Friday, July 27, 2007

Gifts - A Sufi Perspective

People sometimes get very confused about what they suppose is the nature and purpose of the Sufi path. For instance, some people read a few books purported to be Sufi treatises and often draw, or are misled into drawing, quite distorted conclusions about the character of Sufi mystical practice.

On the basis of these readings, they may get the impression the whole Sufi thing is nothing but a story-telling tradition. Seen from this perspective, Sufi masters are considered to be master story tellers.

Moreover, Sufi gatherings are events in which everyone sits around telling these neat stories with a Sufi twist and flavor. Presumably, one becomes a Sufi when one participates in the dissemination of these stories.

Sometimes, Sufi masters do tell stories. However, the telling of stories plays, on the whole, a purely secondary or tertiary role relative to the primary task of realizing the presence of Divinity.

This occurs, God willing, when, among other things, the false self is induced to release its strangle hold on management rights and vacate the spiritual premises. Stories may assist in this process, but they are merely a means to a further end which is quite apart from stories per se.

Another confusion which seeps into people's consciousness in relation to mysticism concerns the issue of spiritual gifts. These gifts are loans from God.

Sometimes these gifts are in the form of various extraordinary powers. For example, among these powers are: healing; seeing the future; witnessing events hundreds and thousands of miles away; reading the Tablet of Fate, as well as writing new entries into that Tablet; breaking the norms or laws which usually govern nature; and telepathic communication (both sending and receiving).

There are certain people who hear about these sort of powers, and they begin to drool with desire to possess such abilities. They want to know where they can sign up.

What these people do not understand is the Sufi path, ultimately, is no more about powers than it is about stories. To be sure, God does grant, through spiritual gifts, one or more of the foregoing capabilities to certain individuals on the mystical path. Yet, these gifts are, in a sense, incidental to the essence of the mystical quest.

From the perspective of Sufi masters, one could have a whole treasure chest of extraordinary powers and be missing the point of why one steps onto the Sufi path in the first place. The goal is God.

Powers are not the object of the set of spiritual exercises which constitute the Sufi discipline or methodology. The object of these exercises is to neutralize the aspect of self which, among other things, desires anything other than: to know God, to love God, to worship God and to serve God.

Sometimes powers are bestowed on an individual in order to test that person. In effect, the individual is being challenged by Divinity. Which does the person want more: powers or the Beloved?

When the individual gets mesmerized and intoxicated with such powers, they lose their way on the mystical path. Powers, then, become an impenetrable veil between the person and her or his potential for fully realizing the presence of Divinity.

Human beings who get seduced by spiritual powers are cheating themselves. This is so because when the person becomes enamored by extraordinary powers, he or she is sacrificing intimacy with God for what amounts to very subtle ego gratification.

According to the practitioners of the Sufi path, true happiness, contentment, fulfillment, peace, satisfaction, identity and love can only be realized through spiritual intimacy with God. Powers are powerless to achieve any of this.

Powers, in and of themselves, cannot be used to rise higher spiritually. They have no capacity to do this. On the other hand, refraining from becoming entangled in the seductive allure which powers have for the ego, can help one, God willing, to make significant spiritual progress.

There are many practitioners of the Sufi path who, by the grace of God, have ready access to tremendous powers. However, they often do not utilize them.

Within certain limits, they have the capacity to change things significantly, but, for the most part, they do not. They more or less leave things as they are.

There is something very deep here to which we ought to give considerable reflection. Having powers, is not the panacea we might suppose it to be. There are other principles which constrain the use of powers and, therefore, transcend them in the scheme of things.

The bestowing of Divine gifts in the form of extraordinary powers is not always a spiritual trial. Some individuals are given such gifts as a tool to be used under certain circumstances in the service of God.

God, in a sense, delegates some degrees of discretional authority to some of the servants of Divinity. Just as God has granted various people different kinds of talents and intellectual capabilities in order to fulfil certain spiritual tasks, so, too, God gives some people special powers that permit the fulfillment of those kinds of spiritual tasks which require special abilities.

This means some servants of Divinity become loci of manifestation through which powers are released in order to permit the servant to be able to fulfil certain spiritual duties which have been assigned to her or him. For instance, in order for a shaykh to be able to assist a devotee, the teacher must have considerable insight into the spiritual capacity and circumstances of the individual's life.

Consequently, one of the powers given to the shaykh by God is the capacity to read the life of the devotee like an open book. Nothing the individual has done in the past, or is doing or thinking or feeling now, can be concealed from the shaykh's Divinely supported gaze.

On the basis of this kind of understanding, spiritual diseases are diagnosed and appropriate spiritual remedies are prescribed. God has given spiritual masters the special powers which are necessary for this healing work of the soul.

In addition to the foregoing remarks involving one of the legitimate uses of extraordinary powers, one also might consider the following comments. More specifically, sometimes a Sufi master will employ an aspect or dimension of such powers to help strengthen the faith and allay some of the doubts of an initiate of the path.

When an individual witnesses certain events which give expression to a spiritual power, the individual tends to be powerfully affected, if not nonplussed, by the occurrence. The ego is in a panic because it has just gone through something which pulls the rug out from beneath a whole set of assumptions about how things are supposed to operate.

The heart, on the other hand, is buoyed and intrigued by such an event. The heart has received some concrete confirmation which can be used in the struggle with the ego's disbelief and skepticism.

As a result, the initiate's faith becomes a little stronger. Some of the doubts begin to dissipate.

However, from the perspective of Sufi masters, there are many reasons a shaykh should not become indulgent in relation to this sort of spiritual disclosure. Among the most important of the reasons for restraint in this regard, concerns the adverse effects on faith that would occur if the initiate were, in the beginning, fed a steady diet of extraordinary events.

Faith grows through struggle and conflict with, among other things, doubt. If one takes this element of struggle away, as would be the case were an initiate exposed to constant spiritual disclosure, the quality of the faith is diminished and weakened.

A spiritual guide must strike a fine balance with respect to the extent of such spiritual disclosures, as well as their timing. The shaykh wants to lend the kind of assistance which will help the person through, say, some rough spots of the path. However, too much of this sort of support at the wrong time can prove injurious to the faith of the individual in the long run.

One should not be concerned about gifts from God. If one seeks God with a specificity of purpose which targets only the fullest realization of Divine presence in our lives for which we have the capacity, gifts will look after themselves.

A person who truly is in love does not spend time wondering what gifts the beloved will bring. All thoughts and anticipations concern only the presence of the beloved. To long for anything other than the beloved, is to bring into question the sincerity of one's love.

1 comment:

Sadiq said...

very important article this. i will link it in my blog, inshallah in a sufi post quick links.