The basso continuo of Sufism


The basso continuo of Sufism

The triad of body, mind and heart in the teachings. A personal reconnaissance.

A proposal.

—>      Dear Sufi reader, you are kindly invited to respond to this paper. By commenting, adding, correcting.

Abstract. The leitmotiv in the Sufi teaching is the triad of heart, mind and body as instruments of the soul. A personal reflection on  the unfoldment of Hazrat Inayat Khan’s ideas. Background information in the essay What does the soul tell?, Sunray, Amsterdam 2016 (forthcoming).

Het grondthema in het Soefi gedachtengoed is de triade van hart, denken (mind) en lichaam als instrumenten van de ziel. Het artikel is een persoonlijke reflectie over geestelijke ontplooiïng zoals we dat aantreffen in het Soefisme van Hazrat Inayat Khan.



If Sufism is music its melodies are composed of love, harmony and beauty. Its keynote is the soul which unites all sounds into one composition. The soul is the shining light which creates, illuminates and performs the music of life.

What are the instruments for life’s music to be played? Your life’s music is performed by the instruments of a perfectly equipped body, a thinking mind and a feeling heart, each as well as together. It is this triad the student of universal Sufism will find throughout the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan.

When one dives into these it is striking how time and again one is reminded by the great role these members of one’s being play in life’s music. They are as the basso continuo expressing the soul’s music in rhythm. They are the foundation of the composition of the life you are creating.

This is the human being as pictured in Murshid’s anthropology, a Sufi wisdom of life.


The basso continuo as reflected in various teachings of Inayat Khan

It is remarkable how this anthropology is reflected in the composition of the Message. It is its structuring framework, as I have come to perceive it. It is a composition of melodies, rhythms, modes, with the soul as its tonica, the key-note. Hazrat Inayat has studied life intensely, and he shows how one can manage to live life here by applying the triad of these instruments with the soul as the guiding spirit, the key-note, and how to handle these. Body, mind and heart as the soul’s instruments playing the basso continuo.

In much of Hazrat Inayat’s teachings this triad appears in a rich palet of expressions. The Sufi school is called the school of inner culture. It is here that the wider sense of his anthropology becomes visible. In the essay What does the soul tell? the nature of the triad has been explored in its relation to the soul. Here follows a short and preliminary reconnaissance suggesting the extent of the triadic structure of many of his teachings.

Some cases

In the art of personality it is about nature (though it is not mentioned explicitly), character and personality. Nature represents all that man has been given at birth, like body, heredity, etc. Character is built on the foundation of one’s nature, constructed mostly in mental processes. It is about managing one’s nature. Personality is the maturing of individuality in terms of beautifying both nature and character; it is the art of becoming a living heart. The soul, finally, is the silent voice guiding this process of inner development, realization.                                                   SM III, Character building etc.[1]


When giving guidelines for every-day life whilst treading the spiritual path, Hazrat Inayat focuses on purification. Three steps are indicated: purity of body, of mind, and of heart. Purifying the instruments of the soul, purifying the garbs to become translucent and then transparent.                                                                            SM XIII Gatha, Takua Taharat


When giving guidelines for the path of meditation Inayat Khan introduces the steps concentration, contemplation, meditation, implying a first step of physical relaxation. In order to reach the condition of meditation three steps of relaxation are needed indeed: physical, mental (by concentration), emotional/feeling (by contemplation). Relaxing is through control, to the effect first that the relaxed body does not desires attention anymore. Then the mind becomes relaxed by concentrating on an idealized object. Next the heart by contemplating an idealized condition, by for example a wazifa, or a tone, in rhythm. When thus body, mind and heart have been attended to, when thus needs and desires have quieted down the soul may speak in silent meditation. It has guided one through the three preceding phases.                                                     SM IV Mental purification


In moral culture one finds the threefold structure again. Inayat Khan unfolds three laws: reciprocity, beneficence, renunciation. What remains implicit is a sort of common law –  as often practiced in daily life. It is the practice of doubling the wrong that has been inflicted to oneself. It works on the physical-emotional level. Next, in reciprocity one takes care not to return more evil than one has received (mind level). On the level of beneficence one is ‘royal’, giving whatever is needed (heart level). In renunciation finally one has risen above duality: there is no ‘other’. That is the soul’s function.                                                                                                                                                     SM III, Moral culture


In the Sufi healing group practice a three-step purification is done, suggesting climbing through the physical, through the mental to the refined feeling quality. In fact it is raising the consciousness.


Hazrat Inayat Khan often discusses the phenomena of impression, intuition, inspiration, revelation, realization. It reflects a process of perception in distinct spheres of awakened consciousness, of a capacity to receive on different levels of vibration. Impression is perceiving by the senses, intuition is taking place on the mental level, though ideally on that of the mind-beyond. Inspiration is a heart’s perception, whilst revelation is when the soul purifies the receptive self.                                                                                                                                                                                      Various


The learning attitude on the spiritual path is also threefold. Taking-in the teaching open-mindedly, next assimilating it open-heartedly, finally realizing it.



Sufi teachings, thus, tend to focus on how body, mind and heart may function as instruments in the developing consciousness of the soul. Whilst the soul is guiding imperceptibly.


[1] For example, SM III refers to The Sufi Message, volume III