By Hazrat Inayat Khan
Religion in the ordinary sense of the word, as known by the world, is the creeds. There are not many religions in the world, but there are many creeds. And what does creed mean? Creed means a cover over the religion. There is one religion and there are many covers. Each of these covers is called 'Christianity,' 'Buddhism,' 'Hebrew Religion,' 'Muslim Religion,' etc., and when you take off these covers, you will find that there is one religion, and it is that religion which is the religion of the Sufi. And at the same time, a Sufi does not condemn a church or creed or a certain form of worship. He says it is the world of variety. Everyone must have his choice of food, his choice of dress, his choice of expression. Why must the followers of one faith think that the others are heathens or pagans? The Sufi thinks that we all follow one religion, only in different names and different forms; but behind names and forms there is one and the same spirit and there is one and the same truth. But the pity is that the orthodox priests and clergy disagree among themselves about it […]
I began to study the Bible in my early youth and my devotion towards Christ and the Bible was as great as that of any Christian or perhaps more. And so it is with all Scriptures. If you have sympathy, if you have interest in all you study and read, then it is living, then it inspires you, you are benefited by it because of your love for truth. The same truth is common to all, but the tendency of the academic study of religion is to find where is the difference. They would be most interested in knowing where Christianity differs from Buddhism and where the Jewish religion differs from Islam. Their interest is in the difference instead of being interested in the synthesis, where we meet. It is in the meeting ground of different faiths that there is the sacred place of pilgrimage. In India, in order to teach this idea, they have made a place of pilgrimage where two rivers meet. When there is one river, they call it sacred but the most sacred place is where two rivers meet. It is the same thought that every stream of Divine Wisdom which we call religion is sacred, but most sacred it is there where two streams meet. And when we realize that, we make the real pilgrimage in the spirit.
And now coming to the idea of what religion consists of. The first thing in the religion is the idea of God. What is God? Some say that 'my idea of God is that He is in the highest Heaven, that He is the Creator, that He is the Judge of the Last Day, that He is the Forgiver.' And there is another one who says: 'My idea is that God is all, God is abstract, all is God, and if anyone believes in a personal God, I do not believe it.' Both are right and yet both are wrong. They are right if they see the other point of view and they are wrong if they see their own point of view. Both see the God-ideal with one eye. One sees it with the right eye and the other with the left eye. If they see with both eyes, then the vision is complete. It is indeed an error on the part of man to limit God in the idea of a Personal Being, and it is wrong in the person who believes in the Absolute God, to efface the Being of god from his conception of it. As they say: 'To explain God is to dethrone God.' To say that God is abstract is like saying: 'God is the space, God is the time.' Can you love the space? Can you love time? There is nothing there to love. A beautiful flower would attract you more than the space. And nice music will attract you more than time. Therefore the believer in the abstract God has only his belief, but he is not benefited by it. He may just as well believe in no God as in an abstract God. Yet he is not wrong. He is uselessly right. The most advisable thing for the believer of God is to first make his own conception of God. Naturally man cannot make a conception which he does not know, of something he does not know. For instance, if I told you to imagine a bird that you have never seen, which is unlike any bird you have ever seen, you will first attach the bird to wings, then you will see the head of the cow, and then perhaps you will imagine the feet of the horse, the peacock's tail. But you cannot imagine any form which you have not seen, which you have not known. You have to embody from your mind a form which you already know. You cannot make a conception which you have never seen or known before. Besides, it is the easiest thing and it is the most natural thing for man to conceive of any being in his own form. When man thinks of fairies or angels he sees them in human form, and therefore it a person conceives of the God-ideal, even the highest and best way of conceiving will be in the highest and best human personality. There is nothing wrong about it. That is all that man can do. God is greater than man's conception, but man cannot conceive Him higher than he can. Therefore any man's God is in his own conception. It is useless, therefore, to argue and to discuss and to urge one's own conception upon another. For the best way a person can think of God is in the way he is capable of thinking of God.
And then the next aspect of religion is the ideal of the Teacher. One says that: 'My Teacher is the Savior of the world, the Savior of humanity. My Teacher is Divine, My teacher is God Himself.' And there is another who is ready to oppose it, saying that it is not true, no man can be called divine and no one can save the world, each one has to save himself. But if you look at it from the Sufi's point of view, the Sufi says: What does it matter if a man sees in someone he adores and worships and idealizes, God himself? After all, this whole manifestation is God's manifestation. If he says that in that particular Teacher he sees the Divine, there is nothing wrong about it. Let him call his Teacher Divinity. I am sorry for the one who does not call his Teacher the Savior.' Besides that, we each have an effect of our deeds on the whole cosmos and if a high soul was called by someone 'the Savior of the World,' it is not an exaggeration. One wicked soul can cause such harm to the whole cosmos, and one holy soul by his life on earth can do so much good, directly and indirectly, to each being in the world, because each soul is connected with the whole cosmos. But for the Sufi there is no dispute about it. If a Buddhist says: 'Buddha is my Savior, if a Christian says 'Christ is divine,' if a Muslim says 'Muhammad was the seal of the Prophets,' if a Hindu says 'Krishna was the expression of God,' the Sufi says: 'You are all justified; you each have your name, individually or collectively. You are calling my Ideal. All these names are the name of my Ideal. You each have your own ideals. I have all these names as the name of my Ideal. I call my Beloved: Krishna, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad. Therefore, all your ideals I love, because my ideal is one and the same.'
And now comes the third idea in religion, and that is the idea of the form of worship. Perhaps in one religion there are candles lighted and there is a form of worship. And there is another religion, even a song is not allowed to be sung in the church. In another religion they call out the name of God and pray to the Lord with movements. In another religion they have put a statue of Buddha on the altar as the sign of peace. These are different expressions of devotion. Just as in the Western countries by nodding and in the Eastern countries by raising their hands, they salute one another. It is the same feeling, but the action is different. What does it matter if one greets in this way or in that way, is it not all a greeting? The Sufi says, so long as there is real devotion, it does not matter in what way it is expressed. For him it is the same.
Once I was traveling from England to the United States, and on the ship on Sunday there was a Protestant service, which I attended; and everyone thought I was a Protestant. Then there was a Catholic service and when I went to the Catholic service, people began to look at me, doubting if I was a Catholic or a Protestant. After that, there was a Jewish service and when I went, they began to think that, if I was a Rabbi, why did I go to all these services? To me every one of these services was an expression of devotion, for me they were not different. The form makes no difference, it is our feeling. When our feeling is right, if we are in the church or on the market-place or in the simple nature or in our own house, we always will express our sincere devotion. Therefore a Sufi's form of prayer is all forms of prayer and in every form he feels that exaltation which is the principal thing to experience in religious life.