The way of sainthood is both very easy and, paradoxically, very difficult; is very short and, at the same time, very long; very precious and desirable, yet quite risky; it is a broad way, but also, sometimes, very narrow.
It is on account of such paradoxical aspects of it that those who follow this road sometimes drown and are sometimes lost. Times even come when some turn back and cause others to deviate.
To summarize, there are two ways of traveling in tariqa, one is traveling in the inner world, the other, traveling in the outer world.
The traveler in the inner world begins from the carnal self and, without ever stretching towards the outer world, heads straight for the heart. He penetrates through egotism and self-conceit and, by making a way through the heart, reaches the truth. After the completion of his travel in the inner world, he sets off in the outer world, where he finishes his travel in a short period. He witnesses also in this world the truth he has seen in the inner.
Most of the spiritual orders that have adopted loud invocation of God’s Names follow this way of spiritual travel. What is demanded of travelers in this way is breaking egotism and self-conceit, abandoning whims and fancies, and destroying the carnal self.
The traveler in the other way starts from the outer world and, after having observed the reflections of God’s Names and Attributes in all the objects of this vast world, enters the inner world. In his heart, he witnesses to some extent the same lights that he has observed in the outer world and makes his quickest way into the heart. When he finally perceives that the heart is the mirror of God, the Eternally-Besought-of-All, he has attained his goal.
Thus, if those who go in the first way do not succeed in destroying their carnal selves, in abandoning whims and fancies and breaking egotism and self-conceit, they fall from the rank of thanksgiving to the point of self-pride, and therefrom to vanity. If, besides, they are in ecstasy because of Divine love, and in a spiritually intoxicated state because of feeling attracted by God, they make very excessive, exaggerated claims called shathiya, like disregarding God’s threats and chastisement or belittling Paradise, or seeing their own rank as above everybody else’s, thus bringing harm both to themselves and others.
For example, a lieutenant who is boastful of his rank of command, and enraptured with the pleasure it gives, may see himself as if a marshal. He confuses his small sphere of command with the larger one of the marshal. Likewise, the reflection of the sun in a little mirror may, on account of its being a reflection of the sun, sometimes be regarded as the same as the magnificent reflection of the sun on the surface of a sea. So, there are many people of sainthood who, though like a fly in comparison with a peacock, regard and even see themselves as superior to those much greater than themselves. I once even witnessed that an initiate who was awakened to some truths and felt the mystery of sainthood obtained by himself to a slight degree, considered himself as, and assumed the attitude of, the greatest spiritual pole of the world. I said to him:
Brother! As a king has, through laws and on account of rulership, relations with, and authority over, all the members of the state from the prime minister down to a strict governor, because of which every officer feels connected to him, so the rank of a spiritual pole has different manifestations or reflections in countless ranks of sainthood. Each rank has also many forms of manifestations. You see the greatest rank of a spiritual pole, which may be likened to that of a prime minister in a state, reflected in your rank, like that of a strict governor, and are thereby deceived. What you see may be true, but your judgment is wrong. For a fly, a bowl of water is like a small sea.
That person came, by God’s Will, to his senses and escaped a great danger.
I have also encountered several persons who know themselves as of the kind of the Mahdi, and claim that they will be the greatest Mahdi promised for the period near the end of time. They are not liars, nor deceivers, but are deluded in so far as they regard their vision as the ultimate truth. As there are as many degrees of the manifestation of the Divine Names as the number of the objects in the universe, material or immaterial, from the Greatest Throne of God down to a minute particle on earth, and the objects receiving this manifestation are in as different degrees as their number, so the ranks of sainthood are of the same variety. What causes deception or confusion in this matter is this:
Some ranks of sainthood have a particular connection with the function of the Mahdi and are somehow related to the greatest Spiritual Pole and even to Khadr. Likewise, there are some other ranks related to some famous saints and thereby called, for example, the rank of Khadr, the rank of Uways, and the rank of the Mahdi.
It is for this reason that those who receive a few manifestations of any of those ranks think themselves to be the owner of that rank, regarding themselves as Khadr himself, or the Mahdi or the greatest Spiritual Pole of the time. If those persons have broken their egotism and do not pursue any spiritual position, they are not to be condemned for such assertions, and their excessive claims are to be counted as shathiya. If, by contrast, they seek a spiritual position to satisfy their self-conceit and therefore turn from being thankful to God to self-pride, they will ultimately lapse into vanity and deviate from the truth. For they begin to regard the greater saints as of the same degree and character as themselves and, since a soul, however self-conceited it may be, is aware of its faults, their good opinion of those saints turns into imagining them to be faulty like themselves. They may even go so far that their respect for the Prophets may diminish.
This article has been adapted from Risale- i Nur Collection.