Sufism 1 - general notes
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
Some basic notes and conclusions in regards to Sufism:
- The Zekr is used initially as a meditation calm-abiding tool. This is how it was introduced to me by a Sheikh of the Order. I was told to concentrate on the sound and also some feeling in the heart, until ‘the heart’ took over the zekr and it became automatic throughout the day. I was told to do this for 15 minutes twice a day ideally.
- The above advice is quite similar to T.M. but less detailed.
- The use of the Zekr is minimised during formal group sittings with sacred music (Samaa’). At this time, it seems more helpful to concentrate on the music itself. This wasn’t discussed in detail though. The group sessions tend to be more emotive. Some Orders practice group sessions that lead to intense states of emotionality, abandonment, mystical experience, etc.- but which are temporary.
- Often a group session will involve use another completely different Zekr, introduced by a sitting Sheikh, which is used by the whole group. The session then shares more of a ‘shamanistic’ flavour than introspective. Trance states often ensue in this form of group practice. It would seem the point of such practices would be to activate higher states of devotion, motivation and possible surrender, which can aid later periods of silent introspection and meditation.
- In some books by JN, it is advised that the in-breath is breathing in ‘the attributes of God’, and the out breath is ‘taking refuge in the essence of God’. This instruction is quite vague, and seems more of a mind exercise, or mindful contemplation which obviously involves thought and conceptual use of the mind. I’m inclined to think that one could not get into a deep jhana / samadhi by using this, but it might serve at quieting the mind provided there is enough interest. There is some chance of behaviour modification as well due to contemplating the more benign attributes of God for a set time.
- The best way (IME), by far, in using the zekr, after the above has been practiced for a while (I personally practiced the above intensely for several years), would be the advice given by SRM to GM- who was himself an adept at mantra yoga. This advice was given after a period of silent contemplation by SRM while sitting in front of GM. The advice given was to watch where the notion of “I” comes from, and to be attentive to the ‘source’ of the mantra sound. In other words, use the mantra to point back to the Self (Godhead). Both the notion of “I”, and the sound of a mantra arise within and as consciousness itself. Consciousness or awareness is thus prior to the apparent arising and falling of the notion of “I”, and mind objects such as a mantra.
- The mantra thus becomes a tool for self-enquiry, which was SRM’s standard practical instruction for those that could not simply ‘be’ or imbibe the direct teaching of Silence.
- The above accords exactly with the aims of Sufism, and all of the mystical poetry written about Sufi love, ‘the drop going back to the ocean’, being consumed in ‘the flame of Love’, etc.
- However, the above is also a key element missing from almost every Sufi school that I have encountered, both orthodox and non-traditional. I was never given the advice that ‘hllA’ or God, was, simply stated, this ever present, conscious awareness that is present here now as one’s ‘I am-ness’ or beingness. This simple truth is stated openly in some teachings, such as Advaita Vedanta, Dzogchen, Zen and Kashmir Shaivism. It would have been extremely guarded though, in Sufism, which was (and still is) open to attack from orthodox religious forces throughout history. As a result, the above truth had to be encoded in poetry, or guarded from master to very few select students. A similar situation ensued for Christian Mystics in the Middle Ages.
- Much of Sufism had to be boxed within the confines of Islamic practice, so as to make it acceptable for existing in its societal homeplace, of which, Islam has had much more of a prominent role than other religious system due to its dual political / governance and religious role. The extent of this adjustment changed throughout history as ruling bodies changed philosophy. This wasn’t an issue however, since many core Islamic practices such as daily prayer (devotional ritual), fasting, pilgrimage, charity, memorizing scripture etc. can serve the ultimate aims of Sufism by preparing the mind for more direct practices (such as self-enquiry, introspection, and radical surrender).
- The standard set of Islamic practices (5 pillars of Islam), and standard teachings on morality (as found in Qur’an and Hadith) are helpful aids towards the ultimate goal of Sufism, provided they are understood rightly and not given to excess, extremes, emotionality, or unskillful action. A master would have been indispensable in this regards- interpreting and advising on standard Islamic teachings in light of the aims of Sufism, rather than the aims of Islamic religious orthodoxy or politico-religious hierarchies.
- The theme of ‘love’ and longing for the ‘beloved’ in Sufism can be translated into the intense desire for liberation, and the desire for an end of suffering for the individual (and the world).
- The themes of ecstasy, and love-bliss in Sufism can be translated as peace-bliss (Ananda) and the feeling of loving-kindness.
- The themes of drunkenness and sobriety can be translated as relating to the bliss of egoic loss (or the loss of subject-object), and the gaining of equanimity of mind, respectively.
- All of the above are expedient means towards the end goal of Sufism, which is the permanent transcendence and disidentification of ego / personality / “me” / subject-object experience (fanaa’) and permanent abidance as the Absolute only (baqaa’).