A certain man who was fond of studying all kinds of systems of thought wrote to a dervish master, Abdul-Aziz of Mecca, asking whether he could talk to him in order to make comparisons. The dervish sent him a bottle with oil and water in it, and a piece of cotton wick. Enclosed in the package was this letter:
Dear friend, if you place the wick in the oil, you will get light when fire is applied to it. If you pour out the oil and put the wick in the water, you will get no light. If you shake up the oil and water and then place the wick in them, you will get a spluttering and a going out. There is no need to carry out this experiment through words and visits when it can be done with such simple materials as these.
Sufism is existential, though not existentialist. “Existential” is a contradiction in terms. The whole approach of existentialism is that existence is not a system and cannot be converted into a system. That existence remains an experience. There is no way to make a philosophy out of it, and yet existentialism itself has become a philosophy.
The Western mind is so addicted to speculation and philosophizing that even something which is basically anti-philosophic eventually turns into a philosophy. Something which is fundamentally a nonsystem, by and by becomes a perfect system.
The German mind is more systematic in that way. In Germany, Karl Jaspers made a great system out of the existentialist approach towards reality. It is amazing! The whole standpoint is that systematization is not possible. But you can systematize even this approach, this attitude. You can philosophize against philosophy, you can create a philosophy of no-philosophy, but then you are again lost in the mire of words, theories, hypotheses, propositions, logic…it is nonending.
That’s why I say that Sufism is existential, not existentialist. It has no “ism,” it has no philosophy to teach, it has no proposition to propose, it has no doctrine to indoctrinate people with. It is just a finger pointing to the moon. It is an indication – an indication towards reality, not towards words. It is experience and experiment. It abhors all kinds of philosophies because philosophy is the deepest cause of man getting lost in language and linguistic patterns. Life has no language, life is silent; or, silence is its only language, it speaks only through silence. So when you are silent you are in communion with it.
Life is meditative. It is not a kind of thinking, it is a state of no-thinking. When you are in that state of no-thinking, suddenly there is communion, all barriers between you and life disappear. You are no longer separate from it, no longer standing against it and thinking about it – you are it! And you know only when you are it, you know only when the knower is no longer there, you know only when all knowledge has disappeared. You know through being, not through knowing.
So Sufism down the ages has been very condemnatory about philosophizing. Sufism is not scriptural, it is not logical; it is very realistic, it is very pragmatic. Hence its appeal to the modern mind, to the mind which is trained more in the ways of science than in the ways of philosophy.