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THE PATH- Part 1

MYSTICS of every race and creed have described the progress of the spiritual life as a Journey or a pilgrimage. Other symbols have been used for the same purpose, but this one appears to be almost universal in its range. The Sufi who sets out to seek God calls himself a 'traveller' (salik); he advances by slow 'stages' (maqamat) along a 'path' (tariqat) to the goal of union with Reality (fana fi ’l-Haqq). Should he venture to make a map of this interior ascent, it will not correspond exactly with any of those made by previous explorers. Such maps or scales of perfection were elaborated by Sufi teachers at an early period, and the unlucky Moslem habit of systematising has produced an enormous aftercrop. The 'path' expounded by the author of the Kitab al-Luma‘, perhaps the oldest comprehensive treatise on Sufism that we now possess, consists of the following seven 'stages', each of which (except the first member of the series) is the result of the 'stages' immediately

preceding it--(l) Repentance, (2) abstinence, (3) renunciation, (4) poverty, (5) patience, (6) trust in God, (7) satisfaction. The 'stages' constitute the ascetic and ethical discipline of the Sufi, and must be carefully distinguished from the so-called 'states' (ahwal, plural of hal), which form a similar psychological chain. The writer whom I have just quoted enumerates ten 'states'--Meditation, nearness to God, love, fear, hope, longing, intimacy, tranquillity, contemplation, and certainty. While the 'stages' can be acquired and mastered by one's own efforts, the 'states' are spiritual feelings and dispositions over which a man has no control:
"They descend from God into his heart, without his being able to repel them when they come or to retain them when they go."

The Sufi's 'path' is not finished until he has traversed all the 'stages,' making himself perfect in every one of them before advancing to the next, and has also experienced whatever 'states' it pleases God to bestow upon him. Then, and only then, is he permanently raised to the higher planes of consciousness which Sufis call 'the Gnosis' (ma‘rifat) and 'the Truth' (haqiqat), where the 'seeker' (talib) becomes the 'knower' or 'gnostic' (‘arif), and realises that knowledge, knower, and known are One.

Having sketched, as briefly as possible, the external framework of the method by which the Sufi approaches his goal, I shall now try to give some account of its inner workings. The present chapter deals with the first portion of the threefold journey--the Path, the Gnosis, and the Truth--by which the quest of Reality is often symbolised.

The first place in every list of 'stages' is occupied by repentance (tawbat). This is the Moslem term for 'conversion,' and marks the beginning of a new life. In the biographies of eminent Sufis the dreams, visions, auditions, and other experiences which caused them to enter on the Path are usually related. Trivial as they may seem, these records have a psychological basis, and, if authentic, would be worth studying in detail. Repentance is described as the awakening of the soul from the slumber of heedlessness, so that the sinner becomes aware of his evil ways and feels contrition for past disobedience. He is not truly penitent, however, unless (1) he at once abandons the sin or sins of which he is conscious, and (2) firmly resolves that he will never return to these sins in the future. It he should fail to keep his vow, he must again turn to God, whose mercy is infinite. A certain well-known Sufi repented seventy times and fell back into sin seventy times before he made a lasting repentance. The convert must also, as far as lies in his power, satisfy all those whom he has injured. Many examples of such restitution might be culled from the Legend of the Moslem Saints.

According to the high mystical theory, repentance is purely an act of divine grace, coming from God to man, not from man to God. Some one said to Rabi‘a:

"I have committed many sins; if I turn in penitence towards God, will He turn in mercy towards me?" "Nay," she replied," but if He shall turn towards thee, thou wilt turn towards Him."

The question whether sins ought to be remembered after repentance or forgotten illustrates a fundamental point in Sufi ethics: I mean the difference between what is taught to novices and disciples and what is held as an esoteric doctrine by adepts. Any Mohammedan director of souls would tell his pupils that to think humbly and remorsefully of one's sins is a sovereign remedy against spiritual pride, but he himself might very well believe that real repentance consists in forgetting everything except God.

"The penitent," says Hujwiri, "is a lover of God, and the lover of God is in contemplation of God: in contemplation it is wrong to remember sin, for recollection of sin is a veil between God and the contemplative."
Sin appertains to self-existence, which itself is the greatest of all sins. To forget sin is to forget self.

This is only one application of a principle which, as I have said, runs through the whole ethical system of Sufism and will be more fully explained in a subsequent chapter. Its dangers are evident, but we must in fairness allow that the same theory of conduct may not be equally suitable to those who have made themselves perfect in moral discipline and to those who are still striving after perfection.

Over the gate of repentance it is written:

"All self abandon ye who enter here!"

The convert now begins what is called by Christian mystics the Purgative Way. If he follows the general rule, he will take a director (Sheykh, Pir, Murshid), i.e. a holy man of ripe experience and profound knowledge, whose least word is absolute law to his disciples. A 'seeker' who attempts to traverse the 'Path' without assistance receives little sympathy. Of such a one it is said that 'his guide is Satan,' and he is likened to a tree that for want of the gardener's care brings forth 'none or bitter fruit.' Speaking of the Sufi Sheykhs, Hujwiri says:

"When a novice joins them, with the purpose of renouncing the world, they subject him to spiritual discipline for the space of three years. If he fulfil the requirements of this discipline, well and good; otherwise, they declare that he cannot be admitted to the 'Path.' The first year is devoted to service of the people, the second year to service of God, and the third year to watching over his own heart. He can serve the people, only when he places himself in the rank of servants and all others in the rank of masters, i.e. he must regard all, without exception, as being better than himself, and must deem it his duty to serve all alike. And he can serve God, only when he cuts off all his selfish interests relating either to the present or to the future life, and worships God for God's sake alone, inasmuch as whoever worships God for any thing's sake worships himself, not God. And he can watch over his heart, only when his thoughts are collected and every care is dismissed, so that in communion with God he guards his heart from the assaults of heedlessness. When these qualifications are possessed by the novice, he may wear the muraqqa‘at (the patched frock worn by dervishes) as a true mystic, not merely as an imitator of others."



To be continued

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