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Volume X - Sufi Mysticism

The Path of Initiation and Discipleship

Inner Study

Why do Sufis study esoteric subjects? Is it for the acquisition of spiritual powers or inspiration, to bring about phenomena, or out of curiosity? If this were so, it would be wrong. Is it in order to accomplish something material, is it for worldly success? That is not desirable. Self-realization, to know who we are, should be the Sufi's aim.

Some people who admire piety and goodness want everyone to be an angel; and discovering that this is impossible, they are full of criticism. Man has within him both a devil and an angel. He is at once human and animal. It is the devil in man that drives him to do harm without a motive, by instinct; and the first step should be to abandon this attitude. Although nowadays hardly anyone believes that his particular demon can be a manifestation of the devil, who can say that he is free from such an evil spirit? We can be under the power of a spell, but we must overcome such a power, we must liberate ourselves from evil. Everyone can fight.

We must discover when we have manifested our devil or our animal spirit. We want a human spirit, and self-realization is the search for this human spirit. Everything must become human in us. But how should we accomplish this? Read the Bible and holy scriptures? All these books tell us what we should do, but we must also find the store of goodness that is within us, in our heart. As we cultivate our heart, it rises. By asceticism, one can develop one's soul and reach ecstasy, but what is the use of Samadhi if we are not first human? If we want to live in this world, we must be human. The ascetic should live in the forest.

How should we cultivate the heart, the feeling? There is no doubt that harmlessness, devotion and kindness are necessary; but there is something besides these. It is the awakening of certain centers which make one sensitive, not only externally, but also mentally.

There are two kinds of people: one will be struck by the beauty of music or other manifestations of beauty, and another is as dull as a stone to all of this. Why? Because something in his heart and mind is not awakened. We have five senses, but we also have inner senses, and these can enjoy life much more keenly. Some people will say that they need no inner senses, that the outer senses satisfy them completely. They would speak differently if, for instance, they lost their eyesight or another of their five senses. In order to be complete, a human being must also develop his inner senses; but first of all, he should develop his inner feeling.

Intellectual study may last the whole of one's life; there is no end to it. This is why the teacher does not encourage speculation. A doctrine means a separation from other doctrines. The Sufi belongs to every religion, and thus he has no special beliefs or speculations. There can, for instance, be one Sufi who believes in reincarnation, and another who realizes heaven and hell. The work of the Sufi is personal development. It is what one practices that is important, rather than what the teacher says, although the teacher can give protection.

Initiation contains several degrees. It is a trust given to one by the teacher, but the real initiation is the work of God. No teacher can or will judge. The real pupil is he whom the teacher knows he can trust, though all are welcome to him. Spiritually, he is both father and mother to the pupil. The life of the teacher is often a sacrifice; he is often persecuted and suffers much, but what little help he can give, he will give.

No special qualification is needed in order to become a pupil. The teacher gives; the pupil can take it or leave it. The teaching is like a precious jewel hidden in a stone; it is for the pupil to break the stone and find the jewel. In the East, this inner teaching is part of religion; whereas in the West, it is often looked upon merely as a form of education. It ought to be a sacred education. In the East, the murshid gives the lesson and the pupil practices it for a month or a year; he cannot have a different practice every week. My grandfather practiced one meditation for 40 years, and then a miracle happened to him. One should not be ambitious to do other exercises before having had a result from the first one.

There are different degrees, but they are not to be discussed on this path. Because, after all, different stages are the conceptions, the speculations of some wise people. It is just the same as with music. There are seven notes of music because the musician has accepted that there are seven; but a scale can be made to contain more notes or less notes, if the musician wishes to make it so. We distinguish stages, although in reality, it is impossible to do so. It is a spontaneous development on the spiritual path which may be called treading the path of initiation.

How can one explain spiritual progress? What is it? What is it like? Spiritual progress is the changing of the point of view. There is only one way to recognize this progress, and that is to see the progress in one's own outlook on life, to ask oneself the question, 'How do I look at life?' This one can do by not judging others, but by being only concerned with one's own outlook. As long as a person is concerned with the faults of others, as long as he criticizes others, he is not yet ready to make his sight clear enough to see if his outlook on life is right.

What, in reality, are the different initiations? Is one better than the other, or higher than the other? In what way are they to be distinguished? By knowing some more mysteries, by knowing some secrets, by studying something very wonderful, or by communicating with something unseen? Nothing whatever of this kind, not one of these things, can assure one of a higher initiation and of greater progress in the spiritual life. In the first place, we need not strive for mystery, for life itself is a mystery. All that seems simple to us, all that presents no mystery, becomes mysterious as soon as the outlook on life is changed. Secrecy is to be found in simplicity; it is the simple life that is full of secrets.

A person may study a whole library, may write fifty books and may read a thousand, yet all of this leads him nowhere. If any study is required, we need not go anywhere else, for our life itself is study, if we will only study it. For one who studies, life offers every opportunity; from morning till evening, every moment of the day, in the home, outside, at work, in leisure, in all things, there is something to study. No book can give the joy and the pleasure that human nature itself can give.

The wise, the foolish, the good, the weak, those whom we meet every day with their tendencies and their attitudes, are all the greatest material for study. There is so much to study in success and failure, in sorrows and pleasures, and in all things in life, whether unfavorable or favorable. All that we do right, all that we do wrong, everything is a lesson, everything is a study, if we take it as such. But the important thing is this, that the one who is life's student, the one who is really initiated, studies himself before studying others.

Does an initiator teach the truth? No man has the power to teach another the truth. Man must discover it himself. What the initiator can do from his side is to say, 'This is the path, do not go astray.' The initiator will put his pupil on that path, where the farther he goes, the more he will receive at every step. It is like a hand raising him upward. But the first step is the most difficult, and that step is taken by the help of an initiator on the earth.

What is it that the initiator teaches the initiated one? He tells the initiated one the truth of his own being. He does not tell him something new or something different. He tells him something which his soul already knows, but which his mind has forgotten. There is a fable which illustrates this. A lion walking through the desert found a little lion cub playing with some sheep. It happened that the little lion had been reared with the sheep, and so it had never had a chance or an occasion to realize what it was. The lion was greatly surprised to see a lion cub running away and being just as afraid of a lion as sheep are. The lion jumped in among the flock of sheep and said, 'Halt, halt!' But the sheep ran away and the little lion ran, too. The lion only pursued the lion cub, not the sheep; and when it caught up with it, the lion said, 'I wish to speak to you.' The cub said, 'I tremble, I am afraid, I cannot stand before you.' The lion said, 'Why are you running about with the sheep? You, yourself, are a little lion!' 'No,' said the little one. 'I am a sheep. Let me go, let me go with the sheep.' 'Come along,' said the lion,' come with me and I will show you what you are before I let you go.' Trembling, yet helpless, the cub followed the lion to a pool of water. Pointing at their reflections in the pool, the lion said, 'Look at me and look at yourself. Do we not resemble each other closely? You are not like the sheep, you are like me!'

This lion is symbolical of the souls who become God-conscious, the souls who have realized the truth. And when they see the same divine spirit in another soul, their first thought is to take that soul by the hand and to show it that in it, also, there is the same divine spark that they possess. Therefore, although outwardly it is an aristocratic picture, inwardly it is leading to democracy. The command of the lion to that lion cub is apparently aristocratic, but what is the intention of the lion? It is democracy, it wants to make the little lion conscious of the same grandeur that the lion has. And that is the path of spirituality. Its outward appearance may not seem so, but its inner intention and its culmination are democracy.

The initiations beyond those I have spoken of are greater still. Some people, although not all, will tell you of their experiences and how, at different times in their life, a sudden change of outlook came to them. It is not our usual experience to wake up suddenly one day from sleep and find that our point of view has changed; but it is no exaggeration to say that it takes but one moment to change one's outlook on life entirely. This is what an initiation is, an initiation which is above the initiations of the earth as we know them. One thing leads to another, and so we go on in life from one initiation to the next; and each step on the ladder that seems to be standing before us, for us to climb, becomes an initiation. And each step on that ladder changes our point of view, if only we hold onto the ladder and do not drop down. For there is always the possibility of going either forward or backward. Nevertheless, the one anxious to go forward will never go backward. Even if the whole world pulled him back by a chain attached to his feet, he would still go forward, because his desire to go forward is more powerful than all the forces of the world.

checked 18-Oct-2005