Master and Disciple Relationship – Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh
1. The disciple’s devotion (iradat) to a master,
2. The dhikr that the master inculcates in the disciple, and
3. The master’s attention (nazar) to the disciple.
1. The Disciple’s Devotion to a Master
Every person “wants to find a perfect human being with whom he may become harmonized in action, speech and thought. That is, all human beings, whether they know it or not, have their sights set on human perfection, desiring to find a teacher – who may guide them towards it.
In seeking the way to perfection, a person may encounter a master and accept him with heart and soul as a guide and teacher. When one finds such a master, One devotes oneself to him in order to win his attention.
Devotion to a master can be compared to the crying of a baby for its mother’s milk. When a baby cries out of hunger, its mother’s milk is instinctively produced in the breast, which the mother places in the baby’s mouth to suckle. The situation of the disciple with respect to a master is similar, where in expressing devotion, the disciple naturally attracts the master’s attention, so that the master may feed him the milk of spiritual cognitions and realities and quench his thirst in the quest for Reality.
As Rumi says:
The cloud must weep for the meadow to smile;
The child must cry for the milk to flow.
Deviation to a master also serves to draw the disciple from serf-love to love of another; and self-love is a great obstacle to the perception of Reality. As the poet says:
Do not be like a dog,
content with eating and sleeping;
Direct your love to another, even if only a cat.
Of course, the master here must be perfect to turn this love of another into the love of God, for if he is not perfect, a veil will descend between the disciple and God, and the disciple will fall prey to worship of an individual, which is itself but a farm of self-worship.
2. Dhikr (Remembrance of God)
The following points must be made about the dhikr that a master inculcates in a disciple:
First, through dhikr, the disciple’s attention gradually becomes directed away from consciousness of self to consciousness of God, turning him away from self-worship and attention to self. In the words of the poet:
I envisioned You so much that I became you
Little by little You approached, and bit by bit
I went away.
Second, dhikr helps to establish the spiritual relationship and bond with the master, enabling the disciple to generate and strengthen devotion to the master.
Third, through dhikr, the disciple draws the inward attention of the master and attracts the master’s supportive aspiration (himmat).
Fourth, through the link of dhikr, the disciple eventually becomes one with the master, establishing a unity between them.
3. The Master’s Attention to the Disciple
The master’s spiritual attention (nazar) is the foundation of the Path. As noted above, the disciple’s devotion and persistence in dhikr serves to draw the attention of the master, which, in turn, brings God’s favor to the disciple. As the poet says:
Forty retreats, 0 forty retreats, 0 forty retreats!
One glance of attention from the master is worth
a hundred retreats.
If the attention of a perfect master does not accompany the dhikr when it is being inculcated, the dhikr will bear no fruit. The master’s attention in the dhikr is so important that any word accompanied by the master’s attention while being inculcated in the disciple will in fact be effective in purifying the disciple — even if such a word is not a name of God.
The following story illustrates this point:
When Mushtaq ‘Ali Shah Isfahani was staying in Kerman, he was the object of the jealousy of the exoteric clergy, who paid a prostitute to try to seduce him. She went to Mushtaq and began flirting with him in the hope of leading him astray. The more Mushtaq exercised forbearance, the more persistent the woman became, until finally he ordered, “Get out, you whore!” Since Mushtaq accompanied these words with his spiritual attention for the purpose of reforming her state, they affected her heart. As she went home, the words, “Get out, you whore!” became her dhikr. Repeating them over and over, she abandoned prostitution and eventually became a friend of God (wali).