Volume X - Sufi Mysticism
The Path of Initiation and Discipleship
The Attitude of a Disciple
A mureed's attitude towards life must be hopeful; towards his motives, courageous; towards his murshid, faithful; towards the cause, sincere; towards that object which he has to accomplish, earnest without the slightest doubt. In every aspect of life, it is our attitude that counts and which, in the end, proves to be creative of all kinds of phenomena. Both success and failure depend upon it, as in the Hindu saying, 'If the attitude is right, then all will come right.'
There is a natural tendency for the seeker on the spiritual path to wonder if he is really progressing. Very often, he begins to wonder from the day he sets foot on the path. It is like asking, 'Shall I be able to digest?' while one is still eating. The spiritual path leads to selflessness. The more we worry about ourselves, the less progress we make because our whole striving should be to forget the self. It is mostly the self which obstructs the path. The path is made for the soul, and it is natural and easy for the soul to find it. Therefore, when a person is wondering about his progress, he is wasting his time. It is like standing still on the path on which one must go forward.
Can anyone distinguish how his face and body change day by day? No, for one cannot point out distinct signs of change from one day to another. If one cannot properly distinguish any change in the external self, then how can one expect to distinguish change in the inner process? It is not something that can be weighed on the scales as one weighs oneself on coming back from a holiday and sees that one has gained or lost several pounds. There is no such gain in spiritual progress.
Then there are some who imagine that they have progressed for a certain time, but they are then going backward. They are discouraged and say, 'I thought I had arrived somewhere, but surely it must have been an illusion.' But life is like the sea, and the sea is not always calm. There are times when the sea is rough, and then the boat naturally moves up and down. To think while the boat is moving downward that it will sink is a mistake. It is going down in order to go up. This is its movement, and this is natural. A mureed is subject to such experiences on the path of life. Life will take its own course. The one who sails will many times meet with a rough sea, and he has to be prepared for this and not be frightened or discouraged. He still has to go on through life. If life's journey were soft and smooth, then there would be no need for spiritual development. He has to have control of the rudder to be able to go through both calm seas and storms.
Sometimes the mureed wonders what others are saying and if they are displeased or pleased. If they are displeased, then he thinks he is not progressing. However, this has nothing to do with progress. Those who are displeased would be displeased even with Jesus Christ. At the same time, they might be pleased with the worst person. The displeasure of others does not mean that one is not progressing.
If conditions are adverse, then the mureed thinks that he is not on the right path. Does this mean that the ship is not on its right course if a storm meets it? Neither the murshid nor God are responsible if the conditions are adverse. The best thing is to meet them, to be more brave and courageous and to make one's way through them. Ghazali, the great Sufi writer of Persia, says that spiritual progress is like shooting at a target in the dark. We do not know where the target is, we do not see it, but we shoot just the same.
The true ideal of the spiritual person is not great power, nor a great amount of knowledge. His true ideal stands beyond power and knowledge; it is that which is limitless, incomprehensible, nameless and formless. There are no milestones to count. One cannot say, 'I have gone so many miles, and there are so many still before me.' This does not belong to a spiritual journey. The pursuit of the limitless is limitless. The pursuit of the formless, is formless. One cannot make it tangible. So, then, what is it that assures progress, what evidence have we to go on? There is only one evidence, and that is our belief. There is one assurance, and that is our faith. If we believe we can go on, if we are convinced we will, then we must reach our goal.
There are innumerable outer signs of one's progress, but one need not think in the absence of these signs that one is not progressing. What are these signs of progress? The first is that one feels inspiration, and that things which one could not understand yesterday are easy today. Yet, if there are things which one is not ready to understand, then one should have patience until tomorrow. Agitating against lack of inspiration means closing the doors to inspiration. Agitation is not allowed on this path. Agitation disturbs our rhythm and paralyzes us, and then we prove in the end to be our own worst enemy. However, people will generally not admit this, and they will blame others instead. Or, if they have kind feelings towards others, then they blame the circumstances, although very often it is their own lack of patience rather than other people or the conditions.
The next sign of progress is that one begins to feel power. To some extent, it may manifest physically and also mentally. Later, the power may manifest in one's affairs in life. As spiritual pursuit is endless, so power has no end.
The third sign of progress is that one begins to feel a joy, a happiness. In spite of that feeling, however, it is possible that clouds of depression and despair may come from without, and one might think at that moment that all the happiness and joy which one had gained spiritually was snatched away. But that is not so. If spiritual joy could be snatched away, it would not be spiritual joy. It is not like material comforts. When these are taken away from us, we have lost them; but spiritual joy is ours, it is our property, and no death or decay can take it away from us. Changing clouds like those which surround the sun might surround our joy; but when they are scattered, we will find our property still there in our own heart. It is something we can depend upon, something nobody can take away from us.
There is another sign of progress, and that is that one becomes fearless. Whatever the situation is in life, nothing seems to frighten one anymore, even death. Then one becomes fearless in all that might seem frightening and a brave spirit develops, a spirit that gives one patience and strength to struggle against all adverse conditions, however terrible they may seem. It can even develop to such an extent that one would like to fight with death. To such a person, nothing seems so horrible that he would feel helpless before it.
Still another sign of progress is that, at times, one begins to feel peaceful. This may increase so much that a restful feeling comes in the heart. One might be in the solitude, but even if one is in a crowd, one still feels restful. Life in the world is most exciting; it has a tiring effect upon a sensitive person. When one is restless, the conditions in life can make one experience the greatest discomfort, for there is no greater pain than restlessness. If there is any remedy for the lack of peace, it is spiritual progress. Once peace is developed in a soul, that soul feels such a great power and has such a great influence upon those who approach it and upon all upsetting conditions and jarring influences coming from all sides. Just as water makes the dust settle down, so all jarring influences settle down under the feet of the peaceful.
What do we learn from the story told in the Bible of Daniel, who was thrown into the lion's den? What does this story suggest? Was it Daniel's hypnotism which calmed the lions? If it was hypnotism, then let the hypnotists of today go to the lions and try the experience! No, it was his inner peace. The influence of that peace acts so powerfully upon all passions that it even calms lions and makes them sleep.
One may make the excuse that one's surroundings are worrying one, that one's friends are troublesome, or that one's enemies are horrible. However, nothing can withstand that peace that is awakened in the heart. All must calm down, all must settle down, like dust after water has been sprinkled on it.
If this power does not come immediately to a mureed, then let him not be disappointed. Can one expect this whole journey to be made in a week? I would not be surprised if many mureeds do expect this; but it is a lifelong journey, and those who have really accomplished it are the ones who have never doubted that they would progress. They have never allowed this doubt to enter their minds to hinder them. They do not even concern themselves with this question. They only know that they must reach the goal, that they will reach it, and that if they do not reach it today, that they will reach it tomorrow. The right attitude is never to let one's mind feel, after one has taken some steps, that one must go to the right or to the left. If a man has that one strength, of faith, then that is all the power that he needs on the path. He can go forward and nothing will hinder him. In the end, he will accomplish his purpose.