Volume X: The Unity of Religious Ideals
SUFI MYSTICISM, THE PATH OF INITIATION & DISCIPLESHIP;
SUFI POETRY AND OTHER LECTURES
by Hazrat Inayat Khan
The eight chapters of Sufi Mysticism consist of lectures, delivered on various occasions, in which Hazrat Inayat Khan tried to explain something of the essence of mysticism. He also tried to give a glimpse of the life and work on earth of the mystics, those beings who, through their advanced state of evolution, and through their constant contact with the unseen and the unknown, “hold aloft the light of truth through the darkness of human ignorance,” in the words of the Sufi invocation.
Because so many people are apprehensive of the word “initiation,” believing it to mean a kind of mysterious ordeal one has to go through, Inayat Khan repeatedly explained its real significance — for example, in, The Way of Illumination, (Vol. I of this series, pp. 46-53). When asked what initiation involved, he often replied that it was “a blessing and a welcome.” The Path of Initiationand Discipleship is a collection of lectures and papers in which the different stages and aspects of initiation and discipleship are set forth in a comprehensive form. It may serve as a guide to those who wish to learn more about the esoteric activity of the Sufi movement.
Coming himself from a long line of Sufis, both on his father’s and on his mother’s side, it is natural that Inayat Khan should have greatly revered the Sufi mystics and poets of the past. They have not only left an indelible mark on the poetry, religion, and philosophy of the east, but have also, in their own age and later, deeply influenced western thought. In Sufi Poetry, some of the greatest of these poets are described, their lives and their work, their experiences and their characteristics.
The divinity of art, its mystical aspects, and its social significance were subjects that were never far from Inayat Khan’s mind. Before he left India in 1910, he was a famous musician, singer and poet. When he arrived in the west to bring his message of Sufi wisdom, he used his art, especially during the first years, not only as a means of livelihood, but also to convey the basic Sufi philosophical and mystical concepts to those who came to see and hear him.
Thus, one of the first series of lectures to appear in book form was The Mysticism of Sound. Another early series, called Music, was published together with it in Volume II of the present edition. In order to make people in the west better acquainted with Sufi ideas, the Sufi movement also published in those early years several small volumes containing poetry by Persian and Indian Sufis, including translations of Inayat Khan’s own poems. These will be republished in a later volume.
During the last two years of his life, the Pir-o-Murshid delivered a series of lectures on many different aspects of art, including painting, sculpture and architecture, which were published after his death under the title, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. It is this book which appears in the present volume in a slightly modified form.
Hazrat Inayat Khan’s aesthetic standards differ, on some points, from the values that are generally accepted in the western world, as does the terminology he uses. It is necessary to bear this in mind when following the Sufi mystic’s trend of thought. In fact, Inayat Khan always approached his subject as a mystic, whose principal aim in this case was to place art in its proper perspective, not so much as an achievement of man, but as a manifestation of God through man. Therefore, he does not describe ancient forms of art as a historian would, nor does he speak as an art critic about modern art. He merely takes some instances and examples to illustrate the points he wants to emphasize. To make this clearer, several chapters of a more general character have been included, and a few passages have been deleted which referred to situations and art movements at the beginning of the century which have lost most of their actuality.
The Problem of the Day forms the last part of this volume. It consists of lectures on the present need of mankind. In these, Inayat Khan stresses the fact that if, in our times, man has gone so far astray morally, it is principally because of his declining interest in religion and because of his lack of a higher ideal.
Mysticism is the essence and the basis of all knowledge, science, art, philosophy, religion and literature. These all come under the heading of “mysticism.”
When one traces the origin of medicine, which has developed into the pure science it is today, one will find that its source was in intuition. It is the mystics who have given it to the world. For instance, Avicenna, the great Persian mystic, has contributed more to medicine than any other man in the world history of medicine. We know the meaning of science to be a clear knowledge based on reason and logic; but at the same time, where did it start? Was it by reason and logic? First, there was intuition, then came reason, and finally, logic was applied to it.
Furthermore, in the lower creation, there are no doctors, yet the creatures are their own physicians. The animals know whether they will best be cured by standing in the sun, by bathing in a pool of water, by running in the free air, or by sitting quietly under the shade of a tree. I once knew a sensible dog who used to fast every Thursday. No doubt many people of the east would say he was an incarnation of a Brahmin; but to me, it was a puzzle how the dog knew it was Thursday!
People think a mystic means a dreamer, an impractical person who has no knowledge of worldly affairs. Such a mystic I would call only half a mystic. A mystic, in the full sense of the word, must have balance. He must be as wise in worldly matters as in spiritual things. People have had many misconceptions of what a mystic is. They have called a fortune-teller a mystic, or a medium, a clairvoyant, a visionary. I do not mean that a mystic does not possess all of these qualities, but these qualities do not make a mystic. A real mystic should prove to be an inspired artist, a wonderful scientist, an influential statesman. He should be just as qualified for business, industry, social and political life as is the materially minded man.
When people say to me, “You are a mystic, I thought you would take no notice of this or that,” I do not like it. Why should I not take notice of it? I take notice of every little detail, although every little detail does not occupy my mind so much that I take notice of nothing else. It is not necessary to be unconscious of the world while being conscious of God. With our two eyes we see one vision; so we should see both aspects, God and the world, as a clear vision at the same time. It is difficult, but not impossible.
Mysticism is an outlook on life. Things which seem real to the average person are unreal in the eyes of the mystic. Things that seem unreal in the eyes of the average person are real in the eyes of the mystic.
For the mystic, God is the source and goal of all, God is all and all is God. However, a real mystic does not say, as an intellectual student of philosophy does, “I do not believe in God, although I believe in the abstract.” Such a man is unpoetic and without an ideal. He may have got hold of some truth, but it is a flower without fragrance. One cannot worship the abstract; no one can communicate with the abstract, give anything to it, or take anything from it. To worship in that way is meaningless. We must have something before us to love, to worship, to adhere to, to look up to, to raise high. It is true if we say, “God is everything and all;” yet, at the same time, from another point of view, “everything” means “nothing.” The mystic says, “If you have no God, make one.” It is the man without an ideal and without imagination who ignores God. A cup of water is as interesting as the ocean, or perhaps even more so when one is thirsty. A personal God is as important as, or even more important than, the idea of the abstract from which we gain nothing.
We human beings have our limited mind. We can grasp the idea of God inasmuch as we can conceive of God. For instance, we may have a friend whom we love and whom we wish to praise, yet he is above our praise. All we can do is say, “How kind, how good, how patient, or how wonderful is my friend.” That is all. Our words cannot make him greater. Our words cannot even express fully what we, ourselves, think of him. All we can do is to make a conception of our friend for our own understanding. It is the same with God. Man cannot comprehend God fully. All he can do is to form a conception of God for himself in order to make comprehensible something that is unlimited.
That is why the mystic does not say, “My realization of God is higher than yours, therefore I keep away from you.” I have seen a mystic walking in a religious procession with the peasants, singing hymns with them before an idol of stone. He, himself, was greater than the god in the procession, and yet he was singing with the same reverence as everybody else. He never had any desire to show that his belief, his realization, was higher or greater than the realization of the others.
God is not abstract for the mystic. To him, God is a reality. The mystic does not think of God as abstract, although he knows God to be so. It is not a question of knowing, but of being. God, for the mystic, is the stepping-stone to self-realization. He is the gate, He is the door, the entrance to the heavens. God, for the mystic, is a key with which to open the secret of life, the abode from whence he comes, to which he returns, and where he finds himself at home.
Once a western seeker of truth went to a sage in China and said to him, “I have come to learn from you what truth is.” The sage said, “Many of your missionaries come to us here and teach your faith. Why do you come to me?” “Well,” he said, “what they teach about is God. We know about God; but now I come to you to ask you about the mystery of life.” The sage said, “If you know God, then that is all there is to be known, there is nothing more. That is all the mystery there is.”
There is the question of the mystic’s conception of Christ. Do we not know that one person is better than another, and is it not true that God is in man? If that is true, the mystic says, what objection is there if one person calls Christ God, and if the other believes Christ to be man? If God is in man, then if Christ is called God, what does it matter? And if Christ is called man, it only raises man, whom God has created, to that stature. Both have their reasons, and both are right; yet they oppose each other.
Some object to Christ being called divine; but if divinity is not sought in man, then in what shall we seek God? Can divinity be found in the tree, in the plant, in the stone? Yes indeed, God is in all; but at the same time, it is in man that divinity is awakened, that God is awakened, that God can be seen.
The tolerance of the mystic is different. The people of a certain nation, race or religion may say, “In Jesus Christ, we see the Lord.” Under that name, they recognize their ideal. People of other countries have seen their divine ideal in Buddha. For their consolation and in support of their ideal, they can all find in history the name of someone who has once existed. The Muslim says that Mohammad is the object of his worship, the Hindu says Krishna. As long as they have not realized the spirit of their ideal, then they will dispute, quarrel, and fight. They will say, “My teacher is great,” “Mine is greater still.” But they do not see that it is one and the same spirit, manifesting in greater excellence. We exalt the teacher to the extent that we have understood him, but we do not exalt him enough if we call him by a certain name and thus limit him to a certain part of the world. However, when we see the unlimited we can call him by all names and say, “You are Krishna, you are Christ, and you are Buddha,” just as the loving mother can call her child, “my prince.” She can give the most beautiful names to her child.
Once four little girls were disputing. One said, “My mother is better than yours.” The second girl said, “My mother is better than your mother.” So, they were arguing and being quite disagreeable to one another. But someone who was passing by said to them, “It is not your mother or their mother, it is THE mother who is always the best. It is the mother quality, her love and affection for her children.” This is the point of view of the mystic in regard to the divine ideal.
The moral principle of the mystic is the love principle. He says, “The greater your love, the greater your moral. If we are forced to be virtuous according to a certain principle, a certain regulation, certain laws or rules, then that is not real virtue. It must come from the depths of our heart; our own heart must teach us the true moral.” Thus, the mystic leaves morality to the deepening of the heart quality. The mystic says that the more loving someone’s heart is, the greater is his morality.
There is no greater teacher of morals than love itself, for the first lesson that one learns from love is, “I am not, you are.” This is self-denial, self-abnegation, without which we cannot take the first step on love’s path. One may claim to be a great lover, to be a great admirer, to be very affectionate, but it all means nothing as long as the thought of self is there, for there is no love. But when the thought of self is removed, then every action, every deed that one performs in life, becomes a virtue. It cannot be otherwise. A loving person cannot be unjust, a loving person cannot be cruel. Even if what he does seems wrong in the eyes of a thousand people, it cannot be wrong in reality. In reality, it will be right, for it is inspired by love.
What is religion to the mystic? The religion of the mystic is a steady progress towards unity. How does he make this progress? In two ways. In the first way, he sees himself in others, in the good, in the bad, in all; and thus, he expands the horizon of his vision. This study goes on throughout his lifetime; and, as he progresses, he comes closer to the oneness of all things. The other way of developing is to become conscious of one’s own self in God and of God in one’s self, which means deepening the consciousness of our innermost being. This process takes place in two directions: outwardly, by being one with all we see; and inwardly, by being in touch with that one Life which is everlasting, by dissolving into it and by being conscious of that one Spirit being THE existence, the only existence.
The law of the mystic is the understanding of the law. The average man says, “This person has got the better of me. I will show him!” The mystic’s outlook is different. He believes that no one can get away with anything in this world without paying for it. For every gain, the food one eats, every drop one drinks, every breath of air one takes, there is a tax to be paid. One is continually paying, and yet one does not know it. This shows that behind it all there is a perfect justice working. One cannot get the slightest comfort and pleasure without having to pay for it, and every pain has its own reward, though few seem to realize this. Therefore, behind all this falsehood and injustice, we see that there is a perfect wisdom working continually, day and night. The mystic sees it in everything with open eyes; and that is the great miracle. For in the first place, the mystical life is a puzzle; in the second place, a bewilderment; and in the third place, a miracle.
It is a puzzle when the law is not understood, a very interesting puzzle. There is no better game than to be occupied with that puzzle, to try to understand it, to solve it. It is so interesting that there is no sport or game that can be compared with it. It is a bewilderment because of the difference between the way everybody looks at life and how it is in reality. There comes a stage when a person says, “Either they are all mad, or I am mad; but someone must be mad!”
The mystic can see from the point of view of everyone else, as well as from his own, which may be quite the contrary. For instance, in his teachings, Christ says, “If anyone asks you for your coat, give him your overcoat, also.” A worldly man will say, “It is not practical; if someone asked this of me every day, I would be continually buying new coats!” Yet, at the same time, it is more than practical from the point of view of the Master. For, according to his view, we cannot give anything, in whatever form, without getting it back in some way or other. Pure thought, good will, our service, our time, whatever we give, is never lost. It comes back to us according to our willingness to give, it comes back to us a thousandfold. That is why one is never the loser by being generous; one only gains.
The mystic sees the law in all things, and this gives him an insight into life. He begins to see why this misery has come upon him, why that pleasure has come; why one person is prospering and another not, why one is progressing and not another. All these things become clear to him because he sees the law working in all things. The law of the mystic is not the law of the people. It is the law of nature; it is the real law.
A mystic never restricts himself to a certain rule, such as a rule of celibacy, although for certain experiences, celibacy is of great importance. However, if it is necessary for him to fast, practice celibacy, live on a vegetarian diet or stay in a remote place in seclusion, or any other such thing, he can prescribe it for himself and benefit from it. But one cannot say a mystic MUST do this or that, or that he must live a certain life.
Solomon, with his kingdom and all his grandeur, was as great a mystic and as wise a man as many hermits in the forest. One cannot judge a mystic by his appearance. If he is a real mystic, he will be a king, whether he is in the midst of the treasures of a court, or sitting clad in a ragged mantle. He is a king, just the same, wherever he is. Neither money, nor a court, nor life in the world, can take away his kingship from him. If he chooses to live in solitude, it is his own affair. If he wishes to be in the crowd, he may just as well be there. Whether a person sits in a remote place in the forest or in a baker’s shop, if he is thinking of a high ideal, his surroundings cannot touch him; he does not see them. There is no aspect of life that can deprive a mystic of his mystical spirit. He may be rich or poor, in the midst of the world or away from everything, but he is a mystic, just the same.
The way to perfection for the mystic is by the annihilation of the false ego. He understands that in man, there is a real ego, that this ego is divine, but that the divine ego is covered by a false ego; and every man has a false ego because it begins to grow from his birth. Man develops in himself a false idea, and that false idea is identification with something that he calls himself. He says, “I am a professor, a lawyer, a barrister, a doctor;” or, “I am a king, a lord, or something.” But whatever he claims, he is not that. His claim may be humble or proud; but, in reality, he is not that. The mystic on the spiritual path perseveres in wiping out this false ego as much as he can, by meditation, by concentration, by prayer, by study, by everything that he does. His one aim is to wipe out so much that one day reality, which is always there buried under the false ego, may manifest.
By calling on the Name of God, in the form of prayer, or in zikr, or in any other form, what the mystic does is to awaken the spirit of the real ego, in order that it may manifest. It is just like a spring that rises up out of the rock and that, as soon as the water has gained power and strength, breaks even through stone and becomes a stream. So it is with the divine spark in man. Through concentration, through meditation, it breaks out and manifests; and where it manifests, it washes away the stains of the false ego and turns into a greater and greater stream. This in turn becomes the source of comfort, consolation, healing and happiness for all who come into contact with that spirit.
Mysticism is neither a faith, nor a belief. Neither is it a principle or a dogma. A mystic is born. Being a mystic means having a certain temperament, a certain outlook on life. It is for this reason that many are confused by the word “mystic,” because mysticism cannot be explained in plain words.
To a mystic, impulse has divine significance. In every impulse a mystic sees the divine direction. What people call “free will” is something that does not exist for the mystic. He sees one plan, working and making its way towards a desired result; and every person, whether willingly or unwillingly, contributes towards the accomplishment of that plan. This contribution to the plan is considered by one to be “free will,” and by another, to be “accident.” The one who feels, “This is my impulse, this is my idea, this I must bring into action,” only knows of the idea from the moment it has become manifest to his view. He therefore calls it free will. But from whence did that idea come to him? Where does impulse come from? It comes, directly or indirectly, from within. Sometimes it may seem to come from outside; but it always starts from within. Thus, every impulse for a mystic is a divine impulse. One may ask, why is not every impulse divine for everybody, since every impulse has its origin within? It is because not everybody knows it to be so. The divine part of the impulse is in realizing it is divine. The moment we are conscious of the divine origin of the impulse, from that moment on, it is divine. Although all through life it has come from within, it is the fact of knowing that makes it divine.
A mystic removes the barrier that stands between himself and another person by trying to look at life not only from his own point of view, but also from the point of view of another. All disputes and disagreements arise from people’s misunderstanding of each other. Mostly, people misunderstand each other because they have their fixed points of view and are not willing to move from them. This is a rigid condition of mind. The more dense a person is, the more fixed he is in his own points of view. Therefore, it is easy to change the mind of an intelligent person, but it is most difficult to change the mind of a foolish person once it is fixed. It is this dense quality of mind which becomes fixed on a certain idea and that clouds the eyes so that they cannot see from the point of view of another person.
Many fear that by looking at things from the point of view of someone else, they lose their own point of view; but I would rather lose my own point of view, if it was a wrong one. Why must one stick to one’s point of view simply because it is one’s own? And why should it be one’s own point of view and not all points of view, the point of view of one and the same Spirit? For, just as two eyes are needed to make the sight complete, and two ears are necessary to make the hearing complete, so it is the understanding of two points of view, the opposite points of view, which gives a fuller insight into life.
A mystic calls this “unlearning.” What we call “learning,” is fixing ideas in our mind. This learning is not freeing the soul, it is limiting the soul. By this, I do not mean to say that learning has no place in life, but only that learning is not all that is needed on the spiritual path. There is something else, besides, there is something beyond learning; and to this, we can only attain by unlearning. Learning is just like making knots of ideas, and the thread is not smooth as long as the knots are there. They must be unraveled; and when the thread is smooth, one can treat it in any way one likes. A mind with knots cannot have a smooth circulation of truth. The ideas which are fixed in one’s mind block it. A mystic, therefore, is willing to see from all points of view in order to clarify his knowledge. It is that willingness which is called “unlearning.”
The sense of understanding is one and the same for all of us. If we are willing to understand, then understanding is within our reach. Very often, however, we are not willing to understand, and that is why we do not understand. Mankind suffers from a sort of stubbornness. A man goes against what he thinks is coming from another person. Yet, everything he has learned has come from others, he has not learned one word from himself. All the same, he calls it his argument, his idea, and his view, although it is no such thing. He has always taken it from somewhere. It is by accepting this fact that a mystic understands all, and it is this which makes him a friend of all.
A mystic does not look at reasons as everybody else does because he sees that the first reason that comes to his mind is only a cover over another reason that is hidden behind it. He has patience, therefore, to wait until he has lifted the veil from the first reason until he sees the reason behind it. Then, again, he sees that this reason which was hidden behind the first reason is more powerful, but that there is still a greater reason behind it. And so, he goes from one reason to another, and sees in reason nothing but a veil to cover reality. As he goes farther, penetrating the several veils of reason, he reaches the essence of reason. By touching the essence, he sees the reason in everything, good and bad.
Compare a mystic with an average person who argues and disputes, fights and quarrels, over the first reason, which is nothing but a cover. Compare the two. The one is ready to form an opinion, to praise and to condemn, while the other patiently waits until reality gradually unfolds itself. A mystic believes in the unknown and unseen, not only in the form of God, but in the unknown that is to come, the unseen that is not yet seen. Whereas the other has no patience to wait until he knows the unknown, until he sees the unseen. A mystic does not urge the knowledge of the unknown or unseen upon another, but sees the hand of the unknown working through all things. For instance, if a mystic has the impulse to go out and walk towards the north, he thinks there must be some purpose in it. He does not think it is only a whim, a foolish fancy, although the reason for it he does not know. But he will go to the north, and he will try to find the purpose of his going there in the result that comes from it.
The whole life of the mystic is mapped on this principle, and it is by this principle that he can arrive at the stage where his impulse becomes a voice from within that tells him, “Go here,” “Go there,” “Leave,” “Move,” or “Stay.” Therefore, while others are prepared to explain why they are doing something or going somewhere or what they wish to do, the mystic cannot explain because he, himself, does not know. Yet, he knows more than the person who is ready to answer why he is going and what he is going to accomplish, for what does man know about what will happen to him? He makes his program and plans, but he does not know.
Man proposes, and God disposes. Many say this every day; yet, at the same time, they make their programs and lay out their plans. A mystic is not particular about it. He is working on the plan which is laid out already and he knows that there is a plan. He may not know the plan in detail; but if anyone can and will know the plan, it is the mystic. This, again, tells us something: the one who knows little, knows most; and those who seem to know more, know least.
The outlook of the mystic is like that of a man standing on a mountaintop and looking at the world from a great height. If a mystic looks upon everyone as being not much different, one from another, because they are all like children to him, then it is like what we see from the top of a mountain. All people, whether tall or short, seem to be of the same size; they appear like little beings moving about. An average man is frightened of truth in the same way that a person who has never been to a great height gets frightened at the sight of the immensity of space. The truth is immense; and when a person reaches the top of understanding, he becomes frightened and he does not want to look at it.
Many have told me, “Eastern philosophy interests us very much, but the concept of 'nirvana' is very frightening.” I have answered, “Yes, it is frightening. Truth is just the same. Truth is also frightening, but truth is reality.” Man is so fond of illusion that he, so to speak, revels in it. If someone awakens a man who is having an interesting dream, that man will say, “Oh, let me sleep on!” He likes looking at his dream. He does not want to wake up to reality because reality is not as interesting as the dream. Thus, amongst seekers of truth, we find only one in a thousand courageous enough to look at the immensity of truth. However, there are many who take an interest in illusion and they are inclined, out of curiosity, to look at mental illusions because these are different from the illusions of the physical life. They are apt to call this “mysticism,” but it is not mysticism.
No one can be a mystic and call himself a Christian mystic, a Jewish mystic or a Mohammadan mystic. For what is mysticism? Mysticism is something that erases from one’s mind all ideas of separateness. If a person claims to be this mystic or that mystic, then he is not a mystic, he is only playing with a name.
People say that a mystic is someone who dreams and who lives in the clouds. My answer to this is that the real mystic stands on earth, but his head is in heaven. It is not true that the wise man is not intellectual or that the wise man is not clever. A clever man is not necessarily wise, but the one who has the higher knowledge has no difficulty in gaining knowledge of worldly things. It is the man who has knowledge of worldly things, only, who has great difficulty in absorbing the higher knowledge.
Mr. Ford was very wise when he said to me, “If you had been a businessman, I am sure you would have been successful.” Furthermore, he said, “I have tried all my life to solve the problem that you appear to have solved.” This, again, gives us an insight into the idea that higher wisdom does not bar a person from having worldly wisdom, though worldly wisdom does not qualify a person to attain to the higher wisdom.
Now, let us come to the mystic’s vision. People think that to see colors, spirits or visions is mystical. But mysticism cannot be restricted to this, and those who see these things are not necessarily mystics. Besides, those who can see and whose vision is clear say so little about it. The mystic will be the last to claim that he sees or does wonderful things. His vision and his power would be diminished as soon as he would begin to feed his vanity by claiming to know or to do things which others cannot know or do. The main thing that the mystic has to accomplish is to get rid of the false ego. So, if he feeds the false ego by claiming such things, then he will lose all of his power, virtue and greatness.
To a mystic, every person is like an open letter, just as to an experienced physician, a person’s face tells of his condition. Yet, a mystic would never say to someone else, “In this person I see this or that.” For, the more he knows, the greater trust is put in him by God. He covers all that should be covered, he only says what has to be said. A mystic will know most and yet will act innocently. It is the ones who know little that make a fuss about their knowledge. The more a person knows, the less he shows to others. Besides, a mystic is never ready to correct people for their follies, to condemn them for their errors, or to accuse them of their foolishness. He sees so much of errors, follies and foolishness that he never feels inclined to point them out. He just sees life in its different aspects and understands the process that an individual goes through in life. It is by mistakes and errors that one learns, in the end; and a mystic never feels that he should condemn anyone for errors, as he only feels that they are natural.
Some are advancing rapidly, others are going slowly. Foolishness is just like light and darkness — it is through darkness that the sun rises, and through ignorance that wisdom will rise one day. A mystic, therefore, need not learn patience, for he is taught patience by life, from the beginning until the end. A mystic need not learn tolerance, for his outlook gives him tolerance, it is natural for him. He need not learn forgiveness, for he cannot do anything but forgive.
Man loves complexity and calls it knowledge. A great many societies and institutions in the world which call themselves occult, esoteric and psychic, and by various other names, knowing that everyone is interested in complexity, cover the truth. Instead of covering the truth with one cover, they cover it with a thousand covers to make it more interesting. It is just like the customs that were followed in ancient times, when people came to worship and asked the priest how they should do it, and he would say, “How far do you live from the shrine?” And when they said, “Two miles,” he answered, “You must come on foot to the shrine and walk around it a hundred times before you may enter it.” He gave them a good exercise before they were allowed to come in. Even today, they do the same thing. When a person says, “I want to see truth,” but he wishes to look for truth in complexity, they cover truth under a thousand covers, and then they give him the problem to solve.
Are there not many people interested in the mahatmas of the Himalayas, are there not many interested in the holy souls in remote places of Persia, many who look for a master in the center of Australia? Perhaps next year an article will appear declaring that a great soul has been born in Siberia. What is it all about? It is all the love of complexity, queer notions, strange ideas which do not lead souls any further. Therefore, a mystic very often appears to be simple because sincerity makes him feel inclined to express the truth in simple language and in simple ideas. But because people value complexity, they think that what he says is too simple and that it is something which they have always known, that it is nothing new. However, as Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
Besides, truth belongs to the soul and the soul knows it; and as soon as the truth is spoken, the soul recognizes it. It is not new, not foreign to it. If a person says, “This is something I already know,” even if his soul has known it, it can never be repeated too often for him. The great saints of the east have repeated one phrase, for instance, “God is One,” perhaps a million times in their lives. Should we believe that they were so foolish as to not be able to understand the meaning of it by saying it once? Why, then, do they repeat it a million times? The reason is that it is never enough. We live in the midst of illusion, from morning till evening, when we go to sleep. What we do not know is the illusion in which we are from morning till evening. It is not the truth we do not know; truth is all we know — if we know anything fully. The mystic, therefore, instead of learning truth, instead of looking for truth, wishes to maintain truth. He wishes to cling to the idea of truth, to keep the vision of reality before him, lest it be covered by the thousand veils of illusion.
Does the mystic make any effort to reach the highest realization? Yes. It is an art that is passed on from teacher to pupil. This art is handed down through the ages, from one person to another. One might ask, “Why, if truth is within oneself, is there any necessity for such an art? After all, art is not nature. The animals and birds do not need an art, they are happy, they are peaceful, they are innocent; they are spiritual, really spiritual. They live in nature, their lives are natural.” The answer is, we live far away from nature, we have made our artificial world to live in, and that is why we require an art to free ourselves from it. I do not mean to say that we must abandon life, or that we must not have anything to do with life in order to be mystics; however, we have to practice that art which enables us to get in touch with reality.
That art is, in the first place, concentration. Concentration does not mean closing the eyes and sitting in church on Sunday. Many know how to close their eyes and sit there, yet their mind wanders about, especially when they have closed their eyes. Concentration means that every atom of the body and of the mind is centered in one spot.
The next step is contemplation; that is, to be able to retain an idea which raises one’s consciousness from the dense world. The third stage is meditation, and that is to purify oneself, to free oneself, and to open oneself to the light of truth in order that it may abide in one’s spirit.
The fourth step is realization. Then the mystic is no longer the knower of truth, but is truth, itself.
There is one God and one truth, one religion and one mysticism. Call it Sufism or Christianity or Hinduism or Buddhism, whatever you wish. As God cannot be divided, so mysticism cannot be divided.
It is an error when a person says, “My religion is different from yours.” He does not know what religion means. Neither can there be many mysticisms, just as there cannot be many wisdoms; there is only one wisdom. It is an error of mankind to say, “This is eastern and that is western.” This only shows lack of wisdom.
It is the same divine truth that man inherits, no matter to what part of the world he belongs. To distinguish between occultism and mysticism is also an error, just as it would be an error to say of one’s eyes, “This is my eye and that is your eye.” The two eyes belong to one soul. When a person pictures mysticism as one branch of a tree which is truth, he is wrong in thinking it to be a branch; for mysticism is the stem which unites all branches. Mysticism is the way by which to realize the truth. Jesus Christ said, “I am the Way and the Truth.” He did not say, “I am the Ways and the Truths,” for there is only one way, and any other way would be the wrong way. Many religions there are, but not many wisdoms; many houses of the Lord for worship, but only one God; many scriptures, but only one truth. So, there are many methods, but only one way.
The methods of gaining that realization are many, but there are four principal ones: by the heart, by the head, by action, and by repose. A person must choose from amongst these four different methods of developing himself and preparing himself to journey on the way, the only way, which is called mysticism. No religion can call it its own, but it is the way of all religions. No church can say that it owns it, for it belongs to all churches. No one can say that his is the only way. It is the same way as all others have to go.
People have often imagined that a mystic means an ascetic, someone who dreams, a person who lives in the air, someone who does not dwell here on the earth, a person who is not practical; or a hermit. These are not the case. Very often, people think of the mystic as a peculiar sort of man, and if they meet someone who is peculiar, they say that he must be a mystic! This is a wrong conception, an exaggeration, for a real mystic must show equilibrium, balance. He will have his head in the heavens, but his feet will be on the earth. The real mystic is as wide awake in this world as in the other. A mystic is not someone who dreams. He is wide awake; yet he is capable of dreaming when others are not and of keeping awake when the rest cannot do so. A mystic strikes the balance between two things: power and beauty. He does not sacrifice power for beauty, nor beauty for power. He possesses power and enjoys beauty.
There are no restrictions in the life of the mystic. Everything there shows balance, reason, love, and harmony. The religion of the mystic is every religion, yet he is above what people call their religion. In point of fact, he IS religion, and his moral is that of all religions: reciprocity, to reciprocate all the kindness we receive from others, to do an act of kindness to others without wanting any appreciation or return for it, and to make every sacrifice, however great, for love, harmony, and beauty.
The God of the mystic is to be found in his own heart. The truth of the mystic is beyond words. People argue and debate about things of little importance, but mysticism is not to be discussed. People want to talk in order to know, and then they forget it all. Very often, it is not the one who knows who talks so much, but the one who wants to know. The one who knows, but does not discuss, is the mystic. He knows that happiness is in his own heart; but to put this into words is like putting the ocean into a drop of water.
Yet, there is a wine which the mystic drinks, and that wine is ecstasy. A wine so powerful that the presence of the mystic becomes as wine for everyone who comes into his presence. This wine is the wine of the real sacrament, whose symbol is found in the church. What is it, where does it come from, what is it made of? It may be called power, life, a strength that comes through the mystic, through the spheres which every man is attached to. By his attachment to these spheres, the mystic drinks the wine which is the sustenance of the human soul, and that wine is ecstasy, the mystic’s intoxication. That intoxication is the love which manifests in the human heart. What does it matter, once a mystic has drunk that wine, whether he is sitting amongst the rocks in the wilderness, or in a palace? It is all the same. The palace does not deprive him of the mystic’s pleasures, and neither does the rock take them away. He has found the kingdom of God on earth, about which Jesus Christ said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.”
People strive for many different things in this world, but last of all, they seek the spiritual path. Some indifferent ones say, “There is a long life before us, and when the time comes that I must awaken, I shall wake up.” But the mystic knows that this is the one thing he must attend to and that all other things come after that. It is of the greatest importance in his life.
Should he, by working for realization of God, neglect his duties in the world? It is not necessary. There is nothing that a mystic need renounce in order to have the realization of life. He only needs to attach the greatest importance to what is most important in life.
The life of a mystic is meditative; but, to him, meditation is like the winding of a clock. It is wound for only a moment, yet all day long it goes by itself. He does not have to think about it all day long. He does not trouble about it.
A shah of Persia used to sit up at night for his vigils and prayers. A friend who was visiting him wondered at his long meditations after a whole day’s work. “It is too much,” he said, “you do not need so much meditation.” “Do not say so,” was the answer. “You do not know. For at night I pursue God, and during the day God follows me.” The moments of meditation set the whole mechanism in running order, like a stream running into the ocean. They do not in the least keep the mystic from his duty; they only bless every word he speaks with the thought of God. In all he thinks or does, there is the perfume of God that becomes a healing and a blessing. And if one asks how a mystic, who has become so kind and helpful, gets on amongst the crowd in everyday life, since the rough edges of everyday life rubbing against him must necessarily make him heartsore; the answer is that they certainly do, and the heart of the mystic is even more sore than that of anybody else. Where there is only kindness and patience, all the thorns will come. But just as the diamond, by being cut, becomes brilliant, so does the heart. When the heart has been sufficiently cut it becomes a flame that illuminates not only the life of the mystic, but also that of others.
The Nature & Work of a Mystic
There is a difference between a philosopher, a wise man, a mystic, and a sage. From a mystical point of view, the philosopher is a person who knows the nature and character of things and beings, who has studied this, who has reasoned it out, who understands it. A wise man is he who has been the pupil of life. Life has been his teacher; and its sorrows, troubles and experiences have brought him to a certain understanding of life. A mystic, however, need not have had experience of life to teach him nor the study of life to make him intellectual enough to understand it better. The mystic is born with the mystical temperament. His language is a different language, his experience is a different experience. He, so to speak, communicates with life, with conditions, things, and beings. However, the sage has all three of these qualities. The sage is a philosopher, a wise man, a mystic, all three combined.
It is possible that a mystic may not be a philosopher. Though the mystic always has a clear vision and understanding, he may not have the philosopher’s means of expression. The difference is like that between short sight and long sight. The mystic may not see the outline of things distinctly, a philosopher may observe only the details, while the wise man may not be a philosopher but he has learned wisdom from life. The wise man may be different from the mystic, as well.
Yet, when they arrive at the stage of the culmination of knowledge they all come closer together. For instance, I was once talking to a businessman, a man who had spent nearly 50 years of his life in commerce and had made a success of it. He had never believed in any religion, he had never studied any philosophy, except that sometimes he read the works of great poets. But after we had talked for about an hour on subjects concerning the inner life, he discovered that he was not very far from my own beliefs. He said that after all, the patience which is required to make money, the sacrifices one has to make in order to be successful, and the experiences one has to go through with those whom he works in daily business, had been, for him, both a practice and a study. I found that he was not very far from the conclusions of the wise man, the philosopher and the mystic. It is he whom I would call a wise man; for, by his wisdom, he had reached that truth which is studied by the philosopher and attained by the mystic, through meditation.
The meaning of philosophy has changed in modern times. People generally understand philosophy as that which one finds in books written by European philosophers, which are read and studied at universities. But spiritual philosophy is different; it is a different kind of knowledge, an understanding of the origin, nature, and character of things and beings. It necessitates the study of human nature, the study of conditions of life. It is the deeper insight into life which makes one a philosopher.
Mysticism is neither taught, nor learned. A mystic is born; it is a temperament, it is a certain outlook on life, a certain attitude towards life that makes a man a mystic. His chief characteristic is that he knows the meaning of every action, whether it is by intuition or by accident, although to a mystic, nothing is an accident. Every action, every condition, everything that happens, has a meaning and a purpose. Very often, people find that a mystic has a queer temperament. He may suddenly think during the night, “I must go to the north,” and in the morning, he sets out on his journey. He does not know why, he does not know what he is to accomplish there, he only knows that he must go. By going there, he finds something that he has to do and sees that it was the hand of destiny pushing him towards the accomplishment of that purpose which inspired him to go to the north. Or, a mystic will tell a person to do or not do a thing. If that person asks the reason, he cannot tell him. His feeling comes by intuition, a knowledge that comes from the world unseen; and according to that knowledge, he acts. Therefore, the mystic’s impulse is a divine impulse, and one can judge neither his action, nor his attitude. One will find that there are various aspects of the mystic temperament.
But there is a knowledge which a mystic attains by means of the head and which prepares him to find his way to the truth. Reasoning is a faculty which the mystic uses and which he may develop like any man of common sense, any practical man. The difference is only that the mystic does not stop at the first reason, but wishes to see the reason behind all reasons. Thus, in everything, whether right or wrong, the mystic seeks for the reason. The immediate answer, however, will be a reason that does not satisfy him, for he sees that behind that reason there is yet another reason. So, he progresses in the knowledge of all things, which is far greater than the knowledge gained by one thing. This is why neither wrong nor right, good nor evil, excites the mystic very much. Neither does it greatly shock or surprise him. For everything seems to him to have its own nature, and it is understanding this which makes him feel at one with all that exists. What can one wish for more in life than understanding? It is understanding that gives one harmony in the home with those near and dear to one, and peace outside the home with so many different natures and characters. If one lacks understanding, then one is poor, in spite of all that one may possess of the goods of this world, for it is understanding which gives a man riches.
If life could be pictured, one would say that it reminds one of the sea in a storm, the waves coming and going — such is life. It is the understanding of this which gives man the weight which enables him to endure through rain, storm and all vicissitudes. Without understanding, he is like a jolly-boat on the sea which cannot weather the storm. Through understanding, a mystic learns. He learns tact; he is tactful under all circumstances, and his tact is like a heavily laden ship that the wind cannot capsize, riding steady in the midst of the storm.
The nature of life is such that it easily excites the mind and makes man unhappy in an instant. It makes man so confused that he does not know where to take the next step. In contrast with this, the mystic stands still and inquires of life its secret; and from every experience, from every failure or success, the mystic learns a lesson. Thus, both failure and success are profitable to him.
The ideal of a mystic is never to think of disagreeable things. What one does not want to happen one should not think about. A mystic erases from his mind all the disagreeable things of the past. He collects and keeps his happy experiences, and out of them, he makes a paradise. Are there not many unhappy people who keep part of the past before them, causing them pain in their heart? Past is past; it is gone. There is eternity before us. If we want to make our life as we wish it to be, we should not think disagreeable thoughts and ponder over painful experiences and memories that make us unhappy.
It is for this reason that, to some extent, life becomes easy for the mystic to deal with. For he knows every heart, every nature. Those who are untouched by the mystic’s secret suffer from their difficulties, both at home and outside. They dread the presence of people they do not understand; they want to run away from them. And if they cannot escape, they feel as if they are in the mouth of a dragon, and perhaps they are placed in a situation that cannot easily be changed. The consequence is that they heap confusion upon confusion. How very often one sees that when two people do not understand one another, a third comes and helps them to do so, and the light thrown upon them causes greater harmony! The mystic says that whether it be agreeable or disagreeable, if you are in a certain situation, make the best of it and try to understand how to deal with such a situation. A life without such understanding is like a dark room which contains everything you wish — it is all there, but there is no light.
The world is, after all, a wonderful place, in spite of so many souls wishing to leave it. For there is nothing that cannot be obtained in this world. Everything is there, all things good and beautiful, all things precious and worthwhile. They are all there, if only one knows their nature, their character and how to attain them.
If you ask some people what is the nature of life, they will say, “The farther we go in striving for happiness, the farther we are removed from it.” This is true. But the one who does not know that unhappiness does not really exist takes the wrong way. Besides, happiness is more natural than unhappiness, as good is more natural than evil, and health than illness. Yet, man is so pessimistic. If we tell him how good someone is, he cannot believe this to be true; but if we tell him how bad a person is, he will readily believe it.
The work of a mystic, therefore, is to study life. To the mystic, life is not a stage play or an entertainment. For the mystic, life is a school in which to learn, every moment of one’s life. It is a continual study. And the scripture of the mystic is human nature. Every morning he turns a new page of this scripture. The books of the great ones who have brought the Message to the world from time to time, which became sacred scriptures and were read for thousands of years, generations of people taking their spiritual food from them — are the interpretations that they gave of this scripture which is human nature. That is why all the sacred scriptures always have the same sacred feeling.
The mystic respects all religions, and he understands all the different and contradictory ideas, for he understands everyone’s language. The mystic can agree, without having to dispute, with both the wise and the foolish. For he sees that the nature of facts is such that they are true in their own place and he understands every aspect of their nature. The mystic sees from every point of view. He sees from the point of view of each person, and that is why he is harmonious with all. A man comes to a mystic and says, “I cannot believe in a personal God, it means nothing to me.” Then, the mystic answers, “You are quite right.” Another man says, “The only way of making God intelligible is in the form of man.” The mystic says, “You are right.” And another person says, “How foolish of these people to make of this man a God; God is above comprehension.” And the mystic will agree with him, too. For a mystic understands the reason behind all the opposing arguments.
Once a missionary came to a Sufi in Persia, desiring to have a discussion and to prove his opinion on some Sufi teaching. The Sufi was sitting there in his silent, quiet attitude, with two or three of his pupils at his side. The missionary brought up some arguments, and the mystic answered, “You are right.” Then the man went on to dispute, but the Sufi only said, “That is quite true.” The man was very disappointed, as there was no opportunity for argument. The Sufi saw the truth in all.
The truth is like a piano. The notes may be high or low, one may strike a C or an E, but they are all notes. So, the difference between ideas is like that between notes. It is the same in daily life with the right and the wrong attitude. If we have the wrong attitude, then all things are wrong. If we have the right attitude, then all things are right. The man who mistrusts himself will mistrust even his best friend. The man who trusts himself will trust everyone.
Things which seem to be apart, such as right and wrong, light and darkness, form and shadow, to the mystic appear so close that only a hair’s breadth divides right and wrong. Before the mystic, there opens an outlook on life, an outlook that discloses the purpose of life. The question the mystic puts to himself is, “Which is my being? The body? No. This body is my possession. I cannot be that which I possess.” He asks himself, “Is it my mind?” The answer comes, “No. The mind is something I possess, it is something I witness. There must be a difference between the knower and the known.” By this method, the Sufi eventually comes to an understanding of the illusory character of all he possesses. It is like a man who has a coat made. It is his coat, but it is not himself.
Then the mystic begins to think, “It is not myself who thinks, it is the mind. It is the body which suffers, not myself.” It is a kind of liberation for him to know, “I am not my mind.” For an ordinary man wonders why one moment he has a good thought, another moment a bad thought; one moment an earthly thought, the next moment a thought of heaven. Life for him is like a moving picture in which it is he who sees and it is he who is dancing there.
By seeing this, the mystic liberates his real self, which owing to his illusion, was buried under mind and body — what people call a “lost soul,” a soul who was not aware of the mystical truth that body and mind are the vehicles by which to experience life. It is in this way that the mystic begins his journey towards immortality.
The Secret of the Spirit
There are four different explanations of the word “spirit.” One meaning is, “essence.” Spirit of camphor means, “the essence of camphor.” The second meaning of spirit is what is understood by those who call the soul “spirit” when it has left the body on earth and passed to the other side. The third meaning of spirit is that of the soul and mind working together. It is used in this sense when one says that a man seems to be in low spirits. This means that both his mind and soul are depressed, although one may not always define it in this way. The fourth meaning of spirit is the soul of all souls, the source and goal of all things and all beings from which all comes and to which all returns.
The first meaning of the word spirit is, as I have said, essence. The essence of flowers is honey, the essence of milk is butter, the essence of grapes is wine, the essence of learning is wisdom. Therefore, wisdom is a sweet as honey, as nourishing as butter, and as exalting as wine.
To rise above things in life, one must try to get to the essence. In other words, there is one way of listening to a musician, and that is to consider the form, the technique. The other way is to grasp the feeling, the sense that the music suggests. So it is with life. We can look at life in one way, see it in different forms, and make a rigid conception of it. Or, we can see it so that we get the suggestion of its essence.
For instance, a person may come to us and express a thousand false feelings. Then we go over it in our mind and realize it was all false because it could not be reasonably true. This is one way. The other way is to see immediately that it was false, from first to last, without going into details. This is quite sufficient; and because we have immediately seen it, we have saved our mind a great deal of trouble.
Sometimes a person says to another, “You say you are my friend; all right, I am going to find out what you are like and how you work.” That is one way of looking at it. But the other way is to look only once at that person and, by that one glance, to know what he is worth, that is all. If one can do this, it will make one brave and venturesome and will bring one nearer to the essence. It will impart generosity and liberality. Otherwise, one remains narrow, small and confused; and in this way, thousands and millions of souls are buffeted along on the sea of life, not knowing where they are going because they are not sure of themselves. If a person says, “I don’t know you, but perhaps I will know you someday,” that person will never know anyone, for all his life he will be unsure.
As to the second meaning of the word “spirit,” this mechanism of the physical body, which works from morning till evening without winding like a machine, and which stands up to all the turmoil of life, encounters all difficulties and endures everything that comes to it — one day falls flat. It is just like when the steam or electricity, or whatever it was that kept the machine going, suddenly gives out. A physician says that the man’s heart has failed, or that his blood pressure was too high, or something like that, as an explanation of his death. It means that a person who was active and sensitive is no longer active or sensitive. That which was most important in him has left. So much the physician can tell you, but what was there he does not know.
From the point of view of a mystic, however, what left the body was the person. This body was not the person. This body was a mask which covered that person. When this mask is cast off, that visible person becomes invisible. Not he, himself, but only the mask has been thrown away. He is what he already was. If death comes, it is the removing of the mask.
A question arises as to how this occurs. The answer is that there is a magnetic action between the person and the mask. It is the strength of the physical body that holds the spirit, and it is the strength of the spirit that holds the body. The physical body holds onto the spirit because it only lives by the life of the spirit; and without the spirit, it is dead. As every being, however small, struggles for life, this physical body tries to hold onto the spirit. It does so to the last, as someone who is on the point of losing his gold might hold it tightly in his hand until his hand is paralyzed and he can no longer hold it, so lets it drop. This does not mean that he does not want it; it only means that he cannot hold it any longer. So it is with the spirit. As long as the spirit is interested in the physical body, it holds it, permeates it and embraces it. But as soon as it feels that it does not want it anymore, that it no longer has any use for the body, it drops it.
Both these tendencies can be seen in people when they are studied by those who understand. There are people who have reached old age who are no longer doing anything in the world, yet each atom of their body is consciously or unconsciously holding onto the spirit in order to live every moment they can possibly prolong of their life. And as long as their strength allows them to hold onto the spirit, they live; and they may live to a very great age. But one can also notice another tendency, and that is that there are some who are tired of life. They no longer attach any importance to this life on earth. The value of things has diminished in their eyes; they are disappointed by these transitory and changeable conditions. In their spirit, they are feeling something quite different from the other type of person. Their tendency is to give up the physical bondage of the body, and they would be glad if the spirit were separated from it. Yet their body unconsciously clings to the spirit, just the same, and keeps them alive as long as it can hold on. Thus, the unwilling spirit is held by the body.
In conclusion, death means a separation from the body, which is nothing but a garb covering the spirit. What follows after the separation? The body, which is left on the earth by the spirit, is no longer living, in the sense that we understand life, yet it is living. It is as if there had been a fire in the stove, and even after the fire was extinguished, the warmth remained there. There is only the smallest degree of spirit, but there is life in it. Where there is no life, life cannot be created. Life must come out of life. Life cannot come out of death. Living creatures such as worms and germs come out of a dead body, and how could life come out if there were no life there? There is life; not in the sense that we generally understand it, but it is living, just the same. There is nothing in this world of which we can say that it is without life, or dead. Everything, every object that seems without life, has some life somewhere. Even after it is destroyed, it is still living. When germs and worms manifest out of a dead body, we think that it means it is finished. On the contrary, it goes on, life is continued in various forms. It has never ended. What has ended is this imprisonment which we recognized as such and such a person; but the existence is still going on, even the mortal existence, even the mask which, in reality, was nothing.
The living part was the spirit, and it goes on living. When we say, “He has gone to the other world,” the other world is only our conception, though it is a beautiful conception. If one says, for instance, that a great revolution is taking place in the scientific world, it does not mean that the scientific world is outside the earth. When we have experienced a great development in the mystical world, this does not mean that we live outside of this planet. It is a conception; it is a beautiful way of putting it, and it is the best we can find. “In the other world” means, in a world which is veiled from our eyes, our physical eyes; but it does not mean a world far away from us beyond our reach. Both the living and the dead inhabit the same space, we all live together. Only a veil separates us, the veil of this physical body. Separation means being unable to see one another; there is no other separation.
One need not attain to the seventh heaven in order to reach those who have passed. When one really cares for them, that bond of love and sympathy, in itself, makes them close to each other. Two people may be living in the same house, working together, seeing each other every day, every hour, and yet they may be as far apart as the north pole from the south pole. There are people thrown miles apart by destiny so that they cannot reach one another because of life’s difficult circumstances; and yet, they can be closer to each other than anyone else. If this is true, it proves that those united in spirit may be thrown far apart in the world and yet be so close together that nothing stands between them. Therefore, if those who have departed from this earth have a connection with someone on earth, they are close to him just the same. Nearness means nearness of the spirit, not of the physical body.
In India, there used to be a custom called sati, by which a wife who was devoted to her husband was cremated with him. Some people felt great horror at this idea, but others thought differently. I would say, in regard to this question, that when two souls have become one, whether they are both on earth, or whether one of them has gone to another plane, they are still united. If one of them remains living, then that living person is as though dead here, for he only lives there where there is real unity. There is no separation. Nothing can separate two souls if they are really united.
The third meaning of the spirit is that it is the mind and the soul, together. One might ask if the mind and soul, together, that is to say, the spirit, is that part of one’s being which lives. It is not a part, but all. Our overcoat is not a part of our being, it is something extraneous. It becomes temporarily a part, but it is not essentially a part. The real being is the spirit, the mind and the soul together.
One might think it uninteresting to live as spirit and not as body. It might seem uninteresting to one who has not experienced on this earth how to be able to live independently of the physical body. All mysticism has been based on this: how to be able to live independently of the physical body, how to live on earth as spirit, even for five minutes a day. This gives a conviction of being able to live and yet be independent of the physical body. It is an experience in life, an education in the highest knowledge. Once a person has realized how he can exist without the physical body, it produces a faith that gives an ultimate conviction that nothing can change.
It is not only a matter of existing, but of existing completely, fully. The soul is not dependent upon the eyes to see. It sees more than the physical eyes can see. It is not dependent upon the ears, as it hears more than the ears can hear. Therefore, he who knows spirit receives far greater inspiration from being able to exist independently of the physical body. It is very easy for a person with material knowledge to call those people fanatics who retire to the mountains or wander about thinking of spiritual things, who seem to live in a dream. They might appear to do so; but actually, they only do not conform to what everyone else does. They left the life of business and profession and politics, all social life, for the sake of deeper experience. It is not necessary for everyone to follow their example, but one may benefit from what they have brought to us.
At this time, West and East are coming closer together. What is needed now is that we should awaken and benefit from the fruits of the lives of people in both East and West. There is much that the West can give to the East. It has labored along certain lines, and the fruits of this work can be of use to the East. There are also fruits that Eastern people have gathered for years and years that will be of great use to the West once people have realized this. The particular lesson that can be learned from the experience of those in the East who have investigated life’s secret is the way of becoming conscious of one’s spirit, of realizing spirit. No doubt those who wish to mystify others make complexities out of simple things. But those who wish to serve the world in the path of truth reduce complex things to simple ones. It is in a simple form that we have to realize the truth.
The fourth meaning of spirit is the source and the goal of all things; something towards which all are bound, to which all will return. It is that spirit which, in religion, is called God. The best way of explaining this meaning of spirit is that it is like the sun, the center of all life, the divine spark within us. But the sun is not as small as it appears to be. Then what is the sun? The sun is all. The part of the sun that we recognize as the sun is the center of it; but the sun is, in reality, as large as its light reaches. The real sun is light, itself. As there is a point which is the central focus of light, we call that point the sun.
The light has centralized itself there; but the sun has other aspects such as rays which are not different from the sun, but which are the sun, itself. So, what are we? Our souls are the rays of the sun. In our inner being, we are both source and goal, itself. It is only our ignorance of this that keeps us ignorant of our own being.
Every atom of the universe, having come from the sun, from the divine sun, makes every effort to return to it. The tendency of the waves is to reach upward; of the mountains, to point upward; of the birds, to fly upward. The tendency of animals is to stand on their hind-legs. The tendency of man is to stand upright, ready to soar upward. An angel is pictured as a man with two wings ready to fly upward. Science has discovered the law of gravitation, but the mystic knows the other law, which is also a law of gravitation, but in the opposite direction.
Thus, not only is every soul attracted in that direction, but also every atom of this world, going through all the different processes known to biology in order to reach that state, to return to the spirit, is attracted in that direction. Therefore, it is not necessary to be frightened by going towards God, or by trying to attain the spirit by losing one’s identity, one’s individuality. A fear like this is the same as the experience of someone on top of a mountain. A kind of terror overwhelms a person when he is looking at the immensity of the view; and in the same way, a soul is frightened of spiritual attainment because of the immensity, the largeness and the depth it has. It frightens the soul who fears to lose itself because it has this false conception of its smaller self. The mystic says, “Try to die before death.” To die before death is to play death. That means to get above this fright, which only comes from the false conception of self.
The one who has died before death no longer has desire; he is above desire. This is shown by the picture of the god Vishnu sitting upon the lotus. The lotus represents desire. Every petal is a desire. Sitting upon the lotus means that the desire is under him instead of being above his head. To some extent, there is a relationship between life in the spiritual world and life on earth, for that which is collected here on earth indicates the task one has to perform here. The only condition is that the one who has stayed a shorter while here must work more for his spiritual accomplishment than the one who has stayed longer on earth. When someone has achieved spirituality here, it is not necessary for him to stay longer, unless it is his desire. And the day the false conception of self is removed from his eyes, he begins to see the immensity of God’s majesty.
The Mystical Heart
When one asks, “What is the heart? Where is the heart?” — the answer, usually, is that the heart is in the breast. This is true. There is a nerve center in the breast of man which is so sensitive to our feelings that it is always regarded as the heart. When a person feels a great joy, it is in that center that he feels something lighting up; and through the lighting up of that center, his whole being seems to be light. He feels as if he were flying. If depression or despair has come into his life, this has an effect upon that center. A man feels his throat choked and his breath laden, as with a heavy load.
However, the heart is not only that. To understand this, one should picture a mirror standing before the heart, focused upon the heart, so that everything and every feeling is reflected in this mirror, which is in the physical being of man. Just as man is ignorant of his soul, so he does not know where his heart is, nor where the center is where his feelings are reflected. It is a fact known to scientists that when a child is formed, it begins from the heart. But a mystic’s conception is that the heart, which is the beginning of form, is also the beginning of the spirit that makes man an individual. The depth of that spirit is, in reality, what we call the heart. Through this, we understand that there is such a thing as a heart, which is the deepest depth of man’s being.
In these days, people attribute less importance to sentiment, and rely more upon the intellect. The reason for this is that when they meet two kinds of people, the intellectual and the sentimental, they find greater balance in an intellectual man than in one with much sentiment. This is no doubt true; but the very reason for the lack of balance is that there is a greater power than the intellect, and this power is sentiment. The earth is fruitful, but not as powerful as the water. The intellect is creative, yet not as powerful as the heart and the sentiment. In reality, the intellectual man will also prove unbalanced in the end if he has no sentimental side to his being.
Are there not many people of whom one can say, “I like him, love him, admire him, but he closes his heart?” The one who closes his heart neither loves others completely, nor allows others to love him fully. Besides, a man who is only intellectual, in time, becomes skeptical, doubting, unbelieving, and destructive, since there is no power of the heart to balance it. The Sufi considers the devotion of the heart to be the best thing to cultivate for spiritual realization. Many people may not agree; but it is a fact that the one who closes his heart to his fellow man closes his heart to God. Jesus Christ did not say, “God is the intellect.” He said, “God is love.” Therefore, if the peace of God can be found anywhere, it is not in any church on earth, nor in Heaven above, but in the heart of man. The place where one is most certain to find God is in the loving heart of a kind man.
Many people believe that with the help of reason, man will act according to a certain standard of morals. However, it is not reason that makes people good; and even if they seem good or righteous, they are only made so artificially. The prisoners in jail can all be righteous; but if natural goodness and righteousness can be found anywhere, it is in the spring of the heart from which life arises, and every drop of this spring is a living virtue. This proves that goodness is not man-made; it is man’s very being. If he lacks goodness, it is not through lack of training, although training is often most desirable, but because he has not yet found his true self. Goodness is natural, for a normal person is necessarily good. No one needs teaching in order to live a good or righteous life. If love is the torch on his path, it shows him what fairness means, and the honor of his word, charity of heart, and righteousness. Do we not sometimes see a young man who, with all his boisterous tendencies, suddenly finds a girl whom he begins to love and who, when he really loves her, begins to show a change in his life? He becomes gentle, for he must train himself for her sake. He does without things he was never before willing to give up. In the same way, where there is love, forgiveness is not very difficult. A child comes to its mother, even after having offended a thousand times, and asks her forgiveness. There is no one else to go to, and it does not take a moment for the mother’s heart to forgive. Forgiveness was waiting there to manifest itself. One cannot help being kind when there is feeling. Someone whose feeling goes out to another person sees when that person needs his feeling and he strikes a note of sympathy in everyone he meets, finding the point of contact in every soul because he has love.
There are people who say, “But is it not unwise to give oneself to everyone in unrestrained tenderness, as people in general are not trustworthy?” If a person is good and kind, this goodness ought to become manifest to everyone, and the doors of the heart should be closed to no one.
Jesus Christ not only told us to love our friends, but also, he went as far as to say we should love our enemies; and the Sufi treads the same path. He considers his charity of heart towards his fellow man to be love for God; and in showing love to everyone, he feels he is giving his love to God. Here the Sufi and the yogi differ. The yogi is not unkind, but he says, “I love you all, but I had better keep away from you, for your souls are always groping in darkness, and my soul is in the light. Your friendship will harm my soul, so I had better keep away and love you from afar.” The Sufi says, “It is a trial, but it should be tried. I shall take up my everyday duties as they come along.” Although he knows how unimportant the things of the world are and does not overvalue these things, he attends to his responsibilities towards those who love him, like him, depend upon him, follow him. He tries to find the best way of coming to terms with all those who dislike and despise him. He lives in the world, yet he is not of the world. In this way, the Sufi considers that the main principle in the fulfillment of the purpose of his life is to love man.
Those who love their enemies and yet lack patience are like a burning lantern with little oil. It cannot keep alight; and in the end, the flame fades away. The oil in the path of love is patience; and besides this, it is unselfishness and self-sacrifice from beginning to end.
Some say, “I have loved dearly once, but I was disappointed.” It is as if a man were to say, “I dug in the earth, but when the mud came, I was disappointed.” It is true that mud came; but with patience, he will reach the water one day. Only patience can endure. Only endurance produces greatness.
Imitation gold can be as beautiful as real gold, the imitation diamond as bright as a real diamond. The difference is that the one fails in the test of endurance, and the other stands up to it. Yet man should not be compared with objects. Man has something divine in him, and he can prove this by his endurance on the path of love.
Whom then should one love, and how should one love? Whatever a person loves, whether duty, human beings, art, friends, an ideal, or his fellow creatures, he has assuredly opened the door through which he must pass in order to reach that love which is God. The beginning of love is an excuse. It leads to that ideal of love which is God, alone. Some say that they can love God, but not human beings. But this is like saying to God, “I love Thee, but not Thine image.” Can one hate the human creatures in which God’s image is to be found and yet claim to love God? If one is not tolerant, not willing to sacrifice, can one then claim the love of the Lord?
The first lesson is the widening of the heart and the awakening of the inner feeling of the heart. The sign of saintliness is not in the power of words, not in the high position, either spiritual or intellectual, not in magnetism. The saintly spirit only expresses itself in the love of all creatures. It is the continuous springing of love from that divine fountain in the heart of man. When once that fountain is turned on, it purifies the heart, it makes the heart transparent to reveal both the outer and the inner world. The heart becomes the vehicle for the soul to see all that is within and without; and then a man not only communicates with another person, but also with God.
When the lips are closed, then the heart begins to speak; when the heart is silent, then the soul blazes up, bursting into flame, and this illuminates the whole of life. It is this idea which demonstrates to the mystic the great importance of silence, and this silence is gained by repose. Most people do not know what repose means because it is something they feel they need when they are tired. If they were not tired, they would never see the necessity for it.
Repose has many aspects. It is one kind of repose when a person retires from the activity of everyday life and finds himself alone in his room. He draws a breath of thankfulness as he feels, after all his interesting or tiresome experiences, “At last I am by myself.” It is not an ordinary feeling, for there is a far deeper feeling behind it. It expresses the certainty that there is nothing to distract his mind and nothing which demands his action. At that moment, his soul has a glimpse of relief, the pleasure of which is inexpressible. However, the intoxication of life from which every man suffers is such that he cannot fully appreciate that moment of relief that everyone expects when it is time to retire after the activities of his daily life, whether he be rich or poor, tired or not.
Does this not teach us that there is a great mystery in repose, a mystery of which people are very often ignorant? Besides, we always find that a thoughtful person has repose by nature, and one who has repose is naturally thoughtful. It is repose which makes one more thoughtful, and it is continual action which takes away thoughtfulness, even from a sensible person. People working in the telephone, telegraph or post offices, upon whose minds there is a continual demand, often, in time, develop impertinence, insolence and lack of patience. They do not become less sensible; it only means that lack of repose, which weakens their sense of control, makes them give way to such things. This shows that repose is necessary, not only for a person on the spiritual path, but also for every soul living on the earth, whatever be his grade of evolution or his standing in life. It is the most important thing to be developed in anyone’s nature, not only in adults, but also in children, and it is something that should be taught from childhood. Nowadays, in education, people think so much about the different intellectual attainments the child will need in life and so little about the repose that is so very necessary for a child.
Sometimes cats and dogs prove more intuitive than mankind. Although man is more capable than the animals, he does not give himself time to become more intuitive. It often amused me in New York, where one would easily become exhausted by the noise of trains and trams and elevators and factories, to see that when a person had a little leisure time to sit in the train or subway, he at once began looking at the newspapers. All that action was not enough; is it not in the body, then there must be action in the brain! What is it? It is nervousness, a common disease that today has almost become normal health. If everybody suffers from the same disease, then this disease may be called normal.
Self-control, self-discipline, only comes from the practice of repose, which is helpful not only on the spiritual path, but also in one’s practical life, in being kind and considerate. The mystic, therefore, adopts the method of repose, and by this, he tries to prepare himself to tread the spiritual path. This path is not an outer path, it is an inner path that one has to tread. Therefore, the spiritual laws and the journey on the spiritual path are quite contrary to the earthly laws and the journey on the outer path.
To explain in simple words what the spiritual path is, I would say that it begins by living in communication with oneself, for it is in the innermost self of man that the life of God is to be found. This does not mean that the voice of the inner self does not come to everyone. It always comes, but not everyone hears it. That is why the Sufi, when he starts his efforts on this path, begins by communicating with his true self within. When once he has addressed the soul, then from the soul comes a kind of reproduction, like that which the singer can hear on a record that has been made of his own voice.
Having done this, when he has listened to what this process reproduces, he has taken the first step in the direction within, and this process will have awakened a kind of echo in his being. Either peace or happiness, light or form, whatever he has wished to produce, is produced as soon as he begins to communicate with himself. When we compare the man who says, “I cannot help being active, sad or worried, as it is the condition of my mind and soul,” with the one who communicates with himself, it is not long before we, too, begin to realize the value of this communication.
This is what the Sufis have taught for thousands of years. The path of the Sufi is not to communicate with fairies nor even with God; it is to communicate with one’s deepest innermost self, as if one were blowing one’s inner spark into a divine fire. But the Sufi does not stop there, he goes still further. He then remains in a state of repose, and that repose can be brought about by a certain way of sitting and breathing and also by a certain attitude of mind. Then he begins to become conscious of that part of his being which is not the physical body, but which is above it. The more he becomes conscious of this, the more he begins to realize the truth of the life hereafter. Then it is no longer a matter of his imagination or of his belief; it is his actual realization of the experience that is independent of physical life. It is in this state that he is capable of experiencing the phenomena of life. The Sufi, therefore, does not dabble in different wonder-workings and phenomena, for once he realizes this, the whole of life becomes a phenomenon and every moment, every experience, brings to him a realization of that life which he has found in his meditation.
The being of man is a mechanism of body and mind. When this mechanism is in order, then there is happiness and fullness of life. When anything is wrong with the mechanism, the body is ill and peace is gone. This mechanism depends upon winding; it is just like a clock that is wound and then goes for 24 hours. So it is in meditation. When a person sits in a restful attitude and puts his mind in a condition of repose, regulating the action of this mechanism by the process of meditation, it is like the winding of a clock. Its effect continues to be felt because the mechanism was put in order.
Thus, the belief of a mystic is not an outward belief in a deity he has not seen. The mystic’s worship is not only an outer form, by saying prayers and then his worship is finished. Certainly, he makes the best use of the outer things, and his pursuit is logical and scientific, and he will, if possible, unite them with the mystical conception. However, mysticism includes the scientific explanation as well as the realization of the things taught by religion, things that would have no meaning to an ordinary person.
When an ordinary person reads about the kingdom of God and Heaven, he reads these names, but he does not know where Heaven is, and he feels that there is a God, but there is no evidence for it. Therefore, a large number of intellectual people who really are seeking the truth are turning away from the outer religion because they cannot find its explanation. Consequently, they become materialistic. To the mystic, the explanation of the whole of religion is the investigation of the self. The more one explores oneself, the more one will understand all religions in the fullest light and all will become clear. Sufism is only a light thrown upon one’s own religion, like a light brought into a room where everything one wants is to be found, and where the only thing that was needed was light.
Of course, the mystic is not always ready to give an answer to everyone who asks. Can parents always answer their children’s questions? There are some questions that can be answered, and others which should wait for an answer until those who ask them are able to understand. I used to be fond of a poem which yet I did not understand; I could not find a satisfactory explanation. After ten years all of a sudden, in one second, a light was thrown upon it, and I understood. There was no end to my joy. Does this not show that everything has its appointed time? When people become impatient and ask for an answer, something can be answered, something else cannot be answered; but the answer will come in its own time. One has to wait. Has anyone in the world been able to explain fully what God is, have even the scriptures and the prophets succeeded in this? God is an ideal too high and too great for words to explain. Can anyone explain such a word as love, can anyone say what truth is?
If truth is to be attained, it is only when truth, itself, has begun to speak, which happens in revelation. Truth reveals itself; therefore, the Persian word for both God and truth is khuda, which means self-revealing, thus uniting God with truth. One cannot explain either of these words. The only help the mystic can give is by indicating how to arrive at this revelation. No one can teach or learn this, one has to learn it oneself. The teacher is only there to guide one towards this revelation. There is only one teacher, and that teacher is God. The great masters of the world were the greatest pupils, and they each knew how to become a pupil.
How is all of this taught or brought to the consciousness of those who tread the path of truth? By bayat, by initiation. It is the trust of someone who guides, given to someone who is treading the path. The one who treads the path must be willing to risk the difficulties of the path and be willing to be sincere, faithful, truthful, undoubting, not pessimistic, and not skeptical. Otherwise, with all his efforts, he will not reach his aim. He must come wholeheartedly, or else he should not come at all. Half-heartedness is of no value. What is necessary, too, is some intellectual understanding of the metaphysical aspect of life, which some have, but not all. Besides this, the qualities of the heart are needed, with the divinity of love as a first principle. Then one needs action, but such action as will not hinder on the path of truth, such action as creates greater and greater harmony. And finally, one needs repose, which makes it possible to learn by one day of silence what would otherwise take a year of study; but no doubt only if one knows the real way of silence.
Very often, a man is apt to think that it is study, meditation and prayer, alone, that can bring him to the way leading to the goal. However, it must be understood that action also plays an important part. Few, indeed, know what effect every action has upon one’s life, what power a right action can give and what effect a wrong action can have. Man is only on the lookout for what others think of his actions, instead of being concerned with what God thinks of them. If man knew what effect an action produces upon himself, he would understand that although a murderer may escape the hands of the policeman, he has not escaped from the fault he has committed, for he cannot escape himself. The greatest judge is sitting in his own heart. He cannot hide his acts from himself. No doubt it is difficult, almost impossible, for a man to judge the acts of other people, for he does not know what their conditions are. Man can best judge himself. However wicked he may be, he will not be really pleased with his wrong actions; or, if he is pleased for a moment, this pleasure will not last.
But what is right and what is wrong? No one can stamp a deed as right or as wrong; but there is a natural sense in man that distinguishes between right and wrong, just or unjust, a sense which is to be found even in a child. The child also sees the line and color in art or decoration, it notices when the tablecloth is not laid out straight on the table, when a line that should be straight is not straight. Even a child knows when things should be harmonious, and a child normally loves harmony. There is a natural tendency in the heart of man, the same natural instinct that masons use when building a house.
Different religions have taught different morals, which were right for the people at that time. No doubt the law of the masses must be respected; but the real conception of right and wrong lies in one’s deepest self. The soul is not pleased with that which is not right. The soul’s satisfaction lies always in something that gives it complete happiness. The whole of Sufism is based on the practice not only of thought, but of action, as all religions have been based not only on truth, but on action. Things both material and spiritual have been accomplished by action. To the mystic, therefore, action is most important.
During my travels from place to place, when I have come in contact with different people and have had the opportunity of staying with them, I have met some who had, perhaps, never in their lives read a book on theology or studied mysticism, their whole lives having been spent in work, business and industry. Yet I felt a spiritual advancement made naturally by their right actions in life. They had come to a state of purity which, perhaps, someone else might find by means of study or meditation.
One might ask, what is the best path to take in everyday life to lead one to life’s ideal? The best way is to consider harmony as the first principle to be observed. In all circumstances, situations and conditions, one should try to harmonize with one’s fellow creatures. It is easy to say, but most difficult to live. It is not always easy to harmonize. But if we question ourselves as to why it is so difficult, the answer is that it is not always that other people are difficult and not pliable; it is we, ourselves, who cannot bend. The palm tree that grows straight up cannot harmonize with other trees whose trunks are not so straight and strong.
There are many good people, but they are not always harmonious. There are many true people, but their truth is not always comforting. They may utter a truth which is like a slap in the face to someone. They are just like the palm tree, straight and righteous, yet at the same time, not in harmony. A harmonious person can bend, is pliable, and he can meet others. There is no doubt that in order to harmonize, one has to make sacrifices, one has to bend to people one does not want to bend to. One has to be more pliable than one is by nature. One has to be more clever than one really is. And all these attempts will not succeed unless one makes a great effort, unless one realizes that harmony is the most essential thing in life.
Why does a mystic attribute such great importance to harmony? Because to a mystic, his whole life is one continuous symphony, a playing of music, with each soul contributing his particular part to the symphony. A person’s success, therefore, depends upon the idea he has of harmony. Very few people in the world pay attention to harmony. They do not know that without it, there is no chance of happiness. It is only the harmonious ones who can make others happy and partake of that happiness themselves; and apart from them, it is hard to find happiness in the world.
The fighter has no peace, as his battles will be ever increasing. It is the peacemaker who is blessed. No doubt, in order to make peace, he will have to fight with himself; and in that way, he will be able to make peace with others. Whatever a person’s education or position in life, he may possess all he wants, but if that one thing is lacking in his life and heart, then nothing can bring him peace.
Therefore, if a man does not show through his actions some of the characteristics of a human being, characteristics that are not to be found in animals, then he has not awakened to human nature. There are certain actions such as eating, drinking, sitting and walking, that are not different from those of the animals. Yet, these very same actions can become especially characteristic of human nature when they have a guiding light behind them.
For instance, when a man thinks he must not return a push when he is pushed by somebody while walking, and instead, says, “I am sorry,” he shows a tendency which is different from that of an animal, for animals will fight one another and will lower their horns instead of bowing to one another, while their greeting will be a howl. Man can be different.
The special characteristics of man are consideration, refinement, patience and thoughtfulness. And when once he has practiced these, it leads to another action: to the practice of self-sacrifice, which in turn, leads to a divine action. When man sacrifices his time and his advantages in life for the sake of another whom he loves, respects or admires, then this sacrifice raises him higher than the ordinary standard of human beings. His is then a divine nature, not human anymore. Then a human being begins to think as God thinks, and his actions become more and more divine. They become the actions of God, and that makes him greater than the person who merely believes in God.
The awakened soul sees all of the doings of adults as the doings of the children of one father. He looks upon them as the Father would look upon all human beings on the earth, without thinking that they are German or English or French. They are all equally dear to him. He looks upon all full of forgiveness, not only upon those who deserve it, but also upon the others. For he understands the reason behind it all. By seeing good in everybody and in everything, he begins to develop that divine light that expands itself, illuminating the greater part of life and revealing it as a scene of divine sublimity.
The mystic develops a wider outlook on life, and this wider outlook changes his actions. He develops a point of view that may be called a divine point of view. Then he rises to the state in which he feels that all that is done to him comes from God; and when he, himself, does right or wrong, he feels that he does right or wrong to God. To arrive at such a stage is true religion. There can be no better religion than this, the true religion of God on earth. This is the point of view that makes a person God-like and divine. He is resigned when badly treated; but for his own shortcomings, he will take himself to task, for all his actions are directed towards God.
The conception that the mystic has of the Deity is not only that of a king, a judge or a creator; the mystical conception of God is that of the Beloved, the only Beloved there is. To Him, all the love of this world is like that of little girls playing with their dolls, loving them. In that way, they learn the lessons they have to practice later in life when taking care of the home. The mystic learns the same lessons by proving to be sincere and devoted to all kinds of creatures. This he must do in order to awaken himself to the Beloved, the only Beloved there is, to whom all love is due.
The Path of Initiation & Discipleship
The Path of Initiation
Very much has been written and very much has been said about the path of initiation. People who have been in contact with various schools of occultism have understood it in different ways and thus have different ideas as to what initiation means. Actually, initiation only means a step forward, a step that should be taken with hope and courage. Without courage and hope, it would be most difficult to take any forward steps.
If I were asked to explain the meaning of initiation in plain words, I would say that it is like the experience of a person who has never learned how to swim. He steps into the river or into the sea for the first time without knowing whether he will be able to float or whether he will be swept away and drowned. Every person has had an initiation, in the worldly sense, in some form or another. When a businessman begins an entirely new enterprise and there is nothing to support him at that moment except the thought, “No matter whether I lose or gain, I will take a step forward, I will go into this enterprise though I do not know what will happen later,” then he undergoes a worldly initiation. The first attempt of a man who wants to learn to ride, if he has never been on horseback before or driven a horse and does not know where the horse will take him — this also is an initiation.
But initiation, in the real sense of the word as it is used on the spiritual path, takes place when a person, despite having a religion and a belief, an opinion and ideas about spiritual things, feels that he should take a step in a direction which he does not know. When he takes the first step, that is an initiation.
Ghazali, a great Sufi writer of Persia, has said that entering the spiritual path is just like shooting an arrow at a point one cannot see so that one does not know what the arrow is going to hit. One only knows one’s own actions, and one does not see the point aimed at. This is why the path of initiation is difficult for a worldly man. Human nature is such that a man born into this world who has become acquainted with the life of names and forms wants to know everything by name and form. He wants to touch something in order to be sure that it exists. It must make an appeal to his physical senses before he thinks that it exists. Without this, he does not believe that anything can exist. Therefore, it is difficult for him to undergo an initiation on a path that does not touch any of his senses. He does not know where he is going.
Besides, man has been taught from his childhood a certain faith or belief, and he feels himself so bound to that particular faith or religion that he trembles at every step he may have to take in a direction which, perhaps for a moment, seems different or even opposite to what he has been taught. Therefore, to take the first step on the path of initiation is difficult for a thoughtful person. No doubt a person who is driven by curiosity may jump into anything; but it is all the same to him whether he has initiation or not. However, for the one who takes initiation seriously, the first step is the most difficult.
Initiations, according to the mystics, are 12 in number, divided into 4 stages, just like the semitones in the octave or the 12 bones in the ear. The first three initiations are the first three steps, taken with the help of a guide whom one calls, in Sufi terms, a murshid, a teacher. In Vedantic terms, he is called guru. He will be someone who is walking this earth, a human being placed in the same conditions as everyone else, in the midst of active life and subject to all trials, troubles and difficulties. The help of such a friend is the first and most important step in these first three stages of the path.
In the East, one will rarely find people taking the spiritual path without the guidance of a teacher, for there it is an accepted fact that these first three steps, at least, must be taken with the help of someone living a human life on earth.
We can trace in the traditions that all the prophets, masters, saints and sages, however great, had an initiator. In the life of Jesus Christ one reads that he was baptized by John the Baptist. In the lives of all the other prophets and seers, there was always someone, however humble, modest or human, and very often not at all comparable in greatness to those prophets who took these first three steps with them.
But the mother is really the first initiator of all the prophets and teachers in the world. No prophet or teacher, no saint, however great, was ever born who first walked alone without the help of the mother. She had to show him how to walk.
Then there arises the question of how to find the real guru. Very often, people are in doubt, they do not know whether the guru they see is a true or a false guru. Frequently, a person comes into contact with a false guru in this world where there is so much falsehood. But at the same time, a real seeker, one who is not false to himself, will always meet with the truth, with the real, because it is his own real faith, his own sincerity in earnest seeking that will become his torch. The real teacher is within; that lover of reality is one’s own sincere self. If one is really seeking truth, then sooner or later one will certainly find a true teacher. Supposing one came into contact with a false teacher, what then? Then the real one will turn the false teacher into a real teacher because reality is greater than falsehood.
There is a story told of a dervish, a simple man, who was initiated by a teacher. After that teacher had passed away, this man came into contact with some clairvoyant who asked him if he had guidance on his path. The man replied, “Yes, my master, who passed from this earth. When he was still alive I enjoyed his guidance for some time, so the only thing I would want now is just your blessing.” But the clairvoyant said, “I see by my clairvoyant power that the teacher who passed away was not a true teacher.” When the simple man heard this, he would not allow himself to be angry with the other, but said gently, “This teacher of mine may be false, but my faith is not false, and that is sufficient.”
As there is water in the depths of the earth, so there is truth at the bottom of all things, false or true. In some places, one has to dig deep; in other places, only a short distance; that is the only difference. But there is no place where there is no water. One may have to dig very, very deep in order to get it; but in the depths of the earth, there is water, and in the depths of all this falsehood that is on the surface, there is truth. If we are really seeking for the truth, we shall always find it at some time or another.
The one who wants to protect himself from being misguided shows a certain tendency, a kind of weakness that comes from thinking deep within himself that there is no right guidance. If he realizes that right guidance is to be found in himself, then he will always be rightly guided and his power will become so great that if his guide is going wrong, the power of the pupil will help him to go right because the real teacher is in the heart of man. The outward teacher is only a sign.
A Persian poet has said that he who is a lost soul, even if he is in the presence of a Savior, will be lost just the same because his own clouds are surrounding him. It is not a question of a guide or teacher. The obscurity that his own mind creates surrounds him and keeps him blind. What then can a teacher do?
According to a story about the Prophet Mohammad, there lived next door to him a man who was very much opposed to the Prophet and spoke against him. This man saw that the people to whom he spoke had belief in the Prophet, while nobody believed in him. Then years passed, and many believed and many gave their lives for the message of the Prophet. It so happened that eventually, a great many people came from afar, thousands and thousands from different countries, to visit the Prophet. The same man still lived in the neighborhood, but he had never altered his opinion. One day someone asked the Prophet, “Why does this man, who has known the day when nobody listened, when nobody followed you, but who now sees that thousands of people who come here are benefited and filled with bliss and joy and blessing, still continue to criticize you and to oppose you?” And the Prophet said, “His heart has become a fountain of obscurity. He produces from his own self the clouds which surround him. He cannot see.” And he was sorry for him. The perception of the light shows the thinning of the veil that covers the heart; and the thinner the veil becomes, the greater is the power of the light within.
The next step, the second step in initiation, is to go through the tests that the teacher gives. In this initiation there is a great deal that is amusing, if one thinks about it. It is like looping the loop; sometimes the teacher gives the pupil such tests that he does not know where he is, or whether a thing is true or false.
There was a great Sufi teacher in India who had a thousand adherents who were most devoted pupils. One day he said to them, “I have changed my mind.” And the words “changed my mind” surprised them greatly. They asked him, “What is the matter, how can it be that you have changed your mind?” He said, “I have the feeling that I must go and bow before the Goddess Kali.” And these people, among whom were doctors and professors, well-qualified people, could not understand this whim, that their great teacher in whom they had such faith wished to go into the temple of Kali and bow before the Goddess of the hideous face; he, a God-realized man in whom they had such confidence! The thousand disciples left him at once, thinking, “What is this? It is against the religion of the formless God, against the teaching of this great Sufi himself that he wants to worship the Goddess Kali!”
There remained only one pupil, a youth who was very devoted to his teacher, and he followed him when he went to the temple of Kali. The teacher was very glad to get rid of those thousand pupils who were full of knowledge, full of their learning, but who did not really know him. It was just as well that they should leave.
As they were going towards the temple, he spoke three times to this young man, saying, “Why do you not go away? Look at these thousand people who had such faith and such admiration, and now I have said just one word, and they have left me. Why do you not go with them? The majority is right.” The pupil, however, would not go, but continued to follow him. And through all of this, the teacher received great inspiration and a revelation of how strange human nature is, how soon people are attracted and how soon they can fly away. It was such an interesting phenomenon for him to see the play of human nature that his heart was full of feeling.
When they arrived at the temple of Kali, he experienced such ecstasy that he fell down and bowed his head low, and the young man who had followed him did the same. When he got up, he asked this young man again, “Why do you not leave me when you have seen a thousand people go away? Why do you follow me?” The young man replied, “There is nothing in what you have done that is against my convictions because the first lesson you taught me was that nothing exists save God. If that is true, then that image is not Kali and it, too, is God. What does it matter whether you bow to the east or to the west or to the earth or to heaven? Since nothing exists except God, then there is nobody else except God before whom to bow, even in bowing before Kali. It was the first lesson you taught me.” All these learned men were given the same lesson; they were students and very clever; but they could not conceive of that main thought that was the center of all the teaching.
It was this same young man who later became the greatest Sufi teacher in India, Khwaja Moin-ud-Din Chishti. Every year thousands of people of all religions make pilgrimages to his tomb at Ajmer — Hindus, Mohammedans, Jews and Christians. To the Sufi, all religions are one.
There are tests of many kinds that the teacher may give to his pupils to test their faith, their sincerity and their patience. Before a ship puts out to sea the captain goes and makes sure that everything is in order for the voyage. Such is the duty of the teacher. Of course, it is a very interesting duty. Besides, the path of the mystic is a very complex path. What he says may, perhaps, have two meanings: the outer meaning is one, and the inner meaning is another. What he does may also have two meanings, an outer and an inner meaning. A person who only sees things outwardly cannot perceive their inner meaning. Since he only sees their outer aspect, he cannot understand his own teacher’s actions, thoughts, speech or movements. It is in this way that the pupil is tested. Thus, to the pupil, the teacher may often appear to be very unreasonable, very odd, very meaningless, very unkind, cold or unjust. During these tests, if the faith and the trust of the pupil do not endure, he will step back from this second initiation; but if he endures through all of this, then comes the third step, the third initiation.
The third initiation consists of three stages: receiving the knowledge attentively, meditating upon all one has received patiently, assimilating all the outcome of it intelligently. Thereby, the mission of the teacher in this world is completed. Gratitude still remains, but the principal work is finished.
The fourth initiation the seeker gets from his ideal. Who is this ideal, who can give this initiation? No living creature on earth, however great, can prove to be the ideal of anyone else; he may for a certain time, but not forever. The great ones like Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ and Krishna, who have been the ideal of humanity for thousands of years — when did they become the ideal? During their lifetime? During their lifetime they gave a sense of being the ideal; they left impressions which afterwards proved them to be the ideal; but during their lifetime, they could not prove it. Why is this? The reason is that even perfect man is limited in the imperfect garb of humanity. The human limitation covers perfection. However great, however deep, however spiritual a person is, with all his goodness, with all his inspiration and power, he remains limited. His thought, speech, word and action are all limited. A man cannot make himself as his pupil imagines him. Imagination goes farther than the progress of man. The imagination of every person is his own; and therefore, one can only make one’s ideal oneself. No one has the power to make the ideal of another person; and therefore, it is the impression of the great saviors of humanity, it is their goodness, it is whatever little grain of an ideal they have left behind them that becomes just like a seed, and that seed put into the soil of the devotee’s heart develops into a plant and bears fruit and flowers as it is reared.
So, in this fourth initiation, there is this ideal of man’s imagination. He may call it, “Christ,” or, “Buddha”; he may call it “Mohammad” or “Moses” or “Zoroaster.” It is his ideal, it is he who has made it, it is his savior, and it certainly will save him if he considers it to be his savior. But he has to make it. If he does not make it, then the savior will not save him. When once he has made his savior, then he is face to face with the perfection that his heart has created. Then this impression of Christ or Buddha with which he has impressed himself flowers and grows into a tree and bears the flowers and fruit that he has desired. No doubt this initiation is a phenomenon in itself. Once this initiation is received, man begins to radiate, to radiate his initiator, who is within him as his ideal.
Then there is the second stage, which is the fifth initiation. In the fifth initiation, man does not imagine his ideal, but finds his ideal a living entity within himself, a friend who is always close to him, within him. He can just bow his head and see his friend — he is there. To the real devotees of Christ, Christ is near, as near as they are to their own self. In times of trouble, in difficulties, he is always there.
The third stage, which is the sixth initiation, is the one where Christ speaks, where Christ acts. The acts of the initiate become the actions of Christ. His speech becomes the speech of Christ. And when one has arrived at that initiation, one need not declare before humanity how greatly one loves one’s Lord or Savior or Master. The initiate himself becomes a proof, his life, his word, his action, his feeling, his attitude, his outlook.
Life is such that no falsehood, no pretense, can endure, nothing false can go far. It will only go a step, and then it will tumble down. It is only the real which will go on. The more real something is, the less it expresses itself. It is lack of reality that makes a person say he is so and so, he has such great love for God, or he is so spiritual or pious or clairvoyant, or he has such psychic powers. When one sees, one does not need to say that one sees, everybody will notice that one is not blind.
How different it is today, when so many people ask, “Are you clairvoyant, can you see?” And if they say they do, what do they see? They have perhaps seen some color or some light here and there, or something peculiar, which means nothing. Perhaps it is their imagination. And then there are others who encourage them and make them still more crazy, and people feed their pride by telling others how much they see. But when one begins to see, one cannot speak about it, it is something which cannot be told. How could one? When one sees with the eyes of Christ, one can only see. When one hears with the ears of Christ, one can only hear. There is nothing to be said.
The further initiation, which is the seventh, is the initiation in God. There is an account in the story of Rabia, a great Sufi. Once in her vision she saw the Prophet, and the Prophet asked her, “Rabia, to whom have you given your devotion?” Rabia said, “To God.” And the Prophet said, “Not to me?” Rabia said, “Yes, Prophet, you include God, but it is God I gave my devotion to.”
There comes a stage where a person even rises above the ideal he has made. He rises to that perfect Ideal which is beyond the human personality, which is the perfect Being. In this initiation, one rises to the spheres where one sees no other than God.
In the second stage, which is the eighth initiation, one communicates with God so that God becomes to the initiate a living entity. God is then no longer an ideal or an imagination, no longer one whom he has made. The One whom he once made has now become alive, a living God. Before this there was a belief in God, there was worship of Him. Perhaps He was made in the imagination; but in this stage, God becomes living. What a phenomenon this is! This stage is a miracle in itself. The God-realized person need not speak of nor discuss the name of God. His presence will inspire the sense of God in every being and charge the atmosphere with it. Everyone who meets him, whether he is spiritual or moral or religious or without religion, will feel God in some form or other.
The prophets and the holy ones who have come from time to time to give the world a religion, an ideal, have not brought any new ideas; they have not brought a new belief in God because belief in God has always existed in some form or other. What they brought was a living God. When there remained no more than God’s name in the scripture or in the people’s imagination or on the lips of the followers of a certain religion; and when that name began to become a profane name, a vain repetition; then such souls were born on the earth who brought with them a living god. If they gave anything else to humanity, either law, ethics or morals, these were secondary. The principal thing that they gave to the world was a living God.
The ninth initiation is what is called, in Sufi terms, akhlak-e Allah, which means, “The Manner of God.” The one who touches that plane or that realization expresses in his manner the manner of God. His outlook on life is God’s outlook. His actions, his thoughts and his words are God’s actions, thoughts and words. Therefore, what the prophets spoke was kalam-ullah, the “Word of God,” as for instance the Bhaghavat Gita, which means, “The Song Celestial.” Why? Because at this stage, God himself speaks. Those holy ones became that perfect spirit and were moved by it. They became actors, for their actions were no longer their own actions, but the actions of God. Their words were no longer human words, but the words of God.
Very few arrive at the last three initiations in their lifetime; for after the first nine initiations begins what is called, “The Phase of Self-Realization.” When those who have not arrived at this stage begin to utter affirmations such as, “I am God,” they utter nothing but vain repetitions and this obscures the God-ideal. They do not know what they are saying. If people only knew to what an extent they should be authorized before speaking about such things, they would be very careful about what they say.
When, after having gone through all the other stages of consciousness, one arrives at this stage, one can speak very little, for it is beyond the stage of religion and even beyond the notion of God. It is, “The Stage of Self-Expression.” This stage of self-expression is reached when a person has thoroughly dug his self out, so that nothing of the self is left except only that divine substance, and only then is he authorized to express himself. Thus, the tenth initiation is the awakening of the real self, the real ego; and this awakening is brought about by meditation, the meditation which makes one forget one’s false or limited self. The more one is able to forget it, the more the real self awakens.
In the next stages, one experiences a sensation of splendor, which in Persian is called hairat. It is like when a child is born and begins to see everything new — this old world is seen by the child as a new world. As soon as the point of view is changed by the help of meditation, one sees the whole world that is before everybody and that everybody is seeing, quite differently. One begins to see reason behind reason, cause behind cause, and one’s point of view also changes in regard to religion. It changes because where the average man would want to accuse, punish or blame a person for a certain action, the one who has risen to this stage can neither judge nor blame, he only sees, but he sees the cause behind the cause. Whom, then, shall he accuse? Whom shall he blame? How can he refrain from forgiving, whatever be the fault, when he sees all that is behind the fault, when he sees the reason behind it, perhaps a more valid reason than even the one who committed the fault can see himself. Therefore, naturally, the manner of continually sacrificing, the manner of spontaneous love and sympathy, the manner of respect both for the wise and the foolish, for the deserving and the undeserving, arises and expresses itself as divine life. It is at this stage that the human soul touches perfection and becomes divine and fulfills its real purpose in life.
The Meaning of Initiation
The meaning of the word “initiation” can be understood from its association with “initiative.” It is a fact that every child who is born on earth is born with initiative. However, as it grows, that spirit more or less dies away because the knowledge it gathers in its lifetime makes it doubt. This doubt, increasing more and more, very often makes a man lose the power of initiative, and then he does not want to take another step until he is sure whether there is land or water in front of him. Very often, water looks like land, and land looks like water. According to the mystics, life is an illusion; thus, man bases his reason upon illusion. Nevertheless, the reasoning power which he acquires helps him in his life in the world, although it is very often just this reasoning which holds him back from taking what is called the initiative.
It is through this spirit of initiative that anyone in the world who has accomplished something great, has been able to do so. At the beginning of his efforts, people call such a person mad, fanatical, crazy or devoid of reason; but when they see the results, they think that he is most wise. Great prophets, the builders of nations, famous inventors and great discoverers have all proven this. One may ask, then, do they see what is before them in the same way that a reasoning person does? They do, but with different eyes. Their point of view is different; it does not always agree with the point of view of the average person. So, it is natural that people should call them fanatical, although they see perhaps more than all those around them see. Those who have helped themselves to achieve success after complete failure, or to get over an illness after great suffering, have only succeeded in this by the spirit of initiative.
There are different kinds of initiation that souls experience. One is natural initiation, a kind of natural unfoldment for which the soul cannot give any cause or reason. It comes to the soul although no effort or attempt is made by the soul to experience it. Sometimes this initiation comes after great illness, pain or suffering. It comes as an opening up of the horizon, it comes as a flash of light, and in a moment the world seems transformed. It is not that the world has changed; it is that the person has become tuned to a different pitch. He begins to think differently, feel differently, see and act differently; his whole condition begins to change. One might say of him that from that moment on, he begins to live. It may come as a vision, as a dream, as a phenomenon — in any of these forms — one cannot determine the manner in which it will manifest.
Another initiation known to the mystics is the initiation that one receives from a person living on the earth. Every mystical school has its own initiation. In the Orient, where mystical ideas are prevalent and are regarded as most sacred, any person who wishes to tread the spiritual path considers initiation to be the most important thing. If a soul such as Jesus Christ had to be baptized by John the Baptist, then no soul on earth can say, “I have risen above initiation.” Is that then impossible? Nothing is impossible. It may be possible for a person to jump into the water with the intention of swimming to the port of New York, but his life will be more secure if he books his passage with the normal shipping lines. And the difference between these two souls is the same, or even greater — between the one who wishes to journey on the spiritual path by taking initiation, and the other who refuses to do so.
Initiation by a spiritual teacher means both a trust given by the teacher to the pupil, and a trust given by the pupil to the teacher. And the progress of the one who is initiated depends upon how much he gives himself to the teacher’s guidance. One might give only a finger, another even a part of a finger, while a third would give his whole hand. That makes a great difference. A pupil says, “Well, I will give a certain amount of my time and thought to your guidance, will that be enough?” Then the teacher says, “Yes, if you think it is enough.” In reality, however, it is never enough. Then one might wonder if one would not be giving up one’s own point of view in order to follow someone else’s point of view; but actually, if one has a point of view, one never loses it. The point of view that one loses is not one’s own. By looking at a thing from another person’s point of view, one only enlarges one’s own. Then, one has two points of view instead of one. If the thought of the pupil happens to be different from that of the teacher, then by taking the teacher’s thought, his own is doubled. The pupil keeps his own point of view just the same, only now he has something for his vision from which to make his choice. The horizon of his thought is expanded. But the pupil who closes himself and says, “I will guard my point of view or it will escape me,” will never derive any benefit from this attitude.
The mystical path is the most subtle path to tread. The relationship between teacher and pupil is too subtle for words to express. Besides, the language of a mystical teacher is always elusive; you cannot, so to speak, pin him down as to his words. You cannot ask him to say clearly that something is so and so, or such and such. If a mystic does so, he is not a mystic, for a mystic cannot do this. The mystic may seem to be standing on the earth, but he is flying in the air. The air cannot be made into a rock, nor can the mystic be made into a gross entity. His “yes” does not mean the same as the “yes” of another, nor does his “no” mean the same as the “no” of others. The language of the mystic is not the language of words; it is the language of meaning. It is the greatest distress for a mystic to have to use the words of everyday language, which are not his words. He cannot express himself in these words. We find the same in the actions of the mystic. His outward actions will not express to everybody the meaning which is behind them, and that meaning may be much more important inwardly than the action is outwardly.
The teacher, therefore, tests his pupil continually. He tells him and he does not tell him, for everything must come in its right time. Divine knowledge has never been taught in words, nor will it ever be so taught. The work of a mystical teacher is not to teach, but to tune, to tune the pupil so that he may become the instrument of God. For the mystical teacher is not the player of the instrument; he is the tuner. When he has tuned it, he gives it into the hands of the Player whose instrument it is to play. The duty of the mystical teacher is his service as a tuner.
Dispute with a spiritual teacher is never any good, for the pupil may be speaking one language, while the teacher speaks another; and when there is no common language, then how can the dispute be profitable? Therefore, in the path of mysticism, there is no dispute.
Also, there are no fixed rules to follow on this path. For every person there is a special rule. But there is one law which applies to everything in life: sincerity, which is the only thing that is asked by a teacher of a pupil, for truth is not the portion of the insincere.
Several initiations may be given to the pupil whom the teacher has taken in hand, but his progress depends upon the pupil himself. Just as parents are anxious, so the spiritual teacher is naturally anxious to see the advancement of his pupil. There is no reason for the teacher to keep any pupil back from success. For, as the happiness of the parents lies in the happiness of the child, so the satisfaction of the teacher lies in the advancement of the pupil.
There is another kind of initiation which comes afterwards, and this initiation is also an unfoldment of the soul. It comes as an after-effect of the initiation that one had from the teacher. It comes as a kind of expansion of consciousness, and the greatness of this initiation depends upon the distance and width of the horizon of the consciousness. Many may claim it, but few realize it. Those who realize do not claim. As the more fruitful a tree is, the more it bends, so the more divine his spiritual realization is, the more humble a person he becomes. It is the one who is less fruitful who becomes more pretentious. The really initiated ones hardly ever mention the word initiation; they find no profit in convincing others that they are initiated. They possess their real inner gains so they do not want an outer gain. It is the one who has not received any who wants recognition from outside. And if we ask what profit we derive from initiation, the answer is that religion, mysticism, or philosophy — all that we gain — should help us to achieve one result, and that is to be best fitted for serving our fellowmen.
It may be asked whether it is desirable for every soul to take initiation. The word “initiation” and the associated word “initiative” suggest going forward, so the answer is that progress is life and standing still is death. Whatever be our grade of evolution, it is always advisable to try to go forward, be it in business or in a profession, in society or in political life, in religion or in spiritual advancement. No doubt there is a danger in being too enthusiastic. The nature that is too enthusiastic may, instead of benefiting, perhaps harm itself in whatever line it may have taken up, worldly or spiritual. For everything there is a time, and patience is necessary in all striving. A cook may burn food by applying more heat in order to cook more quickly, and this rule applies to all things. With little children, the parents are often anxious and enthusiastic; they think their children should learn and understand every good and interesting thing on earth. Too much enthusiasm is not right. We must give time to all things. The first and most important lesson in life is patience; we must begin all things with patience.
The Sufi order is mainly an esoteric school. There are three principal esoteric schools known in the East: the Buddhist school, the Vedantic school, and the Sufi school. The former two use asceticism as their principal means of spiritual advancement. The peculiarity of the Sufi school is that it uses humanity as its chief means to the same end. In the realization of truth, the Sufi school is no different from the Vedantic or the Buddhist; but the Sufi presents truth in a different manner. It is the same frame in which Jesus Christ has given his teaching.
No doubt the method of helping spiritual development by contemplation and meditation is used in all three schools, the science of breath being the foundation of each. But the Sufi thinks that man was not created to live the life of an animal. For the life of an angel, angels are created; and for the life of an animal, there are animals. The Sufi thinks that the first thing that is necessary for man in life is to prove to his own conscience to what extent he can be human. It is not only a spiritual development, it is the culture of humanity, in what relation man stands to his neighbor or friend, to those who depend upon him and those who look up to him, to strangers unknown to him. It is how he stands with those younger than himself and with older people and with those who like him and others who dislike him and criticize him. It is how he should feel, think and act throughout life, and yet keep on progressing towards the goal which is the goal for every soul in the world.
It is not necessary for the Sufi to seek the wilderness for his meditation, since he can perform part of his work in the midst of worldly life. The Sufi need not prove himself to be a Sufi by extraordinary power, by wonder-working or by an exceptional spiritual manifestation or claim. A Sufi can prove to his own conscience that he is a Sufi by watching his own life amidst the strife of this world.
There are some who are content with a belief taught at home or in church. They are contented, and they may just as well rest in that stage of realization where they are contented until another impulse is born in their hearts to rise higher. The Sufi does not force his belief or his thoughts upon such souls. In the East, there is a saying that it is a great sin to awaken anyone who is fast asleep. This saying can be symbolically understood. There are many in this world who work and do things and are yet asleep; they seem awake externally, but inwardly, they are asleep. The Sufi considers it a crime to awaken them, for some sleep is good for their health. The work of the Sufi is to give a helping hand to those who have had sufficient sleep and who now begin to stir in their sleep, to turn over. And it is that kind of help which is the real initiation.
No doubt there are things which pass the ordinary comprehension of man. There are things one can teach only by speaking or by acting; but there is a way of teaching which is called tawajoh,and this way of teaching is without words. It is not external teaching, it is teaching in silence. For instance, how can man explain the spirit of sincerity, or the spirit of gratefulness? How can man explain the ultimate truth, the idea of God? Whenever it has been attempted, it has failed; it has made some confused, and it has made others give up their belief. It is not that the one who tried to explain did not understand, but that words are inadequate to explain the idea of God.
In the East, there are great sages and saints who sit quite still, with lips closed, for years. They are called, muni, which means, “he who takes the vow of silence.” The man of today may think, “What a life, to be silent and do nothing!” However, he does not know that some, by their silence, can do more than others can accomplish by talking for ten years. A person may argue for months about a problem and not be able to explain it; while another, with inner radiance, may be able to answer the same thing in one moment. The answer that comes without words explains still more. That is initiation.
However, no one can give spiritual knowledge to another, for this is something that is within every heart. What the teacher can do is to kindle the light which is hidden in the heart of the disciple. If the light is not there, it is not the fault of the teacher.
There is a verse by Hafiz in which he says, “However great be the teacher, he is helpless with the one whose heart is closed.” Therefore, initiation means initiation on the part of the disciple and on the part of the teacher, a step forward on the part of both. On the part of the teacher, a step forward with the disciple in order that the pupil may be trusted and raised from his present condition. A step forward for the pupil because he opens his heart; he has no barrier anymore, nothing to hinder the teaching in whatever form it comes, in silence or in words, or in the observation of some deed or action on the part of the teacher.
In ancient times, the disciples of the great teachers learned by a quite different method, not an academic method or a way of study. The way was an open heart. With perfect confidence and trust they watched every attitude of the teacher, both towards friends and towards people who looked at him with contempt. They watched their teacher in times of trouble and pain, how he endured it all. They said how patient and wise he had been in discussing with those who did not understand, answering everyone gently in his own language. He showed the mother-spirit, the father-spirit, the brother-spirit, the child-spirit, the friend-spirit, forgiving kindness, an ever-tolerant nature, respect for the aged, compassion for all, the thorough understanding of human nature. This, also, the disciples learned, that no discussion or books on metaphysics can ever teach all the thoughts and philosophy that arise in the heart of man. A person may either study for a thousand years, or he may get to the source and see if he can touch the root of all wisdom and all knowledge. In the center of the emblem of the Sufis there is a heart; it is the sign that from the heart, a stream rises, the stream of divine knowledge.
On the path of initiation, two things are necessary: contemplation, and the living of a life such as a Sufi ought to live; and they depend upon each other. Contemplation helps one to live the life of a Sufi, and the life of a Sufi helps contemplation. In the West, where life is so busy and where there is no end to one’s responsibilities, one wonders if to undertake contemplation, even for only ten minutes in the evening, is not too much when one is tired. But for that very reason, contemplation is required more in the West than in the East, where everything, even the surroundings, is helpful to contemplation. Besides, a beginning must be made on the path. If contemplation does not develop in such a form that everything one does in life becomes a contemplation, then the contemplation does not do a person any good. It would be like going to church once a week and forgetting all about religion on the other days. To a man who gives 10 or 20 minutes every evening to contemplation and forgets it all the rest of the day, contemplation will not do any good. We take our food at certain times every day; yet all the time, even when we are sleeping, the food nourishes our body. It is not the Sufi’s idea to retire in seclusion or to sit silent all day. His idea is that by contemplation, he becomes so inspired that in study, in every aspiration, in every aspect of life, progress is made. In this way, he proves his contemplation to be a force helping him to withstand all the difficulties that come to him.
The life that the Sufi ought to live may be explained in a few words. There are many things in the life of a Sufi, but the greatest is to have a tendency to friendship. This is expressed in the form of tolerance and forgiveness, in the form of service and trust. In whatever form he may express it, this is the central theme: the constant desire to prove one’s love for humanity, to be the friend of all.
What Is Needed On The Path
Initiation needs courage and the tendency to advance spiritually, although it may not seem to be the way of life for everyone. Therefore, the first duty of a mureed is not to be shaken in his faith by any opposing influence or by anything said against the path he has taken. He should not allow himself to be discouraged by anybody. The mureed must be so firm in his path that even if the whole world says it is a wrong path, he will say it is the right path. If anybody says that it will take a thousand years or perhaps more, the mureed must be able to say that even if it should take a thousand years, he will have the patience to go through with it. As it is said in Persian, it is the work of the Baz, the wayfarer of the heavens.
On this mystical path, courage, steadfastness and patience are what are most necessary; but also, trust in the teacher at whose hand initiation is taken and the understanding of the idea of discipline. In the East, where for thousands of years the path of discipleship has been understood, these things are regarded as most important and acceptable from the hand of the teacher. How few in the world know trust! What is necessary is not trusting another, even the teacher, but trusting oneself; and one is not capable of trusting oneself fully when one has not experienced in life how to trust another. Some will ask, “But if we trusted and our trust was in vain, should we not be disappointed?” The answer is that we must trust for the sake of trust and not for the sake of a return and to see what fruit it brings. The utmost trust is the greatest power in the world. Lack of trust is weakness. Even if we have lost something by trusting, our power will be greater than if we had gained something without developing trust.
Patience is very necessary on the path. After my initiation into the Order of the Sufis, for six months I was continually in the presence of my murshid before he said a word on the subject of Sufism. Once he mentioned Sufism, and as soon as I took out my notebook, he went on to another subject and it was finished! One sentence after six months! A person would think that it is a long time, six months sitting before one’s teacher without being taught anything; but it is not words, it is something else. If words were sufficient, then there would be libraries full of occult and mystical books.
It is life, itself; it is living that is important. The one who lives the life of initiation not only lives himself, but also makes others who come into contact with him alive. Therefore, one is initiated into the Sufi order not especially for study, but to understand and follow what real discipleship means.
With regard to the subject of discipline, anyone without a sense of discipline is without the power of self-control. It is discipline that teaches the ideal, and the ideal is self-discipline. It is the disciplined soldier who can become a good captain. In ancient times, the kings used to send the princes out as soldiers to learn what discipline means. The path of initiation is the training of the ego, and it is self-discipline that is learned on the path of discipleship.
One may ask what one should think of the path of initiation. What must be our goal, what must we expect from it? Should we expect to be good, healthy, magnetic, powerful, developed psychically or clairvoyant? One does not need to be any of these, although in time, one will cultivate them all naturally; but one should not strive for these things.
Suppose a person develops power and he does not know how to use it. The outcome will be disastrous. Suppose he develops magnetism, and by his power, he attracts all, both good and bad; then it will be difficult to get rid of what he has attracted by his power. Or, perhaps a person is very good, so good that everyone seems bad to him. He is too good to live in the world, and in that way he will become a burden to himself. These things are not to be sought for through initiation.
The aim is to find God within ourselves, to dive deep into ourselves so that we may touch the unity of the whole Being. It is towards this end that we are working by the power of initiation, in order that we may get all the inspiration and blessings in our life from within. For this, two things are necessary: one is to do the exercises that are given regularly and to do them with heart and soul. The second is to undertake the studies that are given, not considering them to be only for superficial reading, but for every word to be pondered upon. The more one thinks about it, the more it will have the effect of opening the heart.
Reading is one thing; contemplating is another. The lessons must be meditated upon. One should not take even the simplest word or sentence for granted. Think of the Hindus, Chinese and Parsis, who for thousands of years have always meditated upon the readings that they held sacred and yet never tired of them.
Initiation is a sacred trust, a trust given by the murshid to his mureed and a trust given by the mureed to the murshid. There should no longer be a wall from the moment of this initiation; for if there is a wall, then the initiation is not an initiation anymore. When the wall between the mureed and the murshid has been removed, then the next step will be to remove the wall that stands between God and the worshipper.
The Sufi order is an order of mysticism, and there are certain thoughts and considerations that should be observed. One of these is that when once a secret has been entrusted to one, it must be kept as one’s most sacred trust. One must also accept all the teaching that may be given to one. Whether it is bitter medicine or sweet, the patient takes it. There is a time for everything, and so illumination has its time. However, progress, the real progress, depends upon the patience of the pupil, together with his eagerness to go forward.
The path of initiation is also a path of tests — tests from the initiator, tests from God, tests from the self and tests from the world. To go through these tests is a sign of real progress in themureed, while the one who does not undertake these tests will be wasting his time.
The Order, and this is apparent from the word “order” itself, means that there is a certain formal hierarchy of the initiators and of the Pir-o-Murshid and that they should be regarded and respected as those who have gone farther in that chosen direction. This law is in no way different from the law of nature and of life. When a child who has been disrespectful to its parents itself becomes a parent, it will find the same attitude in its own children. A soldier who does not observe discipline under his captain or colonel will experience the same from his subordinates when later he holds that position. However, the question is whether he will ever arrive at that rank, not having considered and observed that which should have been observed. For those who have advanced in any line, whether in music, poetry, thought, or philosophy, have always done so in a humble way, at every step greeting those who have gone farther.
There are three stages for the pupil, the mureed, who treads the spiritual path. The first stage is receptivity, taking all that is given without saying, “This teaching I will accept, and that teaching I will not accept.” The next stage is assimilating the teachings. The third stage is fixing them in the mind and letting the mind see the reason of things; but this comes after assimilation. Thus, the one who considers these three stages and goes through them carefully, securely — the stage of receptivity, the stage of assimilation and the stage of consideration — will be the successfulmureed on the path.
Although the outer form might appear to be a hierarchy, the Sufi message leads to true democracy, for it holds the promise of the goal that is the yearning of every soul. This, itself, is the principal thing in democracy because it is this that makes democracy. The reason, according to the Sufi belief, is that the divine spark is in every soul. It is with trust and confidence in God, in the murshid and in that divine spark that is in one’s own heart that one is assured of success in life, if one will only step forward.
The Different Steps On The Path
The word “initiation” is interpreted by different people in different ways. By some, it is considered to be a kind of attachment to a certain secret order. However, what I mean by initiation is, taking a step forward on a path unknown to oneself.
Initiations are of three different types. One initiation comes from within oneself, and this initiation is a person’s intention to proceed on a path that is not generally taken by his fellow creatures. If this does not come from within, then he will always be afraid to take a step farther on a path that others around him do not take, for the conception of the generality is not that of an individual. The nature of most people is like that of sheep; wherever sheep are taken, there all the other sheep will follow. One should realize that although it is the nature of sheep to move in a flock, this is not the real nature of man. He will always deny that he has this tendency, and he will disapprove of it, and yet he will do that very thing without knowing that he does it. If you want to see it, just stand in the street and look up with surprise, acting as if you were absorbed in what you see; and soon, 20 persons will be standing by your side, not only foolish people, but wise ones, too! Therefore, he who is initiated, who walks on the path of initiation, is someone who has risen above the crowd and goes his individual way forward, independent of those who are around him.
When a man begins to feel that there is something behind the veil, when he begins to feel that there is something which he can attain by effort, then he takes the first step on the path which, as yet, he does not know. One should not be surprised if one notices this initiation in a five-year-old child. Neither need one be surprised if one does not see any sign of it in a man of 60 years; he has had no tendency towards it, and all his life he has not thought about it. However, the one who has received this initiation will go on. Even in childhood, he will show the tendency to take a step forward on a path which others do not take.
One will find this initiation in all the different aspects of life. A child taking a slate and pencil and drawing a picture, while not being an artist, still has a tendency to draw something, perhaps an idea that is not a child’s idea but is very wonderful. One will find a child humming or singing a piece of music that a composer will be surprised to hear. He is doing something which is not ordinary, something which comes spontaneously from his soul and which shows his initiation on that path. One will also hear a child speak on certain subjects and express ideas which are quite different from what one would expect from a child, ideas that are, perhaps, even beyond the comprehension of a grown man. Yet the child speaks about it; it is his initiation.
I have known a child to ask me, “Why must one kneel down, why must one prostrate oneself when they say that God is above?” I have known another child to say, “Why must there be one direction in which a person should look in order to worship, why should not all directions be equally good for worship?” Many adults have the fixed idea that they must perform their worship in a certain direction and not in any other, and never once in their lives have they asked themselves why. One will find adults who have, perhaps, worshipped kneeling down all their lives and have never asked themselves why they should kneel down on the earth when they are supposed to worship God in the heavens. Therefore, to believe, to worship, to be pious, to be good, is quite different from the idea of being initiated. Initiation means emerging from the ordinary, it is rising above the conditions which are common. This shows the maturity of the soul.
The second stage is the materialization of this initiation, and this materialization is possible with someone living on the earth. For the condition of being initiated completely is to become initiated on this plane of earth, on the physical plane where one is living and moving and through which one is experiencing life.
People make a great many mysteries out of the name initiation, but the simple explanation of initiation is trust on the part of the pupil and confidence on the part of the initiator. I heard from mymurshid, from my initiator, something which I shall never forget: “This friendship, this relationship which is brought about by initiation between two persons, is something which cannot be broken, it is something which cannot be separated, it is something which cannot be compared with anything else in the world; it belongs to eternity.”
When this initiation takes place, it then becomes the responsibility of the initiator to think of the welfare and well-being of his pupil; and it becomes the responsibility of the initiated to be faithful and true, steady and unshaken, through all tests and trials. There are some who will go to one person and be initiated, and then afterwards, they go to another to be initiated, and then to a third. They might go to 100 persons, but they will become a hundred times less instead of a hundred times more blessed. For the object of friendship is not the making of many friends; the object is to keep friendship steady, unchanged, whole. Of all kinds of friendship, the friendship that is established by initiation is the most sacred and must be considered beyond all other relationships in the world.
There is a story of a peasant in India, a young peasant who used to take a great interest in spiritual things. Someone with a great name happened to come to his town,, about whom it was said, as it was always said among simple peasants, that he was so great that by coming into his presence one would be sure to enter the heavens. The whole town went to see him and to get from him that guarantee of entering the heavens, except that peasant who had once been initiated. The great man, having heard about his refusal, went to his house and asked him, “How is it that you who take such interest in holy subjects did not come, while everyone else came to see me?” He said, “There was no ill-feeling on my part, there was only one simple reason. My teacher who initiated me has passed from this earth; and since he was a man with limitations, I do not know whether he has gone to heaven or to the other place. If, through the blessing of your presence, I were sent to heaven, I might be most unhappy there; heaven would become another place for me if my teacher were not there.”
It is this oneness, this connection, this relationship between the initiator and the initiated, which gives them the necessary strength, power and wisdom to journey on this path. For it is the devotion of the initiated which supplies all that is lacking in the initiator, and it is the trust of the initiator which supplies all that is lacking in the initiated.
There is no ceremony that a Sufi considers really necessary, but Sufis never regard ceremonies or dogmas as undesirable, so they are not prejudiced against ceremonies. They have even adopted ceremonies for themselves at different times.
Sufis have various paths of attainment; for instance, the paths of Salik and Rind; and among those who tread the path of Salik, of righteousness, there are many whose method of spiritual attainment is devotion. Devotion requires an ideal, and the ideal of the Sufis is the God-ideal. They attain to this ideal by a gradual process. They first take bayat, initiation, from the hand of one whose presence gives them confidence that he will be a worthy counselor in life and a guide on the path as yet untrodden, and who at the same time shows them in life the image of the Rasul personality, the personality of the ideal man. He is called Pir-o-Murshid.
There are several steps on the path. This is a vast subject, but condensing it, I would say that there are five principal steps. The first is responsiveness to beauty of all kinds, in music, in poetry, in color or line. The second is one’s exaltation by beauty, the feeling of ecstasy. The third step is tolerance and forgiveness. These come naturally without striving for them. The fourth is that one accepts, as if they were a pleasure, the things one dislikes and cannot stand — in the place of a bowl of wine, the bowl of poison. The fifth step is taken when one feels the rein of one’s mind in one’s hand; for then one begins to feel tranquillity and peace, at will. This is just like riding on a very vigorous and lively horse, yet holding the reins firmly and making it walk at the speed one desires. When this step is taken, the mureedbecomes a master.
The time of initiation is meant to be a time for clearing away all the sins of the past. The cleansing of sins is like a bath in the Ganges. It is the bath of the spirit in the light of knowledge. From this day, the page is turned. The mureed makes his vow to the murshid that he will treasure the teachings of the masters in the past and keep them secret, that he will make good use of the teachings and of the powers gained by them, and that he will try to crush his nafs, his ego. He vows that he will respect all the masters of humanity as the one embodiment of the ideal man and will consider himself the brother not only of all the Sufis in the order to which he belongs, but also outside that order of all those who are Sufis in spirit, although they may call themselves differently; and of all mankind, without distinction of caste, creed, race, nation or religion.
Sufis engage in Halka, a circle of Sufis sitting and practicing zikr and fikr so that the power of the one helps the other. Furthermore, they practice tawajoh, a method of receiving knowledge and power from the teacher in silence. This way is considered by Sufis to be the most essential and desirable. Sometimes a receptive mureedattains, in a moment, greater perfection than he might attain in many years of study or practice because it is not only his own knowledge and power that the murshidimparts, but sometimes it is the knowledge and power of Rasul, and sometimes even of God. It all depends upon the time and upon how the expressive and receptive souls are focused. The task of the Sufi teacher is not to force a belief on a mureed, but to train him so that he may become illuminated enough to receive revelations himself.
Why do Sufis study esoteric subjects? Is it for the acquisition of spiritual powers or inspiration, to bring about phenomena, or out of curiosity? If this were so, it would be wrong. Is it in order to accomplish something material, is it for worldly success? That is not desirable. Self-realization, to know who we are, should be the Sufi’s aim.
Some people who admire piety and goodness want everyone to be an angel; and discovering that this is impossible, they are full of criticism. Man has within him both a devil and an angel. He is at once human and animal. It is the devil in man that drives him to do harm without a motive, by instinct; and the first step should be to abandon this attitude. Although nowadays hardly anyone believes that his particular demon can be a manifestation of the devil, who can say that he is free from such an evil spirit? We can be under the power of a spell, but we must overcome such a power, we must liberate ourselves from evil. Everyone can fight.
We must discover when we have manifested our devil or our animal spirit. We want a human spirit, and self-realization is the search for this human spirit. Everything must become human in us. But how should we accomplish this? Read the Bible and holy scriptures? All these books tell us what we should do, but we must also find the store of goodness that is within us, in our heart. As we cultivate our heart, it rises. By asceticism, one can develop one’s soul and reach ecstasy, but what is the use of samadhi if we are not first human? If we want to live in this world, we must be human. The ascetic should live in the forest.
How should we cultivate the heart, the feeling? There is no doubt that harmlessness, devotion and kindness are necessary; but there is something besides these. It is the awakening of certain centers which make one sensitive, not only externally, but also mentally.
There are two kinds of people: one will be struck by the beauty of music or other manifestations of beauty, and another is as dull as a stone to all of this. Why? Because something in his heart and mind is not awakened. We have five senses, but we also have inner senses, and these can enjoy life much more keenly. Some people will say that they need no inner senses, that the outer senses satisfy them completely. They would speak differently if, for instance, they lost their eyesight or another of their five senses. In order to be complete, a human being must also develop his inner senses; but first of all, he should develop his inner feeling.
Intellectual study may last the whole of one’s life; there is no end to it. This is why the teacher does not encourage speculation. A doctrine means a separation from other doctrines. The Sufi belongs to every religion, and thus he has no special beliefs or speculations. There can, for instance, be one Sufi who believes in reincarnation, and another who realizes heaven and hell. The work of the Sufi is personal development. It is what one practices that is important, rather than what the teacher says, although the teacher can give protection.
Initiation contains several degrees. It is a trust given to one by the teacher, but the real initiation is the work of God. No teacher can or will judge. The real pupil is he whom the teacher knows he can trust, though all are welcome to him. Spiritually, he is both father and mother to the pupil. The life of the teacher is often a sacrifice; he is often persecuted and suffers much, but what little help he can give, he will give.
No special qualification is needed in order to become a pupil. The teacher gives; the pupil can take it or leave it. The teaching is like a precious jewel hidden in a stone; it is for the pupil to break the stone and find the jewel. In the East, this inner teaching is part of religion; whereas in the West, it is often looked upon merely as a form of education. It ought to be a sacred education. In the East, the murshid gives the lesson and the pupil practices it for a month or a year; he cannot have a different practice every week. My grandfather practiced one meditation for 40 years, and then a miracle happened to him. One should not be ambitious to do other exercises before having had a result from the first one.
There are different degrees, but they are not to be discussed on this path. Because, after all, different stages are the conceptions, the speculations of some wise people. It is just the same as with music. There are seven notes of music because the musician has accepted that there are seven; but a scale can be made to contain more notes or less notes, if the musician wishes to make it so. We distinguish stages, although in reality, it is impossible to do so. It is a spontaneous development on the spiritual path which may be called treading the path of initiation.
How can one explain spiritual progress? What is it? What is it like? Spiritual progress is the changing of the point of view. There is only one way to recognize this progress, and that is to see the progress in one’s own outlook on life, to ask oneself the question, “How do I look at life?” This one can do by not judging others, but by being only concerned with one’s own outlook. As long as a person is concerned with the faults of others, as long as he criticizes others, he is not yet ready to make his sight clear enough to see if his outlook on life is right.
What, in reality, are the different initiations? Is one better than the other, or higher than the other? In what way are they to be distinguished? By knowing some more mysteries, by knowing some secrets, by studying something very wonderful, or by communicating with something unseen? Nothing whatever of this kind, not one of these things, can assure one of a higher initiation and of greater progress in the spiritual life. In the first place, we need not strive for mystery, for life itself is a mystery. All that seems simple to us, all that presents no mystery, becomes mysterious as soon as the outlook on life is changed. Secrecy is to be found in simplicity; it is the simple life that is full of secrets.
A person may study a whole library, may write 50 books, and may read 1,000, yet all of this leads him nowhere. If any study is required, we need not go anywhere else, for our life, itself, is study, if we will only study it. For one who studies, life offers every opportunity; from morning till evening, every moment of the day, in the home, outside, at work, in leisure, in all things, there is something to study. No book can give the joy and the pleasure that human nature itself can give.
The wise, the foolish, the good, the weak, those whom we meet every day with their tendencies and their attitudes, are all the greatest material for study. There is so much to study in success and failure, in sorrows and pleasures, and in all things in life, whether unfavorable or favorable. All that we do right, all that we do wrong, everything is a lesson, everything is a study, if we take it as such. But the important thing is this, that the one who is life’s student, the one who is really initiated, studies himself before studying others.
Does an initiator teach the truth? No man has the power to teach another the truth. Man must discover it himself. What the initiator can do from his side is to say, “This is the path, do not go astray.” The initiation will put his pupil on that path, where the farther he goes, the more he will receive at every step. It is like a hand raising him upward. But the first step is the most difficult, and that step is taken by the help of an initiator on the earth.
What is it that the initiator teaches the initiated one? He tells the initiated one the truth of his own being. He does not tell him something new or something different. He tells him something which his soul already knows, but which his mind has forgotten.
There is a fable which illustrates this. A lion walking through the desert found a little lion cub playing with some sheep. It happened that the little lion had been reared with the sheep, and so it had never had a chance or an occasion to realize what it was. The lion was greatly surprised to see a lion cub running away and being just as afraid of a lion as sheep are. The lion jumped in among the flock of sheep and said, “Halt, halt!” But the sheep ran away and the little lion ran, too. The lion only pursued the lion cub, not the sheep; and when it caught up with it, the lion said, “I wish to speak to you.” The cub said, “Why are you running about with the sheep? You, yourself, are a little lion!” “No,” said the little one. “I am a sheep. Let me go, let me go with the sheep.” “Come along,” said the lion,” come with me and I will show you what you are before I let you go.” Trembling, yet helpless, the cub followed the lion to a pool of water. Pointing at their reflections in the pool, the lion said, “Look at me and look at yourself. Do we not resemble each other closely? You are not like the sheep, you are like me!”
This lion is symbolical of the souls who become God-conscious, the souls who have realized the truth. And when they see the same divine spirit in another soul, their first thought is to take that soul by the hand and to show it that in it, also, there is the same divine spark that they possess. Therefore, although outwardly it is an aristocratic picture, inwardly it is leading to democracy. The command of the lion to that lion cub is apparently aristocratic, but what is the intention of the lion? It is democracy, it wants to make the little lion conscious of the same grandeur that the lion has. And that is the path of spirituality. Its outward appearance may not seem so, but its inner intention and its culmination are democracy.
The initiations beyond those I have spoken of are greater still. Some people, although not all, will tell you of their experiences and how, at different times in their life, a sudden change of outlook came to them. It is not our usual experience to wake up suddenly one day from sleep and find that our point of view has changed; but it is no exaggeration to say that it takes but one moment to change one’s outlook on life entirely. This is what an initiation is, an initiation which is above the initiations of the earth as we know them. One thing leads to another, and so we go on in life from one initiation to the next; and each step on the ladder that seems to be standing before us, for us to climb, becomes an initiation. And each step on that ladder changes our point of view, if only we hold onto the ladder and do not drop down. For there is always the possibility of going either forward or backward. Nevertheless, the one anxious to go forward will never go backward. Even if the whole world pulled him back by a chain attached to his feet, he would still go forward, because his desire to go forward is more powerful than all the forces of the world.
Three Aspects of Initiation
As birds gather in flocks, and animals, in herds, so there are human beings who move in groups in this or that direction, drawn by the power of others. Yet, if one asks a person if this is the case with him, too, he will say, “No, not with me, but with all others.” It is difficult for anyone to realize to what extent he can unconsciously move with the crowd to the right or to the left. And when a person takes a step in a different direction, dissatisfied with being held and swayed by the crowd, by his friends and relations, by those who surround him, then he shows initiative.
So, the real meaning of the word initiation, which is related to initiative, is that a man takes his own direction instead of going in the direction of the crowd. When this happens, the religious people will say that he has become a heathen, his friends will say that he has become foolish, and his relations will say that he has gone crazy.
Initiation has three different aspects: one is natural initiation, another is advanced initiation, and the third is higher initiation. The natural initiation may come to a person at any time of his life. It does not come to everyone, but only to some. And for this initiation one need not go to a teacher; it comes when it is time for it to come. It comes in the form of a sudden change of outlook on life. A person feels that he has suddenly awakened to quite another world. Although he remains in the same world, it has become totally different to him. Things that seemed important become less important. Colors pale, and the brightness of things disappears. Things show themselves to have different values. The value of everything changes the moment the outlook is changed. It is a change like looking through a telescope. Through a telescope one sees things quite differently.
A person may be young and have that experience, or it may come at any time in one’s life. To some, it comes gradually; but then, it is a long process. With others, something suddenly happens in their lives and in the twinkling of an eye, the world has become different and everything suddenly has a different value. This is natural initiation.
How is this initiation brought about? What is its metaphysical process? The soul is veiled by covers, one cover over the other, and the rending of these covers allows the soul to emerge or to rise higher. Naturally, with the next step, the horizon of its outlook becomes wider, and the soul reaches farther, while life becomes clearer. A person may not be conscious of such a change; he may ignore it or not know about it; yet, it is there, even though among a hundred people perhaps only one is really conscious of it.
With every step forward that the soul takes on the path, it naturally comes closer to God. Coming closer to God means inheriting or drawing towards oneself the qualities of God. In other words, the soul sees more, hears more, comprehends more and enjoys more because it lives a greater, higher life.
The teachers and prophets who had to give a message to humanity, who had to render a service to humanity, had such initiations even in their childhood. There is a symbolic story that the heart of the Prophet Mohammad was opened and some substance was taken out of it. People take this literally; but the real meaning is that a cover was torn away and the soul was allowed to reach upward and go farther on the path. There may be many such initiations, perhaps one or two, or six or seven, according to the state of evolution of the initiate.
Life, as we live it today, is very difficult for a person whose outlook is thus suddenly changed. For the world lives nowadays at a certain pitch, and it cannot tolerate someone whose pitch is below or above the ordinary pitch of life. People dislike such a one, they make difficulties for him, they disapprove of him and of his ideas. If he does not have any friend or guide on the path, then he may linger on in the same plane of thought till nature helps him, for everything else pulls him backwards.
Some people think that saints, masters or sages have no need for initiation; but they forget that no soul can go farther on the path without initiation.
What is the result of this natural initiation? Bewilderment, extreme bewilderment. But this bewilderment is not the same as confusion. There is a vast difference between the two. In confusion, there is an element of doubt; but when a person is bewildered, he says, “How wonderful, how marvelous! Words cannot explain it, it is a miracle!” It may appear quite simple to someone else, but to an advanced person, it is a miracle. And there may be others who say, “How foolish, I do not see anything in what you have seen!” But what one has perceived is so marvelous that it cannot be explained.
Such is life. It is a difference of outlook. One person sees a wonder, a splendor; and another says, “What of it? It is quite simple, it is nothing.” And the one who says this thinks that he is superior because to his mind, it is simple. While the one who wonders has the outlook of a child, for a child wonders at everything. No doubt it is childlike, but it is the child’s soul that sees; it sees more than the soul of an adult who has become covered by a thousand veils. In infancy, the child can see the angelic world, it can talk with unseen entities, it can see wonderful things belonging to the different planes. It is easy to say of something that it is childlike, innocent, or ignorant; yet it is the most wonderful thing to be childlike and to have the innocence of an infant. There is nothing better to wish for, as in this, all happiness and beauty are to be found.
This bewilderment produces a kind of pessimism in a person, but a pessimism which cannot be compared with what we ordinarily call pessimism. For we regard pessimism as a kind of wretchedness, but this is something different. A hint of this is to be found in Omar Khayyam’s verse, “O, my Beloved, fill the cup that clears today of past regret and future fears; tomorrow, why, tomorrow, I may be myself with yesterday’s seven thousand years!” This pessimism comes as an upliftment, it makes a person see life from a different angle. The very life that seemed before to be towering over his head suddenly appears to be beneath his feet.
What is it, then? Besides calling it pessimism, one could also call it indifference, or independence; yet, it is none of these three things. There is no word for it in English. In Sanskrit, it is calledvairagya, an emotion, a feeling quite different from all other ways of looking at life, an outlook which brings one into an entirely different world of thought. The values of things and conditions seem to change completely.
One might think that it would be an uninteresting life to be indifferent. However, that is not so. It is most interesting. It gives one a feeling as if the burden of life were lightened. What a wonderful feeling this is! Think what a little relaxation after a day’s toil can do, when one can just rest for a moment. What upliftment comes, what soothing vibrations, and how the mind feels refreshed! If then the spirit has the same experience, feeling that the load it is continually carrying day and night is lifted, then it, too, feels widened for a moment. What a blessing this is! It cannot be spoken of in words, but the one who has had even a slight experience of it can comprehend its value.
No doubt there comes a time in a man’s life when, even if he were initiated a thousand times by nature, he still seeks for a guide walking upon the earth. Many will say, “Why is God not sufficient? Why must there be someone between God and man? Why must it be a man who is just as limited as we are? Why can we not reach the spirit of God directly?” But in a man who is your enemy and who has tortured you throughout your life, and in another who is your greatest friend, and in your teacher who inspires and guides you, and in all these is to be seen the hand of God. They have all three guided you on the path of inspiration; they are all three needed in order that you may go farther in life. The one who has disappointed you, who has harmed you, is also your initiator, for he has taught you something, he has put you on the road, even if not in the right way. And he who is your friend is your initiator, too, for he gives you the evidence of truth, the sign of reality. Only love can give you a proof that there is something living, something real. And then there is the inspiring teacher, be he a humble man, an illiterate person, or a meditative soul, a great teacher or a humble one, he is what you think him to be, as everyone is to us what we think them to be.
If it were not necessary that man should guide his fellow men, then Jesus Christ would not have been placed among those fishermen who could not understand him; and yet, he proved to be their guidance. The presence on earth of personalities such as Buddha and all the other teachers — many of them not even known to humanity, though they have done so much, but who always will be under whatever name and in whatever guise they may work — gives guidance to individuals and to humanity. God never reaches so directly and so fully as when He reaches through His teachers. The best way for God to reach human beings is through a human being; not through an angel, but through man who is subject to birth and death and to all the faults that everyone has.
The way of the teacher with his initiate is strange. The greater the teacher, the stranger may be the way. The teacher may test, and the teacher may give trials; and the attitude of the teacher can never be understood, for a real teacher never commits himself. Neither his yes nor his no can be understood, for their meaning will be symbolic and very subtle. Perhaps he will speak in parables, perhaps he will teach without teaching, perhaps he will teach more just by a glance than by speaking a hundred words. Perhaps the presence of the teacher is of greater blessing in the life of the pupil than a hundred books he has read. Neither the indifference nor the sympathy of the teacher may be taken for what they appear to be, for in both, there is something else. The more one studies the personality of the teacher, the more puzzled one becomes. The teacher is the initiator of life, he is the example of the subtlety of the whole of life.
Some people affirm that they have been initiated by a teacher on the other side. Well, perhaps they have; but are they not then in two worlds, the teacher in one and the initiate in the other? The initiate neither belongs to the teacher’s world, nor does the teacher belong to his. This surely gives one less trouble than having to regard the pleasure of a living being. It is easier to feel that one has someone at one’s back who is always whispering in one’s ear and who speaks to one in dream or vision. It is not wrong, and in some cases, it is even true. There are souls, there are teachers, who have perhaps not given on earth what they had to give, what they had to impart to others, but that is not the normal process. If it were a normal process, then all the teachings would have been sent from the other side; but neither Buddha nor Jesus Christ nor Mohammad gave their teachings from there.
Today the prevailing thought is that no man should guide his fellow men and that there is no virtue in such guidance. This thought is so widespread that it is preventing people from seeking guidance from someone who is facing the same struggles, the same troubles, and who has the same experiences as everyone else. They go on rejecting such a man, as Jesus Christ was rejected, and at the same time, they are looking for someone on the other plane! Many societies and groups have puzzled their heads so much over this subject that they have deprived themselves of that living water which follows its natural course through the world of man.
The work of the teacher is most subtle. It is like that of a jeweler who has to melt the gold first in order to make an ornament out of it. It first has to be melted; but once it is melted, once it is not hard metal anymore but has become liquid, then it can be made into a crown or a ring or an ornament. Then one can make a beautiful thing out of it.
After this, there is a further step. When the pupil has received the initiations that the teacher has to give, then the teacher’s task is over and he sends him on. The teacher does not hold the pupil indefinitely; he has his part to perform during the journey on the path, but then comes the inner initiation. This comes to the disciple who has become meditative, whose interest has become keen, whose outlook has widened, who sees life differently, whose conscience has acquired the habit of reasoning, of expanding.
No doubt in this experience, also, there is always help to be had. As help comes on earth, so in the unseen world, too, that help then comes. It is as if we were in the street in some kind of difficulty; naturally, others would come by to see if they could be of any assistance. So, as one goes further, one attracts the sympathy of beings who are always busy helping humanity from all planes of existence. The sympathy of those who are close to the one who is traveling on the path is attracted, giving him a hand to go forward. It is that giving of a hand which is called initiation. There are so many different initiations; they are all steps by which to go upward.
In conclusion, I shall mention what is attained through initiation. What one attains is that realization for which we are born, which is our life’s purpose. Unless we approach life’s purpose, nothing we do will help us sufficiently; it will only help us perhaps with a certain need of ours, but not any farther. There is only one thing that gives complete satisfaction, and that is to arrive at self-realization. It is not simple, and it needs more than just meditation and concentration, although these are of great help in the attainment of self-realization. Those who believe that by reading a book on yoga they can get to that realization are mistaken. They are mistaken because it is a phenomenon, and it is by this phenomenon that one proceeds further.
Some people think that by straightforward study, by purely scientific study, that they can come to realization; but in order to attain self-realization, a certain way of life is necessary. Is it the life that religious people teach, that one should live in such and such a way? Is it a life according to certain principles, certain dogmas? No, nothing of that kind. It is the continual process of effacing the self. It is just like grinding something which is very hard. It is a continual grinding of the self. The more that the self is softened, the more highly a person evolves and the greater his personality becomes. No matter what power and inspiration a person may have acquired, if there is no self-effacement, then nothing is accomplished. The result brought about by initiation is self-effacement, and self-effacement is needed in order to arrive at true wisdom.