By RK Gupta
Look into the heart of a Sufi,
If you want to see the Reality.
You would find there nothing,
But the true reflection of the Almighty.
Sufism evokes considerable interest amongst people mainly because of the mysticism associated with it and also because not much is known about the secrets of their knowledge. Often, however, persons, who have symbolized Sufism to observing certain customs and rituals but who do not understand the true meaning of Sufism, mislead them. Sufism is not something, which could be explained theoretically; it could be understood only through participation and practice.
In regard to the origin of the word ‘Sufi’, there are different views amongst scholars. Majority of them, however, agree that the use of wool (Suf in Arabic) in clothing by them has characterized Sufis. Both Moses and Jesus used wool for their clothing and many of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions also used wool, which was available easily and was cheap for them to afford. Use of coarse wool as clothing also reflected upon one’s inclination towards austerity and renunciation of worldly pleasures.
Sufism is indefinable; it is a way of life. Tasawwuf (Sufism) is neither a religion nor a philosophy; nor is it a ritual or mere learning. If it was ritual, one could learn it by practice. If it was mere learning, one could acquire it by studying. To be a true human being, free from all bondage and honest with the Almighty is being a Sufi. Hakim Jami, a great scholar and Naqshbandi Sufi, has said: ‘Do not be proud of your intellect and learning, for in the Sufi way your intellect hampers your progress and learning is stupidity.’ But this has to be understood in the right perspective; the real learning for the seeker is from the book of the heart of the Sufi.
Sufism is a matter of conduct. It concerns with one’s conduct and is a matter of practice. About being a Sufi, Hazrat Abul Hasan Kharqani, a great Sufi Master of the Naqshbandi Order, said that the Sufi is not the one who wears patched clothes or carries the prayer rug, nor the one who keeps certain customs and appearances, but the Sufi is one to whom everyone’s focus is drawn, although he is hiding himself. He also said that the Sufi is one who in the daylight does not need the Sun and in the night does not need the Moon. The essence of Sufism is absolute non-existence that needs no existence besides the Almighty’s Existence.
The Sufis do not crave for any recognition or special treatment for them. The idea of an intimate communion of the self with the Eternal Reality is central to being a Sufi.
Sufism is spiritual activation and evolution through participation, practice and one’s own experience. It is a process of evolution of self in harmony with the others. Sufis believe in evolution of a man into a complete man by enlightenment through one’s own experience and understanding. The spirituality of Sufis reflects in their every day action. It is not something external reserved for some special occasion, but a part and parcel of their being. Sufis make a conscious effort to evolve as a perfect man.
In regard to spiritual evolution of a Sufi, Hazrat Abu Yazid al-Bistami (Bayazid) said that progress could not be made by standing with the pious or with the warriors in the cause or with those who pray or fast excessively. The only way to the Almighty is to ‘leave yourself and come’, which meant to leave one’s self interest in this world and the Hereafter, leaving everything other than the Almighty behind. The Sufi, therefore, is one, who has emptied himself of everything, who has left everything behind, except what he really is. He has removed all the dust and the rusting from the mirror of his heart, which now shines with His Glory and reflects His Presence. The SUFI is one, who has Submitted himself to the will of God, who lives in Union with the God and who has devoted himself to FInd the Truth.
The Sufi is a complete man, with his essential personality reflecting from deep within. Sirajuddin, a scholar from Kashmir, has said, the Sufi is a rose among roses and a thorn among thorns. Khwaja Hasan Sani Nizami, Sajjada nashin of Hazrat Nizamuddin’s dargah, has said: ‘A Sufi is liberal like the ocean, kind like the sun and humble like a river.’
Outwardly the Sufis may look to be any one, a peasant, a merchant, a soldier, a physician, a lawyer, a teacher or a housewife and according to the understanding of the viewer they may seem mystics, magicians, practitioners of occult sciences or just the ordinary people like anyone else. Some of them may talk, others may be silent, some may walk relentlessly, and others may sit and train disciples. They are the people from this world but still not of this world. Their ideal is to be free from ego manifested in various forms such as ambition or pride. They live for social harmony with equal respect for all religions, for they see the same quest for the Truth underlying all religious practices but at the same time not having blind obedience to customs and rituals. Sufis, therefore, lay stress on the unity of inner teachings of all religions rather than on their outer form. Conforming to the outer form of religion is important for Sufis only to the extent that it does not inhibit spiritual progress.
If one looks upon them as saints, one would benefit from their sainthood. One would benefit from their company anyway even if one does not revere them as saints since their heart radiates the energy of love and induces the feeling of love in the hearts of others, resulting in the peace of their mind. For them, the world is the place where the mankind has to gain experience. Human beings have been given freedom of action, good or bad, according to their desires.
A physical body is necessary for realisation. The soul needs an outer covering, the physical body, just as for a seed the outer shell is necessary. If a seed is sown without its outer covering, it will not sprout; it will not grow into a tree. Similarly, the soul also cannot realise the Truth without a physical body. The experience of pain and suffering enables one to understand pain and suffering of others and develop sympathy and kindness for them. It is a process of constant evolution and achieving perfection as a true human being.
The Sufis want to be nothing. It is their ideal to lose all their identity i.e. the complete sacrifice of the self, the ego. Abdul Samad, a disciple of Shaikh Abu Sa’id ibn Abul-Khayr, narrated that he once regretfully mentioned to his Shaikh that as he had been travelling, he could not attend his sermons and be benefited by the lessons. Shaikh Sa’id told him not to regret even if he missed the sermons for years, because he always said only one thing: ‘Sacrifice your ego, and nothing more.’
The Sufi lives only in the present. He does not think of yesterday or of tomorrow. The Sufi is linked to the present moment and he lives in the Eternal Now. The present moment is the nexus between him and the Eternal. He listens to his inner self and acts accordingly. For him, the present moment is the moment to achieve his target. He does not wait for a better or an auspicious tomorrow. He evolves every moment. He is like a wave, which propagates every moment.
Sufism can be considered as something approaching a universal faith with liberal teachings and great tolerance as exhibited in the conduct of most of the Sufis. The most important attributes that have contributed to their wide acceptance are their love for the humanity, purity of mind and perfection in their conduct. Sufis distinguish spirituality from religion.
Customs and rituals are only the outer form of religion, which depend upon the place and social circumstances. Spirituality, however, is seeking the Truth and self-realization that are the matters of soul, which is same in everyone and above all these things.
The Sufis are people with an open heart. They do not have any prejudices i.e. their mind is not preoccupied with any bias towards any one. They have no complex; neither are they overawed by the presence of kings, nor do they boast in the company of poor. They take things as they come. They do not condemn anyone, even a known sinner, for they consider that to hurt someone’s feelings is the biggest sin. For them to hurt others’ feelings is the same as hurting one’s own feelings. They may, therefore, suffer bodily, but would not hurt their feelings. No difference exists between their conduct and their feelings, as a result of which they do not suffer from any complex.
Excerpts from RK Gupta’s essay, ‘The Sufis’, the full form of which is available on sufisaints.net.