Universal Harmony

A Quest for Universal Harmony

 

Parliament of World Religions

Barcelona, Spain. July 8, 2004

IAS Panel

© Dr. Sharon G. Mijares, Ph.D.

 

 

            The late Sufi teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan (1877-1927) had a beautiful and unique way of describing the world’s religious traditions, for he equated them with music. He taught that each individual religion “strikes a note, a note which answers the demand of humanity in a certain epoch” and explained that “the source of every note is the same music which manifests when the notes are arranged together.”[i] Each religion represents a different musical note. Together they provide the melody and harmony we know as music.

This harmony is evidenced in the beauty, power and wisdom of the great teachers and prophets initiating each faith. The heart of each religion resonates with universal love, harmony and beauty. But a destructive element grows within a new religion soon after the death of its prophet as the followers attempt to concretize the teachings--often based upon their own interpretations. Those interpretations deviate because the followers of a particular religion overlook the power and inspiration of the heart and depend solely on superfluous ways of thinking. Differences from other groups and belief systems are emphasized; rules are established to assure one is a true adherent to the path. Those outside of this new order are demonized, and the musical notes quickly turn to cacophony, no longer harmonizing in unity.

The tendency to defend and protect one’s own religion tends to be rooted in fear and fear perpetuates violence. Oftentimes our defenses are built upon that which we deem to be sacred; for example, religious teachings affecting our ideals, beliefs and feelings. But this honoring of the sacred takes on a different quality once the ego has made its claim concerning any religious teachings. The ego’s tendency is one that claims absolute truth and enlists blind obedience. Religious followers are not to question its creed.

The violence perpetrated in the name of one’s religion has little, if anything, to do with the religion itself—but rather with evil tendencies within the human ego. Each religion’s core teaching asks that believers have love and compassion for one another--for these are the ultimate acts of spiritual humanity. Religious followers have failed to listen to and express the heart of their religion. The evidence is before us—seen in the mass murders and atrocities perpetrated in the name of religion when followers ignore the advice of their prophets “to love ye one another.”

It is difficult for adherents of a particular religion to face its dark side, but this is necessary in order to truly represent the heart of a religion. In order to transform old patterns we must be willing to examine our attitudes and beliefs and bring them into the light of consciousness. Our faith and actions should be based in the heart of the religion, our prophet’s message, for it is this that bears truth rather than the controls and ideas of superiority established by later followers after the founder’s death.

This idea of prejudice against the other is portrayed in the religions manifesting in the Middle East: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Haggadah, originally part of the Jewish Talmud and one of a vast collection of Jewish stories, relates that:

Satan, the greatest of the angels in Heaven, with twelve wings, instead of six like the others, refused to pay heed to the behest of God, saying, “You created us angels from the splendor of Shekinah, and now you command us to cast ourselves down before the creature which you fashioned from the dust of the ground!” God answered, “Yet this dust of the ground has more wisdom and understanding than you.[ii]

 

According to this version of the fall, God asks Adam to divine the proper names for the animals in his creation. The Haggadah narrates that Satan had failed this task that had now been given to Adam. Satan was forced to acknowledge the “superiority of the first step in creation.”[iii] In other words, this archetypal human being had unique qualities. It differed. Satan then,

…broke out in wild outcries that reached the heavens, and he refused to do homage unto Adam as he had been bidden. The host of angels led by him did likewise, in spite of the urgent representations of Michael, who was the first to prostrate himself before Adam to show a good example to the other angels. Michael addressed Satan: “Give adoration to the image of God! But if you do not, then the Lord God will break out in wrath against you.” Satan replied: “If he breaks out in wrath against me, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will be like the Most High!” At once God flung Satan and his host out of Heaven, down to the earth and from that moment dates the enmity between Satan and man.[iv]

A Creation story similar to the one in the Haggadah is seen in the Islamic Creation story of Iblis (Satan) found in the Holy Qur’an, Al-A’raf, Sura VII.

It is We[1] Who created you and gave you shape; Then We bade the angels bow down to Adam, And they bowed down; not so Iblis[2]; He refused to be of those who bow down.

(Allah) said: “What prevented thee from bowing down when I commanded thee?”

He said, “I am better than he: Thou didst create me from fire, and him from clay.”

(Allah) said: “Get thee down from this: It is not for thee to be arrogant here. Get out, for thou art the meanest (of creatures).

Two themes of evil are emphasized in this story. One is the theme of prideful prejudice against human creation (refusing to bow before Adam) and the other is Iblis/Satan’s declaration that fire (spirit) is superior to earthly matter (clay).

Basically, the story is one of prejudice against the other. An examination of Middle Eastern scriptures indicates that evil is clearly defined and perceived as prideful superiority over others along with the negation of earthly life as being inferior to heaven, and therefore discounting the earthly manifestation of creation. Every element and manifestation of life is precious—for it is an expression of the Divine.

My talk began with a quote from the great Sufi master, Hazrat Inayat Khan, equating each religion to a music note, emphasizing that each one came from the same source and that great music resulted when thesse notes were combined.[v] Together, we can create a symphony to the cosmos. When one begins to perceive each religion, each nation, each human being as yet another expression of the Unlimited Divine, one can only appreciate the power and creativity of God. As humanity learns to honor the distinctions and differences that divide us, we can move beyond prejudice, ignorance and the limitations of fundamentalist thinking. We will be able to understand and follow the prayerful example from another great Sufi master, Ibn al’Arabi (1164-1240), who provided a formula for transforming this human evil when he proclaimed,

My heart is capable of every form:

A cloister for the monk, a fane for idols,

A pasture for gazelles, the votary’s Ka’ba [temple],

The tables of the Torah, the Qur’an.

Love is the creed I hold: wherever turn

His camels, Love is till my creed and faith.[vi]

 

[1] The language of the Qur’an has the characteristic of changing the divine pronoun from We to I to He. It all refers to God (Allah).

[2] Iblis is the Arabic name for Lucifer (or Satan) in the Qur’an.

 

The above material is taken from the unpublished manuscript “The Root of All Evil: An Exposition of Prejudice, Fundamentalism, and Gender Imbalance” by Sharon G. Mijares, Rachel Falik and Aliaa Rafea.

 

[i]          Hazrat Inayat Khan. (1979). The Unity of Religious Ideals. NY: Sufi Order Publications. p. 19.

[ii] Barnstone, W. (Editor). (1984). The Other Bible. NY: HarperCollins Publishers. pp. 29-30.

[iii] Ibid, p. 30.

[iv] Ibid. p. 30.

[v]          Hazrat Inayat Khan. (1979). The Unity of Religious Ideals. NY: Sufi Order Publications. p. 19.

[vi]       Idries Shah. (1964). The Sufis. NY: Anchor Book.

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