Nondual Sufism

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A few years ago I was asked how a “sufi nondualism” expresses itself  — that is, what in my view makes an expression of nonduality particularly “sufi.” To adequately answer that question would take a book — or ten of them — since expressions of nondual realization are woven throughout the vast literature of classical Sufism (Sufism with a capital "S"). My response, below, gestures instead toward a simpler, living sufism (sufism with a lower case "s") — a style of responsiveness to life that arises in the present moment and that is available to us whether we consider ourselves sufi or not.

green leavesAs I understand it, “nonduality” and “nondual awareness” are names that refer to direct recognition of the clear light of timeless awareness that is the matrix of all apparent existence. This clear light is beyond being; it cannot be known as an object of knowledge or named accurately, though it is ever present. Direct recognition of the clear light does not belong exclusively to any tradition or spiritual view. It is our common inheritance.

When we speak of a nondual Buddhism, or nondual Christianity, nondual Vedanta, or nondual sufism, we are referring to particular styles of revelation and expression of this common inheritance.

We in the West typically think of the sufi “style” as heart-centered — sufism as the way of the heart. But this is only part of the story. Yes, sufism is often marked by poetic expressions of warmth, friendliness, and intimacy, but sufism can equally be experienced as penetrating, relentless, and dissident. So any descriptions of a sufi “style,” like this one, are provisional. For myself, I like to think of it as a style of nondual expression that is spontaneous rather than predetermined, subversive rather than safe. It doesn't stay within a particular pattern. Indeed, the expressions of nondual sufism range from silent contemplation of Divine Absence to ecstatic celebration of its Presence.

I think sufic nondualism in this sense might best be appreciated as a fluency of aliveness that resists crystallizing into a system of thought or belief — but then again it does not hesitate to enjoy thought and belief for the delight or communion they may reveal.

As a living style of awakening, nondual sufism is open, free-wheeling, inclusive in view and practice, non-definitive, experiential, non-sectarian, warm-hearted, non-attached — embracing the full range of human experience while settling nowhere, capable of a mystic openness and freedom from attachment that is equally open to spontaneous delight and sensual extravagance. Expressions of nondual sufism are thankful for beauty in all its forms. They recognize happiness and grief and all emotions in between as free offerings of the Unnameable into Itself.

This style of nondual sufism often shows up simultaneously as a way of negation and a way of affirmation – negating conclusion-making while affirming the indefinable. It's a kind of love-mysticism. It loves the edginess and poignancy of human life while seeing through its apparency to the stillness and love within.

Present without agenda, kind without morality, nondual sufism reaches across the seeming divisions between people and societies with the confidence of the light that is common to us all. Unfinished and unpredictable, its transmission is guided by silence and by an intimate wisdom that arises from the unity of embodiment and emptiness.