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The Iron Rules, Number One

Pir Zia Inayat-Khan

Editor’s note: Continuing our examination of various moral codes, Seven Pillars is pleased to present Pir Zia Inayat-Khan’s talks on the Iron and Copper rules of Hazrat Inayat Khan as an ongoing series. While this material originates from a Sufi context, it can be helpful to anyone who is looking for practical guidance on applying chivalric principles to the conundrums of everyday life. A new rule will be posted monthly until the series is complete.

Iron Rule 1

The first of the Iron Rules is: My conscientious self, make no false claims. Well, that sounds very easy. None of us would like to think that we make false claims, and probably consciously we don’t. But if one were to apply this rule to everything that one says, I think that one’s awareness of one’s speech would deepen dramatically, and one would see that there are shades of truthfulness in speech. There are things that we say that our full will is behind—we are transparent at that moment, and that gives the speech great power. And there are other things that we say where there is no transparency; there is just the opposite, opacity. We are projecting a smokescreen with the view of obtaining a desired end. And yet the result that is obtained cannot possibly compare to the purity of the state that is lost in so doing, and the joy and peace that is the natural consequence of that purity.

In connection with this, one could refer to the chapter from The Art of Personality by Murshid (Hazrat Inayat Khan) on “Word of Honor.” Here are some highlights: “What is the word? Word is one’s expression, the expression of one’s soul. The one upon whose words one can rely, that one is dependable. No wealth of this world can be compared with one’s word of honor. The person who says what he or she means, proves, by this virtue, spirituality. To a real person, to go back on one’s word is worse than death, for it is going backward instead of going forward.” Murshid refers to the story of Haris Chandra who suffered great sacrifices to uphold his word of honor. Afterward, Murshid was asked a question: What happens if you find yourself in a situation where you have carelessly given your word of honor and now, to uphold your word, you must do something that, in the light of present circumstances, seems more harmful than beneficial? In such a case, is it not too extreme to stand on this principle? Murshid answered, very tactfully I think, that no principle should be taken to extreme and made absolute. There is danger of excess in everything. However, if one develops the tendency of compromising one’s word of honor because the situation has changed, the effect is that one becomes all the more likely to continue to make casual promises knowing that one will later allow oneself to deviate from one’s word. Insofar as we remain firm in our dedication to our word of honor, to such a degree will we be judicious in exercising our promise.

If one studies one’s life, one may find that there are relatively few occasions when one signs on a dotted line or makes a vow or pledge or declaration. But very frequently, in casual conversation, one commits to something; one accepts responsibility for something; one projects into the future: I will do this; I will be there. Very often we do so with the unexpressed subtext that, after all, circumstances are changeable and I reserve the right to change my mind. But to such a degree as we do so, our word loses the sacred power that is possible in the pledge of the knight.

When one deviates from one’s promise it is invariably because there is benefit to be gained. Sometimes the rewards are very tangible and extremely tempting. Yet when one looks back on one’s life and contemplates the times one has given one’s word and not followed through due to some temptation or other, it is clear that the benefit obtained cannot compensate for the sense of loss that one now feels, a loss of integrity. But we need not become mired in the guilt of the past. We need only repent, make amends, learn the lesson and move on, wiser and truer to our life’s purpose. It is a new day and we have new choices, and we have learned to give our word of honor judiciously and to uphold it conscientiously.

This commentary was originally presented during a session of Suluk Academy and is printed with permission from the Sufi Order International.

Pir Zia Inayat-Khan is a scholar and teacher of Sufism in the lineage of his grandfather, Hazrat Inayat Khan. He received his B.A. (Hons) in Persian Literature from the London School of Oriental and African Studies, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Religion from Duke University. Pir Zia is founder of Seven Pillars House of Wisdom, and also of Sulūk Academy, a school of contemplative study with branches in the U.S. and Europe. His most recent books are Saracen Chivalry: Counsels on Valor, Generosity and the Mystical Quest and Caravan of Souls: An Introduction to the Sufi Path of Hazrat Inayat Khan, both published by Sulūk Press, an imprint of Omega Publications.

Read more about Pir Zia Inayat-Khan

5 March 2009

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chivalry, Sufism, moral code, Hazrat Inayat Khan, truth, honor, pledge,
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