The inner school of the Sufis

A Chishti shaykh once pointed out to me how it can be observed that the inner school takes place. The dervishes then sit in the shape of a crescent opening up to the light of the ‘star’, their shaykh. And indeed afterwards it was easy to recognise. The subject that is discussed cannot always be judged at face value. I remember that once in my presence the shaykh discussed several things, but all of them dealing with worldly matters. I was feeling rather disappointed having made a long travel to attend. At that very moment the shaykh brought up a new subject, also having to do with outward things, but at the same time I did not only realise that it had an inner dimension but also that all the previous subjects had had a spiritual meaning. The shaykh then, looking at me, noticed that I had understood and went on as if nothing had happened. In fact these people do not waste time…

You may be familiar with the fact that the teaching takes shape in an indirect way. The shaykh does not approach one of his disciples directly saying stop drinking too much alcohol, but tells a story to all the dervishes that are present. I remember that when staying in the Sufi khaneqah an Englishman entered and after some time he and I went out for a walk in the town. As it was very hot he wanted to take a beer and I could not help it and joined him. Later on, out of respect to the shaykh, we brushed our teeth in order to get rid of the smell of alcohol. In the evening the shaykh told one story after the other and suddenly told this one: ‘Two disciples went to town and took a drink at the wine-shop. Someone noticed them and reported it to their shaykh. His reaction was: ‘I am a sinner too’.” Two people in the assembly understood the why of this story, which was followed up immediately by another one!

Perhaps you have read the Chishti book ‘Morals for the heart’. It very clearly shows the atmosphere in a Sufi halqa, especially a Chishti one. You see how Nizamuddin Aulia brings up subjects and changes it, showing a marvellous intuition.

A shaykh should be able to ‘entertain’ his visitors not only with stories, not only with his sense of humor but also with poetry. The shaykh I visited, could recite by heart many lines from many poets from both East and West. He may have recited these lines of Sharafuddin Maneri:

Where is the intellect that can attain to Your perfection?
Where is the spirit which can aspire to Your majesty?
We want You to raise the beauty-conceiling veil,
But where is the eye that can see Your beauty.