Unlearning. Ancient languages. (Hazrat Inayat Khan.)

My Blessed Mureeds,

I would like to speak a few words on the subject of unlearning. It is always difficult for some mureeds who have once heard from me the necessity of unlearning in the spiritual path. Unlearning is a process by which one rises above what one has learned. It does not mean forgetting what one has learned, it only means rising above what one has learned. What one learns in life is most useful after having attained spiritual realization, in order to express it. But it can only be a hindrance in progression in the spiritual path if one does not know how to unlearn. What does learning mean? Learning means fixing ideas and making them material. When an idea is fixed in mind, it becomes tangible; that knowledge becomes a kind of veil for any other knowledge that can illuminate the path through life.

Now coming to the question, how does one unlearn? Does one forget things? It is not necessary to forget in order to unlearn. Unlearning is looking at things from an opposite point of view. In other words, seeing things from another angle, as clearly as one is able to see from the angle from which one is used to looking at them. It is this experience that leads one to perfection. The knowledge that keeps man narrow is the knowledge which is not unlearned. But once one has unlearned, one sees from two opposite angles everything in life, and that gives one a great mastery.

You will not be surprised, therefore, my mureeds, on having heard from your Murshid–when he ought to have said, ”It is wrong”–he perhaps astonished you by saying, ”It is all right.” Instead of saying, ”No,” he may have said, ”Yes.” It is to help you to bring you to that point of view which is a spiritual point of view, looking at a thing from two sides, from both sides. It is just like looking from both eyes, to make a thing complete. Will you therefore be surprised if one said that there is no set belief for a Sufi? Would you be amazed if one said that Sufism is not a particular faith? If a Sufi says, ”That religion is beautiful,” or ”The other religions are bad,” he does not mean it in the same sense as the adherents of that particular sect.

He looks at it from both angles. He sees quite well when a person has something to say against a particular religion; he also sees when a person is most devoted to a particular faith. He sees the reason of both things, and therefore to both questions he says, ”Yes.” Be not surprised therefore, if you hear from a Sufi, when you tell him, ”Is it not a horrid thing?”, he says, ”Yes, but it is a most beautiful thing;” he says, ”Certainly it is so.” He has seen both points of view. You may be surprised. You will say, ”How can he have two opposite views at the same time?” But he sees two opposite views at the same time also.

Unlearning is rising above one’s set opinion, one’s fixed idea, which makes one narrow. No doubt, it is a sign of perfection, but one goes gradually to it. If one became perfect the first day one went into the spiritual path, one would end in imperfection. Progress must be gradual, and one must know to what extent one must progress. One must not be too frank about his two points of view, or he will offend every person he meets in life. Being wise is not always speaking wisely. One can be wise without speaking wisely. There is always a danger of being too narrow-minded. And therefore the best practice that a mureed can make is to try and look at Murshid’s point of view in the teaching that Murshid gives him. If a dhikr is given or a phrase is given so many times, it must be done. At this time it must be repeated, or at that time. One must try and see from Murshid’s point of view.

Besides, action, word, imagination and feeling, these four things have much greater power than anyone can imagine. Even a meaningless action, an action which might seem to convey nothing, an automatic movement, even that has a certain result. The mystics of the ancient times had known the great power of movement. It is at the present time that people have lost the secret of the psychological effect of movements. Movements have been always connected with sacred things. Among the old Greeks, among ancient Egyptians, among the Hindus of the ancient time, among Buddhists, there was a science of movements, there was a power in movements; and they knew that science and it produced a certain effect. A mureed unaware of it that easily says, ”But the movements tell me nothing; it is a strange thing to me; I would rather sit and meditate.” Everyone would like to sit and meditate, and many would rather sleep and meditate. That is still more comfortable.

Besides that, sometimes a person thinks ”Why must I repeat a word which is a foreign word, which is a strange word to me? If the word suggests something, why must I not use a word which is in my language, which comes easy for me to repeat?” Now all these things which I have said are reasonable, and those who bring up that argument have also a reason in bringing it. They are right in saying it. Only, they could see from the other point of view also. And they could only see if they would try to see. That is what is called unlearning. In the first place, the great linguists of the day have found that the ancient languages which still exist have some psychological, mystical power in their words. If anyone asks me how I see modern languages, I will humbly say they are the corruptions of the ancient languages.

And I have one thousand proofs to show it. Why do I call them corruptions? Because in the ancient language every word has been derived from a root which has the essence, and which is expressive of the sense which is in that object, the name with which it is identified. In other words, if you take one word of the ancient language, and meditate upon it every day, it will reveal to you deeper and deeper meaning of the same idea that it expresses. It is not an exaggeration that I knew one line of a Persian, an ancient poem; and after fifteen years since I knew that phrase, one day the meaning of that phrase was revealed to me, which was more revealing than the whole book one could read.

Besides, the linguists today find out that the source of all languages is one language, no matter what the historians say about it. Some say Sanskrit was the mother language, another says another name. There is always a tendency to give a new name to an old thing, and there is always a tendency to create a sensation; especially historians always think that to give a new idea is the best thing. Whether that idea is right or wrong, that does not matter. Nevertheless, the ancient words sometimes have a great power; not only in their meaning, but power in their formation, in the vowels, in the letter, in the syllables that are in them they are revealing.

Even to such an extent that if you were to study the words of the dhikr, every single word has a certain action on the physical mechanism, on intuitive centers. An ordinary person will only take it as a word that belongs to a certain language. But such words have belonged to mystics. They never belong to any language. The languages have taken them; people have used them, expressing different things. The mystics have gathered them together just like a chemist would collect herbs an drugs and different things together in order to use them for medicine. Mystics have collected such words, words of great power and revelation, in order to produce desired effects.

This is my own experience. I have experienced it with many people. There are words which, if they are used so many times for six weeks, the whole being of that person is changed, not only the spirit, but even the body is changed. The circulation of the blood is changed, the whole atmosphere of the person is changed. The power of the words is a living phenomenon. And when it is prescribed by the teacher who knows its secret, it is a prescription, it is an instruction. It is something that is most valuable.

And when once learned in this way, when one is able to look at it from the teacher’s point of view, one has accustomed oneself to seeing from the point of view of others also. Without trying to be a Sufi one becomes a Sufi. One need not make an effort to become a Sufi; it is a natural development towards the simplicity of the heart. It is the expansion of sympathy. It is looking into the wide horizon that makes one see from the point of view of others. And this is the greatest necessity in the spiritual path, that one must make oneself accustomed to rise above what one has learned.

God Bless You!

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