By Hazrat Inayat Khan
WHAT is a Sufi? Strictly speaking, every seeker after the ultimate truth is really a Sufi, whether he calls himself that or not. But as he seeks truth according to his own particular point of view, he often finds it difficult to believe that others, from their different points of view, are yet seeking the same truth, and always with success, though to a varying degree. That is in fact the point of view of the Sufi and it differs from others only in its constant endeavor to comprehend all others as within itself. It seeks to realize that every person, following his own particular line in life, nevertheless fits into the scheme of the whole and finally attains not only his own goal, but the one final goal of all.
Hence every person can be called a Sufi either as long as he is seeking to understand life, or as soon as he is willing to believe that every other human being will also find and touch the same ideal […] All beliefs are simply degrees of clearness of vision. All are part of one ocean of truth. The more this is realized, the easier is it to see the true relationship between all beliefs, and the wider does the vision of the one great ocean become.
Limitations and boundaries are inevitable in human life; forms and conventions are natural and necessary; but they nonetheless separate humanity. It is the wise who can meet one another beyond these boundaries.
What is the Sufi's belief regarding the coming of a World Teacher, or, as some speak if it, the 'Second Coming of Christ?' The Sufi is free from beliefs and disbeliefs, and yet gives every liberty to people to have their own opinion. There is no doubt that if an individual or a multitude believes that a teacher or a reformer will come, he will surely come to them. Similarly, in the case of those who do not believe that any teacher or reformer will come, to them he will not come. To those who expect the Teacher to be a man, a man will bring the message; to those who expect the Teacher to be a woman, a woman must deliver it. To those who call on God, God comes. To those who knock at the door of Satan, Satan answers.
There is an answer to every call. To a Sufi, the Teacher is never absent, whether he comes in one form or in a thousand forms he is always one to him, and the same One he recognizes to be in all, and all Teachers he sees in his one Teacher alone. For a Sufi, the self within, the self without, the kingdom of the earth, the kingdom of heaven, the whole being is his teacher, and his every moment is engaged in acquiring knowledge. For some, the Teacher has already come and gone, for others the Teacher may still come, but for a Sufi the Teacher has always been and will remain with him forever.
What is the position of the Sufi with regard to Christ? The question asked by Jesus Himself, 'What think ye of Christ?' itself provides the answer. The emphasis is on the 'ye'. There are as many thoughts of Him as there are people who express them. The Sufi does not limit himself by expressing them. Christ is the name of his ideal, or Rasul as it is called in Arabic. All that centres on Rasul centres in Christ. The two conceptions are one. All the names and functions which have helped to form the conception of Christ, Prophet, Priest, King, Savior, Bridegroom, Beloved, all these are understood by the Sufi. By constant meditation he realizes all these aspects of the One, and, beyond that, Allah or God.
On Initiation into the Sufi Order
There is in the first place the inclination to know something different from what is taught in the world. One feels the desire to seek for something though one knows not what. One feels that the opposite, good and evil, right and wrong, friend and foe are not so far apart as one used to think. At the same time the heart is felt to be more sympathetic than ever before, and the sense of justice makes one wish to judge oneself before judging others. This all shows that one may look for a guide through these unknown paths.
Then the question arises: what is meant by initiation? Initiation, or in Sufi terms Bayat, first of all has to do with the relationship between the pupil and the Murshid. The Murshid is understood to be the counsellor on the spiritual path. He does not give anything to or teach the pupil, the Mureed, for he cannot give what the latter already has; he cannot teach what his soul has always known. What he does in the life of the Mureed is to show him how he can clear his path towards the light within by his own self. This is the only purpose of man's life on earth. One may attain the purpose of life without a personal guide, but to try to do so is to be like a ship traversing the ocean without a compass. To take initiation, then, means entrusting oneself in regard to spiritual matters to a spiritual guide.
The next thing to be decided is, if I must have a personal guide, whom shall I take as guide? There is no stamp of spirituality, or seal of perfection marked upon any man's forehead which enables one to say, 'This is the man from whose hand to take the bayat.' Neither his appearance nor his words can be relied on as evidence of his worth. The only thing that can be relied upon is the appeal of his soul in one's heart. Even so, one must satisfy oneself whether it is evil appealing to the devil in one, or God appealing to the good in one.
There are three ways in which people trust. One is not to trust a person until he proves in time to be trustworthy. To those who trust in this way there will be no satisfactory gain on this path, for they will go on, like a spy, trying and testing the Murshid with their eyes focused downward. Hence they can only see the imperfect self of the teacher, and will never be able to see the beauty of the perfect self, above and beyond the limits of their view.
The second way of trusting is to trust and to continue to do so until the person is proved unworthy of trust. Those who trust in this way are better suited than the first, for if their trust makes their sight keen they will have every prospect of development, provided that intelligence guides them all the way.
But the third way of trusting a person is to have an absolute trust, and to continue until it be proved true. This is the trust of devotees. It is these Mureeds who make the Murshid. It is such worshippers who made God. 'By faith, a tongue is produced from the rock, and it speaks to us as God, but when faith is lacking, even God, the Eternal Being, is as dead as a rock.' The word of the Murshid is as useless to the doubting mind as a remedy to the unbelieving patient.
To become an initiate in the Sufi Order therefore implies a willingness to agree with its teachings and objects; a willingness to cease to attach importance to the differences of the world's various faiths, and to see in all the Masters only one embodiment of the divine Spirit, and thirdly it implies that one is not already following another course of spiritual training. In such a case, why go to another kind of teacher as well? It would be like travelling in two boats, one foot in each. When each boat goes its own way, although they meet in the end at the same goal, yet the traveller will sink in the sea. No one could seek guidance under two teachers except out of lack of patience with the one or lack of confidence in the other, making him still cling to the first.
The objects one should have in taking initiation under the Murshid are: to realize the self within and without; to know and communicate with God, whom alone the world worships; to kindle the fire of divine love, which alone has any value; to be able the read nature's manuscript and to be able to see in the world unseen; to learn how to control oneself; to light the torch of the soul and to kindle the fire of the heart; to journey through this positive existence and arrive in this life at the goal at which every soul is bound in the end to arrive
One does not take initiation for the sake of attaining happiness. It is true that one cannot attain wisdom without deriving a certain advantage from it, as it is more advantageous to be wise than ignorant. But it is not for this that the journey is entered upon. However, as he progresses on the spiritual path the Sufi becomes aware of a wonderful peace which inevitably comes from the constant presence of God.
Many people of various beliefs and faiths have written about the practice of the presence of God, and all speak of the happiness they receive from being in His presence. So it is no wonder that the Sufi also, should he wish to speak of it, should testify to similar happiness. He does not claim to a greater happiness than his fellow men because he is a human being and subject to all the shortcomings of mankind. But at the same time others can decide about his happiness better even than his words can tell it. The happiness which is experienced in God has no equal in anything in the world, however precious it may be, and everyone who experiences it will realize the same.
Are there any conditions imposed in a would-be initiate? No one need fear taking initiation from the idea that he undertakes something he may not be able to fulfill. If he does not wish to progress beyond a certain point, that is only for himself to say. The only thing that happens when a person is initiated, is that from the hour of initiation one is the brother of all in the Sufi Movement, of all other Sufis outside the Sufi Movement, of all knowers of truth, whether they call themselves Sufi or not, and of every human being, without distinction of caste, creed, race, nation, or religion.
One is the companion of the illuminated souls of the Sufis living on earth and of those who have passed to the other side of life. Thus one is linked with the chain of Murshids and Prophets, and so enabled to receive the light running through this current, through the chain of masters. And one is the confidant to the Murshid and of the Order. Therefore the initiate takes a vow in his heart to make use to the best of his ability of all he receives from the Sufi teaching and practices, not using any parts for selfish purposes. These teachings have been kept secret for thousands of years, so why should they go out of the Order without the Pir-o-Murshid's authorization?
One may ask why the awakened ones do not awaken people in the world from the sleep of confusion. The answer is that it is not to be advised that little children, whose only happiness is slumber, should be awakened. Their growth depends on their sleep. If they are kept up late they become ill, and will not be so useful in the affairs of life when they are grown up. Childhood needs more sleep, and the children must sleep. Such is the nature of immature souls. They are children, however old their bodies may appear. Their fancies, their joys, their delights are for unimportant things in life, as the life of children is absorbed in sweets and toys. Therefore those who are awakened walk slowly and gently, lest their footsteps may disturb the slumber of the sleeping ones.
They only awaken on their way those whom they find tossing in their beds. They are the ones to whom the travellers on the spiritual path give their hand quietly. It is for this reason that the spiritual path is called the mystical way. It is not unkind to awaken a few and to let many sleep, but on the other hand it is great kindness to let those slumber who require sleep.
During his Mureedship the initiate should avoid wonder-working; claiming to know or possess something unfamiliar to one's fellow men; casting out devils; communication with spirits; character-reading; fortune-telling; appearing otherwise in conversation with others about spiritual things, and looking to others for approbation. Also sanctimoniousness, over-righteousness, and teaching and advising others before having learnt one's own self, which is as dangerous as giving the same medicine to another that the doctor has prescribed for oneself.
During discipleship, the habit of discipline should be adopted which makes the ideal Mureed. Self-denial is the chief religion, and this can only be learnt by discipline. It is as necessary in the path of discipleship as for a soldier on the battlefield; in the absence of it the Mureed holds fast the very thing which he wishes to crush by taking the initiation. 'Mastery is in service, and it is the servant who alone can be master.'
One should also have a respectful attitude to the Murshid. This is not to raise the honor of the teacher in his own eyes, or in the eyes of others. It is to learn a respectful attitude by first having it towards one who deserves it. The Mureed may then be able to develop in his nature the same respect for all, as a little girl by playing with a doll learns the lesson of motherhood. To respect another means to deduct that much vanity from ourselves, the vanity which is only the veil between man and God?
During the period of Mureedship sobriety, and equable mind, and serious habit, regularity in all things, diligence, a desire for solitude, a reserved demeanour, and unassuming manner, a pure life, and uninterrupted daily spiritual meditations, are desirable.
The Sufi is the student of two worlds, the world within and the world without. The world within is equivalent to what is popularly named 'the next world', because of the widespread belief that time is the all-important factor; that we have a life now, and another life at another time. The Sufi knows otherwise. The world without has two aspects, the social world in which we are placed, and the greater world which is the topic of history, past, present, or prophetic […]
[Extracted from Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Way of Illumination (The Sufi Message, Vol. 1)]