Tag: Sufi


For the Sufis the experience of the sacred can happen anywhere, at any time. Given the conjunction of spacetime in contemporary physics, this statement in Alireza Nurbakhsh’s discourse may be reassuring. The sacred is available, but it is also (and not just etymologically) “set apart”—not intrinsically, but because people usually do not perceive it, or do not know that they are in it. What all the authors in this issue of Sufi find is that it takes at least one of the five physical senses of the human body, in combination with a consciousness devoted to service to others, to detect and create sacred space.

Kim Lisson’s interview with Nyoongar Aboriginal Elders reveals the need to feel with the whole body and a whole history of stories and connections. Then perception shows the routes that lead to a person’s experience of a specific sacredness in specific places. The locations where this issue’s articles happen: Istanbul, England, Pakistan, Japan, Australia, New York, Oregon, the place of poetry, and the mother of them all, the space of the heart—are already sacred space. As Mark Nepo says, though, frequently we need another person or community to remind us of all this. When the going gets tough, the tough ask for help. Friends, teachers, ancestors, saints living and dead, will answer the call. Then we can remember to stop, look, listen, touch, smell, and taste Nature, the sacred space we already inhabit. How can that happen? According to 2014 United Nations figures, more than half (54%) of the people on Earth are stuck in cities. But our authors remind us that under the cities is pure planet, and anyone who has been to town knows that tiny leaves push up through cracks in the man-made. Like it or not, with then senses alive as we can feel them, it’s time to hit the road, or we won’t find the sacred space we can’t get away from anyway: “I set out on the journey to see my beloved; the wind carrying her scent reached me first and I passed out.” We took our first breath of sacred space before we knew it.

—The Editors of SUFI




There are times when we find ourselves shrinking from life, from beauty, from the truth. From the story of love unfolding all around us, and within ourselves. It often happens in the moments where we allow the mind to transport us; when we allow the material world and language to determine the limits of our understanding and experience. As Mark Nepo describes, these tendencies can construct a prison of our own making, within which only sorrow and sadness grows.

This issue of SUFI explores the different effects of this retreat, and the routes we can take to return to presence.

The experience of beauty, writes Alireza Nurbakhsh, has the potential to cultivate divine love. Navigating the delicate line between worldly desire and divine inspiration in interpreting our experience of beauty, says Nurbakhsh, can be aided by the spiritual community and the guidance of a master. David Godman further expands on the importance of a guru. Sharing insights from his many years in Arunachala, India, he reflects on the importance of a guru not only for receiving verbal guidance, but also for “direct transmission”—quietening the mind and accelerating the process of awakening— most powerfully in silence. Yet is it precisely this silence which can frighten us most. In “Unoccupied Prayer” and Divine Love, Mary Gossy observes that “Doing nothing is not for the faint of heart.” It is in silence and complete surrender to God that the impasse of logic and over-thinking is overcome. By surrendering to “whatever breath of grace there is that moves the foot to take a step into empty air,” we can begin to walk a path beyond the limits of what the mind thinks is possible. Indeed, beyond words.

It is after this leap of faith that the heart and the mind can work together.  In his reflection on Rumi’s life and work, Jawid Mojaddedi unpacks the paradox of Rumi’s intellectual rigor and scholarly knowledge being both an impediment to spiritual insight, and also a powerful medium through which to communicate the importance of seeing the mind as a servant of the heart. Tech entrepreneur Nipun Mehta takes us one step further: from mind and heart to action. He shares his vision for change through service and how, by combining the head, heart and hands in everyday acts of kindness, we unlock the power to transform ourselves and the world. It is in the doing that we can become the “instrument of a larger flow,” find release from the anxieties of our ego, and become part of a collective consciousness that becomes community, generosity, equality and compassionate models of leadership— all shifting the cultural narrative from transaction to transformation. We hope you enjoy reading. We’re also releasing monthly doses of Sufi poems and music via our newsletter.

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Interviewed by Safoura Nourbakhsh

This is what Mehri joon says about herself and her involvement with Sufism: I loved reading monajats [devotional prayers] and fasting when I was younger. At dawn, during the month of Ramadan, I loved to listen to monajats. Our neighbor had a radio and I would go to the yard and listen in. When I got older I fell in love with Hafez first and then Rumi. I also fell in love with my high school lit teacher because nothing spoke to me like poetry. Then when I was older I thought I was in love with Imam Ali. I thought he was a perfect human being, but later I was not sure. How could one love anyone more than God?

Then, I had this life-changing experience as a young married woman. My first child was a year and a half old. I was wrongfully accused by my husband and his family of something I had not done and which was so removed from my character. I remember I was so crushed because, before this happened, I could swear by my husband. I believed in him, I trusted him. But then when this happened, I understood that I cannot put my trust in any human being. I turned to God completely and called on him genuinely and said “I only want you and no one else.” So what happened made that detachment possible for me.

Was the master accessible to you? Was it easy to see him? I mean the environment was very masculine and he sat in the men’s jamkhaneh. Did you feel that as a woman you were excluded in some ways? Yes, always; I always envied the men. I envied their physical proximity to the master. They could see him all the time.

Did other people in the community also object to your ways? Did they also see you as a radical woman breaking traditions? Yes, from the beginning I would give my poetry to the master and he would give the singers my poetry to sing and recite for the gatherings. Some men would always make fun of me and my poetry afterwards. Most of my poetry was love poetry and to them a woman had no business writing love poems. Sometimes I would also doubt my own feelings and question myself. Perhaps I was suffering from some kind of lack or deprivation that I was so attached or in love with my master. But after examining myself carefully I would come to the conclusion that this love is the love I was seeking all my life, a love that consumes you without any expectations. I wanted to experience that love, and I had finally.




by Sholeh Johnston

“I am what I am because of who we are.”

This proverb from the Nguni people of South Africa describes the essence of Ubuntu, a word literally translated as “humanity.” It is an African philosophy that believes humanity to be an interconnected, universal bond. According to Ubuntu, fulfillment is achieved in behaving kindly towards others and acting in the best interests of the community, not the individual. Ubuntu was at the heart of the fight to end apartheid, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that followed, and Nelson Mandela’s bold constitution for the new South African’s state in 1994. Speaking at Mandela’s memorial service, Barak Obama said, “Ubuntu… captures Mandela’s greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.”

Time is fluid here compared to Europe. Eventually, Madala Kunene, an elderly guitarist and godfather of South African indigenous blues music, takes his seat on the grassy stage and begins to play. After each line he sings, the black audience members answer his call and sing his lyrics back to him. It drives a meditative melody that gathers pace and intensity as the audience and singer pass words, emotion and the history of this tradition back and forth over the stream that separates the stage from the audience. His song is only complete when they participate. Every line of song he ends brings their voices into existence. The song is not his alone, he is a facilitator for collective expression.

While the different expressions of collective humanity that I encountered in South Africa were distinct and diverse, a common thread ran through all of them: a belief in togetherness, collectivism, generosity and a shared notion of humanity. Ubuntu is more than a South African cultural experience: it mirrors so many other notions of a common humanity in cultures around the world, not least the Sufi concept of wahdat al-wujud, “unity of being.” In the call and response of Kunene’s song, I recognized a stir in the heart. A familiarity. A desire to participate, to be one; a reminder of the power of art to unlock our capacity not only to understand Ubuntu intellectually, but to sense its truth in our deepest selves.



93 Sufism Within A Worldview Transformed by Science

by Mary Coelho

The Sufi mystics have left us many remarkable statements that seem impossible to believe in the contemporary mechanistic Western context. Ibn Arabi wrote in the voice of the beloved “I am nearer to you than yourself.” From the writings of Al-Hallaj we find “Between me and You, there is only me. Take away the me, so only You remain.”

These words are easily discredited and disregarded in our Western world in which mechanistic sciences have too often claimed full explanatory power of the nature of our world, thus discounting the possibility of dimensions of the world not accessible to that mode of knowing. As a consequence, these words just quoted are foreign to many people, as a sense of the sacred has been lost in much of the West. We have constructed a disenchanted, technological culture for ourselves that is a costly prison.

Sufism With a Worldview Transformed by Science Notes



92 Editors’ Note


Issue 92, Winter 2017

This issue of SUFI brings the reader right up against what is uncomfortable. Forget about politics: let’s talk about the weather. Too hot in cold months, too dry in wet ones, ferocious when it should be bleating like a lamb.

Alireza Nurbakhsh, current Master of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order, describes the planetary climate, and then the spiritual one. He finds that excessive consumption—of goods, people, ideas—probably anything—is one of the causes of deadly changes in our environment. This is not necessarily a surprise, but the cure he prescribes for the problem is. Contentment, “a state wherein one is happy with who he or she is and what he or she possesses,” is the antidote, and what makes contentment possible, he clearly shows, is unconditional loving-kindness, a broken-open love that asks for nothing in return, and sees the Beloved right in front of it at every moment.

Mark Nepo advocates an unflagging and faithful “devotion of attention” to the one moment in front of you as part of the path leading to the love and truth in our hearts, broken open and blooming like window box geraniums when we least expect it.

Marilie Coetsee shows how the medieval Sufi thinker al-Ghazali discusses an experiential knowledge similar to the contentment that can only be acquired through engagement in loving kindness. In this case the special knowledge is acquired through the medium of emotions specifically and is unattainable through the intellect alone, demonstrating that “the heart has its reasons” in a new and profound light.

Edwin Bryant, interviewed by Komal Majmundar and Jawid Mojaddedi, shows that a muscular approach to spirituality is not always the most direct path, although it can certainly be one of them. He discusses the differences among bhakti yoga and other branches of yoga, grounding his remarks in Patajali’s definition that “yoga is the stilling of all fluctuations of thought.” Stop for a second, pay attention, love is arising, in all its forms.

Scenes as disparate as a pristine Quaker meeting house in Vermont and a center for sex workers, addicts, and other desperate youth in New York City, the first in J. Brent Bill’s article on silence, the second in Safoura Nourbakhsh’s interview with Adam Bucko, co-founder of The Reciprocity Foundation, find that deep listening and contemplative silence are the core of loving and transformative action on behalf of others.

In every contribution in this issue of SUFI, readers will find that what we most need is not for sale. Grace is freely given, but we do not dictate the terms of delivery. Love, in its rhythms heard and unstruck, is there when we quiet down and let go of everything else.

—The Editors of SUFI


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Archives 88 – Editors’ Note

Editors’ Note88 FrontCover-cropped

In a time when attachment to the world and its wealth seems to many to be out of reasonable control, Winter Issue #88 SUFI explores the many facets of the act of