On Sufism

By Paulo Coelho
For The Bali Times

I have told Sufi stories in many of these columns and some of them featured their main character, Nasrudin – the fool that is always able to be more intelligent than the wise men, surprising readers with his actions.

Today I would like to set these stories aside for a bit and write a little about the subject itself.

The encyclopedic definition describes Sufism as Islamic esoterism. For this reason, it was always very poorly welcomed in the Muslim world. It originated around the 10th century and has the following principle: through a series of non-conventional religious practices, the faithful may attain a direct connection to God. Dancing is among the most common practices and the transmission of its philosophy is carried out through small legends, as the one I told last week.

On the second day of my visit to Iran, I was invited to attend a Sufi ceremony. In a small apartment in Teheran, with turned-off lights, lighted candles and sounding percussion instruments, I could see how this spiritual tradition preserves its purity up to this day.

The meeting began at nine o’clock at night. For almost an hour, a man with a voice that seemed to come from the depth of his soul sang in a monochord tone. When he stopped singing, the percussion instruments began to be played in a very similar rhythm of the one we see in Afro-Brazilian ceremonies.

Following the same ritual line of these religions we know so well, some men got up (we were all sitting around an empty space in the middle of the room) and began to turn around themselves.

The ceremony took an hour, during which the dancers laughed out laud, said incomprehensible words – even for the people speaking Persian – and demonstrated to be in a profound trance. Slowly they stopped turning, the percussion slowed down and the lights in the room were turned on.

I asked one of them what he had felt.

“I have been in contact with the energy of the Universe,” he answered. “God went through my soul.”

“Do we need to do something else? Have a special faith, adopt a constant practice?” I asked.

According to one of the most important theologians of Islam, Sufism is not a doctrine, not even a faith system. It is an enlightenment tradition through everything that is dynamic.

Abu Muhammad Mutaish says: “Sufi is the one whose thoughts walk at the same speed as his feet.” That is, his soul is where his body is, and vice versa. Where a Sufi is, there is also everything he is: the worker, the mystic, the intellectual, the contemplative, the one who has fun.

As I said in the beginning, the majority of the Sufi teachings come through popular stories, full of ironies. Not to skip the rule, I will end the column with one of them.

Nasrudin, the foolish master of Sufism, had a buffalo. The buffalo’s separated horns made him think that if he was able to sit between them, it would feel like being seated on a throne. One day, when the animal was distracted, he walked in his direction and did what he had imagined. At that moment, the buffalo got up and threw him far from there.

His wife, as she saw it, began to cry.

“Don’t cry,” said Nasrudin, as soon as he was able to recover. “I suffered, but at least I realised my desire.”

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