Sufism -- The Inner Meaning of Faith
Talk by Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri
at the University of Texas at Austin
December 3, 1981
From the Nuradeen Magazine Vol. 2, No. 2 -- March/April 1982
In every aspect of this
life we are balanced between two opposites -- on the one hand to a
gross physical experience, on the other to an attribute which is
more subtle. We all fluctuate from one end to the other, for example
from the feeling of love to hate, from being awake to being asleep
-- the two realms of consciousness which we experience in this
existence. Life, then, hangs on these two opposites. From life we
are heading only towards death, whether we like it or not. The only
true statement we can make at all times is that we are dying. If we
are sane we do not like to say this because the echo of Reality, the
eternal on-goingness is within us. Reality is forever. It will go on
ad infinitum, in different forms or phases. It may be in the form of
absolute and utter peace -- another attribute of reality. We take
refuge from one extreme to another -- from cold to heat and from
poverty to wealth. We veer from the one extreme we have experienced
to its opposite. This going back and forth between the extremes is
the norm. It is a fact of life. As long as we are alive we are
hanging on air, inhaling it then exhaling it. We are stuck with this
situation as we are with all the opposites in this life.
The seeker is not
satisfied with the status quo. He is searching for an inward answer.
He asks why he is born if only to die at the end, and what is the
meaning of death? Is there another realm of consciousness, or is it
only sleep and wakefulness? How is it that we cannot remember the
womb, and what is the meaning of the tomb? Such are the important
questions that the heart of the true seeker asks.
People of heart question their direction in this existence. This
point of inner questioning usually comes about with a jolt, after
one has seen the futility of one's life encompassing only the narrow
circle of family, country, wife, job, etc. With this understanding
comes the conclusion that happiness and fulfillment do not really
arise from someone or something outside, but from within oneself.
This is where the question of iman (faith or trust) begins to
play its role, otherwise it would just be another useless dogma in a
superstitious world. When faith begins to occur, it is a cybernetic
process -- the more it is true faith the more it grows, and its
reward or result is more experiential faith.
The Sufi understands the
meaning of faith as trust in the total ecological balance of Reality
-- in absolute ecology and not just the particular local ecology
which is directly relevant to him. From the Sufi point of view the
whole world is one. One individual in any spot can influence the
entire world, though it may not be measurable. It is part of the
balance of the mercy of Reality that we are limited in our
sensitivity. If there was no limit, the limitless would be
meaningless. If there is no constraint, then there is not the
possibility of freedom from it. You cannot begin to taste life
unless you know death. The more you awaken to the fact that every
breath is taking you one breath closer to death, the more your zest
for life is heightened. Once the individual realizes the totality
and oneness of this ecology, then he sees that everything in
existence is interlinked and interdependent with both visible and
invisible forces and powers governing the universe.
Once this is understood,
the seeker can begin to pursue self-knowledge. It is all about the
inward balance of the questioner, and the answers that come about by
knowledge of balance in existence. The answer itself springs from
where the question came. There is no outside as such, for the
individual contains the totality within himself. It is for this
reason that the Sufi says,
'You are the
microcosm and the macrocosm'.
The two are unified within the individual if his individuality is
real and wholesome. When the inward is correct, the outward is bound
to reflect it. If the outward is put right, the result is bound to
affect the inward. One opposite leads to the other. The more we
understand a quality the more we are qualified to understand its
opposite. To achieve this end we need to want to experience the
realm of opposites.
Having realized the
ecological balance between the outward and the inward, the seeker
recognizes the benign nature of Reality. He also sees that sickness
is a blessing. It is only a period of rest for the body, at the end
of which the world will still be there and death will still be
drawing closer. If you love and respect yourself enough to reflect
upon the situation, you will see that you have no control over what
happens in this existence. You are like every other created being in
this existence, containing and emitting fears and anxieties, love
and hate, good and bad, etc., and yet the shape or style of these
attributes differ slightly. The base or essence is the same. We all
know the meaning of inner fire, and the meaning of the inner garden,
in which we dwell if we are singing for no discernable reason. If
there is a reason, then it is only a mood, and a mood passes. If,
however, you dwell upon what is genetically encoded in every created
being and surrender to it, then you will begin to see the beauty of
the symphony. You will even see the beauty of the truth behind the
most obnoxious act that man can commit -- war. From a point of view
of knowledge, you begin to see action and reaction. Greed in the
rich north resulting in poverty in the poor south is bound to cause
friction. When you begin to see the meaning behind it, you can go
closer to the cause of it, rather than spending a lifetime being an
activist against effects. Prevention is the cure, and this cure
comes about when awareness, pure and simple, of the overall
situation takes place.
Trust grows inwardly as the ignorance that caused confusion is
dispelled. This, in turn, nourishes further the source of knowledge
within one, so that the outward actions will not cause harm to
oneself or to others. Since charity starts at home, rest assured
that those who are causing others outward harm are already causing
themselves greater inward harm.
The spring fills the holes that are closest to it. Actions are the
result of the flow of the spring from intentions, through thoughts
and then into grossified actions. This process is a chain reaction
and there is no separation or gap between the various stages. It is
the hypocrite who says one thing and means another, portraying the
imbalance of his inward and outward situation. There is only one
power behind the entire creation:
'Allah is the
light in the heavens and the earth.'
The more you meditate
inwardly and the less your mental agitations, the more you can dive
towards inward and outward unity -- towards a universal, ecological
oneness whose separation is superficial.
Faith is the trust in
one's own ability, as time passes, to come to know. This is the
inward security of the man of faith. It is not blind faith, for that
is useless dogma. Iman implies trust that the Cause behind
the entire creation is a merciful and beneficent one, and that what
we perceive as death cannot be an end. There must be a balance or
relationship between what is in the heart and Reality. The fact that
we do not want to die is a mere echo of the One never-ending (al-Baqi).
In a Hadith Qudsi, Reality (Allah) describes the situation
'The Heavens and
Earth do not contain me, but the heart of a mu`min [one who
has iman] contains me.'
Knowledge has its root
within the heart of wholesome individuals, otherwise it is not
permanent. Information, on the other hand, is acquirable. It is not
inherent within the heart of man. The knowledge we are seeking is a
permanent kind, that is not bound by time and will not end with
death. Iman ends in the Absolute. Iman will bring one
to the source of knowledge. It is the gateway to knowing Allah, to
experiencing the mercy and reality of Allah.
We can only experience
life because we will experience death, and the former is dependent
on the latter. The latter is only meaningful because of the former.
The two are caused by One.
The word Sufi stems from
-- purity. The Sufi is in pure awareness, not awareness of some
thing. If you are aware of something then there must be two, not
One. Becoming aware is the beginning of awakening, of being subtle.
Pure awareness is for its own sake, by its own reality. The
mu`min believes the entire existence is based on a Divine
pattern that only unfolds to the extent of one's ability to move
with the unfolding. The science of the inward implies an opposite
direction to the knowledge of the outward. Each has its discipline
and courtesy. Mixing the two is ignorance. The pursuit of
self-knowledge is something that can only start when you begin, not
by the discussion of beginning. The key to this pursuit is in the
hands of the individual. The reward of this trust is itself, and it
is immediate. Action and reaction are immediate when you are talking
about something which is so subtle:
'Allah is fast in
Action and reaction are
equal and opposite, and one brings about the other. The more subtle
you get on the inward, the more the rewards of that awareness are
instantaneous. For example, we all suffer from anger because,
basically, we are all seeking peace, inward and outward. We are all
seekers of peace and yet we are in action and that is disturbance.
If we try to curb the anger within us, we end up with another effect
of it, such as an ulcer or a skin rash. We become angry when we
realize that our desires have not been achieved. The maximum anger
is suicide. It is against Reality.
If man kills himself he
has killed humanity, for there is only basically one humanity. That
is why from the Sufic point of view, if you have killed yourself you
have killed the entire creation.
If you disrupt the balance within, you must also have disrupted the
balance without, for the separation is only a subtle one. The Sufi
follows the rule which says:
'Tell me what the
man eats and where he lives and I will tell you who he is.'
You cannot pretend to be
tidy in the office and yet be untidy at home, for sooner or later
your characteristic and habit will show itself in its true light.
The extent of anger rising within one is a direct reflection of
expectation. You would not be angry if you had no expectations,
because you would be free inwardly. Nowadays in the world, we all
pretend to be outwardly free. This is the proof of our inward
slavery. If we are inwardly attached, or full of expectations and
desires, we try to make up for it outwardly. The more one of inner
faith moves towards awareness without expectations or desires, the
more one finds inward knowledge taking root. The more a person is
aware instantaneously of anger, the more chance there is for this
anger to subside automatically. The more you are aware inwardly, the
more you are connected inwardly.
'Those who are in
Iman remember Allah a great deal, sing his praise morning and
noon, for it is Allah Who blesses you.'
The Sufi lives trust.
The Sufi's intentions, actions and life reflect and echo it. If not,
then one is only pretending or attempting to live the pure life. The
application of Sufic science of the knowledge of Self (Nafs)
is its own reward. The more you progress along the path, the more
you are in greater self awareness. The result of applying this
science of knowledge is recognizing the oneness of Truth from which
one is never separate.
You cannot tune in to
the Rahman (the Merciful) unless you recognize and suffer
Shaytan, for this life and its taste hinges on duality. From
unhappiness we veer towards happiness by avoiding what caused us
unhappiness. From illness we go to well-being, and from ignorance to
knowledge. Each of us writes his own biography. When occasionally we
suffer, it is nobody's fault. It is simply ignorance -- jahal
(darkness) -- resulting from expectations.
Once you can see the
situation in its reality you have become a great deal more subtle
and can move swiftly along that same path as the system feeds upon
itself. This path is easier if you keep the company of other sincere
seekers, other Sufis who are regaining their inner purity. The more
you are inwardly in Iman, the more outwardly you are with
people of the same orientation. Such people trust that everything is
in perfect harmony and balance. When you then observe the condition
of the whole world, you will see the wisdom of it outwardly, and the
beauty and meaning of it inwardly -- inward beauty, outward majesty.
Iman is the door
to Reality, and the correct path is the key to that door. The source
of this knowledge is within you, and if you do not move along the
path of recognizing the Cause within you, then you are frittering
life away, and the meaning of Iman is lost. The purpose of
this existence is to recognize the way out of inner bondage. For
inner freedom we have to apply outer discipline. You cannot enjoy
the spontaneous taste of inner freedom unless you have been under
the tyranny of your own vulgar expectations and desires. You must
have suffered and now be willing to harness the Nafs.
Along the path of Sufi
self-knowledge, faith is its own reward. It is the reward of the
path. of the eternal song, the book of knowledge, that is imprinted
in every gene, giving us all the same potential which can be
realized according to the degree of our individual inner
abandonment. The more you are attached to something, the more you
are as good as that to which you are attached. The Iman we
have tried to describe here is a positive, live-able, usable, and
dynamic force that brings about its own reward. Life is a great
blessing from Allah. There is only Allah. Total trust in Reality can
only result in a closer understanding of the nature of that Reality
from which no one is ever separate. Diversity only appears by the
grace of that One Cause. May Allah guide us along the path of
submission and surrender, and drown us in the ocean of eternal