Workshop in Konya, 16 December 2010
Sponsored by The International Mevlana Foundation & The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism
It has been a privilege and an honor to be associated with this Mevlevi tradition. It has shaped our thoughts, values, perceptions, and prayers. We draw upon the inspiration of Hazrati Mevlana and we are also grateful for the centuries of wisdom and beauty that true Mevlevis have left as a legacy.
We have been following the Mevlevi Path since we took hand with Suleyman Dede in 1980 and he gave us permission to teach and lead zhikrs. In 1990 the honorable Celaletttin Celebi gave us permission to wear the Mevlevi Destar and specifically to “teach the mystic path of the Mevlevis.” Our journey on this path continued with the kind support of the noble and generous Celebi family, and along the way was strengthened by many friendships with beautiful Mevlevis, including the faithful and humble Sefik Can Efendi.
The Threshold Society (Sufism.org) has about 12 branches in six countries and about 150-200 active members. The most significant service that we offer are the weekly gatherings for sohbet and zhikr that are, of course, free and open to all. We also offer a distance-mentored training “99 Day Program,” which several thousand people have taken over the last 20 years. We teach about four “telecourses” per year, typically with 30 people in each course. And we have offered three eCourses, two on Mevlana and one on the Quran, with more than 500 people participating in each course. Finally, for several years we have been in the process of compiling study materials on Mevlana’s teachings that can be used in our various groups. Along with my wife, Camille, Co-Director of Threshold Society, we have written about 17 books which have been translated into 8 languages. Needless to say, without the grace of God and Mevlana, without the friendship and love of great Mevlevis, we would not have been able to serve this Din-i Haqq, and this Way (Yol) of Mevlana.
We are all aware that we face some common difficulties in bringing the Mevlevi tradition, in form and essence, into the contemporary world. In today’s world two very different groups are hesitant or suspicious about mystical Islam (tassawuf). Non-Muslims fear that it will lead them to Islam; Muslims fear that it will lead them out of Islam! Mevlevis are convinced that Mevlana’s Way is an expression of the real Islam.
We are aware that Islamic civilization has been greatly weakened by the marginalization and devaluation of real spirituality. The benefits to people and societies once provided by tassawuf and irfan have been lost. Muslims, feeling threatened and disillusioned have turned to superficial, dogmatic, and sometimes extreme forms of Islam as their last line of defense. In the absence of visible examples of a living tradition of Islamic spirituality, a great responsibility falls on our shoulders. At the very least, that responsibility requires us to be able to offer a living transformative spirituality to those who sincerely seek it.
We would do well to ask the question: If Mevlana were alive today, how and what would he teach?
To answer that question, I would like to share with you my understanding of some of the principles that we have tried to live by. These are principles that have been revealed to us in the lives of our shaikhs and our Pir.
The Principle of Love
The highest and most important principle is this: We are ultimately in the service of the truest and highest Love, Ashki Haqiqi. This is the most important criteria by which to evaluate our activities.
In order to understand this principle of Love we must contrast it with “intellect”, by which I mean the critical, thinking mind. When we, who are spiritual seekers, put too much emphasis on the intellectual mind, we become like the lover who insists on reading his own love-letters and ignoring the Beloved sitting beside him. And that’s the best case scenario. The worst case is, as you can imagine, far worse.
I would like to contrast the love Mevlana teaches us with the tendencies of the intellectual mind to focus on criticism, fault-finding, and negation. Intellect is very good at saying “No”; only the heart can offer a true and strong “Yes.”
Ashki Haqiqi is really a state of consciousness far beyond the intellectual mind. Shamsi Tabrizi says: “This is the work of love; not the work of the mind.”
The true Mevlevi spirit is not intellectualism, nor a preoccupation with the critical, analytical mind. Negative thinking, negative language, and fault-finding are not Mevlevi attributes. In Fihi ma Fihi Mevlana reminds us that speaking negatively of others is like spilling garbage around our houses. He tells us instead to plant the beautiful flowers of friendship and love.
Mevlana shattered the shell of intellectual arrogance once and for all. In fact the intellectual pride of Iblis is presented as one of the most fundamental sins in Mevlana’s teaching.
No development of intellectual mind, no matter how much information it contains, can operate on the same level as love. Our tradition has great intellectual resources, and we are grateful for this intellectual knowledge. But the thinking mind is incapable of perceiving the world as Love perceives. The beauty of Mevlana’s Way is its faithfulness to seeing the world with the eyes of Love. What makes Mevlana, Our Prophet and the Quran so precious is the power of Rahmet: the Divine Generosity, Mercy and Love.
We came to this path primarily for one reason: We met and fell in love with our teachers and dervishes who were true human beings, people who radiated a love free of hypocrisy, rigidity, and arrogance.
We can solve our problems with love. We can serve the message of Mevlana through love. True spiritual authority leads by energy and example, with love and humility. The proof and evidence of a healthy spiritual education is that our capacity for love is continually increasing.
An Enlightened Quranic Framework
The essential framework of the Mevlevi Path is the Quran, but the Quran as it has been understood by generations of fully realized Sufis. If Mevlevihood is the “software suite”, then the Quran is the “operating system.”
There is a direct “DNA relationship” between what came through the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and what Mevlana brought. I believe this is because the Divine Mercy, or Rahmet, has never manifested itself as fully as it did in the Prophet Muhammad, and his heirs, who are foremost the Sufi arifeen.
What Mevlana offers us is something the world desperately needs: an enlightened form of Islam.
A Spirit of Emancipation
Mevlana expressed a spirit of emancipation beyond the narrow and brittle legalism that claims the title of “orthodoxy.” The Sunnah of our Prophet is not a rigid concern with outer form, as some who stress the sunnah would have us believe. If we actually look at the Prophet’s life, and particularly how he solved people’s problems, we will see that his sunnah is flexibility and love.
This spirit of emancipation must sometimes challenge the degeneration of spirituality into mere observance of form, or a man-invented orthodoxy that falsely imposes itself in the name of Islam.
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Our tradition has a beautiful history, but it is also a living tradition with responsibilities to future generations. As the late Celalettin Celebi said to me in 1994 during our first Whirling Dervish Tour of North America: “Mr. Helminski we have a responsibility, and that is to create something that will last beyond our individual lives.” In conclusion, these are some of the principles I hope we will keep in mind:
The highest criteria of Mevlevihood is our capacity for love. We must encourage high intellectual and moral standards, but we must never forget that if we fail to love, we have failed greatly.
Mevlana’s path can be a model of enlightened Islam—a true expression of the primordial religion of humanity, Ad Din al Fitra, Ad Din al Haqq as expressed in the Noble Quran.
Mevlana’s path is a path of emancipation, freeing the soul from inner slavery, but also freeing us from conformity to man-made beliefs, including what sometimes claims the title of orthodoxy. Our madhab is the madhabi-ashk, i.e. our legal school is the school of love.
We are experiencing an encounter between this seven-centuries old tradition and various contemporary cultures. This can be a very creative time, a time that will certainly give birth to new ways of living and teaching the essence of the Mevlevi way.
We are living in an era when various traditions and religions are entering into relationship with each other more than ever before. We can extend the hand of friendship to Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and indigenous people. We can affirm the oneness of humanity, especially those who are seeking to reach the Truth, and at the same time be strongly rooted in our own tradition.
We are, as well, living through a period when a centuries old imbalance between men and women is being rebalanced. Therefore it is a time when the role of women in spiritual life deserves to be honored and encouraged.
The Mevlevi Way was for centuries a culture-creating and civilization-building force. Its creative energy manifested ceremonies, architecture, poetry, music, and the highest qualities of human relationship. The fruits on the tree of Mevlevihood have been abundant.
If we carry this tradition as it deserves, we can create a beautiful way of life by reawakening and adapting the appropriate practices of the Mevlevi tekkyes and dergahs, and the practical education of the heart through Mevlevi Adab and Erken. It is still a living tradition.
I believe the Mevlevi tradition can have progressive and liberal values without sacrificing its own high standards and rigor. One example of this is Mevlevi adab, a central value on our path. It could be said that it is more characteristic of Mevlevis than any other lineage. Mevlevi Adab is honored among all tariqahs, but our adab is not merely a set of rules or a strict formalism. Adab is a living quality that expresses true humility, refined awareness, and respectful relationship.
The Way of Mevlana has a great capacity to touch hearts and souls across cultures and in this present historical moment. At a time when many people are discouraged about the state of Islamic civilization and others are equally worried about increasingly materialistic globalization, the Way of Mevlana can offer a radiant, beautiful example of what a spiritual life can be.
Whatever resources we have, whatever formats we have developed, will be offered to whoever wants to know and use them. We are developing structures for service, educational content, recordings of sohbets and public events, translations and recording projects—and most of this will be available on our websites: primarily sufism.org, but also: TheBook.org, and Barakainstitute.org. We look forward to a productive collaboration and sharing of hearts.