The unknown face of Rumi – Sufism and Spiritual Consumerism in the West 3

The “creed of love” is not a free-floating, universalistic form of mysticism. Sufism is a complex phenomenon that includes a number of irreducible cultural, political and psychological elements as well as spiritual ones. Sufism is multiplex phenomenon and the essence of Sufi spirituality can not be fully examined outside of its varying interpretations and socio historical contexts.

– Dr. Yannis Toussulis –
Author of Sufism and the way of Blame: Hidden sources of a Sacred Psychology


I wanted to go back to a statement that Dr. Toussulis made:

“During the Rumi craze, the premises of Sufism were almost completely reversed in the interests of spiritual consumerism. In the process, the actual discipline of the Sufi path was utterly neglected, replaced by a more marketable sentimentality that fit New Age expectation”

I wanted to broach the topic of the New Age expectation mentioned here. First it would be appropriate to mention a thing or two about what is it that is considered New Age.

The New Age Movement

The New Age movement is a Western spiritual movement that developed in the second half of the 20th century. Its central precepts have been described as “drawing on both Eastern and Western spiritual and metaphysical traditions and then infusing them with influences from self-help and motivational psychology, holistic health, parapsychology, consciousness research and quantum physics”. It aims to create “a spirituality without borders or confining dogmas” that is inclusive and pluralistic. Another of its primary traits is holding to “a holistic worldview,” thereby emphasising that the Mind, Body and Spirit are interrelated[1] and that there is a form of Monism and unity throughout the universe. It further attempts to create “a worldview that includes both science and spirituality” and thereby embraces a number of forms of science and pseudoscience.

Already from the definition given to us by Wikipedia, we can start to see how this syncretic approach to spiritual traditions might have in many ways obscured the central premises of Sufism in its presentation. This is a good or bad thing I feel because many people I have met came to sufism through a lot of New Age materials, but always one consistent statement was that the ‘Sufi Path’  in its reality was so far from its presentation.

This is not to say that sufism didnt have its own type of syncretism. As I quote in part one: most if not all Sufis tend to embrace a certain form of universalism which is based upon the doctrine/belief/experience of what is called Tawhid, or Divine Unity or God’s Absolute Singularity.” This is grounded in a principle, in an experience, in the words of the Quran.

In many ways the New Age Movement I feel when it became a great source of revenue with target market a target audience. Things I feel changed very much. One cannot market the harsh discipline or the path, one cannot also market facing one”s shadow,  but one can market self fulfilment. Its rather easy given the focus the West has put on the individual, its actually perfect marketing sense. However I personally spiritual life is not about the individual. The highest station in sufism is that of a perfect servant.

We from what we take from the science of yoga we use in a commercial sense if you see all the advertisements to better ourselves, better our health. Make us more sound as individuals. But what we take  in the class is not the totality of what yoga really is. I point to the example of the relationship between Guru and Disciple as since between Paramahansa Yogananda and his teacher Shri Yuketeshwar – the harsh reckonings, the pain, the suffering, the many difficulties the loss. Again I am not saying this to put down yoga classes as much as I am trying to show the differences between the depth of our knowledge and experience with the traditions we are exposed too and what can possible be a much more comprehensive system.

Prayer of Al-Ghazali

Ahmed Ghazali younger brother to the more famous al-Ghazali offered the following prayer:

Since i seek nothing in this world from you except love, Union with you and separation are the same to me. Without your love my being is in disorder. Choose as you may union or separation

I take the following words from Dr. Toussulis “…according to Rumi “lover pitch their tents in the desert of Non-Existence. The core o Sufism then is to discover one’s nonexistence in the face of something more convincingly real. And this conviction can be found through tasting (dhawq) and not through derivative knowledge of any kind.. But to taste requires a discipline and dedication not normally found in those who merely dabble in spirituality in order to enhance their own narcissism. No can such love be found byte nominal religious who adhere to rigid forms of whatever kind.

To love is not to have an excessive desire for some things or for someone; it is a by-product of a deeper ‘remembrance of the heart’ (dhikr al-qalb). This remembrance is something that re-members fragmented human beings, by reconnecting them to their source and the source of one’s being acording to Rumi, can only be found in the desert of Non-Existence.

The Question can be asked then, what is to Love for the Sufi?” To “non-exist” is to love. Sufis invite this death or annihilation (fana) but only when their consciousness has been sufficiently purified through dedicated practice: meditation, contemplation, and spiritual companionship. If consciousness is still overly attached to or overly identified with anything outside itself – or to put it another way, if consciousness is overtaken by anything other than a bare attention to awareness itself – it cannot find the source of love as “Love.”

An Old poem in  a New Light

Different degrees of domination and servitude
are what you know as love.

But love is different
it arrives complete –
just there –
like the moon at the window.

Seek only that of which you have no clue.
Desire only that of which you have no hope.

This is not the Oxus River or some little creek.
This is the shoreless sea.
Here, swimming ends always in drowning

Stayed tuned for part 4

One response to “The unknown face of Rumi – Sufism and Spiritual Consumerism in the West 3

  1. Pingback: Holistic Health: How To Turn to Spirituality for Wellness·

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