Sufism cannot be called a religion because it is free from principles, distinctions, and differences, the very basis on which religions are founded; neither can it be called a philosophy, because philosophy teaches the study of nature in its qualities and varieties, whereas Sufism teaches unity. Therefore it may best be called simply the training of the view.
The word ‘Sufi’ implies purity, and purity contains two qualities. Pure means unmixed with any other element, or in other words that which exists in its own element, unalloyed and unstained. The second quality of purity is great adaptability.
Such is also the nature of the Sufi. In the first place he purifies himself by keeping the vision of God constantly before him, not allowing the stains of earthly differences and distinctions to be mirrored upon his heart, nor good or bad society, nor intercourse with high- or low-class people. Nor can a faith or a belief ever interfere with his purity.
The Sufi shows his universal brotherhood in his adaptability. Among Christians he is a Christian, among Jews he is a Jew, among Muslims he is a Muslim, among Hindus he is a Hindu; for he is one with all, and thus all are with him. He allows everyone to join in his brotherhood, and in the same way he allows himself to join in any other. He never questions, ‘What is your creed or nation or religion?’ Neither does he ask, ‘What are your teachings or principles?’
Call him brother, he answers brother, and he means it. With regard to principles, the Sufi has none, for sweetness may be beneficial to one and harmful to another. Thus it is with all principles, good and bad, kind and cruel. If we ask a soldier to be merciful during the battle, he will at once be defeated. This shows that everyone has his own principle for each action or situation. One person may believe in a certain principle, while another may hold quite a contrary opinion. What one person may call good another may call bad. One says a certain path is the right one, while another takes the opposite direction.
The Sufi, instead of becoming centered in his likes and dislikes and limiting himself to a certain faith or belief, reasoning out right and wrong, focuses his view on that of another, and thus sees the reason why he believes and why he does not, why something is right to one and wrong to another. He also understands why that which is called good by some people may be called bad by others, and thus by keeping his point of view under control he arrives at the true height of wisdom.
The Sufi is a true Christian in regard to charity, brotherhood, and the healing of his own soul as well as the soul of another. He is not bigoted in his adherence to a particular Church, or in forsaking the other masters and their followers who came before and after Christ, but his at-one-ment with the Christ and his appreciation and practice of his truth are as keen as those of a true Christian.
It is in the lives of the dervishes that one sees the real picture of the life and teachings of Christ, especially in their sharing of their roof and food with another, whether friend or foe. Even up to the present day they continue in their pure ways. The Sufi is a Catholic in that he produces the picture of his ideal of devotion in his soul, and he is a Protestant in giving up the ceremonials of the cult.
The Sufi is a Brahmin, for the word Brahmin means ‘the knower of Brahma’, of God, the only Being. His religion lies in believing in no other existence save that of God, which the Brahmin calls Advaita. The Sufi has as many grades of spiritual evolution to pass through as the Yogi. There is very little difference to be found even in their practices, the difference lying chiefly in the names. No doubt the Sufi chooses a normal life in preference to that of an ascetic, yet he does not limit himself to either the former or the latter.
The Sufi considers the teachings of the Avatars to be true manifestations of the divine wisdom, and he has a perfect insight into the subtle knowledge of the Vedanta. The Sufi appreciates the Jain conception of harmlessness, and considers that kindness is the true path of purity and perfection. In the past Sufis have led lives of renunciation, and in the East most of them still lead a very harmless life, just like the Jains.
The Sufi is a Buddhist, for he reasons at every step forward on his spiritual journey. The teachings of the Sufi are very similar to the Buddhist teachings; in fact it is the Sufi who unites the believers and the unbelievers in the God-ideal and in the knowledge of unity.
The Sufi is a Muslim, not because many Muslims happen to be Sufis, nor because of his use of Muslim phraseology, but because in his life he proves what a true Muslim ought to be. Muslims have such a sense of devotion that no matter how great a sinner or how cruel a man may be, the name of Allah or Mohammed at once reduces him to tears. Similarly the practices of Sufism first develop the heart qualities which are often overlooked by many other mystics. It is the purification of the heart which makes it receptive to the illumination of the soul. The Sufis are the ones who read the Qur’an from every experience in life, and see and recognize Mohammed face in each atom of the manifestation.
The Sufi, like a Zoroastrian or a Parsi, looks at the sun and bows before the air, fire, water, and earth, recognizing the immanence of God in His manifestation, taking the sun and moon as the signs of God. The Sufi interprets fire as the symbol of wisdom, and the sun as the celestial light. He not only bows before them but also absorbs their quality. As a rule in the presence of dervishes a wood fire and incense burn continually.
The Sufi is an Israelite, especially in his study and mastery of the different names of God. The miraculous powers of Moses can also be found in the lives of the Sufis both past and present. In fact the Sufi is the master of the Hebrew mysticism; the divine voice heard by Moses on Mount Sinai in the past is audible to many a Sufi today.
Text from ‘The Message Volumes’ IX – The Unity of Religious Ideals.