Sufism -- The Inner Meaning of Faith
Talk by Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri
at the University of Texas at Austin
December 3, 1981


From: Nuradeen Magazine

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 as:

'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 'Saffa' -- 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 the account.'

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 Oneness. Amin.