Talk with Dr. Yannis Toussulis Author of
Sufism and the Way of Blame: Hidden Sources of a Sacred Psychology.
By David Paquiot & Dr. Yannis Toussulis
(Read Part 1)
Dr. Toussulis, You said “During the Rumi craze the premises of Sufism were almost completely reversed in the interest of spiritual consumerism.” What is spiritual consumerism? Where do we see it at work today? What can be done to change one’s understanding of the basic premises of Sufism?
Yannis Toussulis: As long as I have an untamed form of egotism, I will seek to consume. Feeling that my sense of ego is ultimately empty, I will seek to fill it up. Finding that I cannot fill it up sufficiently to ease my sense of ultimate emptiness, I will seek to replace one object with another. It doesn’t matter what form such an object may take, whether spiritual or material. My desire will be to shore-up my sense of a substantive ego no matter what it takes. One of the fundamental premises that we find in classical Sufism is that only God (or Being) truly exists. One must place a wager or gamble with ones life to find out if this is truly so. In this sense, Sufism is a disciplined form of inquiry that seeks to directly verify whether or not “I” truly exist in the form that I imagine. If not, what truly exists? Do I simply disappear, and if so what will replace me? Is the universe ultimately empty, or is there a greater intelligence that suffuses all of Existence? If I am too busy trying to simply survive (the condition of much of the planet), or if I am too busy trying to fill myself up with added “goods” – the condition of most of the “developed” world — then I may never get around to seriously asking such questions, let alone set about trying to answer them.
Yannis Toussulis: “The West” is a rather broad category, and usually by using that term we are indicating a region of the world that has embraced secularism and rejected traditionalism. But is that true of most of Europe and North America? Certainly those regions have been most affected by industrialization and capitalism, but the rest of the world is catching up. With the “triumph” of industrial capitalism, many social philosophers exclaim that most of the world is entering a period that is referred to as “high modernity.” With the latter comes a higher degree of individuality, the breakdown of many traditional norms, etc. Islam holds many meanings for many people, and with the process of globalization, these meanings are being increasingly deliberated – and often with a greater sense of urgency and attendant conflict. So the broader question that interests me is how will love and the mystical path be understood as we are entering this period? “Islam,” “love,” and “the mystical path” are not unchanging categories with preset understandings that are set in stone. It may be convenient to think that all of these things were more fully understood in the past, but I rather doubt it. Islam and the mystical path are in a continuous process of evolution and adaptation. Perhaps that is a “Western” view, but I find this view reflected in some of the classical Sufis as well. The question you ask, therefore, is an open question. First one must endeavor to follow a path, and then to gauge its results. I believe that it is better to seek Sufism in its more traditional form, learn from it and then question its fundamental premises again-and-again in an increasingly intelligent and experienced way that gradually unfolds. Suffice to say, Sufism will not remain the same, although its fundamental structures and discoveries will remain intact.
You use the term ‘sacred psychology‘ in the subtitle of your book. Can you for those who may be unfamiliar tell us what you mean by ‘sacred psychology’, how is it similar to what we know as psychology, how does it differ?
Yannis Toussulis: Perhaps the term “psychology of the sacred” might be more apt; and I certainly don’t mean “psychology” in the modern sense of the word. The origins of psychology can be found in the Platonic tradition where the former was joined with philosophy and religion. This tradition of psychology was passed on to the three great monotheisms, including Islam, and it had to do with investigating the meaning of the psyche (or soul) and how it connects with the sacredness of existence itself. For Platonists, the origin of the soul was to be found in the “One,” so the meaning of existence was bound-up with rediscovering the divine origins of human being. A psychology of the sacred, today, would concern itself with the same quest, but in the main, most of psychology no longer concerns itself with that. Exceptions can be found in the analytical psychology of C. G. Jung, the existential-phenomenologists, and “transpersonal psychologists,” but they are rather on the fringe of mainstream pscyhology, so we must “dig out” those central concerns from ancient traditions like Sufism and rediscover their relevance for people today. In the process, of course, the study and practice of sacred traditions like Sufism will change and become more psychological or highly individuated, but that should be expected. An authentic form of individuation leads us back to our basic, human interrelatedness, and this is one of the goals of Sufism.