«Then to Me will be your return,
and I will inform you about what you used to do.»
Truth is revealed to those who seek it. To those who are prepared to go after it no matter the limitations, no matter the internal and external obstacles, of which there are many on the seeker’s path. Truth is revealed to those who do not fear it, who are ready to reject all of their own prejudices and who are open to new experience.
In his History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell lamented that all the philosophy of the past hundred years had moved from the broader matters of world order to purely human affairs—the limits to our knowledge of the world and the meaning of life. The reason for this change is obvious—examining the creation of the world became a scientific endeavor, while philosophers arrived at the discovery of a rather banal truth: every human being is primarily interested in themselves, and only secondarily in other people. After this discovery, the rise of psychology became inevitable—a science that seeks in earnest to study the mechanical reactions of the human psyche. However, the researchers’ own lack of self-knowledge has led to the whole subject of psychology being transformed into a series of theories made up of the projections and fantasies of their authors concerning “why modern man is the way he is.” Over time, it has become clear that these theories will never bring us any satisfactory answers or bring us to a new level of understanding of human nature. For this we have relied on mystics, with their experience in the knowledge of the self.
The moment that science began its triumphal movement towards explaining previously inexplicable phenomena and started uncovering the laws according to which the physical world existed, an opinion began to surface among many people that religious and mystical aspects of life should be consigned to the past. In relation to the God, who was meant to have been sitting up in the heavens, the God of the external, who manifests his presence in the external world—this was absolutely the correct opinion. You cannot see God with either a telescope or a microscope, that is a fact. And this could mean that He simply does not exist, or else it means only that in order to detect God’s Presence we must use different methods. These are the methods provided by the mystic paths, upon which the seeker may acquire their own personal experience of truth and the reality of God.
Religion is cluttered with rituals and demands that you believe in its dogma. By comparison to religion, mysticism is pure science, however strange that seems. Anyone who wants to may, by performing the recommended practices with due diligence, obtain objective and predictable results. Mystical work is based on the knowledge of symbols, which cannot be recorded or described by physics or chemistry, as they have nothing to do with the material world, but belong to the spiritual realm. Thus, when performing the practices, the seeker is in fact conducting an experiment, whose results, when the correct conditions are observed, are guaranteed and predictable. What is this if not scientific experience?
Every remotely serious religion has its own mystical movement which, as it emerges from the shadow of some belief or other, will often become a fully independent exponent of a spiritual or mystic science and the bearer of a special knowledge. In this sense, long-existing mystical schools and movements are susceptible to that law which Gurdjieff presented to the world as the “Law of Octaves.” To simplify somewhat, this law states that any activity performed by people inevitably degenerates over time if it does not contain within it any impulse for renewal, which will usually come in the form of desired or undesired transformation. Through degeneration, the form of the activity performed may remain as it was before, but its essence will be lost completely or severely changed. Any understanding of the essence of the practice is also lost, and true knowledge is substituted for the murky veils of “meaningful” phrases that explain nothing. Ultimately, followers of these crumbling systems are asked simply to believe in this thing and that thing, and to follow instructions and perform practices that have been “consecrated” in the course of time. And so knowledge and understanding are substituted for faith, while the school of mysticism becomes a religious sect.
Practically every long-established mystical movement has been subject to degeneration in one form or another, and Sufism is no exception. As I have written before—the essence of any mystical work consists in establishing and maintaining a connection to God, though not everyone has what it takes to become a conscious conductor and a carrier of that connection. The customary mode of transfer—the transfer of spiritual knowledge and continuity from father to son, for example, is not always effective by any means, and in fact quite often leads to the very deterioration I have alluded to above. At least, this is the picture we now observe in a number of active Sufi orders.
Needless to say, the interpretation of various matters concerning the theory and practice of Sufism has undergone a simplification, taking on aspects of the most primitive mysticism, whereby anything that is not understood is declared inherently hidden and inexplicable. Some things are hard to explain, it is true. They may only be lived, thereby to gain experience that goes beyond the bounds of what can be described in human language, yet it remains possible to delineate the mechanisms by which people may come to this experience themselves. In my view, there is now a real need to set out this collection of previously hidden truths that are explicitly tied to the Sufi methods of mystical work in contemporary language, bearing in mind people’s current state of being.
Truth is revealed to those who seek it. Those who care only for themselves and their own states of being cannot come to an experience of the Ultimate. They will be limited by themselves, and their efforts will always rely on their own ego, which with this approach will become an insurmountable obstacle. There can be no escape from the bounds of the ordinary if a person’s attention is limited and restricted to their own problems only. Bertrand Russell was right to a certain degree—philosophy, now locked up within the individual human being, has lost a part of the potential it once had. Mysticism has avoided this trap, laying its emphasis not on some cerebral understanding, but in direct comprehension of Truth. Sufis say that man is separated from Truth by three thousand veils - fifteen hundred veils of Darkness and fifteen hundred veils of Light. Those who are able to cast off all these veils shall attain a wholly untarnished vision of Truth. In casting off the influence of the energies from Darkness and Light, a person’s powers of perception will be made complete.
In any truly mystical school there is a strict partitioning of information, and access to knowledge is limited. The matter of knowledge is a dangerous matter. The practical orientation of mystical work would render the involvement of any person who is not yet ready to partake in the practices quite dangerous. Work involving energies with high-frequency vibrations is similar to the impact of radiation—a person whose internal structure is not prepared for this sort of impact may suffer. Therefore a certain amount of information is always held back, and this is where so-called esoteric knowledge comes in, which in every school of mysticism takes on its own specific form, and modes of application and transfer. This book presents a part of that mystical knowledge, pertaining to the Sufi Path and working methods.