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This book is a compilation of the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan, a Sufi mystic from the early part of the Twentieth century. Born in India, Khan was thoroughly familiar with both Hindu beliefs and Islam and he also knew Christian scriptures well. In this book, Khan explains the central tenets of his Sufi sect. He begins with the belief that vibration is the ultimate connection to God, and states that this belief is found in Christian, Muslim, and Hindu scriptures by reading "word" as sound, and sound as vibration. All else flows from this. Khan finds spiritual direction through seeking harmony with all and finding and matching the appropriate rhythm of things. Music, (of the serious type, not jazz, for instance) provides a means of worship and union with the Almighty. But the highest form of sound is abstract, a topic whose details are reserved for Sufi initiates because others might misuse such knowledge.
The book contains chapters on topics such as: the music of the spheres, color and sound, music in Indian culture, music of the dervishes, dance and music, music and psychology, the healing powers of music, memory, will, reason, intuition and dreams, the Ego, inspiration, and the value of repetition. It also contains short collections of aphorisms and phrases to be repeated. The editing of the volume is exceptionally well-done. Khan did not write these selections as a book; instead, they were collected and organized from various lectures and articles that he prepared dating from about 1913 to 1926. The editors have managed to create a cohesive text from very disparate sources. Some ideas are presented repeatedly, but unlike so many similar compilations of articles by other authors, the presentation of Khan's ideas in this book are consistent each time they are mentioned. The original sources and dates for each chapter are listed at the end of the book. The book contains an index, but no glossary.
I picked up this book because of the picture on the cover of Khan playing the vina. As a struggling student of Indian music, I hoped that Khan might say a word or two about the vina. Indeed, he does, explaining how the quiet sounds of the vina make it ideal as an instrument for mediation, but not for playing large public concerts. Much of my previous reading about Indian music has been by authors who seek to present strictly objective information about the music and culture of India, but in taking such a secular approach, they miss the whole feeling of the topic. Reading this book has given me a much greater understanding of and appreciation for how music is central to Indian religious practices and beliefs, whether among the Hindus or the Sufis, or even among members of the Indian Muslim community, such as musicians. Nevertheless, one point remains unclear- -harmony. In Indian music, harmony seems to play a much smaller or very different role than in Western music. Throughout this book, Khan speaks of harmony and its importance, but what kind of harmony is he speaking of? The kind of harmony that results when two differing notes are played simultaneously with an agreeable affect? Or is he talking about vibrations joining to create a repeatable, predictable pattern? Or lining up rhythmic cycles so that the beats fall together in a pattern? He wasn't specific on this point, and I'm not sure that the concept of harmony carries over with the same meaning across musical cultures. Harmony is clearly important in the East as well as the West, but the word may refer to very different phenomena and so his message could potentially be interpreted differently according to the culture of the reader.
This book is one of the clearest on Sufi beliefs that I have found. I appreciate Khan's scholarship and his open-mindedness regarding all religious beliefs. He never preaches that one must abandon one's own religion, but instead tries to show that the core beliefs of all religions reach ultimately to the same source. In this light, the book is full of little surprises, like when Khan points out the etymological relationship between our Christian word Alleluia, and Muslim Allah. Points to ponder leap from every page, such as "It is never too late to go onto the spiritual path, but it is never too early." Khan is exceptionally clever at using metaphors for explanation. I'm not ready to take everything he says at face value, but he's given me a lot to think about.