Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan
The Montreal Gazette - March 31st, 1984
Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan sat comfortably on the raised platform, crosslegged, wearing a loose-fitting clock-like garment. Several vases, filled with spring flowers, rested beside him. The setting was a room on the second floor of the Stephen Leacock Building, McGill University.
The recognised Master of the Sufi Order of the West had come to Montreal to lecture on ‘’Applying Meditation To Creativity’’ before flying to Paris for a Conference of the Sufi Order International. An audience of about 200, students as well as busy professors, executives, secretaries and others, had come to hear him. A small group sat on the floor immediately in front of the platform. Tape recording equipment was set up at the rear of the room on the opposite side from the entrance to record the lecture.
The speaker’s warm, intimate style indicated an old pro was at work, talking about a subject he has mastered and shared with audiences around the world. In his late 60’s and bearded, Pir Khan looked like a prophet from the east come to tell us how to get closer to God, reality, our neighbours, the world and ourselves. But unlike the ancient prophets, he brought along an impressive academic record: Studies in Philosophy and a degree in Psychology from the Sorbone, Paris; post-graduate work at Oxford University, England; Musical Studies at E’cole Normale de Musique de Paris; intensive studies in Meditation and Mastery of five languages!
He talked about the role of Meditation and it’s importance as a tool in opening up ‘’all the richness that is latent in our being…’’
‘’Use the imagination in a creative way,‘’ he advised. ‘’’Become what you are. See yourself in your ideal person to become what you can become. Project a picture of what you would be.’’
He suggested techniques to achieve this state of mind. ‘’Imagine you are a tree.’’ Silence followed in the whole room. You literally could have heard a pin drop as we all conjured up our idea of a tree. The ‘Gazette tree’ became a slender, strong, young shoot just beginning to get the idea of what it is to be a growing tree. Some scrawny branches had appeared and so had a few, tiny leaves.
Time was up. Pair Khan began asking questions.
‘’Does your tree have roots? If it does, you have no idea of the resources in your being…..Are your branches held in or spread out? If they are spread out, you have an open, outgoing nature…..Do the branches have leaves? If they have, you are particularly meticulous.’’
We took another imaginative look at our tree and decided it needed to grow more to ma
tch the ‘ideal’ of Pir Khan. The exercise was an introduction to the Sufi way of facing the human adventure, finding one’s purpose in life, and developing one’s relationship with reality, truth and God.
A Sufi story illustrates the Sufi way:
Someone went to a Sufi with a question: ‘’I ha been puzzling for many, many years and reading for many books, and I have not been able to find a definite answer. Tell me, what happens after death?’’
The Sufi replied: ‘Please ask this question of someone who will die. I am going to live’’’.
Sufism’s roots lie in the ascetic, mystical tradition of Islam, but through the centuries moved beyond the Islamic religion. Along the way it incorporated teachings from Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and Neo-platonism.
Sufism has at least 50 Orders or ways, which all maintain the same ideal, but employ different methods in attaining it. The ideal may be described in a New Testament expression of Jesus: ‘’Be ye Perfect even as your Father in Heaven is Perfect.’’
Sufism of the West was founded in London, England, in 1916 by Pir Khan’s father, Hazrat Inayat Khan. Today Sufis of the West number around 10,000 in North America, Europe and India. Both father and son sought to transpose the Sufi way on European and North american soil in such a way it would attract people of all faiths - religious and humanist.
‘’You can be a Christian or a Jew or whatever and still practice the Sufi Way,’ explained Yusef Emed, a member of the West Island Sufi group.
‘’Pir Khan makes it possible for us to learn from all faiths because Sufism is inclusive. Each religion has a piece of the whole truth, so the Sufi Way is to share it’s portion of the Truth with that of others so that all enjoy what each contributes.’’
Not all devotees of other religious traditions are prepared to be as inclusive-minded as the Sufi. ‘’Religious traditions have their differences at the level of customs and beliefs. But do we want to worship these customs or beliefs, or do we want to go beyond?’’ Med asks. That could be a starting point for dialogue between Sufi’s and non-Sufi’s.
At the end of Pir Khan’s lecture, he held up a black begging bowl and appealed for contributions to the educational and social service projects in India which are supported by his North American community. Meanwhile, Montreal Sufi’s meet at two centres: 385 Edouard Charles Ave., Montreal, telephone 636-1682 (next meeting, Friday, April 6, 8 pm); 20 Perreault St., St Ste. Anne de Bellevue, telephone 457-2259 (next meeting, Friday, April 27, 7.30 pm)
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