Saturday, December 17, 2011

Inspiration from the Life of..

Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan

In December of 2005, in the midst of a spiritual crisis, I made a phone call to a private residence on the west side of Knoxville, TN. At the time I was serving two small churches in the United Methodist Tennessee Conference. That phone call benchmarks my introduction to the Sufi Order International and encounter with the teaching and life of Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan. Since that time Inayat Khan, as teacher and companion, has given me inspiration and a spiritual vessel in which to hold and expand my spiritual practice and religious ritual and healing work with others.

On the fifth of July 1882 Inayat Khan was born into a family of renowned Indian musicians from Baroda, India. Inayat Khan’s father, Rahmet Khan, was also an accomplished musician and dhrupad singer. Many musicians, poets, and philosophers both Muslim and Hindu met in Khan’s house. In this atmosphere Inayat Khan’s childhood and early youth was inspired, universal, and open to all beyond distinctions and differences. Thus from the beginning he was open to all religions. (“The Inner Life”, Foreword PG vii)

The Universal aspect of Inayat Khan’s teaching has been the model of religious dialogue I have sought to practice in my work as a chaplain and spiritual companion. Applying this universality I have worked to meet all people on their own terms. I strive to relay outwardly my respect for their traditions and beliefs seeking all the while to hold sacred space and time. Inayat Khan’s life and teachings have served as a guide and ideal for me in those situations where the people I serve hold spiritual beliefs and religious practices different from my own.

In my studies of Inayat Khan’s life and spiritual path I have discovered a period in Murshid’s life of tremendous challenge and difficulty. Sometime around his fourteenth year Inayat Khan endured the deaths of three significant figures in his young life, a beloved grandfather, his mother, and his spiritual teacher and mentor. As a result of these losses and the emotional strain over a short period- Inayat resigned his post as the court musician and singer for the nazim in the Maharaj of Hyderabad. “More and more clearly he began to feel an inner call that had been expressed by his mentor, Murshid Abu Hashim Madani inspiring him to go to the West and bring a message of Sufism, harmonizing East and West with his music.” (The Inner Life, Foreword PG ix)

These events coupled with this emerging “inner call” inspired Inayat Khan to actively teach and communicate the Sufi principles and practices, which under girded his gift of music. Traveling over three continents he shared his learnings and music in the West. As he traveled he discovered a hunger among his audience for these teachings and practices that revealed themselves in his music and singing. In reflection on this experience, Inayat Khan writes, “To serve God one must sacrifice the dearest thing, and I sacrificed my music, the dearest thing to me. Now if I do anything, it is to tune souls instead of instruments, to harmonize people instead of notes. I played the Vena until my heart turned into the same instrument. Then I offered this instrument to the divine Musician, the only musician existing. Since then I have become his flute, and when he chooses He plays His music.” (The Inner Life, Foreword PG xi)

This early confession of Inayat Khan articulates the complete focus of his life’s work and teaching. A big part of his work in the west included the establishment of “summer schools” and “learning centers” where participants were introduced to his music and the simple teachings and practices encompassing the Message.

Having journeyed through the west including, America, Great Britain, and France spreading the Sufi message of Love, Harmony, and Beauty offering new learnings and healing- Murshid returned to India to recuperate and rest. Murshid died unexpectedly on the fifth of February 1927 at the age of 44.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mitakuye Oyasin, "We are all related."

     A box was delivered to my back porch not too long ago which- upon opening- was found to be full of books. I discovered that my mom had passed on to me her library of Native American history and literature that she has accumulated over the years. One book in particular drew my attention, Mitakuye Oyasin by Ehanamani (Dr. A.C. Ross). Ehanamani has compiled an in depth survey of Native American Oral history citing more than 30 tribal sources and their teachings and philosophy. The common thread which unites these tribal sources is characterized in the phrase, mitakuye oyasin - "We are all related".
     As I read Ehanamani's work I am drawn to reflect on the implications of a life lived with mitakuye oyasin  as a guiding principle. What would be different in my life as I encountered, my neighbors, my enemies, the stranger, my co-workers and supervisors? Holding relational ties  with my neighbor would I continue to have an insulating and distant exchange, waving absent minded, as I hop in my car or retreat into my house? Or upon seeing my neighbor would I engage them briefly demonstrating my interest and concern for their well-being? Communicating the value I celebrate in my neighbor with love, giving thanks for them as a child of the Beloved and member of my family. Holding relational ties with my enemies would I continue to cultivate and nurse resentments and retaliation for perceived or "real" wrongs? Or would I respond with compassion and forgiveness recognizing that each and everyone of us have from time to time said or done hurtful things to another. Would I be able to respond with the depth of clear vision seeing in my enemy- my sister and brother- choosing the bond of kinship over the schism of hatred and suspicion? Holding up relational ties to the strangers I encounter would I casually look away or refuse to hear or refuse to act because they are not like me? Or might I offer to them all that I am able to without expectation or condition- inviting them to my table to be refreshed and renewed? Would I be courageous enough to come to aid the stranger who is also my mother, father, and child? Holding relational ties with my co-workers and supervisors would I give them  of my talent and experience only the bare minimum, holding at bay those gifts which may strengthen and enrich teamwork? Or would I be thankful that I am a part of a larger family with shared goals and common hopes for the work we carry?
     Mitakuye Oyasin claims we are related- no exceptions. As a guiding principle I choose, mitakuye oyasin- May this truth find root in my life and in the lives of all my Family- You are all Loved!