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Volume X - Sufi Mysticism

The Path of Initiation and Discipleship


One wonders, especially in the western part of the world, what the path of discipleship may really be. Although the path of discipleship was the path of those who followed Christ and all the other teachers, the modern trend of thought has taken away much of the ideal that existed in the past. It is not only that the ideal of discipleship seems to be little known; but even the ideal attitude towards motherhood and fatherhood, as well as towards the aged, seems to be less understood. This change in the ideal of the world has worked unwittingly to such an extent that world conflicts have been the result in our times. The troubles between nations and classes, in social and domestic life, all arise for one and the same reason. If someone were to ask me what is the cause of today's world unrest, I would answer that it is the lack of idealism.

In ancient times, the path of discipleship was a lesson to be applied in every direction of life. Man is not only his body; he is his soul. When a child is born on earth, that is not the time that the soul is born. The soul is born from the moment that consideration is born. This birth of consideration is, in reality, the birth of the soul. Man shows his soul in his consideration. Some become considerate as children, others perhaps do not awaken to consideration throughout their whole life. Love is called a divine element, but love's divine expression is nothing but consideration. It would not be very wrong to say that love without consideration is not fully divine. Love that has no consideration loses its fragrance.

Moreover, intelligence is not consideration. It is the balance of love and intelligence, it is the action and reaction of love and intelligence upon each other that produce consideration. Children who are considerate are more precious than jewels to their parents. The man who is considerate, the friend who has consideration, all those with whom we come into contact with who are considerate, we value the most.

Thus, it is the lesson of consideration given by the spiritual teachers which may be called the path of discipleship. This does not mean that the great teachers have wanted the discipleship, the devotion, or the respect of the pupils for themselves. If any teacher expects that, then he cannot be a teacher. How could he then be a spiritual teacher, as he must be above all of this in order to be above them? But respect, devotion and consideration are taught for the disciple's own advantage, as an attribute that must be cultivated.

Until now, there has been a custom in India, which I myself experienced when young, that the first things the parents taught their children were respect for the teacher, consideration, and a kindly inclination. A modern child going to school has not the same idea. He thinks that the teacher is appointed to perform a certain duty. He hardly knows the teacher, nor does the teacher know him well. When he comes home, he has the same tendency towards his parents as he has at school. Most children grow up thinking that all the attention their parents give them is only part of their duty. At most, they will think, 'Perhaps one day, if I am able, I shall repay it.' The ancient idea was different. For instance, the Prophet Muhammad taught his disciples that the greatest debt every man had to pay was to his mother, and if he wished his sins to be forgiven, he must so act through life that at the end, his mother, before passing from this earth, would say, 'I have forgiven you the debt.' There was nothing a man could give or do, neither money nor service, which would enable him to say, 'I have paid my debt.' No, his mother must say, 'I have forgiven you that debt.' What does this teach? It teaches the value of that unselfish love which is above all earthly passion.

If we inquire of our self within for what purpose we have come to earth and why we have become human beings, wondering whether it would perhaps have been better to remain angels, the answer will certainly come to the wise, from his own heart, that we are here to experience a fuller life, to become fully human. For it is through being considerate that we become fully human. Every action done with consideration is valuable, every word said with consideration is precious.

The whole teaching of Christ – 'Blessed are the meek... the poor in spirit' – teaches one thing: consideration. Although it seems simple, it is a hard lesson to learn. The more we wish to act according to this ideal, the more we realize that we fail. The farther we go on the path of consideration, the more delicate do the eyes of our perception become. We feel and regret the slightest mistake.

It is not every soul who takes the trouble to tread this path. Everyone is not a plant. There are many who are rocks, and these do not want to be considerate, they think it is too much trouble. Of course, the stone has no pain, it is the one who feels who has pain. Still, it is in feeling that there is life. Life's joy is so great that even with pain, one would rather be a living being than a rock, for there is a joy in living, in feeling alive, which cannot be expressed in words. After how many millions of years has the life buried in stones and rocks risen to the human being! Even so, if a person wishes to stay a rock, he had better stay so, though the natural inclination in every person should be to develop the human qualities fully.

The first lesson that the pupil learns on the path of discipleship is what is called Yaqin in Sufi terms, which means confidence. This confidence he first gives to the one whom he considers to be his teacher, his spiritual guide. In the giving of confidence, three kinds of people can be distinguished. One gives a part of his confidence and cannot give another part. He is wobbling and thinking, 'Yes, I believe that I have confidence; perhaps I have, perhaps I have not.' And this sort of confidence puts him in a very difficult position. It would be better not to have it at all. It is like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold. In all things, this person will do the same, in business, in his profession. He trusts and doubts, he trusts and fears. He is not walking in the sky, he is not walking on the earth, he is in between the two. Then there is another kind, the one who gives his confidence to the teacher, but he is not sure about himself, he is not inwardly sure if he has given it. This person has no confidence in himself, he is not sure of himself; therefore, his confidence is of no value. And the third kind of person is the one who gives confidence because he feels confident. This confidence, alone, can rightfully be called yaqin.

Jesus Christ had people of all these categories around him. Thousands of people of the first category came, thronged round the Master, then left him. It did not take one moment for them to be attracted, nor one moment for them to leave the Master. In the second category are those who go on for some time, just as a drunken man goes on and on; but when they are sober again, things become clear to them and they ask themselves, 'Where am I going? Not in the right direction.' Thousands and thousands in this category followed the masters and prophets. However, those who stayed to the end of the test were those who, before giving their confidence to the teacher, first had confidence in their own heart.

It is they who, if the earth turned to water and the water turned to earth, if the sky came down and the earth rose up, would remain unshaken, firm in the belief that they had gained. It is by discipleship that a person learns the moral that in whatever position he is, as husband or wife, son or daughter, servant or friend, he will follow with confidence, firm and steady, wherever he goes.

After acquiring Yaqin, there comes a test, and that is sacrifice. That is the ideal on the path of God. The most precious possession is not too valuable, nothing is too great to sacrifice. Not one of the disciples of the Prophet – the real disciples – thought even their life too great a sacrifice if it was needed. The story of Ali is very well known. A plot was discovered that one night, some enemies wanted to kill the Prophet, and Ali learned about it. He did not tell the Prophet, but persuaded him to leave home. He himself stayed, for he knew that if he went too, the assassins would follow him and find out where the Prophet was. He slept in the same bed in place of the Prophet, so that the assassins might find him. However, at the same time he did not intend to lose his life if he could fight them off. The consequence was that the plot failed, and the enemies could not touch either the Prophet or Ali.

This is only one instance, but there are thousands of instances which show that the friendship formed in God and truth between the teacher and the disciple is for always, and that nothing in the world is able to break it. If the spiritual link cannot hold, then how can a material link keep intact? It will wear out, being only a worldly link. If spiritual thought cannot form a link between two souls, then what else can constitute such a strong tie that it can last both here and in the hereafter?

The third lesson on the path of discipleship is imitation. This means imitating the teacher in his every attitude, in his attitude towards the friend, towards the enemy, towards the foolish, and towards the wise. If the pupil acts as he wishes and the teacher acts as he wishes, then there is no benefit, however great the sacrifice and devotion. No teaching or meditation is as great or valuable as the imitation of the teacher on the path of truth. In the imitation of the teacher, the whole secret of the spiritual life is hidden. No doubt it is not only the imitation of his outward action, but also of his inner tendency.

The fourth lesson that the disciple learns is different again. This lesson is to turn the inward thought of the teacher outward until he grows to see his teacher in everyone and everything, in the wise, in the foolish, and in all forms.

Finally, by the fifth lesson, the disciple learns to give everything that he has so far given to his teacher – devotion, sacrifice, service, respect – to all, because he has learned to see his teacher in all.

One person will perhaps learn nothing all his life, whereas another will learn all five lessons in a short time. There is a story of a person who went to a teacher and said to him, 'I would like to be your pupil, your disciple.' The teacher said, 'Yes, I shall be very glad.' This man, conscious of so many faults, was surprised that the teacher was willing to accept him as a disciple. He said, 'But I wonder if you know how many faults I have?' The teacher said, 'Yes, I already know your faults, yet I accept you as my pupil.' 'But I have very bad faults,' he said, 'I am fond of gambling.' The teacher said, 'That does not matter much.' 'I am inclined to drink sometimes,' he said. The teacher said, 'That does not matter much.' 'Well,' he said, 'there are many other faults.' The teacher said, 'I do not mind. But now that I have accepted all your faults, you must accept one condition from your teacher.' 'Yes, most willingly,' he said. 'What is it?' The teacher said, 'You may indulge in your faults, but not in my presence. Only that much respect you must reserve for your teacher.'

The teacher knew that all five attributes of discipleship were natural to him, and he made him an initiate. As soon as he went out and had an inclination to gamble or to drink, he saw the face of his murshid before him. When, after some time, he returned to the teacher, the teacher smilingly asked, 'Did you commit any faults?' He answered, 'Oh, no, the great difficulty is that whenever I wanted to commit any of my usual faults, my murshid pursued me!'

Do not think that this spirit is only cultivated; this spirit may be found in an innocent child. When I once asked a little child of four years, 'Have you been naughty?' The child answered, 'I would like to be naughty, but my goodness will not let me.' This shows us that the spirit of discipleship is in us. However, we should always remember that he who is a teacher is a disciple himself.

In reality, there is no such thing as a teacher. God, alone, is Teacher, and we are all his disciples. The lesson we all have to learn is that of discipleship. Discipleship is the first and the last lesson.

checked 18-Oct-2005