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Writings by Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh

Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh (12/10/1926 – 10/10/2008), was the previous Master of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order. Dr. Nurbakhsh initiated the greatest renaissance of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order since the work of the founder, Shah Nimatullah Vali in the 15th century. His teachings have attracted a massive following from every race, ethos, creed and national origin, inspiring a way of loving-kindness and service to humankind according to the tenets of Sufism. What follows is a selection of his writings.

by Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh
Before Islam appeared, the tradition of chivalry (javanmardi) in the Middle East was maintained through the training of men to be chevaliers (javanmardan).

The tradition of chivalry involved consideration for others (morowwat), self-sacrifice (ithar), devotion (fada-kari), the helping of the unfortunate and unprotected, kindness towards all created beings, keeping one’s word and self-effacement – all qualities that were later to emerge as the noble attributes of the perfect human being from the point of view of Sufism.

In addition to these attributes of a true human being, the chevaliers were committed to a particular code of etiquette and conventions, from which the main objective and principles of chivalry or javanmardi were derived.

With the appearance of Islam, these chevaliers embraced the religion of Islam while retaining the conventions of chivalry, thereby founding the creed of Sufism on the basis of both Islam and chivalry. Thus, the etiquette of the chevaliers became part of the practice of the khaniqah and of the Sufis.

Gradually, as the philosophy of the Unity of Being (wahdato’l-wojud) and divine love were made more profound and appealing by sufi masters, the tradition of chivalry, hand-in-hand with it, gained an extraordinary influence and currency. The spirit of Sufism consisted of focusing one’s gaze in one direction (towards God) through the power of love, and its method was to cultivate a humane code of ethics, which was equated with that of the chevaliers.

Sufism, then, has both an outward and an inward aspect: its inward aspect consists of traveling the path and traversing its stations to attain the level of subsistence-through-God (baqa’). Its outward aspect consists of the tradition of chivalry, which constitutes the development of the attributes of perfect human beings.

Sufis must know that they are the standard-bearers of the school of humanity and of the tradition of chivalry in the world today, and they must not allow modern civilization to destroy noble human qualities-a civilization which, from the outward point of view, raises human beings to the greatest heights, while at the same time lowering their inward qualities to a level beneath that of animals.

In the materialistic civilization of today, Sufis must strive to be examples of noble human beings in order to draw the desires and inclinations of others towards these humane attributes-attributes that are unique to the human species.

Sufis must exhibit to humanity the effects and results of the spiritual paradise they have discovered on the sufi path, so that others may be aware that their material paradise is worthless in comparison.

Article taken from Discourses on The Sufi Path


by Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh
Sufism is the school of divine ethics, and the master of the Path attempts to decorate the sufi’s heart with divine attributes.

In truth, the master of the Path is like an alchemist who transmutes the traveler’s copper-like heart into gold through the alchemy of his attention and teaching. The fire needed to smelt the copper of the heart, and thereby transmute it into gold through the master’s alchemy, is called devotion (eradat). Without the fire of devotion, the copper of the heart will not burn, nor will the master’s alchemy take effect:

Humans and angels all exist
becuase of love;
Show your devotion so that you may reap
the blessing of this love.
The more scorching the fire of this devotion is, the sooner the master’s alchemy will take effect. This is why the great sufis have always emphasized that unless one purifies one’s devotion towards the master, thereby drawing his attention, even years of asceticism and spiritual struggle will lead nowhere.

Know then that you should surrender to a perfect master with your heart and soul so that the master, through the alchemy of his attention, will be able to transmute your copper-like heart into gold, decorating your heart with divine attributes and ethics. Only in this way will your self finally be taken away, such that only He remains.

Article taken from Sufi Journal, Issue 35, 1997


Love and the Heart
by Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh
Listen to the heart and the tale it tells:
How could he content with God complain?
He speaks of submission and contentment,
Not of possessing more or less.
His every moment is full of joy,
For at every instant he is with God.
For one to complain of separation is egotism;
‘Near’ and ‘far’ are terms invented by cunning reason.
The heart purified of everything becomes the place of God;
A heart of this kind exists within the friends of God.
How could a heart freed of the nafs’ deceit,
Ever think of prison and liberty?
How could a heart that’s a heart ever be disturbed?
How could it ever be distressed by separation?
How could a heart overcome with love for God
Have room for anything that is other than God?
The heart that is smitten with God loses its self;
One who has become a Sufi loses his heart.
One who is a Sufi has no desires;
Desires are for those who are insincere.
Seek a heart, O you prisoners of the self,
That you may reach the station of security.
What you call the ‘heart’ is really your nafs,
Subject day and night to fear and hope.
What you call the ‘heart’ is nothing but the passions,
Which cause you to have regrets and expectations.
What you call the ‘heart’ is really the cunning intellect,
Which the ego has imprisoned in the palm of its hand.
What you call the ‘heart’ is really your desires,
Which exert their influence on both your words and deeds.
The heart is the mirror of the Lord- How could
That which is other than He be fixed in the heart?
The heart sees only Unity, when it is freed from this and that.
The eye of the heart sees everywhere with certainty,
That one alone exists in both worlds.
The heart sees unbelief in others as faith,
The heart considers offence by others as kindness.
The one who still feels offence has no heart,
The one who stills sees bad in things has no heart.
Whatever may happen is good for those of heart;
Whatever is said by one with heart is good.
Those of heart do not speak ill;
Whatever they say is for the good.
The heart is the first stage of Unity,
For it’s detached from multiplicity.
The thing in your breast which you name the ‘heart’
Is no heart; it’s merely a word commonly used.
The heart has no limit; it is infinite;
This is why it is called the Throne of God.
This material organ that can be replaced,
That can be serviced and repaired,
How could it be the heart of those of heart?
How could it represent God’s throne?
The thing which fills the space in the breast is not the heart!
Abandon this patent superstition!
No one knows the extent of the heart,
Which serves as the abode of God.
The heart sheds purity on Adam’s Soul,
The soul rules over all the world.
It’s not easy to reach the site of the heart;
It is difficult to arrive at this stage.
As long as you are ensnared by the ego,
The heart will have nothing to do with you.
As long as your intellect guides your soul,
How can you begin to know the heart?
To reach the heart you must have a master;
To reach its lane you must possess love.
You must offer up your head in the way of the master,
If you are to be led by him on this path.
To give up your head is a serious business;
Surrendering yourself can’t casually be done.
Giving heart and soul to someone is not just talk;
Not everyone is fit to embrace this undertaking.
Of the thousands who become Sufis
Few are so yielding as to give up their selves.
Many a one, motivated by desire,
Has hypocritically called himself a ‘Sufi’.
Many a one has become a Sufi,
In order to show that he is ‘someone’.
There’s many a one ruled by the intellect,
Who becomes a Sufi purely in name,
In order to learn the Sufi’s secrets;
So he may, in turn, reveal them to others,
Thereby becoming known as a sage,
Gratifying the base nafs that rules him.
There is one who becomes a Sufi,
That he may be supported by others;
He has a dependant personality,
Becoming a Sufi without understanding.
He seeks to acquire peace of soul,
Becoming a Sufi solely for this.
Another becomes a Sufi without a word,
Seeking the mysteries of the Unseen.
Another sincerely becomes a Sufi,
So that his sickness may be cured.
Another becomes a Sufi out of despair,
Over the loss of all that he has possessed.
Out of thousands, few become real Sufis;
The others only pretend to be such.
If you’re to travel this endless Path,
Your heart must be guided by love.
Few fall heart and soul into the trap of love,
Few given the lifetime chance to drink from the cup of love.
What others call ‘love’ is no more than desire;
One is to the other like a phoenix to a fly!
Those moved by desire become a Sufi just in name;
And after a while they go off another way.
Moved by desire each new day, they invent
A hundred pretexts to follow a different master.
Moved by desire, their heads a-buzzing,
They’re always rushing to join a new order.
Since they never see their own shortcomings,
They’re forever blaming their masters for this.
This is desire, brother; it’s not love!
The lover has but one Master of Love.
Your constant changing of direction
Arises from desire, not from love, O lost one!
It is desire that blows hot and cold,
That’s forever changing its colour, its hue.
This desire is now in concord, now in conflict,
Now it is a friend, it is now a stranger.
Now it wants someone fervently,
Now it’s become an enemy.
If you were to give your heart
To the master of the path in a manly way,
It would never part from him.
All else that you give you can claim back,
But how can you reclaim the heart pledged to another?
If you ‘change heart’ and take back your commitment,
You have given no heart but acted from desire.
Surrendering oneself means forgetting one’s self;
The aim of Sufism is to become nothing.
If you surrender yourself, thus, have no self,
Then how can you go another way?
Open your eyes! This is the way of men!
This is a matter of surrendering self and soul!
A man like Shams can be found in any age,
But where is a Rumi to surrender to Shams?
There is many a Shams of Tabriz to be found,
But not everyone has the love of a Rumi.
The Shams of the time is not hidden from the people,
But there is only one with the love of a Rumi.
I spoke of love; pure love has three conditions:
That one must possess a worthy, shining essence;
An essence which over the years
Becomes purged of the stain of the passions.
One with a bad essence is far from love;
The eye that is blind can see no light.
The second condition is that one be well-trained
To be prepared from the very first day.
The third condition is to enjoy God’s favour,
The special grace of that Absolute Friend,
Who sends his friends to show the way.
Sufism is the crucible of hearts, in which
Purity and impurity become apparent.
That which is bitter in nature emerges from the crucible as such;
That which is basically sweet comes out of it nectar-like.
The time that it takes before one is tested with the touchstone
Must vary with each individual.
One’s essence may be revealed in a month;
Sometimes it may take a full forty years.
Most often it takes until old age
Before the control of the mind is weakened.
When things are made easy for the nafs
And its true nature reveals itself.
This is why after the passage of years
A nature that’s bitter is fully revealed.
I spoke of love; that’s different from desire;
Love has no ego; love is being no one.
It is desire that wishes you to be a Sufi,
So you may seem to be superior to others.
It is this desire which whispers into your ear,
“Be a master! Dominate those who are fools!”
It is desire which urges, “Why doubt?
The only perfect Gnostic is you.
“Consider others to be lacking and unworthy;
Rally all the ignorant around you.
“Gather those who are ruled by desire;
Boast of your miracles and stations,
“So that those who are moved by desire
May praise our work and serve you,
And give to you freely their worldly goods and their souls.”
This sorcery is to provide contentment
For the cunning nafs.
This is why one is warned of the dangers on the Path;
The provisions on the way are patience and endurance.
So you should not go to just anyone,
For there’s many a monster on this path.
Here God’s hand must guide
And assist people of the heart.
God guides you step by step,
So that thieves may not way lay you.
I spoke of love; its substance is sincerity,
Which nurses the heart as if it were a child.
If you approach God with sincerity,
You won’t run the risk of going astray.
Sincerity will distance you from people of desire,
It will attract you and transform you into light.
Sincerity will show you the way of guidance,
If you let it be your teacher on the path.
Sincerity with God, sincerity with his creation,
Will make it easy for you
To know the people of the heart.
It will smooth your way to Unity
And transform your body and soul.
The seeker who travels with sincerity
Will find that his soul is ever-expanding.
Through sincerity he will find his Beloved;
Through sincerity he will surrender to Him.
I spoke of love; its place is the heart.
Where there is no heart, loving is hard.
Where there is no heart. Love has no abode;
The only place for love is within the heart.
Where there is no heart, love cannot be found;
Where there is no heart, love can’t be revealed.
Where there is no heart, love can bear no fruit;
The lover’s burning and endurance take place in the heart.
Acquire a heart, O wretched ones,
And your words and claims will take effect!
Acquire a heart, illumine your soul
And you’ll be released from the darkness of ego.
Acquire a heart, become a human being;
Then you will be privy to God’s own mystery.
Whoever has no heart is no more than a corpse;
The dead-hearted one is unworthy of the beloved.
Until you escape from the lane of desire,
You’ll never be in reach of a heart.
If you trample upon the image of the ego,
You’ll find yourself living in the lane of the heart.
Though deliverance of self is a difficult task,
Accomplishment of it will bring opening of heart.
You’ll drunkenly stamp upon your own being;
Night and day you’ll consider yourself to be nothing,
That you may receive God’s grace
And come to posses a heart.
We’ve arrived at the point of defining what a Sufi is;
In point of fact, there is no such thing in the world.
A Sufi is someone delivered from self
And who has committed his heart to God.
In this entangling world a Sufi
Possesses naught and desires nothing.
The Sufi is one who is empty of self;
He is unaware if he exists or not.
One who becomes a Sufi is never truly a Sufi,
Until he is annihilated totally from himself.
As long as you are thinking in terms of ‘more’ or ‘less’,
How could you possibly be a Sufi, brother?
As long as your are thinking of yourself, how can you be secure
From the deceit of the base nafs?
You go about talk like a Sufi
In order to hide your inward corruption,
So that people won’t realize what you really are,
What you are doing, what you’re involved in.
In truth you are casting a spell upon yourself;
You’re a slave of the nafs; that’s why your heart’s distressed.
No one can become a Sufi by making outward claims,
You must have love in your heart and inward burning.
The Sufi Path is that of poverty and annihilation,
Free from all attachment and involvement in the world.
The Sufi is adorned with God’s Attributes,
The Sufi’s substance is the Essence of God.
If you don’t suffer the pain of love, stay away!
Stay out of the circle of the people of the heart.
Since you are not aware of their mysteries,
You’ll reject them out of skepticism;
This increases your darkness
And deprives you of humanity.
Don’t play with the tail of the lions of God;
Do not create chaos out of your ignorance.
All in all, whatsoever I say is not love;
Unless you’ve a heart, you can’t know what it is.
Love requires a heart free from other than God,
That the light of Reality may burn brightly therein.
Love requires a heart which is like the clearest mirror,
That it reflect the light which Nurbakhsh shines thereon.
Article taken from Sufi Journal, Issue 1, 1988