Dogmas and Conventions

The recent post of Hazrat Inayat’s ‘What Every Moment Demands of Us’ produced an interesting comment-thread, touching on the application of firm principles, the impossibility of drawing a border around Truth, and why Sufis do not have dogmas.

It is true that in Sufism there is no dogma, no definite statement to which one is expected to adhere, but this must be understood properly.  First of all, it is not meant as a comment on the beliefs of others.  The Sufi attitude in this regard is summed up in the words of Hazrat Inayat, when someone in the west asked him, perhaps out of curiosity tinged with suspicion, what was his belief.  He replied, “It cannot be said.  My belief is for me; your belief is for you.” If someone believes in a dogma, therefore, and finds comfort in it, a real Sufi would never think of interfering.

Furthermore, it should be remembered that in ‘classical’ Sufism, meaning Sufism practiced within the framework of Islam, the first step toward the goal is ‘shariat,’ or the faithful adherence to religious law.  This discipline works as a kind of tuning on the student, an essential grounding that prepares the way.   Only when the seeker is considered ready does the work ‘without borders’ begin.  One might think of the dictum: “If your Murshid tells you to spill wine on your prayer carpet, do it!”  The conventionally religious person will be horrified to think of forbidden alcohol staining a sacred prayer mat, but a Sufi might see another meaning in the word ‘wine.’ This is mirrored in the development of the musician; in the beginning, the student has to master rules of music and performance, and if the rules are broken, the result is generally speaking very unmusical.  But the master musician is the one who can know when and how to step over rules, to set the music free.

It might also be useful to look at the teaching of Hazrat Inayat (in Gathas III, Tasawwuf) on ‘convention.’  He points out that rules or conventions are needed for people to live together.  If one lives in the forest, far away from others, one need not bother about such things, but if one lives in society, with many complex connections, there is a need for harmony, and conventions are part of the solution.  The Gatha concludes: “The one who is a slave to conventionality is a captive, the one who is the master of conventionality is the possessor of that kingdom of which it is said in the Bible, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Kingdom of the Earth.’

When we talk of dogma, inevitably we come to the problem of ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ of ‘sin’ and virtue,’ since those who teach them usually present them in strong moral terms: those who espouse the dogmas in question are good and will be rewarded, and those who do not are bad, and will be punished.  In a lecture in vol XIV, part ii, “Pairs of Opposites,” Hazrat Inayat explains the terms good and evil this way: “Any thought, speech, or action that disturbs peace is wrong, evil, and a sin; but if it brings about peace it is right, good, and a virtue.” For a thoughtful person, then, it becomes impossible to adopt a fixed code of behaviour in life; what may bring peace in one moment may, in another circumstance, bring the opposite.

5 Replies to “Dogmas and Conventions”

  1. Juan Amin Betancur

    Muchas gracias querido maestro. Es una enseñanza preciosa para el esfuerzo de intentar ser un verdadero sufí.

  2. Sharifa

    Dearest Nawab,
    Thank you for expanding the conversation around a theme proposed by Amin. I have the impression that dogmas, beliefs, conventions, and opinions have a fixed element in them. But as the text suggests, they are necessary to function in society. I am curious to know how the student of a spiritual path makes a transition from the world of laws to the work ‘without borders’. Can we compare it somewhat to the master musician who breaks the rules and produces beautiful music? How can the seeker ‘break’ or step over rules that were taught to him/her? Does going deep imply stepping over rules? Thank you,

    • Nawab Pasnak Post author

      Dearest Sharifa,
      There is a saying in the Vadan (Gamakas) that says a lot about this topic:
      How did I rise above narrowness?
      The edges of my own walls began to hurt my elbows.

      It is not the rules that are narrow, but our interpretation of them.
      Because our perception is focused on the material world, we think that ‘infinity’ must be outside us – somewhere beyond the stars, perhaps. But from a spiritual point of view, infinity is within us. As we begin to awaken to that vast inner space, we recognise the rules for what they are, and interact with them in a different manner.

      • Sharifa

        Dearest Nawab,
        Once again, thank you for your thoughts. The edges of my own walls have hurt my elbows…. many times. Sharifa

  3. Zubin Shore

    Pursuing the idea of mastery and beauty, Im reminded that in the section Purification the Mind, in Vol 13 Murshid interprets Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as “to harmonise oneself with all notes instead of with one note………… the one who treads the spiritual path, he is all notes and no note in particular. Therefore he may be called the keynote, the note which makes a consonant chord with every note played with it. There is no beauty where there is no harmony; harmony is the fruit of love.”
    I’m grateful to my teachers for encouraging diplomacy, understanding and surrender on the many occasions I wanted to right a few wrongs, so I enjoy the fruits of harmony more often.


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