The following is adapted from The Message through Inayat Khan. This material was generally taken from talks in the early 1900's. As he was transmitting learning of the "sufi", to the west, some of his expression uses that term.

Very much has been written and very much has been said about the path of initiation. People who have been in contact with various schools of occultism have understood it in different ways and thus have different ideas as to what initiation means. Actually, initiation only means a step forward, a step that should be taken with hope and courage. Without courage and hope, it would be most difficult to take any forward steps.

If I were asked to explain the meaning of initiation in plain words, I would say that it is like the experience of a person who has never learned how to swim. He steps into the river or into the sea for the first time without knowing whether he will be able to float or whether he will be swept away and drowned. Every person has had an initiation, in the worldly sense, in some form or another. When a businessman begins an entirely new enterprise and there is nothing to support him at that moment except the thought, "No matter whether I lose or gain, I will take a step forward, I will go into this enterprise though I do not know what will happen later," then he undergoes a worldly initiation. The first attempt of a man who wants to learn to ride, if he has never been on horseback before or driven a horse and does not know where the horse will take him — this also is an initiation.

But initiation, in the real sense of the word as it is used on the spiritual path, takes place when a person, despite having a religion and a belief, an opinion and ideas about spiritual things, feels that he should take a step in a direction which he does not know. When he takes the first step, that is an initiation.

Ghazali, a great Sufi writer of Persia, has said that entering the spiritual path is just like shooting an arrow at a point one cannot see so that one does not know what the arrow is going to hit. One only knows one’s own actions, and one does not see the point aimed at. This is why the path of initiation is difficult for a worldly man. Human nature is such that a man born into this world who has become acquainted with the life of names and forms wants to know everything by name and form. He wants to touch something in order to be sure that it exists. It must make an appeal to his physical senses before he thinks that it exists. Without this, he does not believe that anything can exist. Therefore, it is difficult for him to undergo an initiation on a path that does not touch any of his senses. He does not know where he is going.

Besides, man has been taught from his childhood a certain faith or belief, and he feels himself so bound to that particular faith or religion that he trembles at every step he may have to take in a direction which, perhaps for a moment, seems different or even opposite to what he has been taught. Therefore, to take the first step on the path of initiation is difficult for a thoughtful person. No doubt a person who is driven by curiosity may jump into anything; but it is all the same to him whether he has initiation or not. However, for the one who takes initiation seriously, the first step is the most difficult.

Initiations, according to the mystics, are 12 in number, divided into 4 stages, just like the semitones in the octave or the 12 bones in the ear. The first three initiations are the first three steps, taken with the help of a guide whom one calls, in Sufi terms, a murshid, a teacher. In Vedantic terms, he is called guru. He will be someone who is walking this earth, a human being placed in the same conditions as everyone else, in the midst of active life and subject to all trials, troubles and difficulties. The help of such a friend is the first and most important step in these first three stages of the path.

In the East, one will rarely find people taking the spiritual path without the guidance of a teacher, for there it is an accepted fact that these first three steps, at least, must be taken with the help of someone living a human life on earth.

We can trace in the traditions that all the prophets, masters, saints and sages, however great, had an initiator. In the life of Jesus Christ one reads that he was baptized by John the Baptist. In the lives of all the other prophets and seers, there was always someone, however humble, modest or human, and very often not at all comparable in greatness to those prophets who took these first three steps with them.

But the mother is really the first initiator of all the prophets and teachers in the world. No prophet or teacher, no saint, however great, was ever born who first walked alone without the help of the mother. She had to show him how to walk.

Then there arises the question of how to find the real guru. Very often, people are in doubt, they do not know whether the guru they see is a true or a false guru. Frequently, a person comes into contact with a false guru in this world where there is so much falsehood. But at the same time, a real seeker, one who is not false to himself, will always meet with the truth, with the real, because it is his own real faith, his own sincerity in earnest seeking that will become his torch. The real teacher is within; that lover of reality is one’s own sincere self. If one is really seeking truth, then sooner or later one will certainly find a true teacher. Supposing one came into contact with a false teacher, what then? Then the real one will turn the false teacher into a real teacher because reality is greater than falsehood.

There is a story told of a dervish, a simple man, who was initiated by a teacher. After that teacher had passed away, this man came into contact with some clairvoyant who asked him if he had guidance on his path. The man replied, "Yes, my master, who passed from this earth. When he was still alive I enjoyed his guidance for some time, so the only thing I would want now is just your blessing." But the clairvoyant said, "I see by my clairvoyant power that the teacher who passed away was not a true teacher." When the simple man heard this, he would not allow himself to be angry with the other, but said gently, "This teacher of mine may be false, but my faith is not false, and that is sufficient."

As there is water in the depths of the earth, so there is truth at the bottom of all things, false or true. In some places, one has to dig deep; in other places, only a short distance; that is the only difference. But there is no place where there is no water. One may have to dig very, very deep in order to get it; but in the depths of the earth, there is water, and in the depths of all this falsehood that is on the surface, there is truth. If we are really seeking for the truth, we shall always find it at some time or another.

The one who wants to protect himself from being misguided shows a certain tendency, a kind of weakness that comes from thinking deep within himself that there is no right guidance. If he realizes that right guidance is to be found in himself, then he will always be rightly guided and his power will become so great that if his guide is going wrong, the power of the pupil will help him to go right because the real teacher is in the heart of man. The outward teacher is only a sign.

A Persian poet has said that he who is a lost soul, even if he is in the presence of a Savior, will be lost just the same because his own clouds are surrounding him. It is not a question of a guide or teacher. The obscurity that his own mind creates surrounds him and keeps him blind. What then can a teacher do?

According to a story about the Prophet Mohammad, there lived next door to him a man who was very much opposed to the Prophet and spoke against him. This man saw that the people to whom he spoke had belief in the Prophet, while nobody believed in him. Then years passed, and many believed and many gave their lives for the message of the Prophet. It so happened that eventually, a great many people came from afar, thousands and thousands from different countries, to visit the Prophet. The same man still lived in the neighborhood, but he had never altered his opinion. One day someone asked the Prophet, "Why does this man, who has known the day when nobody listened, when nobody followed you, but who now sees that thousands of people who come here are benefited and filled with bliss and joy and blessing, still continue to criticize you and to oppose you?" And the Prophet said, "His heart has become a fountain of obscurity. He produces from his own self the clouds which surround him. He cannot see." And he was sorry for him. The perception of the light shows the thinning of the veil that covers the heart; and the thinner the veil becomes, the greater is the power of the light within.

The next step, the second step in initiation, is to go through the tests that the teacher gives. In this initiation there is a great deal that is amusing, if one thinks about it. It is like looping the loop; sometimes the teacher gives the pupil such tests that he does not know where he is, or whether a thing is true or false.

There was a great teacher in India who had a thousand adherents who were most devoted pupils. One day he said to them, "I have changed my mind." And the words "changed my mind" surprised them greatly. They asked him, "What is the matter, how can it be that you have changed your mind?" He said, "I have the feeling that I must go and bow before the Goddess Kali." And these people, among whom were doctors and professors, well-qualified people, could not understand this whim, that their great teacher in whom they had such faith wished to go into the temple of Kali and bow before the Goddess of the hideous face; he, a God-realized man in whom they had such confidence! The thousand disciples left him at once, thinking, "What is this? It is against the religion of the formless God, against the teaching of this great person himself that he wants to worship the Goddess Kali!"

There remained only one pupil, a youth who was very devoted to his teacher, and he followed him when he went to the temple of Kali. The teacher was very glad to get rid of those thousand pupils who were full of knowledge, full of their learning, but who did not really know him. It was just as well that they should leave.

As they were going towards the temple, he spoke three times to this young man, saying, "Why do you not go away? Look at these thousand people who had such faith and such admiration, and now I have said just one word, and they have left me. Why do you not go with them? The majority is right." The pupil, however, would not go, but continued to follow him. And through all of this, the teacher received great inspiration and a revelation of how strange human nature is, how soon people are attracted and how soon they can fly away. It was such an interesting phenomenon for him to see the play of human nature that his heart was full of feeling.

When they arrived at the temple of Kali, he experienced such ecstasy that he fell down and bowed his head low, and the young man who had followed him did the same. When he got up, he asked this young man again, "Why do you not leave me when you have seen a thousand people go away? Why do you follow me?" The young man replied, "There is nothing in what you have done that is against my convictions because the first lesson you taught me was that nothing exists save God. If that is true, then that image is not Kali and it, too, is God. What does it matter whether you bow to the east or to the west or to the earth or to heaven? Since nothing exists except God, then there is nobody else except God before whom to bow, even in bowing before Kali. It was the first lesson you taught me." All these learned men were given the same lesson; they were students and very clever; but they could not conceive of that main thought that was the center of all the teaching.

It was this same young man who later became one of the greatest teachers in India, Khwaja Moin-ud-Din Chishti. Every year thousands of people of all religions make pilgrimages to his tomb at Ajmer — Hindus, Mohammedans, Jews and Christians. To the One of Heart, all religions are one.

There are tests of many kinds that the teacher may give to his pupils to test their faith, their sincerity and their patience. Before a ship puts out to sea the captain goes and makes sure that everything is in order for the voyage. Such is the duty of the teacher. Of course, it is a very interesting duty. Besides, the path of the mystic is a very complex path. What he says may, perhaps, have two meanings: the outer meaning is one, and the inner meaning is another. What he does may also have two meanings, an outer and an inner meaning. A person who only sees things outwardly cannot perceive their inner meaning. Since he only sees their outer aspect, he cannot understand his own teacher’s actions, thoughts, speech or movements. It is in this way that the pupil is tested. Thus, to the pupil, the teacher may often appear to be very unreasonable, very odd, very meaningless, very unkind, cold or unjust. During these tests, if the faith and the trust of the pupil do not endure, he will step back from this second initiation; but if he endures through all of this, then comes the third step, the third initiation.

The third initiation consists of three stages: receiving the knowledge attentively, meditating upon all one has received patiently, assimilating all the outcome of it intelligently. Thereby, the mission of the teacher in this world is completed. Gratitude still remains, but the principal work is finished.

The fourth initiation the seeker gets from his ideal. Who is this ideal, who can give this initiation? No living creature on earth, however great, can prove to be the ideal of anyone else; he may for a certain time, but not forever. The great ones like Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ and Krishna, who have been the ideal of humanity for thousands of years — when did they become the ideal? During their lifetime? During their lifetime they gave a sense of being the ideal; they left impressions which afterwards proved them to be the ideal; but during their lifetime, they could not prove it. Why is this? The reason is that even perfect man is limited in the imperfect garb of humanity. The human limitation covers perfection. However great, however deep, however spiritual a person is, with all his goodness, with all his inspiration and power, he remains limited. His thought, speech, word and action are all limited. A man cannot make himself as his pupil imagines him. Imagination goes farther than the progress of man. The imagination of every person is his own; and therefore, one can only make one’s ideal oneself. No one has the power to make the ideal of another person; and therefore, it is the impression of the great saviors of humanity, it is their goodness, it is whatever little grain of an ideal they have left behind them that becomes just like a seed, and that seed put into the soil of the devotee’s heart develops into a plant and bears fruit and flowers as it is reared.

So, in this fourth initiation, there is this ideal of man’s imagination. He may call it, "Christ," or, "Buddha"; he may call it "Mohammad" or "Moses" or "Zoroaster." It is his ideal, it is he who has made it, it is his savior, and it certainly will save him if he considers it to be his savior. But he has to make it. If he does not make it, then the savior will not save him. When once he has made his savior, then he is face to face with the perfection that his heart has created. Then this impression of Christ or Buddha with which he has impressed himself flowers and grows into a tree and bears the flowers and fruit that he has desired. No doubt this initiation is a phenomenon in itself. Once this initiation is received, man begins to radiate, to radiate his initiator, who is within him as his ideal.

Then there is the second stage, which is the fifth initiation. In the fifth initiation, man does not imagine his ideal, but finds his ideal a living entity within himself, a friend who is always close to him, within him. He can just bow his head and see his friend — he is there. To the real devotees of Christ, Christ is near, as near as they are to their own self. In times of trouble, in difficulties, he is always there.

The third stage, which is the sixth initiation, is the one where Christ speaks, where Christ acts. The acts of the initiate become the actions of Christ. His speech becomes the speech of Christ. And when one has arrived at that initiation, one need not declare before humanity how greatly one loves one’s Lord or Savior or Master. The initiate himself becomes a proof, his life, his word, his action, his feeling, his attitude, his outlook.

Life is such that no falsehood, no pretense, can endure, nothing false can go far. It will only go a step, and then it will tumble down. It is only the real which will go on. The more real something is, the less it expresses itself. It is lack of reality that makes a person say he is so and so, he has such great love for God, or he is so spiritual or pious or clairvoyant, or he has such psychic powers. When one sees, one does not need to say that one sees, everybody will notice that one is not blind.

How different it is today, when so many people ask, "Are you clairvoyant, can you see?" And if they say they do, what do they see? They have perhaps seen some color or some light here and there, or something peculiar, which means nothing. Perhaps it is their imagination. And then there are others who encourage them and make them still more crazy, and people feed their pride by telling others how much they see. But when one begins to see, one cannot speak about it, it is something which cannot be told. How could one? When one sees with the eyes of Christ, one can only see. When one hears with the ears of Christ, one can only hear. There is nothing to be said.

The further initiation, which is the seventh, is the initiation in God. There is an account in the story of Rabia. Once in her vision she saw the Prophet, and the Prophet asked her, "Rabia, to whom have you given your devotion?" Rabia said, "To God." And the Prophet said, "Not to me?" Rabia said, "Yes, Prophet, you include God, but it is God I gave my devotion to."

There comes a stage where a person even rises above the ideal he has made. He rises to that perfect Ideal which is beyond the human personality, which is the perfect Being. In this initiation, one rises to the spheres where one sees no other than God.

In the second stage, which is the eighth initiation, one communicates with God so that God becomes to the initiate a living entity. God is then no longer an ideal or an imagination, no longer one whom he has made. The One whom he once made has now become alive, a living God. Before this there was a belief in God, there was worship of Him. Perhaps He was made in the imagination; but in this stage, God becomes living. What a phenomenon this is! This stage is a miracle in itself. The God-realized person need not speak of nor discuss the name of God. His presence will inspire the sense of God in every being and charge the atmosphere with it. Everyone who meets him, whether he is spiritual or moral or religious or without religion, will feel God in some form or other.

The prophets and the holy ones who have come from time to time to give the world a religion, an ideal, have not brought any new ideas; they have not brought a new belief in God because belief in God has always existed in some form or other. What they brought was a living God. When there remained no more than God’s name in the scripture or in the people’s imagination or on the lips of the followers of a certain religion; and when that name began to become a profane name, a vain repetition; then such souls were born on the earth who brought with them a living god. If they gave anything else to humanity, either law, ethics or morals, these were secondary. The principal thing that they gave to the world was a living God.

The ninth initiation is what is called, in Arabic terms, akhlak-e Allah, which means, "The Manner of God." The one who touches that plane or that realization expresses in his manner the manner of God. His outlook on life is God’s outlook. His actions, his thoughts and his words are God’s actions, thoughts and words. Therefore, what the prophets spoke was kalam-ullah, the "Word of God," as for instance the Bhaghavat Gita, which means, "The Song Celestial." Why? Because at this stage, God himself speaks. Those holy ones became that perfect spirit and were moved by it. They became actors, for their actions were no longer their own actions, but the actions of God. Their words were no longer human words, but the words of God.

Very few arrive at the last three initiations in their lifetime; for after the first nine initiations begins what is called, "The Phase of Self-Realization." When those who have not arrived at this stage begin to utter affirmations such as, "I am God," they utter nothing but vain repetitions and this obscures the God-ideal. They do not know what they are saying. If people only knew to what an extent they should be authorized before speaking about such things, they would be very careful about what they say.

When, after having gone through all the other stages of consciousness, one arrives at this stage, one can speak very little, for it is beyond the stage of religion and even beyond the notion of God. It is, "The Stage of Self-Expression." This stage of self-expression is reached when a person has thoroughly dug his self out, so that nothing of the self is left except only that divine substance, and only then is he authorized to express himself. Thus, the tenth initiation is the awakening of the real self, the real ego; and this awakening is brought about by meditation, the meditation which makes one forget one’s false or limited self. The more one is able to forget it, the more the real self awakens.

In the next stages, one experiences a sensation of splendor, which in Persian is called hairat. It is like when a child is born and begins to see everything new — this old world is seen by the child as a new world. As soon as the point of view is changed by the help of meditation, one sees the whole world that is before everybody and that everybody is seeing, quite differently. One begins to see reason behind reason, cause behind cause, and one’s point of view also changes in regard to religion. It changes because where the average man would want to accuse, punish or blame a person for a certain action, the one who has risen to this stage can neither judge nor blame, he only sees, but he sees the cause behind the cause. Whom, then, shall he accuse? Whom shall he blame? How can he refrain from forgiving, whatever be the fault, when he sees all that is behind the fault, when he sees the reason behind it, perhaps a more valid reason than even the one who committed the fault can see himself. Therefore, naturally, the manner of continually sacrificing, the manner of spontaneous love and sympathy, the manner of respect both for the wise and the foolish, for the deserving and the undeserving, arises and expresses itself as divine life. It is at this stage that the human soul touches perfection and becomes divine and fulfills its real purpose in life.

The Meaning of Initiation

The meaning of the word "initiation" can be understood from its association with "initiative." It is a fact that every child who is born on earth is born with initiative. However, as it grows, that spirit more or less dies away because the knowledge it gathers in its lifetime makes it doubt. This doubt, increasing more and more, very often makes a man lose the power of initiative, and then he does not want to take another step until he is sure whether there is land or water in front of him. Very often, water looks like land, and land looks like water. According to the mystics, life is an illusion; thus, man bases his reason upon illusion. Nevertheless, the reasoning power which he acquires helps him in his life in the world, although it is very often just this reasoning which holds him back from taking what is called the initiative.

It is through this spirit of initiative that anyone in the world who has accomplished something great, has been able to do so. At the beginning of his efforts, people call such a person mad, fanatical, crazy or devoid of reason; but when they see the results, they think that he is most wise. Great prophets, the builders of nations, famous inventors and great discoverers have all proven this. One may ask, then, do they see what is before them in the same way that a reasoning person does? They do, but with different eyes. Their point of view is different; it does not always agree with the point of view of the average person. So, it is natural that people should call them fanatical, although they see perhaps more than all those around them see. Those who have helped themselves to achieve success after complete failure, or to get over an illness after great suffering, have only succeeded in this by the spirit of initiative.

There are different kinds of initiation that souls experience. One is natural initiation, a kind of natural unfoldment for which the soul cannot give any cause or reason. It comes to the soul although no effort or attempt is made by the soul to experience it. Sometimes this initiation comes after great illness, pain or suffering. It comes as an opening up of the horizon, it comes as a flash of light, and in a moment the world seems transformed. It is not that the world has changed; it is that the person has become tuned to a different pitch. He begins to think differently, feel differently, see and act differently; his whole condition begins to change. One might say of him that from that moment on, he begins to live. It may come as a vision, as a dream, as a phenomenon — in any of these forms — one cannot determine the manner in which it will manifest.

Another initiation known to the mystics is the initiation that one receives from a person living on the earth. Every mystical school has its own initiation. In the Orient, where mystical ideas are prevalent and are regarded as most sacred, any person who wishes to tread the spiritual path considers initiation to be the most important thing. If a soul such as Jesus Christ had to be baptized by John the Baptist, then no soul on earth can say, "I have risen above initiation." Is that then impossible? Nothing is impossible. It may be possible for a person to jump into the water with the intention of swimming to the port of New York, but his life will be more secure if he books his passage with the normal shipping lines. And the difference between these two souls is the same, or even greater — between the one who wishes to journey on the spiritual path by taking initiation, and the other who refuses to do so.

Initiation by a spiritual teacher means both a trust given by the teacher to the pupil, and a trust given by the pupil to the teacher. And the progress of the one who is initiated depends upon how much he gives himself to the teacher’s guidance. One might give only a finger, another even a part of a finger, while a third would give his whole hand. That makes a great difference. A pupil says, "Well, I will give a certain amount of my time and thought to your guidance, will that be enough?" Then the teacher says, "Yes, if you think it is enough." In reality, however, it is never enough. Then one might wonder if one would not be giving up one’s own point of view in order to follow someone else’s point of view; but actually, if one has a point of view, one never loses it. The point of view that one loses is not one’s own. By looking at a thing from another person’s point of view, one only enlarges one’s own. Then, one has two points of view instead of one. If the thought of the pupil happens to be different from that of the teacher, then by taking the teacher’s thought, his own is doubled. The pupil keeps his own point of view just the same, only now he has something for his vision from which to make his choice. The horizon of his thought is expanded. But the pupil who closes himself and says, "I will guard my point of view or it will escape me," will never derive any benefit from this attitude.

The mystical path is the most subtle path to tread. The relationship between teacher and pupil is too subtle for words to express. Besides, the language of a mystical teacher is always elusive; you cannot, so to speak, pin him down as to his words. You cannot ask him to say clearly that something is so and so, or such and such. If a mystic does so, he is not a mystic, for a mystic cannot do this. The mystic may seem to be standing on the earth, but he is flying in the air. The air cannot be made into a rock, nor can the mystic be made into a gross entity. His "yes" does not mean the same as the "yes" of another, nor does his "no" mean the same as the "no" of others. The language of the mystic is not the language of words; it is the language of meaning. It is the greatest distress for a mystic to have to use the words of everyday language, which are not his words. He cannot express himself in these words. We find the same in the actions of the mystic. His outward actions will not express to everybody the meaning which is behind them, and that meaning may be much more important inwardly than the action is outwardly.

The teacher, therefore, tests his pupil continually. He tells him and he does not tell him, for everything must come in its right time. Divine knowledge has never been taught in words, nor will it ever be so taught. The work of a mystical teacher is not to teach, but to tune, to tune the pupil so that he may become the instrument of God. For the mystical teacher is not the player of the instrument; he is the tuner. When he has tuned it, he gives it into the hands of the Player whose instrument it is to play. The duty of the mystical teacher is his service as a tuner.

Dispute with a spiritual teacher is never any good, for the pupil may be speaking one language, while the teacher speaks another; and when there is no common language, then how can the dispute be profitable? Therefore, in the path of mysticism, there is no dispute.

Also, there are no fixed rules to follow on this path. For every person there is a special rule. But there is one law which applies to everything in life: sincerity, which is the only thing that is asked by a teacher of a pupil, for truth is not the portion of the insincere.

Several initiations may be given to the pupil whom the teacher has taken in hand, but his progress depends upon the pupil himself. Just as parents are anxious, so the spiritual teacher is naturally anxious to see the advancement of his pupil. There is no reason for the teacher to keep any pupil back from success. For, as the happiness of the parents lies in the happiness of the child, so the satisfaction of the teacher lies in the advancement of the pupil.

There is another kind of initiation which comes afterwards, and this initiation is also an unfoldment of the soul. It comes as an after-effect of the initiation that one had from the teacher. It comes as a kind of expansion of consciousness, and the greatness of this initiation depends upon the distance and width of the horizon of the consciousness. Many may claim it, but few realize it. Those who realize do not claim. As the more fruitful a tree is, the more it bends, so the more divine his spiritual realization is, the more humble a person he becomes. It is the one who is less fruitful who becomes more pretentious. The really initiated ones hardly ever mention the word initiation; they find no profit in convincing others that they are initiated. They possess their real inner gains so they do not want an outer gain. It is the one who has not received any who wants recognition from outside. And if we ask what profit we derive from initiation, the answer is that religion, mysticism, or philosophy — all that we gain — should help us to achieve one result, and that is to be best fitted for serving our fellowmen.

It may be asked whether it is desirable for every soul to take initiation. The word "initiation" and the associated word "initiative" suggest going forward, so the answer is that progress is life and standing still is death. Whatever be our grade of evolution, it is always advisable to try to go forward, be it in business or in a profession, in society or in political life, in religion or in spiritual advancement. No doubt there is a danger in being too enthusiastic. The nature that is too enthusiastic may, instead of benefiting, perhaps harm itself in whatever line it may have taken up, worldly or spiritual. For everything there is a time, and patience is necessary in all striving. A cook may burn food by applying more heat in order to cook more quickly, and this rule applies to all things. With little children, the parents are often anxious and enthusiastic; they think their children should 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.

There are three principal esoteric schools known in the East: the Buddhist school, the Vedantic school, and the way of the Ssuuff. The former two use asceticism as their principal means of spiritual advancement. The peculiarity of the last is that it uses humanity as its chief means to the same end. In the realization of truth, this school is no different from the Vedantic or the Buddhist; but presents truth in a different manner. It is the same frame in which Jesus Christ has given his teaching.

No doubt the method of helping spiritual development by contemplation and meditation is used in all three schools, the science of breath being the foundation of each. But the Knower of Life thinks that man was not 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 person of heart thinks that the first thing that is necessary for man in life is to prove to his own conscience to what extent he can be human. It is not only a spiritual development, it is the culture of humanity, in what relation man stands to his neighbor or friend, to those who depend upon him and those who look up to him, to strangers unknown to him. It is how he stands with those younger than himself and with older people and with those who like him and others who dislike him and criticize him. It is how he should feel, think and act throughout life, and yet keep on progressing towards the goal which is the goal for every soul in the world.

It is not necessary for one of the Real to seek the wilderness for his meditation, since he can perform part of his work in the midst of worldly life. This one need not prove himself by extraordinary power, by wonder-working or by an exceptional spiritual manifestation or claim. One can prove to his own conscience by watching his own life amidst the strife of this world.

There are some who are content with a belief taught at home or in church. They are contented, and they may just as well rest in that stage of realization where they are contented until another impulse is born in their hearts to rise higher. The helper of life does not force his belief or his thoughts upon such souls. In the East, there is a saying that it is a great sin to awaken anyone who is fast asleep. This saying can be symbolically understood. There are many in this world who work and do things and are yet asleep; they seem awake externally, but inwardly, they are asleep. The true assister considers it a crime to awaken them, for some sleep is good for their health. The work is to give a helping hand to those who have had sufficient sleep and who now begin to stir in their sleep, to turn over. And it is that kind of help which is the real initiation.

No doubt there are things which pass the ordinary comprehension of man. There are things one can teach only by speaking or by acting; but there is a way of teaching which is called tawajoh, and this way of teaching is without words. It is not external teaching, it is 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 it has been attempted, it has failed; it has made some confused, and it has made others give up their belief. It is not that the one who tried to explain did not understand, but that words are inadequate to explain the idea of God.

In the East, there are great sages and saints who sit quite still, with lips closed, for years. They are called, 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!" However, he does not know that some, by their silence, can do more than others can accomplish by talking for ten years. A person may argue for months about a problem and not be able to explain it; while another, with inner radiance, may be able to answer the same thing in one moment. The answer that comes without words explains still more. That is initiation.

However, no one can give spiritual knowledge to another, for this is something that is within every heart. What the teacher can do is to kindle the light which is hidden in the heart of the disciple. If the light is not there, it is not the fault of the teacher.

There is a verse by Hafiz in which he says, "However great be the teacher, he is helpless with the one whose heart is closed." Therefore, initiation means initiation on the part of the disciple and on the part of the teacher, a step forward on the part of both. On the part of the teacher, a step forward with the disciple in order that the pupil may be trusted and raised from his present condition. A step forward for the pupil because he opens his heart; he has no barrier anymore, nothing to hinder the teaching in whatever form it comes, in silence or in words, or in the observation of some deed or action on the part of the teacher.

In ancient times, the disciples of the great teachers learned by a quite different method, not an academic method or a way of study. The way was an open heart. With perfect confidence and trust they watched every attitude of the teacher, both towards friends and towards people who looked at him with contempt. They watched their teacher in times of trouble and pain, how he endured it all. They said how patient and wise he had been in discussing with those who did not understand, answering everyone gently in his own language. He showed the mother-spirit, the father-spirit, the brother-spirit, the child-spirit, the friend-spirit, forgiving kindness, an ever-tolerant nature, respect for the aged, compassion for all, the thorough understanding of human nature. This, also, the disciples learned, that no discussion or books on metaphysics can ever teach all the thoughts and philosophy that arise 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. From the heart, a stream rises, the stream of divine knowledge.

On the path of initiation, two things are necessary: contemplation, and the living of a life such as one ought to live; and they depend upon each other. Contemplation helps one to live that life, and living the life helps contemplation. In the West, where life is so busy and where there is no end to one’s responsibilities, one wonders if to undertake contemplation, even for only ten minutes in the evening, is not too much when one is tired. But for that very reason, contemplation is required more in the West than in the East, where everything, even the surroundings, is helpful to contemplation. Besides, a beginning must be made on the path. If contemplation does not develop in such a form that everything one does in life becomes a contemplation, then the contemplation does not do a person any good. It would be like going to church once a week and forgetting all about religion on the other days. To a man who gives 10 or 20 minutes every evening to contemplation and forgets it all the rest of the day, contemplation will not do any good. 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 knower of life’s idea to retire in seclusion or to sit silent all day. His idea is that by contemplation, he becomes so inspired that in study, in every aspiration, in every aspect of life, progress is made. In this way, he proves his contemplation to be a force helping him to withstand all the difficulties that come to him.

The life that the aprirant ought to live may be explained in a few words. There are many things in life, but the greatest is to have a tendency to friendship. This is expressed in the form of tolerance and forgiveness, in the form of service and trust. In whatever form he may express it, this is the central theme: the constant desire to prove one’s love for humanity, to be the friend of all.

What Is Needed On The Path

Initiation needs courage and the tendency to advance spiritually, although it may not seem to be the way of life for everyone. Therefore, the first duty of a mureed is not to be shaken in his faith by any opposing influence or by anything said against the path he has taken. He should not allow himself to be discouraged by anybody. The mureed must be so firm in his path that even if the whole world says it is a wrong path, he will say 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 that even if it should take a thousand years, he will have the patience to go through with it. As it is said in Persian, it is the work of the Baz, the wayfarer of the heavens.

On this mystical path, courage, steadfastness and patience are what are most necessary; but also, trust in the teacher at whose hand initiation is taken and the understanding of the idea of discipline. In the East, where for thousands of years the path of discipleship has been understood, these things are regarded as most important and acceptable from the hand of the teacher. How few in the world know trust! What is necessary is not trusting another, even the teacher, but trusting oneself; and one is not capable of trusting oneself fully when one has not experienced in life how to trust another. Some will ask, "But if we trusted and our trust was in vain, should we not be disappointed?" The answer is that we must trust for the sake of trust and not for the sake of a return and to see what fruit it brings. The utmost trust is the greatest power in the world. Lack of trust is weakness. Even if we have lost something by trusting, our power will be greater than if we had gained something without developing trust.

Patience is very necessary on the path. After my initiation into the Order of the Sufis, for six months I was continually in the presence of my murshid before he said a word on the subject of Sufi-ism. Once he mentioned it, and as soon as I took out my notebook, he went on to another subject and it was finished! One sentence after six months! A person would think that it is a long time, six months sitting before one’s teacher without being taught anything; but it is not words, it is something else. If words were sufficient, then there would be libraries full of occult and mystical books.

It is life, itself; it is living that is important. The one who lives the life of initiation not only lives himself, but also makes others who come into contact with him alive. Therefore, one is initiated not especially for study, but to understand and follow what real discipleship means.

With regard to the subject of discipline, anyone without a sense of discipline is without the power of self-control. It is discipline that teaches the ideal, and the ideal is self-discipline. It is the disciplined soldier who can become a good captain. In ancient times, the kings used to send the princes out as soldiers to learn what discipline means. The path of initiation is the training of the ego, and it is self-discipline that is learned on the path of discipleship.

One may ask what one should think of the path of initiation. What must be our goal, what must we expect from it? Should we expect to be good, healthy, magnetic, powerful, developed psychically or clairvoyant? One does not need to be any of these, although in time, one will cultivate them all naturally; but one should not strive for these things.

Suppose a person develops power and he does not know how to use it. The outcome will be disastrous. Suppose he develops magnetism, and by his power, he attracts all, both good and bad; then it will be difficult to get rid of what he has attracted by his power. Or, perhaps a person is very good, so good that everyone seems bad to him. He is too good to live in the world, and in that way he will become a burden to himself. These things are not to be sought for through initiation.

The aim is to find God within ourselves, to dive deep into ourselves so that we may touch the unity of the whole Being. It is towards this end that we are working by the power of initiation, in order that we may get all the inspiration and blessings in our life from within. For this, two things are necessary: one is to do the exercises that are given regularly and to do them with heart and soul. The second is to undertake the studies that are given, not considering them to be only for superficial reading, but for every word to be pondered upon. The more one thinks about it, the more it will have the effect of opening the heart.

Reading is one thing; contemplating is another. The lessons must be meditated upon. One should not take even the simplest word or sentence for granted. Think of the Hindus, Chinese and Parsis, who for thousands of years have always meditated upon the readings that they held sacred and yet never tired of them.

Initiation is a sacred trust, a trust given by the murshid to his mureed and a trust given by the mureed to the murshid. There should no longer be a wall from the moment of this initiation; for if there is a wall, then the initiation is not an initiation anymore. When the wall between the mureed and the murshid has been removed, then the next step will be to remove the wall that stands between God and the worshipper.

In general, in an order of mysticism, and there are certain thoughts and considerations that should be observed. One of these is that when once a secret has been entrusted to one, it must be kept as one’s most sacred trust. One must also accept all the teaching that may be given to one. Whether it is bitter medicine or sweet, the patient takes it. There is a time for everything, and so illumination has its time. However, progress, the real progress, depends upon the patience of the pupil, together with his eagerness to go forward.

The path of initiation is also a path of tests — tests from the initiator, tests from God, tests from the self and tests from the world. To go through these tests is a sign of real progress in the mureed, while the one who does not undertake these tests will be wasting his time.

The Order, and this is apparent from the word "order" itself, means that there is a certain formal hierarchy of the initiators and of the Pir-o-Murshid and that they should be regarded and respected as those who have gone farther in that chosen direction. This law is in no way different from the law of nature and of life. When a child who has been disrespectful to its parents itself becomes a parent, it will find the same attitude in its own children. A soldier who does not observe discipline under his captain or colonel will experience the same from his subordinates when later he holds that position. However, the question is whether he will ever arrive at that rank, not having considered and observed that which should have been observed. For those who have advanced in any line, whether in music, poetry, thought, or philosophy, have always done so in a humble way, at every step greeting those who have gone farther.

There are three stages for the pupil, the mureed, who treads the spiritual path. The first stage is receptivity, taking all that is given without saying, "This teaching I will accept, and that teaching I will not accept." The next stage is assimilating the teachings. The third stage is fixing them in the mind and letting the mind see the reason of things; but this comes after assimilation. Thus, the one who considers these three stages and goes through them carefully, securely — the stage of receptivity, the stage of assimilation and the stage of consideration — will be the successful mureed on the path.

Although the outer form might appear to be a hierarchy, the message leads to true democracy, for it holds the promise of the goal that is the yearning of every soul. This, itself, is the principal thing in democracy because it is this that makes democracy. The reason, according to the mystic, is that the divine spark is in every soul. It is with trust and confidence in God, in the murshid and in that divine spark that is in one’s own heart that one is assured of success in life, if one will only step forward.

The Different Steps On The Path

The word "initiation" is interpreted by different people in different ways. By some, it is considered to be a kind of attachment to a certain secret order. However, what I mean by initiation is, taking a step forward on a path unknown to oneself.

Initiations are of three different types. One initiation comes from within oneself, and this initiation is a person’s intention to proceed on a path that is not generally taken by his fellow creatures. If this does not come from within, then he will always be afraid to take a step farther on a path that others around him do not take, for the conception of the generality is not that of an individual. The nature of most people is like that of sheep; wherever sheep are taken, there all the other sheep will follow. One should realize that although it is the nature of sheep to move in a flock, this is not the real nature of man. He will always deny that he has this tendency, and he will disapprove of it, and yet he will do that very thing without knowing that he does it. If you want to see it, just stand in the street and look up with surprise, acting as if you were absorbed in what you see; and soon, 20 persons will be standing by your side, not only foolish people, but wise ones, too! Therefore, he who is initiated, who walks on the path of initiation, is someone who has risen above the crowd and goes his individual way forward, independent of those who are around him.

When a man begins to feel that there is something behind the veil, when he begins to feel that there is something which he can attain by effort, then he takes the first step on the path which, as yet, he does not know. One should not be surprised if one notices this initiation in a five-year-old child. Neither need one be surprised if one does not see any sign of it in a man of 60 years; he has had no tendency towards it, and all his life he has not thought about it. However, the one who has received this initiation will go on. Even in childhood, he will show the tendency to take a step forward on a path which others do not take.

One will find this initiation in all the different aspects of life. A child taking a slate and pencil and drawing a picture, while not being an artist, still has a tendency to draw something, perhaps an idea that is not a child’s idea but is very wonderful. One will find a child humming or singing a piece of music that a composer will be surprised to hear. He is doing something which is not ordinary, something which comes spontaneously from his soul and which shows his initiation on that path. One will also hear a child speak on certain subjects and express ideas which are quite different from what one would expect from a child, ideas that are, perhaps, even beyond the comprehension of a grown man. Yet the child speaks about it; it is his initiation.

I have known a child to ask me, "Why must one kneel down, why must one prostrate oneself when they say that God is above?" I have known another child to say, "Why must there be one direction in which a person should look in order to worship, why should not all directions be equally good for worship?" Many adults have the fixed idea that they must perform their worship in a certain direction and not in any other, and never once in their lives have they asked themselves why. One will find adults who have, perhaps, worshipped kneeling down all their lives and have never asked themselves why they should kneel down on the earth when they are supposed to worship God in the heavens. Therefore, to believe, to worship, to be pious, to be good, is quite different from the idea of being initiated. Initiation means emerging from the ordinary, it is rising above the conditions which are common. This shows the maturity of the soul.

The second stage is the materialization of this initiation, and this materialization is possible with someone living on the earth. For the condition of being initiated completely is to become initiated on this plane of earth, on the physical plane where one is living and moving and through which one is experiencing life.

People make a great many mysteries out of the name initiation, but the simple explanation of initiation is trust on the part of the pupil and confidence on the part of the initiator. I heard from my murshid, from my initiator, something which I shall never forget: "This friendship, this relationship which is brought about by initiation between two persons, is something which cannot be broken, it is something which cannot be separated, it is something which cannot be compared with anything else in the world; it belongs to eternity."

When this initiation takes place, it then becomes the responsibility of the initiator to think of the welfare and well-being of his pupil; and it becomes the responsibility of the initiated to be faithful and true, steady and unshaken, through all tests and trials. There are some who will go to one person and be initiated, and then afterwards, they go to another to be initiated, and then to a third. They might go to 100 persons, but they will become a hundred times less instead of a hundred times more blessed. For the object of friendship is not the making of many friends; the object is to keep friendship steady, unchanged, whole. Of all kinds of friendship, the friendship that is established by initiation is the most sacred and must be considered beyond all other relationships in the world.

There is a story of a peasant in India, a young peasant who used to take a great interest in spiritual things. Someone with a great name happened to come to his town,, about whom it was said, as it was always said among simple peasants, that he was so great that by coming into his presence one would be sure to enter the heavens. The whole town went to see him and to get from him that guarantee of entering the heavens, except that peasant who had once been initiated. The great man, having heard about his refusal, went to his house and asked him, "How is it that you who take such interest in holy subjects did not come, while everyone else came to see me?" He said, "There was no ill-feeling on my part, there was only one simple reason. My teacher who initiated me has passed from this earth; and since he was a man with limitations, I do not know whether he has gone to heaven or to the other place. If, through the blessing of your presence, I were sent to heaven, I might be most unhappy there; heaven would become another place for me if my teacher were not there."

It is this oneness, this connection, this relationship between the initiator and the initiated, which gives them the necessary strength, power and wisdom to journey on this path. For it is the devotion of the initiated which supplies all that is lacking in the initiator, and it is the trust of the initiator which supplies all that is lacking in the initiated.

There is no ceremony that one above form considers really necessary, but ceremonies or dogmas are not regarded as undesirable, so there is not prejudice against ceremonies. They have even adopted ceremonies for themselves at different times.

There are various paths of attainment; for instance, the paths of Salik and Rind; and among those who tread the path of Salik, of righteousness, there are many whose method of spiritual attainment is devotion. Devotion requires an ideal, and the ideal of the seeker of truth is the God-ideal. They attain to this ideal by a gradual process. They first take bayat, initiation, from the hand of one whose presence gives them confidence that he will be a worthy counselor in life and a guide on the path as yet untrodden, and who at the same time shows them in life the image of the Rasul personality, the personality of the ideal man. He is called Pir-o-Murshid.

There are several steps on the path. This is a vast subject, but condensing it, I would say that there are five principal steps. The first is responsiveness to beauty of all kinds, in music, in poetry, in color or line. The second is one’s exaltation by beauty, the feeling of ecstasy. The third step is tolerance and forgiveness. These come naturally without striving for them. The fourth is that one accepts, as if they were a pleasure, the things one dislikes and cannot stand — in the place of a bowl of wine, the bowl of poison. The fifth step is taken when one feels the rein of one’s mind in one’s hand; for then one begins to feel tranquillity and peace, at will. This is just like riding on a very vigorous and lively horse, yet holding the reins firmly and making it walk at the speed one desires. When this step is taken, the mureed becomes a master.

The time of initiation is meant to be a time for clearing away all the sins of the past. The cleansing of sins is like a bath in the Ganges. It is the bath of the spirit in the light of knowledge. From this day, the page is turned. The mureed makes his vow to the murshid that he will treasure the teachings of the masters in the past and keep them secret, that he will make good use of the teachings and of the powers gained by them, and that he will try to crush his nafs, his ego. He vows that he will respect all the masters of humanity as the one embodiment of the ideal man and will consider himself the brother not only of all those in the order to which he belongs, but also outside that order of all those who are of the One in spirit, although they may call themselves differently; and of all mankind, without distinction of caste, creed, race, nation or religion.

Some mystics and/or seekers engage in Halka, a circle of sitting and practicing zikr and fikr so that the power of the one helps the other. Furthermore, they practice tawajoh, a method of receiving knowledge and power from the teacher in silence. This way is considered by breathers of being to be the most essential and desirable. Sometimes a receptive mureed attains, in a moment, greater perfection than he might attain in many years of study or practice because it is not only his own knowledge and power that the murshid imparts, but sometimes it is the knowledge and power of Rasul, and sometimes even of God. It all depends upon the time and upon how the expressive and receptive souls are focused. The task of the real guide is not to force a belief on a mureed, but to train him so that he may become illuminated enough to receive revelations himself.

Inner Study

Why does the seeker of mystic realization 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 true seeker’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 One of Heart belongs to every religion, and thus he has no special beliefs or speculations. There can, for instance, be one who believes in reincarnation, and another who realizes heaven and hell. The work 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 50 books, and may read 1,000, 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 initiation 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, "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.

Three Aspects of Initiation

As birds gather in flocks, and animals, in herds, so there are human beings who move in groups in this or that direction, drawn by the power of others. Yet, if one asks a person if this is the case with him, too, he will say, "No, not with me, but with all others." It is difficult for anyone to realize to what extent he can unconsciously move with the crowd to the right or to the left. And when a person takes a step in a different direction, dissatisfied with being held and swayed by the crowd, by his friends and relations, by those who surround him, then he shows initiative.

So, the real meaning of the word initiation, which is related to initiative, is that a man takes his own direction instead of going in the direction of the crowd. When this happens, the religious people will say that he has become a heathen, his friends will say that he has become foolish, and his relations will say that he has gone crazy.

Initiation has three different aspects: one is natural initiation, another is advanced initiation, and the third is higher initiation. The natural initiation may come to a person at any time of his life. It does not come to everyone, but only to some. And for this initiation one need not go to a teacher; it comes when it is time for it to come. It comes in the form of a sudden change of outlook on life. A person feels that he has suddenly awakened to quite another world. Although he remains in the same world, it has become totally different to him. Things that seemed important become less important. Colors pale, and the brightness of things disappears. Things show themselves to have different values. The value of everything changes the moment the outlook is changed. It is a change like looking through a telescope. Through a telescope one sees things quite differently.

A person may be young and have that experience, or it may come at any time in one’s life. To some, it comes gradually; but then, it is a long process. With others, something suddenly happens in their lives and in the twinkling of an eye, the world has become different and everything suddenly has a different value. This is natural initiation.

How is this initiation brought about? What is its metaphysical process? The soul is veiled by covers, one cover over the other, and the rending of these covers allows the soul to emerge or to rise higher. Naturally, with the next step, the horizon of its outlook becomes wider, and the soul reaches farther, while life becomes clearer. A person may not be conscious of such a change; he may ignore it or not know about it; yet, it is there, even though among a hundred people perhaps only one is really conscious of it.

With every step forward that the soul takes on the path, it naturally comes closer to God. Coming closer to God means inheriting or drawing towards oneself the qualities of God. In other words, the soul sees more, hears more, comprehends more and enjoys more because it lives a greater, higher life.

The teachers and prophets who had to give a message to humanity, who had to render a service to humanity, had such initiations even in their childhood. There is a symbolic story that the heart of the Prophet Mohammad was opened and some substance was taken out of it. People take this literally; but the real meaning is that a cover was torn away and the soul was allowed to reach upward and go farther on the path. There may be many such initiations, perhaps one or two, or six or seven, according to the state of evolution of the initiate.

Life, as we live it today, is very difficult for a person whose outlook is thus suddenly changed. For the world lives nowadays at a certain pitch, and it cannot tolerate someone whose pitch is below or above the ordinary pitch of life. People dislike such a one, they make difficulties for him, they disapprove of him and of his ideas. If he does not have any friend or guide on the path, then he may linger on in the same plane of thought till nature helps him, for everything else pulls him backwards.

Some people think that saints, masters or sages have no need for initiation; but they forget that no soul can go farther on the path without initiation.

What is the result of this natural initiation? Bewilderment, extreme bewilderment. But this bewilderment is not the same as confusion. There is a vast difference between the two. In confusion, there is an element of doubt; but when a person is bewildered, he says, "How wonderful, how marvelous! Words cannot explain it, it is a miracle!" It may appear quite simple to someone else, but to an advanced person, it is a miracle. And there may be others who say, "How foolish, I do not see anything in what you have seen!" But what one has perceived is so marvelous that it cannot be explained.

Such is life. It is a difference of outlook. One person sees a wonder, a splendor; and another says, "What of it? It is quite simple, it is nothing." And the one who says this thinks that he is superior because to his mind, it is simple. While the one who wonders has the outlook of a child, for a child wonders at everything. No doubt it is childlike, but it is the child’s soul that sees; it sees more than the soul of an adult who has become covered by a thousand veils. In infancy, the child can see the angelic world, it can talk with unseen entities, it can see wonderful things belonging to the different planes. It is easy to say of something that it is childlike, innocent, or ignorant; yet it is the most wonderful thing to be childlike and to have the innocence of an infant. There is nothing better to wish for, as in this, all happiness and beauty are to be found.

This bewilderment produces a kind of pessimism in a person, but a pessimism which cannot be compared with what we ordinarily call pessimism. For we regard pessimism as a kind of wretchedness, but this is something different. A hint of this is to be found in Omar Khayyam’s verse, "O, my Beloved, fill the cup that clears today of past regret and future fears; tomorrow, why, tomorrow, I may be myself with yesterday’s seven thousand years!" This pessimism comes as an upliftment, it makes a person see life from a different angle. The very life that seemed before to be towering over his head suddenly appears to be beneath his feet.

What is it, then? Besides calling it pessimism, one could also call it indifference, or independence; yet, it is none of these three things. There is no word for it in English. In Sanskrit, it is called vairagya, an emotion, a feeling quite different from all other ways of looking at life, an outlook which brings one into an entirely different world of thought. The values of things and conditions seem to change completely.

One might think that it would be an uninteresting life to be indifferent. However, that is not so. It is most interesting. It gives one a feeling as if the burden of life were lightened. What a wonderful feeling this is! Think what a little relaxation after a day’s toil can do, when one can just rest for a moment. What upliftment comes, what soothing vibrations, and how the mind feels refreshed! If then the spirit has the same experience, feeling that the load it is continually carrying day and night is lifted, then it, too, feels widened for a moment. What a blessing this is! It cannot be spoken of in words, but the one who has had even a slight experience of it can comprehend its value.

No doubt there comes a time in a man’s life when, even if he were initiated a thousand times by nature, he still seeks for a guide walking upon the earth. Many will say, "Why is God not sufficient? Why must there be someone between God and man? Why must it be a man who is just as limited as we are? Why can we not reach the spirit of God directly?" But in a man who is your enemy and who has tortured you throughout your life, and in another who is your greatest friend, and in your teacher who inspires and guides you, and in all these is to be seen the hand of God. They have all three guided you on the path of inspiration; they are all three needed in order that you may go farther in life. The one who has disappointed you, who has harmed you, is also your initiator, for he has taught you something, he has put you on the road, even if not in the right way. And he who is your friend is your initiator, too, for he gives you the evidence of truth, the sign of reality. Only love can give you a proof that there is something living, something real. And then there is the inspiring teacher, be he a humble man, an illiterate person, or a meditative soul, a great teacher or a humble one, he is what you think him to be, as everyone is to us what we think them to be.

If it were not necessary that man should guide his fellow men, then Jesus Christ would not have been placed among those fishermen who could not understand him; and yet, he proved to be their guidance. The presence on earth of personalities such as Buddha and all the other teachers — many of them not even known to humanity, though they have done so much, but who always will be under whatever name and in whatever guise they may work — gives guidance to individuals and to humanity. God never reaches so directly and so fully as when He reaches through His teachers. The best way for God to reach human beings is through a human being; not through an angel, but through man who is subject to birth and death and to all the faults that everyone has.

The way of the teacher with his initiate is strange. The greater the teacher, the stranger may be the way. The teacher may test, and the teacher may give trials; and the attitude of the teacher can never be understood, for a real teacher never commits himself. Neither his yes nor his no can be understood, for their meaning will be symbolic and very subtle. Perhaps he will speak in parables, perhaps he will teach without teaching, perhaps he will teach more just by a glance than by speaking a hundred words. Perhaps the presence of the teacher is of greater blessing in the life of the pupil than a hundred books he has read. Neither the indifference nor the sympathy of the teacher may be taken for what they appear to be, for in both, there is something else. The more one studies the personality of the teacher, the more puzzled one becomes. The teacher is the initiator of life, he is the example of the subtlety of the whole of life.

Some people affirm that they have been initiated by a teacher on the other side. Well, perhaps they have; but are they not then in two worlds, the teacher in one and the initiate in the other? The initiate neither belongs to the teacher’s world, nor does the teacher belong to his. This surely gives one less trouble than having to regard the pleasure of a living being. It is easier to feel that one has someone at one’s back who is always whispering in one’s ear and who speaks to one in dream or vision. It is not wrong, and in some cases, it is even true. There are souls, there are teachers, who have perhaps not given on earth what they had to give, what they had to impart to others, but that is not the normal process. If it were a normal process, then all the teachings would have been sent from the other side; but neither Buddha nor Jesus Christ nor Mohammad gave their teachings from there.

Today the prevailing thought is that no man should guide his fellow men and that there is no virtue in such guidance. This thought is so widespread that it is preventing people from seeking guidance from someone who is facing the same struggles, the same troubles, and who has the same experiences as everyone else. They go on rejecting such a man, as Jesus Christ was rejected, and at the same time, they are looking for someone on the other plane! Many societies and groups have puzzled their heads so much over this subject that they have deprived themselves of that living water which follows its natural course through the world of man.

The work of the teacher is most subtle. It is like that of a jeweler who has to melt the gold first in order to make an ornament out of it. It first has to be melted; but once it is melted, once it is not hard metal anymore but has become liquid, then it can be made into a crown or a ring or an ornament. Then one can make a beautiful thing out of it.

After this, there is a further step. When the pupil has received the initiations that the teacher has to give, then the teacher’s task is over and he sends him on. The teacher does not hold the pupil indefinitely; he has his part to perform during the journey on the path, but then comes the inner initiation. This comes to the disciple who has become meditative, whose interest has become keen, whose outlook has widened, who sees life differently, whose conscience has acquired the habit of reasoning, of expanding.

No doubt in this experience, also, there is always help to be had. As help comes on earth, so in the unseen world, too, that help then comes. It is as if we were in the street in some kind of difficulty; naturally, others would come by to see if they could be of any assistance. So, as one goes further, one attracts the sympathy of beings who are always busy helping humanity from all planes of existence. The sympathy of those who are close to the one who is traveling on the path is attracted, giving him a hand to go forward. It is that giving of a hand which is called initiation. There are so many different initiations; they are all steps by which to go upward.

In conclusion, I shall mention what is attained through initiation. What one attains is that realization for which we are born, which is our life’s purpose. Unless we approach life’s purpose, nothing we do will help us sufficiently; it will only help us perhaps with a certain need of ours, but not any farther. There is only one thing that gives complete satisfaction, and that is to arrive at self-realization. It is not simple, and it needs more than just meditation and concentration, although these are of great help in the attainment of self-realization. Those who believe that by reading a book on yoga they can get to that realization are mistaken. They are mistaken because it is a phenomenon, and it is by this phenomenon that one proceeds further.

Some people think that by straightforward study, by purely scientific study, that they can come to realization; but in order to attain self-realization, a certain way of life is necessary. Is it the life that religious people teach, that one should live in such and such a way? Is it a life according to certain principles, certain dogmas? No, nothing of that kind. It is the continual process of effacing the self. It is just like grinding something which is very hard. It is a continual grinding of the self. The more that the self is softened, the more highly a person evolves and the greater his personality becomes. No matter what power and inspiration a person may have acquired, if there is no self-effacement, then nothing is accomplished. The result brought about by initiation is self-effacement, and self-effacement is needed in order to arrive at true wisdom.

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