I found my work in the West the most difficult task that I could have ever imagined. To work in the West for a spiritual Cause to me was like traveling in a hilly land, not like sailing in the sea, which is smooth and level. In the first place I was not a missionary of a certain faith, delegated to the West by its adherents, nor was I sent to the West as a representative of Eastern cult by some Maharaja. I came to the West with His Message, Whose call I had received, and there was nothing earthly to back me in my mission, except my faith in God and trust in Truth.
In the countries where I knew no-one, had not any recommendations, was without any acquaintances or friends, I found myself in a new world, a world where commercialism has become the central theme of life under the reign of materialism. In the second place there was a difficulty of language, but that difficulty was soon overcome; as I worked more so my command of language improved.
The prejudice against Islam that exists in the West was another difficulty for me. Many think Sufism to be a mystical side of Islam, and the thought was supported by the encyclopedias, which speak of Sufism as having sprung from Islam, and they were confirmed in this by knowing that I am Muslim by birth. Naturally I could not tell them that it is a Universal Message of the time, for every man is not ready to understand this.
Many felt that the idea of universal brotherhood was a sin against the modern virtue, which is called national patriotism. My Message of peace was often interpreted as what they call pacifism, which is looked upon unfavorably by many. Many there are in the West who are prejudiced against anything Eastern, either thinking that it is too foreign to their nature or assuming that the Eastern people, who cannot even take care of themselves, and are backward in the modern civilization, are behind time; though in philosophical and literary circles the philosophy of India is considered to be antique.
India, India …
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Besides, I often felt as an obstacle on my path the color prejudice that exists in different places in the West. Some separate the religion of the East and West, saying that Eastern religion is for the Eastern people and Christianity the Western religion for the West; for most of the pictures of Jesus Christ are painted in the Western likeness, ignoring the fact that the Master was from the East.
Many in the Western world are afraid of mystic or psychic or occult ideas, for it is something foreign to them, and especially a foreign representative of that is doubly foreign. If music had not been my shield, my task would have become much more difficult for me in the West, and my life impossible. I had to make my living by my profession of music, which has no particular place in the professional world of the West. Most often I had to sell my pearls at the value of pebbles. In the West I could not place my music in its proper place.
During the war, when my musical activities were suspended, patience was the only means of sustenance for me and my family. Yet a smiling welcome was always offered to friends at our table.
In our very worst times I had with me Miss Goodenough's unassuming help and sympathy. She shared with me her loaf, and she shielded me from the hard and soft blows, coming from both my friends and foes, thus proving to be a friend in need.
I always sensed suspicion from all sides, searchlights thrown on me in suspicion whether my Movement were not political, which always made my work difficult, to my great sadness. When the clouds of the Socialistic Movement were hovering in the sky of England, a sudden change came in the atmosphere of London. When Gandhi proclaimed non-cooperation I heard its silent echo in the heart of Great Britain. Besides, the Khilafet Movement had stirred up the minds of the people there. I felt a hidden influence coming from every corner, resenting against any activity which had a sympathetic connection with the East. I then felt that the hour had come to remove the seat of our Movement to a place such as Geneva, which has been chosen as an international center by all. In spite of all the urging on the part of my kind mureeds to stay on in England, I left there, with my bag and baggage for Switzerland.
Everything Oriental was regarded with suspicion. National feeling at that moment there was on the rise, which could make any international worker feel uncomfortable, and it had a paralysing influence upon my efforts.
I have always refrained from taking the side of any particular nation in my work, and have tried to keep my Movement free from any political shadows. Vast fields of political activity were laid open before me, during and after the war, in which I was quite capable of working at the time when there was a great demand for work of the kind, at the time of great upheaval in India and in the Near East. And if I hesitated to take interest in such activities, it was only that my heart was all taken by the need of a universal brotherhood in the world.
My own people, who found me busy with something quite different from what they would have expected of me, looked at me and my work with antipathy, and from many of them harm came to me, to add to the many difficulties I had to face. Therefore in my struggle in the West instead of the support of the East, I had to face opposition, which made my life squeezed between two stone walls, and I have borne this pain, consoling myself with the idea that history repeats itself.
I would have been most happy sitting with my vina in my hand in some corner in the forest, in solitude, and nothing better would I have asked. There came a time when I could not have sufficient time to keep up my musical practice, which was too great a loss for my heart to sustain. Yet I had to bear it, for every moment of my time was absorbed in the work. I especially yearned for the music of India, the fluid with which my soul was nourished from the moment I was born on earth. But for my music the soil of India was necessary, the juice of that soil for me to live on, the air of India to breathe, the sky of India to look at, and the sun of India to be inspired by. It is just as well that I gave up my music when in the West, for if I had kept it up I would have never been fully satisfied with it, although the sacrifice of music for me was not a small one.
During my stay in the West, I longed to see the rising of the sun in my land, the full moon in the clear sky, the peace of the midsummer night, night of vigil, the sunset that calls for the prayers, and the dawn that moves the soul to sing, besides the occasion that a seeker has of meeting souls who can understand, who can heal hearts and kindle souls, enfolding all that comes in the peace of their own being.
In the West I often felt homesick; especially whenever my longing for solitude showed itself I felt very uncomfortable under all conditions, in spite of all in the West that I loved and admired. My brothers being with me in the West gave my longing soul a great consolation, for they represented India to me. But even they, in their interest in Western music gradually lost their own, which completed the absence of Indian music in my life, I learnt later why a dervish soul like me, indifferent to the life of the world, constantly attracted to solitude, was set in the midst of the worldly life. It was my training. I learnt as a man of the world the responsibilities and the needs of the worldly life; which one, standing apart from this life, however spiritually advanced cannot understand. To feel in sympathy with my mureeds placed in different situations of life, and to be able to place myself in their situation, and look at their life, it was necessary for me. Besides to have to do with different natures and souls in the different grades of evolution, it was necessary to have had the experience of home life, especially with children, with their different stages of development, which gives a complete idea of human nature.
Ora, afterwards Amina Begum, who was born at New Mexico on May 8th 1892, came of a family from Kentucky called Baker, whose great uncle Judge Baker is known in Chicago. She became the mother of my four children : Noorunnisa or Babuli, born on Friday December the 20th 1913, (Russian date) English date: January 1st 1914; Vilayat or Bhaijan, born on Monday June 19th 1916; Hidayat or Bhaiyajan, born on Monday August 6th 1917 and Khairunnisa or Mamuli, born on Tuesday June 3rd 1919.
In spite of the vast difference of race and nationality and custom she proved to be a friend through joy and sorrow, proving the idea, which I always believed, that outer differences do not matter when the spirit is in at-one-ment.
The tests that my life was destined to go through were not of a usual character, and were not a small trial for her. A life such as mine, which was wholly devoted to the Cause, and which was more and more involved in the ever growing activities of the Sufi Movement, naturally kept me back from that thought and attention which was due to my home and family. Most of the time of my life I was obliged to spend out of home, and when at home, I have always been full of activities, and it naturally fell upon her always to welcome guests with a smile under all circumstances. If I had not been helped by her, my life, laden with a heavy responsibility, would have never enabled me to devote myself entirely to the Order as I have. It is by this continual sacrifice that she has shown her devotion to the Cause.
From a child Ora showed great strength of will. Once, when she was very ill, and a physician had given up hope, and had told her mother so, not knowing that she heard that, as she lay in bed, she began to say in her childish manner emphatically: "I will not die, I don't want to die." And then, to the great surprise of the doctor, she lived, and he gave all the credit of her cure to her strength of determination, the spirit which fought against death, in this she showed a tendency of a relation of hers, Mrs. Eddy Baker, who has spread that idea in the world as Christian Science.
In early youth Ora once saw near her bed a phantom, an Eastern sage, who appeared a moment and passed across. She afterwards had a dream, that an Eastern sage held her in his arms and rose towards the sky, and carried her away overseas.
When Ora saw Inayat, at first sight she felt wholly drawn to him, and thought this was the one after whom her soul had always sought. He then taught her music. Ora thought it too difficult to express her feelings to Inayat, who seemed so reserved and remote from all earthly attachments. But she silently bore in her heart the great power of the attraction she felt. For some time she was under the guardianship of her brother, who was a physician by qualification, and a leader of an Order in America.
Inayat, so fully absorbed in the mission for which he was sent to the West, had not the least thought of anything else in life except his work. At the same time, with a heart born to admire and respond to everything good and beautiful, a heart, brave to venture anything, however difficult or high if he only desired, and that everspringing stream of love and affection running from his heart, he was ready to yield to the call for response from the maiden who was destined to be his life's partner, he perceived in his meditation indications of his future marriage, also visions which showed him the one who was meant to be his wife, and visions in which his Murshid suggested to him that the life that was to come was a necessary one towards his life's purpose. Inayat, passive as he was to the inner call, accepted it, in spite of all the difficulties before him, awaiting.
They had only known each other a few days during which their attachment grew most wonderfully and before it reached its blossom Ora had a dream, which she told Inayat, that there came a stream of water between them both, and it spread on until it turned into an ocean, dividing them both. And very soon that dream became a reality. Ora's brother, who was her guardian, on hearing of her love for Inayat, turned against him, and out of prejudice he held back his sister by force from seeing Inayat at the time when Inayat was on the point of leaving America for England. Months passed in this separation, causing endless misery to both. Not knowing about each other, especially, was the hardest trial for two souls so closely attached. Yet their determination was great. In the end a miracle happened. One day, arranging papers of her brother's desk she happened to find the address of Inayat's home in Baroda, and then was able to communicate with him. It seemed as if everything in life helped Ora to unite again with Inayat, and it all worked out so marvelously that it seemed nothing but a miracle, which brought about the long desired moment; and they married in London in 1912.
It is not true that my life was always deprived of riches. There occurred several occasions which offered me enormous wealth. Only every time an occasion like this came, it did not fit in with my principle, and I had to renounce that profit for the sake of my principle. I consider it no loss, although it was a loss outwardly. The strength that I gained by standing by my principle was much greater than any riches of this earth.
Nevertheless, poverty proved to be my bitterest enemy. For it always put me in a position that gave my adversaries every facility they desired to cause me harm. With all my mistakes and failings, which I must not disown, I have always tried to avoid dishonor. I was several times in a position which I should have never chosen to be in, but I was constrained by unfortunate circumstances. My pride at the time was very much hurt, and often that has happened. If there are any pages in the book of my life which I would rather be closed than open, they are narrative of my lack of means.
Miss Dowland brought into existence that fund which was intended to be for my maintenance, and continued it for three years, when it was sorely needed. Later the same fund was also subscribed to by the mureeds from Holland, Belgium and Switzerland.
Many wondered if it was beyond the power of a mystic to attract wealth, if he sorely needed it as I did in my life. I could not very well answer this question, but I never felt that it was beyond my reach to obtain wealth if I wanted to. But in this respect my life has been that of a bird, who must descend on earth to pick up a grain, but his joy is in flying in the air. If one told the bird, "There are no grains in the air, stay on the earth and collect grains", he would say, "No, it is only a few grains which I need. If there be tons of grains lying on the earth, it will not attract me enough to give up my joy of flying in the air." In the same way I could not sacrifice the real interest of my life, even if all the wealth that the earth can give was offered to me.
After twelve years of wandering and homeless life in the West, with a large family to look after, in addition to having my laudable object to carry out, I was provided at last with four walls at Suresnes, thanks to the kind sympathy of my Dutch mureed, Mevrouw Egeling; that, when going about to preach in the world, I might have the relief of thinking that my little ones are sheltered from heat and cold under a roof. This saintly soul came into my life as a blessing from above, whom I called Fazal Mai, which means Grace of God, and after her name the house was named. Her hand, as a hand of Providence, became my backbone, which comforted me, and raised my head upwards in thanksgiving, the head which so long was hanging in humiliation, owing to the utter lack of means.
In my life-long work in the West I found that in the West there are no disciples; there are teachers. Woman, being respondent by nature, shows a tendency towards discipleship, but that is not every woman. And men in the West, who try to show the disciple-spirit, somehow fail to play this role some time or the other.
Most of my life in the Western world has been spent to prepare those who were attracted to the inner teachings, to grasp the idea of what is called Guru Shishva Bhau, which means the relation between the spiritual teacher and the pupil. And I found that where an Eastern teacher began, that was the end that I was to arrive at in the training of my pupils. So my task compared with that of the spiritual teachers of the East, was quite different to theirs. Most part of my work was given to prepare the minds of mureeds for that ideal which is so little known in the West. It has been my lot, especially in the beginning of my work, that I had to build the whole building with unaccommodating vessels and broken tools. It was like playing on a piano which is out of tune and blowing upon the horns full of holes. Later things turned for the better. However, my loneliness was ever on the increase, and my only consolation was in the realization of the divine Truth that "I alone am the only existing being".
The Christian faith for long ages has made such a deep impression upon the people in the West, that they cannot see a spiritual teacher with a family-setting, knowing Christ in his exclusive being, liven the nearness of a woman seemed strange in their eyes. Destiny made women understand my message and sympathize with me more readily than men, whose lives are absorbed in their daily occupations, and whose ideal and devotion is almost lost in the modern way of living. This made my life and work most difficult. I found on one hand a ditch, and on the other hand water.
My difficulty was that those of faith in the Western world clung to their own faith, and those of no faith wanted to keep free from any faith; nor could I catch the former ones, because of their faith, nor could I hold the latter ones, for having no faith. Many who were attracted to my free thought, inspired by the ideal of freedom, tried to keep free from me also. I always considered myself above everything I had to say, think, or do in my life. I thought, "surely, it is not the real me, it is my outward limited self, the limitation of life, which always kept my heart sore".
While traveling in the Western countries I was often asked by people if I had the power of clairvoyance, if I could see their auras, if I could tell them their color or note, if I could read their thoughts, if I had any psychical powers, if I could foretell what will happen, if I was mediumistic, if I spoke under spiritualistic control, if I knew automatic writing, if I was able to magnetize, if I could psychometrize. Firstly I was most amused with these questions, to which I could neither give an affirmative nor a negative answer. By an affirmative answer I would have been put to the test, and a negative answer would be my defeat; and yet I often preferred defeat, and in some cases I avoided answering.
It is something which in the East a sage does not expect. For a real sage all these powers are outward plays, little things. Some people claim them, and the Theosophical influence made it more difficult even for me to answer people. Some directly asked me if I was a Master. It made me speechless. What could have said, the truth or a lie? Could I have claimed, and have become one among the various false claimants, as there are so many in this world? Even I was reluctant in saying "No". If I ever said anything, I said: "My good friend, I am your friend, your brother and your servant, if you take me to be so; for it is not any claim, but service which is both my privilege and honor."
The Royal Musicians of Hindustan, ca 1911
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