Tasawuf-e Islami - an elementary initiation into the meditations of the sufi school

Dr F. Biria, M.Sc, B.Sc, D.E.S.L. Paris (Borhan-od-din FA 'EQ-e Tabriz!)

Aspects and Masters

"The aspirant who leans on piety and knowledge is devoid of truth, Even if the aspirant possesses a hundred arts, they are without value if he has not trust."

Shams-od-din Hafez-e Shirazi According to Abu-al-gasim al-Gushairi (the sufi master and theorist of the 11th century), al-Junaid of Baghdad describes Tasawuf as meaning that 'God should cause thee to die from thyself and to live in Him'. Inspired by the Koran, al-Junaid called this 'dying to self fana, while he gave the name baqa to 'living in Him'. Indeed, the definition of al-Junaid traces the path that the spiritual aspirant must undertake from awareness to continuance. The Tasawuf is one, but during the centuries of its evolution we can recognise, according to the teaching of the great masters, the following facets:

  1. Tasawuf-e Zahedaneh (the Tasawuf of Asceticism)
  2. Tasawuf-e Abedaneh (the Tasawuf of Devotion)
  3. Tasawuf-e Asheganeh (the Tasawuf of Love)
  4. Tasawuf-e Arefaneh (the Tasawuf of Gnosis)
  5. The Integral Tasawuf of Rumi

The first one can be practised by everybody who feels himself ready to begin riazat (tapas or austerity). This readiness must be primarily spiritual and mental preparedness, otherwise the body cannot bear the riazat and the spirit and mind become disturbed. Only a real master or a competent teacher who has travelled this stage is able to know if the aspirant is ready to follow this path or not, and to give him the necessary guidance. The effect of riazat is to purify the spiritual, mental and physical bodies, and from this point of view is the same as tantra. According to Swami Satyananda Saraswati, tapas is 'a process of purification by burning, by setting everything on fire. It creates a process of metabolism or of elimination. Tapas is a physiological or psycho-emotional process in which you are trying to eliminate from your personality all those habits that create weakness in your mind, all that obstructs the awakening of willpower.'

On higher levels, the notion of riazat becomes special and it simultaneously includes the conception of karma yoga, selfless and self-evolutive service. Mola Ali-ibn-i Abitaleb says, 'The riazat is to use the material minimum for producing the spiritual maximum'. Ali himself, being the powerful Caliph of Islamic countries was working for eight hours by day at his duties, eight hours more at farming to support his family and the poor (the sufi must fully support himself), and eight hours for prayer and meditation. When this Ali succeeded to the rule, he bought a waistband for four dirhams and a shirt for five dirhams. Finding the sleeve of his garment too long, he went to a cobbler and taking his knife cut off the sleeve level with the tips of his fingers. Yet this same man divided the whole world right and left.

Al-Hasan al-Basri (8th century), an eminent early theologian renowned for his piety and asceticism, was one of the great masters of this aspect of Tasawuf. He established the famous theory of poverty (faqr) and attributed the origin of sufi austerities to David and Jesus, who were according to him the first to wear the wool.

In the same century we hear for the first time the nickname 'sufi' attributed to a great ascetic, Abu Hashime Kufi. But surely the most celebrated personality of this time is the Prince Ibrahim-ibn-i Adham of Balkh. He himself tells of his life:

"My father was of Balkh and he was one of the kings of Khorasan. He was a man of wealth and taught me to love hunting. One day I was out riding with my dog when a hare or a fox started. I pricked my horse, then I heard a voice behind me saying, 'It was not for this thou wast created. It was not this thou wast charged to do.' I stopped and looked right and left, but saw no one, and I said, 'I have been roused! A warning has come to me from the Lord of the worlds. Verily, I will not disobey God from this day on, so long as he shall preserve me.' Then I returned to my people and abandoned my horse. I came to one of my father's shepherds and exchanged my raiment for his robe and cloak. Then I went towards Iraq, wandering from land to land."

By his intense spiritual practice, Ibrahim-ibn-i Adham attained self-realization. Now he was no longer able to hide himself; everywhere he worked to earn his living, his identity was soon discovered. Finally he went to live in the desert where he was taught the true inner knowledge of God (gnosis or ma'rifa) by a Christian monk, Father Simeon.

It is said that he usually prayed:

"Oh God, thou knowest that paradise weighs not with me so much as the wing of a gnat. If thou befriendest me by thy recollection and sustainest me with thy love, and makest it easy for me to obey thee, then give thou paradise to whomsoever thou wilt."

An outstanding figure among the sufis of the ninth century is Rabia of Basra. Her attitude was marked by extreme other-worldliness. Many fellow Sufis sought to marry her, but she refused saying:

"The contract of marriage is for those who have a phenomenal existence. But in my case, there is no such existence, for I have ceased to exist and have passed out of self. I exist in God and am altogether His. I live in the shadow of His command. The marriage contract must be asked for from Him, not from me."

She was once asked, 'Whence have you come?' She replied, 'From that world.' 'Whither are you going?' 'To that world.' 'What are you doing in this world?' 'I am sorrowing.' 'In what way?' 'I am eating the bread of this world, and doing the work of that world.'

Another time she had been in meditation for several days when her servant bade her, 'Come outside and behold the works of God.' She answered, 'Come inside that you may behold their maker. Contemplation of the maker has turned me aside from contemplating what he has made.'

In the development of Tasawuf, Rabia is chiefly notable for the doctrine of pure or disinterested love: "Oh my lord, if I worship thee from fear of hell, burn me in hell, and if I worship thee from hope of paradise exclude me from paradise. But if I worship thee for thy own sake, then withhold not from me thy eternal beauty."