header pic header text

Volume X - Sufi Mysticism

The Path of Initiation and 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 twelve in number, divided into four stages, just like the semitones in the octave or the twelve 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 Muhammad, 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  Muinuddin Chishti. Every year thousands of people of all religions make pilgrimages to his tomb at Ajmer – Hindus, Muslims, 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 Muhammad 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, Akhlaq-i 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 Bhagavad-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.

checked 18-Oct-2005