SUFI Journal of Mystical Philosophy and Practice

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From SUFI Issue 86
Spiritual Yearning
By Alireza Nurbakhsh

SUFI’s 2014 winter issue explores timeless Sufi teachings about the mystical world view as passed on over centuries by masters of the path. Alireza Nurbakhsh, current master of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order, offers an intriguing discourse on spiritual yearning (talab), a state of yearning for the truth that drives an individual toward self-discovery and spiritual perfection. He emphasizes that this yearning is a gift from God and not voluntary – one is struck by this state as he or she realizes his or her spiritual shortcomings, and becomes driven to travel the spiritual path. Gaining insight into our individual qualities, positive and negative, plays a role in how we feel and act toward others, and is a pre-prerequisite for being granted the state of talab. In contrast to our pursuit of material comfort, “The real fulfillment in life…lies in talab because it is only through the state of yearning that we can find lasting rest and peace.”

Explore more about this paradoxical Sufi teaching and read the full discourse from the SUFI archive, now available free to anyone. Subscribe to SUFI to enjoy the full array of articles, stories, poetry and more in each issue.

Artwork© John Teti

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This issue of Sufi explores several aspects of the Unity of Being. In a discourse on this concept, Dr Alireza Nurbakhsh stresses the crucial role of love as both the evidence for its reality, through our capacity to love all of creation, and also as the means of actualizing it, through love of another. A visual representation of unity among human beings is powerfully projected by John Novis’s photo-essay on the Kumbh Mela festival in India, where he could not stop “marveling how 70 million people can come in faith, celebrate together and leave with joy….proof that humans are intrinsically communal, good and kind to each other by nature.”

In his article ‘Redeemed by fire through fire’ Michael Sivori presents a highly nuanced and sensitive analysis of spiritual bypassing, a very common but little discussed coping method among spiritual seekers. In the course of his compassionate exploration of the reasons for it and the best ways of understanding it with empathy, he critiques the mind-body dualism that underlies much of the recent popularity of mindfulness, and underlines the challenges of dealing with one’s self-ideal. One is reminded that “identifying with a spiritual concept doesn’t make us spiritual,” an all too common pitfall with the concept of the Unity of Being in particular.

The interview in this issue focuses on the relationship between holistic medicine and spirituality, with the former being the medical approach of choice for an increasing number of spiritual seekers. In a profoundly moving conversation with EzDean Fassasi, renowned chiropractor Dr Alan Sherr discusses the importance for his own practice of facilitating flow in the body, and explains why the belief in “something greater than oneself” is all-important as the foundation before the tools of holistic medicine bring about mental and physical recovery.

This issue also ventures innovatively into the world of gaming, with Marco A. Piana’s intriguing reading of ‘The legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’ as a spiritual odyssey heavily based on Shinto traditions. A parable by Paul W. Jacob included in this issue also illustrates many aspects of the Unity of Being, including most memorably the inability of causing it to be actualized oneself without the prerequisite Higher Grace. This issue also presents to you poems which we hope will inspire you further in understanding these themes, each of which is recited by its author.

Unity of Being
by Alireza Nurbakhsh

This is a subject that I have been thinking about since my adolescence — unity of being or the oneness of being. My father [the previous Master of the Nimatullahi Order] gave a speech some time ago, illustrating this concept with the analogy of water and the many forms it can take. An individual bubble, drop, or wave — or an ocean where there is only one reality. It is all water, but appears in many forms. He said two things about unity of being in that speech: One is that it’s not a philosophical point that one can establish by argument, and the other is that it’s an experiential truth, meaning one needs to experience the unity of being to understand.

The principle of unity of being means there’s only one being, and that everything is a manifestation of this one. The whole of existence is an emanation of one single entity. Historically you can find the doctrine of unity of being first presented by the Greek philosopher Parmenides in 400 BC. He talks about oneness of existence in the quote, “What exists is uncreated and imperishable for it is whole and unchanging and complete.” Plotinus, another Greek philosopher, who died in 270 AD, alludes to the same thing. “If a man could only be turned about, he would see at once God and himself and the All. It is in virtue of unity that beings are beings.” And of course, the great Islamic philosopher Ibn Arabi also talks about the unity of being. “If you hold to multiplicity, you are with the world; and if you hold to the Unity, you are with the Truth” and “When the mysterious unity between the soul and the Divine becomes clear, you will realize that you are none other than God.”

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Maha Kumbh Mela
Photo Essay by John Novis

The Kumbh Mela has been Hindu Dharma’s most prominent tradition since time immemorial. The 42-day Kumbh Mela 2001 was held in Allahabad, India, starting on January 9th and ending on February 21st. The festival attracted no less than 70 million people throughout the duration of the festival period, making it the largest gathering of human beings ever gathered for an event in recorded history. On January 24, the Mauni Amavasya (no moon) day over 15 million people are said to have bathed in the Ganges at Allahabad. The name Kumbh is derived from the immortal pot of nectar which the angels and the demons fought over as described in ancient Vedic scriptures known as the Puranas. Mela is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘gathering’ or ‘to meet’. In the year 2000, I was in India on business and happened to mention to an Indian colleague I was owed a sabbatical the next year by the company I worked for. Almost instantly he said, ‘Visit the Kumbh Mela’. The sabbatical was 3 months long, and, after careful research, I decided to go. The festival visit would fit into a bigger project I planned, documenting different religions and customs in the sub-continent. I decided to take one camera body, one 28mm lens and only shoot black and white film. I was very aware of people remarking how colorful India was but felt color can also act as an ‘untruthful’ layer. By shooting black and white I wanted to get down to the bare bones and show the ‘soul’ of India.

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Praying I will Find
Video Poem spoken by Mark Nepo

I used to have so many plans, good plans,
grand plans. In the beginning, I would be
annoyed by the calamities I’d meet along
the way that would keep me from my plans.

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Holistic Medicine and Spirituality
Interview with Dr. Alan Sherr

In this issue’s interview for Sufi, EzDean Fassassi, a practitioner of Traditional Tibetan Medicine, is in conversation with Dr. Alan Sherr, renowned Chiropractor and the Director of the Northport Wellness Center in Long Island, New York, to explore the relationship between holistic medicine and spirituality.

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Slider Photos/Artwork: Cover ©Jon Kolkin

Posts Photos/Artwork: ©John Novis ©Mark Nepo © © ©