Sa'adi Dance

Piping down the valleys wild,
Piping songs of pleasant glee,
On a cloud I saw a child,
And he laughing said to me:
"Pipe a song about a Lamb!"
So I piped with merry chear.
"Piper, pipe that song again;"
So I piped, he wept to hear.

William Blake Songs of Innocence

The substance and definition of Sufism: the substance of Sufism is the Truth and the definition of Sufism is the selfless experiencing and actualization of the Truth.

The practice of Sufism: the practice of Sufism is the intention to go towards the Truth, by means of love and devotion. This is called the Tariqat, the Spiritual Path or way towards God.

The definition of the sufi: the sufi is one who is a lover of Truth, who by means of love and devotion moves towards the Truth, towards the Perfection which all are truly seeking. As necessitated by Love's jealousy, the sufi is taken away from all except the Truth-Reality. For this reason, in Sufism it is said that, "Those who are inclined towards the hereafter can not pay attention to the material world. Likewise, those who are involved in the material world can not concern themselves with the hereafter. But the sufi (because of Love' s jealousy) is unable to attend to either of these worlds."

Concerning this same idea, Shebli has said, "One who dies for the love of the material world, dies a hypocrite. One who dies for the love of the hereafter, dies an ascetic. But one who dies for the love of the Truth, dies a sufi."

Sufism is a school for the actualization of divine ethics. It involves an enlightened inner being, not intellectual proof; revelation and witnessing, not logic. By divine ethics, we are referring to ethics which transcend mere social convention; a way of being which is the actualization of the attributes of God.

To explain the Truth is indeed a difficult task. Words, being limited, can never really express the Perfection of the Absolute, the Unbound. Thus, for those who are imperfect, words create doubt and misunderstanding. Yet:

If one cannot drink up the entire ocean,
one can drink to one’s limit.

Philosophers have written volumes and spoken endlessly of the Truth, but somehow their efforts have always fallen short. For the sufi, philosophers are those who view the Perfection of the Absolute from a limited perspective; so all they see is part of the Absolute, not the Infinite in its entirety. It is indeed true that what philosophers see is correct; nevertheless, it is only a part of the whole.

One is reminded of Rumi’s well-known story of a group of men in India who had never seen an elephant. One day they came to a place where an elephant was. In complete darkness they approached the animal, each man feeling it. Afterwards, they described what they thought they had perceived. Of course their descriptions were different. He who had felt a leg, imagined the elephant to be a pillar. The man who felt the animal’s ear, described the elephant as a fan, and so on. Each one of their descriptions with respect to the various parts they had experienced was true. However, as far as accurately describing the whole, their conceptions had all fallen short. If they had had a candle, the difference of opinions would not have come about. The candle’s light would have revealed the elephant as a whole.

Only by the light of the Spiritual Path and the mystic way can the Truth really be actualized. In order for one to truly witness the Perfection of the Absolute, one must see with one’s inner being, which perceives the whole of Reality. This witnessing happens when one becomes perfect, losing one’s (partial) existence in the Whole.

If the Whole is likened to the Ocean, and the part to a drop, the sufi says that witnessing the Ocean with the eye of a drop is impossible. However, when the drop becomes one with the Ocean, it sees the Ocean with the eye of the Ocean.

Asceticism and Abstinence in Sufism

In order to travel the path, the sufi needs strength supplied by proper bodily nourishment. It has been said that whatever the sufi eats is transformed into spiritual qualities and light. However, the food of others, since it but serves their own desires and fears, only strengthens their selfish attachments and takes them further away from the Truth.

This one eats and only
stinginess and envy result.
While that one eats and there is but
the light of the One.
This one eats and only
impurity comes about.
While that one eats and all becomes
the Light of God.

It is clear then, that Sufism is not based upon ascetic practices such as abstinence from food. In our school, the traveler on God’s Way is only instructed to abstain from food when he is sick or entangled in excessive desire or fear. In this case, the Master or Spiritual Guide permits one to refrain from eating for a brief period of time, and instead directs one to concentrate on spiritual practices. In this way, the excess is transmuted and the seeker’s inner being becomes harmonious. Then, the dervish will be enabled to continue on the dangerous ascent to the Infinite.

Some have thought that by fasting the strength necessary for purification is attained. On the contrary, in Sufism abstinence alone is not enough to purify the self. It is true that asceticism and abstinence give one a certain spiritual state, and in this state one’s perception may be clarified. But if the self is likened to a dragon that by fasting becomes powerless, it is certain that when the fast is broken and enough food is eaten, the dragon will revive, and stronger than ever will go about attempting to fulfill its desires.

In Sufism, it is by the Tariqat (Spiritual Path) that the self is gradually purified and transformed into Divine Attributes, until there is nothing left of one’s compulsive self. Then all that remains is the Perfect, Divine Self. In such extensive and precise work, asceticism and abstinence are virtually worthless.

The Spiritual Path

The Tariqat is the way by which the sufi comes into harmony with the Divine Nature. As we have said, this way is comprised of spiritual poverty (faqr), devotion and the continuous, selfless remembrance of God (zekr), which are represented by the cloak of the dervish (kherqeh).

Spiritual Poverty (faqr)

This is both the feeling of being imperfect and needy, and the desire for perfection. The Prophet, Mohammed, said, “My honor is from spiritual poverty. I have been honored over and above all prophets by being graced with spiritual poverty.” And God revealed to the Prophet, “Say, God increase my true knowledge of you.” As this saying indicates, even though Mohammed was given the honor of Prophethood, it was still necessary that he feel his poverty and desire to be nearer to the essence of God.

The cloak of the dervish (kherqeh)

The kherqeh is the garment of honor of the dervish. It symbolizes the Divine Nature and Attributes. Some people have mistakenly imagined that the cloak actually possesses these properties and have felt that if one was to wear such a cloak, one would become a saint. However, wearing spiritual clothing does not make one spiritual. A sufi wears what he or she likes while being in harmony with what is socially approved. ‘Ali said, “Wear those clothes which neither cause you to be looked down upon, nor admired and envied.” Thus, it is not the clothes which make the sufi, rather it is his or her actions and inner being.

Recline on the throne of the heart,
and with purity in manner be a sufi.
-- Sa’di

The cloak is sewn with the needle of devotion and the thread of the selfless remembrance of God. He or she who wishes to be honored by this cloak of poverty must, with devotion, become surrendered to a spiritual guide. True devotion draws one’s heart towards the Beloved. It involves continuous attention to the Truth-Reality and constant effort to let go of attention to the self. This includes unquestioned obedience to one’s spiritual guide.

The guide, by spiritual means, penetrates to the depths of the disciple’s soul, transmutes his negative qualities, and brings to nothing the impurities of the world of multiplicity. In other words, the guide takes the needle of devotion from the disciple’s hand and with the thread of the disciple’s selfless remembrance of God, sews the sufi cloak upon the disciple. Then, by the grace of this cloak of Divine Names and Attributes, the disciple will become a perfect being.

Continuous, selfless remembrance of God (zekr)

Contained in Absolute, Infinite Unity are forces which emanate and become manifested as created beings. Each being, according to its nature, receives grace from these forces. In the realm of words, the manifestations of these forces, or truths, are expressed by Divine Names. Examples are: the Living (al-hayy), meaning the life of creation is directly connected with Him; and the Transcendent (al-’ali), meaning the force of the universe is with Him.

The Divine Names, in the continuous, selfless remembrance of God (zekr), are prescribed by the Master of the Spiritual Path, in order to cure his disciples of the disease of the self and its desires and fears. But this remembrance is of no value unless all of one’s senses come to be fully centered on the meaning-reality of the respective Names. It is only by full acknowledgment and love of the reality of these Divine Names that attention to the self falls away. Then, the self becomes purified and adorned by the Divine Attributes.

The Beloved sat facing my open heart
for so long that,
but for Her Attributes and Nature,
nothing remained of my heart.
-- Maghrebi

Only in such a fashion can the repetition of the Divine Names be called the selfless remembrance of God, or zekr.

The disciple is like a machine whose energy comes from devotion. This machine, by means of the selfless remembrance of God, transmutes all of the self’s desires and fears into Divine Attributes. Gradually, the disciple’s self passes away and the Divine Nature becomes manifest; then the disciple truly becomes the recipient of the sufi cloak, and his heart and soul become illuminated by the grace of the Divine Attributes. At this point the disciple is worthy of entering the spiritual feast of the sufis, which takes place in the “Tavern of Ruin” (kharabat). This is the spiritual state of self-having-passed away-in-God (fana). Here, the sufi directly perceives the secrets of the Truth. As is said in the Qur’an, “Only the purified experience It (the Truth).” These purified ones, in Sufism, are called Perfect Beings.

In order to show how the remembrance (zekr) is done, let us take the example of LA ILLAHA ILL ALLAH. Its meaning is: there is no god, but God (who is One).

The sufi sits either cross-legged or on his or her heels, with the right hand placed on the left thigh and the left hand over the right wrist. In these positions one’s hands and legs form a y LA (the negative particle in Arabic), symbolizing the nonexistence of the sufi before the Beloved. In this state, the sufi must relinquish attention to and belief in this world, the hereafter, and himself.

The Y of one’s arms begins at one’s navel and continues up to one’s neck. It is a scissors which symbolizes the cutting away of the head of one’s self, and the surrendering of the belief in and attachment to one’s own limited existence.

With ILLAH (god), the sufi moves his head and neck toward the right in a semicircle. This is called the arc of possible existence. The movement symbolizes the negation, or rather, the giving up of the belief in the reality of “other than God”. “Other than God” in Sufism is merely all transient, limited, and possible existences. Human beings attend to these possible existences instead of the Eternal, All-encompassing, Necessary and Absolute Reality of God.

Then, with ILL ALLAH, the sufi moves his head and neck to the left. This is called the arc of necessity and symbolizes the reality of the Necessary, the Absolute Reality.