Sunday, January 17, 2010

To be in the world, but not of it | From Interview with Sheikh Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi

My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that, and I intend to end up there. This drunkenness began in some other tavern. When I get back around to that place, I'll be completely sober. Meanwhile, I'm like a bird from another continent, siting in this aviary. The day is coming when I (will) fly off. - Rumi

On the theme of "In the World But Not Of It", What is Enlightenment? Magazine (now renamed as Enlighten Next) did a lovely interview with contemporary Dervish Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi. The magazines Executive Editor Carter Phipps was the interviewer. During the conversation, wonderful wisdom is shared by Sheikh Tosun Bayrak which provides valuable insight on this ancient saying, "To be in the world, but not of it."

Sheikh Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi al-Halveti (Istanbul: 1926) is an author, translator and a contemporary Sufi teacher. In 1970 Bayrak met Sheikh Muzaffer Ozak Ashki al-Jerrahi, Allah bless his soul, who became his teacher. Bayrak is now a Sheikh of the Helveti-Jerrahi order residing near the Jerrahi Order of America mosque in Spring Valley, New York. He has been spiritual guide of the Jerrahi Order of the Americas, (the primary Western branch of the Halveti-Jerrahi Order of Dervishes) since 1977. He is the author of many valuable Sufi books, including The Name and the Named, The Unveiling of Love, What the Seeker Needs (translation) and many other valuable books on Sufism. May Allah continue to bless his path.


What does it mean to be in the world but not of it?

It means that, as Sufis, we are supposed to be out in the world participating in the world, but not falling in love with the world. There is a hadith [a saying of the Prophet Muhammad] that tells us: The world is your friend if it reminds you of God, and it is your enemy if it makes you forget God.

One Sufi mystic is quoted as saying, "To leave the world is not to abstain from property, wife, and children, but to act in obedience to God and to set the things of God above those of the world."

Exactly. Another hadith tells us that when Allah ordered the world, he spoke to the world, saying, "World, the one who becomes your servant, treat him as the worst of slaves. Beat him. Make him work hard and when he dies, crush him. But if he becomes my servant, care for him well and when he dies, hug him like a mother would hug her child." That means that if you are the servant of Allah, then the world is going to be your servant and obey you and make you rich and everything else. And when you die, it will hug you gently like a mother caressing you. But if you forget Allah and become the servant of the world, then the world is going to whip you, kick you, and make you work like hell. And when you die, it's going to crush you.

In the Sufi tradition, what is the ideal relationship to the world for those who have gone very deep into the spiritual life?

I'll just say that what I myself do and what I ask my students to do is to find their place in the world, or I should say their duty, their function in this world. And when they find it, they should do it as best they can. And they should ask for Allah's help in finding it and doing it. For example, when a person wants to go to college and study certain things, they often take aptitude tests. So in a much larger and more complete sense, we have to pass ourselves through aptitude tests and find out what we have been brought into this world to do, and then we must do it as best we can. I think that's how one's relationship should be to the world.

Thirty years ago, if somebody would have told me that I was going to be a Sufi and a sheikh, I would have laughed and said, "What are they talking about?" Therefore, you cannot say that I did it. Finally, Allah has to do it for you. That is why when we pray, we open our hands. If your hands are open and something drops into them, you can catch it. But if they're not open, you can't. It falls away. So you have to be open, and that's all that you can do. I don't even say open your heart. You have to open yourself, everything - your body, your mind, your potential. You have to keep everything open and somehow hope to receive direction and indication as to what your function is. And once you find your function, I think then you will also find yourself through your function.

As you've said, Sufism isn't generally known as a spiritual tradition that emphasizes renunciation of the world. But, in the Sufi tradition, does renunciation play some role in the quest for spiritual union? I've read many stories by Sufi mystics that detail the dangers of the "deceiving" world with its "limitless tricks" and that encourage the seeker to fly away from it on the "wings of prayer." That seems to suggest that renunciation or removal from the world offers the surest and safest path to the realization of spiritual freedom and communion with God.

In our discipline, we don't agree with this. On the contrary, I would go so far as to say that renunciation is a sin. Renunciation means that I am thirsty and he, Allah, is offering me a glass of water and I say, "No thank you." That's a sin! For instance, Allah offers to reduce our prayers when we are traveling. And some idiots say, "No. I will continue making my prayers as if I'm not traveling." That's an insult. It's a sin. Because Allah offers you a gift and you say, "No, keep your gift." It's arrogance in the extreme, this renunciation business. This isn't just my opinion; this is the opinion of the Sufis. You should take whatever it is you receive, and you should put it to good use. If you don't want it, give it to somebody who needs it! I have, praise to Allah, enough money. But if he gave me a million dollars today, I'm not going to refuse it. I'm going to take it and I'm going to give it to the ones who need it and keep some for myself too. I'll buy myself a new car instead of an old one, and maybe a $150 pair of shoes. That would be the day!

So there is no going to the monasteries, no climbing up the Himalayas, no pouring ashes on your head and sitting cross-legged on nails. You have to go out into the world and participate. For example, my own teacher, Sheikh Muzaffer, loved to eat, loved good food. And he had a young wife, whom he loved very much. He used to say, "Money - there should be a lot in your pocket, but none in your heart."

In the "new American spirituality," instead (..) of cognizant submission to a higher authority, many people are speaking about self-authority - where it is up to us to pick and choose as we see fit from among the world's wisdom traditions, to find our own methods and spiritual practices that suit our lives in the world.

There you go kaputski. There you go crazy. There you go arrogant. You're saying: I know better than God. I know better than Jesus. I know better than Moses. I know better than the sheikhs. You see, we are forbidden to say "my." We are forbidden to say "me." This is my idea. This is my concept. This is my right. This is my wrong. Forget it, it's just anti-discipline. This is self-glorification, making your own self your God. And that's deadly. And those people, they die. They're living zombies. They live this life with imagination, with no concept of truth, no concept of reality. They live in their imagination, and they die in their imagination and they will wake up when they die and say, "Oh, my God, what have I done to myself?"

For 6,000 years in Judaism, for 2,000 years in Christianity, for 1,500 years in Islam, hundreds of thousands of saints and spiritual teachers have devoted themselves to this, and they have found and refined the relationship of the human being to the world, to life, to the hereafter. And here comes this man or this woman who studies a little psychology, a little philosophy, and rejects the whole thing. Millions of people, intelligent people, devout people, have made this their specialty. We are living in a period of specialty, but those people were super-specialists. And their documents are here, their words are here, their principles are here. It's not even worth discussing.

At what point on the spiritual path are we ready to be of service to the world?

At the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. This is in the Qu'ran. Allah said that "I have created man so that he can make ibadat to me." Ibadat means "service." But it also means "worship." So the true worship is in service. Allah said that "I have created man so that he serves me." But God doesn't need service. On the contrary, he is our servant. Every minute of our lives, we are being served. I inhale; he makes me inhale. I exhale; he makes me exhale. He brings me coffee; he makes me drink the coffee. Twenty-four hours a day, to all of us - from the microbe to the highest specimen of this creation - he's in continuous service. So what does he mean when he says that he has created human beings so that they would serve him? In short, he means to serve his creation. If we are the supreme creation, then we have to serve those in creation who are like us, who are in need, or who are under us. That's the purpose of our creation.

So as I said, service should be from the moment you are born until the moment you give your last breath, but you have to find out in what way. That's what's most important. We have to find out in what manner we are supposed to serve.


[>] Excerpts of the Interview shared here. The full interview can be read via Enlighten Next Magazine.

[>] Click to Read the interview in full, The World is Beautiful Pin It Now!

LinkWithin