All Middle Eastern and European esoteric traditions, including the Sufis, trace their origins back through the Greek Gnostics, the Egyptian Mystery Schools and Abraham 'the Mesopotamian', to the Zoroastrian Mages 8000 years in the past.
3 Forms of Knowledge
Spanish philosopher Dr. Maximus (Shaykh Ibn al-Arabi) (b. 1165 Valencia - d. 1240, Damascus). There are three forms of knowledge. The first is intellectual knowledge, which is only information and the collection of facts, and the use of these to arrive at further intellectual concepts. This is intellectualism.
Second comes the knowledge of states, which included both emotional feeling and strange states of being in which man thinks that he has perceived something supreme but cannot avail himself of it. This is emotionalism.
Third comes real knowledge, which is called the Knowledge of Reality. In this form, man can perceive what is right, what is true, beyond the boundaries of thought and sense. Scholastics and scientists concentrate upon the first form of knowledge. Emotionalists and experientialists use the second form. Others use the two combined, or either one alternatively. But the people who attain to truth are those who know how to connect themselves with the reality which lies beyond both these forms of knowledge. These are the real Sufis, the Gnostics
who have Attained.
Shaykh Abil Abbas Ahmed Tijani says, "Oh Seeker on the Path to Perfection, Oh the One who yearns for Divine Love and Divine Presence, know that this Path has three stations; Submission (Islam), Faith (Iman) and Perfect Adoration (Ihsan). Submission is the worship of God, Faith is turning towards God and Perfect Adoration is the contemplation of God. These three stations represent the various degrees of our pursuit on the Path to the Divine, and which correspond to the Sacred Laws (Sharia), the Path (Tariqa) and the Truth (Haqiqa). Knowledge is the result of these three stations because whoever achieves Truth surely arrives at the Divine, and he is called Gnostic ('Arif billah). On this Path, the 1st category of people includes those who remain satisfied with the first station (first initiation) and think that it is the only one that exists, thus they are called the adepts of the exoteric dimension (Ahl Dhahir). The second category includes those who reached the 2nd station (second initiation) and thus combine the practice of the Sacred laws (Sharia) and that of the Path (Tariqa), they are called Sufis. The third category includes those who reach the 3rd station (third initiation) after completing the first two, they are called Gnostics (al-Arifin)."
The Sufis, through secrecy and in spite of persecution from the outer religions, preserved for 500 years the inner teaching, until a remarkable but hidden influence appeared in 12th. Century Europe with the purpose of regenerating the forces behind the Christian, Muslim and Jewish religions. This influence specifically initiated the formation of the Rosecrucians in Europe. Under this same hidden influence, the Sufi tradition flourished in the 12th. and 13th. Centuries producing the great writer teachers: Jelaludin Rumi of Afghanistan, 1207 to 1273, (wrote "Couplets of Inner Meaning"); Attar of Nishapur, 11?? to 1229?, (wrote over 100 books including "Parliament of the Birds"); and Hakim Sanai of Afghanistan, 1069 to 11?? (wrote "The Walled Garden of Truth"). Also notable were Al Ghazali, 1058 to 1111, (wrote on psychology and philosophy including "The Niche for Lights"); Bahauddin Naqshband 13?? to 1389, (founder of the Naqshbandi Sufis); while the teachings of Dr Maximus (Ibn el Arabi, 1165 to 1240) of Spain infused the Christian and Hebrew teachings prevailing in Western Europe.
Freedom from Religion
Typically those Sufi teachers operating in areas where Islam was strong, necessarily taught strictly within that religious context. Whenever geographical or sociological conditions allowed (such as in India - Sai baba of Shirdi was a Sufi), they shook off the outer trappings of religion and taught directly. Though many Sufis are unable to free themselves in this way and persist in demanding the connection with the Muslim religion, this is just a product of their attachments and only serves as an unnecessary constraint to themselves and all who train under them. It will hold them back when they approach the higher levels of inner refinement.
Zikhr, 'to remember' is the central method of Sufism. Externally it is practised as remembrance of God through silent or group chanting. Internally it is practised as 'Self Remembering', a strong awareness that issues from the Deep Mind (not to be confused with the relatively superficial awareness that appears when all thoughts subside), centred on the heart and directed towards the Beyond (Divine). This practice is supported by restraint of the body's desires. The aim of the practice is the complete destruction of the personal self or ego, allowing a merging with the Divine.
Every teaching talks of Love, the Sufis more than most. Sufi Shaikhs contribute to and can draw on an energy field called 'the Sufi pool of love'. But the superficial concept of love as understood in normal life is far from what is meant. When the Minds are stimulated to act from below - the outer world - the motive, however hidden, is self-centred. When stimulated from above - the Spirit - the action is motivated by universal concern for the evolution of consciousness in all forms, which is Love.
Because the deep emotional world is the centre of a persons inner life (between the etheric and the deep mental) Sufi concentration is centred on the Heart. There are 5 points of concentration in the chest of which the first is the tip of the physical heart - 4 fingerwidths under the left nipple. By concentrating on this point within themselves with the intention of connecting to the same point within their student, the sufi teacher is able to enter the inner-world of the student's Soul, experience the strengths and weaknesses, then give individual advice as to the inner-work that student needs in order to proceed on the path. While there is a formal procedure most teachers use for establishing this contact, at a later stage for the more advanced teachers it is accomplished, even at a distance, by a simple effort of directed will.
Seeking a Guide
Gnostic Shaykh Tijani al-Hassani (1735-1815) (may he be Divinely blessed) said in the Jawahir after he described the nature of the Contemporary Sufi Guide, how one should seek and how to behave towards the Guide once found.
"As for how to discover and find the guide whose nature we described then the answer is that such guides are plenty and most will be in major cities as it is their residence. As for discovering and knowing so one can be connected to them then that is more arduous than finding Red Sulphur. The reason is that they have mixed and confused their image within the general public and they repel and send away anyone who may inquire about them and swear an oath that they have nothing of what the seeker is searching for. The purpose that necessitates them to act this way is because of the worldwide corruption of the universal system which occurred by the will of the Most High and Mighty, a will that nothing else can appose - and it is that each person only strives for his own vain-desires and needs turning away from the Divine Presence and what it dictates from devotion, rights and manners, in today's world. Generally, a person would not seek the saints (awliya) except for corrupt purposes ranging from wanting to enjoy this world and its pleasures, desires, be rescued from ordeals and hardships during which they insist on living in greatly sinful deeds leading to disastrous situations, sins so obscene their results would be no other than ending up in hell, they do not exit this sphere nor return to enter the Divine Presence.
So as these saints (awliya) and gnostics ('arifin) have known this situation that befits most people they veiled their selves and expelled people away from them in every way and manner The wilderness and far away lands would be proper for these saints to live in because of this situation however it is the divine desire that imposed on them that they stay in the cities and amongst people for certain purposes the Almighty wanted of them and decreed and nothing stands in the way of what the Divine decrees. Their situation is that they can not break away from being with people and go to the wilderness because of this Divine Decree nor can they find a way to reform people and turn them back to the Divine Presence. So they are like someone who has been made to stay with a group of foolish people who stone him. However they have to be patient and carry on living amongst them. That is why they are in pain and suffering and veiled themselves and expelled people in all possible ways."
According to Sufi tradition, the invisible hierarchy of spiritual authority consists of the 40 "abdal" (substitutes; for when any of them dies another is elected from the rank and file of the saints), seven "awtad" (supports), three "nuqaba'" (leaders), headed by the "Qutb" (axis, pole) along with three "mafatih al-kunuz"
(3 keys of the treasures), and "afrad"(supreme ones or angels) that may exist. The Qutb is sometimes used as a synonym for the "Ghawt" (Nurturer), "al-Qutb al-Jami'a" (the Gathering Pole), or "Qutb al-Aqtab" (Pole of Poles).
Shaykh Tijani al-Hassani said, "The Divine Presence has revealed: There is no one among humankind, who could possibly attain to the true devotion of the Pole of Poles. He is the most excellent of all people in each era, apart from the
"3 keys of the treasures", for the Pole is superior to the
"3 keys of the treasures" in some respects, and they are superior to the Pole in some respects."