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Volume IX - The Unity of Religious Ideals

Part VI



One of the words to which the term 'Sufi' is related is the Greek Sophia, meaning wisdom; wisdom is the knowledge acquired from within and without. Therefore Sufism is not only an intuitive knowledge nor is it only a knowledge acquired from the outer life of the world. Sufism in itself is not a religion nor even a cult with a distinct or definite doctrine. No better explanation of Sufism can be given than by saying that any person who has knowledge of both outer and inner life is a Sufi. Thus there has never in any period of the world's history been a founder of Sufism, yet Sufism has existed at all times.

As far as we can find out there have been many esoteric schools since the time of Abraham; and many of them have been called Sufi schools. The Sufi schools of Arabia, absorbed Arabic culture and were largely metaphysical. The Sufi schools of Persia developed more of the literary aspect, and the Sufi schools of India developed the meditative faculty. But the truth and the ideal have remained the same, as the central theme of Sufism, in all these schools. Several exist even now, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that there are millions of souls, followers of different religions, who are benefited by the wisdom of these schools.

No doubt every school has its own method, and every method has been colored by the personality of its leader. There are the schools of dervishes and there are the schools of faqirs; and there are the schools of the Salik, who teach moral culture together with philosophy.

The present-day Sufi Movement is a movement of members of different nations and races united together in the ideal of wisdom; they believe that wisdom does not belong to any particular religion or race, but to the human race as a whole. It is a divine property which mankind has inherited, and it is in this realization that the Sufis, in spite of belonging to different nationalities, races, beliefs, and faiths, still unite and work for humanity in the ideal of wisdom.

Another word, which has a connotation with Sufism, is the Arabic word Saf, which means pure. All the tragedy in life comes from the absence of purity. And as pure really means to be natural, the absence of purity means to be far from being natural. Pure water means that no other substance is mixed with it, in other words that is in its natural condition. Sufism, therefore, is the process of making life natural. One may call this process a religion, a philosophy, a science, or mysticism, whatever one wishes. All the religious teachers who have come to this world at different times, have brought this process of purification in the form of religion. It is not a new process, it is the same ancient process that the wise of all ages have bestowed. If anything new is given in it, it is the form in which it is presented to suit a certain period of the world.

One may perhaps think that by spirituality it is meant that one must learn something, which one did not know before, that one must become extraordinarily good, that one must acquire some unusual powers or have experiences of a supernatural kind. None of these things does Sufism promise, although on the path of the Sufi nothing is too wonderful for him. All these things, and even more, are within his reach; yet that is not the Sufi's aim. By the process of Sufism one realizes one's own nature, one's true nature, and thereby one realizes human nature. And by the study of human nature one realizes the nature of life in general. All failures, disappointments, and sorrows are caused by the lack of this realization; all success, happiness, and peace are acquired by the realization of one's own nature. In short, Sufism means to know one's true being, to know the purpose of one's life, and to know how to accomplish that purpose. Through disappointment many say, ' I shall probably never be successful in my life', not realizing the fact that man is born to do what he longs to do, and that success is natural while failure is unnatural. When man is himself, the whole world is his own; when he is not himself, then even this self does not belong to him. Then he does not know what he is, where he is, nor why he is here on earth; then he is less useful to himself and to others than a rock.

It is in self-realization that the mystery of the whole of life is centered. It is the remedy of all maladies; it is the secret of success in all walks of life; it is a religion and more than a religion. And at this time when the whole world is upset, the Sufi message conveys to the world the divine message. What is wrong with humanity today is that it is not itself, and all the misery of the world is caused by this. Therefore nothing can answer the need of humanity save this process of the sages and the wise of all ages which leads souls to self-realization.


Very often the Sufi message, in its form of beneficence, is taken to be what is nowadays called pacifism, and those who do not favor the idea of pacifism say that it means peace at any price. Sufism does not teach that. Sufism does not mean goodness, kindness, or piety. Sufism means wisdom. All things in life are materials for wisdom to work with, wisdom cannot be restricted to any principals. Among Sufis there have been great souls who were Kings, and others who were in the position of beggars, saints, workmen, commanders, generals, businessmen, statesmen, or prophets; and in all ages the Sufis have practiced Sufism in all walks of life. This shows that no one can point out a particular belief or tenet and say it is a Sufi doctrine.

In music, there are two things: sound and notes. Notes indicate the degree of the sound, but sound can be all notes, no note in particular. So it is with Sufism: it is all beliefs and no belief in particular. There is no action which the Sufi calls right or wrong, for every action can become right and can also become wrong. It depends on the use or the abuse of the action, its fitness or unfitness. Right or wrong depends on the attitude and the situation, not the action. This naturally gives the Sufi tolerance towards others and makes him ready to forgive them, and he is unwilling to form an opinion about the action of another person. This attitude keeps the Sufi far removed from saying that peace is good or war is good. The Sufi will prefer to say that war is good at the time of war, and that peace is good at the time of peace.

But, if all things are right in their proper place, what then has Sufism to do in life? The principal mission of Sufism is to dig the soil under which the light of the soul has become buried. It is the same as the teaching of Christ, who has said that no one should hide his light under a bushel, and also that one should raise one's light on high.

The condition of the world today is such that humanity has become abnormal. Man is not only scared of badness but also of goodness; man not only dreads war but also peace. He is not only tired of enmity but also of friendship; he not only suspects his adversary but even his own brother. It seems as if the mind of the world is not only tired but ill: as if humanity has had a nervous breakdown. Individually or collectively man does not know his life's purpose or goal. The Sufi Message warns humanity to get to know life better and to achieve freedom in life. It warns man to accomplish what he considers good, just, and desirable; it warns him before every action to note its consequences by studying the situation, his own attitude, and the method he should adopt.

Sufism not only guides those who are religious, mystical, or visionary, but the Sufi Message gives to the world the religion of the day; and that is to make one's life a religion, to turn one's occupation or profession into a religion, to make one's ideal a religious ideal. The object of Sufism is the uniting of life and religion, which so far seem to have been kept apart. When a man goes to church once a week, and devotes all the other days of the week to his business, how can he benefit from religion? Therefore the teaching of Sufism is to transform everyday life into a religion, so that every action may bear some spiritual fruit.

The method of the world reform, which various institutions have adopted today, is not the method of the Sufi Movement. Sufis believe that if evil is contagious, goodness must be even more so. The depth of every soul is good; every soul is searching for good, and by the effort of individuals who wish to do good in the world much can be done, even more than a materialistic institution can achieve. No doubt for the general good there are political and commercial problems to be solved; but that must not debar individuals from progress, for it is the individual progress through the spiritual path which alone can bring about the desired condition in the world.

checked 18-Oct-2005