A seeker emailed and asked, "What is Sufism?"
And I was stunned into silence because how do you encapsulate an ocean into a drop. Sufism is fundamentally indefinable as Nicholson observed long ago, it can only be felt.
I would let the sages define it for you, and you can absorb their words to understand what -essentially-cannot be understood.
“He is a Sufi whose religion is God.”
For the Ascetics, Sufism is: " the practice of adopting every higher quality and leaving every lower quality" in the words of Patriarch of Sufism and one of the most ascetic & devout Sufi Junaid Baghdadi.
BaYazid Bistami, the sublime Sheikh said:" Sufism consists in giving up repose, and accepting suffering."
For the Freethinkers: Abu’l-Hasan al-Nuri, a great early Sufi:
“Sufism is not rituals and forms and is not bodies of knowledge, not doctrines, not ideas, not theories. But it is impeccable manner, the manner of the lover in the presence of the Beloved.”
Each of those answers differs. Each of those answers is a facet of the single reality that is the meaning of being a Sufi.
For the mystical-minded---a definition from Sufi named Abu’l-Hasan Bushanji:
“Sufism today is a name without a reality that was once a reality without a name.”
That was said back in the eighth or ninth century.
And this from Ibn al-Jalla:
“Sufism is an essence, a truth. There is no form, no ritual, no custom in it. It is pure essence.”
These two sayings go together. Sufism was a reality that has now become a form and has now become a name that is no longer a reality. It is a tradition which encompasses all the mystical traditions in it.
What is a Sufi mystic?
A Sufi mystic is in Ishan Kaiser's description"
" the actual temple of fire worshiper; the priest of Magian; the inner reality of cross legged Brahman meditating; the brush and color of the artist.
The Sufis have always recognized the process whereby a hidden secret is institutionalized, commodified and known to the world as a form while the Sufis themselves, in secret, concealed its essence and carried on. This has happened over the generations. Time after time a transmission has been passed down from person to person from heart to heart without intermediary, always from heart to heart.
Who is a Sufi?
“The Sufi is one who possesses nothing and is possessed by nothing.”
In the East, you will find fakirs who interpret this very literally. They possess nothing. They are wandering mendicants who own nothing. And there are others who live in palaces in great opulence but are completely detached from the wealth, ready to release it at any moment. They are playing a role in the world. That is the essence of what is meant by not possessing and not being possessed. Possessing means grasping, being addicted, being unable to part with something.
And now another definition for the New Agists Abu Muhammad Murta’ish:
“The Sufi is the one whose thought keeps pace with his footstep. The one who is where she stands. The one who is present here with feet firmly planted on the earth. The one in whom body and soul are united in presence, in awareness.”
The Sufi is addicted, being unable to part with only one thing and that is the One Being who is ever-present and can never be lost or stolen. So one finds that the less one possesses, psychically possesses, the less one is possessed. Because of all the things of life, as one collects them, just weigh one down. Of course, there will come a time, whether in this life or in the next when everything, item by item, will have to be released. Sufi lives in the Now!
And for the Eternal Lovers, beautiful words from Al-Shibli, who was a great mad friend of al-Hallaj. When al-Hallaj was sentenced to death and people were throwing stones at him, al-Shibli threw a rose. He used to frequent the asylums of his day and People weren't sure if he was totally mad or totally sane. He said:
“A Sufi does not see in the two worlds, in this world and the hereafter, anything with God except God. Nothing in addition to God.”
In every situation, in every place, at every time, in every relationship, the Sufi keeps coming back to the One and sees the innumerable masks as veils on the face of a single infinite personality, divine being.
Not for a single moment does the Sufi imagine that anything could be additional, recognizing immediately, intuitively, that everything is essentially singular in its essence. The Sufi recognizes that this whole manifestation is one phantasmagoria that is the refraction and reflection of a single Light.
And now finally, these words of Shaykh Abu Yazid Bistami: on of the greatest of all Sufi saints
“The Sufis are like infants in the bosom of God.”
To be a Sufi is to be in that state of reliance, assurance, loving resonance, non-individuated consciousness, feeling oneself enclosed in a loving embrace that is eternal and infinite and irrevocable, knowing the essence of reality to be not ambivalent but in truth essentially compassionate, accepting, forgiving, nurturing. Infinite mercy. Eternal compassion. These are no longer theories or wishful thinking but one’s essential experience, incontrovertibly true because one resides in the embrace of the Divine Love. It is to be in a state of complete trust in Allah!
In the past five years that I have been a Sufi seeker, my understanding about Sufism has deepened every day and yet I still don't feel I understand enough. Sufism is like theory of relativity, its understanding constantly evolves as the seeker's perspective evolves but I hope these words can spell some misconceptions about Sufism and what it really means to be a Sufi!