The “Presence” of a Master

Regarding your question about finding a spiritual master, I would caution you to be careful about placing quite the emphasis you have on “presence”. Of course, you certainly have a right to expect that a genuine shaykh or murshid will display all the virtues and that his bearing will in some fashion manifest his inward station. On the other hand, you should beware of getting caught up in displays or phenomena. As it happens, the gifts and attainments of a true master may be veiled, whether by virtue of his simplicity alone or, in some cases, by his deliberately surprising and paradoxical actions. We Orthodox, as I’m sure you know, speak about the “fool for Christ”, and there are analogues to this possibility in every tradition.

A certain caution is particularly important for those who are seeking to follow a path of gnosis, for it’s in the very nature of jn?na marga to accentuate doctrine and the objective techniques of method, not psychosomatic states and experiences, nor by extension the personal “charisma” of the guide. There are of course Sufi taruq in which the barakah of the shaykh constitutes an important dimension of spiritual life for his disciples, who are nourished as it were by the perfumed atmosphere of his presence. I’m told by a former student of mine who entered the Naqshabandi Order in order to become a murid of Shaykh Nazim that he’s an excellent example of a master of this kind and that many of the disciples in this tar?qah are—not surprisingly, perhaps—mutabbarikun rather than “travelers” proper. It sounds as though the master you’ve encountered is in the same basic category.

Please understand that I don’t at all mean to disparage this possibility; it doubtless meets the needs of certain seekers. But it shouldn’t serve as a measure of all legitimate Sufism, nor of spiritual guidance more generally.

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