The Sufi Way has not inherited a specific spiritual culture like, for example, the Zen culture, the Tibetan Buddhist culture, or most Islamic Sufi orders. Our lineage is marked by extraordinary diversity of teachings and methodology, and this flexibility is another important aspect of its essence. As Pir-o-Murshid Fazal Inayat-Khan remarked, “Sufism always changes and that is how it always remains the same.”
So what does it mean to say that the lineage of the Sufi Way is of the nature of change? How can we relate to or identify with something that is constantly subject to change? Our hope for certainty in our identity, for a sense of belonging to something definable, is constantly challenged by the refusal of our style of Sufism to be cast into the mold of an “ism.” Any identity we settle into will sooner or later become a fossil – we recognize this is unavoidable both for institutions and individuals.
Acknowledging the changeableness or non-fixity of our lineage, nevertheless there are ways in which we might describe our style. At this time the following qualities are most evident:
The style of the Sufi Way can be described as poetic in that the language we use, the pointing-out instructions given, and the practices suggested tend to be non-definitive, precisely because the actual event of mystical recognition is inexpressible. Our style is not an art of conclusion-making, but continually tries to sabotage the reifying tendencies of the mind and language while revealing that in the crucible of the here and now nothing actually comes into being.
Neither Western nor Eastern, nor aligned exclusively with any one tradition or cultural context, the style of the Sufi Way’s teachings and practices is appreciative of all traditions while not claiming priority for any of them. This inclusivity makes available to us a richness of resources, teachings, and methods of practice, resulting in a non-sectarian atmosphere and a style of working together that is both flexible and rigorous. In addition, the universality of our style allows us to “speak the language” of whatever culture or context we find ourselves in.
The Sufi Way continually re-invents its styles of presentation and outreach in accord with the context of the historical moment – the available technology, cultural sensitivities, and aesthetic of the times.
To say that our style is “relaxed” means that it tends toward the informal rather than the formal in the atmosphere of our gatherings, although this does not necessarily imply casualness or lack of discipline. Rather there is a predilection for ease, humor, and warm-heartedness.
While the Sufi Way recognizes the function of hierarchy in the traditional authority of the Pir in matters related to the direction and continuity of the order, and also in the role of the Murshid and Murshida in matters related to teaching and guidance, the general tone of our meetings and activities is egalitarian. Our ideal is that all voices are welcome and listened to.
The Sufi Way realizes that the vast majority of mystical and religious traditions and teachings have arisen in a patriarchal context, and that being inclusive in scope the Sufi Way could have the tendency to absorb this pervasive context of patriarchy into our style. Mindful of this, we actively seek to open our lineage beyond the duality of masculine and feminine positions by welcoming, becoming aware of, and enjoying all aspects of being in our work together.
The style of the Sufi Way privileges direct experience over received knowledge. While teachings may at times be descriptive or philosophical, these are offered for their capacity to open up possibilities of mystical recognition and not to substitute for it. Cultivating direct mystical experience is at the essence of Sufi Way style and is our reason for being.
While the Sufi Way understands itself as a “mystical training ground” its style is not other-worldly nor does it value transcendent experience over the experience of embodied human life. Its style is grounded in our humanity and in the exquisite gifts of sensation, emotion, thought, and communion.
Regarding rules of conduct, ethical precepts and moral injunctions, the Sufi Way is humble rather than assertive, and values the kindness that naturally arises from the initiatory experience – the experience of indivisibility – over any attempt to legislate right and wrong behavior. This “style of kindness” is a moral sensitivity, free from the judgments that alienate us one from another in these matters.
Finally, the style of the Sufi Way is informed by beauty and the appreciation of beauty. As the Sufi mystic Ibn ‘Arabi stated, “Beauty is the welcoming openness of the Truth toward us.” It is our guide. We learn to follow beauty in all our actions and offerings, recognizing that the ineffable experience of the beautiful is our resonance with, and our identity with, the Only Being.