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Volume IX - The Unity of Religious Ideals

Part III



The idea of a spiritual hierarchy has always been discussed in all ages, and especially at this time when people have many more divergent conceptions regarding spiritual problems. The spiritual hierarchy is not a product of man's imagination. It is not only a poetic idea; but it is as real as one's own being. Among hills and mountains there are small mountains and there are big mountains. Among rivers there are smaller and larger rivers; and all through nature one finds the evidence of nature's hierarchy.

What gives us the best picture of life is the sky with the planets, and the sun apart as a giver of light and life. When we consider all the planets, including the moon, we shall find they are all receptacles of light, reflecting the light of the sun according to their capacity. The moon functions to the greatest degree as a receptacle of this same light.

According to the mystical point of view, if it were not for the moon the whole cosmos would go to pieces, for the reason that the central currents of the sun are functioning in the moon, which reflects the light of the sun in fullness. The difference is that as it is only the reflection of the sun, though a full reflection, it has finer currents of light. These are soft, cooling, attractive, and beautiful. Therefore, the light of the sun is called Jalal by the Sufi's, and the light of the moon Jamal. The former expresses power, the latter beauty. The former is creative, the latter responsive. It is the sun which has the light; the moon possess the light of the sun, not its own. God is the Knower, and the All wise, and the one who gives His message gives God's knowledge, not his own. What the moon may seem to give as light, is not its own. It is the light of the sun; and so it has been with the messengers at all times. People have heard them speak, and therefore they called it the message of Buddha or of Christ or of Muhammad; but in reality the message was always God's.

All beings in the world are the receptacles of God's message; not only human beings, but also even the lower creation. All objects and all conditions convey to us the message of the one and only Being. But the difference is that although they convey the message of God, they do not know it. They are not conscious of it. Not only objects but also, even human beings are unconscious of it. If they only knew that there is nothing in this world which is not the instrument of God.

As there are more useful and less useful objects, so there are more important and less important human beings. If they were all equal, there would not have been the diversity of different ranks and positions in a state. There would not have been generals and colonels in the army, but only soldiers. There would not have been high and low notes on the piano but only one key, one note, one sound. There would not have been different rooms in the house but every room would have been a drawing room. This shows that it is a necessity of life that there should be a hierarchy, either by election or by appointment, for the world cannot exist without it. Aristocracy and democracy are not two things, but essentially one; and in both cases there is only one chief thing, and that is hierarchy. When it is right, it is called aristocracy; when it goes wrong and a new spirit comes to rebuild it, this process is a state of democracy. It is natural that man should be agitated over one thing when he wants to build something else. He revolts against everything that existed before, and so, in rebuilding, this revolutionary spirit often acts to his disadvantage.

Just as there is a system of government externally, so there is also a system of inward government. One can see this government in every family too. There is a king in every family; there are ministers, counselors, partakers of his responsibility, and servants who are paid for their work. Taking the universe as one whole, it also has a system of government. There is a system of government in the sky. There is the sun, then there is the moon, which is directly focused on the sun, there are the principal planets, which surround it, and there are the stars. And on the model of the heavens the inner and outer governments of the earth are planned.

Man's body is arranged in the same way. There is one principal factor, then there are working factors like servants, then the principal ministers, and when one takes the being of a man, from his soul to his body it is one complete kingdom, constituted of all the necessary officials and servants, making one's being like a kingdom. Thus in all circumstances there will always be a king. No democratic ideal, however much it may be against the aristocratic form, will ever succeed in life without forming a kingdom; the only difference is that if the head or leader is not called King he will be named President.

In the spiritual hierarchy, there are seven grades of spiritual souls, and each grade is divided into two classes, Jalal and Jamal. And descending from the combination of these two spirits there comes a third line as a central line. This is the spirit of prophecy, which is called the Spirit of Guidance. It has never been necessary for any of the members of the hierarchy to make claims for themselves. In this world of falsehood there are many false claims, and in the worldly life even the real claims are no more true than false. Also, there is no reason why these claims should be made, since the holders of these offices can serve their purpose better by being silent than by announcing themselves.

Every office in the world is accompanied by a certain amount of vanity, and vanity is the greatest enemy of spiritual people. Then there is always the jealousy of human nature at work, and also the competition and rivalry that give stimulus to life in the world. That is why the office has always been concealed by the spiritual office-holders, except by the teachers who had to give the message of God to the people. And how many in the world would not believe the teacher unless they knew he was the office-bearer from God!

The lives of the teachers were the example and proof of their office. They had no other evidence but that. Miracles only became known afterwards. Legends were formed afterwards. Poems were made afterwards. Temples were built afterwards. Their following increased afterwards, and their words were valued afterwards. But during their lifetime they met with nothing but opposition and the inconstancy of their followers, who agreed one day and disagreed the next. They suffered all sorts of ordeals, even crucifixion.

The teacher's position is more delicate than that of the master, because he must make claims and be among the people. And being among people is like being a bird coming from a distant forest and arriving in a strange land. All the other birds, finding it different from themselves, wish to fight it and torture it, and even kill it. That has been the lot of the prophet at all times, and it will always be the same. The last one left a warning for the one who would come after him, which was that the prophecy was sealed. He did not mean by this that the work of the Spirit of Guidance was sealed; it was a clue for his successor that since the claim was now sealed, in the future the message should be given without a claim, and it would be the work that was done that would prove its genuineness, instead of a claim.


According to the Sufi conception there are seven degrees in the spiritual hierarchy, which can be distinguished as different stages of responsiveness, in other words of higher initiation. They are: Pir, Buzurg, Wali, ghaus, Qutb, Nabi, Rasul. These are the degrees belonging to the inner initiation to which a disciple becomes entitled after receiving the necessary outer initiations. It is beyond words to express what inner initiation means and in what form it is given. Those to whom the inner initiation is unknown may explain it as a dream or as a vision, but in reality it is something higher and greater than that. I can only explain it by saying that the definite changes which take place during one's journey on the spiritual path are initiations, and it is these initiations which include man in the spiritual hierarchy.

People call them masters, but in reality they are pupils; for in point of fact no one in the world is a master save God. Man's privilege is to become a greater pupil. Therefore none of the great ones have called themselves masters, nor have they considered themselves to be so. What they have known in their lives is the privilege of opening their hearts wider and wider to reflect the light of the Master who is God Himself. The progress of these high initiates is according to their responsiveness, for they have never connected themselves with what they have expressed.

Very often parents say something to their child in which there is the voice of God. Very often a kind friend suggests something to his friends, out of his love and sympathy, which happens to be a message of God. Sometimes a teacher says an inspiring word, which is like a word coming direct from God. Even from an innocent child a word may come as a warning from God; for all faces are His faces, and from all lips it is His word that comes, whenever it comes, but those who respond to Him become as His appointed servants. People call them Chosen Ones; but in reality God has chosen all, for all souls are near to the Creator. But the soul who is attached to the lips of God like a trumpet becomes the herald of His message, and what comes through his lips is not his own words, but the message of God.

In the life of a saint or master five degrees can be recognized, the progress of the saint and of the master being silent in the last two degrees; but in the life of a prophet all seven degrees are manifested to view. A saint or a master has one facility. He can do his work avoiding the notice of the world. But the life of the prophet compels him to go into the world, and thus, as he progresses from grade to grade through his life, he cannot hide himself, however much he may want to, from the gaze of the world. However, the sage of every category and degree, be he a saint, master or prophet, always prefers to remain unknown to the world; and as he progresses that desire increases. It is not only out of modesty or humbleness, but also for the protection of the spiritual ideal which has developed in him, for it attracts dangers of all sorts when it is exposed to the common gaze. All beauty is veiled by nature and the higher the beauty, the more it is concealed. This makes it easy for a wise man to find out the difference between a true prophet and a false prophet, for one beats his drums and the other tries to keep in the background. If only his work in the world would let him remain there! But his efforts to accomplish something bring him to the notice of the world. However, his longing is to be unknown, for the only one who really deserves to be known is God.

The work of the Pir is helping individuals toward the unfoldment of their soul, and that of the Buzurg is to help by the power of his soul those who wish to advance spiritually.

Wali is the initiate whose will has come close to the divine will, and he shows it in the harmony which reigns in his own life, not only with his friends, but he will also be in harmony with an adversary. He shows harmony with the changing weather and its different influences, and he is in harmony with all that he eats and drinks. He is in harmony with the place he lives and moves about in, and he harmonizes with all atmospheres. And so his will becomes the will of God; in other words, the will of God becomes his will. He may control a community, keeping it on the right track, but he mostly does the work for which he is appointed in an unobtrusive way. The greater a person is in spiritual advancement, the less assuming he becomes, and the more he avoids every show of piety or spirituality.

ghaus is the next grade of the initiates. The influence of the ghaus is wider. He gives up his personality wholly to the divine guidance, and wherever this ghaus may be there will be an atmosphere of protection from all kinds of dangers such as floods, storms, plagues, or famines. He promotes the spiritual well being of a community.

Qutb is the third degree of a master, a still higher grade, when his mind becomes focused on the divine mind, and he has, to a lesser or greater extent, power over all elements, as well as influence upon life. Under him there is a dominion in which he is responsible for the order and peace of souls. He governs a country or nation spiritually.

Nabi is the apostle, called in Sanskrit Bodhisattva, whose spirit reflects the Spirit of Guidance. His work is mainly the giving of the message in the form of warning, awakening, preaching, teaching, and inspiring those to whom he may be sent. He comes into the lives of those who are meant to be guided along the spiritual path. He is sent to nations when they are meant to change their conditions. He is sent to a community or race to give warnings. He is meant to be a reformer at the times when a reformer is needed. He elevates individuals and bears a divine message.

Rasul is the world-messenger, who comes for all people at the time of the world's need, and brings with him that inspiration, influence, and power which will harmonize humanity. He may be a king or a pauper; in whatever condition he comes, he will fulfill the purpose of his coming to earth. Answering the cry of humanity, he fulfills the purpose of his mission. The sign of Rasul is the crescent, which represents a responsive heart.

No man in the world has the power to give these higher initiations. They are given by God himself, and the initiates prove their initiations not in their claims, but in their works. The soul rises to that stage where manhood ends and godhead begins, enters the initiation of the spiritual hierarchy, and then he is neither man nor God. He is not God, because he is limited man; and he is not man, because he is God-conscious.

checked 18-Oct-2005