Essential Sufism by Robert Frager and James Fadiman

1. The fasting of the general public involves refraining from satisfying the apetite of the stomach and the apetite of the sex.

The fasting of the select few is to keep the ears, the eyes, the tongue, the hands, and the feet as well as the other senses free from sin.

The fasting of the elite among the select few s the fast of the heart from mean thoughts and worldly worries and its complete unconcern with anything other than God and the last day, as well as concern over this world.( Al Ghazzali)

2.”God created the angels from intellect without sensuality, the beasts from sensuality without intellect, and humanity from both intellect and sensuality. So when a person’s intellect overcomes his sensuality, he is better than the angels, but when his sensuality overcomes his intellect, he is worse than the beasts.” (Sayings of the Prophet Muhammed (p.b.u.h.)

3.After Muhammed (p.b.u.h.)’s passing, a group of visitors went to his widow, Aisha. They asked her, “What was the Prophet, God’s messenger, like?” “Have you read the Quran?” she replied.”He was the living Quran.”

4.When you serve the created, you serve the Creator.

5.There are four stages of practice and understanding in Sufism. Shariah (religious law), Tariqah (the mystical path), Haqiqah(Truth) and Marifah(nosis). The great sufi sage Ibn Arabi explained these four levels as follows: at the level of law(shariah) there is “yours and mine”. That is the law guarantees individual rights and ethical relations between people. At the level of Sufi path(tariqah), “mine is yours and yours is mine”. The dervishes are expected to treat ne another as brothers and sisters- to open their homes, their hearts, their purses to one another. At the level of Truth(haqiqah), there is “no mine and yours.” The advanced sufis at this level realize that all things are from God, that they are really only caretakers and that they “possess” nothing. Those who realize Truth have gone beyond attachment to possessions and beyond to attachment to externals in general, including fame and position. At the level of Gnosis(marifah), there is “no me and no you”. At this final level, the individual has realized that all is GOD, that nothing and no one is seperate from GOD.

6. Every Sufi teacher  has been authorized by his or her own sufi teacher. This is why a Sufi order is referred to as “silsila” , a chain. Every order contains an unbroken chain of sheikhs, each trained, initiated, and confirmed as a teacher by his or her own sheikh. This chain reaches all the way back to the prophet Muhammed(p.b.u.h.), and through him to God. There are no self-appointed “masters” in Sufism.

7. The saint Shibli once tested the sincerity and patience of his students. When Shibli entered a profound mystical state, he was locked up as a mad man. Many of his students went to visit him, and when they arrived, Shibli asked,”Who are you?” “We are some of those who love you and follow you.” Shibli began throwing stones at his visitors. Stung by the stones, they began to run away, crying. “It is true- Shibli really has gone crazy!” Then Shibli called out to them, “Didn’t I hear you say that you loved me? You could not even bear a stone or two before running away. What became of that sincere love you claimed you had for me? Did your love fly away with a couple of stones? If you really loved me, you would have patiently endured the little bit of discomfort I caused you.”

8. It is necessary to have a guide for the spiritual journey. Choose a master, for without one this journey is full of trials, fears, and dangers. With no escort, you would be lost on a road you have already taken. Do not travel alone on the Path. (RUMI)

9. The soul should take care of the body, just as the pilgrim on his way to Mecca take care of his camel; but if the pilgrim spends his whole time in feeding and adorning his camel, the caravan will leave him and behind, and he will perish in the desert. (al-Ghazzali)

10. A very close friend of Hamdun was on his deathbed. The sheikh was with him until his last breath. As the man died, Hamdun blew out the candle. The other people present exclaimed, “At a time like this, more light is called for!” He replied, “Before, the candle was his. Now it belongs to his heirs!”  (Sheikh Hamdun)

11. This world is a place of preparation where one is given many lessons and passes many tests. Choose less over more in it. Be satisfied with what you have, even it is less than what others have. In fact, prefer to have less. This world is not bad-on the contrary, it is the field of the hereafter. What you plant here, you will reap there. What is bad is what you do with the world when you become blind to the truth and totally consumed by your desires, lust and ambition for it. Our master the Prophet (p.b.u.h.), in whom wisdom was as clear as crystal, was asked, “What is worldliness?” He answered,”Everthing that makes you heedless and causes you to forget your Lord.” Therefore the goods of this world are not harmful in themselves, but only when you let them render you forgetful, disobedient, and unaware of the Lord. (Ibn Arabi)

12. People count with self-satisfaction the number of times they have recited the name of God on their prayer beads, but they keep no beads for reckoning the number of idle words they speak. Caliph Omar said, “Weigh well your words and deeds before they are weighed at the last judgement.”  (al-Ghazzali)

13. If someone remarks, “What an excellent man you are!” and this pleases you more than his saying, “What a bad man you are!” know that you are still a bad man.  (Sufyan al-Thawri)

14. A man sad to Junaid, “True companions are scarce in these times. Where am I going to find a companion in God?” Junaid replied,”If you want a companion to provide for you and to bear your burden, such are few and far between. However, ıf you want a companion in God whose burden you will carry and whose pain you will bear, then I have a multitude I can introduce to you. (al-Ghazzali)

15. One day The Prophet Abraham invited a person to dinner, but when he learned that he was an infidel he canceled the invitation and turned him out. Immediately the Divine Voice reprimanded him, saying, ” You did not give him food for a day even because he belonged to a different religion, yet for the last seventy years I am feeding him in sipite of his heresy. Had you fed him for one night, you would not have become poor on that account.

16. One day Dhu-l Nun reached a canal, where he performed his ablutions. He saw a beautiful place situated close to the bank of the canal, on the balcony of which stood a very beautiful woman. Dhu-l Nun asked her to speak to him. She said,” When I saw you at a distance, I felt you were a madman; when you came closer, I saw you were a learned man; when you came closer still I considered you to be an enlightened soul. But now you have spoken to me I consider you none of these.” Dhu-l Nun asked her why she felt so. She replied, “If you were mad, you would not perform ablutions; if you were learned, you would not look at me; if you were enlightened, you would cast your glance at God and none besides.” Saying this, she disappeared.

17. Habib had one cloak that he used to wear both summer and winter. One day, when he went out of his house to make ablutions, he left his cloak behind  on the road. Hasan al-Basri came by and saw Habib’s cloak lying in the middle of the road. He thought to himself,”Habib has left his cloak; may Allah forbid that someone take it.” Hasan stood there and watched over the cloak until Habib returned. When Habib arrived, he greeted Hasan and said,” O Imam of the Muslims, what are you doing standing there?” Hasan exclaimed,”Don’t you know that your cloak should not be left here? Someone might take it. Tell me, in whom were you trusting leaving it here?” Habib replied,” In HE who appointed you to watch over it.” (al-Ajami)

18. A great king summoned his wise men. He ordered them, “Create for me a saying that will stabilize my inner state. When I am unhappy,it will bring me joy, and when I am happy it will remind me of sadness. It can not be too long, as I want to keep it with me always.” The wise men consulted and contemplated deeply the king’s command. Finally, they returned the king bearing a small box. In it there was a ring, and inside the ring was inscribed the following words: “This tooshall pass.”  (Attar)

19. He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is a fool – Shun him.

He who knows not, and knows that he knows not, is a child – Teach him.

He who knows, and knows not that he knows, is asleep – Wake him.

But he who knows, and knows that he knows, is a wise man – Follow him.

20. The first stage of worship is silence.

21. Happy are those whose own faults preoccupy them too much to think of the faults of others.

22. Wealth does not reside in the amount of one’s property, but rather in one’s own needlessness.

23. Silence for the ordinary people is with their tongues, silence for the mystics is with their hearts, silence for the lovers is with restraining the stray thoughts that come to their innermost beings.

24. The Sufi is pleased with all that God does in order that God may be pleased with all that he does. (Abu Said)

25. Remembering God is the cure for the heart.

26. The dervish has no worries and no cares. His sole concern is God, his pain is God, his remedy is God, his cure is God, his cause is God.  (Sheikh Muzaffer)

27. Caliph Harun al-Rashid’s favourite concubine was very plain, but he preferred her to all of her beautiful rivals. When asked for a reason, the Caliph offered a demonstration. He summoned all his concubines and then opened the door of his private treasure chamber, which was filled with gold and jewels. He told the women that they could take whatever they desired. They all ran to gather up as much as they could, except his favourite, who did not even enter the treasure chamber. “Why don’t you take something for yourself?” asked the caliph. The woman replied, “All I want is to serve you. You are all I need. you are the one I love, and your love is all the reward I want.”  (Sheikh Muzaffer)

28. Bayezid Bestami, sitting at the feet of his teacher, suddenly was asked, “Bayazid, fetch me that book sitting by the window.” ” The window? Which window?” asked Bayazid. “Why,” said the master, ” you have been coming all this time and did not see the window?”

“No,” replied Bayazid.”What have I to do with the window? When I am before you, I close my eyes to everything else. I have not come to stare about.” ” Because that is so,” said the teacher,” go back to your own city. Your work is completed.”  (Bayazid Bistami)

29. Whoever travels without a guide needs two hundred years for a two-day journey. (Rumi)

30. Let your heart be in such a state that the existence or nonexistence of anything is same. Then sit alone in a quiet place, free of any occupation, even the reciting of the Quran or thinking about its meaning. Let nothing besides God enter you. Once you are seated in this manner, say, “Allah,Allah,” keeping your thoughts on these words. (al-Ghazzali)

31. A dervish was sweeping the courtyard. Abu Said saw him and said, “Be like the dust ball that rolls before the broom and not like the rock left behind.” One must be like the dust, which has no will of its own but goes wherever the broom (spiritual master) commands- not like the rock, which asserts its own will and resists the direction of the guide.

32. Sacrifice your ego; nothing more. (Abu Said)

33. While performing the prayers of remembrance, put your hands on your thighs, concentrate your heart, close your eyes, and then, with total reverence, begin to utter the formula La ilaha illa ‘llah (no god but Allah) with all your might. Bring the words La ilaha up from the navel, and direct the words illa ‘llah down to the heart in such a way that the effect and power of the invocation reach all parts of the body. Do not raise your voice. Keep it as hidden and as low as you can. Meditate on the meaning in your heart. By La ilaha negate any passing thought that may enter your heart. By doing so, you say, in effect, ” I desire nothing, seek nothing, and have no aim or love ” but GOD” (illa ‘llah). Having negated all passing thoughts with La ilaha, you affirm the Presence of Divine Majesty as your only goal, purpose, and beloved with illa ‘llah.  (Bawa Muhaiyaddeen)

34. Faith is something easy to speak of, but difficult to practice. We often place our faith everything but God. We have faith in our lawyers when there is legal trouble and place even greater faith in our doctors when we are sick. We have faith that our money will protect us, faith that our own intelligence will save us from difficulties. That is, we seem to have faith in creation, but not in our Creator. One of the Ninety-nine Attributes of God is “As-Salaam” or “Peace”. Salaam also means safety, security, and health, wholeness. If you lean against a rotten tree trunk, it will not support you. You can rely on that which is truly healthy and whole, and that is God. Nothing else provides completely trustworty support and security. And so, the real peace comes form faith in God.

Our faith is often tested. God, who is all-knowing, already comprehends the outcome. God tests us so that we can better know ourselves.

35. Once Hasan al-Basri, accompanied by several people, was on the wat to Mecca. They came to a well. they were all thirsty but had no rope pull up a bucket of water. Hasan said, ” I am going to pray. While I am praying, you will see the water rise. Drink freely and quench your thirst.” So it happened. But when one man, after drinking, filled his water bag for future use, the water sank to its original level. When asked the reason for the strange occurence, Hasan replied, “It was due to your lack of faith to depen solely on God.”

36. Once, Hasan al-Basri was partaking of the meager meal prepared by poor al-Ajami when a beggar knocked at the door. Al-Ajami took all the food he had prepared and gave it to the beggar. Suprised at this strange behaviour, Hasan said,”You must know little of manners.” Al-Ajami remained silent. Then a lady appeared bearing plates of delicious food. Both men sat and ate. Then al-Ajami said,” Hasan, you are a good man. You should develop a little more faith in God and remember that anything given in God’s name returns severalfold.

37. The Sufi becomes more humble every hour, for every hour is drawing him nearer to God. The Sufis see without knowledge, without sight, without information received,and without observation, without description, without veiling, and without veil. They are not themselves, but in so far as they exist at all, they exist in God. Their movements are caused by God, and their words are the words of God uttered by their tongues, and their sight is the sight of God, which has entered into their eyes. So God Most High has said,”When I love a servant, I, the Lord, am his ear so that he hears by Me; I am his eye so that he sees by Me; I am his tongue so that he speaks by Me; and I am his hand so that he takes by Me.”   (Ibn Arabi)

38. A Sufi visited a foreign sheikh and asked him about real Sufism as taught in hs country. The sheikh replied that, when God sent them something, they would eat it and be grateful, if not, they would practice patience. the visitor replied, “That kind of Sufism is what our dogs do at home- when they find a bone they eat it; otherwise they are patient until they are fed.” The sheikh then asked HOW he would define Sufism. The visitor answered, “When we have anything, we give it away, and if we have nothing, we occupy ourselves with thanks and pray for forgiveness.”  (Sheikh Muzaffer)

39. Jafar asked Rabia when a devotee might become content with God. She replied, “When his joy in affliction equals his joy in blessing.”  (Abu Mekki)

40. The highest asceticism was displayed by Christ when he threw away the brick he used as a pillow after the devil asked him why he kept it if he had renounced the world.   (al-Ghazzali)

41. To become a saint of God, you must covet nothing in this world or the next and you must give yourself entirely to God and turn your face to Him. To desire this world is turning away from God for the sake of what is transitory. To covet the next world means turning away from God for the sake of what is everlasting.  (Ibrahim Adham)

42. Patience has three stages. First, the servant ceases to complain; this is the stage of repentance. Second, the Sufi becomes satisfied with what is decreed; this is the rank of the ascetic. Third, the servant comes to love whatever the Lord does with him; this is the stage of the true friends of God.  (Abu Talib al-Makki)

43. Khafif went out on a pilgrimage and carried only a jug and a rope to draw water. As he passed through the wilderness, he saw many deer standing on the top of a well, drinking water. As he approached, they ran away, and the level of the water went down. In spite of his efforts, he could not draw water from the well. He prayed to the Lord to raise the level of the water as He has done for the deer. The Divine voice replied, “We cannot do so, as you depend upon the rope and the jug besides Us.” Immediately he threw both of them away and the water level rose and he quenched his thirst. He recited the incident to Junaid, who said, “The Lord was testing your dependence on Him. Had you waited patiently for a longer time, it would have overflowed the top.”  (Attar)

44. Two brothers, one married and one single, farmed together and divided the grain from the harvest equally between them. The single brother often thought that his brother had extra worries and expenses because of his family so he would, from time to time, move some of the filled sacks from his storeroom into his brother’s. Hsi brother, on the other hand, often thought of how lonely his single brother must be. He thought, if my brother had a little more money he might buy himself some nicer things. So he would, without the other’s knowledge, move some of his grain sacks into his brother’s storeroom. For many years the number of sacks remained equal between them, and niether brother could ever understand why this was so.   (Traditional)

45. In sharing one’s property with one’s companion there are three degrees. The lowest degre is where you place your companion on the same footing as your slave or your servant, attending to his or her need from your surplus. If some need befalls him when you have more than you require, you give spontaneously, not obliging him to ask To oblige your companion to ask is the ultimate shortcoming in fulfilling one’s duty. At the second degree you place your companion on the same footing as yourself. You are content to have hşm or her as partner in your property and to treat him or her like yourself, to the point of sharing it equally. At the third degree, the highest of all, you prefer your companion to yourself and set his or her need before your own.   (al-Ghazzali)

46. One day a man asked a sheikh how to reach God. “The ways to God”, the sheikh replied, ” are as many as there are created beings. But the shortest and easiest is to serve others, not to bother others, and to make others happy. (Abu Said)

47. Service is a form of worship- and also a powerfull method of self-transformation. Most service that we offer is selfish; it is service for the sake of reward: money, praise or fame. By service, the Sufis mean the service ” for God’s sake”, without any thought  of reward. This kind of service comes when we remember that we are a part of God’s creation, and that by serving creation we are serving our Creator- not for a heavenly reward, but out of love and gratitude. An old sheikh once said, “Service witout love is like a beautiful corpse. The outer form is lovely, but it is lifeless.”

48. The first duty is to behave with purity of intention. It should never be forgotten that every deed and every action is judged according to the intention behind it. Therefore, whatever the lover does, whatever action the lover performs, must be done for the sake of God. Actions performed with complete sincerity and for God’s sake are accepted and approved. But deeds that are done to be seen by others and to win their praise and love may be adulterated by hypocrisy. (Sheikh Muzaffer)

49. What is not God? Look around in every direction. Look at the people you know: the shining beings, the simple souls, the sad, the angry, the gentle, the kind, the cruel. Look at the smallest creatures: fleas, dust mites, viruses, bacteria. Look inside yourself: at your thoughts, feelings, memories, opinions, reflections, and dreams. What is not God? Whatever you answer, whatever you identify as “not God”- Hitler, breast cancer, garbage dumped on your lawn, your father in-law’s temper, your own indolence- by separating these from what you think is God, you are missing the essential point. Everything is infused with God. Everything is animated by God. Everything is a facet, a reflection of the Divine. There are no idols or images in Islam. Whatever you see, within or without, is a manifestation of God. The Sufi lives in a world of true monotheism. At the cente rof Sufi prayer, of service, and of daily life, one truth resounds- there is nothing created or un-created, that is not God.

50. The goal of self-transformation is to remove all the veils between us and God. The final veil is the “I”, the sense of separateness we each carry. To remove  this isfar from easy. Ask yourself, ” How can I take “I” out of me?” The great Sufi philosophers insist that our sense of individuality is an illusion, that there is only one Reality, which is God. So self-transformation is to remove all illusions, including the final illusion, SELF, in order to experience reality. Those who see Sufism as a path of love say the same thing in other words. For them, the goal is for the beloved, lover, and love to become one.

51. The Sufi is he to whom nothing is attached and does not become attached to anything.  (Nuri)

52.When the angel of death came to take Abraham’s soul, Abraham said, “Have you ever seen a friend take his friend’s life?” God answered him, “Have you ever seen a friend unwilling to meet or go with his friend?”  (al-Ghazzali)

PS: If you would like buy the book, you can find it here: Essential Sufism