The Indian master Khwajah Moinuddin Chisti (r) said, “Sufism is neither knowledge nor form, but a particular ethical discipline.” A discipline is a way of life, not an armchair study. Sufism is not simply or exclusively about attending lectures, reading books, listening to spiritual music, doing sacred dances, or any combination thereof. It is a dynamic and practical system which requires intense personal effort, for its object is nothing less than the complete transformation of one’s character, behaviour, attitudes, and conceptualisations.
The student is like a seed planted in the ground. With sun, water and proper care the seed grows into a mature plant. Similarly, the interplay between the shaykh and the student, in combination with the ‘barakat’ (blessings) from God and from the elders, evokes a change within the student’s being. At first, as with a seed, change occurs slowly, almost imperceptibly. Gradually, something within the student grows. His or her former being undergoes metamorphosis, until one day, with God’s grace, the student has become a completely different being. The Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi Order uses the terms ‘fana’ (annihilation) and ‘baqa’ (subsistence) to describe this process.
The practices are not only transformational, but experiential, for they enable the student to discover for himself or herself the finer details of the Sufi way. Engaging in this study is like conducting laboratory experiments. You may have been taught that a water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms, but if you synthesize water yourself, your knowledge of its chemistry will be grounded in direct experience. In the same way, a student of Sufism may personally witness what happens along the way. The seeker does not journey in the dark. Although many people consider Sufism mysterious and obscure, it is neither. It is a clear, precise discpline with numerous objective verifications.
Most scientific theories of evolution culminate in the highest primate: the human being. They do not tell us what happens next, within and beyond humans. Several hundred years before Darwin, the Sufi poet Rumi (r) stated, “Originally you were clay. From mineral you became vegetable. From vegetable, you became animal and from animal, human. During these periods you did not know where you were going, but you were being taken on a long journey nontheless. You have a hundred different worlds yet to traverse.”
Rumi (r) and other masters tell us that further development awaits human beings. That development depends not on selective adaptation through reproductive succession, as in Darwin’s theory, but on consciousness: that is, on a special type of learning that human beings may choose to acquire. Although apparently, the evolution of the physical body culminates in homo sapiens (‘thinking human’), this is not the end of the story. Additional transformation needs to be undertaken on the spiritual level. Struggle and effort are required to progress toward becoming a whole perfected person (‘al-insan al-kamil’), the ultimate human goal.
From “Turning Toward the Heart” by Shaykh Hazrat Azad Rasool (r)