From the newsletter, Sufis Speak.
Why hierarchies? ls there a link between steps and titles in business, religion and mystic groups?
In the business world the hierarchy of executives, supervisors and indians (sic) is accepted almost without a question. Few notice the gradual change going on. Fewer still read. The musings of some pioneers eyeing a future of independently, operating working crews.
Eric Hoffer, the former longshoreman who became a lecturer of philosophy at the University of California, told us about a road building job in the San Bernardino Mountains above Los Angeles. It was difficult finding workers, so two trucks were sent down to skid row. Unemployed, drifters, winos were picked up and dumped at the site with tools, camping equipment, hardly any instruction. The first day they set up camp. Then they built the difficult road, to the satisfaction of all, in a minimum of time.
During World War II in liberated Belgium a crowd of civilians came to our air field and wanted to help. As an Officer of the Royal air force I was singled out to receive and accept them. My commanding officer shook his head as he looked over the sorry lot, starved, almost skeletons, dressed in rags, rheumy eyes and noses, all looking sullenly down at the snow. I told them I was sure they counted among them men who knew more than any of us the armed forces about the things needed to be done and that I would form no organization, no hierarchy of supervisors and supervised. They went to work immediately without forming any hierarchy among themselves either. When barracks were built the carpenters among them guided the work. When a plumbing job came along the plumbers came forward while the carpenters dropped back into the pool of general helpers. Once a fully-organized engineering unit arrived from Britain and became impressed and dismayed by seeing this unorganized group work both faster and better even though in addition to their work they prepared their own food and attended to all the housekeeping chores that the soldiers had had done for them by others. One day a leak became evident on the air field. Our security failed to solve the problem. Our unorganized Belgians solved it and straightened out our security in the bargain.
Henry Ford, originator of mass production, may have been the first noted industrialist to look carefully at this problem. After a long life of relevant experience he uttered,
“Any group of Americans can usually do a fine job together — until they establish a hierarchy among them. Then usually the the work becomes fouled up.”
Why, then, do we cling to hierarchies?
Most people want to be better than the next man, and when they aren’t sure they really are, a title perks them up. Also, business inherited the idea from religion at a time when the latter was much more powerful than now, more or less commanding our lives. The hierarchies of ministers or priests, bishops, Archbishops and Popes generated corresponding hierarchies in business.
Where, then, did the religious hierarchies come from?
From the Sufis, we are sorry to say. At a time when Abraham, one of the first historic Sufis, tilled h is fields, there may not have been any systematically-developed hierarchy though by and by systems of many and various steps, degrees and ranks were developed. Titles, such as Khalif — Murshid — Pir-o-Murshid, assumed to be various stages of teaching ability and spiritual maturity, given sometimes by an older teacher, sometimes by virtue of heredity and often by procedures that could not be traced, became customary. In the line of Administration the titles were Sheik, Masheik and Sheik-ul-Masheik. The Sufis inspired, successively, the Hebrews, the Zoroastrians, the Christians and the Moslems, so these religions, too, adopted their well-known degrees and titles.
The Sufi titles were established for various reasons. Many Sufis were, or are, convinced there is a real hierarchy denoting spiritual responsibility for various areas of our globe. The titles given to the orders were meant to give a foretaste of the real thing — a means of educating the members to accept the more real titles. Often the effect was the opposite. The titleholders did not always elicit respect. Another avowed purpose was to encourage the members to respect any fellow-being. This is, and has always been, the aim of the Sufi: To see God in every man and woman. If, in the beginning, they could not yet see God in all, it was thought they might be able to see God in the higher ranks who were supposed to be more mature and more worthy of respect. Again, this was not always the case. Respect would often be evoked rather by the untitled and the unpromoted. Confusion would follow.
All this was clear to a great many Sufis of the past and present, who therefore preferred to place themselves entirely outside ranks and titles. They assumed the lowest rank in society, that of the simpletons. They are called Madzoubs in India. Among them are really God-realized Sufis. There are also such Sufis in the West, even among the titled.
History offers examples. First we will look at a group of Yogis, close cousins of the Sufis. They, also, have titles: Bramacharia, Yogacharia and others. A Yogi of history, Shankacharia, gathered his group when he felt his life was coming to an end, for naming a successor. The Bramacharis and the Yogacharis looked furtively at each other wondering whom it would be. Shankaracharia looked over his group, then asked, “Where is Singh?” Singh was a servant and they replied he was in the kitchen. He was brought in, was told he reflected the teacher, and was named the successor.
A famous Sufi teacher in India several hundred years ago had a very distinguished group of pupils, university professors, statesmen, important business men. This teacher held forth about God beyond any form or name and the distinguished group lapped it up. This was their meat. One day the teacher told them he had changed his mind, he was going to pray before a God of form, the idol KALI, a particularly revolting statue. The distinguished professors, statesmen and business men thought the teacher was no longer rational. They all left him, except one young man. “Why did you not leave me also?” asked the teacher. “For one thing, you always said God was everywhere and was everything so he would also be in this image. Besides, I feel and know your spirit.”
This young man was to be known as Moinuddin Chisty, the founder of the Order in which Pir-O-Murshid lnayat Khan was trained and which he refounded in the West, and built into a Universal Message. This western order followed the usual pattern at first, with titles and ranks, although some who were very close to Inayat Khan refused to accept any title or to condone the system and it appears that in the end Inayat himself sided with these.
History has not gilded the systems of ranks and titles. What about the present? Inayat Khan himself gave a new and solemn glow to the old title of Pir-O-Murshid. There are lovely and lovable saints under this title. There are also primitive people with no message for this modern world. There are bread-and-butter men without a spark of spirituality. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India, during a talk about a school for children of all nations in the lower Himalayas — told me about many titled leaders of religious and mystic groups who mismanaged funds and caused the government untold trouble. Curiously, one of the lady pupils lnayat Khan had made a Murshida, an American, also had trouble with her accounts, so Inayat warned her to have others handle her money matters. She had been so close to Inayat that at some time he seemed to have indicated she would be his successor and later this was understood as a temporary leader until his son, Vilayat, would be of age. When this Murshida came to Suresnes, the Headquarters, after Inayat had passed away, not one would or could accept her. Among the other Murshidas lnayat had named, one commanded all around respect; another one, the Mureeds’ partial respect.
No wonder that Inayat, with his keen intellect and extraordinary sensitivity began to doubt the wisdom of using titles or ranks at all in the order, as his family recently has revealed. When he left for India that last time he is reported to have said, “If I ever come back, I shall concentrate upon my teachings, my books, and forget about ranks and titles.”
There is another basic reason why titles and ranks are unacceptable except as a game. Men do not advance along a common path but each one has his own specific goal and path. There are similarities, occasions for communication, encouragement and help. But in the final analysis everyone is on his own. Therefore common titles and hierarchical generalities are shams. Many Sufis realize this. Those who don’t, who still cling to a title and rank system should retain it as long as they wish but if they try to impose it upon others they will be burdened with disappointments. There are Sufis here in America so far above the average so-called higher ranks in maturity, ambition and talents that related to what some call the twelfth degree they are rather beyond the twenty-ninth. Nobody knows how far they actually are but in the unending numbers game available, twenty-nine is not overwhelming and one may say with certainty that they are beyond.
May we expand on the good old prayer, “Beloved Lord, Almighty God, lift us above the differences and distinctions that divide men, such as titles and ranks…”