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Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

June 19, 1916 – June 17, 2004

“The culmination of the soul's journey of awakening is not just returning to its original state. Instead, it is how the soul has evolved through its passage on earth . . . and the unique way each soul's unfoldment has contributed to the evolution of the Universe itself.”

Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

Over the course of his eighty-eight years of life, the great Sufi mystic and teacher Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan wove the timeless essence of Sufism into the unfolding expressions of contemporary culture and consciousness. A senior statesman of the world spiritual community, Pir Vilayat stood out as one who saw spiritual awakening as not separate from intellectual learning and creativity, or from full engagement with the latest developments in philosophy, psychology, science, culture, and the arts. He spoke five languages, studied philosophy at Oxford, and was an accomplished cellist. As Pir Zia, his son and spiritual heir, reflected: “Spurning the temptation to succumb to the inertia of routinization, impelled by a string of discoveries—spiritual openings alternating with deep readings of science and scripture—Pir Vilayat blazed a trail toward the spirituality of the future.”

Pir Vilayat was born in London in 1916 and became the spiritual successor to his own father, the revered Hazrat Inayat Khan, who had brought Sufism to the West. It was Pir Hazrat who not only established Sufi practice beyond its indigenous territory of the Middle East and India, but laid the ground for an expression of his tradition that would meet the contemporary context of his time, a spiritual perspective embraced by his son Pir Vilayat. “As a tradition-sanctioned lineage bearer,” explained Pir Zia, “Pir Hazrat was not an apologist for a particular ideology, but a mystic responding to the unprecedented challenges and prospects of a rapidly changing world with a message of interreligious reconciliation and spiritual renewal. It was in these footsteps that my father, Pir Vilayat, followed.”

Pir Vilayat began teaching in the 1950s through the Sufi Order in the West (now called Sufi Order International), which had been established by his father and gave rise to more than one hundred local centers for the study of Sufism in America, Europe, and other countries around the world. Beginning in 1965, he assembled a Congress of Religions in France every spring, where representatives of various traditions met to discuss and understand each other's viewpoints. This year he was posthumously awarded the Hollister Prize for creating interfaith understanding. In 1975 he founded the Abode of the Message, the main spiritual center for the Sufi Order International, and in 1977, with his longtime student Elizabeth Lesser, he cofounded the Omega Institute, which has since become the largest U.S. holistic learning center. Lesser recalled that, in founding Omega, Pir Vilayat “wanted to resurrect the ancient libraries and schools of Alexandria. He felt that's where the concept of holism was born, the idea that all thought is related. He wanted to create a place in modern culture where all religions and disciplines could be taught as related to each other. The name Omega comes from the French Jesuit priest and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, one of Pir Vilayat's heroes, and refers to that point where all thought converges.”

Pir Vilayat put forward an evolutionary spirituality, based on a recognition that our role as humans is to participate fully in the process by which the intelligence of the universe is awakening over time through us. In his view, the knowledge and insight generated from the expansion of consciousness have the potential to influence the course of evolution itself. And Pir Vilayat believed that while we are already the expression of an evolved and complex civilization, through our dynamic creativity and engagement humanity can ultimately rise to new and higher orders of existence. “The further you advance,” he said, “the further the horizon recedes, so the secret treasure keeps on moving further and further away. It's a very curious thing, but we're creating the secret. It's not there. It's like the future—we create it.”

As a revered spiritual master, Pir Vilayat was adept at leading his students through the constructs of their own minds toward Self-awareness. Pir Zia described how “he would guide seekers in meditation through the multiple fields of perception and identity, culminating in 'stereoscopic consciousness,' the art of toggling between the temporal and the eternal, between the immediate interactions of everyday life and the most exalted intimation of God's being. His concern was not to promote a system of thought but, through the transformative power of prayer and meditation, to induce an amnesia and dismantle the cognitive glitches that obstruct the soul's natural self-realization.” Pir Zia then recollected a particularly powerful moment with his father: “It was two years ago at a meditation camp in the Swiss Alps. My father had guided seekers through the advanced stages of meditation and he emerged from the tent, radiating ecstasy. He called me to walk with him. Midway along the path he stopped, and with tears glistening in his eyes, he said, 'I want you to know, you do not have to do things as I've done them.' Then he paused and smiled and said, 'In fact, you must not do things as I've done them!' It was a moment that epitomized his freedom of spirit and faith in the future—a moment I will never forget.”

–Jessica Roemischer


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