By Moin Qazi
“Deep in the sea are riches beyond compare. But if you seek safety, it is on the shore.”
― Idries Shah, The Sufis
In the chaos that prevails around us, there is a growing feeling of desolation and misery. The pace of modern times has upset the rhythm of life and the music is slowly ebbing out. Living in a harsh world we have developed cynicism and hatred. Our inner life is marked by wrestling of competing forces. Love and jealousy, pleasure and pain, hope and fear life and death, ideal and reality, dream and truth are in a state of eternal conflict.
The most authentic hope comes from mystics whose philosophy combines the virtuous message of formal religion with the transcendental values of love and harmony.
Sufism, the source from which the mystical world springs, enables an individual to purge his mind of all toxic emotions and helps restore balance and harmony. As the acclaimed modern Sufi Inayat Khan says: “The secret of life is balance and the absence of balance is life’s destruction.”
Sufism consists of a variety of mystical paths that are designed to ascertain the nature of humanity and of God and to facilitate the experience of the presence of divine love and wisdom in the world. The personal spiritual life of Sufi master is characterized by an untiring, seemingly mystical search for union with divinity and all of creation.
According to Sufi teachings, the path to experiencing the divine presence starts within. It is said that one who realizes oneself realizes the Lord. God is present, but individuals cannot see Him because curtains of ignorance veil their eyes and the sensual impressions encase their hearts. A common individual is ego-centred. It is only when he has polished the heart and purified the self will the curtains lift, the dust of materialism will fall, and the eyes will attain the vision required to see God. Sufism connects us to the deeper layers of the authentic self and helps us in exploring it.
The need for inner peace
There is a growing feeling of an urgent need for a serious spiritual catharsis. Sufism enables an individual to purge his mind of toxic emotions and restore to it, its incandescent luminosity. The great writer, Inayat Khan would emphasize that patience is the power of endurance. As resurrection follows crucifixion, happiness follows suffering. Spiritual paths and teachings give us access to the tools to do this inner work. For example, the practice of meditation can help to still the mind so that we are no longer distracted by its continual chatter. Psychological inner work can free us from the traumas, anger, anxiety and other feelings that may veil our light. Gradually we come to know more of our true nature, learn to live in the light of our real self. It is said that the goal of every spiritual path is to live a guided life, guided by that within us which is eternal. Rumi summed up his whole life in two lines:
“And the result is not more than these three words:
I burnt, and burnt, and burnt “
Dr H J Witteven, the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and himself, an accomplished Sufi says that we all have a divine spark in us and we can experience glimpses of the divine when we forget our limitations in the beauty of nature, or art, or in deep love. Pursuing such experiences, and letting them grow deeper, he says, can lead us into the cosmic realm and enable us to celebrate celestial love. As the well-known Persian poet, Saadi says: “Every soul is born with a certain purpose and the light of that purpose is kindled in his soul”.
Tracing its history
Sufism has become a kind of new-age amalgam of spiritual practices, but its roots reach back to the earliest days of Islam. As the early Muslim conquerors took their faith to different lands, Sufism began to borrow from different traditions, including Greek and Hindu philosophy and Christian theology. Hence, many of the early Sufis believed that all faiths were equal, and that to privilege one religion was to deny the existence of the divine elsewhere.
The Sufi ideal is to combine the inner and outer life to be active in the world, for example, as an economist or a politician, and at the same time to be inspired by attuning to the divine ideal. The important thing is the balance between these two aspects of like so that the inner light can motivate and shine through worldly activities. Sufism is the message of digging out that water-like life which has been buried by the impressions of this material life.
There is an English phrase: “A lost soul. But the soul is not lost; it is only buried.” When it is dug out divine life bursts forth like a spring. Sheikh Muzaffer says, “Keep your hands busy with your duties in this world, and your heart busy with God.” Our faith has to be practised daily in our everyday lives. As Sahi, an eminent Sufi mystic exhorts: “A man should be in the marketplace while still working with true reality.”
Remember Him, and all that is pure
The purity of the Sufi is due to his constant remembrance of God. The more he remembers God, the more he comes to know Him; and the more he comes to know Him, the more he comes to love Him. This is why the act of polishing the mirror of the heart is the key to entering into a love-relationship with God. The Sufi’s heart, in other words, is like white snow because of its purity, which it has attained through the remembrance of God. It is only a clarified heart that can help us perceive the true beauty and harmony of the universe.
In one important tale, the greatest of all Sufi masters, Rumi seeks to illustrate this idea in a more concrete way. He tells the story of a naked man who jumps into a pool of water in order to escape from being stung by a swarm of bees that have been chasing him and will not relent in their efforts to attack him. But since he cannot remain submerged for very long, he resurfaces for air only to find the bees waiting for him so they can resume their assault. The story sheds light on an important point, namely that the bees represent our remembrance for things in this world, while the water represents the act of remembering God. Rumi explains that the heart that is pure not only heads towards the Ocean, but it also becomes a part of it.
Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing has followed the Sufi path for a significant part of her life. She explains its attraction, “Sufi truth is at the core of every religion, its heart, and religions are only the outward vestments of an inner reality.” She writes further: “They will find the word mysticism has lost its bizarre associations and that the way of the Sufi reveals itself as a sophisticated view of life, embodied in people who through the centuries have always been in advance of their time.”
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