…People think a mystic means a dreamer, an impractical person who has no knowledge of worldly affairs. Such a mystic I would call only half a mystic. A mystic, in the full sense of the word, must have balance. He must be as wise in worldly matters as in spiritual things. People have had many misconceptions of what a mystic is. They have called a fortune-teller a mystic, or a medium, a clairvoyant, a visionary. I do not mean that a mystic does not possess all of these qualities, but these qualities do not make a mystic. A real mystic should prove to be an inspired artist, a wonderful scientist, an influential statesman. He should be just as qualified for business, industry, social and political life as is the materially minded man…
There is a difference between a philosopher, a wise man, a mystic, and a sage. From a mystical point of view, the philosopher is a person who knows the nature and character of things and beings, who has studied this, who has reasoned it out, who understands it. A wise man is he who has been the pupil of life. Life has been his teacher; and its sorrows, troubles and experiences have brought him to a certain understanding of life. A mystic, however, need not have had experience of life to teach him nor the study of life to make him intellectual enough to understand it better. The mystic is born with the mystical temperament. His language is a different language, his experience is a different experience. He, so to speak, communicates with life, with conditions, things, and beings. However, the sage has all three of these qualities. The sage is a philosopher, a wise man, a mystic, all three combined.
It is possible that a mystic may not be a philosopher. Though the mystic always has a clear vision and understanding, he may not have the philosopher’s means of expression. The difference is like that between short sight and long sight. The mystic may not see the outline of things distinctly, a philosopher may observe only the details, while the wise man may not be a philosopher but he has learned wisdom from life, and he may be different from the mystic as well.
Yet, when they arrive at the stage of the culmination of knowledge they all come closer together. For instance, I was once talking to a businessman, a man who had spent nearly 50 years of his life in commerce and had made a success of it. He had never believed in any religion, he had never studied any philosophy, except that sometimes he read the works of great poets. But after we had talked for about an hour on subjects concerning the inner life, he discovered that he was not very far from my own beliefs. He said that after all, the patience which is required to make money, the sacrifices one has to make in order to be successful, and the experiences one has to go through with those whom he works in daily business, had been, for him, both a practice and a study. I found that he was not very far from the conclusions of the wise man, the philosopher and the mystic. It is he whom I would call a wise man; for, by his wisdom, he had reached that truth which is studied by the philosopher and attained by the mystic, through meditation.
The meaning of philosophy has changed in modern times. People generally understand philosophy as that which one finds in books written by European philosophers, which are read and studied at universities. But spiritual philosophy is different; it is a different kind of knowledge, an understanding of the origin, nature, and character of things and beings. It necessitates the study of human nature, the study of conditions of life. It is the deeper insight into life which makes one a philosopher.
Mysticism is neither taught, nor learned. A mystic is born; it is a temperament, it is a certain outlook on life, a certain attitude towards life that makes a man a mystic.
His chief characteristic is that he knows the meaning of every action, whether it is by intuition or by accident, although to a mystic, nothing is an accident. Every action, every condition, everything that happens, has a meaning and a purpose. Very often, people find that a mystic has a queer temperament. He may suddenly think during the night, ‘I must go to the north,’ and in the morning, he sets out on his journey. He does not know why, he does not know what he is to accomplish there, he only knows that he must go. By going there, he finds something that he has to do and sees that it was the hand of destiny pushing him towards the accomplishment of that purpose which inspired him to go to the north. Or, a mystic will tell a person to do or not do a thing. If that person asks the reason, he cannot tell him. His feeling comes by intuition, a knowledge that comes from the world unseen; and according to that knowledge, he acts. Therefore, the mystic’s impulse is a divine impulse, and one can judge neither his action, nor his attitude. One will find that there are various aspects of the mystic temperament.
But there is a knowledge which a mystic attains by means of the head and which prepares him to find his way to the truth. Reasoning is a faculty which the mystic uses and which he may develop like any man of common sense, any practical man. The difference is only that the mystic does not stop at the first reason, but wishes to see the reason behind all reasons. Thus, in everything, whether right or wrong, the mystic seeks for the reason. The immediate answer, however, will be a reason that does not satisfy him, for he sees that behind that reason there is yet another reason. So, he progresses in the knowledge of all things, which is far greater than the knowledge gained by one thing. This is why neither wrong nor right, good nor evil, excites the mystic very much. Neither does it greatly shock or surprise him. For everything seems to him to have its own nature, and it is understanding this which makes him feel at one with all that exists. What can one wish for more in life than understanding? It is understanding that gives one harmony in the home with those near and dear to one, and peace outside the home with so many different natures and characters. If one lacks understanding, then one is poor, in spite of all that one may possess of the goods of this world, for it is understanding which gives a man riches.
If life could be pictured, one would say that it reminds one of the sea in a storm, the waves coming and going – such is life. It is the understanding of this which gives man the weight which enables him to endure through rain, storm and all vicissitudes. Without understanding, he is like a jolly-boat on the sea which cannot weather the storm. Through understanding, a mystic learns. He learns tact; he is tactful under all circumstances, and his tact is like a heavily laden ship that the wind cannot capsize, riding steady in the midst of the storm.
The nature of life is such that it easily excites the mind and makes man unhappy in an instant. It makes man so confused that he does not know where to take the next step. In contrast with this, the mystic stands still and inquires of life its secret; and from every experience, from every failure or success, the mystic learns a lesson. Thus, both failure and success are profitable to him.
The ideal of a mystic is never to think of disagreeable things. What one does not want to happen one should not think about. A mystic erases from his mind all the disagreeable things of the past. He collects and keeps his happy experiences, and out of them, he makes a paradise. Are there not many unhappy people who keep part of the past before them, causing them pain in their heart? Past is past; it is gone. There is eternity before us. If we want to make our life as we wish it to be, we should not think disagreeable thoughts and ponder over painful experiences and memories that make us unhappy.
It is for this reason that, to some extent, life becomes easy for the mystic to deal with. For he knows every heart, every nature. Those who are untouched by the mystic’s secret suffer from their difficulties, both at home and outside. They dread the presence of people they do not understand; they want to run away from them. And if they cannot escape, they feel as if they are in the mouth of a dragon, and perhaps they are placed in a situation that cannot easily be changed. The consequence is that they heap confusion upon confusion. How very often one sees that when two people do not understand one another, a third comes and helps them to do so, and the light thrown upon them causes greater harmony! The mystic says that whether it be agreeable or disagreeable, if you are in a certain situation, make the best of it and try to understand how to deal with such a situation. A life without such understanding is like a dark room which contains everything you wish – it is all there, but there is no light.
The world is, after all, a wonderful place, in spite of so many souls wishing to leave it. For there is nothing that cannot be obtained in this world. Everything is there, all things good and beautiful, all things precious and worthwhile. They are all there, if only one knows their nature, their character and how to attain them.
If you ask some people what is the nature of life, they will say, ‘The farther we go in striving for happiness, the farther we are removed from it.’ This is true. But the one who does not know that unhappiness does not really exist, takes the wrong way. Besides, happiness is more natural than unhappiness, as good is more natural than evil, and health than illness. Yet, man is so pessimistic. If we tell him how good someone is, he cannot believe this to be true; but if we tell him how bad a person is, he will readily believe it.
The work of a mystic, therefore, is to study life. To the mystic, life is not a stage play or an entertainment. For the mystic, life is a school in which to learn, every moment of one’s life. It is a continual study. And the scripture of the mystic is human nature. Every morning he turns a new page of this scripture. The books of the great ones who have brought the Message to the world from time to time, which became sacred scriptures and were read for thousands of years, generations of people taking their spiritual food from them – are the interpretations that they gave of this scripture which is human nature. That is why all the sacred scriptures always have the same sacred feeling.
The mystic respects all religions, and he understands all the different and contradictory ideas, for he understands everyone’s language. The mystic can agree, without having to dispute, with both the wise and the foolish. For he sees that the nature of facts is such that they are true in their own place and he understands every aspect of their nature. The mystic sees from every point of view. He sees from the point of view of each person, and that is why he is harmonious with all. A man comes to a mystic and says, ‘I cannot believe in a personal God, it means nothing to me.’ Then, the mystic answers, ‘You are quite right.’ Another man says, ‘The only way of making God intelligible is in the form of man.’ The mystic says, ‘You are right.’ And another person says, ‘How foolish of these people to make of this man a God; God is above comprehension.’ And the mystic will agree with him, too. For a mystic understands the reason behind all the opposing arguments.
Once a missionary came to a Sufi in Persia, desiring to have a discussion and to prove his opinion on some Sufi teaching. The Sufi was sitting there in his silent, quiet attitude, with two or three of his pupils at his side. The missionary brought up some arguments, and the mystic answered, ‘You are right.’ Then the man went on to dispute, but the Sufi only said, ‘That is quite true.’ The man was very disappointed, as there was no opportunity for argument. The Sufi saw the truth in all.
The truth is like a piano. The notes may be high or low, one may strike a C or an E, but they are all notes. So, the difference between ideas is like that between notes. It is the same in daily life with the right and the wrong attitude. If we have the wrong attitude, then all things are wrong. If we have the right attitude, then all things are right. The man who mistrusts himself will mistrust even his best friend. The man who trusts himself will trust everyone.
Things which seem to be apart, such as right and wrong, light and darkness, form and shadow, to the mystic appear so close that only a hair’s breadth divides right and wrong. Before the mystic, there opens an outlook on life, an outlook that discloses the purpose of life. The question the mystic puts to himself is, ‘Which is my being? The body? No. This body is my possession. I cannot be that which I possess.’ He asks himself, ‘Is it my mind?’ The answer comes, ‘No. The mind is something I possess, it is something I witness. There must be a difference between the knower and the known.’ By this method, the Sufi eventually comes to an understanding of the illusory character of all he possesses. It is like a man who has a coat made. It is his coat, but it is not himself.
Then the mystic begins to think, ‘It is not myself who thinks, it is the mind. It is the body which suffers, not myself.’ It is a kind of liberation for him to know, ‘I am not my mind.’ For an ordinary man wonders why one moment he has a good thought, another moment a bad thought; one moment an earthly thought, the next moment a thought of heaven. Life for him is like a moving picture in which it is he who sees and it is he who is dancing there.
By seeing this, the mystic liberates his real self, which owing to his illusion, was buried under mind and body – what people call a ‘lost soul,’ a soul who was not aware of the mystical truth that body and mind are the vehicles by which to experience life. It is in this way that the mystic begins his journey towards immortality…
Excerpted from The Sufi Mysticism of Hazrat Inayat Khan, Volume X