Not all students can really be called disciples, as Hazrat Inayat Khan explains in this instalment of our ongoing series on initiation. The previous post in the series may be found here.
There are four kinds of disciples, of whom only one can be described as a real disciple. One kind is the disciple of modern times, who comes and says to his teacher, ‘We will study this book together,’ or ‘Have you read that book? It is most interesting,’ or ‘I have learnt from someone else before, and now I would like to learn what I can from you, and then I will pass on to something which is still more interesting.’ Such a person may be called a student, but not yet a disciple. His spirit is not that of a disciple; it is the spirit of a student who goes from one university, from one college, to another; from one professor he passes into the hands of another. He may be well suited for such intellectual pursuits, but the spirit of the disciple is different.
Then there is another type, who thinks, ‘What I can get out of him, I will get. And when I have collected it, then I shall use it in the way I think best.’ Well, his way is that of a thief, who says, ‘I will take what I can from the purse of this person, and then I shall spend it for my own purpose.’ This is a wrong attitude, because spiritual inspiration and power cannot be stolen; a thief cannot take them; and if he has this attitude, such a disciple may remain with a teacher for a hundred years and still leave empty-handed. There are many in this world today who make intellectual theft their occupation; anything intellectual they find, they take it and use it. But they do not know what harm they do by this attitude. They paralyze their minds, and they close their own spirit.
Then, there is a third wrong tendency of a disciple: to keep back something which is most essential, namely confidence. He will say, ‘Tell me all you can teach me, all I can learn, give me all that you have,’ but in his mind he says, ‘I will not give you my confidence, for I do not yet know if this road is right or wrong for me. When you have taught me, I shall judge. Then I shall see what it is. But until then, I do not give you my confidence, though my ears are tuned to your words.’ This is the third wrong tendency. As long as a disciple will not give his confidence to his spiritual guide, he will not get the full benefit of his teaching.
The fourth kind is the right kind of discipleship. And this does not come by just thinking that one would like to go on the spiritual path, or that one would like to be a disciple, a mureed, a chela*, but there comes a time in every person’s life when circumstances have tried him so much that he begins to feel the wish to find a word of enlightenment, some counsel, some guidance, a direction on the path of truth. When the values of all things and beings are changing in his eyes, that is the time he begins to feel hungry for spiritual guidance. Bread is meant for the hungry, not for those who are quite satisfied. If a person like this goes in search of a teacher, he takes the right step; but there is a difficulty, and this is that, if he wants to test the teacher first, then there is no end to the testing. He can go from one teacher to another, from the earthly being to the heavenly being, testing everyone, and in the end, what will he find? Imperfection. He is looking for it, and he will find it. Man is an imperfect being, a human being, a limited being. If he wants to find perfection in a limited being, he will always end by being disappointed, whoever he meets, whether it is an angel or a human being. If he were simple enough to accept any teacher that came his way, and said, ‘I will be your mureed,’ it would be easier, though this is perhaps not always practicable.
Someone asked a Brahmin, ‘Why do you worship a god of rock, an idol of stone? Look, here I am, a worshipper of the God who is in heaven. This rock does not listen to you, it has no ears.’ And the Brahmin said, ‘If you have no faith, even the God in heaven will not hear you; and if you have faith, this rock will have ears to hear.’
The middle way, and the best way, is to consult one’s own intuition and inspiration. If one’s intuition says, ‘I will seek guidance from this teacher, whether he is raised high by the whole of humanity, or whether he is looked at with contempt and prejudice by thousands, I do not care,’ then one follows the principle of constancy in adhering to that one teacher. But if a person is not constant on the spiritual path, he will naturally have difficulty in the end. For what is constancy? Constancy is the reflection of eternity. And what is truth? Truth is eternity, and so in seeking for truth one must learn the principle of constancy.
The disciple has to have full confidence in the teacher’s guidance, in the direction that is given to him by the teacher. The Buddhists, who regard a spiritual teacher with great reverence, say, ‘We do not care whether he is well-known or not; and even if he is, we do not know if he will accept our reverence; and if he receives it, we are not sure he needs it.’ Worship can only be given to those of whose presence we are conscious; and it is especially intended for the spiritual teacher, for he shows us the only path that frees us from all the pains of which this life is full. That is why, among all other obligations involving earthly gain and benefit, the obligation to the spiritual teacher is the greatest, for it is concerned with the liberation of the soul on its journey towards nirvana, which is the only desire of every soul.
*=student; a Sanskrit word, thus often used in the context of yoga.
To be continued…
Dear Nawab, I have a question: and what if it feels like life itself (and thus everybody encountered in the path) is your greatest teacher?
Dear Nur Alam, then you have a good attitude.
The aim is not to find one human teacher from whom we learn, and reject all the other lessons that life offers us. But in the relationship with the initiator there is the possibility of something special. We may regard all people as our teachers but nevertheless we will not have the same depth of relationship with all.