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Jesus the Sufi

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Jesus is seen as a representative of an ancient and continuing wisdom tradition identified with that of the Sufis. By his distinctive use of stories for teaching purposes, his sayings, and what the Sufis call 'action-teachings', including those actions known as 'miracles', Jesus is shown to have been quintessentially a Sufi master. Max Gorman shows how Sufism illuminates from within concepts central to Christianity: the kingdom of Heaven, son of God, baptism, resurrection - which can then be seen as states and stages in an evolutionary philosophy.This new edition of the classic work includes a new chapter on Gnosis.

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13 Chapters

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Chapter One: The Way of the Sufi


The way of the Sufi is the way to the Sufi. By which is meant that the object of Sufism is to produce Sufis. A Sufi is a ‘Complete Man’1, which implies that a man or a woman as usually found, in the ‘normal’ state, is incomplete. When Jesus said: ‘Be ye perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect,’ (Matthew 5.48) he was exhorting his disciples to realise their potential completeness as human beings, their full development, and become as perfectly human, as God was perfectly God.

Sufis have always recognised Jesus himself as a ‘complete man’ of this kind, for only a complete man can assist others to attain this state. This must be obvious. Only someone who has already travelled the Way is able to guide others along it. And such guidance is essential.

As Sirajudin Abbasi, Sufi and scholar, wrote of the Sufis in his seventeenth century work Safarnama:

If you revere them as saints, you will benefit from their sainthood; but if you work with them as associates, you will benefit from their company. To them the world is a fashioning instrument, which polishes mankind. They, by identification with the processes of continuous creation, are themselves fashioners of other complete men. Some talk, others are silent, some walk it seems restlessly, others sit and teach. To understand them you must bring into action an intelligence which is an intuitive one…


Chapter Two: The Kingdom of Heaven


It is clear from the Gospels that the whole aim and object of Jesus’ teaching was to enter ‘the kingdom of heaven’. This was the term he used for that higher state of being and consciousness, that ‘life more abundant’, for which we have the potential, and which is the possession of the completed human being. But as we are now, we are incomplete, hence our deep unease and sense of unfulfilment. This will continue until we do what we were ultimately created for—enter the kingdom.

Though this is our birthright it is not an automatic inheritance, not a ‘natural’ endowment. It has to be striven for,1 under guidance. Such guidance comes from a teacher, like Jesus, who directs the effort of the student, making it, as the Sufis say, ‘right effort’. Such help is both subtle and sophisticated. And obviously indispensable. It is not enough to want to ‘overcome the world’ which Jesus says we must do to enter ‘the kingdom’. We must also know how to overcome the world, and recognise it when we see it. This requires education. For ‘the world’ is the technical term used by the Sufis for ‘everything that weighs down the soul’. Needless to say, there are quite a number of things that weigh down the soul—and some are not as obvious as others. A sense of discernment in this respect must be developed.


Chapter Three: The Initiatory Way


The practice or process known as ‘initiation’ is of common, central significance to all mystical schools and nothing is more surrounded by mystery, secrecy and misunderstanding. As we have already discussed initiation implies an inner human change that is ‘secret’ or esoteric by virtue of its very nature. The ‘secret’ of transformation cannot be told. It can only be experienced.

There is no such thing as instantaneous initiation. It is always and only the result of long work on oneself, together with special help—the help of the ‘initiator’. This, as has already been said, is the superior being or teacher responsible, who not only guides the student or seeker in all manner of ways, empowering him or her to follow the path by virtue of a special power he possesses, but also actually elevates the seeker's very being and consciousness by some kind of direct spiritual transmission. The Sufis refer to this power as Baraka.

The three stages of initiation

From ancient times esoteric schools have identified three stages or ‘degrees’ of initiation. This is certainly so of Jesus, and the Sufis generally—as we shall see.


Chapter Four: Gnosis


Gnosis’ is the ancient Greek word for ‘knowledge’, but the esoteric and spiritual meaning is not what is ordinarily meant by knowledge but something deeper than that, a perception of the whole nature of the Universe, inner and outer, and how one integrates with it and its evolution.

This relationship, this engagement with the Universe seen and unseen is what the ancient schools calling themselves ‘The Gnostics’ must have meant by the term ‘Gnosis’ which was their aim to attain. It was transcendental knowledge, only to be acquired by special education and effort.

The normal condition of man, according to the Gnostics is one of ‘agnoia’ or ignorant sleep, a state into which he has fallen, unconscious of his origin, identity and destiny. He has become hypnotised by the world, which he takes to be the only world, and suffers from a kind of amnesia. He has to awake and return to himself, his true self, and re-unite with the Universe and its Creator. Appropriately the Gnostics called this state ‘The Reunion’.


Chapter Five: Son of God


Jesus never used the term ‘son of God’ to describe himself, though it was occasionally used of him by others. He referred to himself as ‘the son of man’. There is little doubt that this concept has an esoteric dimension, but without the help of the master its ultimate meaning cannot be ascertained. It seems fair to assume, however, that one reason why he selected it was to stress his humanity, the common humanity he shared with us all—in addition to the uncommon humanity which could be shared with those willing to work for it. The term appears simultaneously to express ‘representative man’, and ‘man the herald of man to come’.

While the four canonical Gospels contain nothing to help us in understanding ‘the son of man’, the other Gospels give us revealing indications of its meaning. In the Gospel of Mary, discovered in Achmin, Egypt, in 1896, we read:

Jesus saith:

Take heed lest anyone lead you astray with the words

‘Lo here!’ or ‘Lo there!’ for the Son of Man is within you.


Chapter Six: The Parables


If there is one thing all of us recall about Jesus it is that he was a storyteller, a teller of tales called ‘parables’. ‘Listen ye. A sower went forth to sow his seed….’ His voice calls to us across the centuries from the shore of ancient Galilee. We join that listening crowd. A silence falls. ‘He that hath ears to hear, let him hear….’ In the stillness, the seed is instilled, the word is sown.

The Sufis have always been great storytellers and have produced many wonderful tales through which to transmit their message. These tales they call ‘teaching stories’. They are subtle creations, reaching to and resonating at different levels of our consciousness. In this way they change and develop us, though they can only have their full effect when used as an organic part of a total teaching situation. They require, say the Sufis, certain conditions for their proper operation. These include ‘the time, the place, and the people’.

Nothing more clearly identifies Jesus of Nazareth as an exponent of the Sufi Way than his use of parables. And so it is not surprising that tales by and about Jesus have long been in use in and continue to be used in Sufi circles. Much of this material is, as one might expect, not recorded in the New Testament. Some, however, has fortunately been preserved in the New Testament Apocrypha, notably the extraordinary ‘Hymn of the Pearl’. This is strikingly similar to the Sufi tale ‘The King's Son’, which can be found in Idries Shah's Tales of the Dervishes (see page 108).


Chapter Seven: The Sayings


Verily, verily I say unto you: If a man keep1 my sayings, he shall never see death’ says Jesus (John 8.51). And the Gospel of Thomas begins:

These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke and Didymus Judas Thomas wrote. And he said: ‘Whoever finds the meaning of these words will not taste death.’

Sufi masters have long used certain ‘sayings’ as an integral aspect of their teaching, and Jesus was an able exponent of this traditional technique. Like the parables, these teaching-sayings are concentrated, multi-dimensional entities which, when properly pondered and contemplated, will act constructively upon the consciousness and affect the very texture of one's being.

It is now well established that a collection of sayings and parables is the underlying common core of the Gospels. This was the original primal material around which the Gospel writers composed their various texts. These frames consisted of biographies of Jesus seen from and interpreted through the doctrinal viewpoint and beliefs of the early Church. The ‘overlay’ made it difficult to discern and identify the original teaching. As Harnack observed: ‘The gospel of Jesus became the gospel about Jesus.’ And thus it came about that he who lived to teach us ‘died to save us’!


Chapter Eight: Jesus and the Animals


It is often alleged or assumed that there is no clear reference to the way man should relate to the animals in the teaching of Jesus, beyond the well-known saying about sparrows at Luke 12.6: ‘Not one of them is forgotten before God.’ Even if that were true, not only does this statement contain profound implications for the matter in itself—but surely his whole message of compassion must be taken to include compassion for all our fellow creatures. I suspect that many who call themselves Christians have not yet really reflected on this question, leaving it to others to articulate the ethics involved. Sadly, the Church has shown little concern in the matter.

But if we take into account all the evidence that is available, Jesus’ message is clear. It is that to be human is to be human to animals. Which surely should come as no surprise!

In 1881 an ancient Aramaic Gospel was discovered by the scholar and explorer the Reverend J.G.R. Ousley in a Tibetan gompa (monastery). The text describes, among other things, how one day Jesus entered a small village where he found a kitten which was not cared for. Jesus picked her up and put her inside his garment. He gave food and drink to the little cat, who was hungry. Some of the villagers expressed surprise that he should show such care for so insignificant a creature. Jesus said:


Chapter Nine: The Miracles


If one accepts that there is a higher world, and that certain beings are capable of simultaneously inhabiting that realm and this, then it is possible to see that some of their actions, perhaps all, bestride and traverse both planes of existence. Such interventions probably occur more often than we realise. The supernormal usually disguises itself as the normal, the inexplicable as the explicable. But when such actions are made obvious, and thus dramatic, they are called ‘miracles’.

Sufi teachers, however, including Jesus, employ miracles as teaching instruments, or teaching actions. They are an organic aspect of their whole teaching operation. They are not done to dazzle, but to develop. They are always designed to deliver a particular inner effect on the recipient or recipients, in an appropriate context. Their purpose is not marvel but travel.

It is reported of the Sufi Emir Hamza (died 1710) that he could ‘slip into invisibility just by taking a sideways step, when his feet were at right angles to one another’. When asked about this or about other wonders he said: ‘I forbid you to relate any wonder of mine without adding that the performance of wonders is for a purpose of self-improvement or passing power, not amazement or faith to others.’


Chapter Ten: Jesus the Individual


Whatever ‘son of God’ means, and it clearly means a special relationship,1 a close and constant connection with the Almighty, it does not and can not mean, as some mystics suppose, such absorption in God that the individual self is extinguished. This curious notion—the result of a premature and overwhelming experience, wrongly interpreted—is the same kind of delusion as that of those gurus who wander wild-eyed through India proclaiming they are ‘God’!

For, surely the most striking and obvious thing about the world around us is that it is a world of individuals—whether humans, animals, plants or even the very pebbles on the shore.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;

As tumbled over rim in roundy wells

Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,


Appendix: The Hymn of the Pearl


Here is the great ‘Hymn of the Pearl’, sometimes called ‘Hymn of the Soul’, to be found in the Acts of Thomas in the New Testament Apocrypha, where it is attributed to the disciple Thomas during his teaching-journey in India.

When I was a child

in my Father's palace

in the East,

my parents decided

to send me down

to the land of


They gave me food

and other things

for a long sojourn,

and armed me with adamant.

They took off my golden robe,

and gave me ordinary clothes.

And they made a covenant with me,

a covenant they made,

inscribed on my heart

that I should not forget it.

‘If thou go down into Egypt

and bring back

the one pearl

which is there

in the midst of the sea,

girt about by the serpent,

the loud-breathing serpent,

thou shalt again put on

thy golden garment,

thy royal robe

and become heir to us

in our kingdom.’


The King's Son


The King's Son’ is a Sufi teaching-story in traditional and current use—this version having been delivered by Amir Sultan, Sheikh of Bokhara, who taught in Istanbul. Juxtaposed with the foregoing text, it is hardly necessary to say that it testifies to the presence of an ongoing, living Tradition.

Once, in a country where all men were like kings, there lived a family, who were in every way content, and whose surroundings were such that the human tongue cannot describe them in terms of anything which is known to man today. This country of Sharq seemed satisfactory to the young prince Dhat, until one day his parents told him: ‘Dearest son of ours, it is the necessary custom of our land for each royal prince, when he attains a certain age, to go forth on a trial. This is in order to fit himself for kingship and so that both in repute and in fact he should have achieved—by watchfulness and effort—a degree of manliness not to be attained in any other way. Thus it has been ordained from the beginning, and thus it will be until the end.’




Man's a mysterious creature—

He knows not who he is.

There's many a hidden feature

In the face he thinks is his.

One day he'll walk on water,

One day he'll talk to birds.

His feet no more will falter,

He'll speak unspoken words.

Out from the starry spaces

His kind shall call to him—

The other Human races,

And all the Seraphim.



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