Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

The Heart of Sufism

The Heart of Sufism

by H.J. Witteveen, H. J. Witteveen

See All Formats & Editions

The Indian Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882–1927) was the very first teacher to bring Sufism to the Western world. This is the first representative collection of the master's teachings – making it the perfect book for anyone who has been intrigued by his writings but unsure about where to start in his sixteen-volume collected works. Newcomers will be


The Indian Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882–1927) was the very first teacher to bring Sufism to the Western world. This is the first representative collection of the master's teachings – making it the perfect book for anyone who has been intrigued by his writings but unsure about where to start in his sixteen-volume collected works. Newcomers will be inspired by just how delightful and useful Inayat Khan's teachings are for everyone, regardless of religious background. Long-time students will find the book a valuable reference to the essence of his teachings on a variety of subjects. Each chapter includes a wealth of material taken from Inayat Khan's work on a particular subject, such as Mysticism, Discipleship, Music, Children, or Divine Intimacy, followed by a selection of his short sayings and aphorisms on the same topic.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1910, when Sufi master Khan left India to travel to Europe and America with the hopes of introducing Sufism to the West, his teacher told him: "Harmonize the East and West with the harmony of your music. Spread the wisdom of Sufism abroad, for to this end you are gifted by Allah." For the next 15 years, Khan lectured widely in the West, and he began to achieve the goals he had set for himself. Witteveen, executive supervisor of the International Sufi Movement, distills the core of Khan's spirituality from the Sufi master's 16-volume collected works. Included in this collection are Khan's teachings on the great Sufi poet, Rumi, the "mysticism of religion," "mental purification," "music and sound," "health and healing" and "the art of personality." On mysticism: "It is not by self-realization that man realizes God; it is by God-realization that man realizes self." On mental purification: "Sympathy breaks the congestion of the heart." On health: "A clean body reflects the purity of the soul, and is the secret of health. It is the purity of the soul itself that gives the tendency towards cleanliness of body." Witteveen's excellent anthology provides a thoughtful introduction to Khan's writings and to Sufism. (Feb.)
An anthology of excerpts from the multi-volume collected works based on the oral teachings of the prophetic mystic and musician Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927), who left his native India in 1910 to introduce Sufism to the Western world. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknew.com)
From the Publisher
"Inayat Khan brought one of the strongest and sweetest lineages from India to the West: the music and open heart of Sufism as it blends with Persian poetry and Western intellect. He is a source and a great joy." –Coleman Barks, author of Open Secret and The Essential Rumi

Product Details

Publication date:
Sold by:
Penguin Random House Publisher Services
File size:
642 KB

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


There are three principal schools of philosophical thought in the East: Sufism, Vedantism and Buddhism. The Sufi school of thought was that of the prophets of Beni Israel: Abraham, Moses, David, Jonah and others, Zarathustra, Christ, Muhammad; these and other prophets came from that part of the world which includes Syria, Arabia, Persia, Egypt, and what is now Turkey and southeast Russia.

    Sufism is the ancient school of wisdom, of quietism, and it has been the origin of many cults of a mystical and philosophical nature. Its roots can be traced to the school which existed in Egypt and from which source all the different esoteric schools have come. Sufism has always represented that school and has worked out its destiny in the realm of quietude.

    In the different schools the ideal remained the same, although the methods varied. The main ideal of every Sufi school has been to attain that perfection which Jesus Christ has taught in the Bible, "Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." The method of the Sufis has always been that of self-effacement. But which self? Not the real, but the false self upon which man depends, and upon which he prides himself as being something special; and by effacing this false self he allows that real Self to manifest in the world of appearance. Thus the Sufi method works towards the unfoldment of the soul, that Self which is eternal and to which all power and beauty belong.

    The Sufi sees the one truth in all forms. If anyone asks a Sufi to come and offerprayer in the Christian church, he is ready to do so. If someone would like to take him to the synagogue and ask him to pray as the Jews do, he would be quite willing; and among Muslims he will offer nimaz as they do. In the Hindu temple he sees the same God, the living God, in the place of the idol; and the temple of Buddha inspires him instead of blinding him with idolatry. Yet his true mosque will be his heart in which the Beloved lives, who is worshiped by both Muslim and Kufr alike.

    At the present time the object of the Sufi Movement is to bring about a better understanding among individuals, nations, and races; and to give help to those who are seeking after truth. Its central theme is to produce the consciousness of the divinity of the human soul; and towards this end the Sufi teaching is given.

    It is not only the misunderstanding between East and West or between Christians and Muslims which has brought Sufism to the West, but the misunderstandings among Christians themselves and between individuals in general. Sufism, as a school, has come from the East to the West, but Sufism as a message has come from above to the earth; and in that sense Sufism belongs neither to the East nor to the West. The Sufi esoteric school has behind it the tradition of the ancient Sufi schools which existed in all the various periods, but the Sufi message has its own tradition. It is more than a school: it is life itself. It is the answer to the cry of the whole of humanity.

    Sufism is a religion if one wants to learn religion from it; it is a philosophy if one wants to learn wisdom from it; it is mysticism if one wishes to be guided by it in the unfoldment of the soul. And yet it is beyond all these things. It is the light, it is the life which is the sustenance of every soul, and which raises a mortal being to immortality. It is the message of love, harmony, and beauty. It is a divine message. It is the message of the time; and the message of the time is an answer to the call of every soul. The message, however, is not in its words, but in the divine light and life which heals the souls, bringing to them the calm and peace of God.

    Sufism is neither deism nor atheism, for deism means a belief in a God far away in the heavens, and atheism means being without belief in God. The Sufi believes in God. In which God? In the God from whom he has become separated, the God within him and outside him; as it is said in the Bible, we live and move and have our being in God. That teaching is the teaching of the Sufis.

    The Sufi believes in God as the idealized Self within the true life, as the collective Consciousness, and also as the Lord of both worlds, the Master of the day of judgment, the Inspirer of the right path, and the One from whom all has come and to whom all will return.

    In reality there cannot be many religions; there is only one. There cannot be two truths; there cannot be two masters. As there is only one God and one religion, so there is only one master and only one truth. The weakness of man has always been that he only considers as truth that to which he is accustomed, and anything he has not been accustomed to hear or to think frightens him. Like a person in a strange land, away from home, the soul is a stranger to the nature of things it is not accustomed to. But the journey towards perfection means rising above limitations; rising so high that not the horizon of one country or of one continent only is seen, but that of the whole world. The higher we rise, the wider becomes the horizon of our view.

Sufi Message 8:18-19, 20-21

* * *

Sufi Poetry

Jelaluddin Rumi

There is no poet in the world who is not a mystic. A poet is a mystic whether consciously or unconsciously, for no one can write poetry without inspiration, and when a poet touches the profound depths of the spirit, struck by some aspect of life, he brings forth a poem as a diver brings forth a pearl.

    In this age of materialism and ever-growing commercialism, man seems to have lost the way of inspiration. During my travels I was asked by a well-known writer whether it is really true that there is such a thing as inspiration. This gave me an idea of how far nowadays some writers and poets are removed from inspiration. It is the materialism of the age which is responsible for this; if a person has a tendency towards poetry or music, as soon as he begins to write something his first thought is, "Will it catch on or not? What will be its practical value?" And generally what catches on is that which appeals to the average man. In this way culture is going downward instead of upward.

    When the soul of the poet is intoxicated by the beauty of nature and the harmony of life, it is moved to dance; and the expression of the dance is poetry. The difference between inspired poetry and mechanical writing is as great as the difference between true and false. For long ages the poets of Persia have left a wonderful treasure of thought for humanity. Jelaluddin Rumi has revealed in his Masnavi the mystery of profound revelation. In the East his works are considered as sacred as holy scriptures. They have illuminated numberless souls, and the study of his work can be considered to belong to the highest standard of culture.

The poetry of Jelaluddin Rumi has made the greatest impression upon humanity. In the beginning he was inspired by Fariduddin Attar. Although Jelaluddin Rumi was a highly educated man who had the gift of speech, yet his soul was waiting for an enlightenment, which came in the latter part of his life. Then Shams-e-Tabriz, a dervish, entered his life, a man in rags, showing no learned qualifications recognizable by the world, and yet he was in tune with the infinite and, to speak in religious terms, had gained the kingdom of God.

    This man happened to come to the home of Rumi, who welcomed him as was his habit. Rumi was working on a manuscript, and the first thing Shams-e-Tabriz did was to throw the manuscript away. Rumi looked at him in wonder. Shams-e-Tabriz said, "Haven't you had enough of reading and study? Now study life instead of a book!"

    Rumi respectfully listened to the words of Shams-e-Tabriz, who said, "All things which seem of importance, what are they on the day when you depart? What is rank, what is power, what is position? A far greater problem is what will go with you, for the solution of that problem will lead you to eternity. The problems of this world, you may solve them and solve them, yet they are never finished. What have you understood about God, about man? What relationship have you found between man and God? If you worship God, why do you worship Him? What is limitation, what is perfection? And how can one seek for it?"

    After this conversation, Rumi realized that it is not learning but living the knowledge that counts. For he had read much, and he had thought much, but he suddenly saw that what is important is not saying but being. When he realized this, and after Shams-e-Tabriz had left, he wrote a verse, "The King of the earth and of heaven, of whom people have spoken, today I have seen in the form of man." For he saw how wide can be the heart of man, how deeply the soul of man can be touched, and how high the spirit of man can reach.

    Rumi then followed this dervish. And everyone in his family and also his friends were against this, because to ordinary people a mystic is a queer individual who is not of this world and whose ideas are unusual. The language of the mystic is quite different; his ways are strange; his ideas do not correspond with the ideas of the practical man. Naturally they thought Rumi was going backward instead of forward.

    Rumi had to give up his position, and wandered from place to place with Shams-e-Tabriz. After he had followed Shams-e-Tabriz for several months, everyone blaming him for this action, one day the Master disappeared. This left Rumi in very great sorrow; on the one hand he had given up his position and his work, and on the other the teacher whom he followed had left him. But this was his initiation; for Rumi, this was the birth of the soul. From that moment, he looked at life from quite a different point of view.

    The result of this impression was that for a long period of time Jelaluddin Rumi experienced a kind of ecstasy, and during this ecstasy he wrote the Divan of Shams-e-Tabriz. For, owing to the oneness he had achieved with the heart of his teacher, he began to see all that his teacher had thought and spoken of; and for that reason he did not call it his book, but he called it his teacher's book. And his heart, which had listened to his master so attentively, became a reproducing and recording machine. All that had once been spoken began to repeat itself, and Rumi experienced a wonderful upliftment, a great joy and exaltation. In order to make this exaltation complete, Rumi began to write verses, and the singers used to sing them; and when Rumi heard these beautiful verses sung by the singers with their rabab, the Persian musical instrument, he experienced the stage known to Yogis as samadhi, which in Persian is called wajad.

    Man today has become so material that he is afraid of any experience except that of the senses. He believes that only what he can experience through the senses is a real experience, and that which is not experienced by the senses is something unbalanced, something to be afraid of; it means going into deep waters, something abnormal, at the least an untrodden path. Very often man is afraid that he might fall into a trance, or have a feeling which is unusual, and thinks that those who experience such things are fanatics who have gone out of their minds. But it is not so. Thought belongs to the mind, feeling to the heart. Why should one believe that thought is right and feeling is wrong?

    All the different experiences of meditative people are of thought and feeling, but the poet who receives inspiration experiences a joy which others cannot experience. It is a joy which belongs to inspiration, and the poet knows it. A composer after having composed his music is filled with a certain joy, a certain upliftment others do not know. Does a poet or musician lose his mind by this? On the contrary, he becomes more complete. He experiences a wider, deeper, keener, fuller life than the life which others live. A life of sensation lacks the experience of exaltation. Even religious prayers, rituals, and ceremonies were intended to produce exaltation, for it is one of the needs of life; exaltation is as necessary, or perhaps even more so, as the cultivation of thought.

    Rumi had many disciples seeking guidance from him. Through his deep sorrow and bewilderment he achieved another outlook; his vision became different. At that time he wrote his most valuable work, which is studied in all the countries of the East: it is called Masnavi-i Ma'navi, and it is a living scripture in itself which has enlightened numberless souls. It has led the sincere seeker as far as he was able to go, and yet it is so simple; there is no complexity, there are no dogmas, no principles, no great moral teachings, no expressions of piety. What he wrote is the law of life, and he has expressed that law in a kind of word-picture.

    In this work Rumi tried to show the mystic vision and to explain in verse what the prophetic mission means. In the Western world, many have never even thought about the subject of the prophet and his work in the world. What they know about prophets is only what is told in the Old Testament about those who prepared the world for the message of Jesus Christ. But what Rumi wished to explain about prophethood was the meaning of Jesus' words, "I am Alpha and Omega." Rumi wished to express that the One who is first and last was, and is, and ever will be, and that we should not limit Him to one period of history.

    Then Rumi explains that the words of the prophet are the words of God Himself; he takes as an example the flute of reed, which is open at one end while the other end is in the mouth of the musician, the player. He wished to show that at one end of the flute are the lips of the prophet, and that at the other end is to be heard the voice of God. For the Muslims have never called the message given by the Prophet the message of Muhammad; they always speak of Kalam-ullah, which means the Word of God. The person of the Prophet is not mentioned, and that is why the Muslims also never call their religion Muhammadanism, but Islam, or "peace." They are even offended if one calls their religion the Muhammadan religion; they say, "The Prophet was the instrument through which God expressed Himself; God is capable of speaking through any instrument; all are His instruments. It is the spirit of God which must be brought forward."

    The original words of Rumi are so deep, so perfect, so touching, that when one man repeats them, hundreds and thousands of people are moved to tears. They cannot help penetrating the heart. This shows how much Rumi himself was moved to have been able to pour out such living words. Many wanted to consider him a prophet, but he said, "No, I am not a prophet; I am a poet." When Hafiz wrote about Rumi, he said, "I am not capable of writing about the verses of Rumi. What I can say is that he is not a prophet, but he is the one who brought the Sacred Book." In other words, he wanted to say that in fact he was a prophet.

    No poet of Persia has given such a wonderful picture of metaphysics, of the path of evolution, and of higher realization as Rumi, although the form of his poetry is not so beautiful as that of Hafiz. Explaining about the soul, Rumi says, "The melodious music that comes as a cry from the heart of the flute of reed brings to you a message: The flute wants to say, 'I was taken away from the stem to which I belonged, I was cut apart from that stem, and several holes were made in my heart. And it is this that made me sad; and my cry appeals to every human being.'" By the flute he means the soul; the soul which has been cut apart from its origin, from the stem, the stem which is God. And the constant cry of the soul, whether it knows it or not, is to find again that stem from which it has been cut apart. It is this longing which those who do not understand interpret as due to lack of wealth or position or worldly ambitions; but those who understand find the real meaning of this longing, and that is to come nearer, closer to the Source, as the reed longs to find its stem.

    The difference between Jelaluddin Rumi's work and the work of the great Hafiz of Persia is that Hafiz has pictured the outer life, whereas Rumi has pictured the inner life. And if I were to compare the three greatest poets of Persia, I would call Sa'di the body of the poet, Hafiz the heart of the poet, and Rumi the soul of the poet.

Sufi Message 10: 126, 127, 137-141

* * *

The Alchemy of Happiness

The soul in the Sanskrit language and in the terms of Vedanta is called atman, which means happiness or bliss itself-not that happiness belongs to the soul, but the soul itself is happiness. Today we often confuse happiness with pleasure. Pleasure is only an illusion of happiness, a shadow of happiness, and in this delusion man perhaps passes his whole life, seeking after pleasure, and never finding satisfaction. There is a Hindu saying that man looks for pleasure and gets pain. Every pleasure which is seeming happiness in outward appearance promises happiness, for it is the shadow of happiness, but just as the shadow of a person is not the person and yet represents the form of the person, so pleasure represents happiness but is not so in reality.

    According to this idea, one finds that there are rarely souls in this world who know what happiness is; they are constantly disappointed in one thing after another. But the nature of life in the world is such; it is so deluding that, if man were disappointed a thousand times, he would still take the same path, for he knows no other. The more we study life, the more we realize how rarely there is a soul who can honestly say, "I am happy." Almost every soul, whatever his life's position, will say that he is unhappy in some way or another, and if you ask for a reason he will say perhaps, "I cannot attain to the position, power, property, possessions, or rank for which I have worked for years." He is craving for money, perhaps, and does not realize that possessions give no satisfaction; or perhaps he says he has enemies, or those whom he loves do not love him; there are a thousand excuses for unhappiness that the reasoning mind will make.

    But is even one of these excuses ever entirely correct? Do you think even if people gained their desires they would be happy? If they possessed all, would these things suffice? No, for still they would find some excuse for unhappiness; and all these excuses are as coverings before man's eyes, for deep within is the yearning for the true happiness, which none of these things can give. The one who is really happy is happy everywhere: in a palace or a cottage, in riches or poverty, for he has discovered the fountain of happiness which is situated in his own heart. So long as a person has not found that fountain, nothing will give him real happiness. The man who does not know the secret of happiness often develops avarice. He wants thousands, and when he gets them they do not satisfy; and he wants millions, and still he is not satisfied—he wants more and more. If you give him your sympathy and service, he is still unhappy; all you possess is not enough—even your love does not help him, for he is seeking in a wrong direction, and life itself becomes a tragedy.

    Happiness cannot be bought or sold, nor can you give it to a person who has not got it. Happiness is in your own being, your own self, that self that is the most precious thing in life. All religions, all philosophical systems, have taught man in different forms how to find it by the religious path or the mystical way, and all the wise ones have in some form or another given a method by which the individual can find that happiness for which the soul is seeking.

    Sages and mystics have called this process alchemy. The stories of the Arabian Nights which symbolize these mystical ideas, are full of the belief that there is a philosopher's stone that will turn metals into gold by a chemical process. No doubt this symbolic idea has deluded men both in the East and West: many have thought that a process exists by which gold can be produced. But this is not the idea of the wise; the pursuit after gold is for those who are as yet children. For those who have the consciousness of reality, gold stands for light or spiritual inspiration. Gold represents the color of light, and therefore an unconscious pursuit after light has made man seek for gold. But there is a great difference between real gold and false. It is the longing for true gold that makes man collect the imitation gold, ignorant that the real gold is within. He satisfies the craving of his soul in this way, as a child satisfies itself by playing with dolls.

    But a man does not depend upon age for this realization. A person may have reached an advanced age and be still playing with dolls: his soul may be involved in the search for this imitation gold, while another in youth may begin to see life in its real aspect. If one studied the transitory nature of life in the world, how changeable it is, and the constant craving of everyone for happiness, one would certainly endeavor, whatever happened, to find something one could depend upon. Man placed in the midst of this ever changing world yet appreciates and seeks for constancy somewhere—he does not know that he must develop in himself the nature of constancy; the nature of the soul is to value that which is dependable. But think, is there anything in the world on which one can depend, which is above change and destruction? All that is born, all that is made, must one day face destruction. All that has a beginning has also an end; and if there is anything one can depend upon, it is hidden in the heart of man. It is the divine spark, the true philosopher's stone, the real gold, which is the innermost being of man.

    A person who follows a religion, and has not come to the realization of truth, of what use is his religion to him if he is not happy? Religion does not mean depression and sadness. The spirit of religion must give happiness. God is happy. He is the perfection of love, harmony, and beauty. A religious person must be happier than the one who is not religious. If a person who professes religion is always melancholy, in this way religion is disgraced; the form has been kept, but the spirit is lost. If the study of religion and mysticism does not lead to real joy and happiness, it may just as well not exist, for it does not help to fulfill the purpose of life. The world today is sad and suffering as the result of the terrible war [World War I.—Ed.]. The religion which answers the demand of life today is that method of morals which invigorates and gives life to souls, which illuminates the heart of man with the divine light which is already there, not necessarily by the outer form, although for some a form is helpful, but by the first necessity of showing forth that happiness which is the desire of every soul.

    Now as to the question of how this method of alchemy is practiced, the whole process was explained by the alchemists in a symbolical way. They say gold is made out of mercury. The nature of mercury is to be ever moving, but by a certain process the mercury is first stilled, and once stilled it becomes silver; the silver then has to be melted, and on to the melted silver the juice of an herb is poured, and then the melted silver turns into gold. Of course this method is given in outline, but there is a detailed explanation of the whole process. Many child-souls have tried to make gold by stilling mercury and melting silver; they have tried to find the herb, but they were deluded. They had better have worked and earned money.

    The real interpretation of this process is that mercury represents the nature of the ever restless mind. This is realized especially when a person tries to concentrate; the mind is like a restive horse—when it is ridden it is more restive, when in the stable less restive. Such is the nature of mind: it becomes more restless when you desire to control it. It is like mercury, constantly moving.

    When, by a method of concentration, one has mastered the mind, one has taken the first step in the accomplishment of a sacred task. Prayer is concentration, reading is concentration, sitting and relaxing and thinking on one subject are all concentration. All artists, thinkers, and inventors have practiced concentration in some form; they have given their minds to one thing and, by focusing on one object, have developed the faculty of concentration. But for stilling the mind a special method is necessary and is taught by the mystic, just as singing is taught by the teacher of voice production. The secret is to be learned in the science of breath.

    Breath is the essence of life, the center of life; and the mind, which is more difficult to control than a restive horse, may be controlled by a knowledge of the proper method of breathing. For this, instruction from a teacher is a necessity. Since the mystical cult of the East has become known in the West, books have been published, and teaching, which had been kept as sacred as religion, has been discussed in words which cannot truly explain the mystery of that which is the center of man's very being. People read the books and begin to play with breath, and often instead of receiving benefit they injure both mind and body. There are also those who make a business of teaching breathing exercises for money, and so degrade a sacred thing. The science of breath is the greatest mystery there is, and for thousands of years in the schools of the mystics it has been kept as a sacred trust.

    When the mind is under complete control and no longer restless, one can hold a thought at will as long as one wishes. This is the beginning of phenomena; some abuse these privileges, and by dissipating the power, before turning the silver into gold, they destroy the silver. The silver must be heated before it can melt, and with what? With that warmth which is the divine essence in the heart of man, which comes forth as love, tolerance, sympathy, service, humility, unselfishness, in a stream which rises and falls in a thousand drops, each drop of which could be called a virtue, all coming from that one stream hidden in the heart of man—the love element. When it glows in the heart, the actions, the movements, the tones of the voice, the expression, all show that the heart is warm. The moment this happens, the man really lives; he has unsealed the spring of happiness which overcomes all that is jarring and inharmonious: the spring has established itself as a divine stream.

    After the heart is warmed by the divine element, which is love, the next stage is the herb, which is the love of God; but the love of God alone is not sufficient—knowledge of God is also necessary. It is the absence of knowledge of God which makes man leave his religion, because there is a limit to man's patience. Knowledge of God strengthens man's belief in God, throws light on the individual and on life. Things become clear; every leaf on a tree becomes as a page of a holy book to one whose eyes are open to the knowledge of God. When the juice of the herb of divine love is poured onto the heart, warmed by the love of his fellowman, then that heart becomes the heart of gold, the heart that expresses what God would express. Man has not seen God, but man has then seen God in man, and when this is so, then verily everything that comes from such a man comes from God Himself.

Sufi Message 6 (REV. ED.):9-13

* * *

The stilling of the heart is the true alchemy
which turns mercury into silver.

Complete Sayings, 370

* * *

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Inayat Khan brought one of the strongest and sweetest lineages from India to the West: the music and open heart of Sufism as it blends with Persian poetry and Western intellect. He is a source and a great joy." –Coleman Barks, author of Open Secret and The Essential Rumi

Meet the Author

Hazrat Inayat Khan was trained as a musician and a Sufi of the Chishti order and gave concert tours of Indian classical music in the United States and Europe.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews