Old Tradition for a New World
Alchemy in Modern Inquiry
The 1997 Sufism Symposium was an excellent demonstration of how the International Association of Sufism is awakening the spiritual vitality of our modern world with its centuries old school of wisdom. Wisdom that is genuine has a beneficial effect on everything it guides; it is not limited to one realm of activity or another, but rather is universally applicable. It is this universal applicability which lies behind the ancient science practiced by Sufi masters known as alchemy. At this year’s Symposium, the entire field of inquiry assembled for the enrichment of the attendees was turned to gold, purified and unified in the alchemy of spiritual seeking. This field included many diverse and active components whose energies are making significant contributions to the spread of the wisdom of Sufism around the world.
Opening Remarks by Seyyedeh Nahid Angha, Ph. D.
The oldest tradition, the deepest – regardless of culture or nationality, time or place – is humanity in its purest essence.
The essence of the human being – the perfect nature – has been regarded as reverent, dignified, and respected among teachers of humanity to the point that Sufis have referred to that essence as the Divine Mirror. The human essence, the perfect nature, is a magnificence yet unconditional gift of Being to humankind.
On the path of life, the dust of man’s footsteps covers the face of this eternal mirror: in his greed for the future, he often pays no attention to the past. The irresistible force of the laws of nature, the rules and the principles of the whirling of time, will take the particles and the atoms, big or small to an unknown destination. But on the eternal journey of life – once in a while, if one is quiet to hear – the voice of the reminders of the Divine Promise echoes in the boundary of the humankind. It goes without saying that the deaf – those who are busy with the distractions of the earthly nuisance – they will not hear. This reflects the basic harmony of Being, the rule of harmony that governs nature, that like attacks like, that the message of the wise is received only by those who are suited to accept it. The essence of truth may, once in a while, stir the feelings and motivate an affection; but it is only heard and understood by a pure essence. The call from purity is received only by purity.
Sufis have understood and discovered the value of this pure essence, the gift of being. They have found a way to illuminate their life with the light of this purity. The existence of these illuminated individuals recalls to us the memories of times past, when life itself was celebrated in its simplicity.
By freeing ourselves from the confines of cultural, national, and social prejudice, and the attractive yet deceptive trap of the surface of living, we can find a way to the depth of life. Nothing remains as beautiful and valuable as life, a gift entrusted by and through Being in is existence.
Put aside future promises, covenants, and vows, the only assurance we possess is the present time, the present breath, the core of life – life that covers the past and leads to future in these cycles of being. The greatest celebration is the celebration of the life of the present through our own present being. We have to ask ourselves: what should we do and how should we care for this most praiseworthy gift of being? The more we come closer to that eternal essence, the more we see and discover its purity – the more we become familiar with such purity, the closer we get to the true meaning of peace, beauty, and tranquility. In so doing, we step farther and farther away from the agents of anger, deception, falsehood, bloodshed, war, and all human corruption.
It is the understanding and the valuing of the essence of human life that is the foundation for any truthful conception of human rights. The law of human rights are not founded by people, by the agreements of nations, nor are they in any sense “natural laws” that can be “discovered” through philosophical systems. Instead, the law of human rights springs out of Being, through our very existence, and these laws are an intrinsic part of the fabric of existence. The defender, the supporter and the creator of this gift is Being, the existence in its unity.
The right of life is the law of being, and it is the human being who needs to understand and remember that law. It is the human being who has to clean the dust from the face of such holiness, and understand the sacred to witness the beauty of this excellence. Human right is the right that is discovered only through the understanding: through the essence and perfect nature of humankind. The individual who recognizes and discovers that nature within his own being, is the one who respects, reveres, and recognizes the right of others. The essence is unchanging, though its faces are many. My heart recognizes this truth, and my many years of learning, understanding, and serving has brought my mind into an accepting union with my heart’s discovery. I am sure that recognizing and honoring the human being will find its way into practical teachings of religion and science. Following this conviction, and to honor and celebrate the being of humanity, we at the IAS have added two more centers to our association: the Sufism and Psychology Forum, and the Sufi Women Society.
Review of the Sufism and Psychology panel discussion at the Sufism Symposium
The weekend of inquiry began Friday afternoon with a two-hour panel discussion on Sufism and Psychology sponsored by the Sufism and Psychology Forum. At this discussion, a standing-room-only crowd listened to talks by Western psychologists and Sufi masters; an extraordinary and unique dialog that occurred for the first time in history. The panel provided a fascinating array of perspectives on the relationship between western concepts of personality and Sufi studies of the nafs. The subject was so engaging that speakers and audience alike expressed a great desire for a more lengthy format. The questions from the audience that time did allow for were excellent, and doubtless the panel discussion initiated a great deal of thought for those present in the weeks that have since followed.
Remembrance of Friday night’s poetry and music
The Sufism and Psychology panel discussion was followed later that evening by a concert featuring the group Taneen, the melody of the Divine Breath cooperating with the outstanding energy of Musa Dieng Kala, the great musician and singer from Senegal. Seyyedeh Dr. Nahid Angha read selections from the great Persian masters and poets.
Another dimension of this year’s symposium which was very exciting was the participation of the internationally distinguished scientists who discussed the growing recognition of the validity of spiritual inquiry by their community. One of the scientists began his lecture by saying “What’s a scientist like me doing with a bunch of dreamers like these?” and this scientist stayed with all the Sufis to the very, very last moment of the Symposium in lectures, music, and in their Zekr. Isn’t that great?
Attendees listened to compelling lectures which probed the limitations of science which prevent one from answering the most important questions about the meaning of existence, as well as the clues leading the scientist to research within. Sufism more than any other time was examined by the scientists and brought the attention of the scientists to the real discoveries of the Sufis. A Sufi in the Seventh century attracted the most intelligent and most inquisitive individuals (many of the Sufis who presented lectures this year are scientists) and the attraction of the Symposium induced many of the scientists to stay for the entire weekend of lectures and activities.
Review of the Sufi Women Panel Discussion
This year the Symposium was presented at the birthday of the Sufi Women Organization, founded by Seyyedeh Dr. Nahid Angha. The Sufi Women Organization attracted the greatest concentration of energy. The panel discussion Sunday was an exciting development of the diplomatic mission of the IAS and many who were present came from far corners of the world to contribute their talents and their hearts to the spread of Sufi wisdom and to take part in the collective commitment in order to return home with greater strength for taking on the roles of leadership from which women have for too long been absent.
Saturday morning the Symposium began with aza’an, calling for prayer, by the magnificent singing of Sheikh Ahmad Tijani from Ghana. The Reverend Paul Chafee of the Interfaith Council of San Francisco presented a prayer. The opening statement was by Seyyedeh Dr. Nahid Angha. The day continued with presentations, panels and workshops by speakers, Sheikhs, masters and pirs. And two special guests, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan and Matthew Fox made the presentations especially exciting. The expression of mysticism throughout the world, both lecturers show, is powerful evidence of our unity and an excellent basis for dialogues which will help us achieve a more lasting and enlightened peace.
Saturday night Keynote address by Shah Nazar Seyyed Ali Kianfar, Ph D.
Saturday night Shah Nazar Seyyed Ali Kianfar, Ph.D. delivered the keynote lecture, entitled, “The Unity of Being,” which drove right to the heart of spiritual seeking. In his lecture, Seyyed Dr. Kianfar quoted extensively from Sufi literature and the Qur’an, stressing that the vast majority of humanity does not realize the immense, infinite wealth within oneself, and explaining further that each person must find this wealth within him or herself; that none can find it or provide it for him or her:”. . . we learn that the rule of unity can only be discovered within each individual. Only the individual can be united with his or her own origin. In the multiplicity that surrounds us, every being is always already in a different place and time; therefore, the multiplicity cannot every be united. This is the secret of unity in macrocosm and microcosm.”
In the second half of his lecture, Seyyed Dr. Kianfar went on to explain that those who have united themselves with their origin have a knowledge which we badly need to heed. Listening to and respecting this knowledge, however, has a very specific meaning, for as one would not try to take at the same time five different routes shown on a map, one cannot heed more than one teaching and expect to arrive at the destination. Respecting the map or the guide means committing strictly to a single path.”Sufism is not something like cooking, [where] I take a part of the Buddhism, a part of Hinduism, a part of so many things and mix it to each other, now here you go. This food will make the maker sick and whomever eats will never, never get anywhere. Unless we follow exactly the rule of the scripture. Exactly. It is out of hand in the case of human being. Divine Rule means Divine Rule, the rule of unity.”
It is important in the world of multiplicity for us to respect each other, our cultures, customs, and traditions, but the successful spiritual traveler is ultimately alone with only one guide who stands between the salek and Allah, shining a light in the right direction s/he wants to go. The Sheikhs come together to awaken the public to this infinite wealth, of which so few are aware, in the hopes that some may go within and find the guiding light of a teacher. The Symposium is not intended to provide a market where one can shop according to the tastes of his or her personality.
Seyyed Dr. Kianfar concluded his speech by referring to the Sheikhs who gathered at the Symposium from around the world as “the people of the Zekr,” the zekr being an experience of ecstasy in which the personality is lost in love of the Divine. In this ecstasy we are united and so it was a rare privilege for all the attendees to sit for zekr immediately after Seyyed Dr. Kianfar’s speech with all the Sheikhs who participated in the Symposium. Each of the Sheikhs led a portion of the Zekr and for well over an hour the ballroom of the Hilton Hotel in Newark was filled with the chant and prayer and love for Allah of the people of the Zekr, the people of the heart. After such a zekr, it is easy to understand why each symposium is better than the last: the love Allah returns remains all year and still there is more when it is time for the next Symposium. We look forward, inshah Allah, to being with all who attended again next year, and if you were not there this year, we hope you will not miss an experience more valuable than our words can convey.