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The Church of All and of all churches is the religious activity of the Sufi Order, The Sufi Movement and the Sufi Islamia Ruhaniat Society and was founded in 1923 by Hazrat Inayat Khan in France.
Here are a few things that Inayat
Khan said on the subject of the Church.
The Universal Worship
The religious activity of the Sufi Movement is called the Universal Worship, or the Church of All. Why is it so named? Because it contains all different ways of worship and all Churches.
This Universal Worship which has been organized in the Sufi Movement was the hope of all prophets, the prayer and the desire of all great souls: that the light given in all the different forms such as the Buddhist scriptures, the Qur'an, the Bible, or the teachings of Krishna or Zarathushtra, should be known by everyone. The work of the Sufi message is to spread the unity of religion. It is not a mission to promote a particular creed or any Church or religion;it is a work to unite the followers of different religions and faiths in wisdom, so that without having to give up their own religion they may strengthen their own faith and focus the true light upon it. In this way a greater trust, a greater confidence will be established in mankind. Behind all wars there is a suggestion of religion. Whenever there has been a war, and even now in such wars as we have gone through, we always see the finger of religion. People think that the reason for war is mostly political, but religion is a greater warmonger than any political ideas. Those who give their lives for an idea always show some touch of religion.
This religious channel which is Sufism exists in order to avoid greater catastrophes, and to gather together the followers of different religions in the understanding of the one truth behind them, so that they may hold in respect all the teachers of humanity who have given their lives in the service of truth. Instead of doing as the theologists in colleges who only want to find what is the difference between Moses and Buddha, one should look behind all religions to see where they unite, to find out how the followers of all the different religions can be friends, how they can come to that one truth. To say that the whole world must belong to one Church, one religion, is as absurd as for all people to wear one kind of dress. The world would become uninteresting. Let the people have Churches, beliefs, faiths;let them have different conceptions of things as long as they are brought closer to the realization of truth. Then they will naturally understand better that it is true wisdom which is the real light, that it is the central wisdom which brings them together and which is the inspirer of humanity.
Religion is something which touches the depths of the heart; and everyone has his own conceptions of religion which he holds as sacred. By expressing one's opinion too freely one may easily hurt that conception which another holds as sacred. Nevertheless, the need of a Universal Worship, a Church of All, has been felt at all times. It has been the ideal of the great prophets to bring the whole of humanity into one religion; but as humanity has a great variety of conceptions, this has never been easy.
Religion consists of five principal elements: belief in God, adoration of the spiritual ideal, the moral conception, the form of worship, and the philosophy of life. When we consider the variety of religions in the world, we find that some believe in one God, some in many gods; some are monotheists, some pantheists. In this way the conception of God changes among the civilized peoples of the world, and we may be thankful that it is no longer the case that every family has its own God.
How does the Sufi think of God? Does he believe in one God? If he believes in one God, then how can he tolerate the belief in many gods? The answer is that the aim of the Sufi is to bring peace among the different believers. He does not wish to differ from them; he sees their point of view. He sees that those who have many gods also worship one God; it is simply that they worship the different attributes of God. The great ones, in order to make God intelligible to man, have given Him different names. In that way they made man see the divine manifestations clearly, and that is also why some of the teachers have distinguished between the different gods. There is a saying, 'To understand all is to forgive all', and it is in accordance with this saying that the Sufi looks upon life.
One might say that one can be either a pantheist or a monotheist, but that one cannot be both. Yes, many who look at theology from the outside say that these are two distinct ideas about God, and they are willing to accept one of them but not both. In point of fact it is most necessary that these two opposing ideas should exist. When we look at the center of a line it is one; when we look at the ends there are two. Monotheism is as important as pantheism. No one can be a pantheist if he was not once a monotheist; and if one began by being a pantheist, one would never understand the conception of God. The monotheistic idea is necessary in order to realize fully the beauty of the pantheistic idea.
Then there is the idea of God being a personal God. Some find it very difficult to imagine God as a person; they feel it is like limiting God, whereas another will think that if God is not a person He no longer exists for him, and that He might just as well be air, space, or time. Both of these have their reasons, and the Sufi prepares himself to look at both from their own point of view. He comes to the conclusion that from the personal ideal one can rise to the complete ideal; the complete ideal embracing the seen and unseen, within and without, the Absolute.
Therefore the Sufi has no difficulty either with the worshipper of one God or the worshipper of many gods, because he can see both their points of view. He gives their point of view a place in his life; he sees the natural development of human conception, expanding from the narrow perception to the highest ideal. But if someone asks the Sufi, 'You Sufis who tolerate all these different conceptions, what is your own conception?', he says, 'There is no such thing as the Sufi conception, although I have my personal conception. The God who is considered by people as the Judge and the Creator, as the Lord of heaven, is to me my Beloved. He is my beloved Ideal who alone deserves all my devotion. He is all the beauty that is to be loved.'
Therefore the Sufi establishes his relationship with God as the relationship between him and the Beloved. His worship of God is the expansion of the heart; his love for all beings and for every being is his love for God. He cannot find anyone to love except God, because he sees God in all. If his love is shown in devotion to parents, to wife, to children, if it is shown to neighbors, to a friend or in tolerating enemies, the Sufi considers this as an action of his towards God. In this way he fulfills in his life the teaching of the Bible, 'We live and move and have our being in God.'
The second aspect of religion is the spiritual ideal in man. If ever man has found God manifest on earth it is in the godly. Whenever humanity touches the height of civilization we see the divine manifested in a human being, a human being who in his life expresses God fully. To some that great ideal has appeared and they have called it Jesus Christ. In other parts of the world, among other races and in other times, this same manifestation which human beings felt to be divine was called Buddha or Moses or Mohammed. People followed them, loved them, adored them, helped them in their difficulties. Through them a certain way of living, a harmonious life was given to their followers; the world has always received different manifestations like these whenever it was needed. But the limitation of mankind made them quarrel about the great personalties they each adored, and they have tried to question the greatness and goodness of the teachers of other communities. In this way humanity has become divided into sects.
The Sufi looks at this from a tolerant point of view. He believes that to have devotion for a spiritual ideal, just as for a human personality, is an individual matter. And because he thinks that the ideal of the teacher who is revered by someone is too sacred to interfere with, he unites it with all others. If one asks the Sufi, 'Which ideal do you hold?' he says, 'One Teacher; the only one who has always been there, who claimed to be Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. All these different names which the world holds in esteem are the names of one personality.' Whatever name it is, the Sufi feels exaltation; he sees one sacred personality behind all those names.
The third aspect is the moral conception. The followers of one religion dispute with the followers of another for not having the same standard of morals. But it is presumption on the part of a man to judge another by his own standard of morals. It is unjust to try to judge another community from one's own point of view; there is no action which one can point out as being sin or virtue, nor right or wrong. Things become right or wrong according to the place or the time. Good and evil are understood by a natural insight of the soul. The soul is beautiful and it looks for beauty; what is lacking in beauty is that which may be called evil, and what is beautiful is that which may be called virtue.
No doubt at a certain time a certain rule of life was given; but it is not right to judge the religion of different people according to that rule of life. Thus the work of the Sufi is to awaken in his heart the sensitiveness which will enable him to distinguish right from wrong, good from evil; and in this way, with the ever-increasing awakening of this spirit of sensitiveness, the Sufi builds his character. The Sufi is ready to tolerate others, to forgive others. He takes himself to task if he lacks beauty in expression, in thought, in speech, or in action.
The fourth aspect is the form of worship. The forms of worship of all the different religions are necessarily different; it depends upon what one is accustomed to, what is akin to one's nature. One cannot make a common rule and say that this form is wrong and that form is right. One person will perhaps feel more exaltation in a form of worship which includes some art; it stimulates his emotional nature. Music, pictures, perfumes, colors, light, all these have an effect upon such a person. Another can concentrate better if there is nothing in the place of worship to catch his attention. It is all a matter of temperament; it is not wrong to prefer the one or the other. The Sufi sees the variety of forms as different ideals; he does not attach importance to the outer expression. If there is a sincere spirit behind it, if a person has a feeling for worship, it does not matter what form of worship it is. In a church, in an open place, everywhere there is an answer to the feeling for worship.
The Universal Worship is not another Church to be included among the variety of existing Churches. It is a Church which gives an opportunity to those belonging to different religions to worship together. Also it gives practice in paying respect to the great ones who have come from time to time to serve humanity. The different scriptures of those who have taught wisdom are read at the altar of the Church of All. Nevertheless, no Sufi is compelled even to attend this Church of All; a Sufi, to whatever church he goes, is a Sufi. Being a Sufi is a point of view; it means having a certain outlook on life but not necessarily going to a particular church.
And finally there is the fifth aspect, the philosophical side of religion. One gathers through the Universal Worship that there is one source from which all scriptures have come, and that in spite of beliefs in many gods there is only one God. And in this way we come to the realization which we seek through worship, through devotion: that there is only one truth. For anyone who has ever reached it or will ever reach it, it is one and the same truth. Truth can be traced in all the great scriptures of the world and is taught by all the great ones who have come from time to time. Nothing, no community, Church, or belief, should keep one back from that realization in which lies the purpose of life. Verily, truth is the seeking of every soul and it is truth which can save.