Sufism - Living spirituality in the Present Time - Dr.Faouzi Skali
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Living Spirituality in the Present Time

by Dr. Faouzi Skali

Dr. Faouzi Skali, an anthropologist and an ethnologist;  he is a professor from  the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Fes; an author of many publications including "La Voie Soufi" (The Soufi Path), "Traces de Lumiere" (Traces of Light) and "Le Face à Face des Cœurs: Le soufisme aujourd'hui" (A Dialogue of hearts: Sufism Today),  he is the Director of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music. Dr. Skali has taken the Festival a step further by coordinating a colloquium to follow the festival called Giving Soul to Globalization,  a meeting place for humanitarians and international leaders in the business world to work together to develop more space for spirituality in the working world.

Faouzi Skali: Bismillah ir Rahman ar-rahim. A discussion in fact about living spirituality in the present time. And there is a very known sentence in the Sufism which says “the Sufi is the son of his time.”  Or in another understanding: is the son of the instant of the present. And we can of course ask ourselves what that means. It’s about the way to understanding what the religious part itself is. It is absolutely important that religion, any religion, must be a living religion.  That means that the spiritual dimension is the heart, the real heart of the religion, and without this spiritual dimension it is like form without soul.  It is like a body without soul.  So it is something that is dead.  And that course, everybody can misuse, misunderstand in a lot of different ways.  So spirituality is not just something which is added to the  religious part, but it is the heart, the very heart of the religion. And it is what makes the religion a part of transformation. Something that can help us, the teaching of this path can help us to get a transforming process. 

"spirituality is not just something which is added to the religious part, but it is the heart, the very heart of the religion.  And it is what makes the religion a part of transformation."

And this transforming process it is what is also called the “Knowledge of the Heart.”  There is also a famous sentence that attributed to the Prophet which says, “the one who know himself is the one who knows his Lord.”  Knowing oneself is divine knowledge.  And it means that we can go through a different level of this knowledge.  The one self is what the Sufi called, in an Arabic term, “nafs” or in another term “the ego.”  And there are different levels of this ego or of this perception of what one self is. 

The first one, the level where we live in a sort of unconscious way, is what is called the despotic ego, an nafs amara, the despotic ego [which] is just the ego who just follow his will, his pleasure, what he wants to do, without taking [into] consideration any other thing.  It is like a despot who commands this ship of the ego and even there is no consciousness of that. It is just done like that naturally, spontaneously, because there is no awareness of oneself. 

And after that, there is another level which is what is called the self which blames itself.  An nafsuluwaama. And in all the religions we know that it is the birth of the moral conscience.  I mean if you blame yourself, you [begin] to distinguish what is good and what is bad.  And of course there is a sort of suffering because there is a sort of separation between what you are doing and how you judge what you are doing.  But it’s in any case a step which is higher than the first one because there is a moral awareness. And you can consider that even if you like something, if you want to do something, if that thing hurts somebody else, that is not a good thing, and you have to avoid it. 

And after that there is another level which is what we call, the beginning of being open to something which is beyond the ego, to be receptive to something which is beyond the ego, and in that situation, the ego which is receptive to that, is called the “inspired self.”  It is the beginning of the inspiration.  You begin to understand things with this opening to something which is beyond us, to the spiritual world, to the divine world. And you begin to understand things through this inspiration.  And it is the beginning, like we said before, of this spiritual knowledge of ourselves. 

And this inspiration creates a new unity of the self.  You are not deciding by yourself, by your ego, what is good or what is bad.  You just feel what is happening.  You just naturally feel that what you are doing is good, without even understanding that mentally.  The heart knows.  This is the beginning of the knowledge of the heart.  And when it is like that, what happens is that you find for the first time, a feeling of peace inside you.  Because at the same time there is a feeling of unity.  And you are one with your feeling.  You are one with your heart.  The self is the heart, itself.  We are in a deeper level of our self.  We are closer than ever to our true self, to our true essence.  And then this fourth level is called, “the peaceful self.” 

All that means that we have to go through these different steps by having a wider and a larger awareness of what we are, really, in the reality.  But in this path, in this journey, in this internal journey, there are a lot of traps of the ego, tricks of the ego, that we have to discover and to avoid.  And all these sort of traps are, like the Sufis say, that they are like veils around us, veils which separate us from this true being, from our true essence.  And all the work that we have to do, is a sort of enlightenment, an enlightenment that makes those veils transparent.  That makes us able to [lift] these veils and to begin to approach this light of the essence, of the heart. 

In another way symbolic way of presenting this journey, the heart is like a mirror, with a lot of [dust] on the mirror.  And this dust makes us unable to receive this light.  And this dust are like the veils, which I was talking about, and like this conditioning of the ego, which limits our sight, our understanding, our opening to this light.  That’s also to give symbols  to this experience, because all [this] are not only words.  They’re really experience, something that we have to experience and to feel and to live.  And there is the symbolism of the mirror: that we have to clean with meditation, with invocation of GOD, with invocation of the divine reality.  So that it becomes more present, closer, to our consciousness.  And this work has to be done for a long time, and every day. 

And through this practice, we learn how to follow this very deep path inside ourselves, a subtle path.  We learn [the way of] the behaviour , the spiritual behaviour, and I’m not speaking about the outside behaviour, but how to act with this presence of GOD, the Truth inside us.  How, for example, to discover what is the true sincerity, how to, for example, to abandon oneself, in the hand of this reality.  What is the truth of love, this very essential energy, which gives us the strength to go deeper and deeper in this path?  What is the truth of the feeling of compassion?  All [this] we discover inside us.  And we discover that like a reality of experience.  It is like a different sort of light which is inside us, a different sort of energy which is inside us. 

And of course knowing oneself, going deeper in this path, [on the other hand], it is knowing how our ego acts.  And [how] it (the ego) tries all the time to do recuperate of all that is left, to do it for himself.  Not for the truth, but just to use it for himself.  Like for example, one can have a very special experience.  How will the ego act with that?  Will he consider that now he has become a great saint, a great wise person, wiser than the others?   And with that, [transforming] this spiritual service, to something which is in the service of the ego itself.  Or are we going to do our best to clean our mirror, to clean the dust, because this sort of reaction is a sort of dust, a sort of veil, and then to return, and to see that [it is not a] question of being [one] thing or another, but is just to be in the right orientation, the right direction toward the truth, to be in the service of the truth and nothing else.  And that’s way in another sentence, according to tradition of the Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, “be educated by the education of the compassionate,” and it is one of the Names of GOD, the Compassionate.  What is the behaviour of the education of the compassionate?  Of course it is compassion first, and love, the real love, for everybody, for all of the universe.  And also, humility. 

And this leads us to something which is very important, and that has been indicated in the introduction before, [which] is about what is called in Sufism, which is the magnification of the universe.  And like this light which is inside us, [it] is also all around us, in everybody, in all the human beings, in all the beings of the universe, in nature, in the cosmos, everywhere.  But we can’t see it.  [Yet] as far as we can go inside us, the eye of the heart is more open and we can see that outside, because the eye of the heart becomes more open. 

And this leads us to what is called called, “al aqlaq,” the “high education,” the high behaviour, what is called is Sufi terminology, “chivalry,” spiritual chivalry.  It is behaviour, the generosity of the behaviour.  And it goes with the same attitude, the magnification of not having judgment, or practicing what is called “non-judgment.”  Because we judge just the open, external and formal things.  And the judgment is a sort of veil, which prevents us from going beyond this formal and external thing to judge what is deeper in the other, the light side, the high quality, the quality of the Rahman, the compassionate, which is all around us.  That’s why someone gave this definition of this high behaviour, as Junayd, a well known Sufi, came to see Abu Hafs Al Hadad, who is a Persian Sufi, to ask him what the high behaviour is.  And his response was that the high behaviour is to try to be straight and not to impose that upon the others, without asking others to do the same.

This is a very subtle definition, because it means that someone who acts like that is practicing non-judgment.  He is practicing magnification all around him and he’s not seeing himself as better than the others.  And this is because he’s very close to this heart, to this light, to this true being, which is as close to the true essence, which is himself.  Somebody came in another tradition, [and ] this tradition says that when he came to meet the Prophet,  (peace be upon him), the Prophet told him, “you came here to ask about how to be straight, and he said “yes.”  And he said to ask your heart about that, ask you heart about that because the real response is in what you feel, really.  If you feel peacefulness, if you feel the authenticity, the reality, the sincerity of what you are doing, there is all your heart which can give this response, even if everybody is saying you are doing right, but perhaps you see that this is not the case.  So the real authenticity is the authenticity of the heart and it is what Sufism tries to teach us, to try to make us practice “tasting.”.  It is why the term, “tasting” is so important in Sufism.  Because tasting things is not just knowing things mentally.  You can know a lot about what “honey” is, you know, everything, all the chemistry about that, but you can’t replace the real taste of what it is.  And that is the real practice of spirituality.  And doing that makes us live in the present of the time, because you are living with what, your heart, with what you are feeling, not with the past, not with the future.  Of course you are dealing with the past and the future, but you are absolutely in your time, in the instant and the time both together.


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