Every seeker eventually arrives at the question of his own destiny, a question, which almost everybody formulates in the same way: “Why am I here?” Self-awareness and the process of internal awakening force a person to seriously ask themselves this question, because realization demands an aim, and in the external world an aim is always connected either to fate or to a destiny that must be fulfilled—this, anyhow, is how it is with mystics. They are always interested in how predetermined the process of Creation is itself and whether the fate of every individual human being is predetermined, or if there is still some freedom of the human will.
Atheists never have to face this question: for them, everything—including the origins of life on Earth—is a collection of accidents, in which we may nonetheless discover certain governing principles in the form of physical, chemical, biological and even societal laws. Atheists have no doubt as to their own free will. In all religions that have formulated their own morality and codes of recommended behavior, and that have a concept of sin, free will and free choice are automatically implied. On the other hand, there are mystical teachings and schools of philosophy that maintain that everything was predetermined from the start, from the very first impulse that began Creation. That the big bang set in motion the start of the visible universe, and the moment it happened, the foundational laws were formed, by which that universe continues to exist, all the development in Creation was predetermined from the moment it began. Generally, there have always existed two extreme points of view on the question of predetermination—total freedom of choice or total predictability and the impossibility of changing anything at all. The theory of free choice has always appealed to the human ego—because of it, the ego has been able to consider itself far more important. It is unsurprising that with science’s successes in knowledge of the physical world, the ego, too, has grown, and this is why atheism’s time has now come, giving the world its bloodiest wars, with the largest number of victims. Science has helped this, too.
With free will, everything makes sense—there is no plan for Creation, nothing is predictable, there are only people’s behavioral characteristics, borne hither and thither on the wind. With total predetermination, too, everything makes a kind of sense, although this notion does not sit well with the ordinary human mind. What does it mean to say that everything was predetermined from the start? Does it mean that we live with the illusion of choice, without actually having it, and that all our suffering is little more than the tears of a puppet in a shadow play? Free will makes man the master of his own destiny, while the theory of predetermination transforms him into its slave. Of course, people prefer to have the feeling of freedom, and this is why there are more religions in which people have choice—whether to sin or not—than those where the question of freedom is either bypassed with silence or completely denied. And yet there were saints who stated directly that everything in our lives is predetermined. This was what Ramana Maharshi said, for example.
For a long time, I myself was also inclined towards the notion that everything was predetermined. Of course, I was no saint, but on the other hand I had had some experience in predicting the future. What it was, after around a couple of years after I began regularly performing the spiritual practices, I came to have a permanent presentiment of my own future, primarily concerning work on the self. I lived with this presentiment for many years; on top of that, there were other predictions relating to the future in general, as well as the futures of people I knew. And if you can predict the future—that must mean it is predetermined. So, in any case, at the time it seemed to me that none of my presentiments was deceiving me.
However, after I accepted the Will and began following it, my notions of the capacities of human choice suffered a serious blow. Then, for the first time, I encountered the Pattern, which has always been known about in the tradition of Naqshbandi. Known about in a certain sense, anyway, although all the available commentaries were extremely turbid, and talked about how, as they say, the Sufis intertwine their Pattern within the hearts of people. This explanation—and many others like it—is absolute drivel, albeit it poetic, meaningful drivel. There is a Reality and the Pattern is a part of it, but to figure this out requires a sufficient level of perception, which not everyone possesses. In his book, Journeys with a Sufi Master, H.B.M. Dervish talks about how Patterns are connected to the plane of Creation and how the plane of Creation is a naqsh —that essentially it is the Pattern. I will go into this in more detail in the following chapter, but for now we are talking about something different. In following the Will I came across a phenomenon that destroyed my complacent conviction in the predetermination of the future. It turns out that the Pattern can change, and that in the plane of Creation, different alternatives are predetermined, according to which events may develop differently, regardless whether they are internal or external, as both of these are closely connected.
In following the Will I discovered that my predictions and visions of the future were no longer effective. I saw the direction I should be moving in and what I had to do, but after beginning to act, everything suddenly seemed to have changed and the whole thing was no longer relevant. To begin with, I attributed these pivots in the situation to the imperfection of my own perception.
That is, I decided that I had been mistaken, but over time this began to seem forced, and with the best will in the world I could not accept it. At that point the changeability of the Pattern was revealed to me, and how our future has several alternative paths. Idries Shah talks about this directly in Journeys with a Sufi Master, but reading a book is one thing—coming face to face with alterations in the image of the future in waking life and gaining this experience is quite another.
At this point it was incumbent upon me to reassess my attitude towards fate and the predetermination of human life. It emerged that Truth was to be found not somewhere nearby, but right in the middle—between assertions on freedom of the human will, and the fatalism of absolute predeterminism. It sounds a little strange, but it is true. To be exact, it’s like this: at one moment, a person has free choice, while at another he has none.
Imagine you are a warrior in a Russian epic; you stand at a crossroads. There is a fork in front of you with three roads leading off it, each in its own direction. At the point when you have yet to make your choice, you still have that choice. As soon as you begin travelling along one of those roads, you are setting out upon the path that was predetermined, because the road has been paved up to a fixed point and there is no way to turn off it, at least not until a new fork or crossroads appears. While you are travelling along the road, your path is predetermined by it, and only at a new fork will you once again get free choice. The same thing happens in human life—at certain moments we have choice, and then for a time we reap the consequences and are unable to change anything. The short period in which we have the ability to make a choice gives way to a far longer period where there is no choice. And it is not important whether you make the decision yourself or it is made for you (if, for example, you are completely unable to decide anything), but the moment when choice is possible is always short, while the path that begins after it has been made is much longer.
In other words, predetermination is clear and present in our lives, but it is discrete, which is to say, intermittent, and at every disjuncture we may alter the course of our fate. Or otherwise alter the circumstances of our life. Immediately after birth, a person has no choice at all, and cannot have any, because all the circumstances in which he grows up are preconditioned by the choices that have been made by his parents up to that time. His first serious choice comes when he leaves school, and he is then predetermined for the next several years of his life. Then other situations also emerge that demand a choice, and everyone makes their next decision based on their understanding of the situation, their current desires and their circumstances. It feels as though upbringing and the desires one acquires beforehand decide everything, but no, you cannot go along with this unequivocally.
Choice is really quite complex. Imagine that any decision you make will directly affect the lives or the fates of your loved ones. This is often the case, and at such times, for those who are in any way associated with you and depend on you, you become an instrument of fate—blind and merciless; or the opposite—loving and sympathetic. Our lives our permeated with connections like these, and sometimes choice turns into a real torture—when you need to either take your own path or take care of loved ones and put off resolving your own problems for an indefinite period of time. All seekers encounter choices like this, and taking that decision is never easy. Sometimes, by following notions of correct behavior, you can blow all your chances, ending up in the same rut that over time all so-called normal people end up in.
The story goes like this: people who do no work on themselves eventually begin to repeat the same choices they have made before. To grossly oversimplify, you could say that they are eating the same food, smoking the same brand of cigarettes, rereading the same books and vibrating into the same egregors they have chosen once and for all. There are many causes coming together here, among them fear and conditioning occupy prime positions. This is how people begin walking around in circles where everything is predictable, though as a result to some extent it is safe, too. Striving for stability and security binds people into the very same branch of one’s personal Pattern more than the heaviest chains.
Observing the Patterns of different people shows how purposeful work on oneself can lead to serious alterations in what is commonly referred to as fate, while without that, a person will end up sooner or later repeating the same old circle. This is a self-evident fact we may observe in most people we know of a certain age. People setting out on the Path, on the other hand, change their lives so much that their personal Pattern does not exactly alter, but moves on to a different Level of Being and even finds its replacement. This is one of the mystical secrets that are hard to explain, but it happens. As I shall be writing in more detail on Patterns in the following chapter, I shall not pause on this issue now.
Here is what I have observed: when I was a seeker starting out, but could already predict my own future, I normally knew how things would turn out for me in the coming two-three months. My presentiment of things to come did not continue over the long term. There were sometimes flashes in the style of the visions of Baba Vanga, of the distant future, but they meant very little to me. Foreseeing the future helped me keep my head above water—because working on the self did not come easily to me. It never let me down—and if any unpleasantness started, at least I had managed to prepare myself for it internally, to take courage and have patience. For a neurotic, which is what I was then, the ability to prepare myself and accept what was to come was a great help in my inner work.
At the same time, knowing my future a couple of months ahead meant I could see a parting in the Path that was already predetermined by my last choice. And the fact that I could not see the future beyond two or three months totally stacked up with what I was able to change in my personal Pattern, which could be changed through the efforts I put into working on the self. This is the Truth: the personal Pattern changes in those who change themselves; those who walk upon the Path and dedicate their lives to Work. The Pattern changes at the point when a person transitions from the Downward to the Upward Stream—and how could he remain the same in that situation? Alterations also come with age—under the burden of years lived and experience gained, whatever that might be—but this change is originally enshrined in the laws of human existence, and it is laid down within the Pattern of every person—however senselessly and unconsciously a person has lived their life. On top of that, alterations come to all who try to change something in themselves—to learn something that will change his behavior, and later his life as a whole. In those who stagnate and gradually petrify, the Pattern cannot be changed, and their life flows on upon that well-trodden path. There is another side to this story. When I began following the Will, my future was no longer predictable. It seemed as though I could feel and see it all the more clearly, but in the end everything would turn out differently. The more actively I worked with people, circumstances and Patterns of a higher order, the more often my personal Pattern would change, and more recently the predictability of my future has been reduced almost to nothing. And this is another one of those paradoxes that abound on the mystic Path. Therefore, people who see in Surrender of the Will to God a perverse kind of slavery should not worry. Real slavery is when any person with an even slightly developed mental body can predict your whole life, even indicating the exact date of your death.
The plane of Creation, also called the Pattern, carries with it a certain kind of predetermination in what people call their fate. However, this fate has alternative paths of development and even the possibility of escaping the limits of every alternative, to a Pattern on a different level. If we take a very close look at the concept of fate—almost through a microscope—we will discover something or other about every person, as well as our own personal fate. It will not be very great, rather the opposite, and the fates of millions and billions of people in all different corners of the world will differ very little in their essence. But if we look at the concept of fate from a slightly higher perspective, then most people simply have no fate. It is so common and impersonal that only a great writer like Lev Tolstoy could manage to make something captivating and bedazzling out of it. Everything is far simpler, cruder and more primitive in reality as we know it. People live, for the most part, to vibrate energy and constantly keep moving. Moving is provided by the energy of desires, and vibrations by the emotions and feelings that come with them. And the individual nuances of how this leads to suffering are in their essence almost indistinguishable. Therefore, you could say that many people have a common fate, and that this is what we speak of when people come together to overcome a common disaster, like the one that brought us World War II. Or later on perestroika.
There are those people who somehow influence the fate of the whole world, like the President of the USA, or even the president of Russia. But in fact they are merely unconscious conductors of forces from the Downward Stream, and the fact that their individual Pattern should coincide with the plane of Creation concerning the country that they are somehow the leader of, does not grant them a special fate—their lives simply take place in public view, and the consequences of their decisions concern not only themselves but other people too. It is all a dream, as mystics have spoken of throughout time. No one would remember Pontius Pilate, were it not for Jesus Christ.
Of course, people exist with a clearly defined individual fate, somewhat distinct from the “common” fate of those around them. I have taken great pleasure on several occasions in seeing such people and I must say that there are very few of them among us. Why some share a “common” fate, while others have their own individual fate is the subject for a separate study, and I have no desire to debate that subject in this book. I am interested in the fate of the seeker, and it is this that I intend to examine in further detail.
Sooner or later, every seeker will ask themselves a question concerning their own fate and their destiny. The question of fate is tied to the desire to achieve one’s own aims and always comes down to “do I have it in me or not?” and “is my higher realization predetermined or am I wasting my time in vain?” There is not a single seeker who has not asked themselves these questions. And if the question of fate sometimes remains open until the very end, almost every seeker struggles with determining his own destiny in this life. Destiny is no idle concept, and how far a person can grasp and understand the essence of his own destiny, if he has one at all, depends on how fully his is able to realize himself both in life and in Work. Fate is a far more general concept, incorporating everything that happens or will happen to a person, while destiny only touches on why, figuratively speaking, God has created him and for what purpose he has sent him to this wicked earth. It is typical that anyone interested in their own destiny will always end up in one form or another working on knowledge of their essence and the search for Truth. It is also typical that people outside of the spiritual search, generally speaking, do not have any particular destiny, and for this reason they find their realization in some banality like carrying on the family name or treasure hunting.
It can happen that a person’s fate gives him the opportunity to fulfil his own destiny. For example, a person reaches higher realization and becomes a Master—this is how his fate unfolds. And then as a Master and conductor of the Will he gives people a new spiritual teaching, a new expression of Truth—and in this he fulfils his destiny. It can also happen the other way around: when a person’s destiny is completely determined, and can be fully realized only in the conditions of Work, but he is unable to make enough effort to succeed in that Work, and he remains not realized at all. I have also had occasion to see this.
In other words, fate and destiny are not strictly connected to one another. The way that fate unfolds depends on which particular manifestation of his personal Pattern a person chooses, while destiny may only be realized in certain conditions, which can only be brought about as the result of a completely determined choice and corresponding fate. That said, the seeker wants to find their destiny, because it makes his difficult path more meaningful and gives him stronger motivation to work on himself.
It can also happen that from a young age a person senses and knows about his destiny, but his fate does not unfold in the right way, or the force of the Downward Stream turns out to be higher than the force available to him, and for this reason he does not get to fulfil his role in life’s main event, which in many cases is pure improvisation. Life really is a funny thing.
Nevertheless, many seekers manage to get to a realization of their destiny, but its full realization may become possible only after opening the Heart and after the Surrender of the Will. The complete realization of a person is, to all appearances, impossible without the involvement of the Creator, and in order for Him to be able to create, He needs a conductor on the plane of our physical reality. A person who has surrendered their Will may become such a conductor, and in this his life gains new meaning and a specific destiny. To become a conscious conductor of Will and in some sense a contributor to Creation is not a bad destiny, although in the end it almost always takes on some specific form.
In Sufism there is a general position on the Sufi’s destiny—it is service to God and people. Normally this service does not take social forms and does not spill over into inventing new kinds of benevolent activity. Service to God comes in following His Will, within the limits of one’s power and comprehension, while service to people takes place in maintaining Knowledge and supporting the opportunity for those who really need it to receive it. Service is both a spiritual and mystical practice, and the essence of the life of any true Sufi. It fulfils, supports and leads the Sufi to the experience of ever newer aspects of Truth.
But individual destiny within this service is opened up to every seeker as he advances on the Path and undergoes that personal transformation, when he ceases to be a seeker and becomes a Sufi.