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Volume VIIIa - Sufi Teachings


THERE ARE three principal schools of philosophical thought in the East: Sufism, Vedantism and Buddhism. The Sufi school of thought was that of the prophets of Beni Israel: Abraham, Moses, David, Jonah and others, Zarathushtra, Christ, Muhammad; these and other prophets came from that part of the world which includes Syria, Arabia, Persia, Egypt, and what is now Turkey and south-east Russia.

Sufism is the ancient school of wisdom, of quietism, and it has been the origin of many cults of a mystical and philosophical nature. Its roots can be traced to the school which existed in Egypt and from which source all the different esoteric schools have come. Sufism has always represented that school and has worked out its destiny in the realm of quietude.

From this school of Sufism came four schools: the first was the Naqshibandi which works mostly with symbolism, ritual, and ceremony. The second was the Qadiri, which taught wisdom within the realm of the existing Islamic religion in the East. The third was the Sohrwardi which taught the mystery of life by the knowledge of metaphysics and the practice of self-control. The fourth was the Chishtiyya which represented the spiritual ideal in the realm of poetry and music. From these schools many branches sprang forth in Arabia, Turkey, Palestine, Tartary, Russian Turkestan, Bokhara, Afghanistan, India, Siberia, and other parts of Asia.

In the different schools the ideal remained the same, although the methods varied. The main ideal of every Sufi school has been to attain that perfection which Jesus Christ has taught in the Bible, 'Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.' The method of the Sufis has always been that of self-effacement. But which self? Not the real, but the false self upon which man depends, and upon which he prides himself as being something special; and by effacing this false self he allows that real Self to manifest in the world of appearance. Thus the Sufi method works towards the unfoldment of the soul, that self which is eternal and to which all power and beauty belong.

Sufism has understood what is behind the ideal of Ahura Mazda and Ahriman, the good principle and the evil principle. One finds this in the words of Christ and in the Quran as well as in the Zend Avesta. It has understood what is behind the idea of angels. And it has idealized God and the Master, the deliverer of the divine message. It may be called Jewish mysticism, without omitting the influence of Christianity. It may be called the wisdom of the Christians, without omitting the wisdom of Islam which is to be found in it. It may be called the esoteric side of Islam, without neglecting the influence of philosophies as foreign as those of the Vedanta and Buddhism. This is the reason why it is so wide, perfect, and universal.

The Sufi's worship of nature is due to the influence of Zarathushtra. His tendency towards sacrifice is the lesson taught by Abraham. His miraculous power is due to the influence of Moses. As one who warns of coming dangers he represents the great warner of the past, Noah. His independence of asceticism shows the influence of Solomon. His sacred music tells us of the song of David. His tendency towards renunciation is learnt from the example Christ gave. The humanity the Sufi shows is influenced by the personality of Muhammad. This makes the Sufi the disciple of every master, the follower of every religion, the knower of every aspect of wisdom. Thus it is that in spite of his spiritual attainment he remains sociable in the world.

Many people have said, 'We believe only in Moses, or in Christ.' Some say that they believe only in the Vedas, or in other ancient scriptures. But the Sufi does not care who has said something; he cares only about what has been said. If he finds truth in the words of Zarathushtra he accepts it; if he finds truth in the Kabbala he accepts that. He accepts the words of Christ and the Bible; he sees truth in the Quran. He accepts the Vedanta; some of the Sufis have been greater students of the Vedanta than many Hindus. In all he sees one scripture.

Dara, the brother of Aurangzeb, was one of the first foreigners to study the Vedanta and spread the knowledge found therein. And in Akbar's reign there were Christian churches in his dominions, Jewish synagogues, and mosques; and he went to all. This was evident proof of his Sufi outlook. And when the great poet Kabir died, Hindus and Muslims both claimed him. The Hindus wanted to cremate him; the Muslims wanted to bury him. They both claimed that he belonged to their religion. The Sufi sees the truth in every religion. He never says that a religion is not his. Hindus and Muslims alike visit the tombs of the great Sufi saints; for instance they all go to the tomb of Khwaja  Muinuddin Chishti in Ajmer.

The Sufi sees the one truth in all forms. If anyone asks a Sufi to come and offer prayer in the Christian church, he is ready to do so. If some one would like to take him to the synagogue and ask him to pray as the Jews do, he would be quite willing; and among Muslims he will offer Namaz as they do. In the Hindu temple he sees the same God, the living God, in the place of the idol; and the temple of Buddha inspires him instead of blinding him with idolatry. Yet his true mosque will be his heart in which the Beloved lives, who is worshipped by both Muslim and Kufr alike.

At the present time the object of the Sufi Movement is to bring about a better understanding among individuals, nations, and races; and to give help to those who are seeking after truth. Its central theme is to produce the consciousness of the divinity of the human soul; and towards this end the Sufi teaching is given.

It is not only the misunderstanding between East and West or between Christians and Muslims which has brought Sufism to the West, but the misunderstandings among Christians themselves and between individuals in general. Sufism, as a school, has come from the East to the West, but Sufism as a message has come from above to the earth; and in that sense Sufism belongs neither to the East nor to the West. The Sufi esoteric school has behind it the tradition of the ancient Sufi schools which existed in all the various periods, but the Sufi message has its own tradition. It is more than a school: it is life itself; it is the answer to the cry of the whole of humanity.

Sufism is a religion if one wants to learn religion from it; it is a philosophy if one wants to learn wisdom from it; it is mysticism if one wishes to be guided by it in the unfoldment of the soul. And yet it is beyond all these things. It is the light, it is the life which is the sustenance of every soul, and which raises a mortal being to immortality. It is the message of love, harmony, and beauty. It is a divine message. It is the message of the time; and the message of the time is an answer to the call of every soul. The message, however, is not in its words, but in the divine light and life which heals the souls, bringing to them the calm and peace of God.

Sufism is neither deism nor atheism, for deism means a belief in a God far away in the heavens and atheism means being without belief in God. The Sufi believes in God. In which God? In the God from whom he has become separated, the God within him and outside him; as it is said in the Bible, we live and move and have our being in God. That teaching is the teaching of the Sufis.

The Sufi believes in God as the idealized Self within the true life, as the collective Consciousness, and also as the Lord of both worlds, the Master of the day of judgment, the Inspirer of the right path, and the One from whom all has come and to whom all will return.

In reality there cannot be many religions; there is only one. There cannot be two truths; there cannot be two masters. As there is only one God and one religion, so there is only one master and only one truth. The weakness of man has always been that he only considers as truth that to which he is accustomed, and anything he has not been accustomed to hear or to think frightens him. Like a person in a strange land, away from home, the soul is a stranger to the nature of things it is not accustomed to. But the journey towards perfection means rising above limitations; rising so high that not the horizon of one country or of one continent only is seen, but that of the whole world. The higher we rise the wider becomes the horizon of our view.

The Sufi does not prescribe principles for anybody, but this is not as in ordinary life, where to have no principles means to be a very wicked person. Some wonder how Sufism can be followed if it has no principles. But the answer is that what is good for one may be very bad for another. For one it may be very good to be a nun or to sit all day in a church or in a mosque, but for another it may be very bad; and yet another may need to go to the cafes and restaurants and learn the meaning of the experiences gained there.

In the East, in a place where respect must be shown people wear a hat or a turban, whereas in the West in the same kind of place the hat is taken off. It is simply the opposite principle. In the East, in Hindu temples, mosques, and other holy places, one must take off one's shoes before entering; in the West one could not be in a church without shoes. If Brahmins had to wear heavy shoes, such as Europeans wear, they would become ill; they would always be tired; they must have thin shoes which they can take off easily. The principles of the religions have been given to suit the time and place.

People have always fought over principles, saying that they adhere to a certain principle, and that this is what makes them superior, while those who adhere to another principle are inferior. But to the Sufi there is no good and bad; his only moral is to be kind to others. That is what the world cannot understand, because the world always wishes for principles and wants to be told that this is good and that is bad. But we make a thing good or bad by the way we look at it, so it is our viewpoint that should be trained first. The Sufi makes everything that he does spiritual. He sees only unity and harmony. The Sufi's religion is love alone; therefore the principles of the different religions are nothing to him. He leaves the fight about principles to those who cannot see beyond the narrow limit of their own ideas.

When the word philosophy is mentioned a person thinks at once of the philosophy of the Vedanta, say, or of Plato and Aristotle. These and other philosophers have studied the physical universe, matter; they have studied how the spirit became matter, and they have studied metaphysics; but in these philosophies we find no idealization, no devotion, whereas in Sufism one finds the idealization of God.

The Sufis believe also in encouraging every kind of worship; but even the worshipping of an idol cannot make the Sufi a Kufr, an unbeliever, because besides the idol he worships everything else at the same time. To the world it might seem that he worships the idol, but in reality he is worshipping God in all. The idolater is he who says, 'This is God and that is not God; God is in this idol; God is not in you.'

The Sufi also has an idol, but it is a living idol. I once met a faqir in the street of Hyderabad. He said to me: 'Hey, Murshid, what is the way to such a street?' I was at that time studying philosophy. I thought, 'He calls me murshid; perhaps he sees something great in me!' But then I heard him ask a policeman, 'Hey, Murshid, is this the way to such a house?' and I understood that he said 'murshid' to everyone. When I asked my murshid about it, he said that this was the grade of Fana-fi-Shaikh, in which the disciple sees his murshid in everyone and everything. The one who has reached it learns from everything, from every being, old or young, foolish or wise, even from a cat, from a dog, from a tree, from a stone. But the man who sees God in one object only and not in all things and beings, it is he who is the idolater; it is only when one sees God in all that one really sees God.

Sufism is a philosophy among the religions and it is a religion among the philosophies. Among the religions it is a philosophy by reason of the Sufi's freedom of thought; among the philosophies it is a religion because of the Sufi's idealization of God, his devotion and worship. The Sufis were called Sufis by others, they did not give themselves any name. They were free from name, from label, from distinction of personality, and for this the world called them Sufi, from Saf which in Arabic means 'pure'.


checked 5-dec-2015