Murid: The Student
The following article first appeared in the journal Sufism: An Inquiry.
How does one begin to travel the path of the spiritual journey? For many, whose conception of spirituality consists more in feelings than ideas and truths, the question does not arise at all: One simply wanders here and there, guided by one’s own inner impressions of a sense of enlightenment descending. But for Sufis, the question is a vital one, because for Sufism religion is neither more nor less than truth. To be precise, religion is an accurate calculation of principles and practices that ends in the understanding of the self and ultimately the Divine as all there is. This central truth is the foundation of Islam, stated as there is nought but the Divine–la illaha illa Allah.
To journey forward along the spiritual path under the guidance of a truthful teacher is a challenge by itself; yet it presupposes the greater challenge of making oneself ready for such a journey. To qualify oneself for spiritual traveling the individual must look inside and ask: What is it that I am really looking for; how resolved am I to accomplish my goal; is it really necessary for me to understand and learn about the Divine; and what could guide me through this path of mystery?
Today, students and those who are interested in undertaking the journey of spirituality often seem more immediately interested in the teachers and their qualifications, rather than in their own inner being and qualities. The factor fundamental to the pursuit of any spiritual journey is the presupposition of a qualified student–that is to say, a student who is truthful in the heart and willing to take the step.
The Koran states: There is no coercian in religion. Such a truth should open up for us new doors to understanding religion. How can anyone be forced to be attracted to a beloved, and how can anyone become a follower of a principle, if the motivation is not already alwasy present in his heart?
The principles and practice of Sufism point towards disciplines whose goals are the understanding of the essence of self, disciplines which direct the spiritual traveller towards the path of inwardly understanding and experienceing the Divine and the unity. There must be that magnetic attraction between the sender and the receiver, the follower and that which is followed: and ultimately between the lover and the beloved.
Understanding the rules and the laws of the Divine is a necessary beginning if one is to undertake the journey of the truth of religion. To pursue such an understanding the presence of a teacher who knows the way is one of the essential elements. There is a close correspondence between the two. Since the rule of balance or harmony is one of the most basic laws of being, ordering the universe surrounding us, therefore the purer the intention of the student, the more truthful shall be the teacher to guide him. Such a law makes it essential for any student of the heart to closely review his own will, and make certain that truthful intention exists in his heart before taking the first steps along the path of greater spiritual truth.
Assuming that one has a worthy intention at heart, nonetheless a beginner is unable to directly understand and become united with the Divine. One needs a medium to guide one along through the journey of soul. A teacher or guide is one whose will is annihilated into the will of the Divine, one who already illuminates the clear way of the path. It follows that if a teacher is truly a divine teacher, such a teacher must also be introduced by the Divine. Such a recognition is possible after one understands the necessity of spiritual discipline, and begins to practice accorignly.
The practices of meditation and concentration given by the teacher help a qualified student in opening the gates to the path of understanding the Divine. A truthful murid will receive truthful inspiration, and so shall find a teacher whose instruction will lead to Divine Unity.
As a Divine teacher should be introduced to the student by the Divine, then it becomes obvious that our choice of teacher–our selection and likes and dislikes–will not open any doors towards the reality to the Divine. OUr choices are merely the fruit of our desires.
Just as there must be a balanced harmony between teacher and student, expressive of the Divine law, so here also there is a balance between two sides of the equation. A teacher who is the Divine’s own selected one is responsible to reach out to grasp the hand of a truthful and honest student and guide him towards the goal. A truthful student, on the other hand, is his own self-evident proof of receiving Divine guidance; the truthfulness of his intention works accoridng to the rule of harmony and cooperation. Between the two, the attraction is so powerful that nothing can ultimately obstruct the way.
The other side of the coin is that one who is not inwardly honest on a quest of spirituality, one whose intentions and actions do not agree, will not be guided towards such a path, since the path leads straight from the heart of the self to the essence of the Divine. One who, intentionally or mistakenly misrepresents his heart cannot be worthy of the trust of a true teacher, and therefore cannot be permitted to tread the path of truthfulness. The law of harmony does not allow the dishonest to step onto the path of honesty.
Allah will reward the people of truth for their truthfulness, reads the Koran. Such a statement makes it not only clear, but also extremely fundamental for the prospective follower of the path of spirituality to qualify himself for the journey. Remember, one receives whatever one provides: those who receive the bounty of the treasury of the Divine are also those who can truly appreciate it.
Patience and forgathered knowledge are soft covering veils: the swords of reason and wisdom are sharp. It is well to cover a short temper through patience and dissolve the desires of attachments through wisdom. — Amir-al Moumenin Ali (seventh century, Arabia)