Saturday, March 27, 2010


Ask any Sufi you know what Sufism is and you will get an answer. Ask another and you will get a different answer. Go on line and look up the many Sufi sites and each one will tell you what Sufism is and they will all be different in some way, often in significant ways. Ask a scholar of Sufism and you will get an academic answer filled with convolutions, comparisons and allusions that leave you gasping for air. Some will say that it is the mystic aspect of Islam and that you cannot be a true Sufi if you are not a Muslim. Others will say that is not true and that many people over the centuries have embraced Sufism without embracing Islam. And on and on go the discussions and arguments.
It seems to be one of the major traits of humanity to need to define things. And, we will almost always define things or ideas in light of whatever cultural baggage we happen to be toting around. This is a problem when the thing we decide to define defies definition. There’s alliteration for you. In any case, it is certainly a possibility that if Sufism has so many ideas about what it is then it is probably true that the definitions that appear are almost certainly based on the opinions and ideas of the people doing the defining.
Way back in the dawn of time, when I first discovered Pir Vilayat and Sufism, I thought that I knew what it was. To me it was the path I had been looking for, the teacher I needed and the means of unraveling all the strange experiences I had been having for the previous ten years. I really did not care at all about its origins or any of the definitions. I only cared about processing the inner turmoil and creating something understandable of my life. I liked the idea that it was ancient and not some New Age thing that someone invented from their own ideas of what ought to be. And, I really liked the fact that occasionally Pir Vilayat would say that he did not know something but would find out. Then I began to study Sufism seriously and discovered all the controversy, all the opinions, all the insistent definitions. So what is it? The problem seems to be focused on which direction we approach the idea from.
From our ego's point of view Sufism must conform to our cultural understandings. We need it, or any spiritual discipline for that matter, to be recognizable by our sense of self. It can be exotic as long as we are able to accept its exotic nature as something we can process internally. It can be defiant if that is our tendency. Witness the apparent need of some Western followers of Sufism to adopt Arabic dress even though it is pretty inappropriate in a Northern climate. There is also a tendency to display our commitment in other ways and demand that others recognize our enthusiasm. And I could go on. But that is not where this started. It started with the idea that Sufism is and should always remain individual, that's why it is mine.
My Sufism does not care about tradition or the need to define. It seems to me that, if a person wants to do all that then that is okay, but it is not for me. To me it is what works. As some of my readers know, I have a very extensive library of Sufi literature. It is helpful in that it gives me inspiration and I enjoy the mental stretching I must do in order to understand some of the references. But, as Pir Vilayat once instructed me rather sternly, you can't get it from books. You get it in the here and now. Yes, we rely on practices that have been developed over the centuries and God bless all the beings who worked so very hard to create these meditations and practices but, we also live in the present. We live in a complex culture; perhaps the most complex ever and our needs are quite different from a seventh century seeker. And we know more.
In the seventh century a person's outlook would be pretty truncated and the world view would have been quite limited but not now. In the 40 odd years that I have been paying attention we have seen the availability of spiritual literature and access to meditation techniques explode in a manner unprecedented in any other age. So why look to the past?
As near as I can tell from this extensive library of mine, Sufism has always been about being in the Now. Its major proponents wrote books yes, but the great majority of followers were living in the present moment, content to be who they were while continually working on the self in order to understand and become the whole integrated human they were meant to be. At least that is the ideal that comes forth in the literature.
This is what I have finally come to understand. We need to define ourselves but this very defining ends up limiting our potential and undermines the very core of our being by insisting that we must conform to a definition. If we can let go of the need for definition for even a moment then the freedom that is our soul's truth can shine forth and all that we are becomes the reality that we all seek.

Love & Blessings, Musawwir


Linda said...

If I understand you, then defining one's Sufism is as defining love, home or family. It is felt differently in each soul, and still is universal.
With much love and respect,

molly said...

Wonderful writing. I like the flow.

Maggie said...

Blessed I am....that I have a Guide to help me along the way!

Much love, many blessings....


Nadja said...

the strong sense of Sufi community whatever your Sufi belief set is, for me is one of its joys. Doing practices with likeminded people feeds the soul. And I do miss that presence. But maybe Sufi community can be as little as you and your fearless leader.

Elizabeth Leila said...

I DO find Sufi books that are written from such a deep place, they bring you closer to the depth of the person who wrote it, and closer to their state. Books that water and melt my heart, feed my soul, and take me deeper home towards greater depths of essence, Towards the One. Books whose breaths blow through me, whose heart embraces me, like Hazrat Inayat Khan. But all this seems to happen outside of time, not in the NOW, which we must try to to sense ourselves in as soon as we close the book's cover. What NOW? As I go to clean my house...;-)

Sarala said...

What great writing! Set me thinking in so many directions:

As I read about how it seems impossible, really, to define (ie capture) Sufism, I was reminded that in Taoism, it is said that it simply cannot be defined. By its very nature, if one tries to define Taoism, then that is not Taoism.

In everything else that I do, my intellect takes a strong lead. It's refreshing to try something that prefers I leave my analytical tendencies rest. I am one of those who was drawn to Sufism precisely because it isn't concrete. I felt invited by some spiritual impetus to simply wade in, and sensed endless expanse before me. How could I not enter the waters?

As far as defining ourselves, and thus limiting ourselves - maybe we must define ourselves in order to recognize/observe that we are becoming something else?

You see how much this writing of yours called to me tonight!
See you and yours soon,