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Volume X - Sufi Mysticism

The Path of Initiation and Discipleship

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 grown-up people 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 grown-up people 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 my murshid, 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 tranquility 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 mureed becomes 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 Halqa, a circle of Sufis sitting and practicing Zikr and Fikr so that the power of the one helps the other. Furthermore, they practice Tawajjuh, 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 mureed attains, 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 murshid imparts, 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.

checked 18-Oct-2005