Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder. – Rumi
The ancient path of Sufism, or Tasawwuf as it is known in the Muslim world, is the inward dimension of Islam, essentially Islamic mysticism. Sufi practitioners seek to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of the Beloved. It is a rapturous, deeply devoted and often arduous path, but one with enormous rewards.
Sufism is the way to God via emotions and spirituality rather than through reason, and it celebrates the intimate relationship of the seeker with Allah. The ancient mystical teachings and practices of the Sufis have great relevance for seekers today, and can help you to deepen your spiritual practice or elevate it to a new level.
Igniting the Fervour
Some spiritual paths are very focused on the mind, with practices aimed to clear the mental state, tame thoughts and attain a calm equilibrium. These cooling, meditative practices bring equanimity, tranquility and clarity of mind. The mystical practices of Sufism are hot practices in that they are working with the heart, and igniting the fervour of passionate, wild love.
Rumi translator, and well-known spiritual teacher, scholar and mystic, Andrew Harvey, describes the Sufi path like this:
It is a way to the heart of hearts, to the utmost direct intense experience of one’s sacred identity.
Here is some wisdom from this ecstatic and beautiful path.
Love lies at the core of the Sufi tradition. Love is the reason we are all here. Really at its simplest, we are all on earth to learn about love. As we experience higher love and learn to open ourselves to giving and receiving love, it is said we see the ‘face of God’. We see the many faces of the Divine in all we meet and in ourselves. Ultimately, we reach a stage where we do not see the ‘many’ anymore, and instead, only see the ‘one’.
The Sufis say that the reason of the whole creation is that the perfect Being wished to know Himself, and did so by awakening the love of His nature and creating out of it His object of love, which is beauty. Dervishes, with this meaning, salute each other by saying, ‘Ishq Allah Ma’bud Allah’ – ‘God is love and God is the beloved’. – Volume V, Love, Human and Divine, p144
1. Surrender to Love
Sufis talk about annihilating themselves in the Beloved through the path of love. Dr. Javad Nurbankhsh of the Nimatullah Sufi Order says, in one of his discourses, that human love can be classified into three basic categories. The first form of love is friendship based on social conventions where two people behave in accordance with the principle:
I for myself, you for yourself; we love each other, but we have no expectations of each other.
This form of love is that of ordinary people, whose love relationships tend to be of this nature. The second form of love is based on a more solid foundation, and those who live together usually experience this kind of love:
I for you, you for me; we love each other, having mutual expectations of each other.
This form of love includes profound love, as well as the love found within most families, and involves emotional give and take on more or less equal footing.
The third kind of love transcends all conventions based on mutual expectations, being founded on the following principle:
I am for you, you are for whoever you choose; I accept whatever you want without any expectations whatsoever.
The Sufi responds with loving-kindness towards those who harm him, for he sees everything in himself and himself in everything, and because of this it is said that the highest form of human love is ‘Sufi love’.
2. Chant the Divine Name
Many spiritual traditions include the chanting of the divine name as part of spiritual practice, for attaining divine qualities and purifying the mind. In the Hindu religion, the practice of chanting the 108 names of the divine is hailed by ancient scriptures as the best way to deal with challenging times.
Hearts become tranquil through the remembrance of Allah. – Qur’an 13:28
Mantra chanting helps to focus and develop the mind. The practice of chanting is said to transform a person’s vibrations, energize their chakras, and raise their mind, body, and spirit to a higher state of consciousness.
Sufism takes this one step further, with more ecstatic chanting than most traditions, and also ritual dance. Devotees become absorbed in the rhythmic repetition of the name of God or his attributes. This remembrance of the Divine fills your life with sacredness and keeps the focus on higher wisdom, away from the small-minded concerns of the self. Some beautiful Sufi mantras are: La ilaha illa’llah and the mantra: God is love, lover and beloved: Ishq allah mahbud lillah.
Sufis practice Dikhr, the devotional practice of the remembrance of God. It is performed by the repeated invocation of the names and attributes of God, and is based on the Qur’anic verse in which God says: ‘Remember Me and I will remember you’. It is practiced either individually or in groups. God is love, lover and beloved. Ishq is the word for this fervent devotion and love that the seeker has for the Divine, and Sufis talk about becoming drunk on divine love.
3. Work with Your Dreams
The ancient Sufis turned to their dreams for guidance, clarity, and wisdom. It was an important tool to help them on their spiritual path. The Sufi tradition has a well-developed philosophical psychology, which includes dream interpretation.
When we sleep we return to where we came from. We rest in the arms of inspiration. It is a potent time for spiritual growth, healing, and restoration. We become innocent once more and when we awaken, may have clear answers to many of life’s challenges. Take some time to remember your dreams when you awaken and, through sharing them with others, deepen your understanding of the wisdom that is coming through in your dream state. The dream world is an important portal to the Divine and to higher guidance. The Sufi approach to dream science is to share your dreams with a spiritual teacher who can give a divine interpretation of your dreams, rather than relying on commonplace interpretations.
4. Enter into Devotion and Service
The essential message of Sufism is to remember God and serve others. The true practice of devotion is service. If you wish to serve the beloved, you must serve others. In selfless service, we begin to see ourselves clearly. The rough ego starts to be smoothed and we learn humility, tenderness, and love. Harsh judgments, arrogance, and divisive qualities are diluted in the river of our intentions to help others. The twin pillars of Sufism are selfless service and love. Only one who loves can serve.
The Sufi is a lover of God, and like any other lover, he proves his love by constant remembrance of his Beloved. This constant attention to God has two effects: one outward and the other inward. – Dr. Javad
5. Revel in Rumi
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. – Rumi
The most important of the Sufi poets is 13th-century poet, Jalaluddin Rumi. Rumi believed passionately in the use of music, poetry, and dance as a path for reaching God. For Rumi, music helped devotees to focus their whole being on the divine, and to do this so intensely that the soul was both destroyed and resurrected. The practice of whirling dervishes developed into a ritual, and from these ideas and Rumi’s teachings, became the basis of the order of the Mevlevi.
In the Mevlevi tradition, the seeker undertakes a mystical journey of spiritual ascent to God through the transformation of mind and heart. He grows through love and releases the ego, coming to find the truth and then returning to be of service to the whole of creation.
Rumi has always been a massively influential figure in the East. As Andrew Harvey, Rumi translator and author of The Way Of Passion: A Celebration Of Rumi, points out:
His odes have been chanted by crowds on pilgrimages for centuries and sung with the highest reverence, from Tangier to Cairo, Lahore and Sarajevo, into the humblest, most remote villages of Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran and India. No other poet in history, not even Shakespeare or Dante, has had so exalted and comprehensive an impact.
Andrew Harvey believes Rumi is our sacred guide for today’s troubled world and is the one who can deliver us from the evils of capitalist materialism. He sees Rumi as:
…an essential guide to the new mystical renaissance that is struggling to be born today. He is the spiritual inspiration for the 21st century.
6. Dying Before You Die
Sufis are lovers of life and do not choose which aspects of life to celebrate. Everything in life gives reason to celebrate. To a Sufi, each moment could be the last. So it’s important to be present in all of life and to live as if you could die in this moment, with your heart pure, your actions good and your relationships at peace.
It is a similar teaching to the Tibetan teachings on life and death. Sufis believe that God may give us the power to kill our ego and make ourselves ‘die before we die’. Essentially, this is a teaching on honoring life and living with gratitude and humility.
7. Honor the Divine Feminine
Woman is the radiance of God; she is not your beloved. She is the Creator—you could say that she is not created. – Rumi
Sufism has always honored the Divine Feminine. It is an esoteric aspect of an outwardly patriarchal religion, in fact, the Divine Feminine resides at the center of Islam, some saying she is the compassionate heart of Islam. The Divine Feminine in Islam manifests metaphysically and in the inner expression of the religion. When we honor the Divine Feminine, we open ourselves to receiving higher wisdom.
Sufism cherishes the esoteric secret of woman, even though Sufism is the esoteric aspect of a seemingly patriarchal religion. Muslims pray five times a day facing the city of Makkah. Inside every Mosque is a niche, or recess, called the Mihrab – a vertical rectangle curved at the top that points toward the direction of Makkah. The Sufis know the Mihrab to be a visual symbol of an abstract concept: the transcendent vagina of the female aspect of divinity. – Laurence Galian
The Real Work is in the Heart
Rabia Basri was a female Muslim saint and Sufi mystic, and she is remembered as one of the great saints of the 8th century.
The real work is in the Heart:
Wake up your Heart! Because when the heart is completely awake,
Then it needs no Friend. – Rabia Basri
The original Sufi were mystics. People who followed a pious form of Islam and who believed that a direct, personal experience of God could be achieved through meditation.
With so many people adrift in the world, the Sufi path charts a course back to union with the Beloved, and in this quest, all religion crumbles, and only lover and Beloved remain.
My heart has become capable of every form: it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christians, and a temple for idols and the pilgrims Ka`ba and the tables of the Torah, and the book of the Koran. I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love’s camels take, that is my religion and faith. – Ibn Arabi