Teachings of an American Sufi Sheikh
Words are empty unless backed by experience, says Robert Frager, Ph.D. People will not change until they hear from those who have lived what they teach. Frager has indeed lived his teaching. Founder of the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology in 1975, in 1976 he became a student of the Sufi master Muzaffer Efendi. Since becoming a sheikh in 1985, he has given many sohbets-a Turkish word for the spiritual conversations Sufi teachers hold to inspire their students.
The sohbets he presents here are compiled from his talks over the past decade and represent Sufism as it is now practiced in the United States.
Frager believes that the wisdom in such talks flows through the sheikh from his teacher and his teacher’s teacher all the way back to the Prophet Mohammad and God; the sheikh is merely a channel for something greater than any individual. Moreover, these talks are not lectures but rather living connections going both ways between heart and heart. Indeed, the warm, personal immediacy to Frager’s voice is rarely found. Like the tales of Nasruddin, he teaches through colorful anecdote and metaphors. Sufi practice has two sides, he says: one is to develop our love of God; the other is to become less self-centered. We need both, just as a bird needs both wings to fly.
“How can I put my knowledge into practice?” is the question we must ask. As the Qur’an states, those who fail to live by their understanding are like donkeys carrying a load of books. The books won’t change them. They can carry the holiest books but will still be donkeys.
Among the practices Frager teaches are zikr, or remembrance of God through chanting; halvet, or spiritual retreat; and adab, or “right action.” Thus do we develop character-or, rather, restore the character we had at birth. “I’ve never seen a baby with a bad character,” he says. “We are all born in a pure state. With hard work and God’s blessings we can return to it.” Other topics include Obstacles on the Path, Reducing Narcissism, Inner Work, Prayer, Marriage, Generosity, Taking Responsibility, and Waking before We Die.
No matter what one’s religion, the reader will find such universal wisdom in this book that he will agree with Frager’s teacher Muzaffer Efendi who once advised, “You can tell these stories ten thousand times and people will still benefit from them.”
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An Excerpt from Sufi Talks: Teachings of an American Sufi Sheikh by Robert Frager
In a series of talks Robert Frager explores the Sufi path, the polished heart, good character, and spiritual maturation. Here is an excerpt on X-The Mystery.
In community we have to guard against the negative influence of our egos. We also have to do this in our prayers, in our relationships, and in everything we do. We can all remember to be slower, more silent, and simpler. We feed our egos when we think we know so much.
Let me give you a priceless spiritual practice. Keep repeating these words: 'Only God knows.' They contain a wonderful antidote to the arrogance of our egos. We see only the outer surface of things, not the inner nature of things — and we don't always perceive the outer that accurately, either: we see a piece of the outer and we take it for the whole. We are like the blind men and the elephant, making absurd conclusions based on limited experience.
By saying 'Only God knows,' we remind ourselves we know very little, and all too often we misunderstand the little bit we think we know. But we still fall in love with our own opinions.
"Our task as dervishes is to spend time together and love and support one another through our trials and challenges. We can listen more, pray and care for each other, and judge each other less. For whatever we judge or criticize in someone else is in us. Whatever upsets us in someone else is within us. If it were not, we would not be so upset. When someone is arrogant or selfish, we become upset with that person, because we understand selfishness, arrogance, etc. — because those tendencies are in us.
Whenever we become upset by something, it is time to pay attention to ourselves. Our egos tell us to attend only to the faults of others, and we find it easy to become upset with others' shortcomings. But our criticism of others will not change them. It will only distract us from changing ourselves. As Muzaffer Efendi used to say, 'Whenever you see dirt in someone else, wash your own glasses.' We always see our faults in others.
"If we can stop this cycle of projection and blame, we can begin to see each other as mirrors that reflect the Face of God. We can begin to experience the world as a place filled with mirrors that reflect God's Presence. Then everything and everyone around us will remind us of God. That is our work. As we grow on this path, more and more of the world will remind us of God.
Muzaffer Efendi taught that the world is only our spiritual enemy if we put it between God and ourselves. The world is our spiritual ally if we see God's Face wherever we turn. God's Face is everywhere; everything mirrors God's Presence, if only we could see it. Everything is beautiful if we have the eyes to see it. Everything is inspiring if our hearts are open and ready to be inspired.