The Way of the Sufi: Mystical Path to God

By Peter Woodbury

“Like grapes, we have always accompanied the vat.
From the view of the world, we have disappeared.
For years, we boiled from the fire of love.
Until we became that wine which intoxicated the world.”
                                                            – Sufi poet Dr. Nurbakhsh

When I first came to the A.R.E. some 10 years ago, I was recruited by Leslie Cayce for the position of Headquarters Conference Facilitator. I served in that capacity for 4 years. I often refer to that time as my “metaphysical-PhD years.” I attended every conference at the A.R.E. for those years. It was a very significant period of learning and growth for me. I was reminded of those years recently when I went to hear Herbert Puryear, PhD, speak at the A.R.E. this past September. I had heard from many people what a great teacher he was. He was introduced that night by Charles Thomas Cayce, who called him the greatest interpreter of the Cayce work of his generation. It was an extremely thoughtful and stimulating lecture that he gave that night.

What I took from his discourse that evening was an insight regarding the impact that our thinking about God has on our reality. Puryear divided the thought into two basic perspectives: Either seeing God as existing in everything versus seeing God as not existing in everything. If we see God as existing in everything, then we treat our world with awe and respect, whereas if we see God as only existing in segments of our reality, then we do not treat the Godless parts with that same respect and dignity. For example, if God does not exist in nature, then we can use and abuse the physical environment as we see fit, as is so currently in evidence in our world.

His lecture reminded me of one of my favorite speakers that I have heard at the A.R.E., the late Huston Smith, PhD, renowned University of California at Berkeley professor and author on world religions. In a similar manner to Dr. Puryear, he taught us about the different views on God. He divided those into atheism (no belief in God), agnosticism (skepticism about the existence of God), polytheism (the belief that there are many gods), monotheism (the belief in one God) and mysticism (the belief that all is God).

Teachings of Mysticism

What both of these learned gentlemen referred to is the belief that all is God, we are thus part and parcel of God as is everything else. Cayce would say that we are like cells in the body of God. Mysticism is the belief that we can only attain our connection with God directly. Jesus’ teaching that the Kingdom of God is within, is an example of mysticism. Most religions start with a prophet who has achieved a line of direct connection with God. That experience is first taught, then written down, and then the teaching becomes the focus of the religion, sometimes at the loss of the importance of the direct communion with the Creator.

For example, in Christianity, the Cross can be interpreted from a mystical perspective. The longer vertical line of the cross symbolizes our direct connection with our Creator. This is represented in the Judeo-Christian first commandment: love God above all else. The horizontal line represents the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. But note that the vertical line is longer than the horizontal one. This represents that we must have our deepest connection with our Creator, first and foremost. A criticism of modern churches is that they have created a cross with a longer horizontal line than the vertical one, a sort of shorter and wider cross, meaning that churches are very good at the horizontal element of creating community, but have neglected the vertical element, helping create a direct connection with God.

Edgar Cayce said in a reading that “In prayer we speak to God, and in meditation we listen to God.”Meditation is a mystical practice that claims that if we still ourselves, we can come to hear that “still small voice within.”This is the essence of mystical teachings. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam each have their mystical sects.The Kabbalah is a set of mystical teachings of Judaism. It can be argued that all of Jesus’ teachings were mystical. And Islam has its mystical branch in Sufism. Let’s take a deeper look at this religious tradition.

Sufism is understood to have arisen from within Islam in the 8th to 9th centuries as a mystical and ascetic movement (asceticism is the practice of self-discipline and absten- tion). How Sufis got their name is debated. Some argue that it came from the coarse wool garments they wore as part of their asceticism and others say it is derivative of the Persian word for wisdom, kin to the Greek word of the same meaning, “Sofia.”

The primary focus of Sufism is the search for Truth and the actualization and expression of that Truth in your life. The Truth is found within, through practices of love and
devotion (service and attunement). This is called Tarigat, the spiritual path to God. The Sufi is seen as a lover of Truth and in this search becomes perfected or more Godlike in the earth. The Sufi aspires only for this union and all else is to come second. The Sufi seeks the actualization of “divine ethics,”meaning seeking God’s way and not man’s way. This actualization occurs, not through logic or reason, but by revelation and witnessing. In order to gain this God-perspective, the Sufis must lose themselves into the whole. If the whole is seen as the ocean, and we are seen as drops of that whole, the drop must merge into the ocean to experience the whole, while also maintaining a sense of being a drop. This is very much like Cayce’s teaching that we must come “to know ourselves, to be ourselves, and yet be one with God or Creative Forces.”

Rumi, the best known Sufi poet, teaches this lesson in his ver- sion of the three men and the elephant. The three men, who have never seen an elephant before, come upon one in the darkness. One touches the elephant’s leg and describes how this animal is like a tree. The other touches the ear and argues that the animal is like a thick leaf. Then the third touches the tail and is confused by the others, saying the animal is like a rope. Each description is true to their individual experience, but the whole includes each aspect. The Sufi seeks the light of Truth so he or she can see the “elephant,” or God, more clearly.

The Sufi way involves mastery of certain rituals and practices that include reciting poetry and hymns (some of the most beautiful literature and poetry of the Islamic world has been written by the Sufis), ritual prayer, reciting God’s name, as well as bodily rituals such as those practiced by the “Whirling Dervishes,” the Turkish Sufi order that practices God contemplation and meditation through spinning. There are currently about 9 million Sufis.

The Deep Roots of Sufism

There is some belief that Sufism may pre- date Islam, having existed in Afghanistan and Iran, then Persia, as an earlier religious movement with roots in an ancient reli- gion called Zoroastrianism. As students of Cayce, we may know of Edgar Cayce’s connection with Zoroastrianism, having had an incarnation as Uhjldt, the father of Zend, the father of Zoroaster (also known as Zarathustra to the Greeks). Zend was an incarnation of Jesus. Cayce described how Jesus was taken to India, Egypt, and Persia during his supposed “lost years” from ages 13 to 30. While in Persia, Jesus learned about Zoroastrianism and later many of those teachings were incorporated into Christianity. Zoroastrianism is be- lieved to have influenced many religions. Mysticism—the oneness of God, the struggle to choose between “good and evil,” and the law of karma (we reap what we sow) are all core Zoroastrian tenets.

It is my thought that Jesus’ teachings were indeed mystical and encouraged our seeking direct communion with our Creator. Cayce’s teachings, so aligned with Jesus’ teachings, are also mystical. We are all encouraged to set aside time to meet with our Creator and seek that joy that comes in serving others. Sufism is also in agreement with the philoso- phy that we are all “wired” for God-contact, and in fact there is no other way. We all have to walk that path ourselves. No one else can do it for us. It is helpful, I believe, in this time of division and separation, to see the commonality in our different traditions and in our varied attempts to have a closer walk with our Creator. Indeed Cayce saw that in The New Age, we would all deepen our mystical and personal communion with God.

By Rumi

Love makes bitter things sweet.
Love turns copper to gold.
With love dregs settle into clarity.
With love suffering ceases.
Love brings the dead back to life.
Love transforms the King into a slave.
Love is the consummation of Gnosis.
How could a fool sit on such a throne?
Visit the sick, and you will heal yourself.
The ill person may be a Sufi master,
And your kindness will be repaid in wisdom.
Even if the sick person is your enemy,
You will still benefit,
For kindness has the power to transform
Sworn enemies into firm friends.
And if there is no healing of bad feeling,
There certainly will be less ill will,
Because kindness is the greatest of all balms.
The book of Sufi wisdom
Is not written on the blank page,
But on a heart white as virgin snow.
Scholars pursue penmarks.
Sufis track footprints in the snow,
Like hunters tracing a musk-deer’s trail,
Until they breathe in the sweet scent
That the deer exudes from its navel,
And rush to catch their quarry.


Peter Woodbury, MSW, received his undergraduate degree in psychology in 1983 from Harvard University, and his master’s in social work from Boston University in 1991. He is in private practice as a psychotherapist and hypnotherapist in Virginia Beach, with a focus on the use of spirituality and faith as tools for personal transformation. Peter is a popular presenter in A.R.E. conferences and leads A.R.E. tours to South American sacred sites.