The principal thing in the esoteric knowledge is to distinguish between reality and individuality. What a person knows of himself is individuality, what he is generally ignorant of, is reality. But the knowledge of one thing for another thing is like a disinfectant. It is not the knowledge of individuality which makes one unable to look into reality, although it keeps one’s eyes covered from the vision of reality. One reads in the Koran that the Prophet being addressed as the one covering himself with a mantle. The idea is that whenever the Prophet wanted to communicate with God, he used to cover himself with a mantle, in other words, as if he meant to say that, “I am not capable of coming in Thy presence as long as myself is before me”, that “myself must be first covered in order that I may see Thy Presence.” When a person goes with his individuality to seek reality, it is like himself seeking himself, and cannot find what he seeks. The truth is that individuality is the cover over reality. If one wants to realise the reality one must lift this cover from it. Therefore, the Sufi’s main idea is the pursuit of reality. It is the knowledge of reality alone which makes him Sufi. Sufi means saf, in other words, pure. Pure from what? Pure from distinctions and differences. And what causes distinctions and differences? One thing, and that is individuality. However humble a person, still he claims to be “I”. That means he is something. He is not a big thing, he is a small thing, but he is something. He occupies a part of existence for himself, an existence which does not belong to him. Why does it not belong to him? Because he has no power over it. The existence which he holds fast, calling it me, may be taken away from him. Therefore he is not the right owner of what he calls his possession, or rather himself. To efface from one’s heart the illusion of possessing a self, which is not really oneself, but a passing phase, a dream, a phenomenon, it is that which will open the eyes of the soul to look at reality. Once the soul has looked at reality, it becomes reality. It rises above change and death, it widens its sphere, it touches heaven and earth in a moment, it spreads over land and sea. Then the self is no longer that small self. The phenomenon of this realisation is too great for words to explain. The virtue that springs from this realisation, the inspiration which rises from it, the blessing which is gained by it, the peace which is attained by it, is beyond comprehension.
Q.: By what practice can one separate these two things?
A.: The practice is to concentrate one’s mind on an object, that in the thought of that object one may forget oneself. That is the first and most difficult lesson to learn. And once that lesson is learned, the further journey becomes very easy. There is an amusing story, but at the same time it is most remarkable. This is written in the lives of the great Murshids, of the Murshids of the chain from which we have the initiation. It is the life of a saint who has been recognised as a great blessing in the north of India; that he was a seeking soul from childhood, and he had little education, too little for words, except that which he learned from his mother. The mother was simple, but blessed. And when the child asked the question, “Mother, what is the best occupation in the world?” the mother in her simplicity said, “Son, the search after God is the first thing”. As Christ has said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added.” He said, “Where are we to seek Him?” She said, “As far as I know, the seekers of God, some find Him in their religion, in their church, some in nature. There are different ways, child, whichever suits you best.” “Will you allow me, Mother, if I take your leave to go and search after God wherever I can find Him?” She said, “Yes, son, go wherever you like. As you are earnest to seek God, I will let you go.”
So he went in the wilderness and after a long time he came back. His mother asked: “What did you depend upon for your maintenance, child?” He said, “Upon the herbs and different things, fruits in the forest.” “Did you find Him?” He said, “Not yet.” She said: “Because you depended upon something of the earth for your life.” Next time he goes. Of course, the hunger must have something. But his hunger became different. This physical hunger was not the important thing in his life then, there was another hunger. He said: “I don’t know what we must be fed with, but I was fed with the thought of God. That thought satisfied my hunger. But yet I have not found Him”. She said: “Yes, because you depended upon the thought.” So he went again. Not even the thought he depended upon. He lived, so to speak, in the life itself. As we read in the Bible a most esoteric phrase, that “We live, move and have our being in God.” It was that problem that he had solved there. And then he came to his mother. “Yes,” he said, “I have lived in Him, but yet I have not found Him.” The mother said, “You have made preparation, my son. Now you must go and seek a Murshid.”
He went and sought a Murshid. The Murshid was deeply impressed. But the mureeds laughed and scoffed at him, saying that he was quite abnormal, quite unnatural, quite unbalanced, they did not know what to make of him. As for him, always living in the forest, in the wilderness, he was not well-versed in the things of the world. So little acquaintance had he with the things of the world. The mureeds could not understand him, nor did he make any effort for the mureeds to understand him.
The Murshid asked him one question [–do you like anything?] He said, “I was hardly in the world to like anything, except the cow that was in the house; that was the one thing that I have always liked to serve, and have always attended to it.” Murshid said, “Yes.” He gave him one of the rooms to sit for concentration, and he said, “Concentrate upon the cow.” The other mureeds concentrated for five minutes or ten minutes, in the room of concentration, and then went for walks and different things. But since he went he disappeared and no one saw him afterwards. Murshid wondered: “Where is he?” The mureeds said, “No one has seen him, we have been looking for him but we do not know where he is gone. Perhaps he has taken your leave and gone and he will never appear again.” Murshid said, “No, I do not think of him like this, I think of him quite differently. Will you go and see where he is?” They went and knocked at the door of his room, but there was no answer, the door was closed. They came to Murshid and said, “The door is closed, there is no answer.” Murshid said, “I will go and see.” He opens the door and sees that the mureed was sitting in concentration. Murshid calls him by his name, his name was Farid. “Farid, come out.” He said, “The horns are too large to come out from this door.” The object of concentration had become himself.
That is the removal of the cover of individuality. That which once he had thought himself to be no longer remained before him. The object that he has taken before him, he becomes that; that is the next step. The murshid said, “Those will perhaps attain to this in all their life, and he has attained to this the next day.”
There is little further to go. For that person the goal is at hand. And it is in this way that God is sought.