The word Sufi, according to Greek and Arabic etymologies, means 'wisdom' for the one, and 'purity' for the other. However both concepts clearly suggest one and the same Truth. Wisdom is only there when the mind is purified of preconceived ideas, the burdens of dogma and an unrestful conscience. As to the origins of Sufism, one could say that it is also just as ancient as the concepts of wisdom and purity, which have always been the inspiration of devotional worship all down the ages. In reality, Sufism is the essence of all religious ideals and has even been appropriated during different periods of history by large cultural and religious streams, without losing its own universal identity.
For a Sufi, the diversity of names and forms of the world's religious tendencies are like veils covering the phenomena of the 'Spirit of Guidance' manifested at all levels of evolution. This Inner Guidance is constantly present in the beautiful book of nature's mysteries, which reveals a never-ending Message of Love, providing one's understanding of the relationship between matter and spirit is in harmony with one's feeling heart.
This explains why one of the great ideals of the Sufi is the awakening of the heart qualities, resulting in a broader outlook. One's view then reaches far beyond concepts of faith and belief and allows one to offer tolerance to the tragic misunderstandings which divide the earnest followers of various religions and philosphical traditions. When offering, as brothers and sisters, to partake in carrying the burden of misunderstandings of others, the Sufi avoids any display of speculative theories, using only the language of the heart to communicate sympathy and dedication in support of the various interpretations of the one ideal of worship.
The aim of the Sufi is to release one's captive soul from the boundaries of the 'I' and 'my' concepts, by merging into the ecstasy of a spiritual ideal. The soul's freedom could be just as peaceful as that Ideal, but the Sufi is well aware that as long as there is the limitation of duality, as shown in the concepts of 'I' and 'my', the soul cannot really be free. This paradox is overcome through the realisation that the concepts of 'I' and 'my' are only illusions.
What we think of as 'I' is just our own perception of an individual entity functioning as part of an entire network. In the same way, a drop of water is an entity only as long as it is seen as a drop. But as soon as that drop is poured back into the ocean it is then all ocean-water. Therefore for the Sufi, the ideal which releases the soul from its boundaries is, in fact, the souls' own image, the soul itself, which knows not 'I' or 'my'.
Among the numberless purposes in our lives - which nevertheless could not be accomplished in a whole lifetime - one might take for granted that the essential ideals which secure a balanced condition between body,mind, heart and soul, are those related to the concept of life itself, such as, for instance, the desire to live fully, the urge for knowledge, the want for power, the longing for happiness and the need for peace.
To the question whether or not a material ideal could lead to an inner purpose, one might say that, seen from the point of view of the 'Divine Purpose', even a material ideal could very well be the outcome of a spiritual one. Therefore, every effort towards the fulfillment of one's life's purpose, whether the effort be material or spiritual, whether made consciously or unconsciously, brings one nearer, step by step, to the ultimate goal. Furthermore, this process can be seen as a humble contribution to the fulfillment of the 'Divine Purpose', since the entire creation is in a constant state of formation, all according to a central theme.
The purpose of life is not fulfilled only in rising to greatest heights, but also by diving deep into the deepest depths, whereby the self is lost, but finds itself gain as a result of the widening of its sphere of consciousness. It is just like the seed which finds the fulfillment of its purpose when rising as a plant and spreading out in full bloom in the rays of the sun, after having been lowered deep beneath the ground.
At the level of mystical understanding, according to Sufi esoteric teaching, this could be explained as the process of tuning the ego to a higher pitch. One values most that which one has made the greatest efforts to obtain, although paradoxically, the most valuable achievements are sometimes obtained with the least effort. Unfortunately, one does not always realise the real value of such achievements, unless one has learned the hard way to appreciate all that is bestowed upon one by the Grace of God.
There is no experience in life which is worthless. There is not one moment which is really wasted, providing one is wise enough to assemble the bits and pieces of past memories and learn from experience. The self, 'The Conscience', invariably rejoices or suffers unrest from positive or negative thoughts; or, when losing hold of itself, becomes radiant - being able, then, to focus all its creative energy on the reality of the Divine Presence.
However, the self is only the channel through which the soul is ultimately the 'spectator' of all happenings reflected as impressions. And like a mirror, the reflections perceived do not leave any traces on its pure surface.
Another subject found in Sufi teaching is the alchemy of happiness, which, as we know from fairy tales, is the use of a magic formula to turn base metal into gold. This mystical legend symbolises so beautifully the basic principle of the Inner School of the Sufis, where deep consideration is offered to the importance of transforming one's gross ego into a humble attitude of respect - awakening one's heart to the privilege in being the 'Temple of God', radiating love onto all who come one's way.
This inner consciousness can only be developed along a very thorny path called the 'Art of Personality'. This requires constant efforts to forge the character into a living example of love, harmony and beauty, so that one may be a bringer of happiness. Happiness is the birthright of all beings, although one may not always be conscious of the laws of happiness. These laws teach one that happiness is only there when one becomes an inspiration of happiness for others.
But how might this be accomplished? Through trying to appreciate what is good in another and overlooking that which disturbs one when others are not in accord with one's own thinking. By trying to see the point of view of others, with tolerance for their convictions, even though they are contrary to one's own. By trying to avoid judging the feelings of others, especially when involved with those whom one has once loved. By trying to attune oneself to the rhythm of all those whom one meets, and in whose company there might be a hidden guidance, as there always is in everything that happens in one's life, providing one has lost oneself in the ecstasy of Divine Presence.
Hazrat Inayat Khan
Back to Islamic and Sufi Masters