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Zakariyya Ishaq is a writer who has just completed his first book on the subject of spiritual cosmology. An original new theory he feels can rival any: THE ELLIPSE: THE FALL AND RISE OF THE HUMAN SOUL: SECRETS OF THE COSMOS. In addition to being a writer he is a musician, computer professional, and community activist. He is a Graduate of Devry University in Digital Electronic Technology. Ishaq has been a mystical seeker of enlightenment for 30 years, a member of 3 Sufi Orders: and has studied formally and informally Buddhism, Vedanta Cosmology, Cabala, Taoism, Sufism, Integral Philosophy, and various other mystic esoteric and exoteric schools of thought.
The Science of Sufism
To cover this comprehensive topic in an essay completely is an impossibility. Consider the seminal modern work on Sufism “The Sufis” by Sayid Idries Shah and its almost 500 pages hardly do justice to the job; I won't seriously attempt to cover this vast ocean of knowledge in this small essay. Therefore this treatise on the mystic science of Sufism will not be a conventional one, considering the topic. Additionally in the sense that it would be easy enough in our computer age for one to put Sufism in Google and presto: Wickepedia could do all our work for us. So we are not going that route although we will cover conventional aspects of it, but will primarily deal with the issues of Sufism that people differ on about, as well as certain hidden and secret aspects of it that won't be in Wickepedia.
A basic explanation of the fundamentals of Sufism will be outlined leaving out no important matters just condensing the material and adding updated material outside of traditional knowledge. Some of this will be from the authors experience and some from material that is very substantially Sufi but hardly known in the conventional sphere. This is being done to make this essay interesting, as well to add to the public awareness of Sufism and its arcane aspects that have generally been unknown.
Sufism has conventional accepted norms with certain universal accepted facts that are not controversial, as well as realities in it that have variable possibilities that people are not certain of:
Some scholars tend to believe that Sufism was influenced by Neo platonic, and Vedic thought. Classical Sufis totally reject this notion and say that western scholars are always to anxious in assuming that mystical systems have external connections that are not there, its just that the scholars assume they are there because of the similarities of some of the doctrines. Sufis believe that people of all heritages are perfectly capable in finding truth in there own sub cultural milieu, and the various religious traditions in all kinds of people seem to bear this out. Certainly there has been a diffusion of teaching and major influence on some parts of the world by foreign teachings on other cultures, such as Buddhism in Japan, and China, and other south east Asian peoples, and Islamic intrusions into Africa, and of course the manifold Christian impositions on many cultures, but many if not most cultures have formed their own indigenous religion, and mystical expression, including the Japanese and Chinese by the way despite Buddhism. As well certainly the rich versatile mystic shamanistic tradition in Africa didn't need Islamic or Christian influence to be, for the greatest expressions of African mysticism ironically influenced Islam, and Christianity for one, and flourished on its own before both even existed.
The very meaning of Sufism is not known, and even Sufis differ on its meaning. Supposedly the true name of Sufism-Tasawuf is derived from the Arabic word for wool suf, but this is uncertain. Scholars certainly have various ideas of the origin and meaning of Sufi. We will go through these different opinions and try to come up with the most likely answer to this question.
As for the relationship with the exoteric religion of Islam, historical and doctrinal, these connections will be covered, and the obvious fact that despite some peoples notions, Islam not only originated with the Prophet Muhammad, but without him there would be no Sufism
We will have what I hope is a rich example of Sufism in modern action with the description of four modern masters and their various approaches to this mystical science, that will give the reader a picture of modern Sufism, and its different formulations.
Doctrinally, the science of Sufism is a rich example of esoteric theory and practice of immense practicality and beauty, in its comprehensive ideas that entail an Integral cosmology and psychology unrivaled in its universal approach.
Also we will examine the "Integral” aspects of Sufism, its classical formulation and its later incarnations that are undoubtedly more in tune with the Integral approach.
Finally we will cover a hidden tradition that expresses the idea that the Sufis are the inheritors of the demiurgic hierarchical mantle that are in essence the true vicegerent of god on the earth in this epoch.
1. Theory and practice
Sufism is said to be the mystical branch of Islam. It is classified as the Tariqah [practice] or inner path as the Sharia [law] is the outer path or law. These terms are very lucid though and mean many things, for instance both terms actually mean the same thing: path or way, but in Sufi methodology put together their meanings change in relationship to each other, contributing to the greater reality or unity of action.
The steps of the Sufi ladder:
The Sharia is law on paper, or in theory, the Tariqah is the practice of the law, the Marifah is the Gnosis of the Sufi [fruits of the practice] the Haqiqa is the final destination of the aspirant that is arrival at truth – Haqaqa [Enlightenment].
The first two then are theory and practice, the third is a state- the state of the Gnostic, or Gnosis, the last is a station; the highest station the aspirant can reach that of union with god or truth [Haqiqa] with means reality.
The practice of Sufism revolves around a Murshid [guide] or Master, who is the teacher of the Tariqah or order of Sufis. This individual has Muridin or students those whom seek knowledge/nearness of god.
A Murshid in Sufism is also known as:
A Murid [disciple] is sometimes referred to as student, dervish, or Salik [seeker]
A Murshid has “Baraka” [subtle energy/blessings] that he has inherited from the previous Murshid of the order. Also the Murshid has treaded the path to truth to its final destination, so he is able to lead others in the same direction.
The order or Tariqahs of Sufism all have Silsilahs[lineage] or chains that stretches back through various Murshids to the founder of the order then all the way back to Muhammad. These orders are not sects, but all different formulations of the general Sufi message but reflecting it according to the founder of the particular order in question.
Most if not all orders today generally will accept anyone of reasonable mind and reputation. Often times in the past some masters would be selective in choosing students, but this was the exception.
Some major Orders are:
There are both Sunni and Shia Sufi Orders.
Here is a great link that gives one a perspective of the idea of orders in Sufism: http://godlas.myweb.uga.edu/Sufism.html
The Murshid[Guide] offers the Muridin[Students] traditional materials intrinsic to the traditions and practices of the order which may include prayers, power prayers particular to that order, Dhikr [prayer repetitions] meditation themes, sama [Sufi dancing, lyrical recitations/meditations] and other contemplative activity. The fundamental practices in Islam are carried out that include Salat [prayer] and giving of Alms, particularly in very Islamic orders. Practice of the virtues, tolerance, generosity, love, and contribution to the community is emphasized universally in all Sufi groups, Islamic or otherwise.
The initiation process of the Murid is universal to Sufism. A vow of obedience to the Murid is taken as well usually some Islamic Formulae rituals.
In practically all Sufi orders the student, Murid, or Dervish is given a Dhikr[remembrance] exercise. This is similar to a mantra, where the student constantly recites, a name of god, a short prayer, or another simple theme. Sufis also perform other meditative activities such as:
In Sufi practice the Murid[disciple] only practices these elements of meditation at the behest of the Murshid, or Master. In theory Sufis do not generally initiate spiritual exercises on their own, only under the guidance of the teacher.
The Traditional Islamic practice though is not emphasized in some Sufi orders, as in non-Islamic Sufis while in others it is an addendum to the Sufism, but in all orders Sufism is paramount over the Sharia. In other words Sufis identify with being Sufis more so than Muslims. Although most Sufis do consider themselves Muslims. In the case of the Sufism that is inside the orders this is never a problem- the Islamic/ Sufi conundrum because the culture of any Sufi order totally revolves around the Murshid or Master, in which the students accepts wholeheartedly. Less one thinks for a minute that this is any degree of a coercive or cultic situation ironically even though it may seem to indicate this there is amazingly a great degree of freedom in these settings. When one wants to leave there is not an iota of recrimination in a legitimate Sufi order. Indeed the Murshid or one known as a Master in some orders, Pir in others, and a Sheik in some, even though literally looked at as god's viceargent on earth by the students, the masters never act anything like that, in fact look and act totally indifferent to just about anything.
What Sufis do? every week one visits the Khaniqah, [house of Sufism] practices the Dhikr of the order or any special exercises presided over by the master, or one of his assistants. Sometimes prayers are said, individually, or collectively, in some orders. After that one goes home, or sits around and has some refreshments, read from the library, talks to the Murshid, or to one of his assistants about his spiritual activities, some spiritual experience, or how the Dhikr is working, or whatever, then one goes home. The theory is that these exercises done regularly, as well the student follows the laws of Virtue, and any other activities that the Murshid deems necessary for the murids spiritual progress. This could include any of the above meditative activities mentioned above, or even in some Sufi schools of thought, the concentration on teaching stories, can assist the Murid, in understanding.
This process exists to bring the Murid to what the Sufis call the lesser understanding, then the greater understanding. These are besides the esoteric developmental path of the Sufis[ explained below] and the moral path, wholly related to the students general thinking apparatus, in terms of the light in his heart that is now developing the subtle tools that will eventually be building blocks for his [enlightenment/ realization] or as Sufis say union with god or truth[reality].
As for the social aspect of Sufism, in terms of the student's decision to no longer tread the path. One could stop going back to the Khaniqah and no one would ever bother the person other than being concerned for their person, whether they were sick, or had a problem. Indeed the atmosphere of Sufi lodges are amazingly free and devoid of any degree of cultic activity, or coercion as least in my experience, I have never seen or heard much of it.
The 7 Men
The formal esoteric path of Sufism revolves around the Sufi Developmental concept of “The Seven Men” metaphors for the seven nafs, or personalities that make up the lower energetic consciousness of humans.
These nafs[Arabic for breath] revolve around the ego, or commanding self, the chief in a sense of these lower energies.
This formulation is from the Sheik of the Jerrahi Order Shaikh Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi which describes the Sufi developmental concept of the 7 men: http://www.crescentlife.com/spirituality/seven_levels.htm
Nafs al Ammara is a manifestation of the animal soul in man, while the six steps above the evil commanding ego are the development of the human soul, which is also called the Nafs an Natiqah, the being who can communicate with speech, or the Rational Being. The next six levels are:
This is a concept that covers the entire lower and higher aspects of the human self that cuts across the entire spectrum of consciousness that includes the lower realm of the mind and body, and the higher realm of soul and spirit. What this means in real everyday language is that the Sufi just like any spiritual aspirant is involved in a colossal self struggle to free himself from the “commanding self[ego] or the lower, selfish, desirous aspects of his being. Similar to the formulation of the 7 steps mentioned above there are different Sufi variations of this theme, for example in some formulations this seven men are abridged to four:
Both formulations claim to be based on the Quran. This concept in layman's terms is recognition by Sufis of 7 levels of the self that are always involved with an inner struggle, to gain balance. The “cessation” [sounds familiar] of this struggle basically calms the organism down enough so clarity, through balance can occur. These levels are actually energetic extensions of the lower self that over time formed archetypical energetic “selves” That are entirely illusions. These by the way are the selves that Buddha said were not permanent: his famous non self doctrine.
Fana and Baqa
After this level of serenity is reached, typified by the verse in the Quran
"O soul that art at rest, return to thy Lord, well- pleased, well-pleasing, So enter among My servants, And enter My Garden!" (89:27-30).
Whether the 7 men [Nafs] is completed as saffiya, or the shorter version in the Nafs al Mutmainnah, before the final level the Sufi often times initiates during this development, or after it, what the Sufi's refer to as the activation of the 5 Subtleties, or Arabic Lataifs. These are the subtle organs of perception that the Sufi gains access to after or during this developmental process. Ideally this should be done after reaching the serene self. This is the Sufi method of developing high consciousness. With the activation of these subtleties the aspirant also simultaneously has a real chance at enlightenment, as the Sufis view it. This term though is rarely used in Sufi parlance, for they prefer the more Sufistic appropriate term Fana- annihilation or union[wasl] with god when the self becomes whole, free of the fragmentation of delusion. Baqa is the last stage in this formulation in the condition of the being living with god, or truth, after realization.
Fana-annihilation has three steps:
States [hal] and stations [makam]
These concepts bring us to other related ones in Sufism such as the hal or state: something involved within the framework of the above activities: extraordinary mystical experiences of the Sufi. At the acquisition of the balanced state spoken about above, or even in many cases still on the path to balance many Sufis experience what is in Sufi language called, the hal [state], where foretastes of illumination occur. To Sufis these states are downplayed, but accepted as signs of progress for the student because as said, they are only foretastes of a higher condition characterized by the term makam [station], a permanent acquisition of knowledge which is the essential goal of the student. Sufi masters although recognize the value in states, are nonetheless weary of the phenomena of the student becoming addicted to them, and not progressing on the path. The goal is permanent knowledge in union [wasl] with god, not merely tasting exotic conditions of the mind that don't lead anywhere. The condition Baqa spoken about above is the term that corresponds to a station [makam]
There is another Sufi stage map that was developed by the Sufi saint Suhrawardi that describes the developmental aspect of Sufism in terms of the three levels of Yakina [certainty]. Theses are broad stages that have to do with the relationship of knowledge, faith, and certainty.
The Lore of certainty: General knowledge of the path
This is described in the excellent book by Abu Bakr Siraj Ed Din “The Book of Certainty This generally is all a gradual process; though in Sufism there is a real understanding between the very rare instance of instant enlightenment of the classical Zen concept, and the gradual, most often and likely reality that enlightenment happens in slow stages based on, light, actually! There is of course a long tradition in Sufism of the instant enlightenment experience: such as a seeker who for years had sought truth and when finally reaching his true master, realizes the truth at a mere glance from the Master! Of course sometimes the Master has to slap the student pretty hard, then he's enlightened! This though is not your everyday occurrence in the path of Mysticism, in which The ancient Sufi science is one of our preeminent examples of.
The subtly organs of perception are described in Sufi terminology as the Lataifs, that are activated by Sufi practice over time. This is not something a beginning Sufi concentrates on, but is for primarily advanced Sufis. Similarly to many aspects of Sufi spiritual psychology, the Lataifs structure has slightly different formulations, depending on the Sufi school of thought. In traditional Central Asian Naqshabandi theosophy the Latifs are described in a fashion according to a color code, and associated with different parts of the body. Unlike the Chakra system the association of the Lataifs with a part of the body is only a figurative association not a literal one.
Qalb: Heart/ Yellow. Left side of Body
The Nafs is often called the six subtlety, but this is incorrect because it is not a Lataif. There is a seventh Subtlety. The Sufis don't say what it is generally, but supposed to be the purvey of the Sage.
This 7th Subtlety in the opinion of this writer is the Essence itself, where the Lataifs, and Chakras are existent on. These Lataifs are essentially based on light, as the Chakras are based on fire.. So actually they are both two literal structures although unlikely that they are developmental in nature.
Like other variations of the Sufi psychological dynamic models, this one has variations and additions to it, as well as subtractions. For Instance the Sufi Psychology of the Nimatullah order only has The Heart, Spirit, inner consciousness, and inner most consciousness, as the Subtleties4
Also some systems go all the way to ten Lataifs, adding other inner elements to this formulation. But the above five is the generally accepted number in the Sufi psychological/ spiritual model.
The Sufi terminology Insani Kamil means completed person. It is the Sufi description of the highest station in man, and the goal of the Sufi path. Supposedly after all this hard work, with the 7 men, Lataifs, developmental systems, this condition is the grand prize. In fact Sufis believe that all humans are evolving to this state.
This condition is the basic Sufi path of evolutionary “creation” in that it describes a condition of change in the human Soul that relates to its expansion. The technical Quranic term for this is Qiyama or resurrection, or expansion. This is a change that comes after enlightenment, and can be equated to the highest description of human consciousness in all metaphysical cosmologies.
Insani Kamil is not though a description of perfection; it is a greater degree, in that it describes divine completion, or the intention of the divine to know itself through itself by the raising of human consciousness to the very level of divinity.
Sufi esoteric Path summary:
Struggle to tame or satiate the 7 men or Nafs
This is done through spiritual exercises, and the self struggle via practice of the Sharia, and Tariqah. At the completion of this, then the persons consciousness is unified - Fana. The next goal is to attain Baqa, “living with god” Acquisition of Makam [station] This is done through the activation of hal states, and activation of the Lataifs that elevates the consciousness, that can allow eventually for the elevated consciousness to be reintegrated into the world, through Baqa. Baqa basically is the final station, in that the human can live a normal life, successfully integrated but yet of an extraordinarily lofty consciousness.
Important note: In Sufism the important thing is for the consciousness to be able to stabilize itself despite peek experiences, and Latifa release. What therefore is most important is how the student handles these experiences. So between these formulations of the completion of the 7 men development and the arrival at Fana, the activation of the Lataifs is attempted by the student, under the guidance of an experienced teacher.
This path is not at all linear, save in the most stable people, with a traditional Master, student relationship. For often times students can experience states of “peek” consciousness[hal] at various levels on this path. Sufis though believe that this although a good sign of progress, this phenomena often times can lead to bad results, such as false masters, who may have accidentally activated one of the Lataifs, or experience peek states that they wrongfully perceive as a sign of their own advanced consciousness. This according to Sufis is the primary reason for false masters. Their consciousness albeit experiencing lofty states[hal] is not stabilized. The activation of Lataifs, and peek states, must be balanced by the student's sober advancement along the developmental path of the 7 men. This indicates stability, and the aptitude for mature spiritual progress.
All these formulations indicate the technical spiritual aspect of Sufi esoteric doctrine. What is refreshing about Sufism though is that in its best light it really doesn't depend on esoterica completely, but on the practice of the virtues, something that all Sufi masters agree is the most important aspect of the path to god.
The descriptive state of Insani Kamil [completed person] is the goal of not the Sufi, in a sense but of god!
Sufis Poetry and the Theme of Love
“Sufism is a path towards the truth where the provisions are love. Its method is to look solely in one direction, and its objective is god” - Dr Javad Nurbaksh
Hafez, Rumi, Ibn Arabi, Omar Khayyam, four of the most renowned poets in the history of man are Sufis!
Arabi specialized in mystical and love poetry.
“If I bow to her, and she return not my salutation, have I just cause for complaint, beautiful woman have no obligation”
It is lines like the above that almost got Arabi like Hallaj martyred by the clerics of Islam, who were too stuff shirt to understand the sublime verse of Arabi. It took Arabis eloquent explanation and defense of his verse that saved him, pointing out to the dense clerics, that human love poetry was only an analogy for human love for god.
Hafiz, Khayyam and Rumi all emphasized in their poetry intense themes of love as did Arabi.
Khayyam composed the famous masterpiece The Rubaiyat that has been translated in most languages. He like Arabi got in trouble somewhat with the usual orthodox clerics who couldn't grasp his verse.
With Rumi did didn't matter for he was so great not even the clerics dared bother him, in fact Rumi was a cleric himself, of rare mystical understanding. His work the Mathnavi is called the Quran in Persian!
These poets used the love theme often to invoke the Sufi message.
Often times there analogies about carnal love, and using metaphors like wine, grapes, saki, and cup were all analogies for the love of god, in a literal sense and more important in a mystical sense in that it showed in its analogies the true nature of man as a lover of not only god, but the fruits of god.
This love theme in Sufism revolves around a passionate theme of intense love of god. This is typified in the female Sufi saint Rabia Al Adawiya whom adoration for the diety had no rivals.
All Sufis emphasize the theme as a unique symbol of inner love for the Sufi student to strive to cultivate.
This they believe is essential for the obvious reasons; one won't hate when so involved in love, as well the emotion has demonstrated to have a powerfully positive effect on the human's whole organism.
Basically there are degrees of Islamic influence in different Orders. Non Islamic Sufi orders don't adhere at all to the Sharia of Islam, [though accept the theosophy of the Islamic Sufi tradition to a great degree] others only to a moderate degree, and some to a great degree. The major orders mostly are very Islamic. These descriptions though are not all strict, for some people in non Islamic orders may personally practice elements of Islam, where many in strict orders will hardly practice Islam at all, and in many of the non Islamic orders there may be no Muslims. The reality is that exoteric religion is not a big thing in Sufism at all eventhough some of its adherents are very Islamic personally. Even in the Islamic orders very little pressure to practice Islam is exerted. The motto is: There is no compulsion in religion, a Quranic injunction.
2. Traditional History
According to Sufi lore the science was founded by Muhammad and 7 other supreme adepts who together formulated the “Baraka” or “blessings” [subtle energetic guidance]. This is known as the first wave of the formulation of the Sufi science. Two other waves of masters came after this initial period to as the Sufis say formulate the Baraka and guidance that nourished the community ever since.
This “founding” of Sufism is looked at differently by different people. The traditional Metaphysicians state that Sufism is a continuum of the guidance of the ancient mystic science that goes back to Hermes the Thrice great whom many believe was the first supreme adept who founded western metaphysics that all schools from Sufism, to the Neo platonic system, Kabala, and Gnosticism are heirs of. Hermes is said to be in Islamic lore, the prophet Idries, and the Enoch of the Hebrews. Certain Islamic oriented Sufis believe that it originated in Arabia at the time of Muhammad and don't emphasis much of the hidden lineage aspect of the metaphysical Sufis. Of course even they don't believe that entirely because on an exoteric level or an esoteric-exoteric level they as Muslim Sufis certainly believe that Muhammad's heritage started with Abraham from Adam, so in that sense even they have a lineage philosophy, beyond that of their particular order, though somewhat ethnocentric.
In the case of Sufism it is most likely that any influences on it have come from the ancient connection it had with the Hermetic tradition as did all western expressions of mystical thought, additionally other spiritual power sources have certainly influenced Sufism, a topic we will cover later.
Whatever the hidden or mysterious pre Muhammad connections of Sufism it is clear the essential teaching was unified by Muhammad as Prophet who was a master of the exoteric law in founding Islam as well as a master of the esoteric law in creating the Tasawuf, or Sufism.
Before the revelation of the Quran Muhammad was a part of a group of people who together sought esoteric knowledge and transcendent awareness. This group was known as the Hanif, no relationship to the later Islamic school of thought, Hanifa.
In the beginning the early Sufis were devout followers of Muhammad as he slowly codified the exoteric law of Islam throughout the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century CE as the Prophet of Islam. The Sufi or inner science of Islam was taught to those amongst the foremost of Muhammad's followers who were not satisfied with merely the exoteric law of the Sharia. Eventually the Sufi science in the coming centuries would spread from Andalusia in the west all the way to China, encompassing to the north great swatches of India, Afghanistan, central Asia, Turkey, all the way to southern Europe.
Over the two centuries after Muhammad the Sufi traditional lineage orders began to form. These orders were all founded by a powerful saint who would pass his Khirkah or lineage cloak on to a chief disciple before he died so the order could carry on after his death.
All Sufi orders trace their lineage back to first the Pir or founder of their particular order, then to either Ali the 4th Caliph of Islam, or Abu Bakr the first Caliph then to Muhammad, then to the Arch Angel Gabriel, then to Allah, the Sufi word for the deity.
. Abu Bakr the first Caliph of Islam, and Muhammad's cousin Hadrat Ali the martyred 4th Caliph are the two lineage heads of Sufism under Muhammad in this hierarchy. All Sufi orders trace their lineage back to Muhammad through Ali, for the exception of the powerful Naqshabandi order of central Asia who traces their lineage through Abu Bakr to Muhammad.
Indeed the early Sufis were merely mystics of Islam, who practiced under the guidance of Muhammad and his major disciples. They certainly were not called Sufis as of yet though some scholars correlate the name Sufi with the Arabic Tasawuf the formal name of the Sufi science. Indeed some believe that Tasawuf is derived from Suf which means wool, a habit of dress of some early Sufis. This though is incorrect because the word Tasawuf is not derived from suf.
The meaning of the word Sufi and the true origin of the word is not known, though there are various opinions
Various possible meanings of Sufi:
Suf Arabic word meaning wool, derived from the habits of Muhammad and his closest companions, according to this, therefore they are called Sufi, a word meaning wool in Arabic.
Derived from a habit of the early Muslims to be thin from the word sufateh a plant .Another linguistic impossibility
Or derived from the Greek Sophia meaning wisdom, few believe this and Muslims reject it.
Another early name of pious Muslims whom were called sufe, another similar sounding word but grammatically unrelated to Sufi
Then there is the word safa meaning purity that relates to the purity of the heart of the Sufis. In other words nobody knows what the origin of the word is. What we know is that it is basically a nickname, for the two accepted, names for their science by Sufis is: Tasawuf,) Hikmat Illahi, or divine science is another designation of the essential meaning of it, although rarely heard of or used.
One major reason of the mystery of certain things in Sufism is the fact that Sufis pay very little heed to scholarship, linear and external history and other intellectual baggage that just weighs people down with irrelevant facts that only abstruse scholars care about.
The Sufis main concern is the science that purifies him, or polishes his heart so he can see reality as it is.
Conclusion: In the opinion of the author, the uncertainty of the meaning of Sufism is the reason it was chosen for a name in the first place.
Traditional History Continued
Islam vs. Sufism
There is no doubt that many traditional and certainly fundamentalist Muslims do not like or accept Sufism as legitimate. Some amongst them believe it is an apostasy, or in Islamic fiq [law] shirk: a major sin of associating something with god. Though many conventional Muslims do understand Sufism somewhat, and accept it, at least they don't think it is inimical to Islam, like the Wahhabi, Salafi, and Taliban who are enemies of Sufism.
Here's where the Sufis seem to have a huge problem that they can't push under the rug. The obvious dichotomy in Sufism vs. Islam is something the Sufis can't overcome. This is so because a phenomena that exists in the hidden world[ that the Sufis are probably unaware of ]has determined that western religion is to be split. This topic is very sensitive and can't be covered here in any depth. Suffice it to say that this phenomena has to be studied from the standpoint of the general western split in their spirituality.
Martin Lings the Islamic scholar says it took to the 8th or 9th century for the orders to start forming from the time of Muhammad. This is obviously because the tension between exoteric Islam and esoteric Sufism was building as the two “seas” if you will began to automatically separate as what occurred in all western religious phenomena Additionally many hungered for the spiritual wine that Sufism provided.. The literalist fundamentalist because of their power took over the external aspect of Islam as well they began a slow distortion of its history labeling it wholly an exoteric phenomena, and totally neglecting to educate the masses of Muslims on the reality of the true esoteric origins of Islam. The Sufis for self protection started forming the orders formally, and slowly began the separation of Sufism from formal Islam. This reality actually served the purpose of separating Islam from Sufism, more than separating Sufism from Islam. This was not entirely the reason for this to occur, but it is the natural evolution the way western mysticism has formed in our history.
It is no need to be spiritually correct here , so it must be said that the Sufis then existentially have failed in a sense- through no fault of their own- since this [hidden] dark science I describe above can't be overcome because of its innate power. They have done the best they can with somewhat of a disunited doctrine that splits truth into two levels, where one level doesn't see, understand or communicate with the other level! This is doomed to failure, and wise people know this! Unlike Buddhism where no such thing exists, eventhough they have their fundamentalist level of understanding, but the phenomena that has split western spirituality in two is a serious problem. And the vaunted Sufis have not solved it!
The present day disaster in Islam with the west and its intelligence agencies[ encouraging the problem] with al Qaeda, and Taliban type lunatics fomenting it and defaming Islam, is indicating a possible serious problem for Islam, and certainly therefore a problem for Sufism. This is all because of the split in western religion, in which in the Islamic sphere the dichotomy has toggled too far and wide.
As this also happened in the Hebrew dispensation as well as the time of Jesus when the literalist political religionist totally wiped out the true history of Jesus, and the true Christians and their esoteric origins, this also happened to most of the Jewish mystical prophets. This is a strange dichotomy in the western dispensation of religious phenomena a virtual split in the exoteric and esoteric law as related to most of the education of the people of the west. No such thing happened in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism or Taoism.
Hinduism (yoga) and Taoism in its best light seems to put the attainment of enlightenment at the forefront of its system as certainly I think at least all the systems of Buddhism also put the attainment of enlightenment at its core.
Whereas the western mystical tradition seems to have split up their systems in two:
The division is an interesting phenomenon for example: Cabalist claim to be Jews generally, but are not accepted or hardly known by the average Jew, Madonna notwithstanding!
Similar with Sufism that claims a connection with Islam but hardly any conventional Muslim hardly knows that Sufism exits, let alone what it is all about. In Gnosticism is the same situation as well as other forms of Christian mysticism
Also the exoteric systems of the west seem to have hostility to the esoteric systems attached to their faiths. Whereas I don't think that such hostility exists much too any degree in the eastern and far-eastern traditions. I could be wrong being a westerner, but I think not.
Western exoteric religions have not an iota of a doctrine of enlightenment, just a general hazy belief in some future heaven and hell.
Why the split? For another time.
Sufism after the Prophet:
617 to 900 CE
The period after the prophet's death until about 900 CE
Some of the earliest Sufis right after Muhammad's time were not as well known as the period in Sufism thought of as the post classical period that is from the 11th century to the 13 th when the greatest of saints in Sufism or at least the most renowned were born.
Most of the earliest outstanding sages amongst Sufis were independent saints since no real orders had formed yet just loose confederations of mystics gathered around a Pir or Sheik as their master and teacher.
These early adept's were very astute at not only Sufism but other esoteric sciences
Early Sufism can be measured by what Idries Shah records as the classical period when the subtle energetic guidance “baraka” was formed and accumulated by a serious of teachers who span the time during Muhammad all the way to the 10 th century.
To Quote Shah from the Sufis:5
“CLASSICAL TEACHERS There are three "generations" or "waves" of teachership during the classical period. All Sufis believe themselves to be recipients of the baraka accumulated by these teachers, who are thus their spiritual ancestors.
In the first generation: Abu Bakr, Umar, Ali, Bilal, Ibn Riyah, Abu Abdullah, Salman the Persian-the Seven Great Ones.[ Prophets companions600 to 617]
In the second generation: Uways el Qaroi, Hiran ibn Haya, Hasan el-Basri; the Four Guides C'Crowns"). [After Prophets death [617 to 650]
In the third generation: Habib Ajami, Malik Ibn Dinar, Imam Abu Hanifa, Daud of Tai, Dhu'l-Nun the Egyptian, Ibraham Ibn Adam, Abu Yazid, Sari el-Saqti, Abu Hafa, Maaruf Karkhi, Junaid-the Eleven Sheikhly Transmitters.
These are the masters who concentrated the teachings and passed them on in such a manner as to make possible the school developments/which later appeared as dervish Orders.”
Honorable mention should be given to the female Sufi saint of great renowned Rabia Al Adawiya, 717-801who developed the deep love theme that Sufism later became known for.
Many of these adepts not only perfected their Sufi practice but also had great capacities in mystical sciences and cultivated unique abilities: Hasan of Basra, known for his unique piety was also an outstanding orator.
Dhul Nun Misri in the 9th century perfected alchemy, and had great insight into the Egyptian mystical sciences.
Ibrahim Al Adham, a Prince who renounced his kingdom. [Buddha like]. Uwaisy Al Qarni never met the prophet, bur knew him telepathically. Beyad Al Bestami founded the 'drunken” school of Sufism that which emphasized the induction of ecstatic states, as opposed to the early tenth century very influential Master Al Junaid, who founded the “Sober” school of Sufism. Al Junaid D 910 CE was the Sheik who warned the Sufi Martyr Manser Hallaj the Persian mystic 858-922, against invoking ecstatic states over sober states whom later became well known for the aphorism “I am truth” that was the cause of his martyrdom by religious bigots in the Islamic government at that time.
Such diversity in capacities and mystical emphasis demonstrates that early Sufism had a very versatile and inclusive environment.
Mysterious Central Asian Sufis of the Caucasian “Source”
The traditional historical or geographical split in Sufism that some scholars, and mystics believe in, such as John G. Bennett, and the Sufi Murat Yagan who claim in the case of Bennett that a different sort of Central Asian Shamanistic strain of Sufism arose out of the 11 th century led by a mysterious group of Sufis known as the Kwajagan Masters. This as opposed to the traditional Sufism that arose primarily out of the secret Shia tradition and traditional Islamic sources and primarily traces its origin through Ali, whose descendants through the Agha Khan are the true demiurgic inheritors, through the Fatimid dynasty of Egypt. This group are a part of the above classical teachers mentioned in the last section.
These Kwajagan Masters led by Yusuf Hamadan, who took eleven adepts to Bokhora to teach their wisdom were well regarded Sufis of the 11 th century, and were certainly Islamic Sufis, but seem to be of a more mild, and less obliged to the Islamic traditional authorities. One of their mottos was that we should never, that is the Kwaji Sufis, associate with any authority. Bennett in his book “The Masters of Wisdom” infers great power and a demiurgic connection to these “Kwajagan Central Asian Sufis, who by the way are said to be the teachers of Bennett's teacher Gurjeff.
Murat Yagan the Sufi master whose book “Kebzeh” traces a little known idea that Sufism was greatly influenced by a movement that traces its lineage from the Caucasian mountains where a mysterious power source of spiritual energy exists. Sort of in the tradition of the Shamballah notions in Buddhism.
Yagan says that the Sufism without a doubt goes back beyond Muhammad, and this strain of it, sort of converged on it through the Kwajagan central Asian Masters, who had an indirect connection to this Caucasian spiritual source.
This stuff gets real deep, in that this ties somehow into the mysterious Shams of Tabriz, the inspirer of Rumi. According to Yagan, who states that the Rumi Order was not directly tied to the traditional lineage of the middle-eastern Sufis, that go back to Ali, and Abu Bakr, to Muhammad and is a direct reflection of this “source” of spiritual power that Shams of Tabriz was a representative of.
All of this seems to indicate that indeed there are at least two strains of spiritual connections that diverged at different times in this history to heavily influence Sufism.
Though in fact there are probably four strains, since all this most likely ties into the ancient tradition that there are four spiritual power centers on the earth, and at any time any of them or all of them, or at least two of them will always have an input into any genuine spiritual movement that comes into the world.
This very interesting aspect of the mystical history, and sciences though is too comprehensive to go into much in this essay.
Sufi influence on the west
According to Idries Shah the Sufi, and additionally Muslim influence on the West is immense. From alchemy the Knights Templar, the medieval theologians of the Catholic church- such as St Francis, to the troubadours, to Chivalric orders like the round table to the western occultist- such as the Rosicrucian's, to the magicians like Aliester Crowley, the Carboini of Italy, all of these and much more have the Sufi influence on their ideas and organizations.7
The Kabala, for instance is said to actually be started by a Sufi group.
We know of the Arabs influence in the 13 th century on the West through their interpreting Plato and Aristotle works, and therefore giving the west access to these ancient ideas, as they were coming out of the dark ages we also know the Arab Saracen influence on the west through the Spanish Moor imposition and annexation of Spain.
Rumi, Al Ghazzali, Ibn Arabi, Hafiz, there is no doubt in the literary fields, religions theology these Sufis had a great influence on the West particularly before the advent of the western turn to universal racism indicated in the African slave trade, and the genocide of the Native Americans, and colonialism. This was justified by the fantasy concocted by the German and English scientific aristocracy of white supremacy.
This being the case much of the real influence of the Saracen Sufis and Arabs has been downplayed and or covered up in the west.
Sufi Saints 700 -1934 CE
The word saint in Sufi parlance is the word Wali, which means friend, denoting friend of god. After the time of Muhammad the number of saints amongst the Sufis reaches into the thousands going up into the 16th century. Now the word saint to a Sufi has no relationship to the Catholic concept of saint. The Sufi saint was not only a human of sublime ethics, and virtue, but in Sufism is also emphasized as in Buddhism, and the Vedanta sciences, the cultivation of the consciousness. Sufi masters reached the highest possible level that a human could reach in this regard, as Idries Shah said of the Andalusian Spaniard Ibn Arabi, to paraphrase: “He had reached the highest possible state of consciousness any human has ever reached. Arabi the 12 th century mystic whom the Sufis refer to as “Sheik al Akbar” The greatest Sheik, produced poetry of such sublime mystic sense, that nothing in history has yet rivaled it, still today people are interpreting his lofty prose.
“And among the wondrous things is a veiled gazelle:
“And among the wondrous things is a veiled gazelle:
From the “Veiled gazelle” by Ibn Arabi
The period of Sufi history from about the early tenth century to the 16 th century saw an explosion of Sufi saints of extraordinary ability:
Some Sufi Major Saints:
This is just a small sample of Sufi saints who literally number in the thousands over the centuries, some well known and some never heard of.
The following adepts as mentioned above- three waves of saints right after Muhammad are in this list
From 617 to 950 CE Abu Bakr, Umar, Ali, Bilal, Ibn Riyah, Abu Abdullah, Salman the Persian-the Seven Great Ones.[ Prophets companions600 to 617]
Haya, Hasan el-Basri; the Four Guides C'Crowns"). [After Prophets death [617 to 650]
Habib Ajami, Malik Ibn Dinar, Imam Abu Hanifa, Daud of Tai, Dhu'l-Nun the Egyptian, Ibraham Ibn Adam, Abu Yazid, Sari el-Saqti, Abu Hafa, Maaruf Karkhi, Junaid-the Eleven Sheikhly Transmitters.
900 to 1500
Al Junaid: [D910] From Baghdad who started the sober school of Sufism that emphasized the states of inner sobriety as the best pat to truth.
El Ghazzali: Persian [1058 1111] Known as “The proof of Islam” Intellectual theologian who converted to Sufism after a long period of agnosticism, cynicism, and retreat. Wrote lengthy defenses of Sufism. Also a great theologian who heavily influenced Christian thinkers. Wrote voluminous works, mainly in Arabic among great treatises are “The Niche of Lights” And “The Alchemy of Happiness. The “Revival of Religious Sciences” is a Persian work of great significance.
Omar Khayyam: [1048-1131] the well known Poet, and mathematician not traditionally thought to be a Sufi, though according to Shah was one of extraordinary ability. Certainly though Khayyam wasn't the traditional lineage order Sufi. More than likely was what the Sufis call an Uwaysi, or one without a traditional “human” Master. The Uwaysi are descendants of Uwaysi AL Qarni whom supposedly perfected the science of Sufism by himself, physically unconnected to the Prophet.
Shaikh Sayyiduna Abdul Qadir Jilani B. Persia [1078 1166] Thought to be the pole of the age[QUTB]. Very orthodox, but thought to be one of the most exalted Sufis of all time. Combined a perfect mix of the Sharia, and Tariqah.
Abu Madyan [1115–1198] North African Sufi mystic of immense capacity, whose teachings influenced the Qadiri order, and all Sufism in North Africa.
Najm al-din Kubra [1125- 1221] Great Central Asian Master, B. Kiva[modern day Uzbekistan] known as “ Maker of Saints” since many of his students became masters. Also known to have great communication skills with animals, and powerful psychic abilities. Founder of the Kubrawiya order of Sufis.
Abu Hafs Umar al-Suhrawardi: Persian B. 1144 1234 Expanded Suhrawardi Order that had been started by his uncle.
Ibn Al Arabi: [1165-1240] The Andalusian Arab Moor. Known as “The Greatest Sheik” by the Sufis.. Wrote numerous spiritual treatises of immense power: “Bezels of Wisdom” “Journey to the lord of power” and “Sufis of Andalusia” He from a child displayed occult powers and esoteric affinities; often meditating in grave yards, communing with the “dead spirits” in his midsts. Arabi grew up with Adepts of a high rank, who as much as they could [since he was often times as astute as they were] attempted to guide him. He became a teaching master of great capacity, and also a philosopher, theologian, and mystic.
Arabi was so near to “god” that in later times would often identify the adepts of the highest rank who were members of the hierarchy of the Qutb or demiurge. Arabi like Ghazzali influenced western theologians.
Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadhdhuli B. 1196 Founder of powerful Shadhili order
Jajaluddin Rumi: Persian [1207-1273]
The well known Sufi Theologian, and prolific Poet, who wrote the Mathnavi a book thought to be second in importance to the Quran. Rumi founded the Melevi whirling dervish Sufi order. His influence on the religious mystical world is unrivalled in history. Accepted all religious persuasions as students. The friend of the most mysterious Sufi in history Shams of Tabriz, who is said to have inspired Rumi immensely.
Muhammad Baha'uddin Shah Naqshband [1318 1389] B. Bokhora Uzbekistan One of the greatest Sufis who founded the powerful Naqshabandi order in the 14 th century. Traces lineage to Abu Bakr. The Naqshabandi order branched out from central Asia all over the Muslim world into India, the Balkans to China
Shah Nimatullah B. Syria [1330 143]1 Founded Nimatullah order that began as Sunni Order but changed to Shia. Sufi Order that accepted anyone.
Ahmad al Tajani [1737-1815 CE] Founded Tijani Order, major African Order
Shaykh Ahmed Bamba. [1854-1927] Founded Muridiyya Order in Africa
Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882 – 1927) Sufi modern saint from India, whose mission was to bring Sufism to the West. He founded Universal Sufism.
Sheikh Ahmed Al Alawi. B.Algeria [1874 1934] Ahmad ibn Mustafa al-Alawi (1869–1934), A modern Sufi Saint from Algeria the founder of one of the most important modern Sufi orders- the Darqawiyya Alawiyya, a branch of the Shadhiliyya.
So we can trace maybe three streams of the Sufi science in history. The first represents after Muhammad's death in 617 to about 750 the Baraka was formulated by the masters mentioned above. This led to the era about 800 CE to the 12th century when the major orders were formed. This also begins the time when the central Asian Kwajagan masters began their teaching, in which gives us somewhat of another more arcane aspect of Sufism. Then also from central Asia unconnected directly to the Kwajagan masters came the powerful order developed by one of the greatest Sufi masters Bahaudin Naqshabandi, the founder of the Naqshabandi order in the 14 th centuries.
Undoubtedly Sufism started to decline after the 15 century, perhaps because of western ascendancy, as well as the reality that all things in this world declines. Certainly the number of Saints[walis] declined after the 15 th century. The two classical periods of Sufism, from 750 to 1000, then to 1000 to 1400 saw an explosion of Sufi orders and powerful saints, but the decline after the 16 century is noticeable. Not that there were not saints of a high caliber, such as Sheik Alawi of North Africa, in the 20 th century and Ahmad Tajani of Africa in the 19 th century, but obviously there was a steep decline in the Sufi grandeur that past centuries had. This though is an obvious phenomena that like many topics touched on peripherally in this essay is for another essay!
4. Sufism Today
4 corners of the Path
The Perfect Master
It was completely dark in the Khaniqah as the slow deliberate rhythmic chant began to explode in the darkness as the Dervishes swayed back and forth screaming “La ilaha il Allah [no reality but god] in a crescendo of sound of immense power that would occupy the participant's consciousness long after the chant ended. This was a power Dhikr, of the Nimatallah Sufi order led by Dr Javad Nurbaksh the present master of the Order.
This was the first night me and a close companion Ali spent with the Sufis after our ritualistic public initiation in the order; this happened some years ago in New York city. It was an awesome night, filled with new experiences for us that we would never forget. After the Dhikr we ate a healthy vegetarian meal, mingled with the many other Sufis, the majority of which were European, or American Caucasians, and a small amount of Iranians.
We eventually got to know many of them that night and talked to one guy who gave us great advice, he said: “Don't listen to anyone, not even him”
This traditional order of Sufis- moderately Islamic and Iranian Shias we had approached after reading the Doctors' book “The Paradise of the Sufi” It was basic, not too deep Sufism that we thought could get a hold on and understand at the time. What we didn't understand or never experienced is the real power of a perfect Master.
Perhaps it is all the impressionable attitude one brings to the experience, but to meet a man who is supposed to be a true ancient one, a perfect being, fully enlightened, and be within 5 feet of him and be allowed to converse with him is a unique experience, we were not prepared for.
When we first entered the room of the Master with the female interpreter and I recall some other Order official to meet Dr Nurbaksh, I recall him reminding me of my first religious Sheik, who was not a Sufi, but a traditional Muslim.
Anyway the meeting went very strangely, here is what happened: I, being deferential invited Ali to speak first to the Master [my first mistake]. Ali my good friend, but still a bit raw and from the street, had introduced to Sufism, as I had many of my Islamic friends, and was[Ali] way behind myself in understanding the lore of Sufism. So consequently when he began talking about “Ibn Arabi” Rumi. Sufism in general to the Master, all of a sudden the master breaks into a great big laugh one could here all over the room! This was a huge belly laugh, as if he were listening to a comedian. At first witnessing this I started thinking egotistical thoughts that I was better than this fool friend of mine whom the master obviously could see he didn't have a clue what in the world he was talking about: Ibn Arabi, Rumi, and things like that, after barley surviving drug addiction and other problems, the master saw his soul, I thought, but also saw Ali's inner funny bone [Ali was a very comical guy] and I saw that he Nurbaksh was communicating with us on another level. Obviously it may seem to be rude for him to laugh at Ali, or us, but it didn't at all look like he was looking down on us, just having a good time, and trying to show us that he new us.
Eventually he said to Ali after he stopped his laughing” You are welcome to be in this order, and if you obey me I will make you a human being”
Of course Nurbaksh in a sense had no choice but to let us in the order, because unlike some Sufis, the Nimatallah order, by the edict of the founding Pir from the 14 th century, Shah Nimatallah accepted any one who asked to join the order. The Shah had said at the time: “Let all those students whom the other masters reject, come to me, I will guide then according to their capacity.
At the meeting, the master didn't even ask me anything. I didn't think to say anything, I just went along with what happened and left the room after he dealt with Ali. I probably was afraid that if I spoke he would laugh at me also! My ego did swell at what I perceived of my “superiority” over my friend Ali that is something the Master undoubtedly perceived, as I eventually joined the Master in his laughing. I inwardly vowed like a true jerk-off to be a great Sufi, not a fool like Ali.
The master taught me many things that day that later I understood. One being that my ego was out of control. I looked down on my friend, and wanted to please the master at his expense. Also that we were both too immature to be successful Sufis, although at the time we didn't see that.
Anyway we both spent a few years in the order and learned many things. Although neither of us, reached enlightenment or anything like that, for this was just the beginning.
My other good friend I had sent to Master Nurbaksh hopping he would join our order. He didn't do that but years later took hand in another order of Turkish Sufis- the Jerrahi, where an outstanding teacher was one of the Silsilah Sheiks of the order, Sheik Nur, or more popularly known as Lex Hixon. The American writer and mystic who wrote a forward to one of Ken Wilber's books. The Sheik though was not the master of this order just one of the top Sheiks.
Sheik Nur was a wealthy blue blood who sacrificed a comfortable existence to dedicate his life to the service of humanity, through his Sufism, his Buddhism - for he was also a Zen Priest [student of Bernie Glassman] as well as a practitioner of Vedic mysticism.
Lex Hixon wore three hats in the mystic field; eventhough he would always say: “Never mix traditions”. By this he meant that a Sufi shouldn't make Salat[prayer] in a Zen monastery, but should do it in a mosque. As a Zen follower should not do zazen in a mosque, but in a Zen sanctuary. In this regard Hixon was certainly one of the true practicing pioneers of Integral Spirituality. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lex_Hixon
My friend became one of his closest disciples in the order and often traveled with him to Teckke's- [Sufi houses] across the country and Mexico. Here he learned first hand the humanity and goodness of the Sheik. This white man would without any fear travel in the worst ghettoes that white people never went in. His generosity was legend and would give 10's of thousands of his own money to poor inner city people trying to improve their lives, and implore his other wealthy friends to do the same. He would literally give strangers money in the true tradition of the charity of the Sufis.
Sheik Nur was also a advanced mystical teacher whose Sufi philosophy emphasized the love, tolerance and unity theme rather than the strict Islamic code of the Sharia. This got him in the bad graces unfortunately with some of the other Sheiks of the order. Particularly was Sheik Nur's habit of appointing females to top posts in the Sufi hierarchy of the order. Indeed throughout the country the Sheiks appointments were at one point entirely female, which of course rubbed some of these middle-eastern Sufis the wrong way. Also, eventhough he was a strict practicing Muslim, his Sufism was generally less Islamic than the orders practice.
This led to many problems for him but he held to his modern principles against the old insular Islamic traditional thinkers, so much so that before his untimely death in 1997, he had appointed a female Sheika as his lineage heir to more or less create a new order out of a lineage from the old order through him that she now presides over. A female master in an extended Islamic Sufi order is a sight to behold, a rare jewel in this environment, and can only be a monument to this advanced thinker and saintly Sufi, Sheik Nur whose contribution to modern Sufism can't be measured.
One of my greatest regrets is that I never met this luminous soul, whom I and my friend concluded that if there were a second coming of Jesus, it had to be Sheik Nur! His name means light.
While coming down as a young man from the insular world of Islam, this was years before my meeting with Dr Nurbaksh, I happened to spend a lot of time at a friend's house that had been owned in the past by one of the officials of an Islamic community we had belonged to.
This official had a library of extensive books on Islam, Sufism, and mysticism that my friend had no interest in. I didn't either at first, but eventually visited him daily because of my growing interest in the topics of those books. Particularly a Sufi masterpiece by perhaps the greatest Sufi in modern times, the Sayeed Idries Shah, whose book the Sufis, introduced me to the topic. Like a big bang of creation Shahs masterpiece literally became an initiation in Sufism for me. This culminated years later with a vision of Shah I had where he communicated something of vital importance to me.
I hasten too ad that once my friend decided he wanted the room the books were taking up in his living room for something else, I had a huge moving operation of those books over to my living quarters.
Shah's book and many others in that library became my lifeline out of strict Islam into a world of true potential, a world where one couldn't realize Islam without Sufism. There were the greatest books by Ibn Arabi; books by Rumi, Al Ghazzali, Attar, and other Sufi giants, in which opened up a new world for me.
But the greatest experience was getting to know albeit just through his books the Master Idries Shah whom I believed for a certainty was an advanced Sufi.
Idries Shah was a Afghan/Indian from his father's side, and an English/ Scot from his mother's side and also a descendent of the Prophet. This east/west upbringing was perfect for the work Shah would later do as a Naqshabandi Sufi with a mission for Sufism, sort of in the mold of Omar Qayyam.
Shah's early years was spent studying magic, in fact it turns out he was a associate of the English Wiccan founder Gerald Gardener.
Although a Muslim, Idries Shah was not a traditional Islamic Sufi, but one of the first non Islamic Sufis who would assist in bringing Sufism out of it's middle age into these modern, and post modern times.
Shah was a true Integralist, in fact as a teaching Master the incident of the ex- students of the Great teacher Gurjeff is a prime example of his methodology. After Gurjeff's death [his students] seemed in a shaky condition, in that Gurjeff according to the Sufis really had no permissions to teach what he was teaching therefore inevitably left his students in a confused state, after his death. Idries Shah took these students in and took over their spiritual guidance. The first thing he did was to give them the famous Buddhist chant, Om Mani Padme Hum, as a exercise in their new teachings. the an act of a true Integralist.
Shah though was a Sufi Master who only accepted people who he felt could benefit from Sufism; he wasn't like The Nimatullah Sufis who accepted anyone. This to Shah was reasonable because he always pointed out that most people only pretended they wanted higher knowledge or Sufi knowledge, in most cases they want something else. And in fact it would be a disservice to offer such a powerful science to people who were not ready for it.
He was though a compassionate and loving man who always said that the true Sufi was in service to all humanity, whatever their spiritual altitude, and that those who were not prepared for the evolutionary science of Sufism were still at the forefront of the Sufi Adepts attention.
In Shahs later years it became clear that he was connected to the hierarchical demiurgic group who according to spirituals like Blavatsky, and Ibn Arabi were basically responsible for the destiny of human's spiritual growth. It is certain that this is done rarely through any direct intervention in human affairs, but through the manipulation of subtle energy by the Adepts on humanity.
Shah never encouraged this supposition nor did he deny it, but in the end all but admitted it. Shah also readily admitted that classical Sufism had spent itself out, and that the major Sufi Orders no longer possessed the Baraka, to truly carry the Sufi message into modern times. Shah never said all the Sufis were devoid of Baraka in modern times just the major orders, he never mentioned names though.
Shahs work “The Sufis” published in 1964 and many other books on Sufism made him a favorite to millions in the west as undoubtedly his works are responsible to a great degree for the popularization of Sufism in the west. Shah though while thinking this was a good thing, nevertheless thought that the problems of the modern man and his “modern” ego meant that the popularization of Sufism was a sharp two edged sword and that ironically made the understanding of it more problematic, and people were becoming less understanding of its reality.
This though didn't keep Shah from having a positive outlook for Sufism, and mysticism in general in the world, for he believed that although the new age might taint the understanding of mysticism at first he felt people would one day grow up, and become ripe as he would put it, for the real wine of Sufi study.
The fourteenth century Sufi Master Sheik Shattari was known as the Sufi who taught the Rapidness method. Implying a way station for the impatient. Shattari was one Sheik who mixed the theory of the Sufi Lataifs, with the theory of the Vedic Chakras.
Today one could meet the lineage heir to this wisdom in the person of the estimable talented Master who doesn't like being called a Master, the Iraqi Sheik Adnan Sirhan who runs as teacher the Sufi Foundation of America out of New Mexico.
If one ever wanted to see a Sufi Master in action, and directly experience their power all one has to do is go to one of the comparatively inexpensive seminars of the modern Rapidness Sufis lead by Adnan Sirhan.
He prefers to be called Adnan not Master, Pir, or even Sheik. Adnan's sole concern is the guidance of his pupils whom many have testified to this assistance in coming out of all kinds of addictions and negative frames of thought that Adnan's powerful exercises do to alleviate.
He sits elevated on a woolly mat before his students. Slowly his eyes will disappear into his upper eyelids where all one can see is the whites of his eyes, as he enters a trance like state. Then he will often times start reciting a chant or Dhikr of a divine name of god, or a formulae from the Quran, as he moves his entire body in rhythmic motions that all the students attempt to follow. Though not easy the people do settle in a reasonable simile of his motions, but never as smooth and rhythmic as he does it.
Sometimes he will do this without going into a trance, and only lead the recitation of the formulas for the students who are not familiar with the Arabic prose, so he will extensively assist them in the recitation until they get the phonetics properly. Adnan chants are long and very precise.
Qul authoobi Rabbinas I seek refuge of the Lord of men
I seek refuge of the Lord of men
This difficult formulae, the last chapter of the Quran, can be repeated very rhythmically 100 times before the students are adept enough to repeat it on their own.
This is rare in Sufism though, and Adnan himself apparently doesn't do it often; that is use the Quran as a tool for Dhikr, or remembrance, or recitation. This is the case generally because Sufis understand the Quran is essentially a book of powerful spiritual formulae that should be utilized with caution because of its power.
Most of the time Adnan employs simple short chants that are general to Sufi science
He may rock back and forth reciting Allah, or Al Hadi[the Guide]and breathing a certain way, while the students follow. It might be downward towards the left knee, and them back up, and then again downward towards the right knee, on and on for minutes at a time. Then the movements will change into various flowing motions reciting another attribute of god, or formulae.
This powerful exercise eventually produces a trance like state in some, although not necessarily is this the intention of the exercise. Some students go into their own motions because of the trance, outside of Adnans movements. Others stay alert and continue following him. This goes on for a quarter of an hour to 2 hours. After this exercise and a break, the Sufis may go into a dance presided over by Adnan of a classical bend all the way to belly dancing to a general free for all where some even break dance to eastern hauntingly melodic music.
The next session will be all physical exercises like calisthenics', sit ups, push ups, where it seems Adnan wants to assist the students in having a perfect sized stomach as Adnan himself, whose perfectly contoured body looks like that of a thirty year old man, Adnan though is at least sixty!
When the break comes for rest, and lunch, some of the students will eat, some will make prayers, and some will just mingle, and get to know the other participants. Adnan himself will not eat, or rest just mingle with the students without any air of difference or superiority over his charges.
He will talk about the meaning of the exercises, or what he is doing in his trance state, or the reason for this dance, or that exercise. Adnan will only discuss Spiritual matters, not small talk or mundane affairs. He is like a powerful entity whose only idea is the raising of the consciousness of his students.
Adnans order is not very Islamic, yet many of his close disciples are Muslim, and he himself, although taking students of any belief system is very traditional in outlook.
One thing is for sure though that Adnan Sirhan the present head of the Rapidness order of Sufis is without a doubt one present living Sufi master with the power of Barakah.
The meaning of Integral obviously is now somewhat in question. So to describe something as Integral Sufism, is not to be literal, because I really don't know of such a labeled group.
By Integral I mean a spiritual group who are not bound by their own internal methodologies. This of course makes most Sufism non Integral by definition.
Though in modern Non Islamic Sufism, the word Integral in this regard is applicable to some degree. It is that the group is not bound by the Sharia in my view that can only allow a Sufi group to be Integral. Of course this doesn't mean at all that Sufis are sectarian, for nothing is further from the truth. Sufis as a whole are generally extremely tolerant of other belief systems, though the Islamic ones do adhere to a great degree to their own ethnocentric beliefs.
Also many of the non Islamic Sufis still hold a line to Islamic theosophy, as well many of them are bound to the teachings of their leaders, though this does not mean they aren't Integral only that they are obligated to their teacher's viewpoint that may or may not be “Integral”.
Additionally many people who are anxious to jump on the Integral bandwagon may despite their Islamic affinities nevertheless jump head first into “Integral Spirituality”, and might see them on Integral Naked eventhough they probably have no business being there.
A Sufi group in other words just because they are non Islamic doesn't necessarily mean that they are Integral, but certainly puts them in the ballpark. Also I am saying that a Sufi group that is Islamic still may think of themselves on some level as Integral.
Naturally there are some Islamic Sufis attached to ethnocentrism that deplore non Islamic Sufism, though nothing much is done about it, since most Sufis generally mind their business.
The new Sufis such as followers of Meher Baba, Inyat Khan, Murshed Sam, Irani Tweedie, Idries Shah could certainly visit Ken Wilber's Integral Naked and jump on the Integral band wagon if they wanted to, and be justified I think, in being classified as Integral.
Integral though is not just the idea of being open to different methods in spiritual growth, it is being Integrated in all levels of reality, and in that sense Sufism, all schools of it, are certainly Integral, beyond the superficial reality of different creeds.
Sufis though really never are anxious [ at least legitimate ones] to jump on any band wagon, nor are they into labels, so this is somewhat of a meaningless endeavor, frankly, that is labeling some Sufis Integral. It all boils down to what one believes Integral means.
Anyway it is somewhat valid that the non Islamic Sufis could be labeled as such, for most of them are indeed dedicated to truth above and beyond forms as most legitimate Sufis are, Islamic or non Islamic.
Sufi Hidden Hierarchy
We westerners may have first gotten hold of the concept of the Demiurge a Greek term meaning to craft, is the colloquialism used by some spirituals that refers to an Angelic or human representative that rules man for god; through the teaching of the founder of Theosophy Helena Blavatsky. She asserted to have been taught by secret masters, called the Mahatmas, or adepts, who were of highly evolved advanced consciousness. This had led to offshoot theories of other hidden masters, who secretly rule the world.
This idea was not originated with Blavatsky, not even in her time, since the Hermetic mystics believed in such a concept.
As well many of the magician types from the Golden Dawn like Alcester Crowley, McGregor, and others believed in the secret chief concept.
Also in the ancient beliefs systems of some Gnostics, the idea of a demiurge, [ a ruler for god] was a negative idea, in that this demiurge to them was the devil himself.
This concept also was popularized by the student of Gurjeff John G. Bennett in the book he died before completing “The Masters of Wisdom”. in which he identified the central Asian Sufi Masters[Kwajagan masters] as the demiurge in the flesh.
This brings us to our final topic concerning Sufi lore and science about the tradition that the Sufis are indeed the demiurgic hierarchy. This though is through the cosmological theosophy of the Sufi doctrine that revolves around the idea of the Qutb, or magnetic pole that exists in every era, and is virtually in a mysterious sense the ruler for god on earth.
The hierarchy of the Sufis:
Less one think this is allegory, symbiology or metaphor, be dispelled of this notion because the great Ibn Arabi himself use to occupy much of his time literally identifying these hierarchical beings who fulfilled these positions in his time. 8
As well in our time many books by serious writers have spoken of this hierarchy and claim to have had close associations with it. Additionally Idries Shah all but admitted its reality in many of the books associate with his activities.
This hierarchy to my knowledge has always been thought of as literal by Sufis, who believe in it, I have yet to come across anyone who believes it is symbolic, or esoteric. So it seems that despite the esoterism of the mystics, there is some kind of literality to god after all, or some kind of loose amphomorphic structure that represents the deity.
Now what must be understood though is that this hierarchy does not rule the world like a king or “Sky god” or politician, or have any function as a sectarian force to spread Islam or Sufism, nothing is further from the truth.. They essentially are responsible for the energy configuration, or energy processing of some sort in the world. This rarely allows any direct intervention in human affairs, though it has been done.
All this being said I hope those who read this go and tell a certain group[we wont mention who they are] that it may be that their services as second and third tier turquoise and teal rulers will not be needed after all, the position is already filled!
This ancient Science of Sufism is a doctrine of immense beauty, truth, and indeed relevant to the condition of humans, and is perhaps an example of the highest consciousness awareness that humans can reach. For Sufism, despite the wayward nefarious activities of some of its young charges –in Islam, has maintained throughout its history a clarity of doctrine, understanding, and spirit that' makes for itself a position of utmost respect amongst our many wonderful, and glorious spiritual traditions that the fallen human has every right to be proud of, that is pride in the best sense, in the Sufi sense, as one of our greatest Sufis uttered concerning vanity:
“Acquire the manners of the Dervish, then wear a stylish cap”
With only love
Notes and References
1.This formulation has variations, for instance some put Marifa ahead of Haqiqa. This though is incorrect since Marifa as a state of knowledge can only be a prelude to the station of Haqiqa or truth.
3.The Book of Certainty. By Abu Bakr Siraj ED-Din
4. Psychology of Sufism Javad Nurbaksh
5 The Sufis: Idries Shah Page 419
6. Kebzeh By Yagan Murat “Essentials of Sufism from the Caucasian Mountains” Page10
7. The Sufis Idries Shah
8. Sufis of Andalusia: The Ruh al–quds and Al Durrat al fakhirah of Ibn Arabi Translated by R. W. J Ausin