Sufis want to know God fully, and to learn to do that, one has to learn to be God, and in learning to be God, one is considered to be on the path to perfection. From this point on in this essay, I will be using a few different words in place of the word “God” for ease of concept-hopping, but every metaphysical concept that represents “God” will be begin with a capital letter. Any word then, if capitalized out of context, can be a representation of God, because all things are God, or all are Things. At this point, we are now able to begin our journey on the well marked path to getting Lost.
For a western mind, hailing from the 21st century, there are many ideals and culturally constructed norms that prevent one from grasping fully on to the Ideas that Sufism and most other mystical traditions have been discussing since the birth of Atlantis. In America, god (intentional non-capitalization) and the government fulfill the same role, and its role is to pacify through subtle fear, or not so subtle depending on the severity of the “crime” or “sin.” There are a series of laws, or rules, or commandments in which some higher-leveled entity, which already knows the answer to how everyone should live, assesses if one is living the right way according to the ideas that those higher entities think they know. If one is, then keep doing what one is doing, and if one is not, then we’ll throw one in a jail, an asylum, or just make one feel ashamed for the rest of ones life until one changes or dies and goes to hell.
Sufism, on the other hand, takes a radically different approach: God is everything, or to simplify that statement according to my capitalization idea, Everything. God transcends the ability to even be or not be, therefore, saying “God is everything” is technically a less accurate of a statement compared to the word (implying the same sentence) “Everything.” If we were to immediately siphon the meaning from the infinite to the individual, simple logic can produce the chain of thought: “if God is everything, and I’m part of everything, then aren’t I God too?” This is exactly what Al-Hallaj meant when he said the phrase, “Anā l-Ḥaqq” which means “I am the Truth,” Truth being directly related to God. ”This chain of thought, although very simple and harmless, led to many people getting murdered by the religious leaders of the day, or their ideas destroyed by the government leaders of our days. Nobody can challenge the anthropomorphized view of God held so dearly by the rich guys who think they know what this (elderly, white, male) god wants, and those who claim they are God, or claim that God is in a bunch of other stuff, have to be suppressed in one way or another, whether it be by censorship, forced solitude, death, or public humiliation.
This is the sad life of the mystic in the modern world, and this bitter introduction explains why so little of the population knows or understands the true secret to freedom. But now, with (only slightly) more freedom, I am able to write a paper discussing these topics without any backlash from powerful and intimidating organizations.
To then grab back into the infinite to grab another example, that of false idols. The established churches have another plan in action to suppress mystics even more which is the commandment “Thou shall not worship false idols.” If Everything is God, then wouldn’t there be an element of God to worship in all things that exist. The idea of “false idol” doesn’t exist if God is Everything. The phrase, often associated with Islam, “there is no God but God,” is deliberately ambiguous and can be warped to work for sufism or to work for conservative Islam. If one were trying to suppress people from feeling free, they can warp the phrase into, “there is no God but the God that I know, and you need me to help you get to him.” But it can be equally warped into a more Sufi disposition in, “there is no God but Everything.” It is hilarious to see the emergence of this sort of ambiguity and perceptual warping so absolutely inherent in Islamic/Sufi thinking. We now reference the Elephant parable as presented by Rumi, in which five different people describe five different parts of the elephant, all of which are equally wrong at describing the whole picture. Only when one can learn to take all five perspectives of the elephant can one begin to know truly what each of them is describing. The idea of the entirety of things making up a single God is engrained in the word Tawhid.
One of the Sufi’s windows to God is ego-loss, or in more modern term, unego. The prefix un- when applied to certain 21st century philosophy means “everything but this one thing,” so unego isn’t exactly non-ego but all egos but the one ego. In Sufism, the term used for ego-loss is Fanaa, or “annihilation of the self.” Another way of thinking about it would be re-emphasizing the phrase, “God is everything” again. If God is everything, then to know God fully, one must know as much about everything as one possibly can. One must be able to ego-hop between different egos, and to never be a slave to any of them. There is actually a slight difference between what is called the un-ego and the traditional idea of ego-loss. Unego is more of what was explained above in which one tries to expand the ego until it encompasses as many other egos as possible, while egoloss is a more traditional way of actually working loosing the self without the aid of taking on other egos. This way seems much more difficult to me at first, because how would one know what no ego is like if they don’t know what five egos are like first. Nonetheless, many mystics have accomplished it this way. The difference can also be explained in a difference between actively searching for unego versus letting egoloss take one over as God envelopes everything. The Sufi term of Fanaa seems to be translated with connotations of “dissolving” or disappearing, which is a process of shedding, while the unego path seems to be combining or acquiring but both their goals end in the same infinity. Once a glance at fanaa has been seen, it is up to the devoted mystic to turn that one experience of fanaa into a whole life of Baqaa.
One following the path of the unego has one more step compared to the one following the path of egoloss to reach a pinnacle moment in the Sufi’s development. The one going forth unegoing will have to make a conscious decision, to either continue hopping from ego to ego, combining them, or to decide that none of them really follow the Path. The materialist-ego, which is quite fundamental in our ego development, must be controlled, or overthrown. Sufis have practiced controlling this aspect of ego through self-induced poverty. Their word for this is Faqr, and it is essential in Maqaam, the stations the sufi’s soul must travel through before knowing God, or Knowing. Becoming comfortable with living a life of poverty allows the mystic to learn to appreciate any and all things that surround. The development of this humble appreciation for all things is discussed with the term, “rida,” which literally translates to “the fact of being pleased or contented.”
Mystics have developed many ways of exploring the unego, and they have often been described with the metaphor of intoxication. This metaphor is great because it implies such a prominent change in the brain that one has to be experiencing a different perspective. Any state that allows one to transcend ones conditioned ego is a state that can be learned from. It is a tradition of many mystic groups to take various drugs or partake in various rituals that induce intense psychological states that have yet to be explored, showing the mystic both the depth and infinite capacity of the human brain as well as new ways of interpreting what one thinks one knows. Mystics have also used art, mainly music, and dance, as well as other things, to induce similar altered states of consciousness. The whirling dervishes, along with the accompanying music, help one enter a state of mind in which the perception of time and space is completely altered. This vulnerable state is the perfect time for new perspectives to be presented, because one feels most unsure about everything that has been experienced before was a truth. The knowledge that comes from these intoxicated, ecstatic experiences is unlike any kind of knowledge that can be taught. It is knowledge that is beyond all representation. Language, logic, even art fall short of trying to describe it. The Sufis call this knowledge Marifa.
Being able to accomplish even a few of these exercises will allow the brain to see, hear, smell, taste, feel more, and in turn, know more. This is by far complete, in the sense that I have yet to quote enough poetry and explain Islamic terms in more depth, but the universal Knowledge of God is knowable through an infinite number of ways, and words are only one, and specific words are an even more specific one. Words only get one so far in the development of mysticism, but it is strange how comfortable humans are using them to discuss topics that often transcend logic and reason. Maybe there is something of an art in writing that allows certain writing to break more barriers than we think.