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The Path: Sufi Practices

The Path is perhaps the most complete and detailed account available of the aim and method of Sufism in the contemporary world. This was was written by Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, the former master of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order for over 50 years. The books consists of a series of essays on various aspects of the sufi path and provides an overview of the sufi mystical way. In addition, it describes in an accessible manner, the practices taught by Sufi masters for centuries and followed today in traditional sufi orders throughout the world.

Excerpt from The Path: Sufi Practices

Sufism is a path for the actualization of divine ethics. It involves an enlightened inner being, not intellectual proof; revelation and witnessing, not logic. By divine ethics, we are referring to ethics that transcend mere social convention, a way of being that is the actualization of the attributes of God.

To explain the Truth is indeed a difficult task. Words, being limited, can never really express the perfection of the Absolute, the Unbound. Thus, for those who are imperfect, words create doubt and misunderstanding. Yet:

If one cannot drink up the entire ocean,
at least one can drink to one's limit.

Philosophers have written volumes and spoken endlessly about the Truth, but somehow their efforts have always fallen short. For the sufi, philosophers are those who view the perfection of the Absolute from a limited perspective; thus, all they see is part of the Absolute, not the Infinite in its entirety. What philosophers see may be correct, but it is only a part of the whole.

One is reminded of Rūmī's well-known story of a group of people in India who had never seen an elephant. One day they came to a place where there was an elephant. In complete darkness they approached the animal, each person feeling it. Afterwards, they described what they thought they had perceived. Of course their descriptions were different. The one who had felt a leg, imagined the elephant to be a pillar. The one who felt the animal's ear described the elephant as a fan, and so on. Each one of their descriptions, with respect to the various parts they had experienced, was true. Yet, as far as accurately describing the whole, their conceptions had all fallen short. If they had possessed a candle, they would not have had different opinions. The candle's light would have revealed the elephant as a whole.

Only by the light of the spiritual path and the mystic way can't he Truth be discovered. In order for one to truly witness the perfection of the Absolute, one must see with one's inner being, which perceives the whole of Reality. This witnessing happens only when one becomes perfect, losing one's (partial) existence in the Whole. If the Whole is likened to the Ocean and one's existence to a drop, the sufi says that witnessing the Ocean with the eye of a drop is impossible. Only when the drop becomes one with the Ocean will it see the Ocean with the eye of the Ocean.

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