The question usually arises from people in my immediate network “what is Sufism?” It is a path that must be experienced to develop a sound comprehension. It is a path trod by Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Baha’is, Wiccans, Buddhist, others of various faiths, and those of no faith tradition.
So lets begin at the beginning to answer this question and use a metaphor that most here in the west are familiar with to get a decent description of what is Sufism.
However, I must state that this is my understanding of the path and in no way is a definitive definition of Sufism. Nor is my use of the following metaphor definitive as the only interpretation of the verses it pertains to.
The Bible tells us that in the beginning our parents resided in the Garden of Eden. They were told to eat of everything good in the garden including the Tree of Life. But were warned not to approach the Tree of knowledge of good and evil.
For years I pondered that verse and when I accepted Islam I felt I no longer needed to concern myself with it as the Quran calls it an evil tree. Well if age has taught me anything it’s that the more mature (spiritually) we become the more we can understand those things that eluded us in youth.
The Quran by calling the tree of knowledge of good and evil an evil tree is giving a more direct, less metaphorical, title to this apparition in the garden. So let’s consider the metaphor, the Tree of knowledge of good and evil, to discover why it is an evil tree.
When we consider a certain part of the phrase “knowledge of” we can ask ourselves what does that mean. Well let’s say I have an orange; I look at the orange an admire its color and see that it is appealing. I peel back the skin and a delicate watery pulp like substance appears before my eyes and has an appearance of invitation to taste it. So I bite it and enjoy the succulent fruity taste. Thus I have enough knowledge of the fruit to know I can enjoy it and find it refreshing and good.
However I don’t know anything about the tree that produced it. Nor do I know it’s germination cycle or what climate it takes to produce it. I don’t care as long as I can enjoy it. If I delve into studying the orange then perhaps one day I would have wisdom of the orange and know all of its secrets like nourishment capacity, germination cycle and even why it makes a good cleaning agent.
To complicate matters further another person who has knowledge of oranges may despise them and say the apple is better. Another may like oranges but grade them differently from me. A chemist may say they are horrible to eat but “I know how to produce a good orange cleaner from them.” Yet none of us display a clear wisdom of the Orange.
It is the same with our status of having knowledge of good and evil. We have knowledge, but few can affirm that they have wisdom of good and evil. And as such, in general, we have a multitude of differing and somewhat strong opinions on the nature of good and evil; some, if not most, of which are opposing philosophies and beliefs.
This is the legacy, in brief, of our partaking of the tree “of knowledge” of good and evil. As a planetary community, wisdom of what’s right and wrong/ good and evil continues to elude us. We judge without wisdom.
Jesus addresses this fallacy when he says, ” he who is without sin caste the first stone.” Thus the problem becomes judging each other with our knowledge of good and evil and not judging with wisdom.
Some think that the tree of knowledge granted us awareness . In truth it crippled us with false perceptions derived from our racially (human) immature concepts of what’s right and wrong.
And then there is the Tree of Life which the Divine has asked us to eat from. In the Bible, as well as the Quran, the Divine states that life was breathe into us. This is an intimate act from the Divine; we received the very breath of God!
This is important to understand as it relates to us one fact, that the Divine loved humanity so much in His unconditional way that He breathe self-awareness into us. Self -awareness, which is another way of saying sacred life, that can grow, evolve, and have the capacity to love the Divine and each other. This is represented by the Tree of Life in my use of it as a metaphor.
We are more then simple animals or beast of the field. We were never meant to be ruled by animal instinct or knowledge of good and evil. We were meant to be governed by the Divine Love that God has breathe directly into our very soul.
Love does not judge. Love does not hate. Love does not create laws and rules for itself and others in order to dominate. Love simply says “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s with this that Jesus calls us back to the Tree of Life. And once we return he implores us to “…Love God with all your heart and soul…”
This is the path of the Sufi; to not stand in judgement of others, but to partake in the Tree of Life which creates an overwhelming desire to Love the Divine and love what the Divine loves…Humanity. It gives us a heightened sense of compassion.
It is through the practice of meditative remembrance (dhikr) that the Sufi experiences Divine Love and bask in the shade of the Tree of Life.