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Sufism and nature

Published Jun 28, 2012 08:00pm

IN a broad sense, the definition of nature includes anything that is not made by man. However, Sufis take a different view in light of their teachings.

With their interpretation, ‘La ilaha il Allah’, meaning ‘there is no god except Allah’, can also mean ‘La mojoud il Allah’ i.e. nothing exists except Allah.

All the creations are but not detached from their Creator, hence being one with the Creator requires not only a gnostic view of the environment around us but also the struggle to be one with nature.

Taking care of the world around one’s own self is a built-in feature in almost all human beings. Everyone takes care of their families, friends, homes, workplaces and generally all creations of God.

Most of the followers of the Sufi path strive to lead a simple life as per their teachings; thus, they try and be environmentally friendly compared to those who harm nature in the pursuit of greater luxuries.

From a worldly perspective, Sufis can take a leading role in raising environmental awareness. Keeping the environment and nature healthy and green helps them so that a follower of the Sufi path does not feel detached from the environment. In fact, the environment should be so conducive that the salik (seeker of the sublime truth) is driven towards attaining the state of oneness with nature.

Pursuit of worldly pleasures and amassing of wealth have dealt a heavy blow to nature and the environment. However, a ray of hope is the fact that environmental issues have begun to attract the attention of important segments of society. These efforts need to be maximised and their continuity guaranteed.

Once concern for the environment and awareness in people becomes common, every act, and most significantly people’s intentions and motives behind these acts, will converge on keeping their environment in as much purity as possible. These collective efforts will hopefully bear fruit one day.

Most spiritual teachers emphasise cleanliness of one’s own self and one’s surroundings in addition to the purity of heart. Whatever the spiritual path, it is always led by a master who knows the intricacies of leading others towards their destiny. The shaikhs of Sufi orders guide their disciples towards the goal of oneness with reality. For the disciples, the teacher has already travelled on the very same path of spirituality. They take his words as guidance and are motivated by his love for salikeen.

With this stature, the shaikh occupies a unique post whereby he can, and does, guide disciples towards being guardians of the environment. This inspires the disciples to act upon these guidelines by putting their heart and soul into them.

Nature is also the world within. Cleaning one’s own self denotes the negation of one’s ego (also referred to as the ‘negative ego’). Prophets, saints and Sufi masters have all emphasised tazkiyah-i-nafs i.e. the purification of one’s inner self. This plays a vital role in not only bringing a salik closer to his destiny but also on a larger scale, strengthens the fabric of human society.

Imagine a society where human beings are not driven by ego and life is not perceived as a field for competition, tussles and success. It would be a world without the gluttony of self-accomplishment, without the desire to be better than others and to amass wealth and power. This may seem idealistic in a way, but it can be argued that striving to detach oneself from egocentricity is a noble goal. In a nutshell, society will be a more tolerant one if one’s ego does not come into anyone else’s way.

The fabric of society will have threads of different colours and hues but will be interwoven so strongly that even if people or their ideologies are different, they are respected and accepted as a part of nature around one’s own self.

Almost all the spiritual paths suggest ways and means to come into harmony with nature. All spiritual teachers emphasise on cleansing one’s inner self of worldly contamination. This results in a human being turning into a true reflection of nature. This has been beautifully described by Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi in one of his anecdotes quoted in Hikayat-i-Rumi.

The Chinese and the Greeks brought a dispute before a king, each one of them claiming to be better in the art of decoration. To settle this dispute the king ordered two walls facing each other to be decorated by each of them.

The Chinese adorned their wall with the most exquisitely painted scenery. The Greeks, on the other hand, used no colours at all, but contented themselves with cleansing the wall from all filth, and polishing and shining it till it was as clear and bright as the heavens.

The king admired the wall painted by the Chinese but was speechless with awe upon seeing the Greek wall in which all the colours of the other wall were reflected with an endless variety of shades and hues.

On a pure spiritual front, man and nature work in unison as man himself is a part of nature. Hence, discovering one’s own self and being one with nature has been and always will be the ultimate goal of a salik.

With this stature, the shaikh occupies a unique post whereby he can, and does, guide disciples towards being guardians of the environment. This inspires the disciples to act upon these guidelines by putting their heart and soul into them.