Daughter of Fire: An Interview with Irina Tweedie
Published in Yoga and Life, Vol. 5 - No. 5, Autumn 1990
INTERVIEWER: I've found in your book and in the interviews I have read, your teacher's approach seems more linked to yoga than to Sufism—the idea of chakras, kundalini, atman.
TWEEDIE: Yes. You see Sufism and yoga are one and the same thing. They are just words, in wisdom there is no difference. All the teachings are absolutely the same. They are only different paths to the One. Our teacher used to say, "You can approach the top of the mountain from the river, from the highway, from the town, from the sea, but it will always be one top of the mountain." It doesn't matter, and also this wonderful Sufi saying, "The roads to God are as many as human beings, as many as the breath of the children of man." He said that to us, it was an ancient Sufi saying and it means you don't need to convert anybody. You don't need to say my God is better than your God. Like in Ireland, that I will kill you if you don't believe in my God, what rubbish is that! There is only that Infinite, Nameless, and you cannot imprison it by giving it any name at all.
INTERVIEWER: It is also, I suppose, that this is Indian Sufism so the terminology tends rather to be in the Sanskrit as opposed to the Arabic.
TWEEDIE: And this is also in Idries Shah's book, in one of his later chapters. He says when Sufism spread, it spread all over the Middle and the Far East, and wherever they were for many hundreds of years they took on the culture of the place. The Naqshbandi branch of Sufism has been in India for many hundreds of years, so they use the words like chakras and mantras and all those Indian expressions.
I don't know what name they have for chakras in Arabic. I don't speak Arabic and I don't understand it. You see my training was with fire, which is kundalini.
I was tested with fire and I was taken into the path of power, and I can initiate. But you do not initiate—this is the interesting part. I can initiate people in the path of power which is kundalini power—but we do not initiate, it doesn't work that way. It works in another way but it will be far too long to explain and I don't think the general public will understand it at all, this path is esoteric. This is the path of power, the kundalini path, the path of fire.
There is no name on the outside of the book on the jacket, just my photograph, like in the German edition, just my photo, the "Daughter of Fire" and "Spiritual training with a Sufi Master", that's all. Of course when the book stands in the library on this side there must be my name, Irina Tweedie, otherwise the librarians wouldn't know where they are. But we Sufis should write anonymously and it is the most anonymous way I could achieve in the West.
INTERVIEWER: It's a good idea.
TWEEDIE: Yes, it's a good idea. Not mine, somebody else had this idea. You see I am in connection with my teacher. The goal of every yoga is to lead a guided life—guided by who or what? You guide yourself, of course. But at the end of training the atman, again I use the Indian expression, the atman of the disciple is united with the atman of the teacher. Now when he told me that at the beginning when I met him, and I was quite new and quite raw, I thought now what sort of talk is that—how can my atman disappear! Because nothing disappears, it's just united, it's together, it doesn't disappear. So in this case my higher self is sort of, I can't say it's guided by the teacher because the higher self is the higher self, it's not guided by anybody, it's part of the infinite. But by being with the teacher it is inspired, perhaps. I think this is the correct expression.
INTERVIEWER: And you began to get that sense after his death, you say in your book.
TWEEDIE: Yes. In a deep state of meditation I suddenly realized that I could contact him, he was there. It was a very dramatic moment, I was terrified. The whole of me was trembling, like that. He had no physical body any more, he was a centre of energy but I knew it was him. And the real training, the spiritual training began from that moment. Three weeks before he died he said, "Spiritual training? Rubbish! All that I did I tried to erase your ego." And I said to myself, "That little bit that I went through was not spiritual training?" I was furious, but he was right. The real spiritual training began in deep meditation, in the Himalayas, and it has continued. He is still there, he is still there. I can contact him at any time. Not only in meditation, I contact him now while I am speaking to you. There are things which I said because they went through me, it wasn't me. Certain things. Certain things were, certain things not.
INTERVIEWER: So you have the constant sense of presence?
TWEEDIE: Absolutely. It is as if I would see it through his eyes. It is like living in the presence of . . God? I don't know. But God, I say, because he is one of God. You are always aware of . . . You see, there is a saying "that we may place the imprint of our immortality on every passing incident of our daily lives." That is your work from the higher self, always. Then you cannot do anything small, anything miserable. Because somehow it is like a commitment, that is perhaps the best word I can use.
You see, when he died I thought he had betrayed me. I had to give all my money away. My husband was in the Royal Navy and he left me quite a lot. I had enough money to travel and do everything, and my Guru said, you cannot say to the Beloved—we Sufis, we call God the Beloved. It is neither the judge, it is not the creator, it is the Beloved of your soul.
INTERVIEWER: Sufi poetry is full of the Beloved.
TWEEDIE: And the mystics. We have this state of oneness with the Beloved and it is really a condition of love. But with what are you united, in the night? With nothing—with a black hole. God is nothingness. And the word Allah means exactly that. "Al"—is the article "the", but "lah" means nothing, and if you write the word Allah and look there is "Aaa-ooo"—and where is the last "lah"? It is hidden on top as a little squirk. Even the name!
Arabic language is wonderful, how they write Allah shows that it is "The Great Nothing". And here comes this tremendous difficulty to explain to people we are mystics of course we Sufis. We say the lover and the Beloved they are unbelievable. But when you have the union with the Beloved alone in meditation you are united with nothingness. But this nothingness responds, it's a feedback, it loves you absolutely and utterly, so completely everything of you because he created you like that, he can't help loving you, and if he doesn't love you, you will cry and you will cry and will keep crying, till the milk of his kindness boils up—I quote now Rumi—he can't help it he has to love us, he made us. He is part of us actually, and Teilhard de Chardin said God experiences and fulfills himself in man—I quote from memory, probably not quite correct quotation—and he nearly was excommunicated for that.
So it's not only us that say that. But nothingness, again, it is for the mind, because in this moment of union there is no mind. For the mind, God is a concept which does not exist, because it cannot prove anything, it's not there. Because the mind by its very substance knows the things from outside itself. There is me and the knowledge, the knowledge which I have acquired, there is you and me, that is the I and the not I. The God is you—you cannot see your own eyes. How can there be no God? Never! But in the moments of oneness where I said there is a complete fulfillment, God is everything but nothingness, it is a complete fullness, like in the Isa Upanishad. Fullness, take away fullness from fullness, fullness alone remains.
INTERVIEWER: It's like the Sunya (Emptiness) Buddhism and the "No-thing" of Zen.
TWEEDIE: Exactly. It's all the same. And here lies this tremendous wonderful consolation, you know we are so insecure, we are so afraid. The ultimate security is . . . I am a student of comparative religion, but whatever I read, you scratch a little bit and underneath is the oneness. You call it different names, yes, according to the time, according to the place, according to the people, but it is all one. And why should we be afraid, we died so many times and we will be born so many times again. I find it so inspiring, so wonderful.
INTERVIEWER: You went through great agonies of doubt in the earlier stages.
TWEEDIE: About four years, yes, and he told me you will write a book, write down all the doubts, because that helps people, everybody has doubts. And you see doubts are very helpful.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, that again recalls the Zen statement that the greater the doubt the greater the enlightenment.
TWEEDIE: Correct. Exactly. I just wanted to say it but you said it, thank you very much. (Laughing)
INTERVIEWER: When you started teaching in the West did you find much difficulty in transmitting ideas which are too Eastern?
TWEEDIE: No, not at all. First of all I never considered that I was teaching. We are all disciples of God, we are all in the same boat, we are all trying to reach reality, we are all sinners trying to do better. And what I do I am only perhaps a little step ahead because I made a little more effort that's all. I don't consider myself a teacher at all. And I didn't find any difficulties with this Eastern idea. Not at all.
You see, I was always a member of the Theosophical Society and I was lecturing for the Society, there was a time when I gave 150 talks per annum, that works out about every second, third day I gave a talk. I was lecturing in the provinces, travelling a lot, and those are Eastern ideas anyway. Now people who came to my group at the beginning were from the Theosophical Society and you know how this is the grapevine, people just came and we are growing and growing and a big group is coming out, my God, that will be hopeless. I mean I need a bigger flat!
INTERVIEWER: You said somewhere in your book that there is not much method used, that you don't actually do very much. Then there is no discipline of any kind or practice?
TWEEDIE: No discipline and yes, there are practices. But not at the beginning. I do not give practices. I do not give mantras. You see, I want to remain with my teacher. He said he is not going to incarnate any more. It was right at the beginning; I was so ignorant I said neither would I like to be incarnated, I want to remain with you and he just gave me a look as if to say then you must make a jolly big effort. You see, if I begin to want to give people something or have any desire I create karmas. I must be completely without karmas in order to remain with my teacher so I just don't do anything. I wait till I get the order to give it.
So if someone comes to me at the beginning, there's nothing, we just drink tea, we are together and the atmosphere is special, the meditation is beautiful and that is all that there is. Little by little I receive the instruction to give this practice to this person, or this practice to another person, then I do it, that's all. There is outwardly no discipline, it's just a happy gathering of people, and lots of laughter and lots of jokes.
I remember right at the beginning there was an American evangelist I think he was, and he had a very beautiful wife, she used to come to us because Margaret brought her here at the beginning. And then he came once or twice to see where his wife is going and he didn't like it, so she used to come but he thought it harmless enough so he didn't say anything. And one day we were telling jokes, I was in the mood then for telling French jokes, and sometimes they were a little bit . . . And so Irene went home and he said to her "what have you been doing?" She said "Oh, Mrs. Tweedie was telling French jokes. He said "What!" Since then he didn't allow her to come anymore. I laughed and I laughed. This is the Sufi gathering, you see. We have very little, there is discipline and I have two men on the path of power, one about 60 and one about 29. This is of course control of the sexual energy but it is quite private, it has nothing to do with the group and they are going both quite well.
INTERVIEWER: The Mantras that you use, are they in Sanskrit or Arabic?
INTERVIEWER: That's words you use, like "La illaha illa la"?
TWEEDIE: Yes, "La illaha illa la" and also Sanskrit mantras like "Om," both. Because it's all one really. But I do not give the mantra, you see. I receive the instructions to do it and I just pass it on, and then people thank me for whatever happens. Because incredible things happen in this group. Miracles. We have witnessed people who have cancer are healed, people who do not pass exams, pass exams; people who couldn't have children get a child and so it goes all the time. But I always say I will pray but I won't pray alone, you pray with me. If you don't pray with me nothing will happen, and people pray with me and it happens. Then people come and thank me, I say why do you thank me? I am like a telephone. I am like a radio. I just pass it on. It's you who did it, I did it too, together we did it.
INTERVIEWER: What form of meditation do you do?
TWEEDIE: The meditation is not meditation. We are very similar to Zen Buddhism. We sit without sitting, we walk without walking, we meditate without meditating. It's a state of being, it's an is-ness really. If you say to a human being "stop the mind," it won't go, nothing will happen. Our meditation has to lead us beyond the mind to complete stillness. So it is strictly speaking not a meditation. It's a yogic state to still the mind, that is really correct. And meditation is upon something, and we try to leave the mind behind completely. So there is, I can say that there is a method which is given to everybody. The body is completely relaxed, any position is allowed, you can lie down, you can sit, you can sit cross-legged, but sit cross-legged is really the best. And completely relaxed, so you can forget the physical body.
As we are made in the image of God there is a place in our hearts where only God resides, the place only for him alone, reserved for him alone. I'll give you proof that it is true. When you love, deeply love another human being, really deeply, somewhere you will feel that you are still alone, and this very beloved human being has no access. It happened to me when I loved my husband so much. I said I am so fulfilled. I love him, we are so happy. But somewhere there is this longing, somewhere I am alone, what is it? This is the place where he reserved for himself. Because you and I and everybody else is made in his image. Now we relax and we try to enter this place which belongs only to him, and it is like that. We have to do three imaginings. Even Ibn Arabi used imagination very much for spiritual practices. Imagination is a very divine thing in the human being, it's very helpful.
We must imagine that we go deep within ourselves. Deeper and deeper and quite deep. There we must find this place, where there is stillness, peace and above all love. God is love, the human being is all love, only the human has forgotten it long ago. It would take a few days to find this place. When we find this place we must do a second imagining. We are in the place, and this place is of course in the heart. We sit in this still chamber in our heart, physical body and all, we are there surrounded by the love of God. We are loved, we are secure, and nothing remains outside, not even one hair, everything is there. That is the second imagining. And then of course while we are trying to find this place our minds won't give us trouble, because the mind does like to do something. But when we are sitting still thoughts will come into your mind. I forgot something to do yesterday, I have to do something tomorrow, or I have to do a phone call and so on and so forth.
Just do the third imagining. Imagining the thing you get hold of this thought and you drown it with love. And if it is done well the thought must go and there is nothing there. And it will really go because the feeling of love which you generate by being in the place of love is much more dynamic than the thinking—that thought will really dissolve. So that is the practice. Later, I am 25 years at that "job." I'll just say to my mind, "Stop" and it stops. But the human being who just came to me and has perhaps not even an idea of spiritual life can you say—you probably can just still your mind, I'm sure you can—but that is one of the methods. I don't say it is the method, that would be stupid. There are no such things as a royal road to God. Rubbish! Every method is equally good. Zen method is good, kundalini method is the same, raja yoga, all of them will lead you if you are sincere and if you do it, do it. If you don't do it, well, no method will help.
INTERVIEWER: "Drown the thought in love"—that's beautiful.
TWEEDIE: That's it, yes. And it helps. You see, we've all eventually—I have people in the group who are really very good at it now.
INTERVIEWER: So with your pupils, if I may use that word, you allow them to sort of find their own way, and when they need it ask you for guidance.
TWEEDIE: Exactly, you've got the idea exactly. Guruji used to say "Leave the man alone and he will find God in his own way." Don't tell me you have to sit in this position, you have to do this, you have to meditate in that way. Just do this practice to try to find that place within you. The rest will come by itself. The main purpose is to get rid of all the techniques.
INTERVIEWER: Too much technique can have the opposite effect in leading people in completely the wrong direction.
TWEEDIE: Absolutely. For example, I sometimes find the vegetarians are more conditioned and more dogmatic than anything else, more than the religion. It's terrible, you must chew the food I don't know how many times, this you mustn't eat and this you must do, goodness me! We try to get rid of conditioning and here we condition ourselves much more. You see, when he threw me out of India, not only out of his presence, he threw me out of India altogether—this is again an ancient tradition, in apparent anger the teacher throws you out. I asked him should I remain vegetarian? He said, "I'll leave it to your discrimination". And whatever I asked him he would say, "I'll leave it to you." So the whole responsibility was on me completely.
INTERVIEWER: That's it, it makes you responsible for what you do.
TWEEDIE: We are the arbiters of our destiny. You see, Sufism is neither a religion nor a philosophy. I would like to emphasize it. It's a path to God. That is an important statement. It's not mine, it's my teacher's. It's neither a religion nor is it a philosophy, it's a path to God, that's all. And wherever they went, in every country they assumed the culture of that country, that part of the culture which suited them, that's it. So if they go to Japan they will use Japanese expressions and Japanese meditations, I imagine, because leave the man alone and just give him a little bit of guidance he will find him by himself anyway. All those things are not very important.
INTERVIEWER: No. In some of the books one reads about Sufism it gives the impression that it's very secretive and the seeker has to go from one place to another, from one man to another before he even finds where the school is. I often think that this is a very strange way to go on.
TWEEDIE: I found it also. This statement—"of those who make the journey no news returns". Now I thought, oh! You are entrusted with such incredible secrets that you can't reveal them, how wonderful—you know like children, the human being loves secrets, oh! it's wonderful, it's a secret do you see. It's not true. You can't reveal it because you have no words and you can't go back because it's not worth the going back to. I give another very banal example but it's a good one, a very good analogy. A little child plays with matches, the mother comes into the room, it's playing, trying to light the matches. Oh my God! Now if I take it away it will begin to shout and to cry and I don't want it to cry, so I quickly take a large lovely red ball. I say, "Darling, isn't it lovely?" The child drops the matches and takes the ball. That's what the teacher does to the disciple. The values are completely changed. You get so many wonderful things, that this life is zero. You have nothing to go back to and you have nothing to say, that is the statement. It is a secret, but . . .
INTERVIEWER: In the sense that it can't be said.
TWEEDIE: In a sense that it can't be said, you have put it beautifully. I just was looking for words, thank you. That's all really.
INTERVIEWER: Nothing more to be said.
TWEEDIE: Nothing more to be said.