The Spirit of Sufi Mystic Toleration

The Spirit of Toleration

As I write this blog we are going through a Lockdown due to the Coronavirus epidemic. Not only is the whole nation in Lockdown it appears the whole world is on Lockdown.

I have nothing to offer you except a tender heart, the pleasures of a simple and dedicated life, and above all, encouraging words of comfort and cheer.

To the Sufi mystics, the words of cheer and comfort are the words which give a better vision of life. And what are those words? They are, undoubtedly, Hope, Belief, Faith and Toleration.

Words, though appearing to be mute in the pages of book or on a piece of paper, yet, speak, Warn, guide, inspire and teach.  They exert powerful influence over every one of us.

A certain word serves as a balm. Another word serves as an arrow. It is through the medium of words, that, praise and abuse are conveyed. It is through words again, that we open our heart to others.  We choose words to convey our feelings,  our emotions, our sentiments, and our love, our hatred and our likes and our dislikes.

Some words appear as sharp as the edge of a sword. Some words appear as sweet as candy. Some words in spire us. Some words depress us. Some words encourage us. Some words discourage us.

A word once uttered does not return. Words are enough to injure the feelings of others. More men have been wounded, injured or bruised by words than by an explosion, fire, bomb, gun, or sword or powder.

According to the mystics, a person should speak only when he must. His tone should bear harmony. His voice should be gentle, and his words should bear harmony. His voice should be gentle, and his words should be few, giving a sense of direction.

The scriptures have influenced and are influencing the people to the extent, that they have, undoubtedly, changed human destiny. The Koran, the Bible, the Vedas, the Gita and the Ramayan contain words, and those words have moulded and shaped the life of myriads of people.

Why is it that people fight over mere words? Morbid words, couched in morbid tone, giving morbid feelings, make life morbid, dreary and dull, and hence, they are resented by other people. According to the advice of Kabir, a renowned mystic and a poet, one should speak such a word, which may please the heart and make him and others happy.

If somebody may abuse somebody, he will surely retaliate and quarrel.

Why is it so? The reply is simple and obvious. He feels injured by the words. It is his thought, which gives the word a bad connotation. If he does not feel, then he will be saved from resentment. And above all, it is because, he has not the right sense and the spirit of toleration.

The mystics have exhibited the spirit of toleration in their day-to-day life, in such a manner, and to such a degree, that, they came to be identified with mutual goodwill, mutual respect, mutual trust and mutual esteem. They have come down to us as an epitome of a noble life and as an epitaph of universal brotherhood and as a savior of mankind, protecting the rights of the people and their self-respect, giving them what they could give, and, accepting from them their love and affection. They ignored their foibles and follies, and tolerated their shabby and ignoble treatment.

Toleration has been so much preached and practiced by the mystics, that toleration has come to be looked upon as one of the planks in the mystic code of conduct.

Man seeks pleasure and avoids pain. Pleasure and pain are the two sides of a coin. They are relative terms. What may appear to be a pleasure for one, may be pain for another. Man does not realize the hidden good. He only sees the surface of the sea of life, not knowing, that, beneath the surface, there are oysters containing valuable bright pearls which may give added luster to his life.

Life is a complex phenomenon. Evil and good live side by side. After every winter comes the spring. After every pain comes the joy.

It is laid down in the Koran that:

“So, verily, with every difficulty there is relief.”

The procession of life does not call for posters, pamphlets and processions. It demands toleration, patience, perseverance, and the spirit of give and take.

The storm-tossed man has still much to learn. He has much to learn from his own experience, and, he has, undoubtedly, much to give, that which he has learnt from the ripe experience of others.

Our intellectual development has led us to accept without murmur or grudge the technique of acquiring knowledge through another vital source, which is the process of depending upon our experience for further acquisition of knowledge.

According to the Sufi mystics, there is harmony in the universe and whatever happens is good for man. Man does not realize this secret, and hence, he, in desperation, curses his fate and tries to resist the so-called suffering. He curses his fate and tries to resist the so called suffering which has seized him. He does not exhibit the spirit of toleration, with the result that he aggravates the suffering, catastrophe or misfortune, whatever it may be. To the mystics, this constitutes a wrong approach towards life. This distorted vision, the mystics hold, lands a man in a sea of worries and anxieties. Their poet Alexander pope suggest thus:   

“All nature is but art, unknown to thee;

All chance, direction which thou canst not see;

All discord, harmony not understood;

All partial evil, universal good;

And spite of pride, in erring season’s spite,

One truth is clear, whatever is,

Is right.”

Types of Toleration

Toleration may be free, or it may be compulsory. Free toleration is better than compulsory toleration. It is enduring and lasting. Free toleration comes from within. It has not outer force to sustain. It is dictated by conscience and sustained by the ethical standards that person has set before himself. Free toleration rises above prejudices, whims and fancies, and gives recognition without reservation to the rights of others. It makes allowance for human weakness.

Compulsory toleration, on the other hands, is under some duress of influence, or force, or under some pressure. The underlining idea of compulsory toleration is “what cannot be cured must be endured”. Compulsory toleration is dictated by fear, necessity or expediency or by some exigency. It is not voluntary, and not based on what one believes to be true. It implies lack of courage and want of determination.

Individual toleration is trait of character of the Sufi mystics. It derives its sanction from the old adage, “Live and let live.” It gives due recognition to human dignity and constitutes a source of happiness of others, and serves as a fountain of bliss, and acts as a guardian of the legitimate interests and rights of other people. It denounces parochialism, racialism, communalism, sectarianism, regionalism, clan conflict, and religious confrontation.

The point of View

The mystics hold and believe that suffering, in whatever shape and form it may appear, is meant for our training and discipline.

The beauty of character lies, indeed, in bearing the suffering, hardships, and trials and tribulations of life with patience and fortitude and without shrieks and curses.

To suffer and to be strong is not the lot of every man. It is reserved for those persons, who evince the spirit of toleration in their day-to-day life.

A tolerant person comes to assume, eventually, a creative personality, which is, without any doubt, a great gift of Gracious God

A creative personality derives solace and satisfaction from his disinterested service to the people. He shares their afflictions and troubles and participates in their joys. The spirit of toleration has taught him to be benevolent to his friends and kind to his foes and to understand and appreciate the intricacies and contradictions besetting the human life.

They hold and firmly assert and sincerely believe, that, to ignore the conflicts and contradictions and the weaknesses and the limitations, appearing in various guises and assuming different forms and shapes, is to disregard the realities of life and the complexities of man.

Types of people

There are different types of people. There are people, who do neither good nor evil. They are like stones. They belong, in fact, to the mineral kingdom.

There are again some people, who do evil but not good. They are wild animals. They belong to animal kingdom.

There are, however, some people, who do good and no evil. They are the people, who can lay a valid claim to belong to the category of human beings.

They are the people, who are tolerant, just and creative. The mystics belong to this class. They want to make the world more beautiful and better place to live in and work. They are endowed with moral and spiritual talent and the spirit of toleration. To them, creative work is possible everywhere and in every sphere of life. A house can even be turned into a home.

Advancement of human happiness and well-being is itself a creative activity.

The vital source

Toleration is the keystone to happiness, peace, prosperity and progress of mankind. Without it, life remains to be what it was in the state of nature.  Life in the state of nature has been described as “poor, nasty, and short”. It is no doubt true, that, without the spirit of toleration, life is burden and evokes perpetual conflict.

Personal happiness, safety and security do not depend upon material acquisitions and possessions. People of initiative, imagination and inspiration have always disputed the undue importance given to material things. According to Ralph Waldo Emerson,

Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than material force, that thoughts rule the world.”

It is not wise to run after cheap popularity. What is better than to insist on an exaggerated degree of popularity, is, to earn and to secure, by means of the spirit of toleration, the invaluable jewels of confidence and trust, regard and respect, and love and esteem of the people.

To win hearts is better than to rule over heads.

It is mere idealism to search and to find all-round perfection in human beings. It is a futile attempt to find a man free from some handicaps, limitations and defects. As we have our own defects and shortcomings, so others have. Let us, then voluntarily and sincerely show our spirit of toleration. This gesture of goodwill and this silent message of sharing their limitation is sure sign of magnanimity.

Suffering should be tolerated in a way that it ceases to be suffering. Calamities come and go. It is the human lot to suffer. Toleration is the mystic device to escape the rigours of the suffering, for they  lose their severity if not given due importance, and if not concentrated upon.

To seek morality of a high order in human affairs is beyond the dream of practical realization. It remains a goal to be attained. It is good guiding principle, but the fact is, that circumstances and environment determine, in a great degree and to great extent, the human conduct, human actions, human behavior and human social relations.

There are some people however, who are “willing to wound but afraid to strike.” Their code of morality is governed and dictated by their insistence on self-preservation.

Our troubles and our sufferings, however severe and exacting they may be, disappear into the dim past, as soon as they are judged in their true perspective. So it does not behove human dignity to complain of them.

Those troubles and sufferings, when buried deep in the past, add to our experience, show us light, give us direction, save us from many pitfalls and protect us from many hardships.

Our Distorted mental outlook and our nursing a grievance, or bearing resentment, or lamenting the past, revive our troubles and our suffering, long dead and gone into oblivion.

Instead of lamenting on the spilt milk, it is better for us to seek and to find happiness and peace within, by invoking the spirit of toleration.

The standard of morality and spiritual development differs from man to man, for the obvious reason, that the people are not given equal possibilities and they do not enjoy equal opportunities.

To expect a uniform standard of morality will be an expression of our fantastic desire to see all flowers of same colour and of the same smell, or to see plants and trees of the same colour or of the same size, or to see all birds of not different feathers, but of the same feather.

When judging the standards of morality, we have to take into account the heredity and environment also. 

The spirit of toleration is a sheet-anchor in life, and is capable of securing for man the coveted material comforts, and much desired happiness, security, safety and peace. Moreover, the spirit of toleration is also conducive to spiritual development.

It is good to act on the injunction “Do unto others as you would that they should do unto you.”

There are some people, however, who insist that “Others should do unto us as we would do unto them.”

Those, who are advanced in spiritual evolution go further and advise us to act in a better way. They say, “Do unto them better than they expect or hope to the done by.”

The spirit of toleration implies sympathy, adaptability, to see things in their proper perspective and above all, respect for the rights of others. The spirit of toleration stands for human happiness. To the Sufi mystics, it is an antidote to violence, upheaval, social disequilibrium, social confrontation and economic rivalry.

The mystics emphasize, that without the spirit of toleration, the world will not be beautiful place to live in. Let us then be guided by the spirit of toleration, which is capable of giving us happiness, peace and security.

The spirit of toleration is consistent with human dignity.

It is not toleration to bear things and situations favorable to us. The crucial test is to show the spirit of toleration when our personal interests are at stake, and when we are involved in a situation which is to our disadvantage. Toleration is born in the midst of strife and criticism, whether it is social or individual. Toleration need not be treated as fear or weakness. The spirit of toleration acts as a teacher, explaining to us, that the criticism of people should be tolerated. Loss should be recompensed by the spirit of toleration. Vindictive attitude towards our foes and opponents is inconsistent with our dignity and self-respect.

Let us then through the medium of toleration, try to secure the respect of people, if wecannot obtain their love.

Intolerance

Intolerance is weakness of human will. Religious intolerance, political intolerance, social intolerance, groupism, sectarianism and racialism divide mankind into watertight compartments.

Intolerance is the result of prejudice, prompted by jealousy, envy, greed fear, rivalry and the clash of personal interest.

The mystics believe, that, “what cannot be endured must be cured.” To them, it should be cured by toleration, patience and fortitude.

Differences of opinion are inevitable in society. They need not give vent to hatred and contempt.

To the English poet Shelly:

“It is not a merit to tolerate, but, rather a crime to be intolerant.”

Nobody can validly claim to be immune from the sense and feeling of intolerance. But, a person would exercise control over his likes and dislikes. It is not wise to be an extremist. Safety lies in moderation. It is better to avoid coercion.

Intolerance spreads the gospel of ill-will, discontent, dissatisfaction, hatred, suspicion, mistrust and conflict. It is quite possible, that modern facilities for mutual contacts and education and emphasis on emotional integration, will change and broaden the outlook of modern man.

Balanced living

The spirit of toleration should be acquired if we want to live in peace and enjoy the good things of life. Due allowance should be made for human nature and human weaknesses. It should be realized, that social good is weaknesses. It should be realized, that social good is more important than individual good. What is good for others is also good for a particular individual. Strict vigilance should be kept on enemies within.

One should try as best as he can to replace negative thoughts by positive thoughts.

Good books should be read. Good poetry should be enjoyed. Good friends should be valued. To forgive is divine. To forget is fine!

It is not wise to be over ambitious. Legitimate desires and few wants are enough to save a person from indulging in rivalry. Exploiting others for one’s own personal ends constitutes intolerance. The unfoldment of the mystery of the universe is possible through meditation. Sports and games are also useful to overcome intolerance.

The spirit of toleration has been labelled as the mother of many virtues. The spirit of toleration implies self-mastery, self-control, patience, self-discipline, mercy, benevolence, forgiveness and exercise of charity. 

Self-discipline implies self-conquest. Self-conquest leads to self-realization. Self-realization is to be sovereign in life.

A man, who has an ideal before him, a man of wide vision and positive thoughts, and a man endowed with trained mind, does not care what is said of him, and what comes before him.  To him, the smiles and the frowns of the people are a passing phase. He looks around and laughs, and scoffs and mocks at the trifles of life.

The Golden Key

Toleration is the spirit of accommodation, adaptability, mutual help and self-adjustment.

Intolerance is an ugly monster seeking dominance and showing haughtiness.

Intolerance rests on the lopsided view of life.

Toleration prompts us to accept a different society, a different situation and a different environment.

The Sufi mystic way of life is not only to tolerate, but totally ignore mischief and persecution.

Toleration is mental discipline.

 The spirit of toleration is a stepping stone to greatness; greatness not thrust but achieved.

Return of good for evil constitutes the expression of the ethical aspect of toleration.

Toleration is an escape from egoism and perverted outlook.

The spirit of toleration is enough to save us from vengeance, discord and disunity Toleration takes us to the fountain of Bliss. It is the extension of human personality.

According to the mystics, as God tolerates our foibles and failings and our ingratitude, so we should extend toleration to his creatures.

Toleration implies the acquisition of inestimable virtues like patience, perseverance and above all humanism. It constitutes a measuring rod of our sense of proportion and perspective.

A wise man ever avoids coercion, confrontation and conflict.

Let the spirit of toleration lead and serve as a guide to human conduct.

Intolerance implies the dissipation of energy, and loss of self-control. On the other hand, toleration stands for conservation of energy for constructive work.

Of the tolerant person, it may be said, that what he touches, he adorns, whereas, and intolerant person makes ugly the things that he touches.

Intolerance is the result of contempt and false notions of personal power and prestige.

Human nature being what it is, it is too much to expect common people to be tolerant on all occasions. There are few people indeed, who may be “peace-at-any price men.” It requires moral training, education, an inspiring atmosphere and a good environment.

Intolerance is rigid and fails to take into consideration the shortcomings and limitations besetting the people.

Tolerance is message of humility in behavior, meekness in dealings, adaptability in social relations, and humbleness in everyday life and moderation in all things.

Man is a theatre, one to another. Our short life “rounded with a sleep” presents a drama itself. The pattern of thoughts determines what our life should be, a comedy or tragedy.

Let us be silent spectators, seeing the spectacle enacted on the human stage. Let us be willing and prepared to give and to extend our co-operation and our sympathy to the actors, marking an ocular proof of our undiminished spirit of toleration and mutual collaboration.

We need not bring a no-confidence motion against ourself. It is better and feasible and proper, if we keep it reserved for some other occasion.

Let it be brought, if and when the occasion calls for; against our own ministry of senses and feelings to save us from tension and turmoil, generated by the world of caste, colour and custom, in which we live.

Let us live in the garden of the world like a flower, giving fragrance and tolerating the weather.


This is a series of postings to come, on the subject of Sufi Mysticism. The postings will give in-depth knowledge in the complete world & ultimate sphere of Sufi spirituality. The postings are enlisted in Categories : ‘Sufi’s Spirituality’ (Tasawwuf )  & in ‘Tasawwuf ‘(Path  of Mysticism). Alternatively you can subscribe to our blog for updates.

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