What is Baha'u'llah's Message to the Sufis?
by Roberta Law1998-02
In a mystical treatise called "The Seven Valleys", written ca. 1856, Bahá'u'lláh, Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, wrote answers to certain questions put to Him by Shaykh Muhiyi'd-Din, a judge in the town of Khaniqayn, northeast of Baghdad, near Persia. The judge was a Sufi and his questions dealt with certain themes of that movement. This reply was written in the style of a well-known Persian Sufi teacher and poet, Faridu'd-Din-i-'Attar, with copious quotations from another well-known teacher and poet, Jalaluddin Rumi. He argues that the ultimate knowledge of God is not available to the seeker, except through recognition of the Messenger and obedience to revealed Laws.
What is a Sufi and what does he believe?The movement which became known as "Sufism" grew up originally within Islam. The people attracted to it were attracted to the idea of reaching the Divine Essence personally. The sincere amongst Sufis truly wanted to experience the Presence of God themselves. Teachers introduced repetitive practices which were calculated to assist people to have this personal experience. Some examples of these practices, which are still in use today, are dancing in circles or repeating certain prayers over and over again while bowing up and down. From time to time drugs were used, but this was considered by the sincere as decadent practice. Songs, prayers, dancing and other repetitive practices were more often used to induce ecstasy, presumed to be a direct experience of the Presence of God. Stories, especially about the mythical Sufi teacher, Mulla Nasrudin, were also used to illustrate spiritual truths.
In the earliest days of this movement two teachers, who were also poets, arose. They were Fariduddin Attar (called "The Chemist") and Jalaluddin Rumi (called "Our Master"). Their writings became very well-known to all literate Persians, and modern commentators have suggested that Rumi is, "surely the greatest mystical poet in the history of mankind." (Shah 132). It has been said that reading his poetry is sufficient to induce an ecstasic state. (Shah 132)
Sufism is not a religion, but rather that mystical experience which is at the heart of every religion. Religion, with its rituals, organization and laws, was the outer shell of an experience with the divine. Among themselves Sufis would say, " Sufi is a Moslim, a Christian, a Buddhist. A Sufi is a carpenter, a housewife, a banker." Sufism had (has) to do with the full development of the person by way of recognizing his True Self, i.e. God,within himself. Anyone, therefore, who is in touch with the reality of his religion, the reality of this world, is, they would say, a Sufi.
However Sufism, like religions, experienced time when its forms were used and the contents forgotten. This led, for example, to "dervishes" (Sufi wanderers) begging and expecting to be cared for because they were the holders of special, spiritual knowledge. Another problem was a feeling of superiority to recognized laws and codes of behavior which came about because they felt they had discovered the "real" truth of life. One of the beliefs that had crept in was that it was possible to experience God (the Divine Essense) yourself without a Mediator. This was a corruption of Sufi wisdom because the learning was always given from person to person. A modern Sufi said that reading a book about Sufism was like eating canned pineapple. You have to get the wisdom from a person. However, this was still not as far as Bahá'u'lláh's claim that you needed a Divine Mediator, a Person of another station than human, a "Manifestation".
How did Bahá'u'lláh speak to them?In the Seven Valleys Bahá'u'lláh talks to the Sufis of his day in their own symbols and forms. For example, he uses the oldest form of the Sufi literature, the Seven Valleys (or Cities, as it is also known), of the poet Attar, to present His vision to the Sufis. His also quotes copiously from Rumi. Thus he built credibility for His argument.
And His argument? What was it exactly?In the Seven Valleys Bahá'u'lláh sifts the wheat of Sufi teaching from the chaff that had crept in over the years. His point is that mankind can have an experience of the Divine (Valley of Love), can grow in understanding (Valley of Knowledge), can experience the unity of all things (Valley of Unity), be content (Valley of Contentment), and experience amazement (Valley of Wonderment), but there is a veil between the Creator and the created which can only be penetrated by a Being of another quality than man. He is the Messenger and His counsels must be followed. Bahá'u'lláh says: "In all these journeys the traveler must stray not the breadth of a hair from the 'Law', for this is indeed the secret of the 'Path' and the fruit of the Tree of 'truth', and in all these stages he must cling to the robe of obedience to the commandments, and hold fast to the cord of shunning all forbidden things, that he may be nourished from the cup of the Law and informed of the mysteries of truth."
In conclusion.Bahá'u'lláh's message to the Sufis (and mankind) was that although a seeker of the Divine Essence can develop his consciousness considerably in this world, true contact with the Essence is impossible. Full development can only come through recognition of the Messenger and obedience to His Laws.