The One True Friend
It is good to cultivate a circle of friends for oneself because most of us feel the need for companions as we go through life. Is this not part of what being human is all about? Through friendship we develop the qualities of giving and helping one another; we learn to love one another, to make sacrifices for the benefit of others.
But how do we ensure that the friends we choose are the ‘right’ ones? After all, we automatically acquire the colours and habits of the friends we keep. Perhaps we should be a friend to all – but only associate with those with whom we have a kinship and mutual understanding.
Maharaj Charan Singh’s love of flowers is beautifully expressed when he likens flowers to friends:
Flowers are your best friends, always smiling. You can stand before them weeping and they will still be smiling. They were made for that ‒ so many colours and shapes, different expressions and shades. Nature wants us to enjoy these innocent pleasures.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III
In the same book he defines a friend:
A friend is someone with whom you have a clear understanding, who accepts you for what you are and whom you accept for what he is. There is a clear understanding between both of you. He wants to help you; you want to help him. That is friendship. It is very rare.
There is an old saying that you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. True! But what’s to stop us from making our relatives and family our friends? Some are good friends, while others may not fit into our category of ‘friends’ at all ‒ but they need not be enemies.
Rumi, in his inimitable way, tells how enemies can be friends and friends, enemies. Speaking first on enemies, he writes:
I understand, again, that what they want is not what I want. They keep me on the spiritual path. That’s why I honour them and pray for them. Those that make you return, for whatever reason, to God’s solitude, be grateful to them. Worry about the others, who give you delicious comforts that keep you from prayer. Friends are enemies sometimes, and enemies friends.
The Essential Rumi
A really good friend is one you can count on in an emergency. Nonetheless, we human beings, in spite of being superior to all other creatures, have no control over our destiny. We breathe in, but at any moment that could be our last breath – that’s how close to death we are all the time. Perhaps this helps to drive us towards the living Master, who becomes the friend who never leaves us ‒ not even in death.
To follow the path of Sant Mat is not a walk in a rose garden. We are putting into practice what will eventually amount to the conquest of the mind. But the mind is not at all willing to shift from its position of dominance. The Masters tell us that we must now turn inside, towards the spiritual life, away from all that previously pulled us outward. But that is not easy. It is only by taking hold of the Master’s hand that we have any chance of shifting the mind’s position. This is why the Master becomes our only true friend, and the only one who can guide us on this tortuous journey.
Our initiation into this beautiful spiritual path means that the Master has become our real friend. Hazrat Inayat Khan, a twentieth-century Sufi master, discusses the relationship between the disciple and the Master as true friendship:
This friendship, this relationship which is brought about by initiation between two persons, is something which cannot be broken; it is something which cannot be separated; it is something which cannot be compared with anything else in the world; it belongs to eternity.
As quoted in Sheikh Farid: The Great Sufi Mystic
Initiation is a remarkable and personal event between a Master and a disciple. In the following extract from Sheikh Farid this relationship is beautifully elucidated:
In Sufism, initiation is called bayat, meaning a pact, a bond, an oath of allegiance sworn between two people. Sheikh Sharib, who was an attorney by training, explains bayat using the language of contracts:
The relation subsisting between the disciple and the teacher is everlasting. It is not a contract voidable at the option of either party. The dictum governing the mutual relations is that once a disciple, always a disciple, nothing but a disciple.… Colloquially, Sufis refer to initiation as ‘grasping the hand of the sheikh’. This expression gives a hint of the loving relationship that is cemented by the oath of allegiance at the time of initiation: the Master offers his hand to help and support the disciple; the disciple grasps his hand to accept his loving protection.
Sheikh Sharib writes:
The spiritual guide is, at once, a guide and philosopher to his disciples. By accepting the hand of his disciple, he has agreed to be responsible for the moral, spiritual, and ethical development of his disciple. The spiritual teacher must stand by his disciple and lend him his helping hand.
Being befriended by and receiving initiation from a living Master is an event of the greatest magnitude in any person’s life. The five names we are given to repeat are a treasure – a gift beyond compare. Meditation is the Master’s gift and our initiation is our pledge to practise it daily. This practice is how we build our friendship with the Master ‒ and the present Master urges us to make him our friend. Setbacks and lapses are inevitable but a habit, once established, isn’t easily broken. Remember: this is the lane of love we are walking on and where love is, no force can counter it. It must prevail!
Sultan Bahu describes most beautifully and succinctly the ultimate result of this relationship, this friendship, between Master and disciple:
Love flourishes in that heart
in which glows the Name of God.
The love of God is like the fragrance of musk–
even a thousand wrappings cannot hold it in;
or like the sun, which cannot be hid behind one’s fingers,
or like a river that cannot be stopped in its course.
My Friend is in me, in my Friend am I;
there is no distance left between us.