Attitudes differ on the necessity or value of different practices, but in all this one thing is absolutely clear—you cannot do without them altogether. The practices are dictated by the aim that the practitioner is pursuing, and are chosen on this basis. There are those that are called classics, for example muraqabah, lataif and dhikr in Sufism. These, you might say, are the foundational practices that are shown to any person intending to set out upon the Sufi Path. Muraqabah is pure meditation, being in the presence; lataif is working on the centers, and in particular it allows one to open the Heart; dhikr is at its core a mystical practice, though it also includes elements of contemplation and awareness. Prayer is mentioned very rarely in Sufism as a separate practice, inasmuch as it is part of the duty of any true believer. Because Sufism has now come out of the shadow of Islam to a certain extent, thanks to the efforts of Idries Shah, prayer has once again become important as an independent practice, enabling a connection to be built between God and man.
Every age has its own practices and, moreover, every Master has to invent his own practices that work here and now—at this time and with these people. This is a truth few people understand—the techniques given by a Master work most effectively in his presence, in his field of Work. Therefore, for example, after the Master has departed, many of the practices given by him lose some of their force. The presence of a conductor of the Will has a huge impact on the effectiveness of the practices invented by them. Hence the mystery of why after the death of a Master whole trends of the Work simply shuts down and disappear. You need a living conductor in order for these trends to exist. Without him, several forms of Work that were in place during his lifetime will also go. Work cannot exist without someone to do it, and therefore without a conductor of the Will it takes on strange and unsustainable forms, when people vibrate energy and motivate themselves by words and examples from a past which is no longer there. Herein lies the true value of the Master, that which is impossible in his presence becomes possible, and the practices work a little differently. Energy from the awakened consciousness of a Master, and also the mystical aspect of how it works influences human reality in such a way that, sometimes, almost anything becomes possible.
It is hard to explain, but to believe the explanation is even harder: Osho Dynamic Meditation was twice as effective while he was alive than it is now. This also happened with the practices like Gurdjieff’s Movements or Beelzebub’s Tales. Without any mystical components, which can only be implemented by a Master, all these practices are transformed into methods of vibrating energy, with no obvious benefit to the seeker for themselves. Of course, by performing the practices every day a person can train and develop their own will, as well as building within themselves the opportunity for growth and the next steps toward bringing the aims of their search to life. But even a simple thing like showering with cold water affected the followers of Porfiry Ivanov differently when he was alive. This is a great secret whose very existence followers of all types necessarily ignore. Their hearts would break if they were to suddenly understand that what they are following is only a means of maintaining the necessary egregor and the vibration of a particular kind of energy, but it is no good for anything else. Very often the death of a Master turns everything he discovered on the path into blind alleys. It is for this reason that those traditions are valued so highly where there is a continuation, where the work of the Master is not a lone activity, but works as part of a line of communication where the old core methods and practices remain, and a general understanding of the basis of the Path exists.
One could count the number of such traditions on the fingers of one hand, and in these postmodern times they may seem like an anachronism that is of no use to anyone. However, in that very chain of continuity it is possible to keep practices alive and avoid their being transformed over time into a useless and even harmful product. It is clear that the minds of people change as society changes, and for this reason the approach to working with them should also be changed. In this sense, old study materials might be an obstacle, or they might be an aid; and just as new wine may be poured into old wineskins, so within traditions Truth may be given new meaning and new expression, by using old symbols and language everyone already knows. And the old practices also then get used, if it is not their form but their essence that is followed, and they are adapted to people’s current condition.
And the essence of all spiritual practices is simple—it is either working with concentration, or working with the energies of the body, including from the physical and the mental. Working with concentration enables growth in awareness and the overall awakening of the person. It has to begin with awareness and observation of the sensations of the physical body, as this is the basis of our existence in physical reality. In the body everything is reflected in one way or another, and without working on awareness of the body it is impossible to get to a situation where you can remain constantly aware at any time of day or night. In fact, our physical body is the key to revealing and realizing all the other bodies, and it would be very foolish to ignore it. On the other hand, exercising only the physical body—tiring it out with yoga, diets and all different kinds of expurgatory exercises—is also not very smart. Balance is needed in everything, and the practice of awareness of the body will always be more useful than any physical burden, although you sometimes cannot do without them. Through the simple practice of awareness of the body one may reach everything—awareness of all the higher bodies, revealing the centers, acceptance of the Will. And yet this path is quite protracted, and this is why there are ancillary exercises to make it shorter. These are exercises in which a person works with energy from different levels, for example expressing suppressed emotions. Generally, all work with energies is connected to suppressed feelings or working through energy blocks in the different bodies; the exceptions are practices aimed at developing the mental body, as there are no suppressed feelings in it. The suppressed energies of emotions and desires become obstacles to revealing the Heart and block the function of conduction—one of the main functions of a human being. A person who suppresses their fear ultimately becomes a conductor of fear—and never a conductor of the Will. Working with suppressed energies is necessary—it enables the cleansing of all the bodies and an increased sensitivity of the person as a whole, and growth in awareness is also accelerated because of it.
Spiritual practices may also be performed without a Master, although their effectiveness is also increased if the practitioner has a connection to a field of Work that has been established by a Master. Nevertheless it is entirely possible to do it independently, and for most seekers now, to be honest, there is not much choice because today’s “masters” prefer talking about Advaita and the concept of how our “I” is an illusion. Or other no less high-minded things. No one talks about work—it is boring and difficult to sell. At the same time, no one except Christian preachers talks about God, because that is also boring. But Christian preachers have no need for seekers, they want more followers. So in a certain sense our seekers are languishing on their quests.
For the practice of awareness there is no need, essentially, for either Master or God. It is a journey within oneself, which may be undertaken alone. However practice demonstrates that it is quite difficult to take this path alone. The most difficult thing is to figure out those suppressed feelings and get to the root of one’s own fear or desires—it is here that one may deceive oneself or spend a long time stuck. Therefore guidance or even just talking to someone who has gone further is desirable, though not necessary. Individuals may take their own paths and wind up somewhere one way or another. The path of awareness may absolutely be the individual’s path. It is another thing if he wants to find his destiny and realization through Surrender (and there is no other realization, although in some traditions
Surrender is described differently), in which case he has to enter the common Path, which cannot be travelled alone. The lone path always implies a certain level of exclusivity on the part of seeker, and in these conditions there is a certain development of ego, so arriving at Surrender alone is always more difficult. Normally the individualist is his own God, however vehemently he may deny that in moments of weakness.
The Sufi tradition has no room for individualists. They do not want relationships and want to reserve the right to a certain choice, even if it is illusory. So they preserve their own egos and there is nothing more to add on this. As I have already written, mystics live not through relationships, but through a connection with God. It does happen that individualists gain this connection and live in it, but as a rule they are not capable of achieving that intensity of energy after which spiritual work transforms into mystical work. There were saints who prayed around the clock, but there are almost none of those people left now. At least, I have not met any.
Without achieving a certain degree of intensity in one’s internal energy, one cannot enter into mystical work. It just does not happen. Likewise it is not possible to get an answer, or else it will be a straightforward answer to a prayer that does not bring with it any new development or other opportunities.
Not everyone manages to get to the level of mystical work, including those who seek it and use different magical methods to do so. There are always fewer mystics than magicians, because it is quite easy to become a magician—you just have to really want it, to read a few books and start “bending” Reality. A magician wants to become ruler of the world, which is to say a minor God (or even a major one—in this everyone is different). Of course, magicians cannot do anything special—they are counteracted by the laws of our physical Reality, but they are fully capable of inflicting all kinds of unpleasantness upon themselves and other people. For some reason they rarely get to do anything but unpleasantness.
On the other hand, mystical work can sometimes provide opportunities to those who participate in it, which no magician could ever dream of. Here a further mystery is concealed—or a Truth that cannot be understood, without gaining the proper experience, although finding out about it is possible. Mystical practices deliver such possibility that the potential of each individual person taking part in the Work ceases to have any meaning, because at a certain point it becomes almost limitless. An impulse received from the Higher sphere performs all the Work with such force that the individual qualities of the people involved in it are lost, and all that remains is the aim that this practice is working towards. Mystical Work is practically impossible without a conductor of the Will, or better yet a Master. Not every conductor of the Will becomes a Master, but every Master is a vehicle of the Will.
It is the Will that introduces an unpredictable and to some extent divine element to the activity of every Master, through whom the practices begin to work more effectively. The Will of God is what creates the world and gives it life, so it should come as no surprise that conductors of it possess certain powers in terms of transforming people. I have written about this quite a lot already, and it is not worth repeating myself here. It is all about the mystical aspect of Work. In recent times, with successes in technical progress and the spread of false teachings, the mystical aspect has come to be forgotten about. The Dalai Lama travels all over with his Buddhist teachings about the good, here in Russia our priests stress the importance of observing the moral principles; the whole history of modern seeking comes down to either morals or magic—in the form of positive thinking and using intention—or indeed to Avdaita, which confidently asserts that nothing matters. The mystical aspect of the search has been vulgarized in the extreme, and Pelevin, for instance is by no means the main culprit in this. Everything is simplified, hence the essence of everything gets lost. The consequences of seventy years of atheist propaganda are making themselves felt—nobody believes in anything, but everyone is afraid his neighbor will give him the evil eye.
To live by the mind is all good and proper in the outside world, and this bears bountiful fruit within that world. The inner world goes by different rules and a connection must be built between God and man. Or to put it another way, it must be uncovered and acknowledged by any person who wants to move beyond the bounds of the ordinary. Beyond the bounds of the self, beyond the bounds of one’s own trivial concerns and similarly trivial desires. And if they seem big and important to you that just means the time of your meeting with God has not yet arrived. More likely, a real search is not for you. Everything is fine for you as it is in the Downward Stream. Mystical practices are the basis of mystical Work, which plays an equally important role as the mystic path. I repeat: to understand this without the relevant experience is almost impossible. But that is not to say that people sitting underground can never talk about the sky. Perhaps as a result of this discussion they will get the desire to change something and try something new. Perhaps they will be tempted by new spaces and the possibilities that are hidden within them. All Masters do not live in hope; but with that sense of kinship that binds people together in difficult moments, and, knowing the Truth, Masters look not to the mind but to the Heart of a person who retains the memory of the true state of things and of man’s true
role in this world.
Mystical practices enable one to move beyond the bounds of the limitations placed upon man by his smallness, his weakness and the short duration of his life in the body. Mystical practices, as distinct from spiritual practices, always take the form that is most suited to the tasks before their practitioners. During the time that they are performed, mystical practices unite a person with God, and that is their principal value. Through them, not only is a connection brought about, but a fusion with the Creator, if only for a brief moment. This is how experience of the beyond works, which is almost impossible to acquire in any other way, at least not before the moment when you have passed through all stages of spiritual transformation.
Mystical Work means conscious collaboration with the Will, and it also rarely happens outside of a group. Mystical Work takes different forms, but one can only get to it after first mastering the mystical practices—there is no other way. This, in part, is what constitutes the mystic path—by mastering one set of practices after another, you rise up to a higher level of personal being, and at that point possibilities will open up to you that you had absolutely no idea about, but which you are in fact prepared for thanks to the work you have already done. People who deny the value of the practices are either liars or fools. Finding practices that work and are suited to your condition is not always easy, but this is a different matter; the true seeker will always overcome this obstacle—he simply cannot allow himself to be lazy or stupid.