Monday, January 21, 2008

Notes on Student and Teacher Relationship on the Sufi Path

"'Do not take a step on the path of love without a guide. I have tried it a hundred times and failed,' writes the poet Hafiz. The Sufi says that you need a teacher, a guide along the path of love. If you need a guide to cross a desert or unknown land, how much more do you need a guide to venture into the inner world of the psyche, into the depths of the soul? To make the journey from the confines of the ego to the limitless dimension of the heart, you need a teacher, a sheikh."

"We need to 'choose a master,' and yet we are told, 'You do not find a teacher. The teacher finds you.' How do we begin on this search in which we do not look but are found?"

"The love the teacher has for the disciple belongs to oneness, and carries with it the consciousness of divine oneness. Stepping into the presence of the sheikh, the wayfarer enters the dimension of love's oneness, yet does not know this. The wayfarer has not yet developed the faculty to recognize oneness, to consciously appreciate what is being given. Instead the wayfarer remains within the prison of her projections, mental conditioning, and psychological problems, which of necessity become projected into the relationship with the teacher."

"Love evokes both positive and negative psychological projections. And as anyone who has experienced a human love affair knows, the greater the love the more powerful the projections: the more the unlived parts of our psyche clamor for attention, want to be drawn into the sunlight of our loving. This is what makes a love affair so psychologically potent, so full of unexpected and often unwanted projections. The unconditional love that is given by the sheikh will of necessity evoke many projections, along with many unmet needs. Once the initial "honeymoon period" of intoxication has passed, this is what the wayfarer is forced to confront. And because the sheikh is also a figure of authority, the wayfarer's unresolved authority issues will surface, adding to the cloud of confusion that obscures the real nature of the relationship with the teacher-the love that is the essence of the Sufi path."

"Working with the contents of our psyche that confront us, we need discrimination and clarity, and yet we are held by an invisible presence that is the real essence of the work-the inner bond of love that is between teacher and disciple. This link of love contains the consciousness of oneness to which we aspire, and yet for many years on the path it is hidden, rarely visible to the ordinary awareness of the disciple. But when the inner work has been done, what the Sufis refer to as "polishing the mirror of the heart," then we come to know the love that was always present."

"When the sheikh receives the hint that the disciple is ready, then this substance of divine love is infused from heart to heart, from the heart of the sheikh into the heart of the disciple."

"Only the teacher can give us what we need, and yet what is given cannot be grasped by our mind or ego. Moreover we are unfamiliar with a relationship of love that does not belong to the personal self. Our conditioning places love and nearness solely within the sphere of personal relationships, and has no concept of a deeper, impersonal love that belongs to the soul (our culture focuses on the personal-in America it is has even become customary to address everyone by their first name). Our hunger for personal acceptance, our unmet emotional and even physical needs come to the surface and are easily projected into the relationship with the teacher. We lack the traditional container that separates this relationship from the personal sphere. In many eastern traditions, for example, the disciple cannot address the teacher directly, but must first wait to be spoken to. But in the West we have no such protocols."

"The teacher is the thread that connects us to our own transcendent reality. Through the grace of the sheikh the wayfarer awakens to the consciousness of oneness that is the knowing of love. But for many years on the path this consciousness is hidden from the wayfarer, who is faced with the limitations of the ego and the confusions of the psyche. The wayfarer cannot help but see the teacher through the veils of duality and the distortions of her own projections. This relationship belongs to the impersonal level of the soul, and yet the wayfarer tries to bring it into the personal landscape of her ego-self. This is what makes this link of love so difficult to follow, this thread so tenuous. But if we follow this thread with sincerity, devotion, perseverance, and a sense of humor, we will awaken to its real nature, how the heart of the sheikh reflects the oneness of love's hidden face."

These are some clippings from an article that caught my interest at the Golden Sufi Center. The article can be read in its entirety here: Through a Glass Darkly:The Paradoxical Nature of the Relationship with the Teacher, by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

For my own reference: Tomorrow I will read an excerpt from _HOLY MADNESS:Spirituality, Crazy-Wise Teachers, and Enlightenment_ by Georg Feuerstein. Skimming through the article, I see it also speaks of projections made onto the teacher, as well as resentment towards teachers or love-hate relationships.


Vincent said...

Well, maybe, maybe not. Your quotes sound very much like marketing material for an organization peddling Sufi teachings.

Sophia said...

To be honest, I fail to see how this article is marketing anything; it simply speaks of the essence of the student-teacher relationship, or the Shiekh-student relationship, but I think the information on this page can apply to any type of religion or philosophy where there is a student-teacher relationship, not just the Sufi path. (By the way, I am not a Sufi. I am not really anything. I just felt this applies to my search.)

It's easy enough to project onto normal people, and I can see where it would be even easier to project onto a spiritual teacher.

The duality mindedness of the Western culture prevents us from witnessing for ourselves the oneness of everything. I know everyone says people don't need a teacher but I sure didn't learn math without one.

Anyway, these clippings were personal for me as I think I had a tendency to project on someone, and as I felt it was a very close relationship, I might have done it in extremes. Due to the level of bonding between spiritual teacher and student, I want to be careful the next time, so that I don't make the same mistake. Such projections can cause the projector to feel hate or anger towards the projectee.

Anonymous said...

Every culture provides all the tools necessary to living a full life in the circumstances to which its members are most often exposed. I have observed that those who become too enamored of mysticism eventually lose their connection to the natural wonders manifest.

When I was a child, Reader's Digest mentioned a road sign somewhere in Canada that read, "Rough road ahead. Chose your rut carefully, you'll be in it for the next 52 miles."

To me, such a sign simply means, "find a better route."

I'm on a lifelong quest to be the best that I can be. "Do not take a step on the path of love without a guide." Good heavens, that means to take the path the guide choses.

It doesn't work for me.


Sophia said...


If you didn't initially come to this blog for the spiritual postings, you might find that you'll disagree with me on a lot of these posts, as initially I had set out to make this blog spiritual in subject matter, it's just that a few times here or there I've managed to complain about the state of my mental health. In fact, the blog I had before this blog was devoted entirely to my search for a spiritual teacher.

Off topic, but, last night on the PBS television station I watched a documentary on Dr. Walter Freeman of Lobotomy fame. They showed some film from around 1940 of various mental patients being given insulin in excess which, as you said, produced violent seizures. They also showed footage of ECT and lobotomies. ECT back then was a bit primitive, I think. I was shocked to find out that even today they still do lobotomies on the most severe cases of OCD.

But anyway, yes, back to the topic we're currently speaking on. Why do we have to identify with only the culture that surrounds us? Why can we not identify on a global level? I, for instance, do not find my home in this culture of mostly Christianity. That is one of the reasons I look elsewhere. And, in order for me to live a full life, I find that I must be involved in spirituality, even if I have to look outside the culture that surrounds me.

Oh, on mysticism, have you ever considered the possibility that the natural wonders we see with our two eyes are only a fraction of the wonders that may exist?

It is not my intention to allow someone to dictate the exact path I am to take. I choose the path, the teacher simply could guide me over the pitfalls.

I hope you do not think I am trying to be argumentative, for I am not. I am just pointing out things from my point-of-view.

By the way, I'm on the same quest you are - to be the best I can be. I screw up a lot, though.

Cookiemouse said...

If we had three arms, eyes and legs would we be stuck in threeness? You are right about projections but that is what we do. When we learn to dance with it and "dance with the situation" as Trungpa once said then we learn that the teacher is within 24/7.

Sophia said...


Haha... :) You know what I mean by "duality"! Many in the Western world are apt to see themselves separate from everything else. Even though I can intellectualize it, I have a hard time feeling it sometimes, mostly when I have that disconnected feeling.

Hey, we have to have someone show us how to do the dance! Seriously, a good teacher knows when to release a student. It is that time when the student has found their own inner guide. Anything else, and the teacher would be holding onto the student for their own personal reasons.

Anonymous said...

No argument, just varying viewpoints. One is grounded in one culture by having been born, raised, and educated it it, and that culture does not lack the all the tools necessary to a successful and happy life. No where have I suggested limitatons on where to look, but your discussion now suggests you have not been successful in finding the answers you seek within the culture you were born to. I cannot say why that is, nor would I attempt to get into any more depth on this matter than to say that whatever you seek does exist somewhere within our western culture. Happy hunting wherever you seek.

Usually legitimate paradigms have valid mirror images. The best students know when to fire the teacher so they don't have to outlive their teachers in order to make progress beyond the teacher's capabilities.

IMO spirituality and mysticism are wonderful so long as they don't interfere with practicalities of living a happy and successful life.
Religion associated philosophies often have a sneaky way of ending in top down imposition of a control system over the human being within.
That definitely doesn't work for me.

Once again, a discussion of viewpoints, not any attempt to impose anything on anyone besides myself.


Sophia said...

Oh dear, I hope I did not come across as being defensive. :) Please pardon me if I did.

In this Western culture, I am surrounded by Christians. When I was younger, I tried that. I tried following the religion I was brought-up to follow, the religion my parents wanted me to follow, but I did not find myself or God there. Who knows, maybe it is some type of psychological rebellion against my family for trying to push that religion onto me, but whatever it is, I don't feel moved by it.

Anyway, it would be nice if what I sought was available within the western culture as then I would not have to learn a new language just to understand it. :) But even when I look to western teachers, I find that they are just reiterating something found in an eastern philosophy. In fact, most non-Christian religions or philosophies are found outside of the western culture. I'm thinking hard to try to come-up with something that is western and not Christian.

You are right about the best students. And the best teachers wouldn't wait for their students to "fire" them; they'd know when their students are ready to go on their own and would encourage them to do so. This does not mean that the two should part ways permanently, simply that the student has outgrown the teacher. This may take years. In some schools of thought, there is even a period of twelve years where the student and teacher feel each other out, so to speak.

Your opinion on spirituality and mysticism is similar to my own, only where my own needs are concerned, I need one or the other in order to live a happy and successful life.

As for religions, well, I don't belong to any of them. I just look for wisdom where I can find it, and most religions seem to have some wisdom, just as most religions have flaws. Their control system is probably one of the reasons I don't subscribe, so we do agree on this.

I remember going into Sunday school as a child. I brought a Stephen King book in to read on breaks. One of the Sunday school teachers told me I should not be reading Stephen King. That is one of the memories I have of church and also one of the reasons I did not like it. I felt gloomy every Sunday, because my dad dragged me and my sister into not only church, but Sunday school as well. I was miserable. I wish he would have let us choose our own paths. He was a good father even though he made mistakes, though. He still is.

How is your day going?

My own is strange; I've felt disconnected for most of it. Not spiritually, just chemically. Probably something going on with my synapses today. We had yesterday off because of MLK Day. So today is my Monday. I have Friday off, too, just because I have every other Friday off.

Sophia said...


When I said there was nothing besides Christianity, I meant it seemed like there was nothing but Christianity. Of course in the west we have Judaism and Islam as two of the three major religions. They don't seem so major to me, though, since most everyone I know is Christian.

Anonymous said...

We also have, in the western tradition and culture, prechristian thought and teachings ordinarily attributed to the Greeks but actually many of the ideas predate the high points of Greek cibvilization.

Trace, for example, "the golden rule" back as far as you can go, and the variations which that relatively simple set of ideas embraces. (Wikipedia has a nice article on this.)

I'm not Jewish (though in fact I am usually officially a member of at least several churches at any given moment.... Presbyterians seem to sing the best) but I am particularly enamored of a Jewish priest named Hillel who was a contemporary of Christ. There is no record I'm aware of the two ever having met.

"If I am for myself alone, what am I? If not now, when?" Doesn't actually sound like the golden rule, does it? :-) Well not overtly anyway.

There's a wealth of information on the internet about this and the other variations on the theme.

Consider also some of the more modern pagan ideas and teachings.

It isn't all about Christianity, nor is it all Christianity, in western cultures, mysticism, sirituality, and teachings.

Mind you it is not for me to dissuade you from the paths you chose for your life's quest. But it is for all of us to exchange worldviews and extraworldviews so that by exposure all of us can benefit as we chose to delve beyond the things that are obvious to us.

I have learned in this life that information equates to a larger bounty of available choices. There's so much to be discovered in studying western culture that I doubt I will even have the time to go so far as to learn another basically non-alphabetic language in ordere to pursue ideas presented there. If that is what "trips your trigger" then by all means have at it. My path through life is supposed to be different from yours, but there are highlights that are more easily accessable to you that I like to point out because I like them well, and perhaps you might as well. If not, then there's no harm nor foul in my pointing them out.

I wish you bliss and sugar-free cakes on your unbirthday!


Sophia said...

I was thinking about the Greeks today. I was reading about how Socrates and Plato shared mystical experiences. According to the page I'm reading, it's called maieutic psychagogy.

From Wikipedia: "Love of man was considered by Hillel as the kernel of the entire Jewish teaching." I'd never heard of him until now. Funny, since the Golden Rule is so ingrained in our minds.

I know you're not trying to dissuade me from anything, not to worry.

By the way... what do you mean by "extraworld views"? I know it probably literally means views held outside of this world, but what did you mean by it? It sounds like one of those esoteric code words, and I picked up on it. :)

"Unbirthday" - charming. I could handle 364 days of bliss. :)

Hope my thoughts in this comment didn't bother you so much, since I jumped around here and there so quickly in a disconnected kind of way. I know it would drive Vincent bananas. :) I'm just not really connected today, so my thoughts aren't flowing as well as they normally could have. I don't know why. Maybe I'm coming down with a cold. I feel really talkative, though. (I only talk like this online!)

To conclude this comment, I really appreciate your input. Anytime someone can tell me something I didn't know, I feel a great sense of awe and appreciation. It's always exciting to learn something new. Don't you agree?

Anonymous said...

To me, new experiences, that is learning, is the essence of life itself.


Anonymous said...

A friend in my college days discussed death as "being where everything that isn't here is." While I don't associate that sort of existence with death I do recognize that there are realities that we cannot be privy to in this life.


A separate question that remains is whether there is a subsequent form of life we cannot know about relevant to who and what we are in this life.

If I've clarified, I've done my job.

If I've further confused, I've done my job.

Because this has scratched someone's brain!


Sophia said...

Hehee, I find your comment very delightful. Your demeanor within it has given me pause to smile and laugh a little bit. It feels nice.

I don't know if you've the mood or time to discuss it, but what sort of existence do you associate with death? Hearing you say "in this life" tells me you have a feeling, like I do, that there is something more.

You've clarified nicely.

Vincent said...

Sophia, please forgive me for being grumpy old man lately. I'll be brief as the flu has reclaimed me. Any mention of search for spiritual teacher and I go on the attack immediately. And in any case I don't believe there is such a thing, so I have been clumsily trying to persuade you not to waste your time.

But to look at it another way, everyone or anyone can be your teacher. And as I think you have also mentioned yourself, you don't need to seek one. They come to you.

It would be a paradox if I tried to teach you that! I'm not trying to, of course: just to be honest. You will do what you want to do and your experience will be the teacher.

No one could know enough about you to be your teacher, unless it were God come down in human form, omniscient. I don't believe that has ever happened or ever will (quite apart from not believing in that kind of God).

And if someone was going to be that kind of teacher they would be very harmful for they would create the kind of dependence that it's important to grow out of.

These are just my opinions of course, or perhaps delirious ravings of someone who ought to get back to bed.

Anonymous said...

About life here and hereafter....

I consider life and "mind" to be real, and real things don't come out of nothing, nor can they end in nothing. What remains is some sort of conversion. We know about the conversion back and forth between energy and matter. So it seems to me that at the end this life converts to something else, but never disapears into nothingness.

What that conversion means I haven't the foggiest. I know we all eventually experience it. As another of my former girl friends said, there are things we are not supposed to know about in this life. I've had some very interesting girl friends in my life.

Over time I've come to agree with that sentiment. And it fits in nicely with the idea that we should live this life to the fullest that we are able to. If we're concerned with whatever follows we soon begin to limit our possibilities. That's not to say that without considering another life to follow this one there is no morality or ethical living.

Those values, I have discovered, stand on their own two feet even when viewed only in the context of this life we are currently experiencing. Post mortum rewards and punishments aren't required to understand how morality and ethics play into happiness and satisfaction for normal human beings.

By ignoring the post mortum aspects of religious teachings we can arrive at what equates to closed circuit logic, with a wonderful causality paradigm that leads to fulfilment if one figures it out.

I think I have done that for myself, but I also feel it is the sort of discovery that cannot be taught, only independently learned in the context of each individual life.

I've had a sleepless night for reasons that I can't figure out, so here I am typing my ideas. I suppose that makes my sleeplessness worthwhile.

Vincent: IMO we all teach best just by being ourselves. Good examples and bad examples are equally valuable to the observer.


Sophia said...


You can be a grumpy old man any time you like. You are very endearing and I got the picture that you weren't feeling well to begin with, so I couldn't blame you. I hope you get feeling better soon. This thing has been lingering with you for a while now!

I am not quite sure why you attack when there is mention of a spiritual teacher, but my gut tells me that someone in your past, a spiritual authority figure, perhaps a religious teacher, really did something to you to cause you to have this psychological reaction to the idea. Maybe you had your own spiritual teacher who first charmed you and then abused you. While rare, I do believe there are real teachers out there. Just an example, but it looks like Richard Rose was a true teacher. I haven't made up my mind yet about Jed McKenna. His teachings make a lot of sense but I don't like that he hides behind a psuedonym. I even doubt that he is a real person. But maybe it's only the teaching that matters.

I agree that everyone can be my teacher. I learn many things every day from many people. It would just be nice to have one person checking my progress and following my growth, while offering constructive advice or criticisms so that I stay on the straight path. Similar to what you've said, someone would have to really get to know me first, and I don't let too many people get to know me that well. I don't know if it is because of trust issues or not, but I fear letting someone know everything about me only to have them leave me, which has happened before. Not only that but I have to really be comfortable with someone before I let them know me on a level deep enough to be my teacher. So, I will say that I've had a number of teachers offer to help me in the past, but my own fears have kept me from signing up with them. I don't want to sign up with anyone until I feel just right. A teacher could possibly be in my life for a long time, so I want to make sure I feel comfortable with them. I don't know how many teachers would like me asking them for a trial period, just to test things out. But that would be perfect for me, really.

I know that overdependency could be a problem, especially with me, and I know to watch out for that. Almost two weeks ago I proved to myself that I can stop being dependent on someone at the drop of a hat. It was just like a light switch that I turned off. Two years ago I couldn't have done that. It's a long story. This time, I've defeated my own overdependence. I'm proud of myself, too.

You weren't deliriously raving. I appreciate your input very much. If you do go back to bed, do so to get your rest, or else you'll overdo yourself. Stay warm and drink lots of orange juice, and don't forget the chicken noodle soup. Those are my comfort foods when I'm sick, so maybe you'll like them, too.

Sophia said...

Hi Anonymous,

About things coming out of nothing, that is one of the things that I've thought about many times before. For instance, how can all this - this world, this universe - come from nothing? Only something can come from something. Something can not come from nothing. And, how can there be one great big accident when there isn't anything to cause the accident? From my own (possibly flawed) reasoning, I come to the conclusion that there is something greater than us. I believe that something always had to have been, but I don't know what that something is. For the time being, I'd call that something "God".

The only doubts I've had, or worries more like it, is that this mind is simply one of biology's miracles. I wish deeply for my mind to have a spiritual source, to be a soul. For it to just flash out of existence at the end of physical life seems odd. But if it is just biological, then it too will rot when we turn into dirt, becoming one again with the earth so that the cycle of birth and rebirth can continue. Maybe we'll be a tree in our next life, or a red fern.

I agree with your ex-girlfriend about us not supposed to knowing certain things about life. But I believe a few special people have broken that rule by becoming enlightened. Maybe enlightenment for them was eating the fruit from the Garden of Eden. They received the knowledge that our normal small brains couldn't otherwise handle.

Excuse my ignorance, but would you mind explaining to me what closed circuit logic is? I did a Google search for it but the results I find are not helpful. I didn't take philosophy in college, therefore I didn't have a logic class, though I did get a bit of logic here and there in various math and computer classes, like Boolean Algebra for instance, and I really enjoy working logic puzzles. But I have an idea that your closed circuit logic is beyond my present understanding.

Maybe the weather caused your sleeplessness. We had snow yesterday. Last night, even after taking my usual sleeping pill, I couldn't sleep. So I had to take some other sedatives. Do you often have these sleepless nights? Take anything for them?

Happy Hump Day.

Anonymous said...

I had a very successful hump day, thank you very much. I am in the process of trying to sell some ideas to the community, the county, I live in. I managed to sell the idea, a very good one BTW, to a well loved and influential member of the community.

Sleep is strange in my life. I put on my bipap (next generation past cpap) mask and fell asleep. But an hour and a half later I woke up and remained more or less awake for over two hours when I finally got up. I came and played a bit on the internet and created an entry to this blog. Three hours later I went back to be and slept but had to get up before I was ready to attend an appointment with my diabetes nurse.

Later in the day, by the time I got home I was so tired I had to lie down and nap under threat of falling asleep sitting up.

I'll dig about for a sleeping pill I've held on to for several years in order to keep from repeating last night's experience. Getting out of sync with nights makes it difficult to reacquire my preferred schedule. But I will even if it takes a few days. I've been here before.


Sophia said...

Congratulations on your success! Of course I am dying to know what it is or what it relates to, but since the idea is sold to someone else, I probably won't get to hear about it! I'm just happy for your success.

Do you have a blog?

Your for-emergency-use-only sleeping pill is probably expired by now!

No matter how out-of-sorts my sleeping schedule gets on the weekends, I'm always forced to become normal again due to work. On the weekends, I'll sometimes stay up until 5:00am or so, just because I so dearly love the night and the solitude. Come Sunday night, though, I better be in bed by at least 10:30pm.