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Mysticism may be considered as the essence of all knowledge. It may be likened to the perfume of a flower, for it has a fragrance of its own. We do not see the perfume, but we see the flower, and so we will not hear many words from the mystic to explain mysticism, but we can perceive that mysticism in his atmosphere. Mysticism may also be likened to honey. Honey is purifying and so is mysticism; it purifies man of his infirmities, and it is the sweetest of all the different aspects of knowledge that exist.
To a mystic the outward forms such as rituals and ceremonies are not of the first importance;yet a mystic will take part in them, whereas the half-wise man who says, ‘I have advanced too far. I cannot tolerate the outer forms any more,’ will rebel against them. The mystic can tolerate anything, for he interprets according to his own stage of development. He can enjoy the meaning of ritual, which is something that even the people who are officiating do not always know. He may interpret a ceremony according to his own wisdom, and give an interpretation which those who perform that ceremony or those who watch it would never even have dreamt of. He sees all that he wishes to see and he knows all that he wishes to know, in the outer form as well as in the inner form.
It is a fact that mysticism cannot be defined in words in the form of doctrines, theories, or philosophical statements, for mysticism is an inner experience. In order to know an inner experience one must arrive at that experience. If we say to a person who has never had a headache in his life, ‘I have a headache,’ he will never understand it; he will not know what it is. Therefore the word mysticism means nothing; it is through the inner experience that one realizes its meaning in all its fullness. Naturally, therefore, we can find many books on psychology or philosophy, but seldom anything on mysticism; and the few there are on mysticism are generally about something quite different from what mysticism really is. The reason is that it cannot be put into a book; it cannot be expressed in words. But the very reason why it is so vague is why it so valuable, for if there is any knowledge that is worth while, if there is any science which is precious, it is the knowledge and science which one can get out of one’s mystical experiences.
The difficulty is that there are half-mystics and quarter- mystics, and yet all of them are regarded as mystics, and this causes confusion. When a person says, ‘I am a Christian mystic, or a Jewish or a Muslim mystic,’ he has not yet arrived at mysticism. Mysticism cannot be divided into different sects, and the one who says, ‘My mysticism is different from your mysticism’, has not yet arrived there, for true mystics cannot differ. Because inner experiences cannot be changed their experience is one and the same; all changes belong to the outer experiences of life. The further one progresses on the spiritual path, the more experiences one has which are similar to those of others in that advanced stage. All ideas such as that of the inner body or the hereafter are actual experiences of mystics; they are not speculations. The power of the mystic belongs to his own experience; the speculator is never satisfied with his knowledge, he is always doubting himself and wondering whether he is right or wrong.
There are seekers after mystical truth who have perhaps devoted twenty years or more to discovering some key to mysticism, and they have come back through the same door by which they entered in, saying, ‘I have found nothing; I have closed my eyes for years, but all in vain. Tell me what am I to see, what am I to find there?’ The reason is that not only did such a person go on his search with his eyes closed, but he also closed his soul. Instead of receiving a revelation he had a double loss; he could have done much better with open eyes. Although he did not want to fool himself, which is always worth while, yet he did not want his imagination to make an effort, so his mind and his heart were closed even before he shut his eyes, and consequently nothing was open.
Imagination should not be discarded. Imagination becomes a ladder on the path of the mystic. Besides, if it were not for imagination there would have been no art, there would have been no literature, there would have been no music; these are all an outcome of imagination. When imagination can produce beauty outwardly in the form of poetry, music, art, or literature, it can produce beauty of much higher and greater value when it is directed inward. Someone may say, ‘If there is a God He should appear before me so that I may believe. I do not wish to take the trouble to imagine that there is one,’ yet if he lived on earth for thousands of years, he would remain where he is. First his imagination must help him to form an idea of the deity; then he will have made an abode for the deity to abide in. As Voltaire has said, ‘If God did not exist one would have to invent Him’.
Naturally the mystic begins his work with the ladder of imagination, and actual experience follows. What experience does a mystic have? Does he see colors, does he communicate with spirits, does he wander in the higher worlds, does he read thoughts, does he recognize objects by psychometry, does he perform wonders? To a mystic all these things are elementary, and those who do them are half-mystics, quarter-mystics. To a mystic who is a thorough mystic it is all child’s play. These things are not beyond his power; the power of the mystic can be so great and his insight can be so keen that an ordinary man cannot imagine it, yet for this very reason a mystic, who looks no different from an ordinary man, cannot profess to see or feel or know or understand any better. Naturally, therefore, the real mystic who has arrived at a certain point of understanding makes the greatest effort to keep his power and insight hidden from the eyes of all. It is the false mystic who comes forward and claims perfection and prophetic powers, and who suggests that he can work wonders.
Mysticism changes man’s outlook on life. The higher a mystic reaches, the wider becomes his outlook. It is therefore very difficult for a mystic to adjust himself to the limited life of the world. He must continually speak and act differently from what he feels and knows. It is just like an actor on the stage: when he has to be a king then he acts as a king and speaks as a king, and when he takes the part of a servant he acts that part, but all the time he knows and feels that he is neither a king nor a servant; that he is an feeling of a mystic is one thing, and his outer affirmation is another.
Is this a right thing to do? Is it not a kind of hypocrisy? An outspoken person would say, ‘I say what I mean,’ just as he might say, ‘I tell the truth whether you like it or not, I don’t mind.’ But it cannot be helped. In order to get away from this hypocrisy some mystics have closed their lips and have not spoken throughout their whole life; they have retired into the forest in order to get away from it. But when they live in the midst of the world they can only adopt this method: feel and know the truth, while speaking and acting as everybody else does. And if someone says that this is not right, the answer is that in the case of other people most things are wrong: knowing, acting, as well as speaking; whereas in the case of the mystic only one thing is wrong. The mystic at least feels and knows rightly; that much is to his advantage.
Imparting mysticism to a seeking soul is an automatic action on the part of the pupil and also on the part of the mystic, for what the mystic gives to the pupil is not his own, it is God’s, and the pupil is a kind of vessel that receives this blessing..If the vessel is not ready or if it is filled with something else, with every desire on the part of the mystic to fill it he cannot. Therefore the whole training of mysticism is first to clean this vessel, to make it ready for the mystic to pour into it the divine knowledge which comes from within.
*From Philosophy, Psychology and Mysticism, Volume 11 of the Complete Works of Hazrat Inayat Khan, pp. 145-148. Published by International Headquarters of the Sufi Movement, Geneva, 1964.