Hazrat Inayat Khan
on the Law of Rhythm

From "the Music of Life" pp.10-14

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"The Music of Life"

THE LAW OF RHYTHM

A keen observation shows that the whole universe is a single mechanism working by the law of rhythm. The law of rhythm is a great law which is hidden behind nature. It is in accordance with this law that every form is made and that every condition manifests to view. The creation therefore is not merely a phenomenon of vibrations without any restrictions. If there were no rhythm, if it were not for the law of rhythm, we would not have distinct forms and intelligible conditions. There is no movement which has no sound, and there is no sound which has no rhythm. In order to show rhythm we need not take a conductor's baton and beat "one-two"; we only need to wave our hand. Divide one and it is two; double one and it is two. This shows that in one there is two; it proves that duality comes from unity. Then, if we look at it from another point of view, we see that duality is in fact nothing but unity; in other words that two is one. The most interesting point in this is that as soon as we see two, each of the two at once takes a different and particular position in our view. This is clear with man and woman, but also each of our hands shows a particular power and a particular function, and each foot has its peculiar place in life; the right foot is distinctly different from the left foot. Also, the sight of the two eyes is not the same. One eye is always better and stronger than the other, or at least different from the other, and if there were no difference the eyes would not be a proper instrument for seeing. If there were no difference between the power and strength of person's left and right sides, one could not live.

It is this difference that causes duality, and it is this duality that maintains the existence of things. The finer aspect of this phenomenon can be seen in musical rhythm. When we say, "one-two, one -two," then we understand what it is that makes us emphasize the one, and what it is that makes the two like an echo, a reflection, something that responds to the one. Suppose that we only say, " one-one-one-one-one, " all with the same emphasis: this will not satisfy us. We will not feel any rhythm until the one is accented and the two, or whatever we say next, follows it; then it becomes perfect. We see the same happening in the action of walking, which is accomplished by both legs: if we practice walking on one leg we will find something missing in the rhythm.

This shows that rhythm is a hidden law of nature. The rising and the setting of the sun, the waxing and the waning of the moon, the regular change of the tides in the sea, and the seasons as they come and go all show rhythm. It is rhythm that makes the birds fly; it is rhythm that makes the creatures of the earth walk. If we delve deeper into the science of rhythm we find that it is rhythm that causes a certain thing to be made in a certain way. If it is made triangular or square or round or five-pointed, whatever geometrical form has been given to it, the reason behind its form is the rhythm of the power that has made it. It is that rhythm that is the cause of its formation.

Harmonious forms are manifestations of a right rhythm, and inharmonious forms are manifestations of a disorder in rhythm. Colors such as blue and green and red and yellow appear distinct and different for the reason that a particular color vibrates according to a certain rhythm, and it is this rhythm that gives to the colors the appearance that makes us distinguish them.

There is the law of rhythm behind good weather and bad weather; and the influence of good or badweather, acting on living beings, creates a similar result in their lives. Good weather gives a desirable rhythm to living beings, and bad weather brings about an undesirable result in their health. It would therefore not be an exaggeration to say with the ancient yogis that birth and death, as well as the limited time that separates birth from death, are the fulfillment of a certain appointed rhythm. If we go a little further in exploring this idea, we shall see, as the ancient yogis saw, that by controlling this rhythm one can prolong one's life, and also that by neglecting this rhythm one can shorten it.

Why is it that music that emphasizes rhythm gives everyone the desire to dance? Even horses begin to move to the rhythm of the band playing before the cavalry; even the most downhearted and discouraged soldiers feel encouraged when they hear the emphatic rhythm of a march played by a military band. An infant is soothed when its mother is patting it on its back; the mother without knowing it instinctively gives a rhythm to its body. By waving our hand we give our departing friend a rhythm against the regret or despair with which he leaves, in order to keep him rhythmic on all planes of life.

What repulses or attracts us in a person is very often his rhythm. One person is rhythmic, and his influence is soothing; another is out of rhythm, and he upsets everybody.

Why should rhythm have such an influence upon us? Because we ourselves are rhythm. The beating of our heart, the pulse throbbing in our wrist or head, our circulation, the working of the whole mechanism of our body is rhythmic. When this rhythm is obstructed, then disorder and illness come;all discomfort, despair, and disappointment follow the breaking of the rhythm.

When we look at this question symbolically we find that our gain and our loss, our success and our failure, have much to do with the rhythm with which we pursue our motive in life. It will always prove to be true that when a person takes no heed of rhythm, whether he does right or wrong, good or evil, in either case a wrong rhythm will make him fail. For rhythm is not only a law to which nature is subjected, but it is something that maintains things as they are and gives things and beings the power to continue to live and to progress.

To know rhythm one must develop the sense of rhythm. How readily one notices it when one has a little pain! This shows that a person intuitively knows the effect of rhythm. For instance sometimes congestion causes illness; but what is congestion and what can it do? It is something that stops the rhythm. The rhythm with which the blood was circulating is stopped by congestion; that is why illness comes. By being regular one maintains rhythm in everything one does, and an irregular person will always find himself lost, because he cannot accomplish anything for want of rhythm.

Rhythm is a great mystery, and a sense which one should develop more than anything else in life. But if one were to explain what the right rhythm of work and rest is, the whole western way of life would be in question, for when we look at it from the point of view of rhythm and balance, there is far too much activity in the life of the West. It would make any person abnormal. The bad effects of this are continually felt, but since people are so absorbed in life, they are not yet able to realize to what an extent they suffer from these bad effects. However, before long there will come a time when thoughtful people will begin to realize that this problem has been neglected too long. And what has caused it? This life of competition: the whole misery is caused by competition. People do things not for their own pleasure or for the pleasure of God, but in order to compete with one another.

The law of rhythm can be considered as governing four actions: right or wrong rhythm in feeling, right or wrong rhythm in thinking, right or wrong rhythm in speaking, and right or wrong rhythm in acting. Not only hate but even love that is not maintained by rhythm will fail; not only an evil thought but even a good one will prove to be disastrous without regard for rhythm. Not only false but even true speech which has no rhythm will prove to be fatal; not only a wrong action but even a right one devoid of rhythm will prove to be out of place.

With the wrong person, even if we do right it sometimes turns into wrong; for instance when we say to someone who is in a rage and who has just been quarreling, "You have done wrong." By saying this we have not given him a good thought but have only added fuel so that he may fight with us too. One often sees that when two people are fighting and a third person approaches them with the best intentions, they both turn on him, and that will make three persons fighting at the same time.

Every plane of man's being is dependent upon the other planes, For instance if the body has lost its rhythm, something goes wrong with the mind; if the mind has lost its rhythm, the body goes wrong; if the heart has lost its rhythm, the mind is puzzled; and if the rhythm of the soul is lost, then all is wrong. To say that the virtue of a sinner is sin and the sin of the virtuous is virtue is an extreme statement, but it would not be an exaggeration.

The rhythm of the soul is influenced by the mind and by action. The soul does not have its own rhythm. As in a higher sense the soul is pure from all things that can be distinguished and divided, one may ask, "How then can it happen that the rhythm of the soul is lost?" But if we see our friend in great grief we will also feel grief. It is not because we have a grief ourselves; we feel it only because our friend's grief reflects on us. The soul is not subjected to a right rhythm or a wrong rhythm, but a right rhythm or a wrong rhythm can be reflected in the soul. For instance when a person says of something that it is ugly, what is ugly is outside him. Then why does he feel discomfort or ugliness? Because it reflects upon him. For the moment that he is looking at the ugly thing, that ugly thing is in his eyes and in his mind, just as when we are standing in front of a mirror our image is not engraved upon the mirror but is only reflected there and will remain there as long as we are standing before it. Thus the soul may experience misery or wretchedness, a wrong rhythm or a right rhythm, but when these are removed the soul is again free from them. In order to maintain a perfect condition in life one must be the master of rhythm. The mechanism of every kind of machinery that works by itself is arranged and kept going by the law of rhythm; and this is another proof of the fact that the whole mechanism of the universe is based on the law of rhythm.

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