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The Iron Rules, Number Eight

Pir Zia Inayat-Khan

The next Iron Rule is: My conscientious self, render your services faithfully to all who require them. This saying epitomizes the spirit of chivalry that defines the Knight of Light. Mother Teresa

Let me begin by sharing with you a wonderful passage from Creating the Person by Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan that elucidates this Iron Rule.

One must think of everything that is entrusted to one by every person in life as one’s trust. And one must know, that to prove true to the confidence of every person in the world is one’s sacred obligation. In this manner a harmonious connection is established with every person, and it is the harmony established with every person which tunes the soul with the infinite.

The woman who is conscientious of her duty, of her obligations to her friends, is more pious than someone sitting alone in solitude. The one in solitude does not serve God; he only helps himself by enjoying the pleasure of solitude. But the one who proves to be trustworthy to every soul she meets and considers her relation and connection, small or great, as something sacred, certainly observes the spiritual law of that religion which is the religion of religions.

If one only knew what the relation of friendship is between one soul and another, the tenderness of this connection, its delicacy, its beauty and its sacredness, one could enjoy life in its fullness for one would be living, and in this manner one must some day communicate with God. It is the same bridge which connects two souls in the world which, when once stretched, becomes the path to God. There is no greater virtue in this world than proving kind and trustworthy to one’s friend, worthy of her confidence.

We are offered here a teaching that is, at once, very simple and very profound. I suspect we all immediately feel the truth of this teaching, but it is a constant practice to apply it in life in all conditions: To remember that the connection that we have with each person is the bridge which unites us with God.

What does it mean to render one’s services faithfully to all who require them? We are subjected to many demands in life, some reasonable and others unreasonable. Does Murshid mean that we must submit to all that is demanded of us by every comer?

If we look carefully at the wording of the rule, we will notice that Murshid chose the word “require” rather than “ask” or “demand.” In a given situation, what is required may be different from what is demanded. A requirement is a haqq, a right or truth. Reality (haqiqat) is a lattice of mutual rights and responsibilities. To render faithful service to another is to respect the other as another oneself; to uphold his or her rights and, as fully as possible, to augment his or her happiness.

We cannot and must not satisfy the demands of all people at all times. Sometimes in trying to make one person happy one makes ten others unhappy. There are also times when, if one accedes to a person’s demand, the actual result detracts from, rather than adds to, the person’s true happiness.

When confronted with expectations that we cannot or should not fulfill, too often our response is to submit grudgingly, quarrel angrily, or withdraw fearfully. To meet the haqq of a person is something altogether different. It means intuiting what is really needed in a situation: responding, as my father used to say, to “that which transpires behind that which appears.” Perhaps one must uphold a principle that the other person is not ready to understand or accept. And yet one does so with the unconditional love of a fellow traveler on an endless and endlessly transforming path.

In the annals of chivalry one reads stories of life-long nemeses who, in the end, recognized each other as their own truest friend. When the other’s haqq is clearly recognized, even a situation of conflict becomes suffused with the light of soulful communion.

Of course, not all requests for our services are unreasonable. Nor are all valid requirements expressed in words. If we open our eyes and look, we will no doubt see that opportunities to render faithful service and increase the happiness of those around us are abundant. And as we rub our sleep-laden eyes and begin to see clearly, we might just recall that this is why we came to Earth in the first place: to serve one another.

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.

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16 December 2010

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