One often notices a tendency in the traveler on the spiritual path, who considers the change of spiritual practices as a sign of progress, but this is an error. And it comes from the habit that one has made by studying the knowledge of the outer world, as it is taught in the schools and colleges and universities, one thing after another. So he is accustomed to feel that by getting a new practice he is advancing. In reality, it is quite the opposite. It is not the change of practices, it is the continuity of them which brings it to a desired result.
One sees the same in music. The best player of music, of an instrument, considers the scales as the most important thing to play. The others will go on from one music to another, but the best player will still continue his scales. So it is with the singer; it is not by changing the song that the singer becomes great. It is by singing the same song more and more effectively that brings the singer to fame. In this is the secret of spiritual progress.
Most often it is the lack of patience that keeps a person back from advancing. Spiritual practices, in time, become a capital that brings an interest. This interest makes the capital larger and larger. In order to be rich, therefore, one does not need a new coin every day, the same coin can make one rich. The benefit that one derives from a practice in the first month that he has begun it, is much smaller compared to the benefit he derives by the same practice in the next year. And the way the benefit increases cannot be explained in words; it becomes unimaginably greater, which comes as the reward of patience.
It is not the change of practice which is necessary to progress; it is one’s belief in the effect of the practice, it is the centralizing of one’s mind upon it, it is the hope with which one looks forward to the effect that the practice brings. When a person says, “No, I don’t feel anything with this practice,” he may just as well go on saying that, and he will never feel anything from it. The fact is that it is not that the practice does not bring to him anything, it is that he derives unconsciously what the practice will bring to him. There is sometimes money invested which does not bring interest for some time. That does not mean that the money is lost. The day when the interest will commence, it will come to you. Therefore, what is needed is patience in the absence of the effect that one expects to derive from it.
I was telling a story which I shall repeat again. It is a story of a sage, Bullah Shah, who is know in Multan, near Punjab, to have been a great saint of his time. The story is when he was young he was sent to a school. A teacher gave him a first letter, “Alif,” like the figure of “one.”*
This give us such a lesson that the great Teacher is God. The teacher on earth teaches us a path. If we take that path, then in the end we must arrive there, because through the human God teaches. It is God Who teaches if we do not turn back, if we go on forward. If we have patience with the delay in arriving at that goal which we impatiently and restlessly seek, our success is sure. The Grace of God is such that He helps even the thief, the robber, the ill-doer in his motive, to let him see what comes out of his deed. Will He not help the one who is honestly seeking in this path? As the Prophet says that, “If you take one step to God, God takes a hundred steps to you.”
*Hazrat Inayat Khan told the story on various occasions. In volume V of the Message series, “A Message of Spiritual Liberty”, it is recounted as follows:
There is a story told in India of the boyhood of Bullah Shah, a great saint. He went to school when a young boy, and was set to learn the alphabet. He was given the first letter Alif, the figure one (a straight line), and he never progressed any further than this one letter. His master was in despair, also his parents. In the end they became weary of him, and he went to live in the jungle. After many years he returned and sought out his old master. He told him that he had now learned Alif, and had he anything else to teach? He then made the sign of Alif on the wall, saying, ‘Look, is it right?’ Immediately the wall split in two, making the sign of Alif. On seeing this phenomenon, the master exclaimed, ‘Thou art my teacher; I am thy pupil.’