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To Become a Sufi: Do I Need to Join a Sufi Order?

by Dr. Stewart Bitkoff


“You may follow one stream. Know that it leads to the Ocean, but do not mistake the stream for the Ocean.“ Jan-Fishan

Q: To study Sufism, do I need to become a Moslem and convert to Islam, or join a Sufi Order?

A: No. This is not necessary. While some westerners find joy in following this Path; the seeker after truth or spiritual traveler does not have to change their birth religion to sip of this ancient wine. A form of Sufi learning exists for everyone, because the Teaching is always being updated into a modern form. The seeker can learn from the Sufis, even become one and yet remain independent of these specific religious trappings.

An account of this sort of learning is available in: Sufism for Western Seekers; a copy of which may be obtained from the author. This book describes learning in 2 modern western mystical Sufi schools, which were independent of Islam and the traditional Sufi Orders. What was offered was a generic spirituality that is the birth right of all humanity.

Consider the following points.

  • The label Sufism was first given to groups of ascetics, who were distinguished by a robe they wore which was made out of wool ‘sooof;’ this label was given in the late 1800’s and according to Idries Shah comes from the German word for wool. Consequently, this label speaks only to the outward form and does not discuss the inner reality or spiritual experience of Truth that is the goal of all Sufi seeking.
  • Long before the name/label of Sufism was applied, seekers sought ultimate connection and experience of Truth through different spiritual forms. What the seeker wishes to do is unite and become one with ultimate Truth; experiencing this reality, daily, as they live every day life. All religions and Paths have their mystics; those who seek the inner Reality.
  • The Reality of the seeker is a spiritual reality; this reality goes beyond outward religious form. My teacher used to say if you follow this Path, which is the Golden Path, you will go back to your birth religion and become a better Christian, Moslem, or Jew. This is the religion before there was religion; when Abraham refused to bow down to the Moon and Sun; what was the religion? At this time, there was no outward form, none of our modern religions existed, it was an inner reality.
  • Of the great religious forms, Islam is the last. Consequently, it is quite natural that Sufism, or inner mystical experience, is expressed through this vehicle. It is the inner teaching; a spiritual reality that transcends individual form.
  • All of the current Sufi Orders were founded after the death of a great teacher; this teacher came to offer the ancient path of spiritual learning to a specific group of students. Over time, his/her students adopted these teachings into a formalized outward/inward spiritual presentation.
  • As indicated, according to some authorities like Idries Shah, none of the present Sufi Orders were started by their original Teachers, they were started by students after the teacher passed. In order to avoid this sort of phenomenon from occurring after his own death, Shah indicated that his corpus of written work was to be his legacy. He did not designate a Deputy and indicated that all activities of the Society for Sufi Studies were to cease.
  • The Perennial Philosophy indicates that there is an inner core to all religious and spiritual experience. This inner core, or spiritual reality, must be perceived by the traveler and is the basic life giving force in the universe. This Force has expressed itself in many different forms, throughout history; because travelers were different and in order to comprehend, required a varied outer presentation.
  • In our Sufi learning, we did not have to join a Sufi Order or become a Moslem. In fact, it was 3 years into our learning that we realized that our teacher Sam was a Moslem and we began to read the Koran. Sam did not tell us to do this. Prior to this, all references in our discussions to what wise man/women said were indicated by the designation, ‘Servant of God.’ When we were directed to read some of the Sufi classics, very little was made of the fact that the author was a Moslem. Always we were directed toward God/Absolute. In our studies, we were encouraged to read any of the great religious books and ask questions about them.
  • In order to follow this ancient Path of spiritual learning, what is required is a burning in your heart to merge with God/Absolute/Truth, study the available materials, and make your way to a Teacher. The Teacher may teach in any form; as long as it is united in the experience of Truth.
  • The materials that are offered by the various Sufi Orders and in the Koran itself can benefit the traveler. However, keep in mind that this way of learning in part is dependent upon a living guide or exemplar; also, this way of learning can be independent and exists outside this presentation as well. This is a situation where many forms work and the traveler must find a way that is most consistent with their own inner reality and will help them reach the goal: experience of Ultimate Truth. The different spiritual forms exist, because across time travelers and cultures are different.
  • Use of the designation Sufism confuses people, and in our western culture is most readily identified with Islam and the Sufi Orders. Besides confusing westerners, this scares them as well, because of the growing social phobia against Moslems. In our writing, we have tried to designate Seekers after Truth, as Spiritual Travelers. Perhaps, we should call this: The Path of the Spiritual Traveler; which is independent of all religious form and tied to the inner transcendent reality.
  • Islam, the Sufi Orders and traditional accounts of the great Sufis of the past, offer the modern western Spiritual Traveler an abundance of riches. From our perspective, these are to be enjoyed, studied and left behind as the Spiritual Traveler advances to their own experience of Truth.

Most of humanity is asleep. They are drifting in this world aimlessly. They build synagogues, mosques, and churches in order to glorify themselves. They do not know where they came from or where they are going. Some of them are awakened and are trying to awaken others …” A. Hussain, MD, Psychiatrist

______

Announcing new book- Sufism for Western Seekers: Path of the Spiritual Traveler in Everyday Life. Order it on CreateSpace and Amazon.

Now Available Online:

Amazon: www.amazon.com/Sufism-Western-Seekers-Spiritual-Traveler/dp/0615562809/

CreateSpace: www.createspace.com/3714317.

$10.95

Save The Date: Hear my guest appearance on Godspeed Institute Radio Show, with hosts Carol and Michael Hallunbaek, Sunday, December 11, 2011, 2-3 pm.

Topic: I will be discussing, The Path of the Spiritual Traveler in Everyday Life and my new book Sufism for Western Seekers.


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