayat Khan
Chapter XI - Overlooking - Darquza
One may ask: Is it practical? I may not be able to say that it is always practical, but I mean it all the same, for in the end the one who overlooks will also realize the practicality of it. Maybe he will realize it in the long run after he has met with a great many disadvantages of it. Nevertheless, all is well which ends well.
Very often overlooking costs less than taking notice of something that could well be overlooked. In life there are things which matter and there are things which do not matter. As one advances through life one finds there are many things that do not matter, and one could just as well overlook them. The one who, on a journey which takes all his life to accomplish, will take notice of everything that comes his way will waste his time. While climbing the mountain of life, the purpose of which is to reach the top, if a person troubles about everything that comes along, he will perhaps never be able to reach the top; he will always be troubling about things at the bottom. No soul, realizing that life on this earth is only four days long, will trouble about little things. He will trouble about things which really matter. In his strife with little things a person loses the opportunity of accomplishing great things in life. The one who troubles about small things is small, the soul who thinks of great things is great.
Overlooking is the first lesson of forgiveness. This tendency springs from love and sympathy; for of whom one hates one notices every little fault, but of whom one loves one naturally overlooks the faults, and very often one tries to turn the faults into merits. Life has endless things which suggest beauty, and numberless things which suggest ugliness. There is no end to the merits and no end to the faults, and according to one's evolution is one's outlook on life.
The higher a man has risen, the wider the horizon before his sight. It is the tendency to sympathize which brings the desire to overlook, and it is the analytical tendency which weighs and measures and takes good notice of everything. "Judge ye not", said Christ, "lest ye be judged". The more one thinks of this lesson, the deeper it goes into one's heart, and what one learns from it is to try and overlook all that does not fit in with one's own ideas as to how things ought to be in life, until one comes to a stage of realization where the whole of life becomes one sublime vision of the immanence of God.
Chapter XII - Graciousness - Khulq
Graciousness is quite different from that wrong manner which is termed patronizing in English. The gracious one, before expressing that noble attitude, tries to hide himself even from his own eyes. The reason why the great ones, the truly noble people, are gracious is because they are more sensitive to all the hurt and harm that comes to them from those who are unripe. Therefore, out of their kindness, they try to keep themselves from doing the same to another, however unimportant his position.
There is a story of a dervish who was standing in the royal road at the moment when the procession of the king was passing. Happy in his rags as he was, he did not at all mind who was coming, and did not move an inch at the warnings of the pages who were running ahead of the procession, until they pushed him away. Yet he did not move far, he only said, "That is why". Then came the bodyguards on horseback. They did not push him, but they said, "Away, away, dervish! Do you not see the procession coming?" The dervish did not move an inch, but only answered, "That is why". Then followed the noblemen. They saw the dervish standing there. They did not like to tell him to move, they moved their own horses instead. The dervish seeing this said, "That is why". Then arrived the chariot of the king. His eyes fell on the dervish in his rags standing boldly in the middle of the road. Instead of waiting for his bow the king bowed himself, and the dervish said, "That is why". There was a young man standing by his side who could not understand the meaning of these words "That is why", spoken by the dervish whatever way he was treated. When he asked the dervish kindly to explain what was meant by these words, the answer was, "They explain all I mean".
There is a great truth in what Christ has said in the sermon on the mount, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth". This will always prove true whatever be the time and whatever be the evolution of the world. Be it the time of aristocracy, be it the period of democracy, the value of that nobility of nature which is expressed in graciousness will always command its price. It is easy to know the word, but most difficult to practice graciousness through life, for there is no end to the thought that needs to be given to every action in life. It wants judgment and a fair sense of weighing and measuring all one does. Besides, it needs a fine sense of art and beauty, for in refining the personality one attains to the highest degree of art. Verily, the making of the personality is the highest art there is. The Sufi considers the cultivation of humane attributes, in which lies the fulfillment of the purpose of his life, as his religion.
A young man one day showed a little impatience towards his aged father, who could not hear very clearly and had asked him two, three times to tell him again what he had said. Seeing the disturbed expression on his face the father said, "My son, do you remember that there was a day when you were a little child, and asked me what was the name of a certain bird? I told you: a sparrow. You asked me perhaps fifty times, and I had the patience to repeat it again and again to you without being hurt or troubled about it; I was only pleased to tell you all I knew. Now when I cannot hear you clearly, you can at least have patience with me and, if I did not hear you the first time, explain it twice to me."
It seems that, in order to learn that noble manner of life, what is most needed is patience - sometimes in the form of endurance, sometimes in the form of consideration, and sometimes in the form of forgiveness.
Chapter XIII - Conciliation - Ittifaq
This virtue is not always learned and practiced easily, for it needs not only good-will but wisdom. The great talent of the diplomat is to bring about by agreement such results as are desirable. Disagreement is easy; among the lower creation one sees it so often. What is difficult is agreement, for it wants a wider outlook, which is the true sign of spirituality. Narrowness of outlook makes the horizon of man's vision small, and he cannot easily agree with another. There is always a meeting-ground for two people, however much they differ in their thought, but the meeting-ground may be far off, and man is not always willing to take the trouble of going far enough - as far as required in order to come to an agreement. Very often his patience does not allow him to go far enough: to where he can meet the other. What generally happens is that everyone wants the other to meet him in the place where he stands, and there is no desire on his part to move from there.
This does not mean that in order to become a real Sufi a person must give up his ideas so as to meet others in agreement. There is no benefit in always being lenient with every thought that comes from another, and there is no. benefit in always erasing one's own idea from one's heart. That is not conciliation. The one who is able to listen to another is the one who will make another listen to him. It is the one who agrees easily with another who will have the power of making another agree easily with him. Therefore in doing so one gains in spite of the apparent loss which might sometimes occur. When a man is able to see from his own point of view as well as from the point of view of another, he has a complete vision and a clear insight: he so to speak sees with both eyes.
No doubt friction produces light, but light is the agreement of atoms. When one seeks stimulus to thought it does not matter so much if two people have their own ideas and argue about them, but when a person argues for the sake of argument, the argument becomes his game; he finds no satisfaction in conciliation. Words then provide the means of disagreement, reasons become fuel for that fire. Wisdom is there where the intelligence is pliable, when one understands all things: the wrong of the right, and the right of the wrong. The soul who arrives at the perfect knowledge has risen above right and wrong; he knows them and yet he does not know. He can say much, and yet - what can he say? Then it becomes easy for him to conciliate each and all.
There is a story that two Sufis met after many years, having travelled along their own lines. They were glad to meet each other after all those years of separation, for they were both mureeds of the same Murshid. One said to the other, "Tell me, please, your life's experience. After all this time of study and practice of Sufism I have learned one thing: how to conciliate others. I can do this very well now. Will you, please, tell me what you have learned?" The other one said, "After all this time of study and practice of Sufism I have learned how to master life. All that is here in this world is for me, and I am the master; all that happens, happens by my will". Then came the Murshid whose mureeds they were, and both spoke of their experiences during their journey. The Murshid said, "Both of you are right. In the case of the first one it was self-denial in the right sense of the word which enabled him to conciliate others. In the case of the other one nothing was left of his will any more. If there was any will, it was the will of God".
The Art of Personality as a Spiritual Practice - Cherag Hamid Touchon
"The Sufis of all ages considered the art of personality of the greatest importance."... "It is the art of personality which the prophets proved with their own lives to be of the greatest importance."... "This is not a subject of which one can say that it is no better than any other. On the contrary, it is a subject of the greatest importance."
Hazrat Inayat Khan points out four key aspects in this art:
1) one's actions or body language, 2) one's speech, 3) one's thoughts, and 4) one's feelings.
1) One's actions and body language often reveal more about a person than what they say. Such behaviors as how we walk, how we hold ourselves, our facial expressions, the movement of our hands all express our personality. Thus we should consider with great care our every action and movement and spend time gaining mastery and control over our actions.
2) Next is our speech. Not only what we say but how we say it. This would include a study of the tone and rhythm of our speech, whether we speak too much or without due thoughtfulness, if what we say is in harmony with the given situation, whether our words bring peace or conflict.
3) Speech and action stem from our thought processes thus, as we engage ourselves in the study and refinement of our personality we examine our beliefs and assumptions, our thoughts and perception to see where this aspect is holding us back from a beautiful personality.
4) In examining our inner feelings which might be called the colors of our personality, we observe how our feelings effect our perception and thus our thought, speech and action. As we delve deeply into our heart, the very core of our being, we can eventually gain clarity and profundity of feeling which opens the door to intuition and inspiration thus giving our personality depth and richness. Without emotion our personality remains merely dry shades of gray.
To practice this art is merely a matter of deciding to do so and then
to use all of our circumstances in life as the canvas for our efforts.
In time our personality becomes a blessing and a comfort to all who encounter
us as the Divine manor becomes our manor and our atmosphere a source of
love and light.
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produced by Post-Dogmatist Publications copyright 1997