In the Company of the Master

June 30, 2015

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

banbury gateThe following anecdote is a lovely remembrance of Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh (1926-2008), Master of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order. It will be included in the forthcoming book, Tales of the Sufi Master.

___________________________

I leave dry Santa Fe and arrive in the misty green English countryside. Here, every taxi driver knows the way to the Old Windmill farm, twenty-four acres of fruit trees, flowers, and deep bed vegetable gardens. A dog and a welcoming party greet me at the center gate.

I sleep in a brick grain tower with a spiraling staircase winding up three floors of wall lined bookcases, attached to an old Tudor house. Surprisingly, I meet an old friend I haven’t seen in years. We “room” together on the second landing of the tower. Rugs, snakeskins, dream catchers – a vast collection of gifts accumulated from international guests also line the walls. Master’s room in the main house is overflowing with flowers and gifts; weird and yet strangely beautiful and humorous at the same time. More gifts hang on the walls; an array of musical instruments rest by the fireplace in the large meditation room. The breezeway connects the Master’s room with the meditation room.

My hair discovers its African roots in the mist. It is happy in its short ringlets. It is as relaxed as my skin. But I can’t only claim the climate for the change. Lack of stress has conditioned my hair here and moisturized my skin. Lines are there but they sit easy on my face.

I garden, weeding for two weeks solid, and then for a change plant flowers. But here is where words fail me. I am laughing, crying, talking to myself and seem to be opening up with each weed I pull, with each flower I plant. At one point I lie down on a mound of earth blissfully holding on like a child to its mother.

I am left alone while others work together in the apple orchard. While all this is happening Master comes and goes, instructing me in the proper conduct of life, my life. But not with many words; a laugh, a demonstration regarding attention to details, intuition, a word or two, a stern word, a loving word, a look…and so it goes. I pay close attention and pray I learn. I never finish an area of work, I never complete a project; Master moves me on to another project. One time the rain began to come down heavily but I didn’t hear anyone call me in. When a few finally yelled to come in for lunch, I ran upstairs to clean up, got in line to welcome Master, as we could see him from the window screens in the breezeway. He stopped, looked down at the one flower I neglected to plant when called in. It was still in my hand. He didn’t look at me, he looked at the plant in hand amid the pouring rain. I left the line, went out and planted the flower. They all waited until I cleaned up and came down again. So it goes.

There are about fifteen others here. I am happy to see “Bruja”Jane; mistress of the garden. It’s been three years sine I’ve seen her. In my enthusiasm I weed more than just weeds. Actually, one of her prized African lily seedling. She asks where is her prized African lily and I freeze. I think I heard myself say, “I’m sorry.” She wasn’t angry but…So I’m thinking I know less about weeds that I thought I did. I ask her this time to take me around the garden and point out those that are and are not weeds. My ego is not feeling too good.

I see Mr. Niktab, the Shaykh of Shaykhs, walking slowly in his 80 years and recent knee surgery. He uses a cane and only walks short distances. He has been a darvish for maybe 40 years. He mirrors-lives only to serve the Master. A sudden spring arises in my eyes and travels down my face as I see him walk by. Maybe the years he came to visit the Seattle center, maybe the years he spoke to me, have finally found a way into my heart. He danced that night for Master in our sama gathering. I am certain he used no cane.

I massage the Master’s feet and he tells me I’m not strong enough. Two days later he asks for a massage again and tells the person sitting next to me how strong my hands are. He tells me how young I look one day and tells me not to help serving lunch the next day because I am too old, I should just sit. So it goes. I realize he is training me and every person that sincerely comes before him, relentlessly, tirelessly, patiently, never saying directly what to do. But I am weak, broken, wounded by the mere outskirts of life, in search for understanding, in search of myself. I look up at the sky, pregnant with the possibility of rain again, and then it rains and then the sun shines and the process begins again and it’s all very simple and clear here. I am not thinking of my departure.

The dynamics of the fifteen or so of us keep shifting as some leave and new beggars arrive. We are kind here. We want to be. We want to serve. Our ego-the dragon-liquid fire is with us. We are aware of it as it comes and goes, tricks us, shifts, but maybe we are more vigilant here and try not to hold on, just let it come and go.

However, the two weeks are over and Master boots me out of Paradise. The list of my my unvoiced questions have somehow been answered. Master had delivered on his promise, and tells me I must return to pick apples in September. That, too, is enigma. At this point in time I am to begin a new teaching job in September. At this point in time it seems impossible.

He yells at me “goodbye” the night before I leave in a very unattractive sound and the next morning I stumble out of bed 3:30am for a 4:30am cab. In the kitchen, one darvish has made it a point to get up with me and serve me tea, bread, cheese and honey before I leave…with a hug goodbye. What a loving 4:30am.

I have been home now for one month and have not “recovered.” My dragon is a little more active and my tears are like rain clouds overflowing onto the lush countryside of longing. I yearn to return but I know the work is inward and I must live in this world too as I have lived there.

– Carole Ross, July, 1998

Ya Haqq!

 


A Bed for a Sufi

August 18, 2014

master picSalaam and Greetings of Peace:

Many years ago, on one of Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh’s annual visits to the US, he was staying at the New York khaniqah when one of the long time darvishes, who was also studying to become a Persian scholar, said that his parents wanted to meet the Master of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order, of whom they had heard so much about, and he was invited to visit their home in Westchester County, New York. and have dinner with them. The Master  gladly accepted the invitation, and since it was a journey that would require them to stay overnight, they drove up in the early afternoon, arriving just in time for dinner.

The darvish’s parents lived in a converted farmhouse, and were delighted to have such a reknown Sufi Master as their guest.  They prepared an excellent dinner, though the Master, as was his custom, ate sparingly, and, although he spoke some English, conversed through their son, who was fluent in Farsi.  As bedtime approached, the father said that the Master was to use the master bedroom so that he would be comforable.  And they showed him a large room with a king-sized bed and adjoining bathroom.

The Master shook his head. “This is not a bed for a Sufi,” he said.

“But it’s the only bed in the house. Our son is sleeping in the other bedroom, and we are going to stay with friends,” his father said.

The Master thought for moment.  “There is another bed here,” he insisted.

The darvish’s parents were bewildered. “No, really,” the mother said. “There is nothing else… well ,except for the mattress in the old Chicken Coop. The kids used it as a clubhouse when they were young.”

The Master asked to see it, and they led him around the back of the house to an old wooden Chicken Coop. They brought a lantern as there was no electricity in the coop, and showed him the plain interior.  It was empty now, though recently swept out, with an old single mattress on the floor.

“Yes,’ the Master said, smiling. “This is a bed for a Sufi.”

Ya Haqq!


Mr. Niktab’s Journey

January 13, 2013

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

One day many year ago, when Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, Master of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order still lived in Iran, he sent for Mr. Niktab, who had been made a Shaykh recently, and instructed him to go to a remote khaniqah in another province. It was a three day journey by bus, so Mr. Niktab set out to go at once, and walked to the door of the khaniqah.

“Wait, where is your suitcase?” the Master asked.

“I don’t need a suitcase. A darvish travels light and trusts in God” Mr. Niktab said.

“Take a change of clothes,” the Master said.

“Really, Master, I will be fine,” Mr. Niktab insisted.

The Master shook his head and walked away. “Nafs!” he said.

And so Mr. Niktab began his journey. It was mid-summer and a long and dusty journey in an old rickety bus without air-conditioning. Finally, after three days of travel, getting off the bus feeling very hot and sweaty, he began the five mile walk through the desert-like countryside to the khaniqah.

About a mile from the khaniqah, he came upon a grove of trees and large pond fed by a nearby stream. Since the area was deserted, he decided to take a swim and cool off before walking the rest of the way to the khaniqah. He took off all his clothes and waded into the water, uttering a sigh of relief at the coolness, and washed off the sweat from the long journey.

Just then he heard the voices of women coming up the road.  He swam to a nearby reedbed to hide himself, and heard the women stop and talk among themselves.

“Look, someone has left clothes by the water,” one said.  They looked around, and Mr. Niktab had to duck under the water so as not to be seen.

Eventually, the women, who were dervishes on their way to the khaniqah, could not find the owner, and decided to take the clothes with them in case they had dropped out of someone’s luggage.

As they walked off, Mr. Niktab came out of hiding and stood in the center of the pond, naked and alone.  “I’m sorry, Master! Forgive me, Master!” he cried.

He broke off a few branches with leaves to cover himself, and stood waiting behind a tree for a long time, until finally a young man came walking down the path. He recognized him as a darvish, and he called him over.

The young man was astonished to find Mr. Niktab, whom they were all expecting, naked and hiding behind a tree. “What happened?” he asked?

“Nafs!” was all Mr. Niktab would say. He told him to run to the khaniqah and bring back clothes for him to wear.

As the boy disappeared down the road, Mr. Niktab sighed, shaking his head at the lesson the Master had taught him.

When the Master tells you to do something, do it.

Ya Haqq!

NOTE:  It has been suggested by brother Ruslan in the comments that if Mr. Niktab had taken a suitcase, the women would also have taken it. I repeat  that I am certain that if Mr. Niktab had taken a suitcase, no women would have come by. The Master’s lessons are designed in the most succinct way, and always for what is necessary at that moment.

For example, read the post on the Miracle of the Angel, which is also a true story.

https://darvish.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/miracle-of-the-angel/

And Allah knows best :)


“Miracle” of the Angel

May 20, 2012

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

Hagiographic literature is the biographical genre devoted to the lives and works of saints and holy men. Scholars of course object to this genre as an uncritical and exaggerated telling of the supposed wonders and miracles of the saints, usually written by the later disciples of their own Orders. I have always thought that the unvarnished lives of the saints did not need exaggeration, that their works of kindness and generosity and their words of insight, compassion and love were reason enough to cause us who follow after to emulate them as best we are able.

As much as the imagination wants to believe every word, I too had a problem with the supposed miracles portrayed in AttarHujwiriJami and the numerous biographies of saints.

And I have always considered myself a man of reason, as far as reason goes, so I do not know if I should even tell this tale, but since I had a part to play in what I can only call a miraculous event, I have asked for and received permission from the Master, Dr. Alireza Nurbakhsh, to relate it. He said that it may inspire those in search of the miraculous.

Of course, our late Master, Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order, also had no taste for the exaggerated or miraculous, or for pretense in general. Even in his own biography, Bestower of Light, there appears no mention of extraordinary powers, only the charisma and attraction of the advanced Sufi, which is a form of Divine energy working through a darvish, of which he or she is only the agent.

Perhaps the real problem is with the word “miracle” itself, which for the rational mind is either logically explainable or impossible. For those on a spiritual path, however, life itself is a miracle without compare.

In fact, in his discourse on Constancy, he quoted Abu Ali Jauzjani, who said, “Practice constancy; don’t go looking for miracles, for it is your nafs that want miracles, while God wants constancy from you.” This constancy or steadfastness means to step out of yourself and stand firm in way of God on the Path of Love.

In the hope that this true story will aid in that journey, I pray that God bears witness to the truth of what I relate, and guides us all on the straight path. Amin.

And so…

1995 – The Toronto khaniqah was purchased and a Deeg Joosh, a special Sufi gathering was announced to celebrate the new khaniqah. Darvishes from all over the US were invited. I was living in Chicago at the time, and made arrangements to fly to Toronto. Taking a taxi from the airport, I gave the address and off we went. I was not certain which house was the right address on Lawrence Avenue, and I thought we had already passed it. I had the driver turn around and stop in front of a church on the other side of the street, thinking to walk across the street and find the house. When the cab left I looked around at the neighborhood and was struck by the huge statue of what appeared to be the archangel Michael in front of the church. It was bronze, I think, at least it had the color of burnished bronze, with a large pedestal. I could just reach up and touch the large foot of the angel, who stood with great arms outstretched and massive wings half open.

How appropriate, I thought smiling, that the khaniqah is watched over by an angel. And the khaniqah itself was lovely; the first thing one noticed was that the foyer ceiling was vaulted, resembling the inside of a taj, the conical hat worn on special occasions by darvishes of service. And the Deeg Joosh was a wonderful affair. I met many new darvishes, and went home happy.

2003 – I had moved to New York in 2000, and in 2003 I took my first trip to Banbury England to take part in another Deeg Joosh, which is held there every year around the summer solstice. The Russian translation of Master of the Jinn had just been published, and I was full of my own self-importance. What happened there to deflate my ego has already been related in a story entitled Meeting the Master, which you can read HERE.

However, during the days leading up to the Deeg Joosh, I happened to be sitting in the open area besides the kitchen, talking to a young darvish I had just met who mentioned that he was from Toronto.

“Ah, Toronto, I was there for the Deeg Joosh in 1995, when it first opened,” I said. “I remember the big statue of the angel across the street in front of the church. What a great place to have a khaniqah.

“Ha, that is actually how we found the khaniqah,” he said, and proceeded to tell the story. “Once Master had decided to buy a khaniqah in Toronto, he sent a group of us out every day looking in every neighborhood for a suitable house. It had to meet a number of criteria, including being close to public transportation, in a good, but not expensive neighborhood, and it had to have an open floor plan to allow for meetings and a possible Deeg Joosh if called for. We had a terrible time finding one. Every day we would look in different neighborhoods, and every night Master would call and ask, “Did you find a house?” We would say, “Not yet,” and he would say, “Keep looking.” This went on every day for many weeks. Each night we had to say we didn’t find anything, and each night he would tell us to keep looking.

“Finally, after five or six weeks, we dejectedly told Master that we had looked in every neighborhood in Toronto and had found nothing that was suitable for a khaniqah. He just said, “Keep looking. It is under the angel’s wings.” That was all. We just looked at each other and shrugged, but the very next day we somehow took a wrong turn and came upon a house for sale,  and of course saw this big angel statue across the street in front of a church. We called the real estate agent listed on the For Sale sign and he quickly came over show it. The house was perfect, and we immediately put down a deposit. Alhamdulillah!”

I loved this story of persistence and Master’s prescience. No one doubted Master had seen that the perfect house was waiting to be discovered. I have related another story of such ability in A Stop in the Desert, which can be read HERE. After years on the path it was rather taken for granted and not discussed among us that a spiritually advanced Sufi Master would have such a gift.

2007 – A few years later, on a visit back to Chicago, I told this story to a darvish in the Chicago khaniqah, and he looked at me in wide eyed wonder. “That is exactly what happened to me in Koln, Germany.” And he told a very similar tale, only the angel was a small stone cherub in the backyard. “We looked for weeks for a khaniqah, and after every week’s failure, Master would say ‘Keep looking.’ until finally, after many weeks, Master said, ‘Keep looking. It is under the angel’s wings.’ We found the house that is now the khaniqah the next day.”

I have related this story also, in Under the Angel’s Wings, which you can read HERE.

Both amazing stories that fill the heart with love for the Master, and even for such an esoteric concept as the grand design of the universe.

2010 – Now I happen to tell the story to Patricia, my beloved, who was initiated as a darvish a few years ago. She is very curious about the statue in Toronto, which to her as a Catholic seems out of place in front of a church.

“We can go there sometime and you can see it for yourself,” I said.

“Or, we can use Google Earth and see it right now in real time on the computer,” she says, and I love the idea. The statue’s size and magnificence has stayed with me, and I wanted to see it again.

She opened Google Earth and I gave her the address of the Toronto khaniqah, which we found after a few minutes. She panned the camera across the street and there was the church… but there was no statue. We looked all around the property, but found only a small statue of the Virgin Mary on the right side of the church.

“How weird is that!” I said. “There is no statue! Maybe they moved it.”

So I looked up the name of the church and called the listed office number. A woman answered, and I asked what happened to the big statue of the angel in front of the church.

“What statue?” she asked?

“The angel statue. It is of the Archangel Michael I think, about 20 feet high. You can’t miss it,” I chuckled. “Was it moved?”

“No, there has never been a statue like that in front of this church,” she said seriously.

“Hmm, well, I was there in 1995, so it was 15 years ago. Maybe it was before your time. How long have you worked there?”

“No sir, I have been a lay secretary here since the church opened in 1990. There has never been any statue like that in front of this church. Catholic churches never have statues of angels in front of them.”

She hung up, and I sat there with the phone in my hand and my mouth open, literally speechless. “This is crazy,” I said to Patricia. “I saw it myself. I touched it.. It was huge!

“Well, you were a darvish and you saw what you were supposed to see,” she said.

“But other people saw it too, the darvishes that found the khaniqah, the ones who visited it for the Deeg Joosh. We talked about it for years afterwards,” I said.

“The Master said the khaniqah was under the angel’s wings. So of course the angel appeared for the darvishes. Why is that so suprising?”

She was right. I felt the strangest tingling sensation creeping up my spine, and for the first time in my life knew the feeling of awe. And I have no explanation for it to this day, except to wonder if the literature of saints and holy men were really that exaggerated after all. I know only that our late Master was the soul of loving-kindness.

Perhaps love itself is the only miracle.

God knows the truth.

Ya Haqq!


Love is the Answer to Every Question – In Memory of Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh

December 10, 2011

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

December 10th, would have been the 85th birthday of Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh (12/10/1926 – 10/10/2008), the late and beloved Master of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order.  In his memory, this poem is dedicated.

Love is the answer
to every question

An ocean emerging
from a drop

This you taught us, by your
every action, every word,

The revealed science
of the heart, the key

to every door that is
never locked to anyone

To serve the One,
serve all, you said,

Eat but a little,
Feed the soul instead

As long as life
remains, and then

The drop returns
again to the Ocean of

Love, of love, of love
Ya Pir! Ya Haqq!


The Sufi’s Heaven

September 12, 2011

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

“The Sufi’s heaven is closeness to God… and the Sufi’s hell is distance from Him… Hell is in the world of the ego, the nafs… when you are liberated from it, everywhere is heaven.”

– Nur Ali Shah (Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh)

Ya Haqq!

Note:  See also the earlier post, Heaven and Hell.


The Sufi Question

June 16, 2011

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

It is related that one day in New York City in the mid 1980s, while Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, Master of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order, was visiting the khaniqah, someone asked him this question: “Why do so many spiritual orders that have costumes and dancing, and public performances of chanting, etc, have so many followers, and our order does none of these things and does not have as many followers?”

Dr. Nurbakhsh replied, “Because most people are after the color and smell of Sufism, and in our order, the costume is to be colorless.”

Ya Haqq!


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