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The Mysticism of Sound and Music: The Sufi Teaching of Hazrat Inayat Khan

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Music, according to Sufi teaching, is really a small expression of the overwhelming and perfect harmony of the whole universe—and that is the secret of its amazing power to move us. The Indian Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927), the first teacher to bring the Islamic mystical tradition to the West, was an accomplished musician himself. His lucid exposition of music's divine nature has become a modern classic, beloved not only by those interested in Sufism but by musicians of all kinds.

336 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1911

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About the author

Hazrat Inayat Khan

209 books221 followers
Hazrat Inayat Khan (Urdu: عنایت خان ) (July 5, 1882 – February 5, 1927) was an exemplar of Universal Sufism and founder of the "Sufi Order in the West" in 1914 (London). Later, in 1923, the Sufi Order of the London period was dissolved into a new organization formed under Swiss law and called the "International Sufi Movement". He initially came to the West as a representative of classical Indian music, having received the title Tansen from the Nizam of Hyderabad but soon turned to the introduction and transmission of Sufi thought and practice. His universal message of divine unity (Tawhid) focused on the themes of love, harmony and beauty. He taught that blind adherence to any book rendered any religion void of spirit.

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5 stars
283 (60%)
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119 (25%)
3 stars
49 (10%)
2 stars
14 (2%)
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6 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 38 reviews
Profile Image for Laura Hartmark.
31 reviews8 followers
February 22, 2012
I sometimes watch suspense movies for the hidden love story, or comedies for the political satire. Likewise, it's not so much the insight into music but the hidden stories, the side stories that make this book transforming. I am quite taken by any writer who attempts to access a theory via intuition. It is a nearly impossible task. It is, as Andre Breton wrote, "reaching for the impossible while standing on the possible ground." Khan does this, and the journey is quite wonderful. It's like being blindfolded on a speeding train with a delightful companion. It's hard to know the destination, but I hoped the journey would never end. Re-reading my favorite passages in this book cures tummy aches.
Profile Image for Gabriel Monticello.
18 reviews7 followers
May 23, 2013
I loved this book. It has very little to do with music as we think of it. This is a book about spirituality. It draws from all religions and shows how they are similar. I would recommend this book to anyone. It was (for me)and a slow read, as I would stop reading to ponder and think about the concepts.
Profile Image for Pedro Alcantara.
Author 19 books9 followers
August 28, 2010
I'm a musician myself, and this book helped me understand and sense music as a potential divine healing force.
Profile Image for Abe.
264 reviews73 followers
April 28, 2020
Khan peremptorily casts aside jazz music as having no value, and speaks of how cheap church organ music sounds. Countless musicians praise the organ for its sheer range and tonal diversity. I have had many spiritual experiences listening to and playing Bach organ pieces, and I consider the organ one of the finest instruments. As far as jazz, other modern Nada Brahma proponents see great value therein: Joachim-Ernst Berendt perhaps epitomizes such a thinker.

Although his taste in music appears to be narrow, his religious knowledge is broad - you'd almost think the author is a Hindu well acquainted with Christianity, even though he's actually Muslim! I admire the spectrum of religious input in this book.

I knew going in that this book is a compilation of various lectures Khan had given, but I did not know it is a compilation of relatively short and repetitive lectures. Of course, Sufism, like many religious systems, recognizes the value of repetition, and Khan argues fervently in favor of repetition's power in attuning oneself to the Divine. He even goes so far as to suggest singing a song over and over again might actually cause the lyrical content to occur to the singer.

Of course, I expected a fair bit of mysticism from a book with mysticism in its title, but the perpetual presentation of utterly ludicrous theories really diminishes Khan's ethos... my favorite theory being that the Titanic apparently sank because the shipyard workers who made it were in a foul mood as they worked. He also claims that vibrations can be used to instantly heal bodily injuries, claiming 100 years of research should do the trick.

Comparing Islamic thinkers of the same time period (turn of the 20th century) who combine reason and religion - Tawfiq Siqdi and Mahmud Abu Rayya criticizing certain "reliable" Ahadith for containing verifiably false teachings, for instance - 100 years down the road, one group certainly appears to understand the material world better than another.

Of course, virtually all Muslims are not materialists, and Khan presents moving teachings on the spiritual side of things. He imparts of his knowledge of Hinduism and Christianity in equal measure with Islam here, frequently citing holy texts of all three, and I had several "ah ha!" moments while reading.

Islam is a diverse religion, and I'm glad to learn from perspectives such as Khan's. Nevertheless, his perspective is bogged down by his utter disregard for much Western music and his many laughable ideas.
Profile Image for Marianne.
48 reviews8 followers
June 16, 2013
A beautiful compilation of the lectures and teachings of Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan. Topics include the origins and significance of sound and language, the power of thought, music, words and names, the relationship between sound and light. Khan does a wonderful job explaining the basic teachings on Sound which have been shared and practiced throughout time and which can be found at the heart of each of the major world religions. Although, he reminds us, a complete understanding of Sound is to be found within.

Science (just another language of Spirit ; ) has shown us – particularly through Cymatics and also the work of Dr. Masaru Emoto – that vibration produces shape. The more harmonious the vibration, the more harmonious the shape. Through Cymatics we see that certain sounds and frequencies produce amazingly intricate geometric patterns. “If that is true,” Khan tells us, “then every person, from morning till evening, is making invisible forms in space by what he says. He is creating invisible vibrations around him, and so he is producing an atmosphere” (43).

“If one were so sensitive about words, one would have to leave all language alone” (267). ...

I remember being profoundly struck by two scriptural ideas when I was little - the Word and the I Am. When I heard these phrases in the sacred literature and was finally old enough to read them for myself, I was deeply moved, but had no idea why. “There’s something here,” I would think, just the vaguest sense of it as something I once knew but had forgotten. “Something more to this. Something important…”, and I would read the words over and over again, keeping the feeling of the Something it meant – that happy Something – deep, deep inside – like a promise that might reveal itself in time, the long-waited echoed response to my “Hello!” spoken at the edge of a canyon. Over time I would catch glimpses of this deeply held promise – in other languages, in other ideas… But it was always there. It would take years for me to put my finger on it, always thinking it was something outside myself – something out there, something up There. And it is, up There. But it is also very much here.

“‘In the beginning was the Word…’ Here is a thought which may be pondered over for years…” (248).

Khan tells us, “Sound gives to the consciousness an evidence of its existence, although it is in fact the active part of consciousness itself which turns into sound. The knower, so to speak, becomes known to himself; in other words the consciousness bears witness to its own voice. It is therefore that sound appeals to man. All things being derived from and formed of vibrations have sound hidden within them, as fire is hidden in flint. And each atom of the universe confesses by its tone: ‘My sole origin is sound’. If any solid or sonorous body is struck it will answer back: ‘I am sound’” (121).

“The word is everywhere and the word is continually speaking. ... The idea is simply that all that exists has come out of the word, and goes back to the word, and in its own being all is a word” (286). Many people find it most easily in nature – near the ocean, in the woods. “But the one whose heart is open,” Khan tells us, “– he need not go as far as the forest; in the midst of the crowd he can find music” (19).

“Souls at different stages of evolution wish to search after this word that was lost, in the form in which they are accustomed to search. Ways have been made to search for this word which have become right ways and wrong ways, sins and virtues. It is therefore that the wise are tolerant to all, for they see that every soul has his own way to follow, his own purpose to accomplish. But in the accomplishment of all these purposes is the one purpose, and that is the finding of the word that was lost” (278).

“The one who seeks through science, the one who searches through religion, the one who finds it through philosophy, the one who finds it through mysticism – in whatever manner they seek the truth, they find it in the end” (39).
Profile Image for Ken Hastings.
17 reviews6 followers
July 26, 2017
"This book is a revised and enlarged edition of the second volume in the series of 'The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan'. It contains a Sufi vision on music, sound, language and the power of words.... Almost all chapters of this book - 'The Mystery of Sound' excepted - were originally lectures and addresses, delivered in various circumstances. Some were addressed to pupils and students who were already acquainted with the Sufi teachings; others were public lectures, and some reports show that an address was given on the occasion of a musical performance. (from the preface)

I found the book to be very readable and intelligently organised. No matter what your spiritual tradition I suspect you'll find something of value here. It has certainly had an impact on me.
Profile Image for Josh  Giunta.
41 reviews
December 25, 2014
heavy stuff...
music is the closest representation of the wholeness of the universe that humans have.

"The further we advance, the more difficult and the more important becomes our part in the symphony of life; and the more conscious we are of this responsibility, the more efficient we become at accomplishing the task."

The ideas are really profound, but the writing style can be pretty poor...seems like it was poorly translated from oral lectures. The structure detracts from the beauty of the concepts.
Profile Image for S..
40 reviews11 followers
December 21, 2011
Best Book i ever read in my life up to this point!
28 reviews
July 17, 2018

I read this book slowly over a year or so, it is...a lot.
There are some insightful and thought provoking bits buried in here - I found it very hard to read overall. The writing is overly ornamented and I wonder if it also suffers from its translation. Big ideas and sweeping statements are made with little explanation, let alone evidence or background (not that "hard evidence" is really to be expected in this type of book).

The book is split into two main sections, "Music", and "Aphorisms". I recommend skipping the second section.

I wish I'd made highlights/taken notes because there are some great ideas, but you really have to dig through a pile of words to find them here.
Profile Image for Brooke Brown.
29 reviews
January 24, 2008
This is certainly a book that you read over several years. It is meant to be studied, not sped-read.

That being said, it's a beautiful book for those who have a deep, meaningful relationship with music and the power of sound (you know who you are). The author's insights are accurate in a way that can't be described as scientific, but rather heart- (and soul) felt.
Profile Image for Russell Eric Dobda.
Author 2 books9 followers
September 9, 2015
This book took me about 3 years to finish reading becuase it is very dense. Each individual sentence opens pandoras boxes of enlightenment, and it can be hard to fully digest it, but it's definitely a classic,.. especially if you are a musician.
6 reviews
December 13, 2021
What I was hoping would take two months to read turned out to be six. It is indeed a heavy read as other reviewers have pointed out. In addition to presenting advanced topics, it's also not exactly contemporary prose, understandably so. I would not recommend it to anyone new to mysticism. Overall this book has opened my mind to a fascinating perspective of what "sound" truly is and its fundamental role in creation. For the most part, the author advances concepts effectively but at times offers an opinion that seems far too subjective (for example, his dismissive attitude toward certain musical genres). This is rare and certainly does not distract from the main point.
Profile Image for Mark.
Author 14 books22 followers
July 29, 2011
Don't enjoy this one as much as The Music of Life. Author skips around a great deal and here and there. Antagonists toward mysticism in general might have a field day with his theories, although those (like myself) who approach music esoterically will probably find it deep enough in spots. But not as well written as the former, I feel.
130 reviews
May 30, 2017
Interesting to anyone who is interested in Sufism, mysticism, or the spiritual aspect of music.

The book is compiled from the author's lectures and articles. Consequently, he often restates the same points, which makes for a repetitious read. After the first section, you may find yourself skimming.
Profile Image for Mark David Vinzens.
94 reviews1 follower
March 3, 2022
“Some day music will be the means of expressing universal religion. Time is wanted for this, but there will come a day when music and its philosophy will become the religion of humanity.” ― Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Mysticism of Sound and Music: The Sufi Teaching of Hazrat Inayat Khan
3 reviews2 followers
January 28, 2008
Интересные идеи про резонанс, разум, волю, выбор - и, само собой, звук и музыку - с суфийской точки зрения. Заставляет задуматься и многое проясняет.
Profile Image for 5 Track.
125 reviews7 followers
June 26, 2013
Wow ... Sufi insight applied to my area of obsession ... very nearly blinding
Profile Image for John.
331 reviews4 followers
April 8, 2020
Despite its title, this book reaches far beyond sound and music. Really a compilation based on a variety of writings and transcripts of lectures delivered during the 1910s and 1920s, Hazrat Inayat Khan shows how sound and music are a pathway to a broader enlightenment. Granted, "enlightenment" is a charged word with more than one definition, and some will scoff at its use altogether. This book is not for them. But for those open to an honest exploration of human spirituality, this book contains a great deal to recommend it.

Khan writes and lectures from a Sufi perspective, but is deliberate about drawing parallels to other faiths, including Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and others besides. In fact, to his credit, he even suggests at one point that it would not be desirable for all people to adhere to a single religion, although he implies that all people should adhere to some religion, or at least some form of spiritual practice. Khan, it should be noted, defines the equally-charged term "religion" quite broadly to include all spiritual beliefs and practices.

Given its nature as a collection of separate writings, there is no central thesis, per se, to this book, but there are themes. The author posits that vibration is the source of the entire universe, both physical and metaphysical, and is able to reconcile this with modern (1920s) physics. Thus, Khan is not a science denier, although one of the flaws in this work is his penchant for pseudo-science. Vibration is then linked to the phenomena of sound (the audible) and light (the visible), which are then linked to such "vibrations" as the rhythms of the human body and nature. The reader must avoid interpreting Khan's use of such terms according to a strictly Western idiom, since his meaning when he speaks of "vibrations" is much broader than a physicist might understand it to be. This is not, however, ignorance on the part of the author, it's merely a difference in the use of language, and the attentive reader will quickly glean Khan's meanings from the context in which such terms are used.

The author also devotes quite a bit of time, especially in the latter half of this volume, to the idea of "the Word" as both the source of all things and a mystery which, when unraveled by each individual, forms a path to enlightenment. This is a challenging concept to grasp, but Khan patiently explains his meaning, often employing illustrative examples and stories which lend an accessibility to this book which is sometimes lacking in other works of Eastern philosophy. Khan is very deliberate about trying to explain concepts in the simplest, most directly-relatable manner possible, and avoids complexity and obfuscation at every turn, which in and of itself is quite a feat for a book so thoroughly steeped in mysticism.

Where Khan fails, primarily, is in his overly-zealous defense of mysticism at the expense of rationalism. This is the same error which the New Atheist make when rejecting all spirituality, but Khan is coming at it from the other side. His tone is, at times, a little too dismissive of science, and he borders on the sanctimonious when characterizing Western beliefs, practices, and culture. He also references all manner of pseudo-science, much of which probably seemed more plausible a hundred years ago than it is today. In addition, he is at times flat-out ignorant, espousing views which, a century later, are painfully misogynistic and racist. It is, thus, that I have docked this work one star, not because it doesn't contain valuable content -- in fact, this has been a game-changer for me, personally -- but because there is a fair amount of grimy bath water in which the baby is sitting.
32 reviews4 followers
December 29, 2022
My motto is Show me your books and I tell you who you are.

This is one of the finest 'books' you will ever read.
Most people commenting have not understood what this is about.. Sadly.

In the first place this is not a book written by Inayat Khan,
this is a script of some of his lectures given..

Some said this book is not about music as you think about it.. In fact!
The problem is that people do NOT know what Music is:
EVERYTHING is MUSIC. YOU ARE MUSIC. The whole Universe is made up of Sound.

This 'book' is not about religion. This is beyond religion.
Inayat Khan is embracing all religions, as WE are ALL ONE.

This 'book' will reveal Secrets for You. If you are ready for it.
Those who find it boring, clearly are not ready and in fact they do not receive this gift.

In my opinion everyone should read this book at the point of their life when they are ready for it.
This should be compulsory to read for musicians, especially for western musicians.

One of the finest 'book' around.
This is the book that I can have next to my bed for life. This is my Bible and this Bible is true.
Mysticism is so simple, but if your heart and eyes are closed you will not be able to understand it.
Profile Image for Alistair Conwell.
Author 2 books4 followers
February 12, 2023
Every religion has a mystical element and in this book, Khan reveals the mystical side to Islam. Sound and musics are fundamental to the Sufi tradition, and this is consistent with the other mystical traditions. A beautiful, revealing book. Love this from the book: "The knower of the mystery of sound, knows the mystery of the whole universe." - H. I. Khan.

Alistair Conwell
The Audible Life Stream: Ancient Secret of Dying While Living

Soul Comfort: Uplifting Insights Into the Nature of Grief, Death, Consciousness and Love for Transformation
Profile Image for Matthew.
41 reviews
September 18, 2022
Beyond repetitive. Get used to reading the same thing over and over again. It's makes sense from a series of lectures collected for a book, but it become exhausting to read. Also he thinks jazz is bad for the soul. You will get interesting stuff in between. There is also times where basic social intelligence is connected with mystical powers. Not blaming him for the time it was written more on the person who decided to compile it this way.
Profile Image for Andrew Nelson.
20 reviews7 followers
April 10, 2020
The timing of this read and introduction to Khan and the mysticism within makes synchronicity feel at play... Ancient, awesome wisdom from a HARMONIOUS Human. I am indebted, humbled, and focused on the birth of my own soul now and ever more. I might have just unknowingly, Truly, begun down the spiritual path... Seems pertinent in lieu of current events.
Profile Image for Pankaj.
196 reviews3 followers
August 25, 2019
Very profound thoughts expressed simply for a lay person. However, as these chapters appear to have been collated from talks delivered over a period of time, there is repetition and I had to literally skim through the last hundred or so pages to avoid boredom.
1,728 reviews53 followers
April 24, 2018
The author has a great deal of love for life and music and it shines through.
It wasn't quite dense enough to hold my interest.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 38 reviews

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