A soul inherits qualities from parents and ancestors and there are qualities which it has brought with it from the higher spheres. But a soul also inherits the qualities of the teacher, especially in spiritual culture, although from all different teachers one inherits certain qualities. When a child goes to an elementary school, even there the child learns something from the teacher which is not only taught by the books the teacher uses, but from the spirit of the teacher. It is very often found in schools where children go to learn that the influence of a certain teacher makes a great impression upon their character and upon their progress.
Since spiritual guidance is not necessarily a study, the teaching which reaches from a teacher to a pupil reaches in the form of reflection. This teaching is called in Sufi terms tawajoh. What is learned one learns from books, but what one learns from a soul, from a spirit is learned from a living source. For instance, the same thing read in a book does not reach so deep as when it is spoken, and when it is spoken by the teacher it goes still further.
I had a most interesting experience in this question. A mureed had read a certain idea, a teaching in a book. He had read it four or five times, but he only understood it fully when I told it to him. Telling him once was more helpful to him than if he had read the same idea fifty times over. The letters on a paper sometimes reach as far as the eyes, but the word coming from the soul reaches the soul. Therefore, that which is learned by the phenomenon of reflection is of a greater value than learning in any form, especially in the spiritual line.
There was once a conference of religions in Calcutta and representatives of all mystical schools were invited to this congress. Shankaracharya was the leading representative of Brahmanism present there. After having given a most impressive lecture Shankaracharya wished to sit in silence. But there was a desire on the part of the audience that some of their questions might be answered. Shankaracharya looked here and there to his disciples and asked one of them to answer the questions. Which disciple was it? It was someone who was not even known to Shankaracharya's pupils, for he was mostly busy looking after Shankaracharya's dinner or dusting the room and keeping it in order. So the pupils who were known to be something were not asked. This man was asked, and they did not even know that he existed. He gave an answer to every question, a thing he had never done in his whole life. It was only because he was asked that he stood up without thinking whether he would be able to give the answer or not. And every answer was as if it was given by Shankaracharya himself. The pupils of Shankaracharya were filled with admiration and bewildered at the same time, not having seen this man among them. It is this which is recognised by Sufis as tawajoh, reflection. It was not that pupil, it was the teacher himself who was speaking there.
What is called the chain of Murshids - which means that from one soul another soul has received, and from this other soul another soul, and so it goes on - it is also a reflection. A treasure which cannot be gained by meditation or by study is gained by reflection. No doubt, study makes one understand it, meditation prepares the heart to take reflection better, but the wonder that reflection of mind produces is far greater than any attainment made in the spiritual line by studies.
There are wonderful experiences to be found in the ancient schools of mysticism, among Sufis, among Yogis, among Buddhists, that the knowledge which has been given perhaps four thousand years ago is put in clearer language and explained better, and yet keeps the beauty and characteristics of the whole tradition. The beauty of mystical knowledge is this: of whatever school it may be and from whichever part of the world, that central theme of the knowledge of truth is one and the same. People who have attained knowledge of different aspects of life may differ in their expression, they may dispute over it, they may not agree upon certain things, but those who have touched the ultimate truth, they cannot but agree, they cannot but understand the same thing. The reason is that the truth remains the same, they have reached the same truth. Evolution or involution, nothing diminishes it nor adds to it. It is what it is, and it is best attained by the way of reflection.
Question : Is it possible that someone speaks by reflection great wisdom without understanding himself what he is saying?
Answer : Yes, at the same time a reflection of mind is not as a reflection on a photographic plate. A reflection on a photographic plate remains but does not live. But the reflection on the mind lives and therefore it is creative. It is true that it does not all live, but it helps one to create within oneself the same thing.
This brings us to the question of mediumship. Sometimes people may sing songs which do not belong to them, which they never learned, which they are not supposed to know. There was a young girl in Bombay who never knew Persian, but there were times when she would speak Persian, and her Persian was so good that learned Persian scholars used to come and discuss with her. She used to discuss points of metaphysics and would always stand firm on her arguments and the scholars were impressed by it. Then at other times she would not know Persian.
But it is mostly seen with poets, especially mystical poets. They write things sometimes which they themselves do not know. Sometimes they can interpret or can understand their poetry better after ten years. A friend of mine wrote a poem using in it terms which are known to high initiates. I was very astonished and I asked this friend, "What do you mean by this?" It was then that he knew that he did not know that part, he did not know what it meant. But no poet can be a great poet if he is not by nature mediumistic, for the perfect source is within, and the reflection that comes from within is more perfect than what one has learned here.
Question : Does not the spoken word transcend the written one beause the voice carries the soul-vibration?
Answer : Certainly. There is a soul behind the spoken word, its impression is greater, because a spoken word enlightens one, it inspires one. The same word read in a book does not have that influence.
I remember having heard the first time in my life a sentence which made such a living impression upon me that I could not forget it for weeks together and every day I pondered upon it, it brought a new light. When I heard that sentence it seemed as if it was spoken by my own soul, that my soul knew it, that it was never new but most dear and near to my soul. It was a verse, a couplet, it is an address of a bubble to the sea :
Though I am a bubble and Thou art the sea, still I and Thou are not different.
It is a simple sentence but it went into my heart just like a seed thrown into fertile ground. From that time it always grew, and every day I thought about it, it brought me a new reflection.
Question : Is there a fundamental difference between reflection from a teacher and reading? Is studying a book only an indirect reflection?
Answer : Hearing from a teacher is a direct reflection. It is not only the words that the teacher speaks, but even his silence which is a still greater reflection. Sometimes words by the same teacher written on paper, if they have come from the depth, also make a reflection, but if the same words are spoken by the teacher that reflection is greater still. When Tagore recited his poetry himself, it was twenty times more effective.
The words of Rumi from the MATHNAVI have still a living charm. It is long since the master passed away, but the words had risen from his soul, and their effect is so great that when one reads the words of Rumi they penetrate to the soul.
It is not only a reflection like a moving picture on a curtain, it is a reflection from a soul upon a soul, which is creative, which is productive, which is living.
Question : Does the reflection from a teacher also come from a distance?
Answer : Certainly it does. Distance makes no difference. The pupil who is near to his teacher may be at the other side of the world and be closer than a person who is not near and all the time by his side; although in the path of spiritual progress a meeting on the physical plane is often necessary, and a contact is valuable. It is just like the winding of a clock.