A Note about our Current Transition
In the Sufi world, various types of ‘taking hand’ have taken place over the centuries. In the Hazrat Inayat Khan family, we sometimes group all of these together under the word ‘initiation,’ but this can lead to confusion.
Initiation (Esoteric School)
This is really a pledge (bayat) of connection between one guide and one mureed. In this sense, there is actually only initiation “into” the Sufi path, a point that both Murshid Samuel Lewis and Murshid Moineddin emphasized. There is no bayat to or into any earth plane organization. The guide connects the mureed on the inner planes to the transmission of the silsila, that is, the teachers who have left the body. The pledge and its acceptance, within an atmosphere of blessings, creates the possibility for the student to also connect via fana-fi-sheikh, fana-fi-pir, and fana-fi-rassoul, ultimately into fana-fi-allah (the direct connection) and fana-i-baka (realization in everyday life). As Murshid SAM put simply, the teaching battery requires two poles, a positive one and a receptive one. When the current flows, then there is ‘teacher.’
Ordination (Service of Universal Peace)
We use this term to mean an empowerment to perform the rituals associated with ministry, that is, the Service of Universal Peace and its variants. This empowerment is also a validation—a willingness to stand behind or vouch for—the blessings that we as ministers of the Church of All offer, for instance, in the case of marriages or “baptisms” (ie, “welcoming of an infant”). Clearly, all of this language is taken from other religions whose priests, ministers, rabbis or other functionaries perform religious rituals for the benefit of the community.
Initiation (Dervish Healing Order)
We have also been using the word ‘initiation’ in the Dervish Healing Order and Ziraat, although there are differences here from initiation as a pledge of ‘travelling together’ as guide and mureed.
The Dervish Healing Order is a service order, not specifically for teaching and learning (although both take place). Its primary service is the performance of the Absent Healing Ritual, and everything that takes place in the gatherings of the Order directly or indirectly serve that function. In this, the DHO is more like one of the ancient dervish guilds, which were not for esoteric training but to perform a particular service for the community (for instance, schools, hospitals, crafts, ‘peace-keeping.’)
This activity of the late Sufi Movement was begun just before Hazrat Inayat Khan left for India. As with the other activities, he affirmed the inspiration of his mureeds to express their realization in some tangible way, but here he seems to have had little direct involvement. He left Ziraat in the hands of one of his mureeds, and it remained an unfinished work with only the rudiments of a ritual and that mainly focused towards its human participants. The earliest version of the ceremony (dating only from the 1930s) is clearly based on a Masonic model (something noted by Murshid S.A.M.), with various steps and degrees. But with only the framework of an early 20th century secret society, what was the “initiation” for, or into? Was it only about the inner development of the participants? If so, what beyond the English language affirmations of various qualities, made up its spiritual practices?
The proposal here is to redefine “initiation” into Ziraat to mean an empowerment to be of service. This takes us back to the original notion of bayat as a pledge. This is similar to the idea of the “brotherhood” work in the early Sufi Movement, which Murshid Samuel Lewis understood to mean an activity to affect change in the outer world through the insights and practices of the inner one. Murshid S.A.M. lived his “Ziraat” rather than talked about it. Yet his focus on organic agriculture, and his attempts to influence agricultural policy in the Far East in the 1950s and 60s (see Sufi Vision and Initiation), were certainly based on his mystical understanding of the self (nafs) as an ecosystem and the ecosystem as a part of one’s self to be transformed and redeemed. One can find these ideas throughout the writings of Hazrat Inayat Khan and classical Sufism.
Empowerment into Ziraat is based on a pledge to a) perform spiritual practice holding in our hearts the harmony and balance of the whole planet and to b) bring this awareness actively into our everyday lives in whatever way we are called upon to do so. Participants can word their own personal pledges in a way that is meaningful to them. We then offer a blessing to and through our silsila for them to accomplish the work they are inspired to do. In this way, we also empower the practice of what Hazrat Inayat Khan calls “Sadhana.” In today’s terms, we might call this “spiritual activism.”
The word ziraat itself comes from an ancient Semitic word meaning “seed.” It is found in its Hebrew form (zera) in the first chapter of Genesis as one of the mysteries of creation. Some 12,000 to 20,000 years ago, the first humans to realize what a seed really was, and that it might be possible to plant and harvest food, began a precarious revolution that took us from being wandering nomads to settled agriculturalists The danger was that we would forget we are always dependent on something greater than the small self: the Mystery behind nature, the Source of All.
In classical Arabic (from which Hazrat Inayat Khan takes it), the word ziraat refers to the whole process of planting, from sowing to harvesting, as well as to the way that nature itself goes through its own cycles (unrelated to any usefulness for human beings). Our ancestors who were the original seed-cultivators would have understood their work in this way: a balance between wild nature and what can be cultivated for the benefit of the human community. So empowerment into Ziraat becomes a pledge to join the guild or brother/sisterhood of those seeking the seed of balance between our wild and cultivated natures to further the purpose in life of all beings. As within, so without.