A Soul Soaring in ecstasy

by Misbah Noor

IMG_6762On June 16 to 19, close to a hundred mureeds gathered at the Abode of the Message—with hundreds more all around the world attuned in heart and spirit—to celebrate the Urs and centennial birth anniversary of beloved Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan (qaddas allahu sirrahu), master of light and ecstasy. The Abode greeted us in all its summer glory! Flowers bloomed in jubilant hues and the afternoon breeze carried the humming of bees. The courtyard rung with laughter and the lively chatter of friends reuniting.

As if it weren’t enough that we were gifted with a pristine sky and sparkling weather—a wish readily granted by the One—the sun and the moon colluded, too, in a truly cosmic celebration of our spiritual father and teacher. For the first time since 1948, the full moon rose at the same time as the June solstice, flooding the atmosphere with lunar light. Meanwhile, the earth’s Northern axis tipped towards the sun to bring us the longest days and shortest nights of the year. An apropos light-filled celestial tribute to our Pir Vilayat!

Towards the end of his life, as he lay in a hospital bed in Suresnes, Pir Vilayat confided to Pir Zia: “I won’t be able to travel anymore,” he said, “but I am working on seven planes of light and I will be with them that way.” His enduring devotion to mureeds, streaming through the subtle spheres, was palpable amid the heart-opening gathering, touching even those who did not meet him in his lifetime.

Together, on the hallowed grounds of the Abode, we paid homage to Pir Vilayat’s memory, to his pioneering work in the science of meditation, and to the Inayati Silsila. We listened to his favorite music, performed by many stellar musicians amongst us, and savored his spirit of “aliveness” through voice recordings of him leading meditations and singing Murshid’s poignant song, “Before You Judge My Actions.” We garnered blessings being in the presence of his family, his “twin soul” and close collaborator in work, Taj Inayat, and senior teachers and devoted longtime mureeds serving the Message.

In celebration of Pir Vilayat’s love for creatures of the sky, particularly eagles and falcons, we enjoyed a demonstration of birds of prey in the herb garden. Through the course of our days and evenings, mureeds shared stories brimming with love and lined with laughter and tears that conjured memorable mountain retreats and moments with Pir Vilayat. We visited the archives, traveling back in time via the conduit of diligently saved memorabilia. And we broke bread together in a Ramadan feast in the Rezak dining hall which was handsomely adorned with white tablecloths, flowers and candles. We offered our hearts up to the occasion and experienced the magic of discipleship threading us together, working its secret mystery in and through us. And, above all, we felt Pir Vilayat’s joy-filled presence.

To be sure, Pir Vilayat’s legacy encompasses the ecstatic meeting point of the two flames, earthly and divine. Echoed again and again over the weekend was the shared sentiment that Pir Vilayat was the quintessential embodiment of joy. And yet, as Pir Zia reminded us, his was not “… the simple naïve joy of those angels who have not touched their feet to the earth. It was another kind of joy. It was the joy of one who has walked on this earth and partaken deeply of the pain of this earth. It was a joy, in fact, that arose from the very crucible of human suffering.” Pir Vilayat’s joy was the joy of suffering transformed—by love. Murshid said, “The children of sorrow are the bringers of joy in the world.” Pir Vilayat became a bringer of joy, finding his path through healing music, especially through Bach’s B Minor mass, which towards the end of his life, he conducted in Dachau in memory of his beloved sister, Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan.

On Saturday evening, we were gifted with a glorious production of segments of the B Minor Mass, organized by conductor Tarana Sara Jobin of the Gulzar Class, and performed by a mix of professional musicians and Abode residents and community members. Some of us closed our eyes and listened; some of us tried to imagine the nature of Pir Vilayat’s own deeply devoted listening of this magnificent piece of music which follows the passion of the Christ—a listening described by Pir Zia as a “regenerative, illuminating meditation.”

Proceeds from the concert benefited the Hope Project in Delhi, founded in 1980 by Pir Vilayat to serve the needs of the desperately poor slum dwellers in the vicinity of Nizamuddin Dergah. The Hope Project, a cause close to Pir Vilayat and to the Inayti Order, was remembered throughout the weekend celebration with a pewter kashkul—the Sufi dervish’s begging bowl—placed in the entrance of the Meditation Hall to stimulate generosity. Cherished teacher and former head of the Esoteric School, Aziza, donated proceeds from her newly published booklet of memories of Pir Vilayat, too, to the Hope Project.

How felicitous that Pir Vilayat’s centennial anniversary and Urs were celebrated during the auspicious month of Ramadan—historically a time of retreat, prayerfulness and revelation. He was, after all, a Hanif, in the ancient tradition of mystics who were monotheists of a universal mind; who kept vigil, fasted, practiced silence and seclusion. Furthermore, elucidated Pir Zia, Hanifs were drawn to mountains and caves. And Pir Vilayat loved both the exaltation of the upper strata as well as the hermetic interiority of caves.

On Friday afternoon, a procession made its way in hallowed silence on foot and by car up the mountain to the site of Pir’s Pod. It was a pilgrimage to a space of illumined receptivity—geographical and spiritual—where radiant ideas and inspirations came to Pir Vilayat, which he transmitted in writing, and where he kept one foot in the ancient world and another apace with the changing times, through his computer. A lover of simplicity, he was at home here in the rugged setting of his pod and adjacent wooden hut. Standing there, we were reminded of a story Pir Zia shared earlier in the day of a visit he once made as a child up this very mountain to his father’s pod. He happened to glance at the electric socket in the wall of the pod and discovered, to his great surprise, a snake’s head peering out of it!

We crossed the threshold of the foundation where the former pod once stood. Clustering together in the compressed space, we prayed and sang. Afterwards, some of us visited the adjacent hut. Inside, Pir Vilayat’s high-backed chair greeted us, emanating an expectant, dignified air. Some of us wondered about Pir Vilayat’s wish to build a cave nearby— a dream that may yet, one day, manifest.

Over those concentrated days of devotion, our hearts widened and deepened. Exalted moments of flight during meditation shattered the narrow confines of our consciousness. We were borne aloft by the magnificent and lyrical invocations of Pir Vilayat, encapsulating “the harvest of the wisdom of the world.” How beautifully he opened the way to communion! We invoked, too, the six principles of alchemy, guided by Pir Zia in a meditation that offered a foretaste of “a larger music.” We were lifted into realms of light and joy, transported on the wings of breath, prayer and remembrance. And yet the ambiance was not without sobriety, a sobriety communicating the sheer wealth of our spiritual inheritance, brought forth in Pir Zia’s recitation of the Shajara, or chain of transmission. We sensed the living presence of the Silsia and remembered our responsibility as individuals to be vigilant, attentive and attuned to serving the highest truth in each unfolding moment.

The celebrations culminated in a breathtaking Universal Worship service on Sunday, June 19—Pir Vilayat’s centennial birthday and, fittingly, Father’s Day, too—the theme of joy and ecstasy threaded through an array of incandescent offerings. In his poignant, -soul-affirming sermon, Pir Zia invoked St Francis and Brother Leo, narrating through allegory, the path to joy amid—and despite—the trials and tribulations of our dense, earthly lives. “And if I am patient, and if I’m not upset, then is true joy. Then is the salvation of the soul,” he said, concluding his sermon by sharing a personal challenge—an adversarial impulse to tackle anyone who criticizes Murshid or the sacrosanct ones who dwell in his heart, but then, on hearing Murshid’s voice, If I am criticized, do not defend me, bowing in deference to Murshid, putting down his sword, and opening the doors of the sanctum. “And those swords that have been laid down are lifted up and hammered into ploughshares. And by the ploughing that is done seeds become grain. And the grain becomes the bread of pure joy!”

Clustered together beneath the chaddar—the blessed covering of Pir Vilayat’s tomb infused with the fragrance of roses—we were one family, merged in the spiritual being of our Pirs and our lineage. This symbolic sanctuary imprinted itself in our hearts. Here we will return, again and again, to nourish and fortify ourselves even as we seek the way ahead, as Pir Vilayat once did, seeking the path his father had ordained for him.