“I know: when the spring comes the clover will bloom,” said a donkey. “The problem is that I want it now, but everyone offers me only the hay. I need to do something to solve this problem, but I can’t: I’m too busy thinking about the clover.”
A typical Sufi parable like this will sound funny, silly or wise, depending on how you take it. You may forget it right after reading it through, or it will make you ponder over its sense forever – such a parable just follows your mood and your attitude towards it.
Sufi philosophy doesn’t hide it, saying that words cannot teach you anything if you yourself don’t want to be taught. Instead, Sufi parables urge you to think. Their logic is not open-ended but rather self-referenced, which makes them a kind of a brain exercise rather than philosophies usual for the Western world. In that sense they strongly correlate with the goal of Zen Koans: to show the feebleness of words in achieving the spiritual perfection. What is this perfection Oriental philosophies do not explain, saying that in order to understands what the enlightenment is, you have to get enlightened. Sounds like someone wants to trick you, doesn’t it? Having more Western type of thinking we tend to set verbal explanations for things.
In order to achieve such purity in thinking (the word Sufi originates from “safi”, “pure” in Arabic) Sufis resort to physical exercises as well. Some of such practices include dervish dances and swirlings as well as different kinds of meditations. The goal here is the same as in Zen meditation: to achieve the complete ease in body and so called “mental pause.”
One of the most common Sufi practices is Zikr – the Remembrance of Allah. During this practice all attendees sit or stand in circle. Sheikh, a sufi teacher, then starts chanting and making monotonous body movements, like bends, rotations and swingings. At sheikh’s command, all attendees start choiring with the same chants and moves. The goal is to reach the state of trance, during which Sufis believe that different emotional, motor and intellectual centers are activated within body.
In Caucasus the spread of Sufi traditions is uneven. For instance in Azerbaijan Sufis are a religious minority and their influence on the country’s religious trends is marginal. Instead, Sufism was traditionally quite strong in North Caucasus, namely in Daghestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia and Karachay-Cherkessia.
In Georgia, where there are several regions with Muslim population, only in the North-Eastern regions (Pankisi gorge, Tusheti etc.) the Sufi traditions are still practiced. Kists, one of the peoples living in this part of Georgia, are strongly related to Chechens and Ingushs and inherit many of their traditions.
The Sufi mosque the village of Duisi in Pankisi gorge is reportedly the only mosque in Georgia that shelters Sufism. Every Friday Duisi muslims gather in the mosque to hold their ritual. Men and women pray in separate buildings as it’s prescribed by the tradition. They chant and move in tact for about an hour, and during this time one can see some of them really behaving like in trance. Below you can listen to a small audio piece from that ceremony.
But Sufis of Duisi seem to be losing the genuine idea of this ritual. When asked about the difference between Sufism and other directions of Islam, the Duisi Sufi mosque-goers said: “it’s the same Koran, we just read it louder than others.” Such a wash-out of the understanding of rituals can be seen in many other places in Caucasus (e.g. in Svaneti, where the two-millenia-and-more-old pagan culture is still rather vivid and strongly visible in rituals, most people do not know their origins. The equal-arm crosses that are part of many ornaments and petroglyphs found in Georgia (such a cross appears on Bolnisi church, for example) are usually treated as the Christian ones, while in fact they are the ancient pagan symbols of the sun.) The reason for such a growing unawareness of one’s own traditions must be the consequence of the lack of well-educated and motivated spiritual leaders (sheikhs in Sufism, priests in Christianity etc.) during the Soviet era. Now, a new wave of faith, both Christian and Muslim, gathers strength, but the traditional understanding of traditions might be lost forever. In Duisi, for instance, most Sufis are elderly people, while the new generation is fascinated by more fundamental Jamaat traditions (you can read a story on this here).
Some contemporary Sufi masters say that Sufism cannot be limited to only one religion — they rather call it “the pure essence of all religions.” It teaches that the true wisdom comes from inside and a person can achieve the wisdom consciously, in everyday life, without any need of seclusion. This is why Sufi teachers often led regular lives, being carpenters, merchants, workers and even drunkards:
One teacher was spending the most of the earnings from the teaching on drinks. When his pupils learned about this, many of them left him saying: “we can hardly understand what he is saying.”
Another teacher offered him to stop drinking in order not to lose all of his pupils. The drunkard answered: “I work to spend money on drinks. And you say you want me to stop drinking and work more!”