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Tweedie, Irina

Category: Ordinary person

Irina Tweedie was born in Russia in 1907 and died in 1999. She studied in Vienna and Paris, she then married a British naval officer after the Second World War, but her husband died in 1954 when she was 47.  She was of course grief stricken and emotionally shattered and as in many on the spiritual path, it projected her onto a search to find meaning in life and 'God'.  Her search took her eventually to India in 1959, where she contacted the Sufi Master Bhai Sahib. She became the first Western woman to be trained in this Naqshbandi system.

It is worth adding, however, that Irina was already something of a spiritual person, thus it was not grief alone that propelled her onto this path. I think if it had been grief, she would not have been able to see it through.

Irina Tweedie – The Chasm of Fire
Yes . . . the Longing. The Great, the Endless . .. Let us remember how it was exactly. I was waking up at the usual hour, about 6, and there it was, in between the waking and the sleeping state; the longing, sharply painful and so deep. Longing for what? That was the first thought of the waking consciousness. I really did not know. Sometimes a deep sigh from the bottom of my heart seemed to relieve the tension; so sharp it was and so cruel. From the very beginning I never knew for what I was longing. Confused, tortured, the mind not working, I did not, could not, analyse it. It was just longing from the very depth of the heart, the poignant feeling of some vanished bliss . . .
At first, it seemed just a longing for its own sake, for nothing in particular. At times it was more, at times it was less, but it always remained in the background, throbbing softly. I was never without it and it could grow so terrible at times that I would lose the will to live. There must be a reason for it; didn't he say that there is a reason for everything?

Bhai sahib

I looked deeper into my self. Deeper and deeper still. And it took me quite some time this morning to discover that it was in reality the same yearning I had had all my life, since childhood. Only now it was increased to the utmost degree. Even when I was quite small,  every time I saw golden clouds at sunset, or the sky so blue, or heard lovely music, or saw dancing sparks of sunlight on the trembling surface of the water - each time it came, an endless sadness, something was crying in me.
Often I wondered what this yearning could be. Never understood it, not really. Was it my Slav heredity, the innate sadness of the Russian temperament?
This morning I knew: it was the cry of the imprisoned soul for the One.
The Lover crying for the Beloved; the prisoner yearning for freedom.  For a few seconds it seemed to be breaking my heart apart, so strong it was, causing even bodily pain.
Then it ebbed away, leaving the understanding of its very nature behind……  So simple. All the time it was never anything else but the cry for the real Home!
We bring it with us into the physical life. We bring it from the other planes of being; it forms part of the very texture of our soul; it is intended to take us home again where we belong. Without this longing which is a gift not from this world, we, deluded as we are, would never find the way home.
If you love and you were asked, 'Why do you love?' and you are able to answer, 'I love because of his or her beauty or position in life, or charm or good character' - in other words, if you can give the reason for your love - then it is not love. But if this question is put to you, and as if in a sudden wonder, you must admit that you don't know, that the ‘why’ never occurred to you; you just love, that's all, so simple . . . then, only then, is it real love

The ashram

Her teacher's first request of her was to keep a complete diary of her spiritual training.  He predicted that one day it would become a book and would benefit people around the world. Indeed it became the book, Daughter of Fire: A Diary of a Spiritual Training with a Sufi Master.  The diary spans 5 years, and is the most detailed account of the relationship between disciple and teacher that exists in Western Literature. The book remains in diary form and contains all her thoughts doubts and feelings.  The book was first published in its abridged form as The Chasm of Fire . Later the unabridged book, Daughter of Fire: A Diary of a Spiritual Training with a Sufi Master, was published. This title is now being published through The Golden Sufi Center.

After her guru's death in 1966, she returned to England where she started a Sufi meditation group in North London.

The Chasm of Fire – Irina Tweedie
You said to us that complete surrender is necessary, but now I read that more than that is required.  The condition of self annihilation is demanded from the disciple in your system.  Self annihilation in the Master.

About Irina


One of the most interesting things about those who are propelled onto a spiritual search is that they are occasionally the last people one would think were suited to the journey.  Irina Tweedie was as about as unsuitable as you can get, her will was absolutely rock hard, she was totally lacking in humility or compassion, she was intolerant of others and their foibles, lacked patience and also lacked good manners at times.  But this is why she was placed on the Road of Fire, the road is only for people with these characteristics.  I actually think that without a guru Irina would have never got anywhere, she was sorely in need of a spiritual trainer.

Irina was obsessive about her quest and at times, there is the hint of an odd sort of masochistic desire that emanates from her descriptions.  There is the tinge of the fanatic about her – the fanatic who feels they need to suffer to be saved.  I have no idea whether she was brought up as an Orthodox Catholic Christian with all the hell fire and torture that it often entails, but some of this seems to be present in what she says.............

The Chasm of Fire – Irina Tweedie
A bright lamp was fixed on one of the trees in the garden.  Thousands of moths and insects were dancing madly round it.  What was attracting them so much to the brightness of the light?  Though half burned, they returned again and again in ecstatic dance until they fell to the ground in the last convulsions of death.  To die burned by the Light.. what a wonderful death!


Bhai Sahib weighed her up and got the measure of her straight away, and hinted to her that the path of fire was only for those who were 'special'.  Dhyana – the Path of Contemplation was for the many, but only she was to go on the Path of Fire.  Clever psychology, as it, of course, appealed instantly to that super ego and the masochistic tendencies………….

The Chasm of Fire – Irina Tweedie
“When the human being is attracted to the spiritual guide and wants to be a disciple there are two ways open to him
 - the path of dhyana, the slow but easier way;
 - or the path of tyaga – complete renunciation, the road of fire, the burning away of all dross.
And it is the guide who has to decide which way is best suited in each individual case.  The path of dhyana is for the many, the path of tyaga is for the few”

Needless to say he had a good laugh at this point as she puffed up with pride.

The Chasm of Fire – Irina Tweedie
Here he laughed his young and merry laugh..............


Hmmmmmmmmm I bet he did.
Incidentally, I not only warmed to her during her account but ended up really liking her by the end of the story, but as a spiritual candidate she was clearly something of a challenge.
Here are some examples of her characteristics, first the rock hard determination and obsessive desire .........................

The Chasm of Fire – Irina Tweedie
It was a compulsion... I told him that I wanted God, was searching for the Truth.... I went on and on.  He kept nodding slowly as if the torrent of my words was a confirmation of his own thoughts, looking at me, no, rather through me, with those strange eyes of his, as if to search out the very intimate, hidden corners of my mind.
'I want God' I heard myself saying, 'But not the Christian idea of an anthropomorphic deity, I want the Rootless Root, the Causeless Cause of the Upanishads.'
'Nothing less than that?'  He lifted an eyebrow.  I detected a slight note of irony in his voice.

….. the lack of respect and obsessive wanting..............


The Chasm of Fire – Irina Tweedie
'You who are a maker of saints and know how to write on the back of human hearts; write on the back of my heart one letter; one letter only; that of Alif!  Write it with living fire, to be consumed at your feet with eternal longing!'
I stopped looked at him.  I thought it was a good speech.
'Yes, yes' he repeated impatiently.  His face was expressionless, stony and cold.
I really got angry now.  I leaned forward.
'I challenge you to produce love' I said and I laughed. It must have sounded defiant for I was angry.

Then the lack of humility coupled with the 'want', 'want', 'want' childish aspect again...

The Chasm of Fire – Irina Tweedie
Not once, but several times. I told him that I want to become like him, to have samadhi in full consciousness, the highest yogic state.


She criticises and argues with her guru and also contradicts him, even when she clearly doesn't understand what he has said [I remember a phrase of my mum's – 'enough to try the patience of a saint' – and indeed this was exactly what Irina was], she even criticised the guru of the guru!!

The Chasm of Fire – Irina Tweedie
…..'He took advantage of the situation, I think it is most unjust'.
'This is a silly remark' he said, this time really annoyed and went out.
'Don't argue so much' L said 'It is a wrong attitude, try to understand'.
But I was furious and I told him so as he came back.  It is so difficult to understand him, he expresses himself in such an obscure way; it is most frustrating.
'I express my thoughts clearly enough, but more often than not, you pretend to misunderstand me and as for me, it is sheer agony to try to understand you!  You speak in mysterious parables and often you contradict your own statements'.
'I contradict myself' he said ironically 'I really do not know what I am talking about!  What a pity!'
L told me impatiently that my attitude is wrong and I will achieve nothing by it.
He sent me away soon afterwards.... I left feeling really angry.  And what is this mystery all about?  Why can't I hear it?  Felt humiliated.

The  paragraph also tells us a lot about the obsessive, compulsive nature of her desire.  Desires of this magnitude are wholly destructive in terms of the spiritual path.  Wanting at this level gets you nowhere, the level of will being exercised is so great it blots out the composer completely.  She is childish, disrespectful and selfish.............

The Chasm of Fire – Irina Tweedie
Was a bit depressed this morning.  Everything seemed to be so difficult, not worthwhile attempting even.  At the guru's place this evening I asked many questions for the sake of asking, some of them futile, some silly.  I did it just to taunt him.  He said I should not do it; it is sankalpa-vikalpa.  It is bad and nothing has ever been solved by the mind.
L told me I was discourteous and he is far too patient with me.

She is downright rude …...........


The Chasm of Fire – Irina Tweedie
I got up wanting to leave but he said, in general, not really talking to me directly, that prasad [blessed food] would be distributed ,so I understood that I had to stay. 
The noise of the radio grew louder and louder, everybody talking their heads off, especially the wife and the young man who was a police officer, discussing some local event which amused everybody.  I got up and left abruptly; could not bear it a moment longer.
I was already in bed when L came.
She told me he was annoyed.  I behaved discourteously.

Notice also the dismissive phrase 'the wife', not 'his wife' or even his wife's name, just 'the wife', arrogance and rudeness, a lack of empathy for people.  She was also an attention seeker – a sort of 'look at me I'm the most important one here' personality.

The Chasm of Fire – Irina Tweedie
He ignored me completely.  When I come in and salute him there is no response, as if I did not exist.  Well... here I am;  I was prepared to be accepted as his disciple, hoped to get teaching, and he does not even notice me...... behaves in such an irritating way.

….. a snob, judgemental, strait laced, intolerant................

The Chasm of Fire – Irina Tweedie
Day after day to sit in these squalid surroundings.  Amongst the screaming, noisy horde of the dirtiest children, all running about the place, roaming freely everywhere, is at times beyond endurance.  Twice I cried in sheer despair.  But the most frustrating fact is that I do not get a single question answered.  As soon as I ask a question, everybody present begins to discuss it expressing their opinion, in which I am not the least interested, for I want his answer.  But he will sit there listening to everybody, smiling politely, until in utter despair I say that it was I after all who had asked the question and wanted his answer and as I do not get it, only a lot of useless arguing from everybody else, I won't say anymore.  He just turns to me and smiles in the most maddening way.


The Chasm of Fire – Irina Tweedie
I told him in conversation that Babu and Satendra, his sons wanted to come and see where I lived.  I said 'I don't mind that, but Babu is so curious that he constantly asks me where I am going and what I am doing.  I find it annoying.  I don't need to give an account of my life to a boy, it is not his business'.
He took the opportunity to tell me off; how hard I am still; he is trying to change me but without success.  I was wincing under his words.
'I am not going to waste my powers' he was saying.  'I am not going to help you now.  You must help yourself.  I gave you such a big place in my heart and you are still nowhere!  You do not know what respect is.  There are people who are so afraid of me that they do not dare to speak to me and you, you are disrespectful to the family of a guru'.
And so he went on for a while.
He made me cry desperately; could not stop crying.  I told him he was right.  What harm was there if the boy was curious.  What did it matter?  It is all pride again.
So I cried and he went outside closing the door.


So, a challenge.

In the observations you can see how a gifted and clever guru handles and helps a person like Irina.

The Chasm of Fire – Irina Tweedie
Criticise yourself, criticise yourself constantly and you will get somewhere.



In order to suppress an ego or will of this magnitude, today's psychological solution would probably be LSD!   

But here we see the value of a guru to a hugely egotistical character with a burning obsessive fanatical desire to 'find their God'.  An egotistical person is unable by themselves to suppress the drivers to will, thus the role of the guru is to use the mechanisms at their disposal to do this for the person – to construct a purpose made programme that uses all the weaknesses of the person and turns them about face to act as destructive forces.

The Chasm of Fire – Irina Tweedie
I told him I had dreamed, I was looking at myself in the mirror and saw that I was very thin, very pale, my hair in disorder.  'It is a very good dream' he replied 'thinner and thinner; until nothing remains'.

The first stage of all gurus is to ensure they have the unquestioning trust and love of their disciples.  Without this, attrition or whatever other form of approach used, does not work.  The criticism will not have any impact, the dependence will not develop, there will be nothing on which to base the acts that are to follow.

Irina after she had returned to the UK

Irina Tweedie held back for some time, very unsure of what to do, but Bhai Sahib played on her need for someone to replace her husband.  He very carefully placed himself in the role of surrogate 'looker after' thus appealing to both her childish nature and the part of her that missed the support her husband had given her as a sort of father figure.  There were no sexual overtones.  Bhai Sahib judged that a lady in her fifties fairly prudish and strait laced and critical has no need for sex, [at least not this one] so all his advances were caring and courteous.  I think he also judged right in seeing her to be just a tad lazy – she was imperious, used to having things done for her.....

The Chasm of Fire – Irina Tweedie
'No effort needed; just come here and sit.  Everything is done for you.  Why make an effort?  Effort does not lead anywhere.  If one is a real guru, a Sat guru and knows how to write on the back of hearts... the spiritual guide does not make conditions.  He is like a loving mother.  The child can be angry, can run away.  The mother does not take it very seriously.  She cares for it just the same and does not love it less.  Disciples can and do leave the guru, but the guru is never supposed to leave the disciple
And where can the disciple run away to?  The guru and the disciple relationship is forever; if one is pledged to the guru, where can one go?  Disciples are not slaves.  They are free.  But even when the personality wants to run away, it is difficult for it to do so.  The Higher self knows better.  Ours is the system of freedom.  But the majority do not like it.  People want contortions – Hatha yoga, discipline, mind control, meditations.  They are not happy otherwise, they think nothing is being done.

Bhai Sahib

He played up to her need to believe in the mysterious, in his ability to perform 'magic' to be a sort of super wizard capable of performing superhuman feats [whether he could or not hardly mattered].  The following is a masterpiece of insinuation.

The Chasm of Fire – Irina Tweedie
I knew I could speak.  I told him I had been doubting so much who he was and if I could, if I should, trust him.
'I trust you now; I will not resist anymore – will try not to consciously at any rate.  Unconsciously, of course, I cannot know...'
'I will take care of that'.  He closed his eyes.
Do with me everything that you deem necessary to make me fit for the work because I well realise, as I am now, I am useless for the work you may want me to do'
'All I can say is that you are being prepared for the work'.

Now for the actual techniques. The aim of attrition is to still the will  - defeat it - and this can be achieved via manipulation of the inputs to the will, or by the direct attack on the will – our sense of self and self worth.  Irina's guru did both. 


The techniques and methods that Bhai Sahib used were as follows: 



You can follow her progress using the observations below.





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