A dervish is an apprentice, one who is learning the profession that will provide eternal livelihood. This profession is still taught in certain "schools of higher learning." While there are many skills that can be self-taught or learned alone, the skills of dervishood are learned by being in relationship to a shaikh, or guide, and within a spiritual family, a Sufi circle. There will always be much to learn on one's own, through one's own efforts, and within one's own understanding. The final responsibility, of course, lies with ourselves, and in reality there is no intermediary between us and our God. And yet one can no more become a dervish alone than one can become a lover alone.
We are all students in the school of love, although it may take us a long time and much suffering to admit this fact. Something obstinately refuses to see the obvious. Its amazing how stubborn and slow we are, and how often we still forget. We forget whenever we think ourselves more important than others, whenever we see our own desires and goals as more important than the feelings and well-being of those we love. We forget whenever we blame others for what we ourselves have been guilty of. We forget whenever we lose sight of the fact that in this school of love it is love that we all are trying to learn.
The greatest truths and aspirations are perpetually at risk of being subverted from their highest possibilities. We see tendencies arising these days which are rationalized through a spiritual rhetoric yet lack a spiritual center and which therefore are at the mercy of distortion by the ego and its narcissistic demands. This is especially true when there is any opportunism, any possibility of telling the ego what it wants to hear, rather than telling the Truth. These can take the form of celebrity spirituality, quantum affluence, psychological polytheism, mythological paganism, mystical eroticism, ego-empowerment, get-what-you-want-mysticism. Each in subtle and not so subtle ways misplaces the center, and is therefore out of balance.
Is it possible for humanity, or even a portion of it, to embrace a truly universal spirituality? If so, what would a universal spirituality be based on? And would such a spirituality be able to offer a path to complete spiritual realization? The answers to these questions have become more urgent as the world becomes smaller through technologies of communication and transportation. While we can appreciate the need for greater understanding and acceptance of our differences and greater recognition of our common humanity, should this spell the end of religion as we know it? Is it time for a spirituality that is founded upon universal principles, or upon a scientific spiritual psychology? Can we dispense with forms if we have found the essence? Can we separate spirituality from religion?
At a time when humanity is reaching a point of cultural convergence, ecological crisis, and rapid social change, we wish to promote the truth of Divine love and knowledge through direct, personal experience. In order to accomplish this purpose the times we live call us to express and share the essential principles of spiritual development, to recognize and develop a true partnership of man and woman, to recognize the unity and interdependence of all human beings and all life, and to aid in the practical realization of living in harmony with our fellow beings and the natural world. Another way to state our objective is that we wish to develop a contemporary expression of the classical Sufi Path, establish a workable format in which individuals and groups can mature within this tradition and experience the joys of Sufism, and, finally, to make a tangible contribution to our culture through service, art, music, and literature.
The hatred, fear, and violence that we see manifesting in the world will cause us to ask many questions. What meaning shall we read in these events? What are the root causes of evil? What should our response be? Where shall we turn to find answers and guidance? Anyone who takes Islam seriously can expect to be stigmatized in the eyes of many in the prevailing society. The current situation presents us with a challenge.
William Chittick: Let me say something about your basic underlying insight in these discussions of good and evil. Something that Shaikh Kabir referred to a few days ago, and that is: evil is essentially nonexistence. There's none good but God. There's your principle. Being is good. Non-existence, the lack of being, is evil. Now, we run into problems with Mevlana, of course, since he's talking about the workshop of nonexistence, you say, well, does that mean that that nonexistence is evil? No, of course not. Because it has been pointed out that, when he's talking about nonexistence, he's talking from our point of view. But it's simply because we see things backwards. We think God is in nonexistence up there, and we're existent. No, we're non-existent. Remember that passage from Shams. Where he says, "You say God is dhat (essence). So what? What's it to you? He is eternal being. He is. You are not."
Let's begin by considering the world we live in, the society and culture that we live in; particularly in North America but more or less all over the modern world we have societies which are based on the individual. Particularly in North America and Europe but in the modern world as a whole, the individual is taken as the center of reality, the most important unit of reality. And this pervades everything. But in the modern world, meaning the world of the last few centuries for the West, this individual that is the center of reality, is in a sense an individual -- unlike the individual of traditional societies and of many eastern societies -- it's an individual cut off from the transcendent, it is a crippled individual, a separated individual and sometimes an emotionally toxic and wounded individual; and yet it's this individual that they base everything on, and that is taken as the norm of reality.