The Sufi Path of Love with Irina Tweedie
Transcript of the Thinking Allowed Interviews
The Intuition Network, A Thinking Allowed Television Underwriter, presents the following transcript from the series Thinking Allowed, Conversations On the Leading Edge of Knowledge and Discovery, with Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove.
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JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. With me today is Mrs. Irina Tweedie, the author of an interesting, marvelous book, an autobiography called Daughter of Fire, which documents her years of training in India with a Sufi Master. We're going to be discussing the Sufi tradition today. Welcome, Mrs. Tweedie.
IRINA TWEEDIE:: Thank you.
MISHLOVE: It's a pleasure to have you here. The Sufis are very strange, mysterious mystics, not very well understood in the West. There's a lot of mystery, I suppose one could say, about them. They're thought to be very ancient, normally associated with Islam. And yet you studied with a Hindu Sufi in India.
MISHLOVE: What is the origin of the Sufis?
TWEEDIE: The origin of the Sufis is so ancient, as ancient, as old as humanity. There was in very, very ancient times, and they say it is even before the Vedic tradition, there was a sect which was called --
MISHLOVE: The Vedic Hindu tradition.
TWEEDIE: The Vedic Hindu tradition, yes. It was called the blanket wearers, the sect of the blanket wearers, which is kamal pash in Sanskrit. They were wandering from country to country in search of truth, and no matter who was saying the truth, they loved to listen to it. It is said that they went to every prophet, and they went even to Jesus.
MISHLOVE: Like the three wise men.
TWEEDIE: Perhaps, yes; I am not sure what it was, but that's what our teacher told us. And then one day they heard that there was a prophet in Medina and in Mecca who was preaching the truth, so they decided to go and listen to him. By some psychic means the prophet Mohammed felt that they were coming, and he said, "Some kamal pash, the blanket wearers, are coming." In fact they came after a few days, and when he saw them coming he said, "There is only one. He has no sons, he has no relations. There is only one." And they loved it, because they believed in one. They didn't believe in the Hindu trinity; they didn't believe in the Christian trinity. They believed that there is only one truth and one God and that's all that there is to it. So they asked the prophet Mohammed if they could remain with him. He of course agreed. But when the prophet died, they began to be persecuted, because, you see, the leopard cannot change its spots. They were free, free spirits, and they were always rebels. So they would sit in front of the mosque, and they would say, "Why do you go to the mosque?" Like they did in India; they said, "Why do you go to the temple? The Beloved is everywhere. You don't need to look everywhere; the whole of nature is the mystery of God. You don't need to pray in the temple or in a mosque." Of course you can imagine that the priests and the rulers of India or of the Middle Eastern countries, they put them to death. So they were much, much older than Islam.
MISHLOVE: And in some sense, in different periods of time they became the wise advisors to the rulers, and at other periods of time they were regarded as renegades trying to undermine the establishment.
TWEEDIE: Perfectly correct, yes. But they were always rebels. They were always free spirits. If the king was also a free spirit, or the ruler, then he allowed them to help him. But if he was rather of a closed mind and not free, and full of dogmas, he would put them to death. Both things happened sometimes.
MISHLOVE: And it seemed that at some level the Sufis were indifferent as to whether they were rich, whether they were poor, whether they were accepted, whether they were rejected. They were following a completely otherworldly set of values.
TWEEDIE: Correct. In ancient times the great Sufis were shoemakers, they were pot makers, they were tailors. And when the Sufi becomes really rich, or through his talent gets a very good position, he will resign this position. They have to serve human beings in other human beings, in humanity.
MISHLOVE: One of the basic methods of Sufi training, as I understand it, is the use of the teaching story. In fact, I understand that Sufi teaching stories were the basis of Aesop's fables and the parables of Jesus and many of the fables of a number of different relgions. Even the Jewish hasidic stories are supposedly derived from Sufi tales, and the Brer Rabbit tales.
TWEEDIE: Well, stories have been used in many, many Middle Eastern traditions, and in Sufi groups there is always a Sufi storyteller, or the teacher himself will tell stories, or the disciples will tell stories. They are usually teaching stories with a special meaning on a special day, and for special people. That's the tradition.
MISHLOVE: And yet these stories have been preserved and handed down over time. One gets the sense, when I hear some people who call themselves Sufis talking about these stories, it's like there's a science to the use of the teaching story.
TWEEDIE: Yes, there is. We use them, as one I would like to mention, we use it as dream interpretation. This I feel is the modern way of Sufi stories. They're modern psychological --
MISHLOVE: Can you explain that? What do you mean by that?
TWEEDIE: We believe that a dream has much more meaning than just a dream. It is the message to us from our unconscious. It is a guiding line how to behave, what to do, in life on the spiritual path. So dreams are usually very, very important, and to interpret a dream is to contact a human being at a different level of consciousness. It helps him to be accepted, to be the center of attention, which everybody likes. And of course the whole group learns from the interpretation of the dream, because it is done in a group, like the Sufi stories.
MISHLOVE: Is there some sense in which the interpreting of a dream is like the telling of a Sufi story?
TWEEDIE: It is like a telling of a Sufi story, exactly. They first will tell you the whole dream, usually a colorful story full of symbolism. Then it will be pulled to pieces and then put together again, and everybody will say his or her opinion. We find that every dream has something special to tell to this particular person, and all of those who interpret it find sometimes glimpses of truth in it.
MISHLOVE: Now, in telling the Sufi stories, you say one tries to find the right story for the right person at the right time, and I guess there's a sense really of cultivating the intuition in doing that.
TWEEDIE: That is the idea.
MISHLOVE: And also, I gather, then in dream interpretation one uses that same skill.
TWEEDIE: Exactly. That is really the idea at the background of it all.
MISHLOVE: One of the characteristics that you have described in your writing, which is essential to really realize the awareness of the absolute, awareness of the one, to come to that experience of what I guess the mystics have all called divine union -- it requires a kind of energy, a kind of special push, sometimes associated, I think in the Hindu yogic tradition, with kundalini, or the energy which the yogis say is like a coiled serpent that rises from the spine and activates almost supernormal powers. This is part of the Sufi tradition as well.
TWEEDIE: It is part of the Sufi tradition as well, and it is a very strong driving force. It is an energy which is, they say, contained within the base of the spine. It should rise to the top of the head through all the chakras. Chakras are psychic centers connected with the spine. There is one right at the base of the spine, there is one here, there is one at the heart, then the throat, then the forehead, and also at the top of the head.
MISHLOVE: They sometimes seem to be associated with the various endocrine glands.
TWEEDIE: They are associated with various endocrine glands, correct.
MISHLOVE: And hormones in the body, the emotional functioning.
TWEEDIE: The emotional function of the human body. You see, spirituality is tremendously difficult. We are so much deluded with the beauties of this world. Don't we say in the Lord's Prayer, "Don't lead me into temptation"? What it means actually -- don't lead me into temptation with Thy beautiful world, which Thou has created. We are so engulfed, so sucked into this beauty of the world, that we really completely forget from where we came, who we are, and where we are going.
MISHLOVE: Lost in the garden, so to speak.
TWEEDIE: Lost in the gardens of beauty of the world. And we need a certain push, sort of to propel us out of this illusion, so Sufis say. And this is exactly this energy which helps us to do that. This energy, very interestingly, has to do with sexual energy. Part of the kundalini energy functions as sex, but only perhaps a third of it. That keeps our body young; we use it as procreation, and it is really important, because it is exactly this virile energy in men and in women which keeps the body alive and gives you this joy of living. The other, the greater part of this serpent energy, as it is called, will lead us out of the world. So it has a double function. They say the snake symbol has a tongue; the tongue is forked. It is as if one fork of the tongue goes into life, and the other leads us out of the life to our real home, which is the spiritual plane.
MISHLOVE: In a sense what you seem to be saying is that ultimately the spiritual life isn't one of withdrawal, though; it's a well balanced life where the body is healthy.
MISHLOVE: And we're here in the garden appreciating all of the beauty of this world, but not lost in it.
TWEEDIE: Our teacher used to say, "No histories, and no exaggerations please. With both feet stand firmly on the ground, but with your head you have to support the world of the sky, so that it doesn't fall on people." What he meant is, some people imagine they are so much in the clouds that they think the sky will fall, so we have to keep the balance in us and help others to keep the balance.
MISHLOVE: Now, an essential part of your tradition, I think, is the role of the teacher -- that it's necessary to have the teacher to really achieve these higher states of consciousness.
TWEEDIE: It is important to have a teacher. You see, there comes a time when you are conscious on the different planes of consciousness, say somewhere which is not a physical plane. There you can encounter beings -- they could be angels, or they can be dead people, or they can be evil spirits -- and they perhaps will tell you that they are the guru, the teacher, or something. Now, how will you know, if there is not somebody who takes you by the hand and explains it to you? So at the beginning one does need somebody. You see, if you go to unknown country, the forest or desert, you always need a guide. The Sufi teachers are called guides. They guide the soul. They are not gurus, and not even teachers -- just guides, to explain the beings where they are standing at that moment. That is really the function.
MISHLOVE: Now, when you describe these beings -- the angels, the demons, the spirits of the dead -- right away I'm thinking to myself, well, you know, our mind is full of thoughts. We have a stream of thoughts, little voices inside of us. We call them our thoughts all the time, suggesting go this way, go that way. We really have to make the same kinds of distinctions in our own life.
TWEEDIE: Yes, that is perfectly true. The mind can be a terrible devil. In fact they call it in Persian shaitan, which means Satan.
MISHLOVE: The mind itself?
TWEEDIE: The mind itself. The mind itself is a terrible devil. It will mirror in front of us all sorts of things, evil thoughts and everything, and we must be able to distinguish what we want to do according to our free will -- to follow this thought or that thought, or this behavior or that behavior.
MISHLOVE: In other words, to become the master of our own minds.
TWEEDIE: Correct. That is what we are supposed to do. It is really the important part of spiritual life.
MISHLOVE: And it almost seems like a paradox in there, because surely if one is to become the master of one's own mind, it must be at least some part of the mind that would like to become a master of every other part of it.
TWEEDIE: You see, that is a great paradox you have just mentioned, because it is the higher part of the mind which will become the master of the lower part of the mind -- lower in the sense of the denser, the more ignorant part of the mind. I do not believe in sin. Sin is only ignorance, and to get out of ignorance we need something more positive than just ignorance.
MISHLOVE: You're introducing the notion of hierarchy here, I see.
TWEEDIE: Yes. You see, you can't cut cheese with cheese. You must cut cheese with a knife which is harder than cheese. If you want to control the lower intellect, you must have the higher intellect in order to be able to do it, and also the will power, which is absolutely divine in the human being.
MISHLOVE: And this is the role of the teacher, I gather, is the development of the will power, the higher forms of intellect.
TWEEDIE: Exactly. You used the word intuition, which was quite correct. The higher form of intellect is exactly intuition. Very, very true. That has to be developed. And you know, there are human beings who have a great amount of this power of intuition, and yet I know very intelligent people who haven't got it at all. And I know very simple people -- I met peasants in India who are unbelievably intuitional. Intuition works like a spark, and you see, all the great inventions, all the great discoveries, really do not come from the mind. If you watch it, you will see. What does the mind do? It calculates, it prepares the field, it prepares the cup. But the ultimate spark is always intuition. It may be an apple falling from the tree, like in the case of Newton. It may be this little bit of mold, which will one day be penicillin, and so on and so forth. The ultimate fact, the ultimate factor, in every invention, every discovery, is intuition. The mind prepares only the field.
MISHLOVE: It's as if what we're saying is that creativity comes from another realm, to us.
TWEEDIE: From the spiritual realm. You know, the real wisdom, the gnosis, comes from the soul. It's not in our mind. And we do not even think with the brain; the modern neurologists will tell you that. I listened three or four years ago to Peter Fenwick, one of the great neurologists in England. He was giving us a most wonderful talk about the mind, the hemispheres of the brain, and he repeated it twice -- I taped his talk because I was so interested -- that we do not think with our brain. We think somewhere above our head, in our mental body, and the brain is only transmuting it and puts it into words. It's only a kind of computer, a kind of -- how shall I say? -- instrument.
MISHLOVE: Well, I know Sir John Eccles, who's a Nobel laureate in neurophysiology, refers to this soul or spirit massaging the brain. But it's a minority view; most scientists would disagree with that position. But the Sufis, they really seem to be the experts in this knowledge of the soul.
TWEEDIE: You know, it is only a minority view now; it's going to be the majority view. And the more science progresses, the more it comes nearer to spirituality, and one day they will merge. I'm absolutely sure of it.
MISHLOVE: Idries Shah, the great Sufi writer, suggests that really what the Sufis are doing is in effect guiding the evolution of the human race.
TWEEDIE: That is perfectly correct. I agree with it entirely. Our teacher said the same in different words. Yes.
MISHLOVE: And it would seem as if -- and I know that there's a Sufi tradition not to talk about a lot of these esoteric subjects until the pupil is ready, so I can understand your reticence about discussing them -- but there is a sense in which when these esoteric subjects are revealed, that much of the work of the Sufi trainer goes on in the inner planes itself, in the realm of the origin of creativity, in the realm of spirit -- that there's almost -- perhaps I'm reaching too far, but would it be untrue to say that the Sufis are almost like technicians of that realm?
TWEEDIE: You know, I would say you are a Sufi. You put it beautifully. It's exactly like that.
MISHLOVE: Well, I feel complimented by that, but I'm speculating, really. I get the sense that perhaps there's a very precise knowledge of the inner workings, and perhaps those of us -- and I really include myself -- are like children, we don't understand. Like when I was a young child I didn't know how automobiles worked, or electronic equipment worked, but I knew other people did. And now as I begin, as we all begin to explore the realm of the spirit, I wonder if there aren't engineers and technicians of this realm as well. And perhaps the Sufis embody that knowledge.
TWEEDIE: Well, I think they do, but only the Sufis at the very high stage of evolution, who we call the masters or the teachers. And they help us, humanity as a whole, to make a step forward into their reality. Not everybody; the ordinary Sufi usually haven't got it, only the great ones. But you described it very well. It's exactly like that.
MISHLOVE: In your own training, in your book, you describe how your master would appear to you, I get the feeling, in your dreams.
TWEEDIE: Yes. And now I can always contact my master,
not only in meditation. At the beginning I could contact him only in meditation. Now I can contact him at any time. It's just an impression into the heart, and one knows. But I never can contact him for me, only for others, when somebody needs help. For myself I can never contact him.
MISHLOVE: Perhaps you don't need to at this point.
TWEEDIE: Well, I don't know. Sometimes one needs. Sometimes life can be pretty miserable for everybody.
MISHLOVE: And you certainly described in your training that you were going through very, very miserable times. I suppose one might say he even pushed you into that misery. There's a purpose for it. I suppose one might say, if we're looking at the evolution of a species, maybe there is a purpose or a value in the misery that the human race has suffered.
TWEEDIE: Well, you see, unfortunately we are made in such a way that we do not learn if we don't suffer. We have to experience pain in order to learn. And here perhaps one could explain the law of karma. People say, "Oh, it is bad karma because I suffer." Not necessarily. I believe karma is a school of learning, and if the lesson which I have even learned before, perhaps I have to suffer a little bit in order to learn it once more. That's all there is to it.
MISHLOVE: So it might be very comforting, and perhaps an illusion at some level, if in our suffering there are these higher spirits, Sufi masters if you will, who are watching, who are guiding, who are pushing us, in a sense, towards some higher realization. I guess the risk is that we don't delude ourselves, thinking about being led by these higher beings.
TWEEDIE: Why do you think that we delude ourselves? There are such higher beings. They are just elder brothers or sisters who did that before, and they are helping us. I believe that. Besides, I really believe that we are never alone. Every one of us, we have somebody at the other side who is helping us. That is our ancestor, or somebody who loved you, your mother, your father, who are not in this life anymore; or a teacher, who feels that this soul needs this particular help at this particular time. I believe that, you know. It's not an illusion, I can assure you. There is a great mystical brotherhood, somewhere, watching us human beings.
MISHLOVE: What you're saying reminds me of a psychotherapeutic thought that I have, and that is that the role of the therapist -- and I suppose the spiritual master is much the same -- is to comfort the disturbed, but also to disturb the comfortable.
TWEEDIE: [Laughs.] Beautifully put. Really lovely. It is exactly that. You see, you have to confuse the mind in order that the mind should give up and the intuition should come through. It is as simple as that.
MISHLOVE: So really in confronting a spiritual tradition like Sufism, one has to honestly expect to go through a sense of turmoil. Without the turmoil the path may not be worthwhile.
TWEEDIE: Yes, I think we have to, because we are so conditioned in this world, in our education, our heredity, our dogmas, religion and so on, that we really have to be shaken out of it. And Sufis usually work with shock tactics. This is similar to Zen Buddhists.
MISHLOVE: Ultimately it's as if your goal is -- I said spiritual technicians; now I almost have a sense that the Sufis are like sociologists, seeing behind the social conditioning.
TWEEDIE: Yes, yes, and it is all done on the entirely psychological level. And if you really have the time and the will to read the book, you will see that the whole ancient training of ancient Sufis, devised thousands of years ago, is really modern psychology, from beginning to end. It really is.
MISHLOVE: Well, Mrs. Tweedie, one has a sense that there is more depth even to Sufism than one would find in modern psychology, with all of its magnificence. It's like modern psychology may be the garden, but Sufism seems to combine psychology, sociology, religion, spirituality, and creativity, all of these things.
TWEEDIE: I would rather say where the analysis and modern psychology end, there the Sufis or the spirituality begins.
MISHLOVE: Mrs. Irina Tweedie, thank you very much for being with me.
TWEEDIE: Thank you. It was a pleasure. Thank you.