Thursday, 18 October 2018

Exercises: The Sufi Way

"Did the writer Idries Shah give people exercises?" someone recently asked, while another asked rhetorically, "What is the value of merely accumulating data points from reading?" Elsewhere, someone contributed to this question, as it relates to the teaching stories, an important element of "the course", like the poetry, that is sometimes neglected.

Please forgive me, I certainly don't mean to teach our good friends here how to suck eggs, nor preach to the highly experienced and talented choir! But someone did ask these questions.

Zikr (an exercise used in other traditional circles) is a repetitive, iterative exercise in remembrance, that helps you connect, and leads to improvement in certain senses.

In certain early groups, Shah had everyone chant "Om mani padme hum" at the commencement of group meetings, just as Alfredo Offidani, a one-time responsible of Omar Ali-Shah, gives a "rosal of the new phase" to all neophytes, so at a certain level there can be exercises given to all-and-sundry, as well as individually-prescribed exercises, such as those involving the lataif.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Squaring the Circle: The Sufi Way

A friend who was a mathematician once remarked, in relation to my Sufi studies, that I was "trying to square the circle". What this is in his field of work is to construct a square equal in area to a given circle, a problem that you can't solve using geometry alone, though what he meant, of course, in layman's terms was that I was trying to do something that is considered to be impossible, or even insane. The Sufis' use of the octagonal symbol may, in one sense, represent an approximation, or half-way house, for Squarelanders who need to understand circles – the Sufic materials, according to the writer, thinker and Sufi teacher Idries Shah, being half way between "mere literature", shall we say, and active Teaching.

In the case of the constant, pi – which is the numerical value of the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter – we simply cannot calculate the exact value of this irrational number, because even if we calculated pi to a million digits (and this has been done, indeed some can even recite the first hundred or so from memory), the answer will still, and always, be no more than an approximation of pi. "It's turtles all the way down," as someone once remarked.

There are ways around such difficulties, however, and we need not despair. pi expressed as the fraction 22/7 will be sufficiently accurate for many everyday uses, while those with more precise needs might use 3.142 or 3.14159. These values will be perfectly adequate "for most practical intents and purposes".

In a similar way, even something as simple at first glance as calculating the square root of a number like 2 is not a trivial task, since it is also an irrational number, 1.4142135623730950488016887242097... (ad infinitum), but again we can satisfactorily make use of an approximation like 1.4142.

In a sense we could say that the task of attaining Sufihood, or of coming to comprehend the answer to "life, the universe and everything", is a similarly boundless and irrational task.