As he continues his series of teachings on the important topic of initiation, Hazrat Inayat Khan here speaks of ‘natural’ initiation, by which he means an awakening or alteration that come spontaneously, and not at the hand of a guide or teacher. The previous post in the series ay be found here.
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; and yet, if one asked a person if this is the case with him too, he would 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 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 that in which the crowd is pulling him. And 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 which 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; it may come at any time in one’s life. To some it comes gradually, but then it is a long process, while to others, something suddenly happens in their lives and in the twinkling of an eye the world has become different; 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 further, while life becomes more clear. 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.
At every step forward that the soul takes on the path, it naturally comes closer to God, and 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, a 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 symbolical story that the heart of the Prophet Mohammed 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 further 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; and 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 further 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 marvellous! 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 a grown-up, which 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 Khayam’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 which 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, and 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, but that is not so; it is most interesting; it gives one a feeling as if the burden of life was 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.