Daughter of Fire by Irina Tweedie

Book Reviews

A dramatic and powerful account of Indira Tweedie’s training by a Sufi Master during the sixties.

Irina Tweedie

A Master and his disciple – and a spiritual training taking place in Kanpur, India between 1961 and 1966.

The Master is Bhai Sahib (elder brother), aka Radha Mohan Lal, a Hindu Sufi Sheikh from the Naqshbandiyya-Mujadiddiya Sufi Order.

The disciple is Irina Tweedie, the first Western woman to be accepted in this ancient lineage. www.amazon.com


Bhai Sahib

This book sat unread on my bookshelf for many years; somehow I never got across to reading it until two months ago. The moment I opened the first pages I was riveted and used every free moment to delve into the over 800 pages thick tome.

Russian-born Irina Tweedie marries a British naval officer after the Second World War, who dies in 1954 while she is in her early fifties. It is then that she feels the urge to go on a spiritual quest that leads her to India in 1959. Two years later she meets her master in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh.

It is highly unusual for him to accept her as a disciple, not only because she is a westerner but also because she is a woman. One of the first things he asks of her is to surrender all her money to him and arranges for her to receive just enough funds to pay for what she really needs. She lives in very simple quarters and her day revolves around the master. Usually he ignores her, is rude, and makes her sit far away from him while he pays close attention to other seekers. She sits in uncomfortable chairs, in dusty corners, all along tuning in to the master, watching him, falling in love with his appearance and his soul, but also many times feeling utterly rejected, unloved, doubtful. He often ignores her questions yet when he answers it is with love and depth, or he suggests for her to meditate on the question and “the meaning will come to you.”

He asks her to keep a diary of her spiritual training, in which she faithfully enters her experiences and thoughts. He tells her, “One day it will become a book. But you must write it in such a way that it should help others. People say, such things did happen thousands of years ago – we read in books about it. This book will the proof that such things do happen today as they happened yesterday, and will happen tomorrow – to the right people, in the right time, and in the right place.”

Amid the sordid surroundings, sufferings and ill-treatment she perceives, she decides to leave. Although she realizes she is in the presence of a great being, on the other hand “I thought he was a juggler, a swindler. I knew he had powers, but I didn’t know what to make of them. It was a terribly confusing situation. He was constantly rude to me, while with other people he was friendly. Of course, this made me very angry. I had no idea what spiritual life is.

“I . . . expected wonderful teachings; but what the Teacher mainly did was force me to face the darkness within myself, and it almost killed me.”

That the night she wakes up: “I knew that I would never go away, because if I went away I would die. Life would lose its meaning. There was nothing else for me to do. So that was it. I knew I wouldn’t leave. I told the Guru about it and he also laughed. And that was that.”

He explains to her that only few people can teach the Sufi method. “The Sufi method represents complete freedom. You are never forced…. When the human being is attracted to the Spiritual Guide and wants to become a Shishya (disciple), there are two ways open to him: The Path of Dhyana, the slow, but the easier way, or the Path of Tyaga (complete renunciation), the Road of Fire, the burning away of all the dross, and it is the Guide who has to decide which way is the best suited in each individual case. The Path of Dhyana is for the many, the Path of Tyaga is for the few.”

Irina is being trained on the Path of Tyaga and is literally purified by fire, experiencing extreme physical discomfort and even pain mainly during the nights. One morning she says, “The depression was great, the pain of love so deep and of no end… I was thinking that there are two definite things: one is love, and the other the pain of love, the longing. Just before I wake up, before the mind takes over, I always know which of those two is ‘on’: either love, tremendous, breaking the heart with its power; or the pain of love, which is such a longing, such a distress; it tears away all my inside…I seem to bleed.”

It is a dramatic book, it is a powerful and empowering book. Any disciple will see her/his own path reflected in it and so many times I felt the deepest stirrings inside, understood experiences I had/have on my own path on another, yet even deeper level, and was mesmerized by the clarity of her chronicle.

“What is the difference between a bad Teacher and a good Teacher? A bad Teacher will always behave how his followers expected him to behave…. But a good Teacher obeys a law of which the world has no notion.”

After her guru passes on, she retires to the Himalayas for a time to reflect and meditate, coming to an understanding what her guru has given her, and also understands that the guru-disciple relationship continues even after physical death.

In 1999, Irina Tweedie passes on at age 92 in London.

Bhagawati, Osho News

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