International Sufi Symposium
Sufism & Self-Transformation
- The Path of Knowledge & Love
Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr
Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr spoke via
a special video presentation on the symposium theme of
"Sufism and Self-Transformation - The Path of Knowledge
Transformation is going from one form to another. Therefore,
in self-transformation the question is: what is the form that
self comes from and what is the form that self goes to. There
is more than one self in us but we are usually aware and conscious
of our self as this ego centre, which has now become ourselves
and it is this which has to be transformed. Our ‘I’
ness has to be transformed from the limited, windowless ego
which tries to assert itself, to the immortal soul whose windows
are open into the infinite and who ultimately resides in the
Divine Reality. Transformation therefore, means change from
the form of this hardened and solidified ego, which is opaque
to light, to the immortal soul, the immortal self, which resides
in the proximity of the Divine Reality. The first step towards
this perfection is the realisation of the imperfection.
There are only three possibilities of relationship with God
- the level of action, the level of love and the level of
knowledge. On the level of action our duty is to do the right
act, to act according to the will of God, to submit ourselves
to His will and to sacrifice our own egotistical tendencies
for what is good in the ultimate sense. But what brings us
to the very courtyard of God, to the very centre of our being,
because that immortal self still resides in our heart-centre,
is love and of course followed by knowledge. Love and knowledge
are the grand paths for this ultimate transformation of the
self to reach the proximity of the Divine Self.
From a Sufi perspective love alone is not enough, it must
be combined with knowledge. In Sufism love is not simply emotion
and sentiment, it also is related to knowledge in the supreme
sense of the term. One might say that in reality what we love
we must know and what we know we love and when it comes to
the Divine Reality, one can not know God without loving Him
and one can not love God without knowing Him.
Direct knowledge comes through the participation in the reality
that ‘one knows’ and that is called ‘marifah’
in Islam. This means unitive knowledge, the knowledge which
illuminates. God has allowed us to know Him through presence
so that our knowledge of God is the presence of God in us.
Therefore, that knowledge itself burns all otherness, burns
all separation and burns all multiplicity from the consciousness
of the knower. In the deeper sense of the term, of course,
the knower is also God. It is not we who know God but God
in us who knows Himself through us.
Ultimately God is the seer and the seen and what we have to
do is to lift our ego from in between. So at the highest level
of knowledge, what transformation means is our realisation
of our nothingness before God, the lifting of the veil of
the self from in between. The self is a key for the knowledge
of God. It is a key for the understanding of existence itself.
The process of Sufism is what the spiritual path is, to gradually
allow our consciousness to penetrate deeper into the levels
of consciousness or into the levels of reality and to really
know ourself and not to only live on the crust of the shell
which we call our ego which determines our actions, our inclinations,
even colours the way we know, the mode that we live and brings
about selfishness, egotism, hatred and violence. Everything
issues from this hardened heart and hardened ego. Of course
the goal of Sufism, as for all authentic spirituality, is
to make that transformation, that gradually we come to know
ourselves. But that can never be done without the Grace of
God, without revelation, without religion. Without the Grace
that emanates from on high, we cannot reach God except through
the path that comes from God. We have to have access to that
transformative knowledge which illuminates the soul and that
is not possible without the Grace that emanates from the source
Authentic Sufism provides the means for that spiritual power
for us to love God and to know God, which is the ultimate
goal through these twin wings of love and knowledge.
Dr Karim Crow
Dr Karim Crow spoke on
“The Experience of Understanding from an Islamic
Original concepts of Muslim thought have been obscured by
misunderstanding. The idea of knowledge and its role in human
life and in human perception, and the notion of being or the
transformation of the human person is often associated with
the concept of the heart or the interior awareness or centre
of perception. The link between these two levels of our own
experience is the heart-mind.
In the Qur’an we find there is a definite scale of cognition.
Not just hearing and sight leading to understanding, but a
more subtle spectrum, including fiqr (thought), aql (cogitation,
pondering, and thinking), zikr (remembrance), leading to yaqin
(certainty, which also involves faith). So we are talking
about the cognitive dimension of faith. That is to say, deep
faith and unshakable certainty actually points to the tradition
of knowledge and of comprehension.
Dr Crow was asked: “How can we establish
an effective communication between the heart and the reality?”
He responded: Let me just give you a few key words about that.
First is sincerity. Start by being utterly sincere with ourselves,
by looking at ourselves the way others see us. Next is by
sacrificing our little petty preferences and insisting upon
certain ways of seeing and doing things that we think are
the best because they agree with our own predilections. We
pay a price. It’s not for free you know. What are you
willing to sacrifice? Can you make that sacrifice? Whether
it means giving up your favourite little thing that has become
a habit. Whether it is just some little crutch you use to
deflect the demands from outside or from others or even from
a deeper level within yourself. So sincerity, sacrifice and
also perseverance. It is something that you should try to
make a living force within yourself and find what blocks that
force, what leads you away from it, what tends to make you
withdraw from it or deflect from it or find an excuse not
to pay attention to it. That itself is an obstacle. You have
to work on that to see it, to be aware of it and to sacrifice
it. So those are just three little things.
Fleur Nassery Bonnin
Fleur Nassery Bonnin spoke on
“Sufi Psychology and Self-transformation”.
Sufi psychology is a well detailed map of the totality of
man’s journey of life. It contains the means in which
the soul can understand its own structure. It contains the
realisation that is needed in order to bring about transformation.
It encompasses traditional spirituality, metaphysics, ontology
and it is grounded in the teaching of the Qur’an and Hadiths,
but it also uses the inner meaning of the teaching as well
as the outer.
The Sufi view of the purpose of creation of man is the return
journey of the human self to the knowledge and love of God.
Based on the Hadith Qudsi, in relation to creation, God had
said to the Prophet (pbuh), 'I was
a hidden treasure and I loved that I be known, so I created
the creation in order to be known'.
She explained the four levels of self transformation according
to the Sufi path and their requirements.
Man's journey of life is about re-gaining that state of God
consciousness that he has forgotten. The Hadith, 'he who knows
his self knows his Lord', points at two things at once: that
the purpose of life is knowledge and consciousness of God,
and that the way or the means to achieve it is to know one's
self. The self is not the ego-self but this microcosmic self
that is the loci of Divine names and the mirror of God.
Being aware of God requires knowledge of God and knowledge
of God requires knowledge of self and knowledge of self requires
embarking on the path of servant-hood, since it is only in
servanthood that we regain our original Ultimate Self.
Islam is based on one sentence which is called the Shahada,
meaning to testify that 'there is no god but God'. It is not
difficult to realise that a sentence that is on the lips of
a billion people so many times a day cannot just be an ordinary
sentence. In its outer dimension it is pointing to and setting
apart certain people as Muslims. But in its inner dimension
it is uniting people and humankind in their journey for which
they have been created - to regain the knowledge and consciousness
of God. It is in this transformation of self to Self, by negating
the ego-self that one reaches the ultimate Self and God consciouness.
There is no god but God - La ilaha ill'Allah.
Dr Karim Crow, Dr Harry Oldmeadow, Fleur Nassery Bonnin
Dr Harry Oldmeadow spoke on
“Modes of Knowledge: Metaphysics, Theology and Philosophy”.
Intellect is not to be understood in its modern and popular
sense of ‘mental power’. Rather it is a precise
technical term that means ‘the faculty which perceives
Today we find ourselves in a very different situation, one
in which the traditional hierarchy has been inverted. So instead
of having metaphysics, revelation and theology at the top,
then philosophy underneath them and finally what we call science,
dependent on sense data underneath that, the whole thing has
been turned upside down. The most mundane level of reality
has become all encompassing and totalitarian in the modern
Dr Oldmeadow was asked: “Does religion need to be supported
by philosophy?” He responded: If we take philosophy
in its fuller meaning, in its traditional meaning, which is
the pursuit of wisdom including the use of the mind, well
then of course religion has need of that. That kind of philosophy
grows up within all religious traditions. The danger is that
the theological enthusiasm, which is a kind of dogmatic enthusiasm,
and attachment to the particular forms of ones own tradition
become rigid, that they become ossified, that they obscure
rather than reveal. Each tradition always has need within
it for people who can revivify those forms and can point us
to the light which those forms contain. Ultimately we can
see that the forms are pointers, they are like signposts,
they are signals. But as they say in the old Zen story, you
want to see the full moon - I am pointing to the full moon,
you look at the full moon, you want me to keep pointing, how
long will I keep pointing, there is no point in pointing.
The day was concluded with Persian Sufi poetry and music.
In Persian music the play of the instruments reflects the
conversation between lover and beloved that eventually culminates
in ecstatic union.
Fleur Nassery Bonnin recited some of the heart melting poetry
of Moulana Rumi in Persian and in English, accompanied by
the bemoaning of the Ney (reed). Finally the day ended in
a celebration of Persian Sufi music with three generations
of musicians playing Ney, Tar and Daf.