Practices and the changes that come with them give to the student his own experience of passing through the stages of the Way. What can be done, however, if none of the students – for various reasons – have turned out to be in a state to pass through the Way to the end? Then he knows only a part of the Way, and it is good if the student himself understands and admits this. But if the Master departs this life, before he can manage to carry out the full transmission of Knowledge – what to do then? And what is this full transmission, anyway?
Truth is endless, and the Way lasts for each person who goes along it exactly as long as he lives in the body. That at least is what is believed. The entire fulness of Knowledge of an individual Master or Teacher will be equal to which part of the Truth was revealed to him on the Way, and which experience he gained on it. Truth is known only through interaction with God – in following His Will or in later stages of the Way. At the earlier stages, the student receives Truth in the form of words, in the form of information, but not as experience. He is not yet capable of seeing Truth directly; he may only learn to distinguish truth and a lie in himself and in other people. Illusions fills his mind, and only when they are dispersed will Truth begin to appear before him. This occurs to the extent of advancement along the Way, parallel to development of the higher abilities of perception.
Experience of the Truth becomes part of a mystic’s experience, but it must be separated from that experience that was obtained by him in practical work. And although Truth is an integral part of a mystic’s Knowledge, it cannot go into a transmission “by inheritance.” Thus, only the knowledge which was obtained in fact in practice, in efforts, can be transmitted; whereas what is revealed later, as if on its own, alas, cannot be transmitted. Even words, which do not help very much become entirely useless regarding the highest Truth – which incorporates all contradictions and much else.
Mystical knowledge refers to methods of interaction with the Supreme, to laws according to which it occurs, and are hidden from ordinary perception to the side of reality. Truth is the culmination of this knowledge which is known by a person and changes him, but he cannot become its owner – only a conduit. The person who has known Truth changes more to the extent it is revealed to him, but he does not possess it; rather, he is bound to it. Since Truth is one of the attributes of God, it cannot be any other way, because God possesses a person, and not the other way around. Thus does Truth possess the person who has turned to it, but the mystic can only lead and broadcast it to the world to the extent he can. Whether this is poems, mystical tracts or special forms of practice – it depends on the situation of the mystic himself; how he expresses his experience and how part of the Truth will appear to the world through him. But it is impossible to organize a direct transmission of Truth even for the most prepared students.
In the Sufi tradition, various types of transmission of spiritual (mystical) knowledge are distinguished. There is transmission by inheritance – from father to son or from father to foster (spiritually adopted) son. Now, unfortunately, these transmissions have become a basis for the degeneration of many Sufi orders, when spiritual power is transmitted by inheritance without serious grounds for this – in the sense of the level of advancement of the son or the nephew on the Way. In theory, the son of a Sufi Master or sheikh can pass through the entire Way under the guidance of his father and take his place quite deservedly. But now we see a somewhat different picture where what is happening is not the transfer of knowledge but the transfer of power.
There is also the transmission of knowledge from a Master to a student which occurs in the process of study, over a fairly long portion of time. What can be transmitted beyond the bounds of words? How can the Master’s experience be transmitted to the student in the fullest way? How much does the possibility of making such a transmission depend on them both? And here is the strange answer: if the way continues until the very death of the mystic, then during his life, it is not possible at all to transmit the entire possible fullness of experience, because something is happening and being revealed almost constantly. New aspects of the Truth, let us say, are not subject to transmission in any way, but new experience still comes, one way or another. Therefore, I would put it this way: at each stage of the Way, there exists the possibility of transfer of experience in accordance with that stage, or if the student comes when the Master has already disappeared into God, then one of the likely most effective practices of transfer of experience through direct contact remains – disappearance into the Master. In Sufism, this practice has the name “fana-fi-sheikh,” and it enables the student to try to unite his being with the being of the Master, and through this connection receive the transmission of knowledge and accelerate the process of his advancement on the Way.
One’s experience and one’s knowledge corresponds to each stage of the Way. It is impossible to accommodate the sum of all of them at once. Or to be more precise, it is impossible in the ordinary manner. But the mystical possibility of transmission of all the experience at once arises only when there is a vital, urgent need for it. As a rule, it does not arise in principle in direct study with the constant opportunity for contact with the Master. Teaching follows its course, some kind of transmissions are happening all the time, and the student grabs them in abundance, especially if he is already applying the maximum of efforts to work on himself. Therefore, a gradual transmission of knowledge takes place, which each receives and assimilates exactly to the extent of his readiness and need for it. In that case, they receive a transmission of knowledge, perhaps a great deal, and it is carried out sometimes almost unnoticed by them.