Neil Douglas-Klotz is a world-renowned scholar in religious studies, spirituality and psychology; a leader in the International Association of Sufism; and cofounder of the International Network for the Dances of Universal Peace. He is director of the Edinburgh Institute for Advanced Learning and cochair of the Mysticism Group of the American Academy of Religion. He is the author of several books on the teachings of Jesus based on translations from the Aramaic. His The Genesis Meditations: A Shared Practice of Peace for Christians, Jews, and Muslims received a Spirituality & Health Book Award as one of the best spiritual books of 2003.
In this spiritually nourishing paperback, Douglas-Klotz has taken a traditional genre, the dervish (student or disciple) handbook, and made it into a practical and enlightening introduction to Sufism. Although he uses the language and stories are from this tradition, the practices have a universal quality that will appeal to anyone on a spiritual path. As he puts it:
"Your heart is the browser.
The pathways are the search engine.
The universe is the real Internet.
And there are many addresses to the Beloved,
whose server is always online."
Here are meditations on the 99 Qualities of Unity or "pathways," a practice common to all Sufi schools. Calling Sufism "a way of experiencing reality as love itself," Douglas-Klotz includes a wonderful array of Sufi stories, poetry, and wisdom from a wide variety of seers. The wisdom here has been gleaned from the author's 30-year exploration of Sufism, and as a guide, he comes across as a welcoming companion, therapist, and trickster. The highest devotion always has to go to the mysterious and graceful ways of the Beloved.
The 99 pathways are the heart qualities of the sacred, traditionally known as "the most beautiful names," that can open us to fresh avenues of being, self-knowledge, meaning, fulfillment, and joy. For Douglas-Klotz, "we can explore the divine wealth within us for our whole lives and still not exhaust the treasure hidden there." He concludes his discussion of each pathway with a meditation. Here's the one The Sun of Love (Ar-Rahman): "Take a moment today to breathe in the heart. Then place your hands lightly over your belly as you expand the heart to include it, and breathe more and more deeply there. Feel a sun there, radiating warmth and positivity in all directions." Whether commenting on creative power, watching the presence, friendship, universal life energy, sacred surprise, passionate vision, or unexpected wonder, Douglas-Klotz deepens our appreciation of the Sacred Unity and the diversity of human experience. Here is part of his commentary on Abundant [removed]Al-Karim):
"We live in a culture in which personal wealth confers great status, and one of the most popular themes in self-development tells us that we all need to develop a greater inner sense of abundance. The Sufis have traditionally regarded wealth with suspicion, not because there is anything intrinsically wrong with it but because the self can easily get lost in the personal power and freedom that wealth seems to purchase. For this reason, many Sufis have followed the principle of giving away whatever they don't need. Imam Ali, the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law, gives a succinct reason for this:
" 'O child of Adam! Whatever you have collected more than you actually need, you are not going to use, so you will end up only acting as its trustee for another person. If you want to pray to the Sustainer for a better way of making a living, first give something in charity.' "
"Rumi regards personal wealth as a test from the Beloved, but one that a person can, with difficulty, pass:
" 'God afflicts many with the trial of wealth and power,
but their souls run away from it.
A dervish once saw a prince riding on a horse,
his face illuminated like a prophet or a saint.
'Praise to the One,' he said, 'who can
test his servants even using affluence!' "
Douglas-Klotz explains the book's purpose as taking the reader "into the living experience of Sufism." He suggests several ways to start, emphasizing that your heart can lead you to the appropriate pathway for you in the moment. A playful way of appropriating the insights is to cut up the titles of the chapter heads and use them as oracles. (You can download a copy at www.sufibookoflife.com.) For those seeking more information, there are handy appendix sections on Sufis cited in the text, contacts for Sufi orders and teachers, formal transliterations of the pathways of the heart, and a bibliography.