Sufi School Spiritual and Mystical Practices
Sufi School Upward Stream
Author: Ruslan Zhukovets
Translated by Sufi Princess: Alexandra
The need for Service is one of the deepest and most basic human needs. And I have already written and spoken about it much. As a rule, people are not always well aware of that. And the very idea of Service, just the idea repels many, as it seems to them that when they serve, they go against themselves. There you are - a proud and independent self who must fulfill yourself someway, achieve your ambitions, shape your destiny as best and at the same time unlock your potential. But the potential of most people is in honoring and realizing their desires. And no one understands, or not many understand that all people, in one way or another, serve something. Some people serve their ideas, or one big idea, like liberty, equality, fraternity, justice, whatever. Fighting for justice, writing posts for justice, suffering for justice in one way or another, they invest energy in there. Other people serve family, or the idea of family. Whatever we take in terms of ordinary service, we’ll always come to a certain idea, some kind of intrinsic value described in words.
It’s rather difficult to realize that you are already serving something and are under the power of some idea. It seems like it naturally fills your life with meaning, gives it a sense of purpose. And the idea of service turns into the idea of meaning, of what is right and what is wrong. This division into right or wrong pushes you to certain actions and, in principle, gives rise to desires.
Ideas trigger desires, which give you energy to move and perform different actions. In fact, it's all surrogates. If we take the meaning of service, its essence, its mission as a human need, then any kind of common service leads to nothing. It’s a substitute, it's something that can be called sublimation. It’s like you want an orange, but there is nothing but a lemon, so you take a lemon, as you need to eat something, something that can replace an orange.
Those who in everyday life go beyond their usual obsession with a particular idea or several ideas, start looking for a higher meaning. It's when they have become disillusioned and awake, trying to break free from the power of common conditionality, that ordinary set that has been instilled either by parents, or by society and educators, whoever. They start looking for a higher meaning, they start looking for the idea of a higher service, and they get back to the realm of ideas, just of different content, which is the idea of God, the idea of faith or religion with a different set of postulates to follow.
The Will of God, once revealed and eternal, is made service easier for people. That is, whether in the person of Jesus Christ, or by Himself the Lord, so to speak, gave instructions that you follow to serve Him. You perform certain rituals, you pray in a certain way, you do what is required in terms of all kinds of fasts and other things, and this is, as it were, a form of service.
It’s quite manageable because you do not need to develop your perception for this kind of service. You are already given a ready-made solution: "Here are the commandments, follow them, and everything will be fine", this is how you are doing the Will of God. Generally, it’s a convenient thing for most people.
Yes, you can say, that, in fact, following the commandments is difficult, as you need to overcome your nature, constantly ignore your desires. That’s true to some extent, real service is hard work. And if you are satisfied with it, you can leave it at that. Because you have found a higher meaning and serve this idea. But here you come to the “desire swings”, as we always do when we are guided by desires. While you are longing for service, for keeping the commandments, it’s still easy. You are moving on the energy of your desire, obedience, compliance, and partially satisfy your need for service. As soon as this desire is exhausted, as soon as you have completed the required set of rituals and actions, other desires liven up. They immediately shift you to a different realm – so, one day you are a good worshipper and the other day not a very good one. Therefore, you have to suppress all other desires like people who are fanatically imbued with ideas. If you have a fanatical faith, a fanatical idea, if you are inspired by something, the rest can be easily moved away and suppressed. So, you start pumping energy into this particular channel, feeling like a holy man, a right person who does everything required for God. In itself, this position is good, but it is also quite primitive, because you can’t contact with God directly.
Yes, believers can experience different states, including exaltation, trance and even descent of God’s Grace. Why not? If they pump hard and believe with all their heart, different things can happen to them. But direct interaction with God’s Will is very rare, as people don’t even think of that. Everything seems clear with a static Will revealed once and for all. But it usually leads to a deadend because of the “desire swings”. This is where you come if you are not ready to suppress everything. This is how you are restricted. You understand that you are not completely filled in, you get all the kickbacks associated with desires, either in the form of anger at those who do not follow what they should, or in the form of sadness as you yourself can not comply with what you should to the full extent. All the same, you somehow do not fully meet the requirements - here is the deadend of an undeveloped state, and it will manifest itself, sooner or later.
It can be quite difficult to come to a direct interaction with God and Its Will. If your awareness is low, but you are longing for God's Will, then it is very easy to replace the true Will revealed to you personally with what you actually want but could not afford. This is a typical situation. For example, people are aspiring to higher service, but at the same time are not happy with what their religion offers to them – fixed rules with no development. In fact, they have to wait till the end of their lives to get a reward. This is exactly the problem of interaction – how to reach, to come to this experience, how to fill the need for service in the highest way possible? Without spiritual practices it is impossible. Therefore, even in religions, people who strive for something more begin to do more. They spend more time praying, reading dhikr, doing other practices, and, one way or another, they embark on the Path. They start searching the way to the state which would allow them to interact with God directly with no middlemen involved. Some religions consider it heresy.
Nevertheless, the question remains. And it’s not the question of readiness. The result very much depends on the extent people are conscious of their need for service and are ready for the journey. The result is impossible without changing and refining their perception, without expanding their attention field.
For a start, you have to be capable of discernment - this is my desire, this is not my desire, this is my energy, this is not my energy. This is what many seekers go through when they start doing awareness practices, and at some point they suddenly start feeling the emotions of other people, for example. And here they need to discern whose anxiety it is – their own or a person’s nearby. These questions always arise at some point. The desire I’m having now - is it mine, or is it induced? Induced desires, however, are very rare; you can catch and feel them while closely communicating to someone. But, as soon as you distance yourself from them, you may keep feeling it for some time, but if this energy is not yours, if you caught it accidentally, it will soon dissipate.
Many people would like to reach the highest meaning, many people would like to get the highest service, and there is always a gap between their desire and readiness. Imagine that you are completely tired of your life that it feels like a cage. Here is your work, home, your usual interests and desires, everything is actually repeated in a circle, and you are trying to find something in this vicious circle, but you can’t find anything. Because either you must accept a certain faith and try to act within it, or you must search, but in order to search, you still need a method, you still need a Path. You still need a doctrine, because our minds need to build an algorithm and cannot act without one. Why do we need Path descriptions? People who deny the Path do not understand that they cannot skip, cannot jump from one state to another. There is a popular belief that it’s enough just to look at your own true Self, and you will be immediately dawned. But in this revelation, in fact, you cannot find even a concept of Service, there is just a concept of rest - you instantly arrive at the final stop and start to rest and enjoy the fact that you and the Lord are in fact one and the same. Great idea, but it doesn't work.
Any Path with monotheistic elements, with one Lord, has a description. There is always a practice of Service, a practice of following the Will of God, which is reflected in many prayers, for example: “Show us Your Will.” It is implied as the practice of direct following, not detached and ritual, but direct interaction with God. To get there, you have to be prepared in a different way. Just being fed up with your life is not enough, just being in a situation where you feel that you just can't breathe is not enough. This condition may prepare you to practice, but it won’t give you immediate interaction. You have to develop, you have to go a certain Path to become ready to accept the Will, to receive the Will impulses directly and to follow them. And you need a channel for this communication, because occasional impulses of the Will can generally be received in any state. If the Lord has chosen you for some work, you can get this impulse in any state. If He wants you to do something He will give you the impulse, and there are many examples of this. But if you want it to become Service and a permanent form of your inner work, to become something higher, you have to be ready for a different level of being. That’s the way it is. At the same time, Service is the key to progress.
The Path itself, when you take it, provides you with both theory and practice. Any normal Path has a theoretical basis from which you start, from which your mind goes in understanding the world and yourself, in understanding what you need to do. There is also a practical part that allows you to develop and in the end leads you to purification and transformation. But the fact is that working on yourself, you are still serving yourself. Most people, even if they follow some idea, actually serve themselves, because by this service they satisfy their need, and there should be no illusions about it. No matter how you care about the poor and the miserable, as that time you care about yourself - all your altruism, all charity stems from the necessity to satisfy yourself. And there is no other way, up to a certain point, at least. As long as your ego exists, as long as you have this most unsaturated need, you are a complete egoist, disregarding the things you do in the sense of serving others or yourself. You have an idea that you should feel good, and you don’t care about others - this is the most obvious form of self-service, you still serve yourself. You should see it clearly, you shouldn't delude yourself.
When there is fear of Service, you say, "I am afraid to receive the Will of God, He may ask for something impossible." On the one hand, it shows that you are afraid of effort you will have to take, on the other - your disbelief in God’s Grace. It immediately shows your current state and situation – the actual lack of faith. You have no trust because you are afraid, you want to preserve yourself, you still want to serve yourself in the most primitive way, in the most egoistic and self-preserving way.
We need to understand that any kind of service, and let's be honest, our entire life is the energy input and output – receiving energy and giving energy. All we do is choosing a channel to send it to. Preparation for service should peel you off.
Why is ego always opposed to achieving enlightenment and higher states? Because ego always has a personal interest, which is quite clearly formulated. And it’s not that in any situation we serve ourselves, but our ego still does, as it has its own profit in the form of attention we get from other people, in the feeling of our own high value. You see, in serving God, we have to erase our ego, as we don't serve for the Lord to praise us. If we come with selfish motives, we’ll get nothing. Ego is the first thing that starts erasing in Service, we always start with that, there's nothing we can do about it, it's the best way to erase it to the ground.
At the beginning, you will find out that when you tell someone you have received the impulse of God's Will, they will laugh at you. Remember the story of Muhammad – he was being stoned for 10 years, then everyone made fun of him; the same is true for any decent prophet. Therefore, mystics are forced to act covertly, there is no way around it. No one wants to look crazy as today there are a lot of crazy people. Generally, fighting the ego is a hard job unless you want to turn your arms against the whole world. But such a person will never receive the true Will. All your selfish motives, or some subtle traces of ego can still remain. And you can’t simply get rid of them. Up to a certain moment you have no choice, until you have become aware of your ego, until you have worked with it. And therefore, we are talking about the fact that in the fourth, Peaceful, nafs, the situation is getting balanced; there comes a balance between aspirations and desires, that is, a person stops working on desires and starts working on aspiration. What is the difference between the first three nafs and the fourth, Peaceful? The first three still come from desires; in the Peaceful nafs desires still remain, but you move not on them but on the increased level of aspiration, inner light and awareness. You can practice and work on yourself without the “desire swing”, without anger at yourself, without sadness that you have failed and haven’t achieved something.
You become balanced, your energies become balanced which makes it possible for your Heart to open. In the previous stages, your own actions and wishes were very important. Your desires is what you live for; you can’t refuse them as they are your main content, something what makes you fulfilled. In the Peaceful nafs, due to balance, your desires cease to be so important. So is your life. Your ego weakens seriously, and because of this, because of the decrease in importance, the act of opening the Heart becomes possible. This is your channel of communication with God. Of course, it doesn’t happen instantly, it takes time, but from this moment on, you can receive impulses of God’s Will.
At the stage of the fifth, Contented, nafs a person enters into direct Service to God on the Sufi Path and it is at this stage that the ego is completely erased. As for the Will, it is always a kind of revelation for you, whether you are afraid of it or longing for it.
What is good about the Path? There are plenty of things on it you can’t even imagine. You can read and hear a lot about different states. But the Will revealed to you personally is always something new, something which gives you new experience and ruins your ideas, sometimes about yourself, because the Will can require actions that your ego still cannot accept.
And if we consider Service as the act of following God’s Will, then we should leave personal interest. This is what various schools and guru systems are trying to imitate. The principle of higher Service is very often interpreted there as complete submission to the will of the teacher. In this situation the teacher must be at the stage of being in God, not lower – the sixth nafs, but the problem is that such teachers are rare. As a rule, the inherited principle of obeying the guru as God, of obeying your Master as Creator does not work. This is a problem, because such gurus can teach you nothing but pretty banal things.
There are teachers who, in order to erase their students’ ego, send them somewhere to crowded public places to do all kinds of indecent things there. It’s so trivial, it’s so stupid, it doesn’t work at all. That is, at some point you will overcome yourself; and maximum you can do is to observe the resistance of your mind, but then your ego very easily adapts and start feeding itself with this nonsense. In fact it can be fed by both - positive and negative reactions. You get undressed or start tearing up money in public and do other “nice” things that people are not ready for, things which may shock them. This is how you work on yourself, this is what strengthens your ego. That's all. That’s because your teacher is only a human, and he thinks like a human. And all the humiliations people are exposed to under such conditions are meant to either strengthen their inferiority complex, to control them totally as it is the case in totalitarian sects, or to pump up the ego. And then, as it happens in some groups, you start looking down on people as you've been through things that others can never dream of.
This is far from training, this is just a way to change the ego vector, that's all. And I don't know how it was in ancient times, maybe people were different, maybe total control made some sense that time. Now it doesn't make any sense, because now people have so much knowledge, and their ego has become so refined. People used to live in one community, say, in an Indian village all their lives, which formed two subpersonalities, one for the family, the other for the outside, that’s all. Now people go through kindergartens, schools, universities, that is, through different types of social institutes, which result in forming a whole bunch of subpersonalities. That is, personality becomes really complex, subtle and multi-faceted. And if a person is a member of some spiritual community or, God forbid, goes to some philosophical seminars to discuss life, or a new model of Russia, for example, then his ego becomes so refined, so used to adapt itself, that even if such a person bends before some teacher, it will always be a subtle game, the same egoistic interaction and nothing more. The logic of such interaction is clear now; that is, a person starts training himself in submitting to somebody’s external will, being generally not ready for it, from the point of view of the Path. And if he can do it sincerely, then, probably, his ego will be erased; this is quite reasonable. But now it is almost impossible to do it sincerely.
I don’t really keep up with such things now, so I don’t not know if this kind of approach exists in Russia. It probably does, as for immature people it is very difficult to give it up. For those who have declared themselves “Achieved” this power over other people is very tempting. This is how their ego proves itself. Anyway, reading books, for example, on tantric Buddhism, I came across the fact that this system is still in place in the East, where your Guru rules your life, tells you how to live. As for people, they are looking for such instructions, because if you are not confident and there is a so-called higher being, you take it for granted, and it seems to you that this way you are moving forward.
It's a substitute, it doesn’t work now. And instead of primitive following the external will of a teacher, it is easier and better to grow awareness so that you can see and track all your reactions, so that you can work with them, get rid of your ego, rather than trying methods that have ceased to be effective due to the complexity of life and human mind. Unconscious Service is basically useless, because when you take a vow of Service, you are going against your desires, one way or another. There's no escape. It's the same “desire swing” - as denying your wishes, you get depressed, annoyed, angry, etc.
Conscious Service, when you are ready for it, is a different story. Imagine a person who has reached a high level of being, who has no desires. He doesn't need your Service; he doesn't need anything from you. It’s only your need for help, for learning, your need to realize your spiritual potential, that can trigger a response; it’s only your need that can create an opportunity for him to help you. Certainly not imposing on you a certain will, which he does not have, as there is no will without desires. If he himself serves God, then his service can certainly include teaching people, but even under all these conditions, your need is the only guarantee of your progress.
We can also come to following the Will of God because we want to go beyond our limitations, the limitations of our own desires, ideas, and vision. The Lord begins to lead us not because He really needs it, not because He has nothing else to do, not because without our actions or participation the world would collapse. This is another act of God’s Grace, that's what you need to understand. The Lord is everywhere presented as a Satrap, and with all things being equal, with all the Divine Love, He seems being interested in you. The idea that the Lord really needs everyone to serve him is extremely anthropocentric and very human. This is not true. He has no desires regarding you, whereas the Will you receive is meant specifically for your development, is meant to set you free from your ego and its ties, from attachment to ideas that may still exist. It is meant to lead you and prepare you for the final transformation.
That's the point, and Service here becomes the key; through Service you come to reach the highest realization. So, being on training you realize your need for guidance, for certain training format and practices, so that you can get feedback on how you are proceeding, and a vision that you lack so far. But at the same time, you always have the opportunity to choose, it is always left for you, you make every step in training consciously, you either accept it or not. At the stage of following the Will of God, you still can choose, there are always transition points in the Pattern when you can back off. You can choose something different, choose a different Path of development or stay in the same state, which, in fact, means to get off the Path.
The need for Service is probably fully realized when, in fact, you disappear. That is, your ego fades away when you enter the stage of dissipation in God which follows the stage of following the Will of God on the Path. You change, you transform. You go beyond your deep need, which is the second basic need - to go beyond your limits and separateness. These both needs disappear by that time. But it's at the stage of following the Will of God when you get fulfilled with the Service, and as the Will is given personally to you, you go through such training stages that are impossible to imagine. Only the Lord can create your life Pattern in the way to clean you, to make you face everything that is incomplete inside you, to give you experience that will grow you nature. Then you will become mature, you will outgrow all your childhood feelings of being unfulfilled, you will get free from them.
On the other hand, you will tap into the mysteries of Being, because serving God means participating in Creation, in a more or less explicit way. Creation continues and never stops. Within participation in the Sufi work your Service may differ if you do not yet have a direct connection and interaction with God, where you could constantly receive the impulses. But it is important to take part in activities initiated by the Will, because any Sufi Work with a capital letter is initiated by the Will in one way or another. By participating in it, you perform conscious Service of your own free will, of your own choice, and that’s how you create great opportunities for yourself. Service is always about opportunities, not about restrictions, as it is often the case in places where service is misinterpreted. It is always an opportunity for your development so that you can grow, it is always a step on the staircase leading to God. Conscious Service, as opposed to the unconscious, where everything is suppressed including your own desires, implies self-sacrifice and readiness. That is, sometimes you should go somewhere, I don't know where, and do what is required and revealed there. It’s not that you give up on yourself, but it’s your will to give your all for what needs to be done. That’s commitment, that’s self-sacrifice, not self-denial, as it usually happens. You understand this necessity for yourself, and here the question of needs is very important, as it is the need for God. How can you get closer to God if you are not ready to invest, if you are not ready to do your best, to do everything required at the moment? Self-sacrifice allows you to stop treating yourself as someone very important, and your existence as something that is also infinitely meaningful. When you tap into a great power, and any impulse of the Will and generally following the Will gives you a completely different power of energy, when you learn the greatness of the power of God, the power of the Creator, then your own existence ceases to be so significant. It becomes easier to get rid of all the remaining structures of your selfness; they just become meaningless and insignificant, too. That’s how you are gradually getting ready to the next stage, to the next transformation.
It is difficult to describe the state when the transformation is complete, as you always have to use words usually used for self-identification. With transformation your self-identification which is your ego, dissipates, because the essence of the ego is in stating who you are, what you have achieved, things like that. With transformation your actions become complete – that is, you did something, and you let it go, you don't think about it anymore, you don't worry about it, you don't expect any rewards. You don't expect anything and you are not attached to it in any way, even at the moment of performing the action, you don't particularly identify yourself with it.
By that time Service becomes meaningless, because you start living without desires, with just basic needs to maintain your body in a decent state, which is rather simple. There remains the Creation itself, there remains your Pattern in which you move and develop, there remains the vision, and there are no more impulses of the Will. What is special about advanced stages of the Path? It’s the fact that there are no impulses of the Will which used to replace desires and give you energy for movement, and the fact that you have to live by vision. The energy of consciousness helps you stay in the body; your actions come from the vision, which also comes through consciousness; you just look and see what needs to be done. In fact, you move in the tideway of God’s Will, in the tideway of Creation, but this movement is so natural, that you can no longer call it Service. It just becomes a way of life, a way of being, and you start feeling like fish in water. The gap between the one who serves and the One who is served is closing. You simply live by what you are, you simply live by the current need of Creation, or the need of the people you work with. The need remains a driving force of the world – the God’s need in Creation, the people’s need in God and in the continuation of their lives. So it all continues, the world exists, lasts and develops from one need to another.