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

By Date























































Copying (1)


Copying (2)


Illusion in Art

The Art of Copying Nature

The Art of Improvement

The One Who Improves






Life is like the movement of lines. The beauty of lines is the wisdom and the beauty of life. Who understands lines understands God's plan. Color is a later creation than the line. Color is the fulfillment of the line. The line is God's power (mind); color His softness (mercy, wisdom); light is His ever-enduring life. Symbology means to understand every form, every color, every light. To understand this in its ever-creating action is to understand the language of symbology.

The artist needs three faculties: observation, concentration, expression.

  1. Observation in itself is a concentration when it is keen and well-focused. The keenness of observation comes from the clearness of mind and from the appreciation of beauty. Clearness of mind: The mind becomes clear when it is stilled, as the reflection is clear in water which is still. When the water is disturbed, the reflection becomes blurred. Appreciation of beauty: For appreciation of beauty, love for beauty is necessary, which is inborn in the artist, but is developed by a continual tendency to admire all that is beautiful.

  2. Concentration is divided into three aspects: designing, filling, finishing:

    1. Designing: Whatever one is concentrating upon one must first be able to form the outline of. This faculty can be developed by observing and taking in the outline of the object.
    2. Filling: Filling has its two aspects: i) filling with the parts and items that compose the object, however minute; ii) grasping the right sense of the color. The former comes from the analytical observation and exactness in taking up the object into one's mind. The latter comes by the development of the sense of color, which is a natural faculty in man.
    3. Finishing: Finishing is again going over the object one has in mind with an examining attitude, and noticing every little detail separately and collectively, and comparing it with the object that the eyes have seen. This requires not only an analytical tendency, but also exactness and development of memory.

  3. Expression. Every atom of the body, the eyes which see and the hand which holds the brush, are obedient servants of the mind. When an artist produces a picture on the canvas at a time when his body is not in perfect submission to his mind, and his mind not completely disciplined by his spirit, he cannot produce the picture to his satisfaction. His mind must be respondent to the guiding voice of his soul, and his hand must be led aright by the power of his mind. It is necessary that the hand of the painter is well-practiced in order to act rightly according to the suggestion of the mind. If the hand is not trained enough, the mind is not satisfied. It is necessary that the material in the way of brush and color and canvas is all up to the choice of the painter to the best of his satisfaction. It is necessary that the surroundings of the artist are congenial and at least harmonious if not inspiring. But artistic environments, harmonious atmosphere, and beautiful surroundings are helpful.

The mind of the artist must be free from the worries and anxieties of life. No thought of ugliness and badness of anybody's nature, nor bitterness or spite must take hold of the mind of the artist. For the mind must be perfectly free for receiving beauty in order to produce beauty. The artist must reject all badness of his nature. It is the sweetness of his nature which will express itself in the beauty of his art. The artist must not be irritable by nature, must not be impatient, and must not have bitterness against anybody, for these are the things in life which hinder beauty. The artist must love beauty of manner and express it in his own actions, and must refrain from all that is lacking beauty in thought, feeling, word, and deed. The purer the heart of the artist, the greater his art, the greater his love in his art, the more beauty he will produce.


Nature is the perfection of whatever choice man can make, and this itself is the proof that it is a creation of a Creator Who has not created blindly, but with intention and choice, proving thereby His perfect wisdom and skill. Nature therefore is the art of an Artist Who has made it to come up to His choice. Mineral, vegetable, animal, even human creation are from Him, but in the human creation He changes His choice by experiencing life through a human mind and body.

As the perfect spirit, God creates in nature all He wishes to come into being, and does not find anything lacking, for He has the capability of creating what is not there. But when the ray of the same Spirit works through the human garb, in the first place it is incapable of seeing nature as a whole and enjoying the perfection of its beauty. And yet, being the ray of the perfect Spirit, and as by nature it seeks perfection, it wants to create what it does not find there, and it is this which brings about the necessity for action.

Nature therefore is an action of God, and art the reaction of man. Art is divided into two classes: imitation (copying), and production (improving and improvising). The first wave of the artistic impulse is to imitate what he admires, and in this there are two tendencies that the artist shows, to copy and to improve. There is one artist who is more capable of copying, another of improvising. The skill in both aspects is equally great. To copy nature fully is beyond human capacity, and the greater an artist is in his art, the better he can copy nature. To copy nature, not only a keen observation but a deeper insight into the object before him is necessary.

The improvising faculty may show in certain ways greater, for the artist tries to make the copy of nature better than it is; in reality nature cannot be bettered, considering it as a whole. But when nature is observed in its parts it most often requires to be made better; and the ray of the Creator's spirit, which is the soul of the artist, tries to perfect that piece of nature which is imperfect when taken as apart from nature, proving thereby the action of God and the reaction of man.

Copying (1)

In copying nature there are two essential things: single-mindedness, and fixed observation. Single-mindedness comes from concentration. The artist must realize that it is the hand that can keep still which is capable of holding the brush; and so it is only the mind that can stand still which has the power to copy. By fixed observation is meant the capability of holding the gaze in focus, and by the latter is meant the penetrating glance. It depends a great deal upon the object that the artist paints. If its beauty is catching the eyes and the mind of the artist, and if it can hold the interest of the artist, it helps the artist to paint. There is always one thing that works against the artist: that is his every-changing temperament. It may work so actively that it may take away his fixed glance towards something more glaring, and thereby he may not have the patience to persevere in observing the one object before him.

Though the changeableness of the artist in a way shows the liquidity of his mind, which is natural to him, still his control over that changeableness brings his efforts in his art to a successful issue. Concentration therefore helps the artist most in his work. Keen insight into beauty does not only help in art, but it leads the artist to spiritual perfection. There is a very thin veil between the artist and God, and it is his insight into beauty, with constant practice, which can sometimes lift the veil, so that all the beauty of nature will become to the artist one single vision of the sublime immanence of God.


The tendency to improve upon nature is a wave of activity of the mind which rises higher than the tendency of copying nature, the former being productive, the latter more impressive. However, the virtue of both tendencies is peculiar in every case. The former tends towards the Creator, whereas the latter toward creation. Success in the first aspect of art is slow but sure; but in the second aspect, of improving, it may turn the right or the wrong way. The rhythm of the former is smooth, slow, and mobile; of the latter active, emphatic, and balancing. The art of copying is less intelligible to many than the art of improving. To appreciate the art of the one who copies, a deep insight is needed, even so deep an insight as that of the artist who dived deep into the ocean of beauty and from the bottom brought forth pearls in form and color. There is a tendency which often seems to increase in an imaginative artist, whereby the interest in his own art may go far from nature. Very often even this may prove successful; but at the end of a close examination it must prove to have turned fatal, for the safety of art rests only in keeping hand in hand with nature.

Copying (2)

Copying is the pupil's tendency, and the great master is he who is a great pupil. The one who copies must by nature be a respondent lover of nature and a follower of nature. There is a verse of a Hindustani Poet, "I will undo your curls, Oh blowing wind, if you disturb the curls of my beloved." The copier is the lover of the beauty he sees, and he does not wish to alter it. His whole effort is to keep its originality, and that is the nature of the lover of God. The copier in his constant effort draws closer and closer to beauty, thereby producing in his own nature beauty, and holding the beauty in himself he develops harmony in his nature and arrives at oneness with nature.

The copier develops the faculty of thinking deeply. Patience is naturally developed by copying. Also the copier will always keep balance, since nature, when seen as a whole, is nothing but balance. Balance is life, and the lack of it is death. The copier develops moderation in his nature, for he gently follows nature; and so he is always protected by nature, which has every support and protection of the Almighty Being, itself the very Manifestation of God.


The artist who improves indeed develops creative faculty, and this is rooted in that spirit which is the spirit of the Creator. To improve upon nature is to add to nature that which human nature has produced by a certain angle of vision. Improving is the perfection of nature. The path of the improver is risky. He sometimes has to produce what the human eye has never seen. Therefore his art, instead of appealing to the sense of beauty, often appeals to the sense of curiosity; and instead of bringing satisfaction, which must come through beauty, it may create a feeling of marvel. The artist must have a wonderful grace of form in order to improve to satisfaction.

There are many artists who develop an art which produces confusion in the spectator, and these are called "illusionists." They sometimes answer to the symbolical fancies of humankind; sometimes they appeal to the spiritualistic point of view; sometimes they produce a vision in their art, a feeling of something in a mist. This kind of art becomes of course a means of expressing the mystical ideas, but in the hands of the incompetent it is nothing but a meaningless art. And in the hands of the pretentious who wish to mystify people with their skill, it is nothing but a means of entertainment. The best way of improving upon nature is by keeping close to nature and yet amplifying the beauty of nature in painting, which is no doubt the true art.

Illusion in Art

Illusion is produced in art by two kinds of artists, one who has great intelligence with the fine sense of art: the other whose mind is not clear, and who expresses in his art his own confusion. Therefore the former is the real illusionist; the latter may be taken for what he is not.

One kind of illusion is art is to show at first sight something quite different from what a second sight would suggest. This no doubt requires great skill, besides a gifted talent in art, in that side of art. In this particular side of art one can see many forms in one form. By looking from different sides, and sometimes from each side, quite a different picture is seen, each proving the skill of the artist. In this form of art no doubt skill is more pronounced than beauty.

An example of this may be seen in the Lion Gate of Mycenae. This represents "seek all power at the feet of God." The column represents the foot of God. The lions represent power. It also represents that God is all power, that all the powerful of the world receive their power from God. This means, God is all powerful, God is the source of all power, in God is centered all power. The four round marks at the head of the column signify the four directions, which means that the reign of God is everywhere. The two altars show that the power manifests in two aspects, although they are of One and the Same God; one aspect being might and the other being beauty.

The whole figure also shows a human head, the column being the nose, the altar the mouth, and the two heads (missing here) being the eyes. This represents that the all-powerful God is found in man, the true temple and altar of God.

There is another kind of illusion. It is to produce before the concentrated gaze a picture that appears as real, and this is a proof of the best gift in art.

There is a third kind of illusion, a suggestive art in which a suggestion is made of a certain idea or action, so that only the mind developed enough to comprehend it may know it, although to all others it stands as a picture. This no doubt requires an awakening mind with creative power, and in this the artist has an opportunity in the realm of art to convey his thought to others. The artists of ancient times were generally mystics, and they always expressed their thoughts concerning the law of life and nature, their imagination of heaven, in art.

There is a fourth kind of illusion, which is more mystical than a simple suggestive illusion. It is to picture thought or feeling, a character or a quality which is of the abstract. It is like putting into form and color what is much beyond it. However, this art cannot be a common language. It is a language which no one understands better than its inventor, and yet it is beyond the capacity of the ordinary mind to picture the abstract. In this way there are many who try to picture music or thought-forms or emotions. No doubt this kind of art may easily lead an artist to mystify people with meaningless forms and colors of his fantasy, though in every case it must prove to be an advanced adventure on the part of the artist.

The most important aspect of illusion in art is symbology. Symbology is a language of art. It does not mean something to the artist only, but it is known to all who are supposed to know its meaning. Symbology means recognized illusion. The origin of symbology is in the inspiration of the artist, for to the artist, wisdom is revealed in dreams of art, and though an inspired artist certainly gives a message in the form of art, it is not necessary that every artist should be equipped in symbology, for talent in this direction is inborn in certain artists. An artist in the mystical path may develop this, but there must already be a spark of it in the heart of the artist. To understand symbology means to understand the language of nature, for behind the recognized symbols are numberless symbols, represented by every form that exists on earth and in heaven.

The Art of Copying Nature

The art of copying nature is suggestive of the perpendicular line, which represents all between heaven and earth. Also the perpendicular line denotes concentration and observation, the higher point of the line showing heaven, the lower part the earth. It is the straightness of glance in copying and the steadiness of the impression of nature which the artist gets that are both symbolized as the straight line. Therefore the ancient mystics have called the straight line "alif," which means first, the origin and source of all things. The word "alpha" comes from the same root.

The Art of Improvement

The art of improvement is in a sense opposed to the natural form, for it is not the same. And therefore this attitude of the artist towards nature is symbolized by the horizontal line, which supposedly means to say that you, the original nature, must not remain as you are: "I will make you different and better." It is this attitude that can be pictured as a horizontal line against the straight line, which forms the symbol of the cross. Since the cross is the way to perfection, the spirit which is in the artist brings about a perfection in the matter which is in nature. When looking from this point of view, no one can say anymore that it is premature on the part of man to interfere with the skill of God, as soon as one has realized that God created nature as God, but perfected His creation as the artist.

The One Who Improves

The improver has two tendencies. One tendency is to respect the form he improves by refraining from demolishing the originality of the form. He walks gently after nature as a follower of nature, which no doubt assures the success of his art. He improves, but does not go very far from nature. He touches the original form and yet does not touch it; he gently works out his destiny of perfecting the original nature. This he does by patience and by thoughtfulness. He is, so to speak, diffident before the Creator.

The other tendency is the tendency of exaggeration. In this there are two kinds. One is to give one's own form to the color of nature, or giving one's choice color to the form of nature. Another is a slightly pronounced tendency of exaggeration, which is to improve a form even to the extent of deforming it, so that the artist may make the length of the leaf which originally is a palm the size of an elephant's ear, make round what is oval, make an oval into a round form, make even into uneven, and turn a natural into an odd form. Undoubtedly in doing so the artist, if a really gifted one, will produce what very few artists will be able to do, and surely he will get successful results as a prize for his courageous ventures.

But since this tendency of an artist is adventure, it has every chance of failure. Very few artists are able to succeed in exaggeration in their artistic executions, and those who are incapable of doing this, when attempting to exaggerate their art, prove themselves to be nothing but premature. In the art of improvement, no doubt the creative faculty of the artist has as vast a scope as he may require, but no artist has ever been able to produce, nor will any artist ever be able to produce, the form that does not exist. There is no form nor color that does not exist in nature, and there are many forms and colors which remain and will remain unknown and unexplored by science or art. And this shows that man, however great an artist, is but a copier of nature, and by this one comes to the realization that after all man is man, and God is God.


To have the real knowledge of color and form is not easy for every artist. The sensibility for the minute shades of different colors and for the variety of shades in one color is a natural gift, which no study nor practice can teach, unless the artist is inspired by his own genius. It is difficult to have the feeling of the slight differences of thinness and thickness of the structure, and it is still more difficult for the average person to distinguish between the slight changes of color and form unless he is gifted by artistic insight. No doubt there is only one way of development, and if that way comes by itself so much the better.

Keenness of observation is both cause and effect of patience, love, and perseverance. A keen observation in reality is a concentration with open eyes; and when the gaze is fixed on an object of beauty and the mind, stilled by its effect, reflects the same effect from within, it becomes a complete concentration, a heaven in itself, if viewed mystically. This brings one to the realization of the philosophy that beauty in every form is perfection, and this perfection can be brought about by the harmony of two opposed things.

When the eyes are looking at a certain object and the mind is thinking of something else, this must naturally create a collision; for two activities going on at the same time in different directions, having no touch of harmony, must of themselves fail to prove successful, since conflict is a breach of the law of perfection. No one can concentrate better than a real artist, and no one can become great in art without developing concentration of mind. Both mind and body act and react upon each other, so as art helps concentration, so concentration helps art.


Symbolic art lies between the art of copying and the art of improving. In symbolic art, the art of copying and improvising unite, and therefore in symbolism both principal aspects of art become perfected. A person inspired by the symbolic expression of nature sees in all things of nature a symbol, representing to him something, at the same time revealing to him some mystery of life and nature. This knowledge is a key to the whole creation. To a person possessing this knowledge everything in the world seems a closed box, the key of which he possesses. As soon as he gives his attention to anything he sees, he immediately finds at hand a symbolic expression which, used as a key, opens the door to every hidden treasure.

There are two aspects of symbolic knowledge. One aspect is "nazul," when everything in nature begins to give its key to the artist in the form of a symbol. And by using the key, the artist becomes able to find out the mystery that every form represents. The other aspect is "uruj," in which a wave arises from the heart of the artist, bringing before his view a design by which he can best express his thought symbolically. The artist produces this wave that rises in his heart by his pain, satisfying thereby the demand of the spirit for perfection. In nazul, therefore, the artist receives the message; in uruj he gives it to the world, thereby fulfilling the spiritual act to which the inspired artist is destined.

According to the temperament of the artist, he is either more inclined to nazul or to uruj. The temperament of the one who is inclined to nazul has the jemal temperament, and the one who is inclined to uruj has the jelal temperament. However, uruj and nazul both act and react upon each other. Without uruj, nazul is impossible; without nazul, uruj cannot be. They act and react upon each other; and so perfection lies in receiving both, at times nazul and at times uruj, as one divides the time of his life during day and night into action and repose. God bless you.