So, what is a Sufi, and why are they so highly respected among spiritual teachers? One expert, Dr. Alan Godlas from the University of Georgia writes "Sufism or tasawwuf, as it is called in Arabic, is generally understood by scholars and Sufis to be the inner, mystical, or psycho-spiritual dimension of Islam. Today, however, many Muslims and non-Muslims believe that Sufism is outside the sphere of Islam." Nevertheless, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, one of the foremost scholars of Islam, in his article The Interior Life in Islam contends that Sufism is simply the name for the inner or esoteric dimension of Islam.
After nearly 30 years of the study of Sufism, I would say that in spite of its many variations and voluminous expressions, the essence of Sufi practice is quite simple. It is that the Sufi surrenders to God, in love, over and over; which involves embracing with love at each moment the content of one's consciousness (one's perceptions, thoughts, and feelings, as well as one's sense of self) as gifts of God or, more precisely, as manifestations of God."
At satsang I sometimes refer to Sufi teachings so I thought it might be useful to provide a brief background. Sufism is most often described as a mystical branch of Islam. However, there is an authentic history suggesting that Sufism existed long before Islam but it was subsumed into Islam to disguise itself as a safeguard from religious persecution. Today Sufism isn't limited to being seen as a mystical branch of Islam, rather there are Hindu Sufis, Jewish Sufis, Christian Sufis, Zen Buddhist Sufis, and many Sufis independent of any religious tradition. In the West Sufism was probably best introduced through the immense popularity of the poet Rumi and later the poet Hafiz.
From a personal perspective, despite having read many popular spiritual books by the early 1970's, it wasn't until I was introduced to the writings of and about G.I. Gurdjieff where I encountered references to Sufism, and to its practitioners called Sufis, or sometimes called dervishes. Gurdjieff was, and remains, an enigmatic influence that challenges ones ideas about what it means to be a complete human being and his teachings led me to the fascinating books by Reshad Feild, to comprehensive writings of Idries Shah, and to heart-stirring poems of Rumi. As my working life slowed I began a search oriented toward Sufi teachings, encouraged in part by Sufi Sam as expressed in his poem In The Garden.
I feel like a gardener who planted a bunch of seeds and nothing came up; and again the next year he planted a bunch more seeds and nothing came up; and again the next year he planted a bunch more seeds and with the same results; and so on and on and on. And then this year, he planted a bunch of seeds: not only did they all come up, but all the seeds from the previous year came up and all the seeds from the year before that, and so on. So I've just been frantically running around trying to harvest all the plants until Allah came to me and said: "Don't worry. Harvest what you can and leave the rest to Me."
~ Murshid Samuel Lewis (Sufi Sam)
Sufic and other practices do not bring Grace. For, in truth, Grace is always there. Every human soul is always under Divine Grace but does not know it; therefore the practices.
~ Sufi Sam
Training oneself to see from the Divine point of view is key to understanding the essence of Sufism: it is the "global compass" that offsets the personal vantage point, the "true north" orienting one's direction in life. That is why Sufis aim at downplaying their personal view in order to espy the Divine point of view.
~ Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan
Oneness is very simple: everything is included and allowed to live according to its true nature. This is the secret that is being revealed, the opportunity that is offered. How we make use of this opportunity depends upon the degree of our participation, how much we are prepared to give ourselves to the work that needs to be done, to the freedom that needs to be lived.
~ Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
The heart always has an object of love; it is always attracted to some sign of beauty. Whatever the heart holds its attention on, it will acquire its qualities. Rumi said, "If your thought is a rose, you are rose garden. If your thought is a thorn, you are kindling for the stove." Being between the attraction of the physical world and the ego, on the one hand, and spirit and its qualities on the other, the heart is pulled from different sides. But ultimately behind all these various attractions lies one great Attractor.
~ Kabir Helminski
His constant fight is with the Nafs (self-interest), the root of all disharmony and the only enemy of man. By crushing this enemy man gains mastery over himself; this wins for him mastery over the whole universe, because the wall standing between the self and the Almighty has been broken down. Gentleness, mildness, respect, humility, modesty, self-denial, conscientiousness, tolerance and forgiveness are considered by the Sufi as the attributes which produce harmony within one's own soul as well as within that of another.
~ Hazrat Inayat Khan
I am a student of comparative religion, but whatever I read, you scratch a little bit and underneath is the oneness. You call it different names, yes, according to the time, according to the place, according to the people, but it is all one.
~ Irina Tweedie
It is a Sufi contention that truth is not discovered or maintained by the mere repetition of teachings. It can only be kept understood by the perpetual experience of it. And it is in the experience of truth that the Sufis have always reposed their trust. Sufism is therefore not 'Do as I say and not as I do', or even 'Do as I do', but 'Experience it and you will know'.
~ Idries Shah
There are no limits to your being, only those you ascribe to yourself. There are no limits to your understanding, only those that are due to trying to understand with the mind. There is no limit to your light, except the dark shadows of the ego cast upon the sky which we call the self. Shake your soul! Awaken it from slumber! The time has come to awaken to your divine being.
~ Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan
A Sufi need not be a Mohammedan. A Sufi can exist anywhere, in any form - because Sufism is the essential core of all religions. It has nothing to do with Islam in particular. Sufism can exist without Islam; Islam cannot exist without Sufism. Without Sufism, Islam is a corpse. Only with Sufism does it become alive. Whenever a religion is alive it is because of Sufism. Sufism simply means a love affair with God, with the ultimate; a love affair with the whole. It means that one is ready to dissolve into the whole, that one is ready to invite the whole to come into one's heart. It knows no formality. It is not confined by any dogma, doctrine, creed or church. Christ is a Sufi, so is Mohammed. Krishna is a Sufi, so is Buddha. This is the first thing I would like you to remember: that Sufism is the innermost core - as Zen is, as Hasidism is. These are only different names of the same ultimate relationship with God.
Serving God - what more beautiful thing is there to do! The only real joy is to be a servant of God, and that means being awake all the time to the needs of the moment.... We cannot have any preconceived ideas of what service means. We never know from one moment to the next, what will be asked of us.
~ Reshad Feild
Beware of confining yourself to a particular belief and denying all else, for much good would elude you - indeed, the knowledge of reality would elude you. Be in yourself a matter for all forms of belief, for God is too vast and tremendous to be restricted to one belief rather than another.
~ Ibn Arabi
The person who makes all cares into one care, the care for simply staying present, will be cared for by that presence which is creative love.
~ Kabir Helminski
The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.
~ Khalil Gibran
When you wake up to the Divine Consciousness within you and your divine identity, you wake up simultaneously to the Divine Consciousness appearing as all other beings. And this is not poetry and this is not a feeling, this is a direct experience of the divine light living in and as all other beings. And until this realization is firm in you, you do not know who or where you are.
~ Andrew Harvey
All religions, all this singing One Song. The differences are just Illusion and vanity. The Sun's light looks A little different on this wall than It does on that wall, And a lot different on this other one, But it's still one light.
Sufis are lovers of God, wayfarers travelling through the desert of the world, making the journey from separation back to union with God. For these mystics the relationship with God is that of lover and Beloved, and it is the longing for their Beloved that turns them away from the world, drawing them deeper and deeper into the mystery of the heart.
~ Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
When nothing upsets you, you are at the beginning of the path. When you desire nothing, you are halfway on the path; when nothing becomes everything, you are perfected.
~ Meher Baba
TWO SUFI TEACHING STORIES
The New Water
One day, the mysterious prophet-saint Khidr told the world, "In a few days, all water throughout the earth from natural sources will disappear, and be replaced with new water that will make people crazy when they drink it. However, any water that is specially stored will not undergo this transformation." Only a man named Hasan paid attention to this, and he gathered water and stored it in anticipation of the change. Three days later, just as Khidr said, the water from natural sources stopped running, and was replaced by a new variety of water. Everybody drank the new water except for Hasan, who had saved and specially stored the original water. And soon Hasan noticed that all the people began acting differently, and that they had no knowledge Khidrs prophecy or of the day that the waters were changed. When Hasan began interacting with the people, they thought that he was crazy, and they ostracized him. Hasan continued to drink his stored water for a few more weeks, but he could not take the loneliness anymore, and he decided to drink the new water and become like everyone else. From then on, the people regarded Hasan as a former madman who had his sanity renewed.
Mulla Nasrudin (the holy fool of stories) had been watching a mental hospital patient nailing a fence and had been puzzled by the fact that the latter was discarding a large proportion of the nails, throwing them away with growing exasperation. Eventually, the Mulla could contain his curiosity no longer. "Those nails look quite new. Why do you keep throwing them away?" he enquired. "Why? Because they are badly made, that's why!" snapped the other "Almost half of them have got the points on the wrong end!" "YOU FOOL! howled Nasrudin, "You should not be throwing them away! Those are for the other side of the fence!"
see also Nasrudin