“Do not see yourself!” means pursuing God without any hidden agenda, without making any deals and in particular without any thought of yourself. Yet, at the same time, God is telling Bayazid that the path towards Him is very practical. It’s not and should not be muddled by Bayazid’s imagination and elliptical thinking. In order to avoid seeing himself, Bayazid has to do something. No amount of thinking and imagining will help him negate his ego. This is the very practical side of Bayazidian Sufism: doing as opposed to thinking and imagining.
But what kind of ‘doing’ did Bayazid or for that matter God have in mind for the negation of the ego? After all, going on a pilgrimage is a form of doing. One has to get on one’s feet and travel from one place to another and in those days one had to undertake such an enterprise knowing full well the harshness involved in it. For Bayazid, ritualistic acts, necessary though they may be, are not a good means of abandoning or negating one’s ego. In performing a religious ritual one is not putting one’s ego on the line. As far as the ego is concerned there is no risk involved. But for Bayazid if one does not challenge or trouble the ego, most likely one is not on the path to God.
How, though, does one go about doing such things? From the stories about him one can gather that there are two ways of going against the ego, though they are not separate but rather very much intertwined. These are selfless service and kindness to others on the one hand and attracting the blame of others on the other. Consider the following story concerning the meaning of selfless service in Bayazidian Sufism. Again, this story happens in the context of yet another pilgrimage to Mecca. This is no accident, as Bayazidian Sufism is always a reaction to conventional ritualistic practices:
In one of his pilgrimages to Mecca there was such a shortage of water that people were dying of thirst. Bayazid came across a place where people were gathered around a well, so thirsty that they were fighting among one another. In the middle of all this commotion he saw a wretched dog that was clearly dying of thirst. The dog looked at Bayazid and somehow conveyed to him that Bayazid’s real mission should be getting water for the dog. He came up with a plan and began announcing, “Does anyone want to buy the merit of a hajj pilgrimage in exchange for some water?” Not receiving any response from people, he began to increase his part of the bargain, raising his hajj journeys to five, six, seven and finally to seventy in exchange for some water. At last, someone said that he was willing, giving Bayazid the water in exchange for the merits of seventy hajj journeys. It is at this point in the story that Bayazid’s ego gets him into trouble. Right after the transaction took place, he began to feel proud of his action and pleased with himself for doing such a noble act of selflessness. Full of himself and proud of his action, Bayazid put the bowl of water in front of the dog, but the dog did not accept the water and turned away. Now a man of Bayazid’s caliber looks for the divine message even from a dog, and Bayazid felt sorely ashamed of himself for his pride. At this point, he heard a message from God, “How long are you going to say I have done this and I have done that? Don’t you see that even a dog does not accept your charitable act?” At once, Bayazid repented of his act of self-seeing.
Adapted from Aflaki 1983, vol. II, p. 671
The selfless service alluded to here is not just a charitable act. It is not on a par with giving money to a charity or doing volunteer work for the poor and the needy. It is far more subtle and difficult than that. True selfless service begins when one does not feel proud of one’s act of charity and is complete when one is not conscious of oneself as the agent of that charitable act. True selfless service as it was realized by Bayazid is a major way to get rid of the ego.
In the following story, we get yet another example of how Bayazid goes against his ego by means of a simple act of kindness:
One night Bayazid was passing through a cemetery in Bastam when he came across a young nobleman playing a lute. Upon seeing the youth, Bayazid exclaimed, “There is no power and force in the world other than God’s.” Thinking that Bayazid was criticizing him for playing music in the cemetery, the young man hit Bayazid on the head with his lute thereby breaking both Bayazid’s head and his own musical instrument. Upon returning to his quarters, Bayazid summoned one of his disciples and gave him some money and sweets and told him to go to the young man’s house and tell him tile following: “Bayazid asks your forgiveness for what happened last night and requests that you use this money to buy another lute and then eat this sweet to remove from your heart the sorrow over the lute’s being broken.” When he heard this message, the young man realized what he had done and went to Bayazid to apologize.
Adapted from ‘Attar 1976, p. 117
To return an act of aggression with kindness is to go against the ego. Our ego wants revenge or at least some kind of compensation when we are wronged. But for Bayazid, to seek compensation is to play into the hands of the ego, thereby becoming further removed from God.
- Bayazidian Sufism: Annihilation Without Ritual (1) by Dr. Alireza Nurbakhsh (mycaravanofdreams.com)
- What is Sufism? _|_ Sufism Today by Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh (mycaravanofdreams.com)