If the rise and fall of man’s history was depicted in a graph, it would not be an ascending straight line, but rather a series of jagged spikes and falls. Humanity’s chapter of tragedy is righty called the dark ages which is associated with a period where Europeans readily embraced despair and superstition. After the fall of the Roman Empire the shadow of the dark ages engulfed Europe, Greece’s ancient principles of logic and reason were swiftly forsaken.
Empires are like extravagant buildings built to last forever but soon turn to ruin. Man’s ruin is not due to the fall of these empires, but the failure to realise that ‘castles in fact are no greater than sand castles’. The waves of time have spared none. The Mayan, Roman, Byzantine and Moghul empires have all fallen. So why should today’s media, technology or energy empires fare any different?
The only empire that can truly carry man’s legacy is the empire of humanity. As long as man breaths, so must humanity. It is humanity that represents the lasting legacy of human values. Today religion has disowned humanity and is more preoccupied with upholding values of rituals, relics and symbols. The vast realm of religion is being confined to a day in a week or a space in a building. It is for this reason growing numbers claim religion to be an outdated relic and God, a name assigned to the history books. In such circumstances, man finds it difficult to comprehend the changeless Creator who is ever present in a changing world.
On the one hand the religious fanatics have torched human beings alive, and yet proclaim themselves as torchbearers of humanity! Religion, by breaking its ties with humanity, has been hijacked by fanatics. Thus the rallying call for strict secularism is gaining increasing support. A conflict between the religious and secular ideologies is becoming more prevalent in society. The causality in this battle is humanity.
Many profess the repetition of holy words, without any insight of the Holy Spirit. Those who embraced the all-Pervasive Great Spirit have been regarded as spiritual saints. But lifeless objects associated with religion have gained more importance than the divine inspiration attained from those spiritual beings.
The Sufi mystic Rabi'ah al-Adawiyah claimed that the union with God was only possible in the company of a mystic, who himself is attuned to God. The mystic Al-Hallaj was so intoxicated with the presence of God that he declared: "I am the Truth”; “there is nothing wrapped in my turban but God," and pointing to his cloak he would say, “there is nothing in my cloak but God." This was considered to be blasphemous. He was incarcerated and then gruesomely executed. The meaning of those profound words was not understood. The living spiritual person has always been brutally opposed.
In every culture and epoch so many relationships of friendships and blood relations are valued. However, the master-disciple relationship has been rejected by the majority. In today’s climate, the master-disciple relationship is often perceived to be outdated, heretical and even insulting. When it comes to the domain of academia or sports, modern man has no problem with the concept of master-disciple relationship in the transfer of experience from one to another. So why is the concept of a living spiritual role-model so difficult to accept, if so many are willing to accept the concept of a living God?
Between the 9th and 11th Century the Sufi tradition of Master-disciple relationship emerged in central Asia and soon after flourished in North Africa. The mystical teachings of wise sages widened man’s narrow vision. The mystical orders with their respective Masters sprung all over Asia like fresh water springs in the desert. People flocked to quench their thirst. The established religions failed to recognise this thirst. In India, the history of Sufi master-disciple relationships is well documented and still celebrated at large. However, in the 18th Century, in Turkey and North Africa it was another story. The religious elites hunted all movements based on the ideology of living master-disciple relationships. So much so that it in the 1780’s, it became illegal in parts of Africa to show any adoration to living saints.
It was the sufi saint Hazrat Shah Hussian who said: ‘the devil tempts all other men, but idle men tempt the devil”. In a fast-paced world, man is busy being spiritually lazy. He is so preoccupied with collecting wealth that he has made little effort in collecting his own thoughts. In ensuring his worldly relationships remain stable, he makes no effort in finding a living spiritual guide to stabilise his troubled mind.
The word Master for some may conjure up thoughts associated with the cruelty of black slaves in American plantations. With the introduction of human rights, the measure of humanity is judged against equality and freedom for one and all. The master-disciple relationship on the surface can appear very unequal and suggests the disciple forfeits freedom. In the spiritual realm this is not true. A spiritual master does not suppress, ridicule or denigrade the disciple. On the contrary, he wants the disciple to reach the highest level of spiritual awareness. This leads the disciple to real freedom.
The following Sufi saying captures the importance of having a living spiritual guide: ‘Do not pity the orphans who say ‘I have no parents’, but pity the man who says ‘I have no living spiritual guide!’. All those we admire to be spiritual did in fact have a living spiritual Master. No one walked the spiritual path without a guide. Therefore, why should this age be any different? The masses are eager to worship and adore media driven sports stars and celebrities, who regularly disappoint their followers with their antics and offensive behaviour. How can man experience a living spirit through lifeless objects? So why not turn to spirituality by turning to a spiritual guide?
By Surjit Dhami
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