Spiritual Essays - Curriculum

Interrogative Imperative Institute

The Sufi mystical path (tasawwuf) involves a process of purification under the guidance of an authentic (properly authorized) spiritual guide or master that focuses on helping to bring to fruition different spiritual potentials within human beings,

and if that process is successfully completed, may lead, if God wishes, to the realization of one's essential identity as well as to the active expression of one's unique spiritual capacity to know, love, and serve Divine purpose.

Curriculum

Many people believe mysticism is just a lot of pie in the sky, cloaked in bizarre rituals. These same people tend to maintain mysticism is highly subjective, with little practical relevance to the real world. In addition, there is a strong suspicion among such people that spiritual guides are flim-flam artists who either want your money or wish to enslave you, or both.

Mystical teachings are considered by many people to be come-ons which are vague and confused, promising fantastic powers but delivering little, if anything, which is substantial and tangible. Moreover, many people operate under the assumption there is really no difference between mysticism and either magic or the occult.

Generally speaking, people who hold the foregoing kinds of view have never met, or spent time with, a genuine mystical guide. Most, if not all, of their ideas on the matter are opinions based on received doctrine from someone else who, also, is essentially ignorant about things mystical.

They may have come in contact with individuals who claimed to be authentic mystical teachers but who, in reality, were not genuine. However, just as there is a difference between a counterfeit article and that which is being counterfeited, so too, there is fundamental set of differences between, on the one hand, true mystical teachers and teachings, and, on the other hand, pseudo mystical teachers and teachings.

As is the case with all other subjects, there are people who know what they are talking about when it comes to mysticism, and there also are people who do not know what they are talking about but try to sound as if they do have such knowledge. If the audience being addressed on such matters is ignorant of the truth, a false teacher can appear to be as impressive as a true teacher.

The problem faced by the average individual who is interested in mysticism is the following: trying to figure out how to differentiate between genuine tender and its counterfeit. A little gift of the gab, along with a modicum of charismatic showpersonship, plus a dash of chutzpa, can dazzle a lot of people into confusion and error.

Mysticism has absolutely nothing to do with the occult or magic. There may be dimensions of reality which do give expression to magical and occult phenomena, but the mystical path is independent of, and entirely transcendent to, such phenomena.

Mysticism is not about pie in the sky. Mysticism is about the nature of the reality of our essential capacity and identity.

Mysticism is not impractical. It gives expression to eminently useful principles and practices which help us resolve and deal with the problems of day-to-day life.

Mystical teachers are not flim-flam artists who have an abiding interest in money and control of other people's lives. Genuine mystical teachers are artists of truth and love who are unfailingly dedicated to compassion and helping people to realize their full capacity as human beings.

Mystical teachings are not a collection of rambling, obscure and vague pronouncements. True mystical teachings are very specific, often in-your-face, challenges to, and confrontations of, the false self.

Mysticism does not give expression to the ruminations of fanatical subjectivity. Authentic mysticism is the exact opposite of subjectivity.

The more subjective one is, the further from the truth one is. One of the objects of the mystical path is to induce us to give up the many subjectivities which govern and ruin our lives.

The promises of the mystical path are rather substantial and concrete. We will have to struggle and persevere. We will have to exercise patience and do justice. We will have to sacrifice our egos.

We will have to accept difficulty and hardship with equanimity. We will have to learn how to swim in a sea of incredibly strong undertows of confusion and doubts.

We will have to generate not just feelings of compassion for others, we will have to strive to actively and tangibly show compassion for others. We will have exercise sincerity in all we do. We will have to undergo the greater pain and trauma of the death of the false self before we endure the pain and trauma of the lesser death of the physical body.

If, by the grace of God, we are able to accomplish all of the foregoing, then, if God wishes, we will attain the peace, joy, freedom, understanding and love which comes with the realization of our essential capacities and our true identities. Sufi masters have themselves experienced all of this, and their lives give a running testimony to the truth of what has been promised, both with respect to the struggles and difficulties, as well as in relation to the possible fruits of one's endeavors.

A curriculum is sometimes described as the means or method used to bring an educational goal to completion. The curriculum of the Sufi path involves a no-nonsense, rigorous discipline which has a beginning, a middle and an end.

The goal of the mystical path is to know, love, worship and serve God in an unceasing, intense and direct manner. In order to have a chance of realizing this goal, a variety of subjects and methodologies must be experientially engaged, ingested and implemented in the fabric of one's life.

One must study the psychology of the false self. One must be trained in the requirements and nuances of spiritual etiquette which are capable of not only combating the false self but also are able to give expression to spiritual qualities of purity and harmony which supplant the machinations of the false self.

One must learn the nature and significance of objectivity. In conjunction with this, one must become well versed in the sources of spiritual distortion, bias and error.

One must come to understand the parameters and possibilities inherent in different spiritual instruments and modalities within us. In addition, one must learn how to calibrate these instruments and modalities so they give reliable, useful experiential results.

One must be helped to gain facility with a variety of practices and techniques such as chanting, meditation and contemplation. The how, when, why, and what of these practices involve a variety of principles and cautions which are not always easily acquired or implemented.

One needs to develop a taste for, appreciation of, and insight into, the meaning of the events and experiences which one encounters along the Sufi path. The scope of human potential is immense, and learning how to sort out the numerous forces (both problematic as well as beneficial) which act on us and through us, is a very complex issue.

One must learn how to bring balance, harmony and justice into all dimensions of one's life and one's interactions with the rest of creation. The middle way is the golden mean to a properly ordered life in each of these respects. However, coming to understand exactly what this involves in any given instance, requires much practice and struggle.

All of the foregoing areas of investigation are part of the Sufi curriculum. They each have important contributions to make in assisting the individual toward the realization of the goal of the Sufi path.

Anyone who, God willing, sincerely pursues the mystical curriculum under the guidance of a genuine guide, will come to experience, first hand, that mysticism, in general, and the Sufi path in particular, are very, very different from what most people suppose to be the case. Such people will come to know mysticism is not an incoherent, subjective, impractical, occult-like set of speculations and theories which are incapable of satisfying the promise of self-realization and direct experience of Divinity.

This regression line is our link of faith with our experiences. The slope of the regression line is a ratio of what has been experienced to our assessment of that experience.

We extrapolate and interpolate with respect to the future on the basis of that regression line's slope. As new experiences and assessments are added, we stay with, or plot a new, regression line.

According to Sufi masters, the more one experiences the states, stations, tastes, expansions, contractions and so on of the path, the deeper, richer and stronger will one's faith become. There is nothing blind, dogmatic, closed, irrational, or static about this process.

As one learns, grows, develops, changes, and matures on the path, the structural character of one's faith undergoes growth, maturation, development and so on. This transformation of faith is a function of one's own direct experiences and the teacher's guidance in helping one to come to an understanding of the significance, value and meaning of such experience.

As is the case with all mundane species of everyday faith, so, too, mystical faith weds together knowns and unknowns. On the basis of what is known or understood, one develops a commitment to certain dimensions of what is unknown and unseen.

As faith develops, the horizons of the unknown may be pushed back to varying degrees. However, the horizon symbolizes the inexhaustible nature of existence and our relationship with God. No matter how much we advance toward the horizon, the horizon always recedes into the distance.

God willing, we increase in spiritual understanding, insight, wisdom and knowledge, but there will always be unknowns which modulate our interactions with Divinity. Nonetheless, we continue to use what we know as the basis of our orientation toward what is unknown.

When we have faith in God, we rely on God to be our trustee in all affairs. As we acquire enhanced degrees of faith, our faith is transformed, God willing into a certitude that God will never abuse our faith or trust. This certitude is based on reflective experience and not on blind, unthinking, dogmatic belief and opinion. Unfortunately, a lot of people confuse being convinced of something with being certain in the mystical sense. Mystical certitude is a function of direct demonstration and experiential evidence of a sort that brooks no doubt as to its authenticity and truth. The experiences are overwhelming and incontrovertible in nature, and, more importantly, they are corroborated in independent ways by other people and other experiences.

To be convinced of something, however, merely means one has a strong opinion. Furthermore, this strong opinion is often held in the absence of any direct experiential demonstration. In addition, such an opinion of conviction often is rooted in an interpretation of experiences which leaves room open for considerable doubt. An individual might acknowledge the legitimacy of such doubt under these circumstances if the person meditated on the matter very much or with any degree of rigor, care and consideration.

However, all too frequently, people of strong convictions, whether spiritual or non-spiritual in character, are uninterested in entertaining any doubts concerning their firmly entrenched beliefs. On the other hand, with practitioners of the Sufi path, the examination and exploration of doubt can lead to some very beneficial insights and understandings. One is encouraged to work with doubt, not to deny and repress it.

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