Sufi Travel

Fernando Pessoa has something interesting to say about travel:

A glimpse of open country above a stone wall on the outskirts of town
Is more liberating for me than an entire journey would be for someone else.

I’ve listened today to an author who writes travel books. He was making a long journey by train. He was sitting on some sacks of grain, while being absorbed in his thoughts. His train then passed a city known because of its sacred places for the Sufis. Suddenly it was as if he saw a kind of ‘window’, which offered a view of the world of imagination.

Some Sufis have travelled in the beginning of their lives and then became residents, while other Sufis started their travels at a relatively mature age. Even for the ‘residents’, i.e. those who stay for a long time at the same post, it can be said that their travelling never ceases:

These travels are only bridges that are placed for us
Upon which to cross over to our essences
And the states that are specific to us.

The dervishes of the Mo’ini Gudri Shahi tariqa are the guardians of the Chilla in Ajmer. Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti performed several retreats, which lasted for forty days, in a cave at the outskirts of Ajmer. Khwaja Mo’inudin Chishti passed most of his life in tours and travels. This enabled him to meet many very advanced spiritual travellers. He tells about these outstanding Sufis: “No words are adequate to describe their accomplishments”.

During his travels Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti met a young man – Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki- and by giving his worn dervish clothes to him, he enrolled him as a murid. The two of them performed together the rites of the pilgrimage in Mecca. Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti received directions from the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) to travel to India and settle in Ajmer, where he spent the rest of his life in the service of the people.

A journey implies the going from a place of stay towards a goal. This travel is either outward or inward. The latter consists of a number of journeys:

Journey 1: Travelling from the people to God. Some travellers are content to stay at the top of the mountain and do not wish to return to the people in the valley. This has been expressed thus:

Mosaafer-am be-shahr-e-man
Shaayad ke baaz na-gardam

I am a traveller to my place of origin,
Perhaps I shall not return.

The Chishti shaykh Wahid Bakhsh Sial Rabbani presents these poetical lines as an illustration of the journey to God:

I am a burning candle,
Thou art the morning light.
If I do not see Thee I burn.
If I see Thee I vanish.
This is my condition in separation and nearness.
I can neither bear separation nor presence.

Journey two: This is according to the Chishtis the journey in God, which is the longest journey. This is the journey from the Truth to the Truth. The traveller’s essence, actions and qualities receive a transformation. The traveller now hears through His hearing, sees through His seeing, etc.

Journey 3: This is the travel from God to the people. The second journey is in fact endless, but the traveller is sent back to the people from the Truth with the Truth in order to guide them in their travels.

Sufis like Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti have combined their outward travel with the spiritual travel. During his outward travel he often stayed at lonely places. When the local people understood that there was an important wali in their neighbourhood, he travelled quickly on to places where he was still unknown. After his settling in Ajmer he observed the people, their behaviour and their acts. He understood their strong points and their weaknesses. He was of service to them, helping them with the insights as he was still with the Truth. His attention to the people did not distract him from his concentration upon the Truth.

There is another kind of journey all of us have to make. It is the journey to the grave. Robert Frost has written this:

And were an epitaph be my story,
I’d have a short one ready for my own.
I would have written of me on my stone:
I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.

The Sufis have taught us that during our dreams we can enter the world of imagination, which is a world wherein we can also meet the ones who have died. There is a barrier between the ordinary world and the world of imagination. The advanced travellers along the Sufi path are always able to enter the world beyond this wall, while for us it is possible to have a glimpse thereof during our dreams or in our more creative moments of inspiration. Let’s finish by repeating the lines of Pessoa presented in the beginning:

A glimpse of open country above a stone wall on the outskirts of town
Is more liberating for me than an entire journey would be for someone else.