Titus Burckhardt

    Sufi sm, Taṣawwuf,1 which is the esoteric or inward (bāṭin) aspect of
    Islam, is to be distinguished from exoteric or “external” (ẓāhir) Islam
    just as direct contemplation of spiritual or divine realities is distinguishable
    from the fulfi lling of the laws which translate them in the
    individual order in connection with the conditions of a particular
    phase of humanity. Whereas the ordinary way of believers is directed
    towards obtaining a state of blessedness after death, a state which may
    be attained through indirect and, as it were, symbolical participation
    in Divine Truths by carrying out prescribed works, Sufi sm contains its
    end or aim within itself in the sense that it can give access to direct
    knowledge of the eternal.
    This knowledge, being one with its object, delivers from the
    limited and inevitably changing state of the ego. The spiritual state
    of baqāʾ, to which Sufi contemplatives aspire (the word signifi es pure
    “subsistence” beyond all form), is the same as the state of mokṣa or
    * Editors’ Note: This article is a selection of three chapters from Burckhardt’s
    classic text on Sufi sm, An Introduction to Sufi Doctrine, which is widely
    regarded as one of the fi nest treatments of the subject.
    1 The most usual explanation is that this word means only “to wear wool
    (ṣūf),” the fi rst Sufi s having worn, it is said, only garments of pure wool. Now
    what has never yet been pointed out is that many Jewish and Christian ascetics
    of these early times covered themselves, in imitation of St. John the Baptist
    in the desert, only with sheepskins. It may be that this example was also
    followed by some of the early Sufi s. None the less “to wear wool” can only be
    an external and popular meaning of the term Taṣawwuf, which is equivalent,
    in its numerical symbolism, to al-ḥikmat al-ilāhiyya, “Divine Wisdom.” Al-
    Bīrunī suggested a derivation of ṣūfī, plural of ṣūfi ya, from the Greek Sophia,
    wisdom, but this is etymologically doubtful because the Greek letter sigma
    normally becomes sīn (s) in Arabic and not ṣād (ṣ). It may be, however, that
    there is here an intentional, symbolical assonance.
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    Titus Burckhardt
    “deliverance” spoken of in Hindu doctrines, just as the “extinction”
    (al-fanāʾ) of the individuality which precedes the “subsistence” is
    analogous to nirvāṇa, taken as a negative idea.
    For Sufi sm to permit of such a possibility it must be identifi ed
    with the very kernel (al-lubb) of the traditional form which is its
    support. It cannot be something super-added to Islam, for it would
    then be something peripheral in relation to the spiritual means of
    Islam. On the contrary, it is in fact closer to their superhuman source
    than is the religious exoterism and it participates actively, though in
    a wholly inward way, in the function of revelation which manifested
    this traditional form and continues to keep it alive.
    This “central” role of Sufi sm at the heart of the Islamic world may
    be veiled from those who examine it from outside because esoterism,
    while it is conscious of the signifi cance of forms, is at the same time in
    a position of intellectual sovereignty in relation to them and can thus
    assimilate to itself—at any rate for the exposition of its doctrine—
    certain ideas or symbols derived from a heritage different from its own
    traditional background.
    It may appear strange that Sufi sm should on the one hand be the
    “spirit” or “heart” of Islam (rūḥ al-islām or qalb al-islām) and on the
    other hand represent at the same time the outlook which is, in the
    Islamic world, the most free in relation to the mental framework of
    that world, though it is important to note that this true and wholly
    inward freedom must not be confused with any movements of rebellion
    against the tradition; such movements are not intellectually
    free in relation to the forms which they deny because they fail to
    understand them. Now this role of Sufi sm in the Islamic world2 is
    indeed like that of the heart in man, for the heart is the vital center
    of the organism and also, in its subtle reality, the “seat” of an essence
    which transcends all individual form.
    2 This refers to Sufi sm in itself, not to its initiatic organizations. Human groups
    may take on more or less contingent functions despite their connec tion with
    Sufi sm; the spiritual elite is hardly to be recognized from outside. Again, it
    is a well-known fact that many of the most eminent defenders of Islamic
    orthodoxy, such as ʿAbd al-Qādir Jīlānī, al-Ghazzālī, or the Sultan Ṣalāḥ ad-
    Din (Saladin) were connected with Sufi sm.
    Sufi Doctrine and Method
    Because orientalists are anxious to bring everything down to the
    historical level it could hardly be expected that they would explain
    this double aspect of Sufi sm otherwise than as the result of in fl uences
    coming into Islam from outside and, according to their various
    preoccupations, they have indeed attributed the origins of Sufi sm to
    Persian, Hindu, Neoplatonic, or Christian sources. But these diverse
    attributions have ended by canceling one another, the more so because
    there is no adequate reason for doubting the historical authenticity
    of the spiritual “descent” of the Sufi masters, a descent which can be
    traced in an unbroken “chain” (silsila) back to the Prophet himself.
    The decisive argument in favor of the Muhammadan origin of
    Sufi sm lies, however, in Sufi sm itself. If Sufi c wisdom came from a
    source outside Islam, those who aspire to that wisdom—which is
    assuredly neither bookish nor purely mental in its nature—could not
    rely on the symbolism of the Qurʾān for realizing that wisdom ever
    afresh, whereas in fact everything that forms an integral part of the
    spiritual method of Sufi sm is constantly and of necessity drawn out of
    the Qurʾān and from the teaching of the Prophet.
    Orientalists who uphold the thesis of a non-Muslim origin of
    Sufi sm generally make much of the fact that in the fi rst centuries
    of Islam Sufi doctrine does not appear with all the metaphysical developments
    found in later times. Now in so far as this point is valid for
    an esoteric tradition—a tradition, that is, which is mainly trans mitted
    by oral instruction—it proves the very contrary of what they try to
    The fi rst Sufi s expressed themselves in a language very close to
    that of the Qurʾān and their concise and synthetic expressions already
    imply all the essentials of the doctrine. If, at a later stage, the doctrine
    became more explicit and was further elaborated, this is something
    perfectly normal to which parallels can be found in every spiritual
    tradition. Doctrine grows, not so much by the addition of new knowledge,
    as by the need to refute errors and to reanimate a diminishing
    power of intuition.
    Moreover, since doctrinal truths are susceptible to limitless development
    and since the Islamic civilization had absorbed certain
    pre-Islamic inheritances, Sufi masters could, in their oral or written
    teaching, make use of ideas borrowed from those inheritances proTitus
    vided they were adequate for expressing those truths which had to be
    made accessible to the intellectually gifted men of their age and which
    were already implicit in strictly Sufi c symbolism in a succinct form.
    Such, for example, was the case as regards cosmology, a science
    derived from the pure metaphysic which alone constitutes the indispensable
    doctrinal foundation of Sufi sm. Sufi cosmology was very
    largely expressed by means of ideas which had already been defi ned
    by such ancient masters as Empedocles and Plotinus. Again, those Sufi
    masters who had had a philosophical training could not ignore the
    validity of the teachings of Plato, and the Platonism attributed to them
    is of the same order as the Platonism of the Christian Greek Fathers
    whose doctrine remains none the less essentially apostolic.
    The orthodoxy of Sufi sm is not only shown in its maintaining of
    Islamic forms; it is equally expressed in its organic development from
    the teaching of the Prophet and in particular by its ability to assimilate
    all forms of spiritual expression which are not in their essence foreign
    to Islam. This applies, not only to doctrinal forms, but also to ancillary
    matters connected with art.3
    Certainly there were contacts between early Sufi s and Christian
    contemplatives, as is proved by the case of the Sufi Ibrāhīm ibn Adham,
    but the most immediate explanation of the kinship between Sufi sm
    and Christian monasticism does not lie in historical events. As ʿAbd al-
    Karīm al-Jīlī explains in his book al-Insān al-Kāmil (“Universal Man”)
    the message of Christ unveils certain inner—and therefore esoteric—
    aspects of the monotheism of Abraham.
    In a certain sense Christian dogmas, which can be all reduced to
    the dogma of the two natures of Christ, the divine and the human,
    sum up in a “historical” form all that Sufi sm teaches on union with
    God. Moreover, Sufi s hold that the Lord Jesus (Sayyidnā ʿĪsa) is of
    all the Divine Envoys (rusūl) the most perfect type of contemplative
    saint. To offer the left cheek to him who smites one on the right is true
    spiritual detachment; it is a voluntary withdrawal from the interplay of
    cosmic actions and reactions.
    3 Certain Sufi s deliberately manifested forms which, though not contrary to
    the spirit of the Tradition, shocked the commonalty of exoterists. This was a
    way of making themselves free from the psychic elements and mental habits
    of the collectivity surrounding them.
    Sufi Doctrine and Method
    It is none the less true that for Sufi s the person of Christ does
    not stand in the same perspective as it does for Christians. Despite
    many likenesses the Sufi way differs greatly from the way of Christian
    contemplatives. We may here refer to the picture in which the different
    traditional ways are depicted as the radii of a circle which are united
    only at one single point. The nearer the radii are to the center, the
    nearer they are to one another; none the less they coincide only at the
    center where they cease to be radii. It is clear that this distinction of
    one way from another does not prevent the intellect from placing itself
    by an intuitive anticipation at the center where all ways converge.
    To make the inner constitution of Sufi sm quite clear it should be
    added that it always includes as indispensable elements, fi rst, a doc trine,
    secondly, an initiation and, thirdly, a spiritual method. The doctrine is,
    as it were, a symbolical prefi guring of the knowledge to be attained; it
    is also, in its manifestation, a fruit of that knowledge.
    The quintessence of Sufi doctrine comes from the Prophet, but,
    as there is no esoterism without a certain inspiration, the doctrine is
    continually manifested afresh by the mouth of masters. Oral teaching
    is moreover superior, since it is direct and “personal,” to what
    can be gleaned from writings. Writings play only a secondary part
    as a preparation, a complement, or an aid to memory and for this
    reason the historical continuity of Sufi teaching sometimes eludes the
    re searches of scholars.
    As for initiation in Sufi sm, this consists in the transmission of a
    spiritual infl uence (baraka) and must be conferred by a representa tive
    of a “chain” reaching back to the Prophet. In most cases it is transmitted
    by the master who also communicates the method and confers the
    means of spiritual concentration that are appropriate to the aptitudes
    of the disciple. The general framework of the method is the Islamic
    Law, although there have always been isolated Sufi s who, by reason
    of the exceptional nature of their contemplative state, no longer took
    part in the ordinary ritual of Islam.
    In order to forestall any objection which might be raised on this
    account to what had already been said about the Muhammadan origin
    of Sufi sm, it must here be clearly stated that the spiritual supports on
    which the principal methods of Sufi sm are based, and which can in
    certain circumstances take the place of the ordinary ritual of Islam,
    Titus Burckhardt
    appear as the very keystones of the whole Islamic symbolism; it is
    indeed this sense that they were given by the Prophet himself.
    Initiation generally takes the form of a pact (bayʿa) between the
    candidate and the spiritual master (al-murshid) who represents the
    Prophet. This pact implies perfect submission of the disciple to the
    master in all that concerns spiritual life and it can never be dissolved
    unilaterally by the will of the disciple.
    The different “branches” of the spiritual “family tree” of Sufi sm
    correspond quite naturally to different “paths” (ṭuruq). Each great
    master from whom the start of a specifi c branch can be traced has
    authority to adapt the method to the aptitude of a particular cate gory
    of those who are gifted for spiritual life. Thus the various “paths”
    correspond to various “vocations” all of them orientated to the same
    goal, and are in no sense schisms or “sects” within Sufi sm, al though
    partial deviations have also arisen from time to time and given birth
    to sects in the strict sense. The outward sign of a sectarian tendency is
    always the quantitative and “dynamic” manner in which propagation
    takes place. Authentic Sufi sm can never become a “movement”4 for
    the very good reason that it appeals to what is most “static” in man, to
    wit, contemplative intellect.5
    In this connection it should be noted that, if Islam has been able to
    remain intact throughout the centuries despite the changes in human
    psychology and the ethnic differences between the Islamic peoples,
    this is assuredly not because of the relatively dynamic character
    it possesses as a collective form but because from its very origin it
    includes a possibility of intellectual contemplation which transcends
    the affective currents of the human soul.
    4 In some ṭuruq, such as the Qādiriyya, the Darqāwiyya, and the Naqshbandiyya,
    the presence of “outer circles” of initiates in addition to the inner circle of the
    elite results in a certain popular expansion. But this is not to be confused with
    the expansion of sectarian movements, since the outer circles do not stand
    in opposition to exoterism of which they are very often in fact an intensifi ed
    5 What is in these days usually called the “intellect” is really only the discursive
    faculty, the very dynamism and agitation of which distinguishes it from the
    intellect proper which is in itself motionless being always direct and serene
    in operation.
    Sufi Doctrine and Method
    Sufi sm and Mysticism
    Scientifi c works commonly defi ne Sufi sm as “Muslim mysticism” and
    we too would readily adopt the epithet “mystical” to designate that
    which distinguishes Sufi sm from the simply religious aspect of Islam if
    that word still bore the meaning given it by the Greek Fathers of the
    early Christian Church and those who followed their spiritual line: they
    used it to designate what is related to knowledge of “the mysteries.”
    Unfortunately the word “mysticism”—and also the word “mystical”—
    has been abused and extended to cover religious manifestations which
    are strongly marked with individualistic sub jectivity and governed by a
    mentality which does not look beyond the horizons of exoterism.
    It is true that there are in the East, as in the West, borderline
    cases such as that of the majdhūb in whom the Divine attraction (aljadhb)
    strongly predominates so as to invalidate the working of the
    mental faculties with the result that the majdhūb cannot give doctrinal
    formulation to his contemplative state. It may also be that a state of
    spiritual realization comes about in exceptional cases almost without
    the support of a regular method, for “the Spirit bloweth whither It
    listeth.” None the less the term Taṣawwuf is applied in the Islamic
    world only to regular contemplative ways which include both an
    esoteric doctrine and transmission from one master to another. So
    Taṣawwuf could only be translated as “mysti cism” on condition that
    the latter term was explicitly given its strict meaning, which is also its
    original meaning. If the word were understood in that sense it would
    clearly be legitimate to compare Sufi s to true Christian mystics. All
    the same a shade of meaning enters here which, while it does not
    touch the meaning of the word “mysticism” taken by itself, explains
    why it does not seem satisfactory in all its contexts to transpose it into
    Sufi sm. Christian contemplatives, and especially those who came after
    the Middle Ages, are indeed related to those Muslim contemplatives
    who followed the way of spiritual love (al-maḥabba), the bhakti mārga
    of Hinduism, but only very rarely are they related to those Eastern
    contemplatives who were of a purely intellectual order, such as Ibn
    ʿArabī or, in the Hindu world, Śrī Śaṅkarāchārya.6
    6 There is in this fact nothing implying any superiority of one tradition over
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    Now, spiritual love is in a sense intermediate between glowing
    devotion and knowledge; moreover, the language of the bhakta
    projects, even into the realm of fi nal union, the polarity from which
    love springs. This is no doubt one reason why, in the Christian world,
    the distinction between true mysticism and individualistic “mysticism”
    is not always clearly marked, whereas in the world of Islam esoterism
    always involves a metaphysical view of things—even in its bhaktic
    forms—and is thus clearly separated from exoterism, which can in this
    case be much more readily defi ned as the common “Law.”7
    Every complete way of contemplation, such as the Sufi way or
    Christian mysticism (in the original meaning of that word), is dis tinct
    from a way of devotion, such as is wrongly called “mystical,” in that
    it implies an active intellectual attitude. Such an attitude is by no
    means to be understood in the sense of a sort of individualism with
    an intellectual air to it: on the contrary it implies a disposition to open
    oneself to the essential Reality (al-Ḥaqīqa), which transcends discursive
    thought and so also a possibility of placing oneself in tellectually beyond
    all individual subjectivity.
    That there may be no misunderstanding about what has just been
    said it must be clearly stated that the Sufi also realizes an attitude
    of perpetual adoration molded by the religious form. Like every
    believer he must pray and, in general, conform to the revealed Law
    since his individual human nature will always remain passive in
    relation to Divine Reality or Truth whatever the degree of his spiritual
    identifi cation with it. “The servant (i.e. the individual) always remains
    the servant” (al-ʿabd yabqā-l-ʿabd), as a Moroccan master said to the
    author. In this relationship the Divine Presence will therefore manifest
    Itself as Grace. But the intelligence of the Sufi , inasmuch as it is directly
    identifi ed with the “Divine Ray,” is in a certain manner withdrawn,
    another; it shows only tendencies which are conditioned by the genius and
    temperament of the peoples concerned. Because of this bhaktic character of
    Christian mysticism some orientalists have found it possible to assert that Ibn
    ʿArabī was “not a real mystic.”
    7 The structure of Islam does not admit of stages in some sense inter mediate
    between exoterism and esoterism such as the Christian monastic state, the
    original role of which was to constitute a direct framework for the Christian
    way of contemplation.
    Sufi Doctrine and Method
    in its spiritual actuality and its own modes of expression, from the
    framework imposed on the individual by religion and also by reason,
    and in this sense the inner nature of the Sufi is not receptivity but pure
    It goes without saying that not every contemplative who follows
    the Sufi way comes to realize a state of knowledge which is beyond
    form, for clearly that does not depend on his will alone. None the less
    the end in view not only determines the intellectual horizon but also
    brings into play spiritual means which, being as it were a pre fi guring
    of that end, permit the contemplative to take up an active position in
    relation to his own psychic form.
    Instead of identifying himself with his empirical “I” he fashions
    that “I” by virtue of an element which is symbolically and implicitly
    non-individual. The Qurʾān says: “We shall strike vanity with truth and
    it will bring it to naught” (21:18). The Sufi ʿAbd as-Salām ibn Mashīsh
    prayed: “Strike with me on vanity that I may bring it to naught.” To
    the extent that he is effectively emancipated the con templative ceases
    to be such-and-such a person and “becomes” the Truth on which he
    has meditated and the Divine Name which he invokes.
    The intellectual essence of Sufi sm makes imprints even on the
    purely human aspects of the way which may in practice coincide with
    the religious virtues. In the Sufi perspective the virtues are nothing other
    than human images or “subjective traces” of universal Truth;8 hence
    the incompatibility between the spirit of Sufi sm and the “moralistic”
    conception of virtue, which is quantitative and in dividualistic.9
    Since the doctrine is both the very foundation of the way and the
    fruit of the contemplation which is its goal,10 the difference between
    8 It will be recalled that for Plotinus virtue is intermediate between the soul
    and intelligence.
    9 A quantitative conception of virtue results from the religious con sideration
    of merit or even from a purely social point of view. The qualitative conception
    on the other hand has in view the analogical relation between a cosmic or
    Divine quality and a human virtue. Of necessity the religious con ception of
    virtue remains individualistic since it values virtue only from the point of
    view of individual salvation.
    10 Some orientalists would like artifi cially to separate doctrine from “spiritual
    experience.” They see doctrine as a “conceptualizing” anticipating a purely
    Titus Burckhardt
    Sufi sm and religious mysticism can be reduced to a question of doctrine.
    This can be clearly expressed by saying that the believer whose doctrinal
    outlook is limited to that of exoterism always maintains a fundamental
    and irreducible separation between the Divinity and himself whereas
    the Sufi recognizes, at least in prin ciple, the essential unity of all beings,
    or—to put the same thing in negative terms—the unreality of all that
    appears separate from God.
    It is necessary to keep in view this double aspect of esoteric
    orientation because it may happen that an exoterist—and par ticularly
    a religious mystic—will also affi rm that in the sight of God he is
    nothing. If, however, this affi rmation carried with it for him all its
    metaphysical implications, he would logically be forced to admit at
    the same time the positive aspect of the same truth, which is that the
    essence of his own reality, in virtue of which he is not “nothing,” is
    mysteriously identical with God. As Meister Eckhart wrote: “There is
    somewhat in the soul which is uncreate and uncreatable; if all the soul
    were such it would be uncreate and uncreatable; and this somewhat is
    Intellect.” This is a truth which all esoterism admits a priori, whatever
    the manner in which it is expressed.
    A purely religious teaching on the other hand either does not take
    it into account or even explicitly denies it, because of the danger that
    the great majority of believers would confuse the Divine Intellect with
    its human, “created” refl ection and would not be able to conceive
    of their transcendent unity except in the likeness of a substance the
    quasi-material coherence of which would be contrary to the essential
    uniqueness of every being. It is true that the Intellect has a “created”
    aspect both in the human and in the cosmic order, but the whole
    scope of the meaning that can be given to the word “Intellect”11 is not
    what concerns us here since, independently of this question, esoterism
    subjective “experience.” They forget two things: fi rst, that the doctrine ensues
    from a state of knowledge which is the goal of the way and secondly, that God
    does not lie.
    11 The doctrine of the Christian contemplatives of the Orthodox Church,
    though clearly esoteric, maintains an apparently irreducible distinction between
    the “Uncreated Light” and the nous or intellect, which is a human, and so
    created faculty, created to know that Light. Here the “identity of essence” is
    Sufi Doctrine and Method
    is characterized by its affi rmation of the essentially divine nature of
    Exoterism stands on the level of formal intelligence which is
    conditioned by its objects, which are partial and mutually exclusive
    truths. As for esoterism, it realizes that intelligence which is be yond
    forms and it alone moves freely in its limitless space and sees how
    relative truths are delimited.12
    This brings us to a further point which must be made clear, a
    point, moreover, indirectly connected with the distinction drawn
    above between true mysticism and individualistic “mysticism.” Those
    who stand “outside” often attribute to Sufi s the pretension of being
    able to attain to God by the sole means of their own will. In truth it is
    precisely the man whose orientation is towards action and merit—that
    is, exoteric—who most often tends to look on everything from the
    point of an effort of will, and from this arises his lack of under standing
    of the purely contemplative point of view which envisages the way
    fi rst of all in relation to knowledge.
    In the principial order will does in fact depend on knowledge and
    not vice versa, knowledge being by its nature “impersonal.” Although
    its development, starting from the symbolism transmitted by the
    traditional teaching, does include a certain logical process, know ledge
    is none the less a divine gift which man could not take to himself by
    his own initiative. If this is taken into account it is easier to understand
    what was said above about the nature of those spiritual means which
    are strictly “initiatic” and are as it were a prefi guring of the non-human
    goal of the Way. While every human effort, every effort of the will
    to get beyond the limitations of individuality is doomed to fall back
    expressed by the immanence of the “Uncreated Light” and its presence in the
    heart. From the point of view of method the distinction between the intellect
    and Light is a safeguard against a “luciferian” con fusion of the intellectual
    organ with the Divine Intellect. The Divine Intellect immanent in the world
    may even be conceived as the “void,” for the Intellect which “grasps” all
    cannot itself be “grasped.” The intrinsic orthodoxy of this point of view—
    which is also the Buddhist point of view—is seen in the identifi cation of the
    essential reality of everything with this “void” (śūnya).
    12 The Qurʾān says: “God created the Heavens and the earth by the Truth
    (al-Ḥaqq)” (64:3).
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    on itself, those means which are, so to say, of the same nature as the
    supra-individual Truth (al-Ḥaqīqa) which they evoke and prefi gure
    can, and alone can, loosen the knot of microcosmic individuation—the
    egocentric illusion, as the Vedantists would say—since only the Truth
    in its universal and supra-mental reality can consume its opposite
    without leaving of it any residue.
    By comparison with this radical negation of the “I” (nafs) any
    means which spring from the will alone, such as asceticism (az -zuhd)
    can play only a preparatory and ancillary part.13 It may be added that it
    is for this reason that such means never acquired in Sufi sm the almost
    absolute importance they had, for instance, for certain Christian monks;
    and this is true even in cases where they were in fact strictly practiced
    in one or another ṭarīqa.
    A Sufi symbolism which has the advantage of lying outside the
    realm of any psychological analysis will serve to sum up what has just
    been said. The picture it gives is this: The Spirit (ar-Rūḥ) and the soul
    (an-nafs) engage in battle for the possession of their common son the
    heart (al-qalb). By ar-Rūḥ is here to be understood the in tellectual
    principle which transcends the individual nature14 and by an-nafs the
    psyche, the centrifugal tendencies of which determine the diffuse and
    inconstant domain of the “I.” As for al-qalb, the heart, this represents
    the central organ of the soul, corresponding to the vital center of the
    physical organism. Al-qalb is in a sense the point of intersection of the
    “vertical” ray, which is ar-Rūḥ, with the “hori zontal” plane, which is
    Now it is said that the heart takes on the nature of that one of
    the two elements generating it which gains the victory in this battle.
    Inasmuch as the nafs has the upper hand the heart is “veiled” by her,
    for the soul, which takes herself to be an autonomous whole, in a
    13 Sufi s see in the body not only the soil which nourishes the passions but
    also its spiritually positive aspect which is that of a picture or résumé of the
    cosmos. In Sufi writings the expression the “temple” (haykal) will be found
    to designate the body. Muḥyi ʾd-Dīn ibn ʿArabī in the chapter on Moses in his
    Fuṣūṣ al-Ḥikam compares it to “the ark where dwells the Peace (Sakīnah) of
    the Lord.”
    14 The word rūḥ can also have a more particular meaning, that of “vital spirit.”
    This is the sense in which it is most frequently used in cosmology.
    Sufi Doctrine and Method
    way envelops it in her “veil” (ḥijāb). At the same time the nafs is
    an accomplice of the “world” in its multiple and changing aspect because
    she passively espouses the cosmic condition of form. Now form
    divides and binds whereas the Spirit, which is above form, unites
    and at the same time distinguishes reality from appearance. If, on the
    contrary, the Spirit gains the victory over the soul, then the heart will
    be transformed into Spirit and will at the same time transmute the
    soul suffusing her with spiritual light. Then too the heart reveals itself
    as what it really is, that is as the tabernacle (mishkāt) of the Divine
    Mystery (sirr) in man.
    In this picture the Spirit appears with a masculine function in
    relation to the soul, which is feminine. But the Spirit is receptive and
    so feminine in its turn in relation to the Supreme Being, from which
    it is, however, distinguished only by its cosmic character inasmuch
    as it is polarized with respect to created beings. In essence ar-Rūḥ is
    identifi ed with the Divine Act or Order (al-Amr) which is sym bolized
    in the Qurʾān by the creating Word “Be” (kun) and is the immediate
    and eternal “enunciation” of the Supreme Being: “. . . and they will
    question you about the Spirit: say: The Spirit is of the Order of my
    Lord, but you have received but little knowledge” (Qurʾān, 17:85).
    In the process of his spiritual liberation the contemplative is
    reintegrated into the Spirit and by It into the primordial enunciation
    of God by which “all things were made . . . and nothing that was
    made was made without it” (St. John’s Gospel).15 Moreover, the name
    “Sufi ” means, strictly speaking, one who is essentially identi fi ed with
    the Divine Act; hence the saying that the “Sufi is not created” (aṣ-ṣufi
    lam yukhlaq), which can also be understood as meaning that the being
    who is thus reintegrated into the Divine Reality recognizes himself
    in it “such as he was” from all eternity according to his “principial
    possibility, immutable in its state of non- manifestation”—to quote
    Muḥyi ʾd-Dīn ibn ʿArabī. Then all his created modalities are revealed,
    whether they are temporal or non- temporal, as mere inconsistent
    refl ections of this principial possi bility.16
    15 For the Alexandrines too liberation is brought about in three stages which
    respectively correspond to the Holy Spirit, the Word, and God the Father.
    16 If it is legitimate to speak of the principial, or divine, possibility of every
    being, this possibility being the very reason for his “personal unique ness,” it
    Titus Burckhardt
    A rite is an action the very form of which is the result of a Divine
    Revelation. Thus the perpetuation of a rite is itself a mode of Revelation,
    and Revelation is present in the rite in both its aspects—the intellectual
    and the ontological. To carry out a rite is not only to enact a symbol but
    also to participate, even if only virtually, in a certain mode of being, a
    mode which has an extra-human and universal extension. The meaning
    of the rite coincides with the ontological essence of its form.
    For people of modern education and outlook a rite is usually no
    more than an aid in promoting an ethical attitude; it seems to them that
    it is from this attitude alone and from nothing else that the rite derives
    its effi cacy—if indeed such people recognize in rites any effi cacy at all.
    What they fail to see is the implicitly universal nature of the qualitative
    form of rites. Certainly a rite bears fruit only if it is carried out with an
    intention (niya) that conforms to its meaning, for according to a saying
    of the Prophet, “the value of actions is only through their intentions,”
    though this clearly does not mean that the intention is independent of
    the form of the action.17 It is precisely because the inward attitude is
    wedded to the formal quality of the rite—a quality which manifests
    a reality both ontological and in tellectual—that the act transcends the
    domain of the individual soul.
    The quintessence of Muslim rites, which could be called their
    “sacramental” element, is the Divine Speech for which they provide a
    vehicle. This speech is moreover contained in the Qurʾān, the recitation
    of the text of which by itself constitutes a rite. In certain cases this
    recitation is concentrated on a single phrase repeated a defi nite number
    of times with the aim of actualizing its deep truth and its particular
    grace. This practice is the more common in Islam because the Qurʾān is
    does not follow from this that there is any multiplicity whatever in the divine
    order, for there cannot be any uniqueness outside the Divine Unity. This truth
    is a paradox only on the level of discursive reason. It is hard to conceive only
    because we almost inevitably forge for ourselves a “substantial” picture of the
    Divine Unity.
    17 Rites of consecration are an exception because their bearing is purely
    objective. It is enough that one should be qualifi ed to carry them out and that
    one should observe the prescribed and indispensable rules.
    Sufi Doctrine and Method
    composed in great part of concise formulas with a rhythmical sonority
    such as lend themselves to litanies and incantations. For exoterism
    ejaculatory practices can have only a secondary importance; outside
    esoterism they are never used methodically, but within it they in fact
    constitute a basic method.
    All repetitive recitation of sacred formulas or sacred speech,
    whether it be aloud or inward, is designated by the generic term dhikr.
    As has already been noted this term bears at the same time the meanings
    “mention,” “recollection,” “evocation,” and “memory.” Sufi sm makes
    of invocation, which is dhikr in the strict and narrow sense of the term,
    the central instrument of its method. In this it is in agreement with
    most traditions of the present cycle of humanity.18 To understand the
    scope of this method we must recall that, accord ing to the revealed
    expression, the world was created by the Speech (al-Amr, al-Kalīma)
    of God, and this indicates a real analogy between the Universal Spirit
    (ar-Rūḥ) and speech. In invocation the ontological character of the
    ritual act is very directly expressed: here the simple enunciation of the
    Divine Name, analogous to the primordial and limitless “enunciation”
    of Being, is the symbol of a state or an undifferentiated knowledge
    superior to mere rational “knowing.”
    The Divine Name, revealed by God Himself, implies a Divine
    Presence which becomes operative to the extent that the Name takes
    possession of the mind of him who invokes It. Man cannot con centrate
    directly on the Infinite, but, by concentrating on the symbol of the
    Infinite, attains to the Infinite Itself. When the individual subject is
    identified with the Name to the point where every mental projection
    has been absorbed by the form of the Name, the Divine Essence of the
    Name manifests spontaneously, for this sacred form leads to nothing
    outside itself; it has no positive relationship except with its Essence
    18 This cycle begins approximately with what is called the “historical” period.
    The analogy between the Muslim dhikr and the Hindu japa-yoga and also with
    the methods of incantation of Hesychast Christianity and of certain schools
    of Buddhism is very remarkable. It would, however, be false to attribute a
    non-Islamic origin to the Muslim dhikr, fi rst because this hypothesis is quite
    unnecessary, secondly because it is contradicted by the facts, and thirdly
    because fundamental spiritual realities cannot fail to manifest themselves at
    the core of every traditional civilization.
    Titus Burckhardt
    and finally its limits are dissolved in that Essence. Thus union with the
    Divine Name becomes Union (al-waṣl) with God Himself.
    The meaning “recollection” implied in the word dhikr indirectly
    shows up man’s ordinary state of forgetfulness and unconsciousness
    (ghafl a). Man has forgotten his own pre-temporal state in God and
    this fundamental forgetfulness carries in its train other forms of
    forgetfulness and of unconsciousness. According to a saying of the
    Prophet, “this world is accursed and all it contains is accursed save only
    the invocation (or: the memory) of God (dhikru ʾLlāh).” The Qurʾān
    says: “Assuredly prayer prevents passionate transgressions and grave sins
    but the invocation of God (dhikru ʾLlāh) is greater” (29:45). According
    to some this means that the mentioning, or the remembering, of God
    constitutes the quintessence of prayer; ac cording to others it indicates
    the excellence of invocation as com pared with prayer.
    Other Scriptural foundations of the invocation of the Name—or
    the Names—of God are to be found in the following passages of the
    Qurʾān: “Remember Me and I will remember you . . .” or: “Mention
    Me and I will mention you . . .” (2:152); “Invoke your Lord with
    humility and in secret. . . . And invoke Him with fear and desire;
    Verily the Mercy of God is nigh to those who practice the ‘virtues’
    (al-muḥsinīn), those who practice al-iḥsān, the deepening by ‘poverty’
    (al-faqr) or by ‘sincerity’ (al-ikhlāṣ) of ‘faith’ (al-īmān) and ‘submission’
    to God (al-islām)” (7:55, 56). The mention in this passage of
    “humility” (taḍarruʿ), of “secrecy” (khufya), of “fear” (khawf) and of
    “desire” (ṭamaʿ) is of the very greatest technical importance. “To God
    belong the Fairest Names: invoke Him by them” (7:180); “O ye who
    believe! when ye meet a (hostile) band be firm and remember God
    often in order that ye may succeed” (8:45). The esoteric meaning of
    this “band” is “the soul which incites to evil” (an-nafs al-ammāra) and
    with this goes a transposition of the literal meaning, which concerns
    the “lesser holy war” (al-jihād al-aṣghar), to the plane of the “greater
    holy war” (al-jihād al-akbar). “Those who believe and whose hearts
    rest in security in the recollection (or: the invocation) of God; Verily
    is it not through the recollection of God that their hearts find rest in
    security?” (13:28).
    By implication the state of the soul of the profane man is here
    compared to a disturbance or agitation through its being dispersed
    Sufi Doctrine and Method
    in multiplicity, which is at the very antipodes of the Divine Unity.
    “Say: Call on Allāh (the synthesis of all the Divine Names which is
    also transcendent as compared with their differentiation) or call on ar-
    Raḥmān (the Bliss-with-Mercy or the Beauty-with-Goodness intrinsic
    in God); in whatever manner ye invoke Him, His are the most beautiful
    Names” (17:110); “In the Messenger of God ye have a beautiful
    example of him whose hope is in God and the Last Day and who
    invokes God much” (33:21); “O ye who believe! invoke God with
    a frequent invocation (dhikran kathīrā)” (33:41); “And call on God
    with a pure heart (or: with a pure religion) (mukhliṣīna lahu-d-dīn) .
    . .” (40:14); “Your Lord has said: Call Me and I will answer you . . .”
    (40:60); “Is it not time for those who believe to humble their hearts
    at the remembrance of God? . . .” (57:16); “Call on (or: Remember)
    the Name of thy Lord and consecrate thyself to Him with (perfect)
    consecration” (73:8); “Happy is he who purifies himself and invokes
    the Name of his Lord and prayeth” (87:14, 15).
    To these passages from the Qurʾān must be added some of the
    sayings of the Prophet: “It is in pronouncing Thy Name that I must
    die and live.” Here the connection between the Name, “death,” and
    “life” includes a most important initiatic meaning. “‘There is a means
    for polishing everything which removes rust; what polishes the heart is
    the invocation of God, and no action puts so far off the chastisement
    of God as this invocation.’19 The companions said: ‘Is not fighting
    against infidels like unto it?’ He replied: ‘No: not even if you fight on
    till your sword is broken’”; “Never do men gather together to invoke
    (or: to remember) God without their being surrounded by angels,
    without the Divine Favor covering them, without Peace (as-sakīna)
    descending on them and without God remembering them with those
    who surround Him”; “The Prophet said: ‘The solitaries shall be the
    first.’ They asked: ‘Who are the solitaries (al-mufridūn)?’ And he
    19 According to the Viṣṇu-Dharma-Uttara “water suffices to put out fire and
    the rising of the sun (to drive away) shadows; in the age of Kali repetition of
    the Name of Hari (Viṣṇu) suffices to destroy all errors. The Name of Hari,
    precisely the Name, the Name which is my life; there is not, no, there surely
    is no other way.” In the Mānava Dharma-Śāstra it is said: “Beyond doubt
    a brahmin (priest) will succeed by nothing but japa (invocation). Whether
    Titus Burckhardt
    replied: ‘Those who invoke much’”; “A Bedouin came to the Prophet
    and asked: ‘Who is the best among men.’ The Prophet answered:
    ‘Blessed is that person whose life is long and his actions good.’ The
    Bedouin said: ‘O Prophet! What is the best and the best rewarded of
    actions?’ He replied: ‘The best of actions is this: to separate yourself
    from the world and to die while your tongue is moist with repeating
    the Name of God’”;20 “A man said: ‘O Prophet of God, truly the laws
    of Islam are many. Tell me a thing by which I can obtain the rewards.’
    The Prophet answered: ‘Let your tongue be ever moist with mentioning
    * * *
    The universal character of invocation is indirectly expressed by the
    simplicity of its form and by its power of assimilating to itself all those
    acts of life whose direct and elemental nature has an affi nity with the
    “existential” aspect of the rite. Thus the dhikr easily imposes its sway
    on breathing, the double rhythm of which sums up not only every
    manifestation of life but also, symbolically, the whole of existence.
    Just as the rhythm inherent in the sacred words imposes itself on
    the movement of breathing, so the rhythm of breathing in its turn
    can impose itself on all the movements of the body. Herein lies the
    principle of the sacred dance practiced in Sufi communities.21 This
    practice is the more remarkable since the Muslim religion as such
    is rather hostile both to dancing and to music, for the identifi cation
    through the medium of a cosmic rhythm with a spiritual or divine
    he carries out other rites or not he is a perfect brahmin.” Likewise also the
    Mahābhārata teaches that “of all functions (dharmas) japa (invocation) is
    for me the highest function” and that “of all sacrifices I am the sacrifice of
    20 Kabīr said: “Just as a fi sh loves water and the miser loves silver and a mother
    loves her child so also Bhagat loves the Name. The eyes stream through looking
    at the path and the heart has become a pustule from ceaselessly invoking the
    21 According to a ḥadīth, “He who does not vibrate at remembrance of the
    Friend has no friend.” This saying is one of the scriptural foundations of the
    dance of the dervishes.
    Sufi Doctrine and Method
    reality has no place in a religious perspective which maintains a strict
    and exclusive distinction between Creator and creature. Also there
    are practical reasons for banishing dancing from religious worship,
    for the psychic results accompanying the sacred dance might lead to
    deviation. None the less the dance offers too direct and too primordial
    a spiritual support for it not to be found in regular or occasional use in
    the esoterism of the monotheistic religions.22
    It is related that the fi rst Sufi s founded their dancing dhikr on the
    dances of the Arab warriors. Later, Sufi orders in the East, such as
    the Naqshabandis, adapted certain techniques of hatha-yoga and so
    differentiated their form of dance. Jalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī, who founded
    the Mevlevī order, drew the inspiration for the collective dhikr of his
    community from the popular dances and music of Asia Minor.23 If the
    dances and music of the dervishes are mentioned here it is because
    these are among the best known of the manifestations of Sufi sm; they
    belong, however, to a collective and so to a rather peripheral aspect of
    taṣawwuf and many masters have pronounced against their too general
    22 A Psalm in the Bible says: “Let them praise His Name in the dance: let
    them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and the harp.” It is known that
    the sacred dance exists in Jewish esoterism, fi nding its model in the dancing
    of King David before the Ark of the Covenant. The apocryphal Gospel of
    the Childhood speaks of the Virgin as a child dancing on the altar steps, and
    certain folk customs allow us to conclude that these models were imitated
    in mediaeval Christianity. St Theresa of Avila and her nuns danced to the
    sound of tambourines. Mā Ananda Moyi has said: “During the samkīrtana
    (the “spiritual concert” which is the Hindu equivalent of the Muslim samāʿ,
    or rather, of ḥadra or ʿimāra) do not pay attention to the dance or the musical
    accompaniment but concentrate on His Name. . . . When you pronounce the
    Name of God your spirit begins to appreciate the samkīrtana and its music
    predisposes you to the contemplation of divine things. Just as you should
    make pūjās and pray, you should also take part in samkīrtanas.”
    23 An aesthetic feeling can be a support for intuition for the same reason
    as a doctrinal idea and to the extent to which the beauty of a form reveals
    an intellectual essence. But the particular effi cacy of such a means as music
    lies in the fact that it speaks fi rst of all to feeling, which it clarifi es and sublimates.
    Perfect harmony of the active intelligence (the reason) and the passive
    intelligence (feeling or sensibility), prefi gures the spiritual state—al-ḥāl.
    Titus Burckhardt
    use. In any case, exercises of this kind ought never to preponderate
    over the practice of solitary dhikr.
    Preferably invocation is practiced during a retreat (khalwa), but it
    can equally be combined with all sorts of external activities. It requires
    the authorization (idhn) of a spiritual master. Without this authorization
    the dervish would not enjoy the spiritual help brought to him
    through the initiatic chain (silsila) and moreover his purely individual
    initiative would run the risk of finding itself in flagrant contradiction
    to the essentially non-individual character of the symbol, and from
    this might arise incalculable psychic reactions.24
    24 “When man has made himself familiar with dhikr,” says al-Ghazzālī, “he
    separates himself (inwardly) from all else. Now at death he is separated from
    all that is not God. . . . What remains is only invocation. If this invocation
    is familiar to him, he fi nds his pleasure in it and rejoices that the obstacles
    which turned him aside from it have been put away, so that he fi nds himself
    as if alone with his Beloved. . . .” In another text al-Ghazzālī expresses himself
    thus: “You must be alone in a retreat . . . and, being seated, con centrate your
    thought on God without other inner occupation. This you will accomplish,
    fi rst pronouncing the Name of God with your tongue, ceaselessly repeating:
    Allāh, Allāh, without letting the attention go. The result will be a state in
    which you will feel without effort on your part this Name in the spontaneous
    movement of your tongue” (from his Iḥyāʾ ʿUlūm ad-Dīn). Methods of
    incantation are diverse, as are spiritual possibilities. At this point we must
    once again insist on the danger of giving oneself up to such practices outside
    their traditional framework and their normal conditions.
    “Sufi Doctrine and Method” by Titus Burckhardt
    Features in
    Sufism: Love and Wisdom
    © 2006 World Wisdom
    Edited by Jean-Louis Michon and Roger Gaetani
    Foreword by Seyyed Hossein Nasr
    All Rights Reserved. For Personal Usage Only

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