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





















































The Breath

The Mysticism of Breath

The Phenomena of Breath

The Control of Breath



The Breath

The breath is what connects us with God, and the breath connects us also with manifestation. We are conscious that the breath reaches a certain distance without, and we are conscious that it enters into our bodies a certain distance, but we are not conscious how far without it goes, nor are we conscious how far it enters into our bodies.

As long as the breath is in the body, the body is alive; and when the breath has left the body, the body becomes a useless thing. This shows us the importance of the breath. It reaches within to every part of the body. The hair has a little sensation in the root. If one hair is pulled we feel pain. The nail has a little feeling in it. If it is cut we feel it. But when the hair and nail are cut off they have no sensation. This shows us that the more any part of the body is connected with the breath the more sensation it has. Those parts that are most connected with the breath have the most feeling.

By seeing the colors we may see how far it reaches without. It reaches so far that if we are in a large room two hundred yards long, it will reach the whole length of the room. Or if we look into the sky, we may see the colors there, showing that it is only there that the breath has room enough to extend. There is no aim that cannot be accomplished by the breath, and if we fail to accomplish our aims it is because we have a thousand different aims before us, not one alone. It becomes very difficult in the world where attacks come from a thousand sides. The breath goes out to meet an attack from one side, and instantly it has to turn to another side to face another attack. It would have to turn to every side in the same moment, and this it cannot do. This is the reason of the failure even of the sages and saints and mystics.

There is no other aim worth attaining than God. Other objects may seem valuable for a moment, but in reality no object is of value save God, to realize Him, to reach Him, and to be blessed. But in order to practice ourselves, we may set some object before us and keep it before us until, by the breath, we have attained it. We must keep our mind fixed towards one point, as the needle of the compass is turned towards one point. The difficulty is to keep the one object of our desire before us. When we are aiming at this, another illumination calls us from here, another intellect from there, another wisdom from a fourth side. If we turn to these, the object before us may remain as an imagination, but in reality it is gone. By concentrating on the breath, a person can tell what element is passing through him at the moment; and by consulting the breath he can tell the present and future.

The Philosophy of Breath

As the books, precepts, and doctrines of his religion are important to the follower of a religion, so the study of the breath is important to the mystic. We ordinarily think of the breath as that little air that we feel coming and going through our nostrils; but we do not think of it as that vast current that goes through everything, that current which comes from the Consciousness and goes as far as the external being, the physical world. In the Bible it is written that first the word was, and from the word all things came. And before the word was the breath, which made the word. We see that a word can make us happy, a word can make us sorry.

There is a story told that once a Sufi was healing a child that was ill. He was repeating a few words, and then gave the child to the parents saying, "Now he will be well." Someone who was antagonistic to this said to him, "How can it be possible that be a few words spoken anyone can be healed?" From a mild Sufi an angry answer is never expected, but this time he turned to the man and said, "You understand nothing about it. You are a fool." The man was very much offended. His face was red. He was hot. The Sufi said, "When a word has the power to make you hot and angry, why should not a word have the power to heal?"

Behind the word is the much greater power, the breath. If a person wishes to study the self, to know the self, what is important is not the study of the mind, of the thought, the imagination, nor of the body, but the study of the breath. The breath has made the mind and the body for its expression. It has made all from the vibration to the physical atom, from the finest to the grossest. The breath, the change of the breath can make us sad in the midst of happiness, it can make us joyful in the saddest, the most miserable surroundings. That is why, without reason, in some places we feel glad, in other places a melancholy comes over us. It is the air that makes us so. You may say, "How can the breath make all this? How could it make the body?" I have seen people become in the course of years as their breath is. What exists in the breath is expressed in the form. As the breath is, so the child becomes.

There are two sorts of breath. There is the stronger breath, jelal; and the weaker breath, jemal; and there is the breath that unites the jelal and jemal and by uniting them destroys, annihilates both. This is kemal. By uniting jelal and jemal it forms a circle. This is why the guns and shells and cannons all have a circular form, because the circle is the form of destruction.

All the elements are in the breath, according to the direction which the breath takes: the earth, water, fire, air, and ether. We can taste them in the breath. There are five directions, four outward and one inward. You may say, "What influence can the direction have?" I will say, "If you take a ball and throw it in every direction, the ball will not go equally far at every throw. It will go sometimes further, sometimes not so far." The direction of the breath makes an effect even in our words. Sometimes we say, "Yes, I see," directly. Sometimes we say, "Yes," sarcastically, "I see," and our head is thrown back, the breath comes obliquely, the effect is quite different. If you say, "We cannot feel, perceive the elements in the breath; we do not know where they are," I will say, "This is a science. It cannot be understood in a moment. It is a study."

You will say, "Is the direction the only thing that has influence upon the breath?" There are two other forces that influence it, uruj and nazul, the rise and fall. In the jets of water in a fountain some of the jets rise very high, others less high, others rise only a few inches, according to the force by which they are predestined. So it is with the breath. (Here Murshid speaks of length of life and number of breaths. The first impulse given, the hoop, the clock, and the swing of the pendulum. "Lengthening the breath is life." -Mahmud Ghasnavi.)

The control of the breath: reading books cannot give anyone the control of the breath. For this, practice is needed. Reading the theory of music cannot make anyone a composer, a singer, a piano player. Ask the composers, the singers, the violinists how much they have to practice. The practice of the breath is very difficult and very arduous. We see the yogis sitting for hours in the same position, standing in the same position, practicing for hours in the night or before dawn. By the control of the breath all things are gained. If a man is a great writer, it is because his breath holds the thoughts that are in his mind. Sandow, by the control of breath, developed ideal muscles. Before the control of the breath is learnt, there is the control of the body. This is gained by the practice of postures and positions. If a small child is trained once in the day to sit still for five minutes or four minutes, not to run about, that gives control. If it is trained not to begin to eat at dinner until everybody eats, that gives control.

The ways of the control of the breath are many. It must be done by the realization of the self. But as long as we think that this body is our self, we cannot realize our self. And often we think not only that our body is our self, but we think that our overcoat is our self. If it is miserable, we think that we are miserable; if it is very grand, we think that we are very grand. It is natural that that which is before our view we think our self. We always remember the words of our great poetess, Zeb-un-Nisa. She says, "If thou thinkest of the rose, thou wilt become the rose. If thou thinkest of the nightingale, thou wilt become the nightingale. Thou art a drop, and the Diving Being is the whole. Whilst thou art alive, hold the thought of the whole before thee, and thou wilt be the whole."

The mystic always consults his breath, in the evening and in the morning, to know whether it is harmonious with the sun, with the moon and the planets. He is always conscious of the breath. For this the Sufi gives a lesson, to be always conscious of the breath. This is called "Fikr." My spiritual teacher, my murshid, once said, "People say that there are many sins and virtues, but I think there is only one." I asked, "What is that?" He said, "To let one breath go without being conscious of it." This is done by concentration.

The Mysticism of Breath

This is the most essential subject to be studied. All that exists in the universe exists by the breath. Every being that is manifested manifests first in the breath Because we are human beings, we think of the angels as being human beings also Really they are a preparation for the human being. They exist in the breath. You may say, "show us some proof of this in the sacred writings of the world." I will say, "You will find it in the Bible where it says that first there was the word, the sound. "Really the word should be the same as the Sanskrit "svar," which means word, it means speech, spirit, breath.

The breath is the sound, not that sound that our ears can hear, but a fine sound. You may have read that in former ages there were people who lived for hundreds of years. You may have read that the yogis live for two hundred or three hundred years. This is because of the breath. Mahmud Ghasnavi, the emperor, lived for one hundred and twenty years. In his old age he had learnt mysticism and the science of breath. When the breath is long, the life is long in proportion. It is just like the tick of a clock. If the swing is shortened, then the clock will finish the twelve hours it has to run in less time. It is so with the length of life. All our life depends upon the breath, its length, shortness, depth.

When a person has eaten very much, when he has drunk much water, when he has worked much with the earth, his breath is very heavy. You can hear it when he is sitting at dinner, or wherever he is. It becomes heavy from its contact with the matter, just as the air in a town becomes heavy from its contact with the houses, the walls. In the country, in the jungle, it is light because it is free. The people of normal life have a light breath. Normal means eating a normal amount, drinking a normal amount, healthy. They live longer. The material person, who eats very much, drinks very much, indulges in all the pleasures and comforts, has a short life. We always see that the athletic people, whose breath is normal, healthy, live long.

Therefore the mystics keep all the passages of the breath open. They fast. They practice abstinence. The proof of the heart, the soul, is in the breath. When we are very sad a deep sigh comes, a very heavy sigh. This shows that the breath has come in contact with something that has made it heavy, that is the heart: not this heart of flesh, but the inner heart. The life exists in the breath. When the breath is gone, the mechanism of the eyes is perfect, but we do not see. The mechanism of the ears is perfect, but we do not hear. The essence is in the breath. If we can see and hear by the physical organs, why should we not see and hear much more by the breath, since the essence is there?

We may think that the breath is just the small volume of air that we take into our lungs, and that it goes as far as we feel it go. How far it extends we may know by seeing the colors of the breath. Sometimes we may see a color on the wall of the room. Or if we look into the sky we may see a color in the sky. The breath extends for miles together, farther than we can see. It reaches from here to Russia, to New York, and much further. By it you can send a message to your friend. By it telepathy is possible. Of course it depends upon the strength and length of the breath. The longer the breath, the further is its reach. For this reason the mystic lengthens his breath. He controls the rhythm. In each breath there are two parts, the inhaling and the exhaling.

During the exhaling you become dead to the world around you, to the external impressions. It is said of the mystics that they are absent-minded, that they are lost. That is because by the length of the breath they become dead for the time to the world. By this deadness they become alive to the world within, they experience that world. They experience before death what their condition will be after the death of the physical body. We recognize our physical body as our self, and when this goes from a person, to be without it is a terrible experience. If you were to go to a country where all the people had horses' faces, it would be a terrible experience. Not one human face. Or even if you were to go to Tibet and to stay there all your life, it would be a terrible thing. Not one person who could speak your language, who knows your manners, your customs, your ways, everything difficult. How much more difficult is this journey after death. It is as if to be without eyes in a picture gallery, and to be in a ballroom without feet. The mystic experiences this journey in life. He does not stay there. He goes there and comes back.

When you can control the rhythm of breath, then you have the control of every part of the body. The mystic interests his mind in the breath by consulting the breath upon every question, by seeing through which nostril the breath is flowing, and in what direction, and so getting the answer. He does this, not for the sake of the question, but in order to interest his mind in the breath.

The Phenomena of Breath

We often experience that we know other people's condition, their feelings, their joy or sorrow, pleasure or displeasure, without their saying anything or making any sign. This is because, though it is not otherwise shown outwardly, it manifests in the breath. Sometimes if a very mirthful person comes among people who are all very sad, their mood changes. Sometimes if someone who is very gloomy comes into a gathering of people who are all very cheerful, without his saying anything, they all become sad. If someone laughs very much without any cause, other people want to laugh. If we see somebody yawn, even if we are not at all sleepy we want to yawn.

It is the breath that communicates this inclination to others. In the presence of a sage his influence is felt without his speaking. There are some sages who do not speak at all; their influence is felt. This is the influence of their breath. According as a person is more or less sensitive, he is affected by it. We know what the condition of our friend is even if he is in America. We feel his pleasure or displeasure, his faithfulness or unfaithfulness. You may say, "If this is so, why do we not know about everybody in America? Why do we not know about President Wilson?" In order to know our mind must be focused with the mind of President Wilson. It is focused with the mind of our friend, and we know about him, whether he be in America, or in China, or Japan.

You may say, "Why are we not all conscious by the breath?" There are two things that make a person less sensitive. One is the impurity of the breath, the physical impurity, and the impurity of mind. For this purification is needed, not merely the outward purification, but the purification of the veins and tubes, of the lungs and all the passages. The body becomes impure because of the artificial life that we lead. The animals lead a much more natural life than we, and they are much more sensitive. If we go near a horse or a cow, an ox, before we put our hand on it, it shivers all over. Such a thick skin as the horse's is so sensitive. For this reason the brahmans had in their houses the bare boards, no carpet. They did not fill up their houses with furniture. They ate on the floor, from leaves, and wore only one dhoti, one cloth. If we were to examine the carpet, perhaps the microbes of every disease in the world would be found in it. There are the mystical ways of purification, the purification of the earth, water, fire, air, and other.

Then the breath must be made vital. Sometimes the breath is not vital, it is weak, and for that reason it cannot be discerned. What must be done to make it vital? When we want to strengthen our muscles we exercise them. The breath must be exercised. The jelal breath has a connection with the sun. The jemal breath has its connection with the moon. The breath flows either through one nostril or the other, but there are times when it flows through both nostrils. This is kemal, the uniting of the two currents which brings about the destruction of the effect of both. There are ways of changing the breath from jelal to jemal, from jemal to jelal.

The mystic knows by the breath the success or failure of an undertaking, the illness or death of a person long before it takes place. There are people who, without any training, see sometimes a green color before them, sometimes another color: sometimes a square, a circle, or some form on the wall. Sometimes he sees a green color and a square. He goes out, meets a friend, and has success in what he is doing. But he does not know that what he has seen has any connection with it.

His friends say, "He is mad, he is quite crazy, he says he always sees a color." And because they always tell him he is mad, he thinks there must be something the matter and he really becomes crazy.

People speak of clairvoyance, clairaudience. Clairvoyance and clairaudience are nothing but these same things that manifest in the finer vibrations. But the pity is that both in the West, and in the East also, those who know least speak the most. Those who generally do not speak, their lips are closed, they never let it be supposed that they know. They are humble, meek. Without this humility, with a very little that we have learnt, what a conceit comes, what a pride. I say this to you because you are the students of mysticism. If you could learn this lesson of humility it would be a great thing.

I remember a great sage. Whenever I went to see him and I wanted to bow at his feet, before I could bow at his feet, he was bowing at mine.

The Control of Breath

We say that the hand is in control when it can grasp something and hold the thing in its grasp. The fingers, we say, are in control when they move up and down the piano, when they strike B when B is wanted, they do not strike E. Control is in repose and activity both. Sometimes we find that we have become angry, we have become impatient, we have lost control of our mind. Before control of the mind is lost, the control of the breath is lost. More than a thousand times since I have been in the West people have said to me, "We cannot control our mind. We cannot keep our mind fixed on one point." The first step is to lessen the activity of the mind. When the thoughts come more slowly, this is the first step. And the first thing is to control the breath, to make it slow and regular. By this the health of the body is improved, and the health of the mind. In the Qur'an it is said, "Surely, we revealed it on the night of Power" (Sura 97, 1:5).

What was that night of power to him whose whole life was revelation? It was the sending of breath within. It is natural that we always look outward. The breath is directed outward. We see what is outward, we hear what is outward, we taste what is outward, we are touched by what is outward. When the breath is sent within, then a person sees what is within, he hears what is within, he tastes within, he is touched by what is within. When this is done and the breath is purified, the mystics see in it forms and colors which reveal to them the past, present, and future. They know the past, present, and future of every person whom they see. But if the control of breath tells him the past, present, and future, that is too little. That is not worthwhile. It must tell him more. It must bring him to that unlimited existence from this limited being, to that immortality from this mortal being.

In the account of the miraj it is said that a buraq was brought for Muhammed to ride, an animal like a horse with a human face. This buraq was the breath, the horse whose rein is in the rider's hand. If a person exercises the breath and practices concentration with a scientific idea only, he soon becomes tired. He thinks, "Why take so much trouble, for what result?" If it is done with the thought of God, with the repetition of the names of God, then a happiness comes, a bliss, by the thought of the idealized God, in Whom is all perfection, all beauty, the Friend to Whom we can tell our sorrows, all our sorrows, all our troubles. Sa'adi says that in the thought of God there is this blessing, that it draws us every moment nearer to Him. The practice of zikr makes you much warmer to all about you. The Fikr makes you able to send your thought to another and it gives long life. The more each breath is lengthened, the longer you will live. Some yogis, by this means, have lived three hundred or four hundred years. God bless you.