The Opportunity of Initiation
As we know, the word “initiation” is interpreted by different people in different ways. By some it is considered to be a commitment to a secret order; to others it is understood to be a promotion to a higher grade; these and many other such explanations make up a catalogue of misunderstanding as to what the word initiation really means. When one begins to feel that there is something behind the veil, and that one wishes to make every possible effort to discover that mystery, one then takes the first step. “Initiation” could be understood in many ways, according to the disposition that one has when confronted by that experience, but among the many possible definitions of that term, one could be associated with the concept “initiative”. Initiatives can be of a material, cultural, religious or spiritual nature, among numerous other possibilities, and are taken out of free will. Nevertheless, reasoning often holds one back from taking an initiative which could have been successful; although it is the reasoning power which helps one to accomplish one’s purpose, it is often just that same reasoning power which holds one back from taking an initiative. Every initiative taken by great creative souls has been as powerful as it was only because the power of that initiative was not handicapped by lack of conviction as to its value, or by doubt as to its outcome.
As to initiatives taken without any logical explanation, these are the result of influences received, which can regrettably be negative ones, but can also be of a very positive nature, as for example when inspired by knowledge received or through the influence of an inspiring person. An initiative can also be brought about through spiritual understanding, which is bestowed upon one inasmuch as the heart is open to the silent call or as the result of one’s attunement to personalities whom one respects, and whose example one wishes to follow, having been won by their charm. There is also such a thing as trust, confidence and admiration. But contrary to the confusion brought about by so much abuse of the word initiation, in reality initiation means to take a step forward, a step taken with hope and courage, a step taken with conviction — and this of course implies absolute honesty and truthfulness on the part of the person bearing the responsibility of an initiative taken.
There are various stages of initiation, for example those taken with the help of inner guidance, or by the helpful hand of a person in whom one has put all of one’s trust, or even by inspiration. These first stages could perhaps be understood as the stage of friendship toward the guide. Although one might come in contact with false gurus, one should always be aware that there is a teacher within; that teacher is one’s own sincere self. Therefore one shall without doubt sooner or later find true teaching, because in the end, the real shall vanquish the false for the simple reason that truth is more real than falsehood. As there is water in the depths of the earth, in the same way there is truth in the depths of all things, false and true. In some places, one has to dig deeper than in other places, but just as there is no place where there is no water under the earth, there is always truth to be found in the depth of the heart. If one believes in right guidance from above, one shall always be guided aright.
The next steps on the path of initiation consist of successfully passing the tests of life, some of which are experienced unconsciously, and others consciously. One faces tests of all natures, where one must display such qualities as faith, sincerity, truthfulness, patience, endurance and humility, even if such qualities appear at times unreasonable, odd, meaningless, unkind and even perhaps unjust. Further initiations awaken the urge to meditate upon all that one has discovered in one’s relationship with others, assimilating the results with insight, gratitude and understanding. Still further initiations are the result of one’s ideal, and the greater one’s ideal, the greater the power of initiation received. Such an initiation is a phenomenon in itself because the initiate then radiates the luminosity of the ideal. When one really sees the Divine in all things and in all beings, one need not say that one sees; that sight is evident.
Where mysticism has prevailed for centuries and centuries, initiation has always been regarded as being most sacred. Divine knowledge has never been taught in words, nor will it ever be done so. The work of a mystic is not to teach with words but to tune those who are open to that which is offered, so that the seeker becomes an instrument of God. In other words, the mystic is not the player of the instrument, but rather its tuner, and when tuned, the instrument is then given into the hands of the Divine Player, whose playing becomes more and more clearly the expression of Divine music. On this path, there are no rules to follow, because every adept is like a different instrument in the Divine symphony, but there is one basic principle which applies to the manner of life of all concerned, and that is sincerity in humility. Happiness, which is an unfoldment of the inner self, comes as an expansion of consciousness, and one could consequently say that the degree of advancement on the path is indicated by the expansion of the horizon of the consciousness. Similar to a most fruitful tree, which bends the more that its fruit is abundant, in the same way the deeper the spiritual realization of the adept, the humbler he becomes. The one who is pretentious gives no fruit. The sincere initiate hardly mentions the word initiation, and feels no need to convert others to the path, nor to seek recognition, and if asked what is derived by spiritual attainment, will only answer, to become better fitted for serving mankind.
If asked whether it is desirable for all to take initiation, inasmuch as the word ‘initiation’ refers to the concept of taking initiative, or in other words, going forward, it is obvious that the answer would be, every progress in life is worth venturing. Whatever be one’s interest in life, or one’s level of awakening, it is always advisable to go forward, be it in material, social, religious or spiritual occupations. Mankind was not created to live as an angel, nor to live as an animal. Therefore, the first step is to become sincerely human, before even venturing on the spiritual path, which is to say, to be in balance with both the spiritual and material worlds. It is not necessary to seek spirituality in isolation from relationships and duty. It is much more preferable to contemplate and meditate along with one’s worldly duties, helping intentionally or unintentionally by one’s example those who are not conscious of the realization which is offered to them.
The initiate on the spiritual path is well aware that one is not expected to awaken those who are still asleep, but to be prepared to offer a helping hand as soon as the slumbering ones begin to stir. No doubt there are ways and methods of teaching in word and action, but nevertheless there is also a way called silent teaching which applies undeniably to subjects of an abstract nature. One person may argue for hours and days and months about a problem which cannot be explained, while another, through inner insight, may offer an answer without words in one moment. This is again another example of the concept “initiation”.
To the question, what can be expected through initiation, could it be goodness, health, magnetism, insight, psychological attunement, the answer is that none of these could really be considered as spiritual results, and one should never intentionally strive on the spiritual path for any of them. If one were to develop power and not know how to use it; it could have disastrous effects, inasmuch as one’s ability to attract good and bad had been developed without being in a position to rid oneself of that which could be detrimental to oneself and to others. These sought-for achievements are not to be considered in connection with initiation. The aim is to find God within, and it is toward this end that, through the power of initiation one receives all inspiration and blessings. There is a time for everything, and therefore illumination must also have its time. Real progress on the spiritual path goes along with the experience of patience and eagerness to progress, notwithstanding the various tests in life, such as misunderstandings by one’s nearest friends, and misfortunes for which one tries not to put the blame on God. On the path, specific conditions are required, such as the attitude of receptivity, the ability to assimilate apparent and silent teachings, and the fixing of all experiences in the mind, without allowing these to be distorted by the limitations of reason. Although these conditions appear to be inspired by the Spirit of Guidance, they are nevertheless the very expression of democracy in that they represent the outward revelation of the most secret truth; and so they may be understood, in a few words, as aristocracy of feeling and democracy of expression.
In this world most relationships have limitations, but the spiritual bond between a spiritual Teacher and the initiate is a unique example of perfect friendship because it is inspired by an Ideal in search of realization.. The pure devotion of an initiate is as valuable as a most precious jewel, comparable to the relationship between a parent and a child, while the Teacher not only offers guiding wisdom, but is also a source of contact between the seeker after Truth and the Light of the goal ahead. The Teacher brings into the daylight the good sides of the initiate’s nature, while carefully avoiding negative remarks regarding any weaknesses and pointing out ways and means for the nourishment of the fragile plant. In so doing, the Teacher’s guidance awakens growing devotion in the heart of the initiate, which is comparable to watering a blossoming plant with vitalized water.
If the tone of the initiate tends to descend in pitch, the Teacher feels it to be his duty to reach down to the level of the initiate; and in doing so he displays a true example of spiritual democracy. For when the Teacher is in a position to raise the tone of the initiate to a higher pitch of consciousness, he then demonstrates truest spiritual aristocracy. Constant exchange of democratic and aristocratic experiences of spiritual attunement, are expected on both sides in order to preserve an uplifting relationship between Teacher and initiate, wherein such concepts as study, friendship, humility and mysticism are all harmonized in perfect balance, inspired by the blessings of Divine Guidance.
On Initiation and Discipleship: The Path of Initiation From the Gathekas by Hazrat Inayat Khan
What is Meant by the Word Sufi?
The word Sufi is derived from the Arabic word Safa, or Saf, which means, literally, pure, i.e. pure from distinctions and differences. In Greek the word means wise.
Sufism cannot be called deism, for the Sufi does not consider God as an entity separate from himself; neither can it be called pantheism, because the Sufi not only sees the immanence of God in nature, but also realizes His Essence in the infinite, naming Him Allah, the Formless, the Colorless. He is neither a believer in the unrealized God nor an unbeliever in the idealized Deity, and thus he is distinguished from godly and ungodly alike. The Sufi is not an atheist, for he denies neither God nor His Messengers.
To the question, “Are you a Christian?”, “Are you a Muslim?”, “Are you a Jew?”, his answer would be yes rather than no, for he opposes no religion, but sympathizes with all. In fact Sufism cannot be called a religion, for it does not impose either belief or principle upon anybody, considering that each individual soul has his own principles best suited for himself, and a belief which changes with each grade of evolution.
Sufism is not an intellectual philosophy, because it does not depend merely upon cold reasoning, but develops a devotional tendency in man. Sufism cannot be called occultism, for the Sufi does not give any importance to the investigation of phenomena; seeing the brevity of life he deems that a worthless pursuit; his aim is God alone.
The Origin of Sufism
The germ of Sufism is said to have existed from the beginning of the human creation, for wisdom is the heritage of man; therefore no one person can be said to be its propounder. It has been revealed more clearly and spread more widely as from time to time the world has evolved.
Sufism as a brotherhood may be traced back as far as the period of Daniel. We find among the Zoroastrians Hatim, the best known Sufi of his time. The chosen ones of God, the salt of the earth, who responded without hesitation to the call of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed, were Sufis, and were not only simple followers of a religion, but had insight into divine knowledge. They recognized God’s every messenger and united with them all. Before the time of Mohammed they were called Ekuanul Safa, Brothers of Purity, but after his coming they were named by him Sahabi Safa, Knights of Purity. The world has called them Zoroastrian, Christian, Jewish, or Mohammedan mystics, and the followers of each religion have claimed them as their own. For instance, a Christian would claim that Saint Paul was a Christian and a Mohammedan that Shams Tabriz was a Mohammedan. In reality Christ was not a Christian nor was Mohammed a Mohammedan; they were Sufis.
Maulana Jelaluddin Rumi gives us a profound poetic understanding of a true Sufi:
Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen. Not any religion or cultural system. I am not from the East or the West, not out of the ocean and up from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not composed of elements at all. I do not exist, am not an entity in this world or the next, did not descend from Adam and Eve or any origin story. My place is placeless, a trace of the traceless. Neither body or soul. I belong to the Beloved, have seen the two worlds as one and that one call to and know, first, last, outer, inner, only that breath breathing human being. (Barks. Essential Rumi. S.F.:Harper, 1995)
Relation to other Religions
Although Sufism is the essence of all religions and its influence is upon all, yet it can more justly be called the esoteric side of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But it is not a purely Zoroastrian esotericism devoid of Jewish influence, nor is it a solely Jewish mysticism free from the influence of Christianity, nor is it entirely Christian wisdom untouched by the morals of Islam. Therefore it is justifiable to call it the true spirit of all religions, even of those as foreign to it as Vedanta and Buddhism.
We see Zoroaster in the Sufi in his purity, his love for light and his worship of God in the sublimity of nature. We see Moses in the Sufi in his constant communion with God. We see Christ in him in his charity and self- renunciation. The true meaning of the sacrament is seen in the daily life of the Sufi, who readily shares his all with another. The life of a true Sufi is an open Bible for anybody to read. We see Mohammed in the humanity of the Sufi, in his strength in facing the struggle of life and bearing with equanimity its responsibilities.
The Sufi Movement
Sufism has been found in the mystery schools of ancient Egypt and Greece and was intellectually born in Arabia, devotionally reared in Persia, and spiritually completed in India. For the last forty years the direct and indirect influence of the East has prepared the ground in the West for the seed of the Sufi Message. Every event has its time, and it has been ordained by the supreme Will that East and West shall now unite in the bond of love and wisdom, which neither politics nor commerce can bring about, but only the call of God, the Lord of both East and West.
The Path of Initiation
In the true sense of the word “initiation,” the word itself is its meaning. Initiation means taking an initiative in the direction which is not generally understood by others. Therefore, initiation needs courage and the tendency to advance spiritually, although it may not seem to be the way of everybody in life. Therefore the first duty of a mureed is not to be shaken in faith by any opposing influence or anything said against the path one has taken. One must not allow oneself to be discouraged by anybody. The mureed must be so firm in his path, that if the whole world says. “It is a wrong path,” the mureed says, “It is the right path.” If anybody says that it will take a thousand years or perhaps more, the mureed must be able to say, “If it takes a thousand years, I will have patience to go through it.”
In the Persian language, it is called the work of the Baz, the wayfarer of the heavens. In this mystical path, courage, steadiness, and patience are the most necessary things, but besides this, trust in the teacher in whose hand initiation is taken and understanding of the idea of discipline. In the East, where for thousands of years the path of discipleship has been understood, theses things are regarded as most important and as acceptable from the hand of the teacher; to that extent they understand discipline and trust in the teacher.
How few in the world know trust! What is necessary is not trusting another, even the teacher, but oneself. One is not capable of fully trusting oneself who has not experienced in his life how to trust another. There is a question, “If we trusted and if our trust were in vain, should we not be disappointed?” The answer is, “We must trust for the sake of the trust, and not for the sake of a return or to see what fruit it brings.” It is utmost trust which is the greatest power in the world. Lack of trust is weakness. Even if you lose by trust, your power is greater than if you have perhaps gained without developing trust.
Patience is also necessary in the path. Perhaps it will surprise you if I say that after my initiation in the Order of the Sufis and six months continually in the presence of my Murshid, only then did he say a word on the subject of Sufism. It will amuse you still more that as soon as I took out my notebook, he went on to another subject; it was finished. One sentence after six months! A person would think, “What a long time, six months sitting before one’s teacher, nothing taught!” But, friends, it is not words, it is something else. If words were sufficient, there are libraries full of occult and mystical books. It is life itself, it is the living. The one who lives the life of initiation lives and makes others who come in contact with him alive. Remember, therefore, that in the Sufi Order (the esoteric part of the Sufi Movement) you are initiated not especially for study, but to understand and follow what real discipleship means.
As to the subject of discipline, everybody without a sense of discipline is without the power of self-control. It is discipline which teaches the ideal, and the ideal is self-discipline. It is the soldier who can become a good captain. In ancient times, the kings used to send the princes as soldiers to learn what discipline means. The path of initiation is the training of the ego; it is self-discipline which is learned in the way of discipleship.
Now there is a question, “What may be thought of the path of initiation? What must be our goal, what must we expect from it?” Is it that we must expect to be good, or healthy, or magnetic, or powerful, or developed physically, or clairvoyant?
Nothing of this need you be, although you will cultivate all those things naturally. Do not strive for these things. Suppose you develop power and you do not know its use, the outcome will be disastrous. Suppose you develop magnetism, and by this power you attract all, good and bad; then it will be difficult to get rid of what you have attracted by your power. Or you are very good, so good that everyone is bad to you, too good to live in the world; you will become a burden to yourself. These things are not to be sought by initiation.
The aim is to find God within yourself; to dive deep within yourself, that you may be able to touch the unity of the Whole Being. Towards this end you work by the power of initiation, that from within you may get all the inspiration and blessing in your life.
For that two things are necessary: one thing is to do the exercises that are given to you regularly and with heart and soul; the second is that the studies that are given should not be considered only a little reading, but every word should be pondered. The more you think on it, the more it will have the effect of opening the heart. Reading is one thing, contemplating is another. The Gathas must be contemplated. Do not take even the simplest word or sentence as simple. Think of the Hindus, Chinese, and Parsis, who for thousands of years, for generations, have always contemplated the readings which they considered sacred and have never tired of them.
In the terms of the Sufis divine manner is called Aklak Allah. Man thinks, speaks, and acts according to the pitch to which his soul is tuned. The highest note he could be tuned to is the divine note; once man has arrived at that pitch, he begins to express the manner of God in everything he does. What is the manner of God? It is a kingly manner, yet a manner which is not known even to kings. Only the king of heaven and earth knows that manner; the soul who is tuned to God expresses it. This manner is void of narrowness, free from pride and conceit, and not only beautiful but beauty itself, for God is beautiful and He loves beauty.
The soul tuned to God also becomes as beautiful as God and begins to express God through all he does, expressing in life the divine manner. Why is it a kingly manner? The word kingly signifies someone who possesses power and wealth in abundance. The soul tuned to God, before whom all things fade away and in whose eyes the importance of the little things of which every person thinks so much is lessened, begins to express divine manner in the form of contentment. It might seem to an ordinary person that nothing matters to this soul. No gain is exciting, no loss is alarming. If anyone praises, it is of no consequence; if anyone blames, it does not matter to him. Honor and insult is all a game to him. At the end of the game, neither is the gain a gain nor is the loss a loss; it was only a pastime.
One might think, what does such a person do for others, what good is he to those around him? That person is healing to those around him; that person is an influence uplifting souls suffering from narrowness and from the limitation of human nature. Human nature is not only narrow and limited but it is also foolish and tyrannical, because the nature of life is intoxicating. Intoxication makes people drunken. What does the drunken man want? He wants his drink, and he does not think about another.
In this life there are so many liquors that man drinks: wealth, passion, anger, and possession. Man is not satisfied only with possessing earthly properties, but he also wishes to possess those whom he pretends to love. In this way he proves to be tyrannical and foolish. All the things of this world that man possesses are not in reality possessed; he is possessed by them, whether wealth or property or a friend or position or rank.
The soul with divine manner is sober compared with the drunken man of the world. This soberness produces in him that purity called Sufism; through that purity God reflects in his mirror-like soul.
Nothing frightens the soul who reflects God, for he is above all fright. He possesses nothing, and all fright is connected with man’s possessions. Does it mean that he leaves the world and passes his life in caves in the mountains? Not in the least. He may have the wealth of the whole world in his possession and he may have the kingdom of the whole universe under him, but nothing binds him, nothing ties him, and nothing frightens him. For only that which is his own belongs to him.
When his soul is his own, all is his own, and what belongs to him cannot be taken away. Only he himself could take it away. He is his own friend and his own foe. So there is no longer pain or suffering, complaint or grudge. He is at peace, for he is at home, be he on earth or be he in heaven.
The difference between God and man is that God is omniscient and man only knows of his own affairs. Because God is omniscient He loves all and His interest is in all; so it is with the godly soul. The divine personality expressed through the godly soul shows itself in interest for all, whether known or unknown to that soul. His interest is not only for another because of his kind nature or of his sympathetic spirit. He does not take interest in another person’s welfare and well-being because it is his duty, but because he sees himself in another person. Therefore the life and interest of another person to the godly soul is as his own. In the pain of another person, the godly soul sorrows; in the happiness of another person, the godly soul rejoices. Thus the godly soul, who has almost forgotten himself, forgets also the remaining part of the self in taking interest in others.
From one point of view it is natural for the godly soul to take interest in others. The one who has emptied himself of what is called “self” in the ordinary sense of the word is alone capable of knowing the condition of another. He sometimes knows more than the person himself, as a physician knows the case of his patient.
Divine manner, therefore, is not like that of parents to children, of friend toward beloved friend, of king to servant, or of servant to master. Divine manner consists of all manners; it is expressive of every form of love. If it has any peculiarity, that peculiarity is a divine one! In every other form of love and affection the self is somewhere hidden, asking for appreciation, for reciprocity, and for recognition Divine manner is above all this. It gives all and asks nothing in returnóin any manner or formóthus proving the action of God through man.
Our Sacred Task: The Message
Our sacred task, not only as members of the Sufi Order but also as servers of the divine cause, is to waken in those around us and among those whom we can reach first, the spirit of tolerance for religion and scripture, and second, the ideal of devotion to one another. Our next task is to make man understand those people of different nations, races, communities, and classes. By this we do not mean to say that all races and nations must become one, not that all classes must become one. We say that whatever be our religion, nation, race, or class, our most sacred duty is to work for one another, in one another’s interest, and to consider that as the service of God.
We must create a spirit of reciprocity among people of different races, nations, classes, and communities. The happiness, prosperity, and welfare of each depends upon the happiness, prosperity, and welfare of all. Besides that, the central theme of the Sufi Message is one simple thing, and yet most difficult: to bring about in the world the realization of the divinity of the human soul, which hitherto has been overlooked because the time had not come. The principle thing that the message has to accomplish in this era is to create the realization of the divine spark in every soul, so that every soul, according to its progress, may begin to realize for itself the spark of divinity within. This is the task before us.
Now you may ask me: “What is the message?” The message is this: that the whole of humanity is one single body, and all nations, communities, and races are the different organs. The happiness and well-being of each of them is the happiness and well-being of the whole body. If there is one organ of the body in pain, the whole body has to sustain a share of its strain. By this message mankind may begin to think that its welfare and well-being exist not only in looking after itself, but also in looking after others. When there is reciprocity, love, and goodness toward one another, a better time will come.
Now the question is, how are we to set to work? It is difficult to answer, because we all have our own way of working in the world, and one form of work cannot be adopted by all. It must be remembered that a great sacrifice on the part of the worker is necessary. Without sacrifice a worker will not be able to fulfill his mission. You will have to stand opposition from your friends and acquaintances; there will be a monetary sacrifice to be made if the occasion arises. In addition to action, a great deal of time will have to be sacrificed. You will have to sacrifice the desire for appreciation. Work and the reward of the work is the satisfaction that “I have done it.” You will be hindered by those who oppose and also by those who sympathize, by the bitterness of some and by the ignorance of some. It would be easy, if you were sensitive, to take up the work one day and give it up the next day. It will need a great deal of courage to go on with it against all sorts of opposition.
Besides this a great amount of prudence is necessary, and in absence of that the work cannot be successful; on the contrary it could suffer. Not only prudence before strangers and opponents, but even prudence with those near and dear to you and with your best friends. What is most wanted of the worker in the cause is prudence.
You will have to work quietly and unassumingly, for this task cannot be accomplished or be made known by the noise of drums; for that there are other movements. The less we are known the better; our profit is in not being known. By being known we make more enemies, and it is not our aim in life to be known. Publicity is not our reward; our reward is if Providence only allows us to work quietly. If nobody in the world knows of our work we do not mind. It is His work and His name to be glorified, and the glory of His name is our satisfaction. It is for the benefit of humanity and for the well-being of the world. What does it matter if we work and others become known, or if we sow and others reap the harvest? It is our work and our mission to sow and to leave the harvest to others to gather.
Therefore you will need forbearance with those who persecute you and the message and who say things against you. You will need a great deal of strength of will to tolerate instead of defend. We are not here for fighting, arguing, and defending. We are here to work quietly. If anyone says, “You are right,” say, “Yes, thank you.” If anyone says, “You are wrong,” say, “Yes, thank you.” If anyone says, “You do good,” say, “Yes, thank you.” If anyone says, “You do ill,” say, “Yes, thank you.” That is all: no defending. What is the use; against how many people will you defend? How many blames will you speak against? Against one person, against twenty people? If you answer those who blame, when will you do your work? It must be done quietly, no one must know that you are doing it, and the satisfaction must be only in the accomplishment of our sacred task.
I have told you this to make things clear and easy. If it were a human enterprise there could have been a doubt whether it would be accomplished or not. It must be accomplished and it will be accomplished. Those of us who are privileged to serve the cause may just as well find an easier way, a better way, rather than strike a way of difficulty. Greatness is in humility; wisdom is in modesty; success is in sacrifice; truth is in silence. Therefore the best way of doing the work is to do all we can, do it thoroughly, do it whole-heartedly, and do it quietly.
Very often the word initiation is misunderstood. Many think it is initiation into a secret society, or that it is an experimental trial, or some phenomenon. As there is no other expression, I have, for the sake of convenience, used the word initiation. Initiation, in the Sufi terms is called bayat. No doubt the word initiation also explains some mystery, for the meaning of the word suggests taking an initiative, advancing, or going forward.
Is it desirable for every soul to take initiation? As the word initiation means “to go forward,” the answer is that progress is life and stillness is death. Whatever our grade of evolution, it is always advisable to try to go forward, in business or the professions, in society or political life, and in religion or spiritual advancement.
No doubt there is danger of being too enthusiastic. That nature that is too enthusiastic may, instead of benefiting, harm itself in its worldly or spiritual work. For everything there is a time, and patience is necessary in every strife. A cook may burn food by giving more fire to it in order to cook it quicker; in all things this rule applies. With little children the parents are often anxious and enthusiastic. They think their children can learn and understand every good and interesting thing on earth. Too much enthusiasm is not right. We must give time to all things. The first and most important lesson in life is patience; we must begin all things with patience.
The Sufi Order is mainly an esoteric school. There are three esoteric schools most known in the East: the Buddhist School, the Vedantic School, and the Sufi School. Two of the schools, the Buddhist and the Vedantic, use asceticism as the principle means of spiritual advancement. The peculiarity of the Sufi School is that it uses humanity as the main path for spiritual advancement. The realization of truth in the Sufi School is not different from the Vedantic, or even from the Buddhist, but the Sufi presents truth in a different manner. It is the same frame in which Jesus Christ gave his teaching, and the same form which was adopted by the prophets of Israel.
Spiritual development by the help of contemplation and meditation is used in all three schools, the science of breath being the foundation of each. The Sufi thinks that man was not created as man to live the life of an angel, nor was he created to live the life of an animal. For the life of an angel, angels are created, and for the life of an animal, there are animals. The Sufi thinks the first thing necessary in life is for man to prove to his own conscience to what extent he can be man.
This is not only spiritual development, it is also the culture of humanity. What is relationship to his neighbor or friend, to those who depend upon him, to those who look to him, and to strangers not known to him? How does he relate with those older or younger than himself, with the ones who like him and with the ones who dislike him and criticize him? How does he feel and think and act through life, and still keep on progressing toward the goal that is the goal of every soul in the world? It is not necessary that the Sufi seek the wilderness for his meditation; he can perform his work in the midst of the worldly life. The Sufi need not prove himself a Sufi by extraordinary power, by wonder-working, or by exceptional spiritual show or claim. A Sufi can prove himself a Sufi to his own conscience by watching his life amidst the strife of this worldly life.
There are some who are content with the beliefs taught to them at home or in church. They can just as well rest in that place of realization where they are contented, until another impulse is born in their hearts to go on higher. The Sufi does not force upon such souls his beliefs or his thoughts. In the East there is a custom of saying that it a great sin to wake anyone who is fast asleep. This saying can be symbolically understood; there are many in this world who work and do things and yet they are asleep; they seem awake externally, but inwardly the are asleep. The Sufi considers it a crime to waken them. For some, sleep is good for the health. The work of the Sufi is to give a helping hand to those who have had sufficient sleep and who now begin to stir in their sleep and to change sides. That help given is the real initiation.
No doubt there are things which pass the ordinary comprehension: things one can not teach only by speaking or acting. Thus the way of teaching called Tawajjeh is without words; it is not external teaching, it is a teaching in silence. For instance, how can man explain the spirit of sincerity or the spirit of gratefulness; how can man explain the ultimate truth, the idea of God? Whenever attempted it has failed; it has made some confused and has made others give up their belief. It is not that the one who explains has not understood, but that words are inadequate to explain the idea of God.
In the East the great sages and saints sit quite still with lips closed for years. We call them muni, which means “he who takes the vow of silence.” The man of today may think, “What a life: to be silent and do nothing.” He does not know that some by their silence can do more than others talking for ten years could accomplish. A person may argue for months on a problem and not be able to explain it; another person with inner radiance may be able to answer the same thing in one moment.
Of course, no one can give spiritual knowledge to another person, because it is something which every heart has within it. By initiation, what the teacher can do is light with his light, the light which is hidden in the heart of his disciple. If the light is not there, it is not the fault of the teacher. There is a Persian verse of Hafiz: “However great the teacher, with the one whose heart is closed the teacher is helpless.” Therefore, initiation means initiation on the part of the disciple and on the part of the teacher, a step forward on the path of both. On the path of the teacher a step forward with the disciple, that the pupil may be trusted and raised from his present condition; a step forward for the pupil because he opens his heart, having no barrier and nothing to hinder the teacher in whatever form it comes: in silence, in words, or in seeing more deed or action on the part of his teacher.
In ancient times the disciples of the great teachers learned by quite a different method, not an academic method or way of study. With open heart, perfect confidence and trust, they watched every movement the teacher made towards friends and towards people who looked at him with contempt; they watched their teacher in times of trouble and pain to see how he stood it all. They saw how patient he had been in the arguing with those who did not understand and how wise he had been to answer everyone gently in his own language. They observed the mother spirit, the father spirit, the brother spirit, the child spirit, the friend spirit, the forgiving kindness, the ever tolerant nature, the respect for the aged, the compassion for all, and the thorough understanding of human nature. The disciples learned that all disputes and books on metaphysics can never teach all the thoughts and philosophy that comes up in the heart of man. A person may either study for a thousand years or he may get to the source and see if he can touch the root of all wisdom and all knowledge. In the emblem of the Sufi Order there is a heart in the center as a sign for the Sufi that from the heart the stream rises, the stream of divine knowledge and inspiration.
On the path of initiation two things are necessary: contemplation and living the life the Sufi ought to live. Both depend upon each other. Contemplation helps to live the life of a Sufi, and the life of the Sufi helps contemplation. The question, especially in the West where life is so busy and where there is no end to responsibilities, is if contemplation (even only for ten minutes in the evening) is not too much when we are tired. The answer is that for that very reason, in the West contemplation is required more than in the East where everything, even the surroundings, is helpful to contemplation.
Besides, a beginning must be made on the path. But if contemplation does not develop in such a form that everything one does in life becomes a contemplation, then contemplation does not do a person any good. It would be like going to church once a week, forgetting all about religion the other days. A man who gives ten or twenty minutes to contemplation every evening and forgets it all day will not derive any benefit. We take our food at certain times every day, yet all the time, even when we are sleeping, the food nourishes our body.
It is not the Sufi’s idea to retire in seclusion or to sit silent all day; the idea is that by contemplation one must be so inspired in study and in aspiration that progress is attained in every aspect of life. In that way he proves his contemplation to be a force helping him to withstand all difficulties that come to him. The life the Sufi ought to live may be explained in a few words. There are many things in the life of a Sufi, but the greatest is to have a tendency to friendship, which is expressed in the form of tolerance and forgiveness and in the form of service and trust. In whatever form he may express that central theme, the constant desire is to prove one’s love to humanity and to be the friend of all.
Now that I have explained in a few words the subject of initiation, I will explain the Sufi Movement. The Sufi Movement consists of three sections. The central section is the Esoteric School. In this school those who are seekers after truth and wish to follow the path with faith and confidence and trust are welcome.
Then there are two side sections. One is the brotherhood/sisterhood. Its object is to unite humankind — separated just now by boundaries of caste, creed, nation, and race in the understanding of wisdom. In awakening the conscience in humanity, a person may be able to see that the happiness of each depends upon the happiness of all. In this section everyone is admitted and welcomed. We can never have enough workers to work in this time of great need for human brotherhood/sisterhood. The Sufi Movement is the nucleus of human brotherhood/sisterhood, and this part represents this nucleus, formed, not with a view that all should become members of the Sufi Movement, but that all may become members of the human brotherhood/sisterhood in the Fatherhood/Motherhood of God. (Please note that Hazrat Inayat Khan uses only the male gender in his original writings although they are intended for all genders.)
The other section is the devotional part of the Order. This is for people who have perhaps some belief, but are not satisfied with that belief, or for others who do not go to any particular church but at the same time have a side to their nature which needs religion and prayer. There are some who will not believe unless they are intellectually satisfied; for them this section works, to give them the elements of all religions, to give them tolerance for different religions and beliefs, so that they may learn to respect the religion of others, a religion which has perhaps inspired numberless souls but is not known to the followers of other religions. This unity of religion in prayer and thought is the real brotherhood/sisterhood of religion, nature’s religion. It is taught in this section in the religious line. The central path is the path of initiation. To those entering this central path, the other two sections become open.