The Intuition Network, A Thinking Allowed Television Underwriter, presents the following transcript from the series Thinking Allowed, Conversations On the Leading Edge of Knowledge and Discovery, with Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove.
JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. I’m Jeffrey Mishlove. Today we’re going to explore unfurling the potential of being. With me is Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, initiate of an Indian Sufi order. Pir Vilayat is the author of numerous books including Toward the One, The Message in Our Time, The Call of the Dervish, and Introducing Spirituality into Counseling and Therapy. Welcome.
PIR VILAYAT INAYAT KHAN: Thank you.
MISHLOVE: It’s really a pleasure to be with you. You know, in your writings you often describe the struggle, the conflict that we humans engage in as we’re caught in between our dual nature. We’re locked into a finite body, each with our own life story and melodrama, and yet simultaneously we’re like God; we partake of the entire cosmos.
KHAN: Yes. I call that reconciliation of irreconcilables. It’s very difficult for our minds to accept this dual nature of identity, and I think we’re cutting right into the main problem of psychology. I think most people have a bad self-image, or overcompensate, or don’t know how to assess their value in any way. Because it’s very difficult to accept what my father calls “the aristocracy of the soul, together with the democracy of the ego”; or he calls it “the greatest pride in one’s divine inheritance, and humility about one’s inadequacy in bringing it through, and yet still accepting the divinity of one’s being” — I think as Christ said, “Be perfect as your Father.”
MISHLOVE: Somehow, listening to you talk about this peculiar dilemma that we humans are in is making me feel that the whole thing is very humorous.
KHAN: Yes, I think there’s some point about laughing about things we don’t understand.
MISHLOVE: But it’s almost ironic somehow, and maybe quite ridiculous, that as cosmic beings we’re always finding ourselves in such dilemmas.
KHAN: Yes. Well, the Sufis say, “Oh, man, if you only knew that you’re free. It’s your ignorance of your freedom that is your captivity.” And I would add, if only you knew what the potentials in your being are, you would realize that it’s your ignorance of those potentials that limit you to the inadequate sense of your self-image, or your inadequate self-esteem — denigrating yourself.
MISHLOVE: As I look through your writings, I get a sense that there’s just vast almost infinitudes, when we talk about human potential and the levels of being. In a sense what you seem to do is look at the spiritual writings of every religion and tradition, and somehow assemble them all together so that it’s as if we have choirs of angels and layers and layers of spiritual vibrations interpenetrating us, and that’s who we are, rather than these tiny people living out their lives.
KHAN: Well, you’re interpreting my teaching better than I could do. You’re saying it very beautifully indeed, and that is how I feel. I also include not just the religions but the teachings of, for example, C.J. Jung.
MISHLOVE: Carl Jung, the great Swiss psychiatrist.
KHAN: Yes. Because what we are doing is really to individuate the unconscious, the collective unconscious. That’s what we really are talking about — getting in touch with what I call cosmic and transcendental dimensions of our being of which we are not aware; and we only identify ourselves with, let’s say, the apex of the cone that’s upside down, whereas we belong to the whole cone, or our being extends to the whole cone. And so it’s just a matter of gaining awareness of other dimensions of one’s being beyond the commonplace ones.
MISHLOVE: It’s almost as if anything wonderful about ourselves that we can imagine, that we are.
KHAN: Yes. Well, there’s a great power in creative imagination. Now of course there’s a difference between creative imagination and fantasy, and I try to get as clear as possible about the difference. I think creative imagination is somehow monitoring the programming of the universe, and fantasizing is getting alienated from the overall order. And when I talk about an order, I don’t mean a static one; I’m talking about the dynamic order.
MISHLOVE: It’s almost as if perhaps fantasy is only the first stage of creative imagination at best.
KHAN: I think that it probably does play a part in the active imagination, because, as you probably know, Dr. Prigogine, who is one of the leading scientists of our time, in Brussels, calls creativity a fluctuation from sclerosed equilibrium. So the order of the universe could be looked upon as it could be static, if were not continually being fluctuated away from its equilibrium. And that is what we’re doing in our creativity. I call it exploring “What if?” How would it look if we looked at this problem in a different way than we’ve been looking at it so far? That’s creative imagination.
MISHLOVE: Isn’t there a sense, in the work of the Sufis, that it’s a question of filling those mental images with a level of being? I’m reminded of a line from a song by the Sufi Choir, I think a line that is attributed to you in fact, which is, “Sing a song of glory, and you will be the glory.”
KHAN: Oh yes. Well, that’s absolutely right on. That’s exactly how — you see, I feel mentation is an act of glorification. But one can only glorify if one is willing to accept the wonder of the divine inheritance in one’s being, and we’re always seeking outside ourselves that which is already in us. I think it was Plotinus, the neo-Platonic philosopher of the third century, who said, “That which we fail to discover in contemplation we try to experience in our relationship with the outer world.” And of course actually, as a matter of fact, many years ago when I was on the guru hunt in the Himalayas, I came across a rishi sitting in a cave in the snow, and the first thing he said to me was, “Why have you come so far to see what you should be?”
MISHLOVE: Why have you come so far to see —
KHAN: What you should be. And actually, of course, the answer is, to become what one is, one needs to see oneself in another oneself who’s better able to manifest what one is than oneself.
MISHLOVE: You referred earlier to the scientific work of Prigogine, and if I can come around back to that, there’s always the movement from equilibrium to a new equilibrium. There’s this sense that I get from the Sufis and the dancing, the turning, the movement, it’s everything is always happening; we always have to go inside and outside and to the next level and to unfold and unfurl level after level of being.
KHAN: Yes, yes. I’m always seeking new horizons, and I don’t like to simply convey dogmatic kind of teaching. I’m more or less trying to explore new ways of helping the human being to unfurl. The methods that I’m using now are typical to be found amongst the visionary experiences of some of the Sufi mystics in a state of reverie.
So I think we’re coming very close to what you were saying about the relationship between the collective unconscious and personal conscious. So in a state of reverie, the door is open. One is suspended at the threshold between day consciousness and sleep with dreams.
So the mind is projecting forms surreptitiously; there’s no way of controlling it when it is really in a state of reverie. We’re not using our will. On the other hand, I find that one can monitor that experience — not with one’s will but with one’s emotion; but with one’s attunement rather than one’s will.
MISHLOVE: A very delicate state, isn’t it?
KHAN: A very delicate state. And the reason why I say that is because one could easily slip into the dark unconscious and get swallowed up by it. So of course I’m trying to monitor it myself in group meditations, to keep people attuned to their highest aspirations, so that they don’t have bad, traumatic experiences, which might be very disturbing.
MISHLOVE: But this level of being awake inside of the dream must be a very important level in uniting the individual consciousness with the divine consciousness.
KHAN: Yes, yes. That’s several levels, of course, because, you see, divine consciousness — and this is the basic motto of Sufism — it’s all one. I mean, we don’t think of God as other than ourselves, but as the totality of which we are not a fraction, but rather according to the holistic paradigm, every so-called fraction includes the whole, potentially the whole.
So it’s a whole new way of thinking of God, instead of thinking of God as other than oneself and up there somewhere and kind of projecting a personality upon God that’s anthropomorphic. Actually, one of the Sufi dervishes said, “Why do you look for God up there? He is here.”
MISHLOVE: There is a sense in your teachings in which you encourage people to sort of step out of themselves, and simultaneously see themselves as a larger and larger being, bit by bit, until they can hold it all in the mind.
MISHLOVE: It must take some discipline to be able to maintain these states for longer and longer periods.
KHAN: Yes. Well, of course there are techniques that are helpful — for example, breathing techniques, associated with a change in the focus of one’s consciousness. There are four different dimensions, as a matter of fact. For example, one can expand one’s consciousness, have this wonderful, oceanic feeling of being part of all things; it’s called participation mystique. And I find that the best way of doing it is instead of identifying with one’s physical body, to identify with one’s electromagnetic field, and eventually with one’s aura, neither of which have a boundary. So it’s very much in line with what Ken Wilber says — no boundary, you know.
MISHLOVE: Ken Wilber is the author of a book called No Boundary. Let me take you back a minute, because you used a term I’d like you to define — aura.
KHAN: Aura, yes. Well, yes, of course I wish I had a lot of time to do so. Let’s say the physical counterpart of the aura would be simply the radiance of photons, what one calls in science bioluminescence, where plants radiate a certain amount of photons, and so does the human body, and of course electrons that are being photographed in Kirlian photography.
The curious thing is that one can increase the amount of photons that one radiates purely by an act of visual representation. If you imagine that you are surrounded with light, and you enjoy looking in light, as we’re doing now, then somehow the cells of your body start dividing more rapidly, their energy is enhanced, and as a consequence one’s whole body radiates more light. Now, that is something that can be observed in the laboratory.
MISHLOVE: I’ve never heard of any research to that effect.
KHAN: Oh yes, oh yes. Dr. Motoyama, for example, in Tokyo. But there was a team of Hungarian-Romanian physicists who were measuring the photons radiated by the body.
MISHLOVE: I’d want to look at that kind of research carefully. But I think what you’re suggesting is something on a more metaphorical level.
KHAN: Well, as I said, that’s only the physical counterpart of what we understand about the aura. In fact I came to grief once when I was giving a talk in Oxford, and there were some scientists there who said, Pir Vilayat, you’re using a word which for us has a very specific meaning — light. And you’re using it in a metaphorical sense.
So I said, “Well, I don’t think physicists have a monopoly on the word light; it’s been used before in a sense that you wouldn’t use yourself.” But since that time, of course, I came across Dr. David Bohm, who said that what we know of physical reality is only a ripple on the ocean of reality, and therefore what we know of light in physics is only one very small dimension of the phenomenon of light in general.
MISHLOVE: And the Sufis use a term that I find quite interesting. I’ve come across it in your writings — the uncreated light.
KHAN: Yes. But that is a word that’s also used by the early Christian fathers. Actually, the Sufis make a difference between the light that sees and the light that is seen. And so if you ask me now to define the aura, well, I suppose that is the light that could be seen, and in certain circumstances one can even actually see.
For example, St. Elmo’s light — you know, that’s seen around ships; and then the photograph around the lunar module when it landed on the moon. There was some thought it could be explained by dust, but I don’t know. That’s very controversial.
MISHLOVE: Well, perhaps we shouldn’t get too much into these details. As we talk about unfurling the potentials of being, what you’re suggesting is that there are these realms that we hear of in folklore and on what are sometimes the fringes of science, and these are very real to you in your experience, and important for us to acknowledge, I gather, in our understanding of our being.
KHAN: Yes. Well, what we do is taking specific qualities, and working with those qualities, rather like a composer would work with a musical theme and make variations on it and try to explore all the potentialities within that theme. So basically we do have these qualities; that’s what we call the divine inheritance. But how do we actuate them in our personality? That is a creative process, which is, as I say, very similar to that of composing or writing or painting.
MISHLOVE: You know, since you’ve referred to music, I’m reminded of a story that you wrote about, of a time when you were very depressed and cured yourself of this depression by listening to Bach.
KHAN: Yes. Well, I had an accident, and my fiance was killed, and I was really very broken and I couldn’t understand how such a thing could happen. And it is true, I didn’t want to live. I mean, I went through a very bad crisis. I was an officer in the British Navy at the time.
I asked if I could be posted somewhere far away, and I was posted in India. Fortunately I was on an easy assignment, just care and maintenance of a flotilla. So every night I played the whole B Minor Mass of Bach, every night for about three months. And that is what cured me, because this tremendous glorification of heaven seems to me to be the only thing that will help one overcome one’s personal pain. I remember words of Buddha, who said, “One misses the glory by being caught up in one’s personal emotions.”
MISHLOVE: There’s a sense also in which Bach’s Mass in B Minor has very, very sad moments, and perhaps to reach the glory one has to go right into the pain.
KHAN: Yes. But then Bach has that wonderful ability to make the quantum leap from pain to extreme joy, from one moment to the other — for example, from the Contritio right into the Sanctus, the Hosannah. Or from the Crucifixus to the Resurrexit. The transit is fantastic, of course.
And I suppose that’s what it is. I think that one needs to get in touch with one’s anger and one’s pain, instead of being heroic about it or not acknowledging it, and then use these impulses, harness these impulses in a positive way. In fact that is basically the Sufi teaching about mastery. Instead of repressing desire, we consider that our positive desires — to be creative in some way, build a beautiful house or compose a symphony or whatever our objective is — expressions of the divine nostalgia.
MISHLOVE: The divine nostalgia.
KHAN: The divine nostalgia. That’s a word that we use all the time, the divine nostalgia. So it’s not the way of desirelessness of Buddhism, or detachment, or living in a cave. No, it’s that joie de vivre, the joy of life, that we’re really experiencing the divine joy and the creativity of the universe, the way that the divine intention manifests in a concrete way. And also the extraordinary feat of generosity whereby the divine will multiplies itself by the gift of free will.
MISHLOVE: It’s almost as if you’re suggesting that these very human melodramas that we all go through, that we described in the beginning of this program as somehow being irreconcilable with the divine nature, that these things are the very food that brings us to the divine as we work through the emotions of our life.
KHAN: Well, we don’t like to make too much of a distinction between divine emotion and human emotion. We would say that we tried to monitor the divine emotion into our personal emotions, so that there’s no cleavage between the two. In other words, we need to experience divine joy in our humanness, which is very different from the whole idea of beatitude. It’s bringing joy into our daily lives, instead of opening one drawer and then closing another, being in a beatific state and then being back in life again — making it one, you see.
MISHLOVE: So the path that you teach is not one of simply withdrawing from the world and contemplating and entering into a very high state. That would be incomplete.
KHAN: Yes. I still feel that it’s good to be able to do that from time to time, for a short while, or just even for a split second, because I find that most people react to the challenge of situations rather than act. And if you react, you’re not using all the potentialities of being. It’s like a short circuit, like a reflex action, for example. Therefore I think there is some value in facing the battle between the challenge in oneself and being able to learn how to turn within.
Psychology is trying to do this, get in touch with your feelings and your emotions. But what I’m talking about is much deeper. It’s getting in touch with your thinking rather than your thoughts, or your feeling rather than your emotions. A deeper reality.
MISHLOVE: I recall that in one of your writings you suggest that we could think of ourselves as the eyes through which God sees, or we could think of ourselves as the divine glance.
KHAN: Yes, that’s right. You got that. Well, yes, that’s absolutely crucial. I think that makes all the difference. I’m trying to practice it, of course, because I like to practice what I preach.
For example, walking the streets you realize that even the focus of your glance gets conditioned by what you see, and what we’re trying to do, then, is to offset your glance so that you grasp that which transpires behind that which appears. Now, that sounds very metaphysical, doesn’t it?
But a very good example of that which transpires behind that which appears is, for example, what happens in photographing flowers in ultraviolet light. They look very different; they’re much more beautiful, translucent.
MISHLOVE: Iridescent, yes.
MISHLOVE: And there’s that sense, I suppose, behind the mundane reality, the dullness of our lives from time to time, that there’s really a brilliance, a radiance, if we could only awaken to it.
KHAN: Well, then, actually you get to a point when you start seeing what I call the inner face emerging through the outer face — or let us say the countenance emerging through the face.
MISHLOVE: The countenance emerging through the face. Yes.
KHAN: So it doesn’t have an outline, it doesn’t have a borderline. It’s just like those flowers that are photographed in ultraviolet light.
MISHLOVE: That’s quite — it’s giving me cause to pause just a moment, and just take that insight in. Being with you has been such a rich experience —
KHAN: Thank you very much.
MISHLOVE: — that we could listen to each thought and pause on it for a long time. But we’re out of time now, so Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, thank you very much for being with me.
KHAN: Thank you for inviting me.