by Lex Hixon Shaykh Nur al-Jerrahi
From Atom from the Sun of Knowledge
My central responsibility in our Dervish Order is to offer initiation and to interpret dreams, which indicate Divine Permission to receive initiation and to advance along the mystic path, characterized by Nureddin Jerrahi by means of twenty-eight Divine Names. Among the four hundred major branches of the Dervish Orders, the path is most often characterized by eight Divine Names, sometimes by twelve, rarely by eighteen. That Pir Nureddin selected twenty-eight indicates that he placed the Divine Seal upon the fullness of the mystic way of Islam.
In the Jerrahi Order, one central initiation offers all the blessings of the path, rather than a series of successive initiations that certain other Orders prescribe. This initiation ceremony is not secret. It is often performed in the presence of visitors to the tekke, the dervish meeting hall. I have conducted this rite of entrance and sacrament of spiritual completeness for more than five hundred sincere aspirants, so it has become natural to me, almost like breathing. This ceremony always remains a moving experience for the community as a whole, for myself, for the initiate, and for the mature brothers or sisters who stand on each side of the new dervish, linking arms and helping the aspirant take these four ultimate steps.
The initiation is called taking hand. It sacramentally replicates the historical event in the life of the Prophet when certain companions, already loyal to the holy way of life, ceremonially clasped his right hand, marking a vast intensification of their commitment. This act of taking hand creates a unique bond with the beloved Muhammad, beyond the respect and loyalty devout Muslims feel for their noble Prophet, upon him be peace. The right hand that is offered and received in this reenactment, therefore, is ultimately the right hand of the Prophet. The right hand of the shaykh is simply a conduit. Out of traditional Islamic courtesy, women initiates do not usually clasp the hand of the shaykh but both hold the same set of prayer beads.
The ceremony is a mystic crowning in which the Crown of Light, usually given to the soul in Paradise, is actually conferred here on earth. Those gifted by Allah with spiritual sight can perceive light, or even a crown of light, descending over the head of the new dervish at the appropriate moment. The Crown of Paradise can be transmitted only in Paradise; therefore Paradise consciousness must become fully present during the initiation. The invisible crown is usually symbolized by the gift of a white cap to the men and a white or colored veil to the women, although many modem women prefer the cap.
Receiving this crown enables one to experience Paradise consciousness here and now, during one's prayers and even during the struggles of daily life. The initiated dervishes can now transmit at least a glimpse of Paradise to their loved ones and colleagues, not verbally but directly, thereby elevating all humankind. The dervishes are not seeking their own spiritual bliss but are clearly motivated by the longing to be of service to humanity and to their own society in particular.
The Shaykh gestures to the experienced dervishes to help the initiate make the first step, beginning with the right foot. The Islamic greetings of peace--as-salam alaykum, alaykum assalam--are exchanged, and the Shaykh welcomes the initiate to the dimension of sharia, the depth of the Sacred Law. I welcome aspirants to this exalted level by reminding them that sharia is essentially the repetition of the affirmation of Unity, la ilaha illallah, externally or internally, verbally or nonverbally, with every breath, every step, every intention, every perception. From this primary pillar of Islam, the other four pillars extend. I remind the aspirant that sharia is the way of constant prayerfulness and delight in the prayers, the way of ceaseless acts of generosity and kindness to all beings as one family of consciousness, and the way of fasting--not just abstaining from food and drink from dawn to sunset during Ramadan, but fasting at all times, waking and sleeping, from limited conceptuality and limited emotionality. Finally, sharia is the way of holy pilgrimage, but not just to the earthly Kaaba in the noble city of Mecca. Sharia is to remain constantly in the open and submitted state of a pilgrim while approaching the true Kaaba, the secret heart of humanity, where the diamond of Divine Essence is concealed from the conventional gaze of the world. This first step, the noble sharia, is obviously not just for beginners, nor is it left behind by the next three steps.
The Shaykh beckons the dervish to take another step, and the process is repeated as the aspirant is welcomed to the tariqa. This is the steeply ascending path the Holy Quran speaks about, the upward spiraling path that traverses the seven levels of consciousness. This is the path of profound purification, the path of mystic dreams and their inspired interpretation, the path of the joyful uproar and sweet companionship of the dervish lovers of Truth. The tariqa is a mystic tree--its spreading roots the beloved Prophet Muhammad, its noble trunk the sublime Ali. The great branches of this tree of Tariqa are the Pirs who have founded initiatory lineages, and the smaller limbs are all the noble shaykhs and shaykhas. The flowers of all colors and fragrances that grow from these branches are the countless dervishes. The fruits are love and wisdom. The sap of this tree is the ecstasy of conscious union with Reality.
The Shaykh gestures again and welcomes the aspirant to the third step, the haqiqa, the peak of the mountain of light. Here the path disappears into the boundless green meadow of Truth. Here in Truth alone, the aspirant and the entire community are asked to gaze with the eyes of the heart. Now one can perceive only a shoreless ocean of light--indescribable and inconceivable, without any division or partition, without surface or depth. This ocean of Divine Light is not placid but always filled with giant waves of love. The aspirant is now asked to focus on the eyes of the heart themselves, perceiving that they, too, are composed purely of Divine Light. This is the mystery of nurun ala nur, the Light of Allah within the Light of Allah.
The Shaykh beckons a fourth time, and the new dervish take the final step onto the white sheepskin, laid out in front of the kneeling guide to symbolize the sacrifice of the ego. This is the marifa, the courageous descent of the dervish soul from the peak of light into the valley of suffering, struggle, sacrifice, and responsibility, while retaining the conscious union with Truth characteristic of the third step. The culmination of wisdom is to become dust beneath the feet of humanity. Marifa is the selfless service of humankind and of creation as a whole, demonstrated by the beloved Jesus, upon him be peace, when he washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper, thereby opening their hearts and illumining their minds. The hands of the new dervish now become the Divine Energies, rahman and rahim, Compassion and Mercy. The heart of the dervish becomes Divine justice and Divine Love. The breath of the dervish becomes Divine Life. The eyes of the dervish perceive only Divine Beauty. The mind of the dervish operates only with Divine Clarity and by the principle of Divine Unity.
The special protector and guide for sharia is the beloved Moses, for tariqa the beloved Jesus, for haqiqa the beloved Abraham, and for marifa the Seal of Messengers, the Distributor of the Light of Prophecy to all Hearts, the beloved Muhammad Mustafa, upon him be peace. A distinct spiritual energy is experienced at each of the four steps. The harmony of all four is ineffably beautiful.
Now the initiate kneels knee-to-knee with the Shaykh, firmly clasping his right hand or prayer beads. The Shaykh prays that the inconceivable Divine Mercy, which is always descending as an invisible rain upon the planetary plane and upon the human heart, should now become visible to the eyes of the heart, cleansing the entire' being of the initiate from all misunderstandings or partial understandings imposed since childhood by the limited society or arising from the narrow structures of the limited self. The Shaykh prays that even the slightest shadow of the negation of love should be swept away from this aspiring heart and that it should be filled entirely with Divine Light. Together, the new dervish and the attending senior dervishes, along with the Shaykh and the entire community, repeat eleven times the Arabic phrase estaghfirullah, which opens the mind entirely to the power of Divine Forgiveness.
Whenever the Shaykh welcomes a new dervish to the four steps or prays for the aspirant, his words become Divine Energy and bring directly into being, before the eyes of the heart, precisely what is described or prayed, not as an abstraction or as a pious wish but as living Reality. This is the mystery of Divine Creativity described by the Holy Quran. Allah Most High simply calls out the Word of Power, Be! and whatever He wills directly and effortlessly comes into being.
At this point in the ancient ceremony of taking hand, the Quranic passage describing the original event in the desert of Arabia is melodiously chanted. I interpret the Divine Words to the new dervish in this way. When the lovers of Love linked the righthand side of their being with the Prophet of Love, upon him be peace, the mystic right hand of Divine Presence descended upon that linking. In this way Allah confirms the original promise made to the noble Adam. This promise has been passed in an unbroken stream of light through 124,000 Prophets to the beloved Muhammad of Arabia and transmitted from him through fourteen centuries of mystic shaykhs. This is the promise of the soul's union with its Lord in the bridal chamber of Divine Love, the promise that even the veils of soul and Lord will vanish in the supreme realization of identity. Naming the place and year before the eyes of these honorable witnesses, I add that here and now this Divine Promise, which is good until the End of Time, is again being confirmed.
Now the affirmation of Unity, la ilaha illallah, is repeated together by Shaykh and aspirant seven times, once for each level of consciousness, the seventh repetition occurring at the level where only Divine Consciousness exists. The Shaykh concludes the seventh affirmation by intoning muhammad rasulallah, Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and the dervish community begins to sing, in a beautiful traditional melody, the call of Divine Transcendence, allahu akbar, the affirmation of Unity and praises of the Prophet. The Shaykh now confers the cap or veil, greeting it thrice with a noble kiss, touching it to eyes and forehead, then offering it to the new dervish to greet in the same manner. The Shaykh places the traditional prayer beads of Islam into the right hand of the fully initiated brother or sister, symbolizing that every breath has now become equivalent to repeating one of the Divine Names. The astonishing fact of initiation is that the dervish has been transformed, before our eyes, into a person of perpetual prayer. His or her individual existence has now become ceaseless Divine Remembrance.
The Shaykh opens his palms and allows words of prayer to stream spontaneously through his heart to his lips. Whatever is appropriate for the initiate is now prayed in a graceful and uplifting manner, precisely as Allah has foreordained. I often conclude this long prayer by supplicating Allah Most High that our Pir Nureddin Jerrahi fix his spiritual gaze upon the heart of the new dervish, night and day, filling it with the Light of Universal Islam, that his saintly mother Amina Taslima transmit her purity and sanctity to this dervish, and that the representative of Pir Nureddin to modern humanity, Muzaffer Ashqi, fill the heart of this dervish with the exquisite wine of Love.
The newly invested dervish kisses the hand of the Shaykh, exactly as if kissing the hand of Pir and of Prophet, stands, and makes the same four steps backward, beginning with the left foot, which symbolizes the mystic way as the right foot symbolizes the sacred law. The atmosphere has now become light, joyous, playful. I reassure the new brother or sister that these four steps backward are not retreat or regression, that none of the spiritual riches of the four steps can be lost, but that one is simply returning to the existential situation, to realize and actualize these sublime gifts that now remain radiant at the core of his or her being. We do not enter the path to engage in religious fantasy but to become more realistic, more free from self-deception, more uncompromising about Truth.
I now request the entire community to embrace the new dervish or dervishes, for often friends or family members take the four steps together, arms linked in mutual, loving support, hearts merged in the beautiful state of eternal companionship. In traditional Muslim circles, the sisters embrace the sisters and the brothers embrace the brothers, but among North American and Mexican dervishes, these culturally ingrained restrictions often cannot be imposed. After all, the dervishes are one family. There are tears and laughter. The Divine Light shining from the countenance of the newly unveiled dervish is an undeniable, empirical fact.
The most intimate teaching in our Dervish Order comes through spiritual dreams and their inspired interpretation. The shaykh does not deal with psychological or merely stress-releasing dreams, nor is there any fixed system of dream symbolism. Two dervishes came to our previous Grand Shaykh and reported the same dream: climbing a minaret and giving the Call to Prayer. To the first, the inspired interpreter commented, "You are going on pilgrimage. Make preparations." To the second, he remarked, "You have taken something that does not belong to you. Discover what that is and give it back.' Before taking hand the aspirant often receives a significant dream of Divine Permission or, in some cases, Divine Insistence. After taking hand one usually experiences a dream confirming that the ceremony was accepted by Allah. In the context of Islamic spirituality, no sacred rite is considered to be automatically effective. Rather, one must seek and await signs of the Good Pleasure of Allah Most High.
One of the fundamental teachings, shared by the various intertwining lineages of initiation that form the tree of Tariqa, concerns the seven levels of consciousness. Upon this crystal clear analysis of evolutionary levels, the esoteric teachings of Sufism are firmly based.
One does not have to consult ancient textbooks to discover the perennial teaching of Sufism. This esoteric map of consciousness was transmitted with accuracy and clarity in a spiritual dream granted by Allah through the blessings of Pir Nureddin Jerrahi to a Mexican girl of twelve. Along with her mother, father, and younger brother, Rahima had participated in the ceremony of taking hand about a year before her extraordinary dream. While visiting Mesquita Maria de la Luz, the Mosque of the Mother of the Prophet in Mexico City, where our Order is led by a gifted and dedicated woman, Amina Taslima al-Jerrahi, I was honored to hear and interpret this dream. In my role as guide, I have listened to thousands of profound dreams during the last eleven years. This one is among the most astonishing. A young girl, with the simple, natural imagery appropriate to her own psyche, accurately pictured the most sophisticated esoteric teaching of Islamic mysticism.
As I listened to her father, Abdul Qadir, translate his daughter's dream from Spanish to English, I began to realize what an immense gift this was to our Order, for we hold in common the spiritual wealth of our dreams and their interpretations. The powerful blessing of a mystic dream does not belong exclusively to the individual dreamer. Its healing, integration, and illumination belong to the entire community. I believe that Rahima's blessed dream of the seven levels of consciousness belongs as well to the lovers of Truth across the whole planet into the distant future.
Rahima dreamed that she was guided by someone she did not recognize through a large house with seven floors. The ground floor was dirt. There were absolutely no signs of human habitation or refinement. The place was not even kept clean. The second floor was an extremely simple dwelling--bare wooden floor, bed, chair, table. It was kept clean and was attractive in its modest way. The third floor was a very comfortable home, according to modern standards. There were carpets, radio, television, refrigerator, and so forth.
When Rahima was taken to the fourth floor, the fourth level of consciousness, she was amazed to find a brilliant palace--marble floors, high ceilings, large gilded mirrors, beautiful antique furniture, precious ancient vases, and other works of art. At this point in the recounting of the dream, I began to realize that certain mysteries of the spiritual path, which remained vague to me, were about to be displayed in simple, dramatic imagery. All who were present entered a mild state of ecstasy, a gift of the fourth level. Rahima continued speaking, calmly and confidently, without any self-consciousness.
When the dreamer was guided to the fifth floor, she encountered total darkness, filled with a deep, rumbling music that she, as a twelve-year-old, found rather unsettling. When taken to the sixth floor, she found an empty, candle-lit space where a circle of dervishes, wearing white and kneeling on sheepskins, were engaged in the ancient ceremony of Divine Remembrance.
Arriving at the seventh floor, Rahima entered a brilliant, sunlit room, illuminated through large skylights and filled with lush green plants. No person was present, nor were there indications of human habitation. The golden light and the dark green of the leaves created a joyful, expansive feeling. Suddenly, one of the plants reached toward her with a long creeper, wrapped around her waist, and gently threw her out an open window. She fell with equal gentleness to the earth below, landing on her feet.
Almost as an afterthought, Rahima mentioned that her guide took her back through the same sevenfold structure several times, so that she was perfectly clear about the various levels. Each time, she was thrown out the window again. I asked her how many times she ascended these floors. She thought carefully for a moment, then replied, definitively, "Four times."
The interpretation of this dream can be extensive. I offered a seminar in Mexico City on the seven levels of consciousness, during which I spoke about this dream for several hours.
The first level is the domineering self, basis for the aggressiveness, territoriality, and violent urge for survival that seriously threaten the coherence of our personhood, our society, and our planet. There is nothing intrinsically human here. There is no possibility for hospitality. There is not even the cleanliness that is essential for human dignity. Although most human beings experience disconcerting flashes of this domineering ego, very few persons remain focused on this level. Only war criminals and other enemies of humanity could be said to live primarily on the first level of consciousness. Nevertheless, there is nothing intrinsically evil about this first level. it provides a biological ground floor for human reality. Through this consciousness, the lungs breathe and the heart beats.
The second floor in the dream represents the critical or inquiring self. Most of humanity is focused on this level, where basic human refinements are beginning to appear. This dream imagery has nothing to do with social standing or affluence. There are persons living in presidential palaces who are occupying the dirt floor of the first level of consciousness, as well as persons who live in thatched huts who are enjoying the glorious palace of the fourth level of consciousness.
The evolutionary efforts carried on by this second level of the self constitute the critique of the domineering ego, the critique of selfish impulses. The search is carried on here for truly human and humane values, for disciplined and fruitful ways of life. There are many dimensions within this second level of consciousness. They are all essentially positive, honorable, and evolutionary, unless they remain dominated by the first level, obviously or subtly.
The third floor of this structure of consciousness is the fulfillment of our humanity. Human potential is here unfolded harmoniously. Perhaps the majority of human beings reach upper regions of the second level, but only excellent persons of good will become established on the third level. Here, ethical and religious ideals are in full flower. This level of development, or awakening to our true nature, is the real basis for civilization, religion, education, art, science. Sincere seekers on the second level receive certain glimpses of the third level, but where one's awareness remains primarily focused is what counts for evolutionary development. In traditional Sufi parlance, the third level is the fulfilled or satisfied self.
One could reasonably inquire, how can there be levels higher than this fulfillment of human aspiration to an excellent, civilized existence? The four higher levels are the fruition of the mystic path of return. They are not, strictly speaking, part of human potential and human effort. They are the manifestation of Divine Reality through our human reality.
One usually must reach the third level of consciousness to receive authentic initiation into a mystical Order, or one may be lifted by Divine Grace, through this initiation, into the third level. When one reaches the fourth level, Divine Attributes begin to manifest directly and adorn the human being. This is symbolized in Rahima's dream as rare works of craftsmanship and art. These manifestations are not, however, works of human hands, nor are they brought about by human efforts. The transition to the fourth level usually occurs after physical death in the realm of Paradise consciousness. Only genuine mystics can generate enough spiritual intensity to enter this and higher levels during earthly experience. Once again, we recognize that gifted persons on the third level, or even on the second level, may receive glorious intimations of the fourth level of consciousness, but to be established there is an entirely different order of experience. Not even all the members of a mystical Order become established on the fourth level, which in traditional Sufi parlance is the tranquil self.
The fifth level is that of mystic union, where no finite modes of thought or perception operate, hence the symbol of total darkness. The thunderous music in the dream represents the Divine Resonance, from which universes are taking shape and into which finite existence disappears again. This was the only floor in the dream structure that caused Rahima nervousness and concern, since this radiant blackness is so far from our ordinary level of experience. In Sufi parlance, the fifth level is the peaceful self. If we were to correlate the seven levels with the four steps, sharia would be the third level, tariqa the fourth, and haqiqa the fifth. The final two levels of consciousness are an expression of marifa, the astonishing dimension of spiritual manifestation that lies beyond mystic union. On the fifth level, there is only Truth and its Resonance. On the sixth level, creation appears once more, not through beautiful Divine Manifestations, as on the fourth level, but as the mystic crown, the sublime human form, symbolized by the circle of dervishes. One surprising piece of good news brought by Rahima's dream is the confirmation that the ancient ceremony of dhikr, traditionally conducted by candlelight, kneeling on sheepskins, actually affords the blessed dervishes in the circle a glimpse of the sixth level, although most of them may not even have become established on the fourth level. In the precious sacrament of dhikr, essential Divine Energies descend through the hearts and even through the physical bodies of the dervishes. Divine Reality becomes visible and experienceable as human reality. In Sufi terminology, the sixth level is the complete self.
The enigmatic seventh level of consciousness is a realm of brightness, clarity, subtle humor. The human form has been transcended, even as a mode of pure Divine Expression. Thus the seventh level resembles the fifth level in its absence of human reference. Yet here the imagery of light and luxurious growth replaces the imagery of mystic darkness. The human person of Rahima was not permitted to remain but was removed instantly in a playful and humorous manner. My Shaykh, Muzaffer Ashqi, used to comment simply, "On the seventh level of consciousness, if you imagine that you exist, it is idolatry." By the dynamic golden greenness of Supreme Reality, all possibility of the idolatrous perception of duality is tossed out the window. The colors on this seventh level indicate why Nureddin Jerrahi designated a golden cap wrapped in green cloth as the turban of his Order. Green is also the chosen color of the beloved Messenger of Allah. In Sufi parlance, the seventh level is the pure self
Rahima was taken through this symbolic dream structure four times, indicating that she, although only twelve years old, was already in communion with the fourth level of consciousness. As she grows older, she will have to practice spiritual discipline and experience intense yearning to become fully established on this fourth level and to progress further. This dream is itself one of those rare works of Divine Art that manifested in the palatial fourth floor of her dream. Her unknown guide was probably Nureddin Jerrahi, may his spirit be sanctified, whose intercessory power, by the Permission and Foreknowledge of Allah, tenderly opened the way for this amazing dream, which has now become a channel of spiritual energy and illumination for us all, her grateful brothers and sisters.
—Excerpted from Atom from the Sun of Knowledge by Lex Hixon Nur al-Jerrahi
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