The Teaching of Hazrat Inayat Khan      

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Social Gathekas

Religious Gathekas

The Message Papers

The Healing Papers

Vol. 1, The Way of Illumination

Vol. 1, The Inner Life

Vol. 1, The Soul, Whence And Whither?

Vol. 1, The Purpose of Life

Vol. 2, The Mysticism of Sound and Music

Vol. 2, The Mysticism of Sound

Vol. 2, Cosmic Language

Vol. 2, The Power of the Word

Vol. 3, Education

Vol. 3, Life's Creative Forces: Rasa Shastra

Vol. 3, Character and Personality

Vol. 4, Healing And The Mind World

Vol. 4, Mental Purification

Vol. 4, The Mind-World

Vol. 5, A Sufi Message Of Spiritual Liberty

Vol. 5, Aqibat, Life After Death

Vol. 5, The Phenomenon of the Soul

Vol. 5, Love, Human and Divine

Vol. 5, Pearls from the Ocean Unseen

Vol. 5, Metaphysics, The Experience of the Soul Through the Different Planes of Existence

Vol. 6, The Alchemy of Happiness

Vol. 7, In an Eastern Rose Garden

Vol. 8, Health and Order of Body and Mind

Vol. 8, The Privilege of Being Human

Vol. 8a, Sufi Teachings

Vol. 9, The Unity of Religious Ideals

Vol. 10, Sufi Mysticism

Vol. 10, The Path of Initiation and Discipleship

Vol. 10, Sufi Poetry

Vol. 10, Art: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Vol. 10, The Problem of the Day

Vol. 11, Philosophy

Vol. 11, Psychology

Vol. 11, Mysticism in Life

Vol. 12, The Vision of God and Man

Vol. 12, Confessions: Autobiographical Essays of Hazat Inayat Khan

Vol. 12, Four Plays

Vol. 13, Gathas

Vol. 14, The Smiling Forehead

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The Mysticism of Color and Sound

The Mystery of Color and Sound



The Mysticism of Color and Sound

Both from the point of view of the Sufi and that of all mystics, the original state of the whole creation is a vibration, and the vibration manifests in two forms or stages. In its original condition the vibration is inaudible and invisible, but in its first stage toward manifestation it becomes audible, and in its next step visible. In its audible stage it is called 'Nada' in Vedantic terms, a word which means 'sound'; or 'Nada-Brahma' which represents 'sound the Creator,' 'sound the Creative Spirit.'

The next stage is called 'Jatanada,' a word which means 'the light.' It is the different degrees of that light and their comparison with one another which gives rise to the various colors. Colors are only the different shadows of light. Compared with one another they are colors. But in reality the light constitutes all color. This is shown by the light of the sun, which has no particular color of its own. But the light of which plants partake, they manifest in the colors of their flowers. These colors seem to be the colors of flowers, vegetables and leaves, whereas in reality they are the colors of the sun. Moreover, in the case of souls also, we may realize that the manifestation of such a variety among them is also an illusion. One forgets that all the various and endless faces and forms of human beings belong to one Spirit, and are the manifestations of that one Spirit. When one begins to understand the theory of color and sound, one can begin to understand that also.

For instance, what is sound? The different notes are the various degrees of breath, human breath or the echo coming from a vessel or instrument or bell, for that also is breath; the breath of human beings as well as the breath of objects; from the one breath many sounds manifest. So that takes one back to the idea of unity again. All this variety of colors and forms and sounds proceeds from one single Source. Associated with this there is the question of the mysticism of number. This is the idea of rhythm. Every movement must have its rhythm. There cannot be movement without rhythm. By rhythm we imagine the intervals of time, such as 'hour' or 'minute,' or in music 'crochet,' 'quaver,' 'semi-breve,' for all these arise from our habit of dividing time into a rhythm. We do this because our life itself depends on rhythm. Our self is full of rhythm. The beating of the pulse, of the heart, in the head, all show life's rhythm.

The science of number comes from the science of rhythm. A certain number comes to denote a certain duration of time. Every action or movement requires a certain time, and has a corresponding effect. Every effect which is produced by color, sound, or number depends on the harmonious or inharmonious effect of that particular thing. For instance, if the sound is not harmonious, it has not a desirable effect upon us; if a color is not harmonious, it also has an undesirable effect. This shows that it is not the particular number or sound which gives the desirable effect, but the harmony. That is why a knowledge of the effect of sound, color or number is insufficient without a development of a sense of harmony in oneself, so that one can understand the harmonious effect of these things.

The mystics have seen five 'tatwas,' or elements, working behind both the sound and the rhythm, although musicians consider seven notes in a scale. The original scale known to the mystics had five numbers. And there were five kinds of scales among ancient people, with five different classes of rhythm. They took the five colors to represent the five elements. People often say, "This color is lucky and that is unlucky," "This number is lucky and that unlucky." But it is not the particular color or number in itself. It is the harmony of the situation. In what relation does that particular color and number stand to you, your life's affair, your own constitution, your stage of evolution. If it stands in harmony with your life, then it is harmonious and lucky. If not, it is inharmonious and unlucky. But it does not mean that the particular color is harmonious; it is just how it stands in your life that decides whether it is harmonious or not. So it is with sounds.

But the power of sound is greater than the power of color. Why is this? It is because sound arises from the depth of one's being, and because sound can also touch the depth of one's being. The Mantra Yoga of the Hindus is based on this principle. The Sufi term for this is zikr; that is the use of words for the unfoldment of the soul. But it is not merely for bringing about any desired result that words can be used in zikr. People often make the mistake of using the word without any spiritual ideal behind it, simply for the attainment of some magical power. The Sufis of all ages have warned against this mistake, and have constantly taught that here is only one object worth striving for, the essential object of life, namely God. It is only when the science of words is being used for the attainment of Truth, for the attainment of God, that it is being used in the right manner. To use it for any other purpose whatever is just like paying out pearls to buy pebbles.

We must remember the teaching of Christ, how He says, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that belong to God." In other words, give to the world that which belongs to the world, and give to God what belongs to God, namely: love, worship, reverence, devotion, trust, confidence. All those are due to God; so give them to God. That which belongs to the world is: wealth, money, service, sympathy, kindness, tolerance, forgiveness. All these are due to the world, so give them to the world. We only make a mistake when we give to the world what is for God, and when we do for God what belongs to the world. For instance, when a man flatters another man, and when man depends upon a human being instead of depending upon God. All those things which belong to God, and are due to God, we fail to give Him and give them to man instead.

When all things which we gain are used for a selfish purpose, we at once become confronted with difficulties, troubles, and disappointments. That is why the same mystical science may be used as a means of attaining God, or may be abused by turning it into a way called 'black magic.' It is not that there is something special called 'black magic,' or that there is something else called 'white magic'; magic is all one and the same. It is how we use it that makes the difference. It is the use of it which makes it right or wrong, good or bad.

A question may be asked, regarding the mysticism of color and sound: "Can we get our individual color and note?"

  1. The answer is that in the first place it is not a matter of our own color being good for us. It is whether a number or color is in harmony with us or not, that makes it good or not.

  2. In the second place, at every moment of our life, our evolution changes. A person who was a thief yesterday is not a thief today. So also a given number or color belonging to us at one moment, does not belong to us a another moment; it changes every moment. Therefore, to restrict oneself to a certain number or color is like tying one's feet with a chain so that no more progress can take place.

  3. In the third place, were we to settle upon a particular number or color, we might induce a tendency to superstition in our nature, and this we must always avoid. We would always be thinking: 'what is the number of the house we are going to live in'; 'what is the color of the room I shall occupy'; 'what is the color of that dress'; and so on. What would it be then if the person were obliged to live in that particular house, or were obliged to occupy that room in the hotel. If the number were inharmonious he would think everything would go wrong while staying there!

    While it is always well to learn everything one can, it is not good to give in to a superstition. Otherwise it would be better never to have known such things at all. The whole aim of the Sufi is to reach to reality, and anything savoring of superstition must be avoided. And what is color after all? It is an illusion. What is number? It is an illusion. What are forms? They are illusions also. It is interesting to a certain extent to know about these things and distinguish them; it gives you a certain knowledge. But since they are all illusions, how can it be worthwhile to give oneself absolutely to them and so neglect the unfolding of the self, besides at the same time neglecting the search for the reality, the only aim of the soul?

Therefore all other knowledge and all other pursuits must be given a secondary place. Our main pursuit must be after Truth, believing as we do that in the Truth there is God.

The Mystery of Color and Sound

The attraction that one finds in color and in sound, makes one wonder if there is a mystery hidden behind it, if there is a language of color and sound that could be learned; and the answer is that the language of color and sound is the language of the soul, but it is our outward language which makes us confused as to the meaning of that inner language. Color and sound are the language of life. Life expresses itself in all different planes of existence in the form of color and sound; although the outward manifestations of life are so rigid and so dense that the secret of their nature and character becomes buried underneath.

Why is the world called an illusion by the mystics? For the very reason that I the nature of manifestation is such that it envelops its own secret in itself, and stands out in such a rigid form that the fineness and the beauty and the mystery of its character are hidden within itself, and therefore the seekers after the truth of life, the students of life, strike two opposite paths. One wishes to learn from its external appearance; the other wishes to find out the secret which is hidden behind it. The one who learns from the external gets the knowledge of the external, which we call science. The one who finds out from within, that which is hidden within the manifestation, he is the mystic. The knowledge he gains is mysticism.

The first question that comes to the mind of the intelligent person is: "What is it in color and in sound that appeals to man?" I will answer: "It is the tone and rhythm of color, as well as of sound, which have an influence on the tone and rhythm of our being." Our being is our capacity for the resonance of tone and rhythm that comes from sound and color. This capacity enables us to be influenced by sound and color. Thus, some have a liking for a certain colors others have a liking for another color. In the way of sound, some are attracted to a certain kind of sound. In the form of voice, some are attracted to the baritone or bass voice, others are attracted to the tenor and soprano. There are some to whom the deep sound of the cello appeals; there are others who are interested in the sound of the violin; some can enjoy even the thick sound of the horn and trombone; others can enjoy the flute. What does this show? It shows that there is a certain capacity in our hearts, in our beings, and it depends upon that particular capacity what kind of sound appeals to us.

At the same time, it depends upon man's grade of evolution, his character, his nature; whether he is gross or fine; also his temperament; if he is of a practical nature or if he is dreamy; if he loves the drama of life; if he is absorbed in the ordinary things of life. According to man's condition, his temperament and his evolution, color and sound have their effect on him. And the proof of this fact is that so often man changes his fancy in color; there is a time when he is so fond of red; there are times when he longs to see purple; there are times when he dreams of mauve. And then there comes a time when he takes a fancy to blue; he craves for yellow, for orange. There are some who like deep colors, others light colors. It all depends upon their temperament and their grade of evolution.

Music of every kind appeals to someone. The best or the worst, somebody likes it. Have you not seen how children enjoy themselves with a little tin can and a stick? The rhythm comes within their capacity of enjoyment. Human nature is such, when you put it all together, it takes in everything, from the highest to the lowest. It has such a wide capacity that there is nothing left out. All has its place and all is assimilated by human nature. But at the same time there is action and reaction. It is not only the grade of evolution which makes man change his fancy to different colors and tones, but it is different colors and tones that help him also in his evolution, and they change the speed of one's evolution.

Very often man gives a great importance to color and tone, so much so, that he forgets something which is behind it, and that leads man to many superstitions, fancies and imaginations. Many people have fooled the simple ones by telling them what color belonged to their souls, or what note belonged to their lives. And man is so ready to respond to anything that can puzzle him and confuse his mind; he is so willing to be fooled. He enjoys it so much if somebody tells him that his color is yellow, or green; or his note is C, D or F on the piano. He does not care to find out why. It is like telling somebody that "Wednesday is your day and Tuesday is some other person's."

In point of fact all days are ours; all colors are ours. It is man who is the master of all manifestation. It is for man to use all colors and tones; they are at his disposal, for him to use and make the best of. It would be a great pity if we were subject to one color or tone. There would be no life in it; it would be a form of death. The staircase is made for us to ascend, not for us to continue stepping in one place. Every step is our step, if only we take it.

Now coming to the mystical point of view. The first aspect that makes intelligence conscious of the manifestation is sound; the next aspect is light, or color. The proof of this can be found in the Bible as well as in Vedanta. The Bible says: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God." And in another place it says: "First was the Word, and then came Light." What is color? It is an aspect of light. And when we come to read the Vedanta, there it says: "The first aspect of the Creator, the Source from which the whole creation was made, was sound." In the Qur'an it is said: "The first command was, 'give us a sound', and all became manifest . "

All the mystics and prophets and great thinkers of the world in all periods of history, in expressing the history of creation, have given the first place to sound. And the scientist of today says the same thing. He will call it radium, atom, electron; and after going through all the different atoms of substance he gets into the substance he calls movement. Movement is vibration. It is only the effect of motion which we call sound. Motion speaks, and speech we call sound, because it is audible. When it is not audible, it is because there is not sufficient capacity. But the cause of sound is movement, and movement is always there; which means that the existence of the movement does not depend upon capacity.

And what is color? Color also is movement. And its capacity makes color concrete to our vision. At the same time, although we may say that this is green or red or yellow, every color is different to each person; in fine shades of color, people do not see alike, because the capacity is different in each. The tone is according to the capacity. In other words, it is not the tone or color which in its value is different; it becomes different when we sense it, when we feel it. In its relation to us it is different.

The conception of the five elements, which the mystics have held in all times, cannot be explained in scientific terms, because the mystics have their peculiar meaning. Although it may be called water, fire, air, earth, it must not be taken as such; its nature and character, according to the mystics, is different, but as words are few, we cannot give different names to these elements, although in Sanskrit we have different words for these elements. And so 'ether' is not ether as the scientists mean it. It is capacity. Water is not water as we understand in everyday language; it is liquidity. Fire is understood differently, it means glow or heat or dryness or radiance, all that is living. All of these words suggest something more than we mean by earth, fire, water, etc.

Now, the working of these five elements is distinguished by different color and sound. In the musical scales which are called 'ragas' in India and China, the raga of five notes is considered the most appealing, and I myself have experienced that the scale of five notes is much more appealing than the scale of seven notes. The scale of seven notes lacks some vital influence that the scale of five notes possesses. In ancient times, the scales by which miracles were performed were mostly the scales of five notes.

And now one sees that there is a relation between sound and color. The first tendency a man has, is to open his eyes when he hears something, to see if he can see the color of it. That is not the way to see it. Color is a language. The very life which is audible, is visible also; but where? It is visible in the inner plane. The mistake is that man looks in the outer for it. When he hears music, he wants to see the color before him. Every activity of the outer world is a kind of reaction, in other words a shadow, of the activity which is behind it, which we do not see. And there is a difference in tone.

There is an activity which has passed twelve hours before and it is now in color in the outer plane, and the same is the reason for the question of the effect he will see in the morning, or next week, and therefore this shows that there is some activity which takes place behind the scenes and it is reflected on the outer life, according as the activities of the outer life are directed.

This is the reason why a seer or mystic is able very often to know beforehand his own condition, and the condition of others; what is coming, or what has passed, or what is going on at a distance. For he knows the language of sound and color. And now the question is: on which plane does he know the language of sound and color? In what way does it manifest to him? One cannot restrict it under a certain law, and at the same time it has a certain law. And where does he see it? He sees it in his breath.

Therefore, the whole culture of spiritual development is based upon the science of breath. The yogis, the mystics, what made them see happenings of the past, present and future? Some law behind creation. A certain working of the mechanism which is a finer mechanism. And how can it be seen? By opening one's vision to one's self.

According to the mystics, there are five capacities of one's being, which may be called five 'akashas.'

  1. The one capacity which everybody knows and is conscious of, is what may be called the receptacle of food, which is this body.
  2. And the other which is more or less recognized, is the receptacle of sense, which is in the senses.
  3. And the third capacity is called the receptacle of life, and this capacity is a world in itself, where one is conscious of the finer forces of life which are working within himself. They can convey to him a sense of the past, present or future, for the reason that they are clear to his vision. He sees them. But you may ask: "How can he find out the condition of another?" It is not because he can know more about others, for one is made to know most about himself, but many are unconscious of the third receptacle, that of life.

The one who is conscious of his receptacle of life, he is able to empty the capacity he has and give a chance for the life of another person to reflect upon it. He does it by focussing upon the life of another, and by that he covers the past, present and future. Only he has to make the camera stand in the right place. It is exactly like photography. The plate is there; it is clear because he is able to empty his own capacity; and the black cloth which the photographer puts over the camera and over his own head, is concentration. When man has mastered concentration, he becomes the photographer. He can use all the light upon one spot. It is all scientific when we understand it in that way. It becomes a puzzle when it is put before us as a mystery. All is mystery when we do not know it; when we know it, all is simple. The true seekers after truth are lovers of simplicity. The right road is simple, clear, distinct. There is nothing vague about it.

And the more one follows this path of the mystery of life, the more life becomes revealed to him. Life begins to express its secret, its nature. What is required of man is an honest following of life's law, and nothing in this world is more important than the knowing of human nature and the study of human life, and that study lies in the study of self, and it is the study of self which is really the study of God. God bless you.