Volume X - Sufi Mysticism
The Path of Initiation and Discipleship
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 more clear. 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 Muhammad 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 a grown-up which 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 called Vairagya, 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, in another who is your greatest friend, and in your teacher who inspires and guides you, 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 Muhammad 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 it is self-effacement which is needed in order to arrive at true wisdom.