Ebrahim al-Khauwas and the monk

Once I heard that in Byzantium there was a monk who had been living for seventy years in a monastery in the state of celibacy.

“Amazing!” I exclaimed. “Forty years is the qualification for being a monk.”

So I set forth to call on him. When I came near he opened a little wicket.

“Ebrahim, why have you come?” he enquired. “I am not seated here as a celibate. I have a dog which falls upon people. Now I am seated here keeping watch over the dog and preventing it from doing mischief to people. But for that, I am not what you supposed.”

“O God,” I exclaimed on hearing this answer, “Thou art able to guide Thy servant aright even when he is in very error!”

“Ebrahim,” the monk said to me, “how long will you search for men? Search for yourself, and when you have found yourself, sit in watch over yourself. For every day this wayward desire puts on three hundred and sixty various guises of divinity and invites a man to error.”

From “Muslim Saints and Mystics”

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The nafs is engaged in adorning itself

The nafs is engaged in adorning itself in a way that pleases people, regardless of the fact that it may displease God.

The nafs is persistently obsessed with presenting itself in such a way as to prompt the good opinion of people, regardless of whether God may disapprove. The result of these actions is the increase of possessions and pride therein, as well as arrogance, self-importance and contempt. It avoids or ignores whatever people disapprove of, even though God may be pleased with these things, for instance, spiritual poverty, neediness and helplessness. This attribute can be removed from the nafs only through awareness of one’s own contemptibility.

However much the nafs makes a show of virtue and attempts to conceal vice, the latter will be hidden only from the shortsighted and the naive, never from those with insight. It is like a hideous old hag who bedecks herself in fancy, dazzling clothes in order to display her finery to children who think the beauty they see is truly hers, whereas those who are mature and aware are made only the more contemptuous.

Excerpt From: Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh. “The Psychology of Sufism (Del wa Nafs).”

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Anecdote of Ma‘ruf Al-Karkhi

One day Ma‘ruf was walking along with a group of his followers when a gang of youths came that way. They behaved outrageously all the way to the Tigris.

“Master,” Ma‘ruf’s companions entreated him, “pray to Almighty God to drown them all, that the world may be rid of their foul presence.”

“Lift up your hands,” Ma‘ruf bade them. Then he prayed.

“O God, as Thou hast given them a happy life in this world, even so grant them a happy life in the world to come.”

“Master, we know not the secret of this prayer,” said his companions in astonishment.

“He with whom I am speaking knows the secret,” Ma‘ruf replied. “Wait a moment. Even now this secret will be revealed.”

When the youths beheld the shaikh, they broke their lutes and poured away the wine they were drinking. Trembling overcame them, and they fell before the shaikh and repented.

“You see,” Ma‘ruf remarked to his companions. “Your desire has been fulfilled completely, without drowning and without anyone suffering.”

From: Muslim Saints and Mystics

Episodes from the Tadhkirat al-Auliya’ (Memorial of the Saints) by Farid al-Din Attar

Translated by A. J. Arberry

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Jesus Running Away from the Fool

Jesus once ran to a mountain
As if a lion was after his blood.
Someone followed him, saying, “It’s okay!
There’s no one chasing! Why flee like a bird?”
Jesus kept running away, and,
Due to his haste, gave no reply.
The man pursued Jesus a while longer,
Then earnestly called out to him:
“For God’s sake, stop for a moment,
As I am finding it difficult to cope with your flight!
O Generous one! From whom are you running in
that direction?
There’s no lion in pursuit, no cause of fear or adversity.”
Jesus answered, “I’m fleeing a fool – begone!
I’m saving myself, so don’t attempt to stop me!”
The man said, “Are you not the Messiah
By whom the deaf and blind are healed?”
“Jesus said, “Yes.” The man said. “Are you not that king
Who possesses the spells of the Unseen,
Which, when you chant them over a dead man
He jumps up alive like a lion on top of prey?”
Jesus said, “Yes, that’s me.” He said, “Don’t you create
Birds from clay too, O handsome one,
Such that with your breath they acquire spirit
And begin to fly in the air?”
Jesus said, “Yes.” The man said, “In that case,
Holy Spirit,
You can do whatever you want, so whom do you fear?
With the evidence of sanctity that you have,
Who would not want to be your slave?”
Jesus explained, “By God’s Holy Essence,
The Maker of the body, the Creator of the soul
in advance,
By the sanctity of His Holy Essence and Attributes,
The One whom the heavens are madly in love with,
I chanted that spell and His Greatest Name
Over the deaf and blind effectively,
And over the mountain, making it split apart
And tear its cloak down to its navel;
“Then, I chanted it over a corpse and it became alive,
And over a non-existent, making it become existent.
Then, I chanted it lovingly over the heart of a fool
A hundred thousand times, but it would not help him;
He turned to stone and would not change back –
He became ground from which nothing can grow.”
The man asked, “What can possibly explain
Why God’s name had no effect on him?
This was an ailment like all the others,
So why could it cure those but not this one?”
Jesus answered, “The ailment of stupidity is
God’s wrath;
Blindness and such are not wrath, but afflictions
And afflictions are sufferings that draw mercy.
Stupidity is a suffering that draws only blows.
God has sealed what has been branded on the fool
So no one can cure him at all.”
Run away from fools as Jesus did;
The company of fools has caused much bloodshed.
(Rumi, Mathnawi, Book 3, vv. 2570-99)

Excerpt From: Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh. “Jesus in the Eyes of the Sufis.”

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Role of the Intellect

“When Nuri was asked, “What is the guide to God?”, he replied, “God.” “Then what is the role of the intellect?” they asked. “The intellect is impotent,” he replied, “and that which is impotent can show the way only to that which is impotent like itself.”(Kalābādhi : at-Ta’arrof – 155)”
Excerpt From: Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh. “Sufi Symbolism” Khaniqahi-Nimatullahi 

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The Two Principal Messages of Sufism

The school of Sufism has two principal messages, and whatever has been said concerning the rules and manners of Sufism is secondary when compared to these two.

The first message is psychological and heart-related: that Sufis must confirm, seek and see only the Absolute Being and not think about anything else.

The second, which is derived from the first, is social and ethical: that Sufis must exemplify the highest humanitarian and ethical values.

In the first place, these messages instruct people to be noble human beings and to respect, love and serve God’s creation. Second, by focusing on the existence of the unity of all creation, these messages instill in people the method of looking solely in one direction and seeing everything as One. Thus, Sufism is a school of unity and ethical purification which, regardless of race and culture, can be applied to all human beings equally.

It should be noted, however, that merely by registering in the school of Sufism and participating in the Sufis’ gatherings, a person does not become a Sufi. Rather, one has to strive to succeed in the practice of Sufism, namely, to be purified[…]”

Excerpt From: Dr Javad Nurbakhsh. “Discourses on the Sufi Path”

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God’s Wrath

“Jesus was asked: “O Spirit of God, what is the hardest thing to endure in this world and the next?”

He answered: “God’s wrath.”
They asked: “How can one avoid that?”
He said: “Curb your anger and control your temper!”
(Rumi, Fihi ma fih, p. 233)”

Excerpt From: Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh. “Jesus in the Eyes of the Sufis.”

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