header pic header text

Volume X - Sufi Mysticism

The Path of Initiation and Discipleship

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 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 fellow men.

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 angel, neither was he 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; 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; 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 Tawajjuh, 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.

checked 18-Oct-2005