In this instalment of the teachings on initiation, Hazrat Inayat Khan addresses the question of degrees of initiation. Most traditions have levels or degrees of initiation, and it is is not uncommon for people to speculate about their meaning or value. As Hazrat Inayat explains here, though, these degrees are rather a reflection of an inner journey, and in truth it makes no sense to talk about them. The previous post in this series may be found here.
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, or by knowing some secrets, or 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, 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 which is full of secrets. A person may study a whole library, may write fifty books and may read a thousand, yet all this leads him nowhere. If any study is required, we need not go anywhere else; our life itself is study, if we will only study it. For one who studies, life offers every opportunity; from morning to 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, whom we meet every day, with their tendencies and their attitude, are all the greatest material for study. Besides, 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 initiator will put his pupil on that path where, the further 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, ‘I tremble, I am afraid, I cannot stand before you.’ The lion 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 and 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 which 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 on to 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.