If I may say so, it is a great pleasure to be able to return to Turkey. Your country was kind enough to welcome me here both in 2004 and 2005 the latter visit to mark the 90th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign and to remember those who lost their lives on each side. On this occasion, I am delighted to be here with my darling Wife and to experience something of your generous hospitality.
If I may also say so, it has been most heartening to see how, more and more, Turkey is taking her place on the World stage, working closely with the international community to support the most vital global priorities, including the Middle East Peace Process. This is not the place to embark on a long list of Turkey’s other international achievements, but I did just want to single out your distinguished leadership of the International Security Assistance Force, working with local people to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan...
Finding myself here in Konya once again (I have fond memories of a private visit I made back in 1992); here in the final resting place of Mevlana Jalal’uddin Rumi, and commemorating the 800th anniversary of his birth, I must confess I am rather fascinated by the fact that there are now so many people in the West who are drawn to his work.
I cannot help but ask myself what it is that they find in his poetic inspiration which is somehow absent in their lives? Is it, perhaps, that yearning of the heart which we all feel, but which he understood and described so well? Or, in a world so obsessed and captivated by the outward expression of things, is it that his poetry shines a bright light on the inner realm to illuminate the inner path which, in some paradoxical way, we still all sense to be important? Or perhaps it is simply the universality of his vision his sense of the sacred that attracts both the mind and the heart. For as he reminds us:
“The lamps are different, but the light is the same. Focus on the light and you will see beyond the dualism inherent in the finite body.”
Whatever it is, it seems to me that, by contrast, our Western outlook on life has too often become de-constructive and partial; too often concerned with the part and not the whole; concerned only with what we might call an “outer” rather than an “inner” reality. Indeed, I feel that we in the West have, to all intents and purposes, abandoned our intuitive capacity - that intelligence of the heart which senses there is an invisible as well as a visible dimension to reality. Perhaps we could call it a ‘sixth sense’ one of those God-given senses without which we may find ourselves becoming evermore vulnerable to extinction from the processes of environmental and natural degradation we have set in motion. Surely there is a growing and evident need for us to re-integrate this part of ourselves in order to recreate the balance and the sense of wholeness that is required if we are to meet the alarming challenges now confronting us.
For all the good things that we in the West have been able to create for ourselves and for other people all over the world, we must recognize that, over many centuries, the East has also been our inspiration and taught us truths that are universal parables of the soul, if you like. It is worth remembering, for example, that our great poet Tennyson was much influenced by the Persian poet, Hafiz of Shiraz who, we are told, committed the entire Qu’ran to memory. Many 19th Century Western poets were similarly affected. The great German poet, Goethe, called Hafiz his “spiritual master.”
All of our traditions benefit from such parables, for the intelligence of the heart helps us to find ways of better understanding each other. I know that we are not all the same. But we do share common values which speak of a timeless and universal wisdom a wisdom which enables us to contemplate our place within creation, and which draws us together and enables us to build bridges. So although each of us is committed to our own Faith, by developing this wisdom and understanding we are surely better able to show proper respect for the Faith of others; to grasp the fact that our neighbours’ beliefs are as precious to them as our beliefs are precious to us. Indeed, by showing this respect we demonstrate the maturity of our Faith which, collectively, is also a mark of the civilization of our Nations.
It was the late Kathleen Raine, one of the great British poets of the 20th Century, and someone whom I loved and admired, who pointed out that it is, indeed, Faith that becomes the victim “in a world that does not believe in Soul.” She had watched its decline in the West, having lived practically the entire length of the 20th Century, and she founded the Temenos Academy in London, of which I am the Patron, with the specific aim of helping to reverse the premises of such a spent materialist civilisation. Central to her endeavour was the study of what she called “the learning of the imagination.” As she put it in a poem called “Mandala”:
“Wherever the eye falls, the mystery begins to unfold. It is there, the growing point of love, an ever-opening rose.”
Her view of the Imagination was quite specific. It is the eye of the heart. This is the same quality which Rumi describes when he calls the imagination “Al basira,” which means “insight.” It is the crucial vision of the eye of the heart that penetrates the outward reality of all things to enable us to see their inward reality a universal truth reflected by many poets down the ages. Another of Britain’s greatest poets, William Wordsworth, understood it well when he described how:
“With an eye made quiet by the power Of harmony, and the deeper power of joy, We see into the life of things.”
The phrase “the eye of the heart” is, in fact, somewhat earlier than Wordsworth or, indeed, Rumi and is also to be found in the Bible, in the Book of Ephesians:
“...Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which [the Father] has called you...”
This somewhat ignored vision of things sorely needs to be restored to its rightful importance. Despite their differences, there is, in the devotional parables and poetry of each of the three Abrahamic faiths, a common message that we should care for each other. And yet we live at a time beset by more and more examples of Man’s selfishness and arrogance towards each other and the World around us. In such heavy seas we need a firm anchor to hold us in place; a means of acknowledging our frailty. And I sometimes wonder if the differences between us relate more to our interpretation of divine teaching than to the teaching itself......
With all the evidence we now have of the damage we are causing to the natural world the evidence of climate change; the far more rapidly melting Arctic ice-cap than originally predicted; the destruction of eco-systems such as the last remaining rainforests on which we all depend for our weather patterns and life giving rainfall; the elimination of species of flora and fauna and the brooding catastrophe of flood and storm it is perhaps timely to question whether there is a direct link between these terrible events and the loss in mankind, throughout the industrialised world, of a sense of the sacred.
If there is a correlation between our profligacy and the loss of a heartfelt intuition then we need this inner intelligence to overcome our hubris and to see things more clearly. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is surely vital for our very survival. We have to ask ourselves whether being “modern” really means deliberately and wantonly discarding and “educating out” an aspect of our humanity which, up to now, has always ensured we worked in harmony with nature, not apart from Her.
For it seems to me that we now face new and, until recently, unforeseen dangers for which a view of the world that does not heed the eye of the heart renders us ill-prepared. Our technology and our inventiveness will no doubt play a major part in helping us face these dangers. But, Ladies and Gentlemen, they will not succeed in overcoming those dangers on their own. This is because we face a crisis that is not caused by technology even though much of the damage has been created by the way we use that technology. What we face is a crisis caused by this very flaw in our perception.
The industrialisation of life around the globe has disconnected us, to a terrifying degree, both from our traditional religions and the natural world. Such outright disconnection from the natural order disconnects us from our innate sense of the sacred. It dims our capacity to see with awe and wonder the miracle of Creation; it dulls our song of praise.
We so often hear that the modern world is concerned with “the Big Picture”, but I increasingly wonder if that concern really is based upon a comprehensive perception. Does it see us as an integral part of that picture, or as separate from it? If we hope to create a more sustainable way of living with the grain of Nature rather than so destructively against it then, surely, it is only with our innate sense of the sacred intact that we can properly experience that “Big Picture”. The point I am making is that the natural World, indeed the entire Universe, is rooted in and bound together by wholeness.
So the flaw I speak of is this: that by seeing the external and material world as the only reality, the modern industrialised world view too often considers “the part” to be “the whole.” But, in so doing, not only does it falsify the whole, it also diminishes the part. It is literally soul destroying! Not only that, but such a view when you think about it can only test the World to destruction as if it were a giant laboratory and not a living, unified organism.
We, too, are a microcosm of that organism and our separation from it becomes a profane act with profane consequences in today’s fragmented, conventional ideology; this is not necessarily a popular proposition. It does not accord with the deconstructed World view that has become so prevalent but, at the same time, so unfit for purpose in the 21st Century.
However, as all the great traditions teach us, we should see this flaw as a common problem that cuts across our different cultures and can draw us together in search of solutions. After all, look how increasingly our lives are bound together by trade, by tourism and migration, let alone by the impact the patterns and changes in climate are having on all our lives; forces that certainly do not heed national boundaries. We certainly know now just how profoundly the ways in which we choose to farm, to trade, to move from one place to another, to heat, cool or light our homes affects not only ourselves, our families and our neighbours, but other people too; their families and their neighbours, who all live great distances away from where we are. And let us not forget that our actions today also affect the lives of the generations yet to come. In my view, there has never been a time when the definition of “one’s neighbour” has been more widely defined.
We all know what each of our traditions says about the need to care for our neighbours. For the sacred law to which every believer in God must adhere is the noble ethic of responsibility towards one’s neighbour. In the Bible, for example, there is the parable of the Good Samaritan. And although I am not a scholar of Islam my understanding is that in the Hadith the same principle prevails when we read:
“None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”
And does not the Qur’an say:
“For ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, Ye became brethen.”
So, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am suggesting that at this crucial time in our history we need to look very closely at the values our modern world now espouses and consider the extent to which they will enable us to live a more integrated and sustainable life. Surely, recognizing the interconnectivity I have tried to describe to you today provides us not only with a greater opportunity for understanding, but also with a greater responsibility for the need to understand. And how shall we find this understanding, unless we devote ourselves to that which is sacred in our lives and in the lives of others?
It is to this end that the great sacred texts of the World’s Faiths and the wonderful songs and poetry of the wise direct us. As Rumi puts it,
“God’s purpose for man is to acquire a seeing eye and an understanding heart.”
In an age of increasing ignorance, intolerance and mis-understanding it is perhaps worth reflecting on the one element that has the potential to unite us all beyond the World-Wide Web or globalization. That element lies in the mystery of the heart. Is it not strange that at a time in history when every taboo has seemingly been broken; every sacred cow slaughtered, that the very idea of mysticism itself the practice of the mystery of the heart seems to have become of far less significance?
And yet have not the founders of the World’s greatest religions all spoken in one way or another of the need to enter the temple of the heart? Why? Because, surely, is it not the mystery within, when once unlocked, that is able to inspire the kind of inner understanding which can break asunder the law of cause and effect that so undermines our attempts at reconciliation?
Therefore, what better occasion and what better place than here, near the resting place of Mevlana Jalal’uddin Rumi, to re-dedicate ourselves to the purpose of re-acquiring and understanding heart...