Burton again on sufism /2009/02/04/burton-again-on-sufism/

Burton again on sufism

More on origins of Sufism
We had a lot on the origins of sufism, here’s an old post from MBFM, on Richard Burton and his book, cited:

two different authors on origins of Sufism:
Richard F. Burton quoted from Sindh and the Races that Inhabit the Valley of the Indus:

‘It is still doubtful whether the source of it may be traced to Persia or to India: the date assigned to the establishment of the community called the Essenis, who may be supposed to have borrowed their mysticism from the Zoroastrians, shows that Central Asia held such tenets at a very early period, and the philosophical works of the Hindoos prove that ancient Indians had made great progress in them. Orthodox Muslims generally trace Tassawuf back to Hindustan….There is certainly a wonderful resemblance between Tassawuf and the Vedantic system, and the modern Indian’s opinions concerning the efficacy of Jog (penance and abstinance) exactly contain the Sufi’s ideas of Riazat. Both believe that by certain superstitious practices, the divinae particula aurae in man so emancipates itself from the tyranny of impure matter that it acquires supernatural powers of metamorphosing the body, transferring the mind to men and beasts, forcibly producing love, causing the death of foes, knowing what is concealed from humanity, seeing spirits, faeries, devils…

‘But’ Burton cautiously concludes ‘human nature always presents a general resemblance; and among similar races, in similar climates, and under similar circumstances, the same developments maybe expected and found to be exhibited. The prudent archeologist will probably be inclined to believe that the tenants of Tassawuf and Vendatism are so consistent with man’s reason, so useful to his interests, and so agreeable to his passions and desires, that thier origin must belong to the dark beginnings of human society.’ (R F Burton, Sindh and the Races that Inhabit the Valley of the Indus pages 199-200 published 1851)

And in 1898, RA Nicholson in his Selected Poems from the Divani Shamsi Tabriz, (RumI) wrote ‘While the vexed problem as to the origins of Sufism
does not call for discussion here, a few remarks concering its historical development and the various elements of which it is composed may be helpful to the student..

‘The early Sufis–they were not yet distinguished by this name–showed, perhaps under Jewish and Christian influence, a strong tedency to asceticism. Self control, self sacrifice, patience, boundless trust in God, all the virtues of a Bernard or Thomas a Kempis animate their zealous and devout, if somewhat narrow and practical aspiration. They were not in opposition to Islam but formed an extreme wing of the Orthodox party. The pantheistic influences in which full-blown Sufism delights are foreign or at least unfamilar to them…This ascetic type belongs especially to the Arab race.

(MBFM comments: These early Arab proto-Sufis sought to adore and submit to God, not aiming to merge with God or discover their essential identity with God. These were dualists)

Nicholson continues:

‘Hand in hand with the Persian revival under the Abbasids came a new current of ideas. Speculation takes bolder flight and essays to reconcile the creature with his Creator, to bridge the Chasm between finite and infinite.Duh l Nun is said to have introduced the doctrine of ecstacies and mystical stages and Sirri Saquati that of unification…Junaid systematized and developed this knowledge and composed writings on the subject. Shibli carried it to the pulpit and proclaimed it openly. In 309 AH (AD 900s) Mansur Hallaj was executed for asserting his identity with God.’

‘Sufism then, is no exotic growth but shoots up like a tender plant in the desert…the rapid expansion of the Mohammedan empire brought about a corresponding diffusion of culture. Greek philosophy was introduced, Aristotle, colored by Alexandrian commentators, appeared in Arabic.(through this diffusion of culture) ‘Zoroastrianism, Buddhistic, Christian and other elements may have gained entrance.

Nicholsen then contended that in the case of Rumi and much Sufi metaphysics resembles key concepts from Plotinus.

Nicholsen, pages xxvii to xxx, introduction to ‘Selected Poems from the Divani Shamsi Tabriz’, published 1898

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