The tale of Pinocchio describes the transformation of a mechanical puppet into a real boy. In everyday terms, it represents the growth of a child into an adult. In Sufic terms, it symbolizes the metamorphosis of an ordinary person into a Perfect Human Being. As a consequence, we must look at it more closely.
 “Pinocchio” was published in 1883 by Carlo Collodi (whose real name was Carlo Lorenzini). The story, however, is rather dark, with the puppet dying in the end. Walt Disney reworked the story for his movie Pinocchio (1940), which has a much more meaningful ending. Kubrick & Spielberg’s A.I. (2001) is closer to the original story: it describes the impossibility of David, the robot child, ever becoming human. For this reason, it is also more pessimistic, despite its realism. This indicates, perhaps, Spielberg’s recognition that hi-tech robot consciousness is no different than low-tech puppet consciousness. It is Disney’s gloss on the original tale that we will be referring to in what follows.
A machine or a wooden puppet cannot become a human being. But a human being can become a Perfect Human (called True Human, Zhenren or Chen-jen, in Chinese).
Pinocchio describes the various situations encountered during one’s Inner Journey: from spirit to Spirit, from self to Self. Jungian psychology as well as Sufi psychology would agree that some parts of the Pinocchio saga resemble an initiation ritual: the collapse and disintegration of the former self, prior to rebirth as a new self. (See Prof. Jordan Peterson, 42:18 et seq. Among famed psychologists, Carl Gustav Jung is the one who came closest to Sufi psychology.) It is Pinocchio’s self-sacrifice and death in order to save his father that enables his rebirth as a real boy. Some highlights of the story are described below.
Pinocchio as Adam

In the beginning, giving life to Pinocchio is like the creation of Adam out of clay, about which God says: “I breathed into him of My Spirit” (15:29, 38:72).
What does this mean, exactly?
It tells us that human beings are endowed with some attributes that also belong to the spirit of God, such as life, knowledge, speech, will, sight and hearing, many of which presuppose consciousness. This is where consciousness, our consciousness, comes from. It is also what is meant by the “divine spark.” So there is a trail within us that leads to God. But we have lost sight of it. Mohammed, the Prophet of God, is the one who has travelled that inward path to its end, and for that reason is the trustworthy guide on the way that leads back to God. This is also why robots will never have consciousnessunless, of course, God breathes into them too (which, however, is not going to happen).
(Further details for those interested. In Islam, the “positive attributes of God” are: Life (hayat), Power (qudrat), Will (irâda), Knowledge (ilm), Creation (taqwin), Speech (qalâm), Sight (basar), Hearing (sam'). In Hinduism, Sat-chit-ananda or Being (Ar. wujud)-Consciousness-Bliss are the attributes of God or Ultimate Reality (Brahman).)

No-good Friends

One of Pinocchio’s mishaps is to make friends with a cunning fox (and his sidekick). So-called “Honest” John is, in reality, as crooked as they come. He does everything to lure Pinocchio off the tried-and-trusted trail. He is sly and sneaky, clever and deceiving. He will do anything for money, including throwing “friends” like Pinocchio under the bus.
A famous Sufi Master, Osman Badruddin of Erzurum, has said (and I summarize): “Imagine a decapitated human head. Then imagine a hundred hungry lions surrounding that head. What those hundred lions cannot do to that head, one bad friend can do to you.”
So one has to be very careful about whom one befriends (or is befriended by) in the pathways of life.

Pleasure Island
Granted that childhood is a special time most deserving of play, of fun and games, should some restrictions still not apply? “Never too much” was the motto of the Chinese sages. As the wise of all times and climes have agreed, the avoidance of excess is necessary, and so it is in this case, as well.

Herded by the Evil Coachman, the children run toward the entrance of Pleasure Island...

The Evil Coachman reveals his true face. 

With its mountains of ice cream and pavilions of candy, Pleasure Island is an amusement park and every child’s dream come true. Unfortunately, that dream also bears the danger of turning into a nightmare. Unknown to visitors, it actually serves as a trap. For the Base Self, fed to saturation and in the midst of a plethora of stimuli, runs riot. It is as Abu Bakr, the First Caliph, described: “My Lord, You first tested us with deprivation. We succeeded in that. Then You tested us with affluence, and there we failed.”

Pleasure Island caters to a life of hedonism, ignorance, instant satisfaction and the gratification of one’s basest desires. The children can eat and drink as they please, they can indulge in smoking (today we would add the use of drugs), they can fight and destroy whatever they want. It is a place of earthly delights, devoid of morals and knowledge (there is no school).
We can see a similar situation in the vacation resorts of our day. These are paradises for madmen of the belly. Wherever you go on their premises, you’re overwhelmed with an excess of enticing food and a profusion of mind-numbing alcohol. Sexual pleasure, Allowed or otherwise, is there for the taking. Under such conditions, the Base Self cannot fail to run wild. The result is that one will end up making an ass of oneself.

      From this...                                      to this. The ass is, of course, a prime symbol for the Base Self.

Once you give in to all the demands of the Base Self, you have effectively placed a Tasmanian Devil (called “Taz” in the comics) in the driver’s seat. After that, heaven help you!
Jiminy Cricket, who acts as Pinocchio’s conscience, sings: “Always let your conscience be your guide.” The problem with this, however, is that conscience is a faculty that needs to be trained and cultivated. For conscience presupposes a knowledge of good and evil. But what is good (pleasing to God) or bad (displeasing to God) is not easily intuited. How do we distinguish the still, small voice of conscience from the deceits of the Base Self? “Follow your heart,” we are told—but are we following our heart or the Base Self? For this, one needs to accept and become knowledgeable in a true religion. Armed with such a moral compass, conscience then can, indeed, serve as a reliable guide—but only afterwards.
Every time Pinocchio lies, his nose grows longer, clearly alerting everyone to the deed. It symbolizes that one lie paves the way for the next one, until you are left with a whole chain of untruths.
You won’t lie if you don’t do things that need to be lied about. The Prophet said: “Be truthful. Truthfulness leads to virtue, and virtue draws you to heaven. Beware of lies. Lies lead to immorality, and immorality leads to hell.”

If the Base Self is given enough leeway, it will erupt in anger. After that, it will burn down and destroy everything within its reach. The Prophet said: “Anger is of the devil, and the devil was created from fire.” When his second wife, Aisha, became angry, he told her: “This is the Fire that has been called (by God) the place of the devil.”

“The one within me... seeks revenge.” Ghost Rider in Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, S04 (Eps. 1, 2, 6).

In the former Tradition, the Prophet continues: “Fire is extinguished by water. So if one of you gets angry, let them get up and take an Ablution.” And in another Tradition, he said: “The true wrestler (champion) is one who controls his (Base) self when he gets angry, not one who throws his opponent to the ground.” When someone asked him for a single, short piece of advice, he said: “Don't get angry.” He himself was always calm and serene. He was vexed only if something was especially offensive to God.

In order to tame the Base Self, the exact opposite of overindulgence is needed: to avoid excess in everything, and to occasionally engage in asceticism: to starve the body of nutrients (don’t overdo it! As the Master said, one mustn’t exceed a week). Only then can the wild oscillations of the Base Self subside, and the spirit be allowed to come to the fore.

One should avoid excess even in religion. According to  a well-known Tradition, three Companions of the Prophet decided they would go all the way. One said: “I’m going to stay awake and perform the Prayer every night,” the second said: “I’m going to Fast every day of my life,” and the third said: “I’m going to practice sexual abstinence from now on.”

When the Prophet heard of this, he upbraided them, saying: “I’m foremost among the Godfearing, yet I sometimes Pray at night and sometimes I sleep. I sometimes fast and sometimes I don’t. And I marry women. Anyone who turns away from my Path is not one of mine.” He is also recorded as saying, “Who goes to extremes is ruined.” Moderation is key.

Speaking of, let me clarify one point. We tend to imagine the Prophet as some kind of warlord—always on the warpath, rushing from one battle to the next. This is a very big mistake. (Historians like to dwell on wars a lot because these are the highlights and gamechangers of history. They are also events that have the best chance of being recorded.) On the contrary, the Prophet’s battles totaled less than a month in a life of 63 years, and those were forced upon him.

There are two periods in his life: the periods in Mecca and Medina. His biography is truly a tale of two cities. The Meccan period comprised the revelation of the religion, the Medinan period was devoted to its consolidation. But its most important part had already been revealed while he was still in Mecca. The Master always told us to study the Prophet’s Meccan phase with care, because that was where the essentials of the religion were revealed.

The Belly of the Whale

In search of his missing “father” Gepetto, Pinocchio is swallowed by Monstro, the giant whale.  
 Now where have we heard of this before? That’s right: Jonah and the whale! It’s in both the Bible and the Koran. 
 Regarding this, Master Kayhan said:

It doesn’t digest him. It takes and regurgitates him on land. His clothes were melted, he was left naked. He covers himself with something. But he doesn’t live long after that. Human beings kill him. There are very delicate points here. Don’t bother about them, they’re not for you to understand.

(H. Bayman, The Teachings of a Perfect Master (2012), p. 290.)

Leaving aside meanings beyond our ken, let us rather focus on one we can fathom. Jonah’s emergence from the giant fish is a symbol of rebirth. And Pinocchio, too, dies as a result of his encounter with the whale and is subsequently reborn as a real boy.  
 In another sense, Pinocchio emerges from the dark, dank belly of the whale into daylight, from darkness into light. That is, he achieves Illumination. It’s like escaping from a buried coffin. (For a similar initiation experience in Hermeticism, go to the latter part of this.) Just like Jonah, about whom the Master explained:

From the belly of the whale, he repeats over and over again: ‘There is no god but You. Glory be to You. I have been of the wrong-doers’ [21:87]. They say that with this prayer, Jonah made his Ascension in the belly of the whale. (Ibid.)

Whenever you’re in a fix (a tight place), if you repeat the same Verse as Invocation, it is to be hoped that Divine Aid will reach out to you, too.
In short, Pinocchio recapitulates the sagas of at least two prophets: Adam and Jonah.
From Plato’s Cave to Aladdin’s Cave
In some respects, the cavernous stomach of Monstro calls to mind the famous cave of the philosopher Plato. Without enlightenment, Plato said in The Republic, we are like prisoners chained to the bottom of a dark cave. Strange, incomprehensible shadows parade before our eyes, yet we have no way of apprehending the realities they correspond to.
From this, let us move on to another famous Disney movie, Aladdin (1992), inspired by the tale from the 1001 (or Arabian) Nights. In search of the fabulous Lamp, Aladdin descends into a cave: the Cave of Wonders.

Like Plato’s Cave, the Cave of Wonders is a symbol for the world we live in: more precisely, the external world accessible through our five physical senses. Pay no heed to the treasures lying at your feet, wonderful though they are. You must walk through these as if they were dust, and concentrate only on one goal: reaching the Stairway, at the top of which is the Beam-up (miraj: stairway or Ascension).

The Light of God "comes to the distance of two bows/arcs, or even closer"  (53:9)

In order to activate this process, you have to polish the lamp, which is a symbol for your Heart. The Prophet said: “There is a polish for everything, and the polish of Hearts is the Invocation of God.” Moreover, the Invocation (dhikr) or remembrance of God is embedded in the Formal Prayer (namaz, salat), which is the very thing the Prophet called “the Ascension of the faithful.” If, like the Prophet, your “attention does not stray, nor does it swerve” (53:17) for even an instant, then God will “reveal to His servant what He reveal(s)” (53:10). If you are able to attain such laser-like concentration, your sins will drop away like autumn leaves, and you will find yourself in the elevator (they call it jazba, “divine attraction,” in Sufism and “tractor beam” in science fiction) that leads to the Divine Presence. 

The Ship of Saints

(Copyright Aga Khan Museum)
Gold calligraphy on chestnut leaf in the form of a ship. The inscription reads: “And say: ‘Lord, grant me a good entry and a goodly exit, and sustain me with Your power (17:80).
The Ship of (Sufi) Saints is an analogue of Noah’s Ark: it is the instructions, protection, aid and blessings of a Perfect Master, which enable a student to brave high and dangerous seas and safely reach the other shore of Realization. In the term ilm al-safina, another meaning is revealed: this refers to the knowledge obtained from the Books, i.e. the revealed books, the instructions of which help us to attain salvation.
 (As an aside, to my knowledge there are two books bearing this title. The first is Dara Shikoh’s Safinat ul-Awliya (Arabic, 1640), dealing with the biographies of Sufi saints. The other is Hüseyin Vassaf’s much larger Sefine-i Evliya (Turkish, 1925), in which he relates the lives of almost 2000 Sufi saints.)

The Penultimate Stage 

In Sufism, the self of the traveler progresses through seven stages that begin with the Base Self and culminate with the Purified Self. Years, perhaps decades, of preparation are needed to climb this mountain, for the conditions of the world do not permit an easy ascent without constant struggle. For brevity, let us skip some of the intermediate stages and focus on the last two.
To the mature person at the sixth stage, the first good signs of the great viceregency begin to appear. At the end of this process he is dressed in all the regalia of that rank. The servant knows all the subtle secrets of things through the knowledge given him by His Lord. God has informed His servants of these secrets with the proclamation: “I taught Adam the names of all things.” There are secrets associated with this stage that cannot be expressed in words. It is impossible for anyone not possessing this state to comprehend these, for they do not have correlates in the external world to which they might be compared.
(H. Bayman, The Station of No Station (2001), p. 141.)

(C. Spiegel-Verlag, 24/2014)
The Universal Man or Cosmic Human are two other names for the Perfect Human Being (insan al-kâmil). Such a person has transcended petty boundaries and established kinship with all that is. S/he has become brethren with everything in the universe. Thus, a Friend (wali, pl. awliya) of God is a friend of all being. As the Turkish Sufi poet Niyazi Misri sang:
“I used to think that in the world, no friends were left for me
I left my me behind and knew: no others are left for me.”

The Seventh Level

This level in the stages of selfhood corresponds to the culmination of the inner journey, yielding the Perfect Human Being, also known as the Universal Man or Cosmic Human. As I have written elsewhere:
The human self that has risen to the seventh station is called the perfect self because it has reached the pinnacle of maturity, and the purified or pure self (safiya or zakiya, after 18:74, 87:14, 91:9) because it has become completely purified. The seeker can rise to the sixth stage by struggle, but the seventh can only be bestowed on him by the grace of God. This is the final stage of human evolution, where all human potentials manifest themselves in full bloom. It is also the level at which the mystery of Unity is fully revealed. The consciousness and knowledge that obtain at this stage have been called “objective consciousness” and “objective knowledge” because there is no trace left of the delusions generated by the Base Self.
The seventh station is the highest and most exalted station of all. The Inner Kingdom (the Kingdom which, as Jesus said, “is within you”) has reached perfection, and the struggle is finished. Asceticism and self-restraint are no longer necessary. It is enough to avoid excess in all things. The possessor of this stage has no desires left, for they have all been granted. He still continues, however, to wish for the pleasure of his Lord.
The actions of the perfect human being at this stage are all goodness and worship. His sweet breath is power and grace. His gentle speech is knowledge and wisdom, sweetness and light. His blessed face radiates peace and joy. His sweet and effective speech is soothing, peaceful, and affectionate.
The person at this stage is never without worship, even for a moment. He worships with all his bodily organs, with his tongue, hands, and feet, or solely with his heart, and is never heedless of his Lord.
Such a person repents frequently. He is extremely humble. The tendency of people to seek God pleases him greatly. He is sad and offended if they neglect God. He loves those who desire and love God more than he would love his own child. Both his love and his anger are not for his self, but for God alone. Everything he does is right. He acts with justice in everything. His every wish is in accord with God’s wishes... he is one who has attained “the Station of No Station.”
(H. Bayman, The Station of No Station (2001), pp. 141-2.)

The Sufi Saint

Let Master Kayhan have the last word:
The saint is a person who has gathered the attributes of the four poles, who combines within himself the qualities of the sun, water, earth and night. He is like the sun in loving-kindness, like water in generosity, like the earth in humility and like the night in hiding sins. An ant is his life and soul. A blade of grass is his life and soul.
The saint has taken the universe in hand. If I were to sit in the shade and say: ‘Bring me the sun, bring me wind,’ you couldn’t. One has to be like that. The easiest miraculous feat is to talk with the dead. Go ahead, talk! You have to die before you die, then it’s possible. Whatever is difficult for your ego, do that. If one is in possession of those truths, one is not a prophet, but one is fulfilling the morality of the prophets.
(H. Bayman, The Teachings of a Perfect Master (2012), p. 345.)



 For sometime now, I have been saying that contents of a Sufic nature are spontaneously emerging into Western culture. This is perhaps best exemplified in the imagined step from an artificially intelligent robot to a human being.  
 A spate of new movies and TV series has given expression to the (sometimes bizarre!) humanization of automatons. Among them are I, Robot (2004) (originating with the famous science fiction writer Isaac Asimov) and Ex Machina (2015). A man falls in love with the seductive voice of his cell phone’s operating system in Her (2013). We already have disturbingly lifelike humanoid robots (see this): what will happen in a decade or two? They’re called Mecha in Spielberg’s A.I. (2001), Cyborgs in the Terminator films and TV series, Mechanids in Extant (TV), Androids in Almost Human (TV), Dark Matter (TV) and Westworld (movies and TV series), and Synths in the British Humans (TV). Whatever name they’re called by, the result is always the same: the robots take on increasingly human characteristics, while in at least some cases, humans become progressively more robot-like. In James Cameron’s rightfully famous Terminator 2 (1991), the movie ends with the words: “if a machine ... can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too.” Others view the rise of the robots with alarm. Physicist Stephen Hawking is on record as saying: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”
(Perhaps, if we are able to program our robots with Islamic ethics, we will be able to avoid killer robots for a while longer. Otherwise...)
The word “robot” itself was coined by Karel Capek in his 1921 play R.U.R., short for “Rossum’s Universal Robots.” The tale of Pinocchio (1883, 1940) describes a wooden puppet that becomes a human being. We can trace the concept further back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), and even earlier, to the Kaballistic concept of the Golem, a clay effigy that is animated by placing a piece of paper bearing a name of God or a sacred formula in its mouth. The earliest attribution of the creation of a golem by a historical figure dates from 1630 or later, while the earliest known written account of how to create a golem goes back to the 12th-13th centuries. From there, it is lost to history, though imaginative people have probably dreamed of mechanical slaves to free themselves of toil from time immemorial. Disney’s version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice had the young upstart animating brooms by magic to do the cleaning, until things went awry.

Before                             After 

Closely related, it would seem, are the themes of a beast turning into a human being (Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991)), and the achievement of human-level intelligence by apes (the Planet of the Apes series of movies and reboots). We have seen computers encroaching on areas hitherto deemed exclusive to human beings. IBM’s Deep Blue bested chess master Garry Kasparov in 1997. More recently (2016), Google’s DeepMind unit has defeated the world champion of Go. Science fiction writer Vernor Vinge was the first to popularize the notion of a “technological singularity,” or “Singularity” for short, in the 1990s (the term was first used by mathematician John von Neumann in 1958). In this conception, an artificial superintelligence (ASI) triggers runaway technological growth, leaving humanity in the dust. A machine would be able to design one more intelligent than itself, in a process that would last an indeterminate number of steps. At some stage, machine intelligence would surpass all human intelligence, and future evolution would take place in the mechanical, not human, realm. This would be a posthuman future. (It seems as if they’re trying to say “God,” but can’t quite bring themselves to say it.)
Is this what is in store for us? Are humans to be supplanted by machines, their creations? Or does man’s possible evolution encompass entirely different transhuman possibilities, leading to the realization of a Universal Human or Perfect Human Being (insan al-kâmil), as envisaged by Sufism? (This would be a human Singularity, not a technological one.)
According to the Sufi masters, we already possess the potential to evolve into something higher that no machine evolution could ever equal, even if machines and humans were to be integrated as cybernetic organisms (cyborgs). (This includes bionic wo/men and supersoldiers.)

Conscious Machines?
Along with ever-increasing machine intelligence, there is a tendency to assume the existence of machine consciousness. (Human beings are very good at idolizing, or at least anthropomorphizing, what they make with their own hands.) The aforementioned movies and TV series dwell upon this to one extent or other, introducing automatons that seem to act consciously, just like human beings.
Is this even possible? Can there be such a thing as machine consciousness, an electronic circuit that is self-aware, if it is complicated enough?
While the idea of machine consciousness has its proponents, it also has its skeptics. Professor of philosophy John Searle is one of the latter. According to his “Chinese room” argument, no program can give a computer a mind, understanding or consciousness, no matter how human-like the computer may appear to behave. Although he is a naturalist, Searle has argued that the brain is not a computer and that a computer program does not explain consciousness. He says that consciousness is a biological phenomenon produced by the brain, while “the programmed computer understands what the car and the adding machine understand, namely, exactly nothing.”

Mimicry in nature.
Is this an owl?

Alan Turing famously described a test for intelligence in a computer. According to the dictionary, the Turing test requires that “a human being should be unable to distinguish the machine from another human being by using the replies to questions put to both.” While this may seem plausible, it does not imply sameness. Also, this is a test for intelligence, not consciousness. IBM’s Deep Blue is not a chess master, even if it beat Kasparov, and it does not think like one. It achieved superiority by making trillions of calculations in a short time.  We cannot program a computer to think like a chess master, first of all because we do not know how the mind of a chess master works (we do know it’s not by brute force). Mimicry is not identity: a simulation is not the real thing, any more than a dream is reality. Or, as Alan Watts used to say, the map is not the territory, and we should not confuse the two. 

As the editors of IEEE Spectrum noted in their “Singularity” special issue:

“we’re still a very long way from understanding how consciousness arises in the human brain, let alone figuring out how to re-create it in a machine. We’re even a long way from the much simpler goal of creating autonomous, self-organizing, and perhaps even self-­replicating machines.”

Hitting a Brick Wall

Three decades before that quote, Nobel-Prize-winning neurophysiologist David Hubel wrote: “Our knowledge of the brain is in a very primitive state. While for some regions we have developed some kind of functional concept, there are others, the size of one’s fist, of which it can almost be said that we are in the same state of knowledge as we were with regard to the heart before we realised that it pumped blood.” (quoted here.)  

Despite great strides in neuroscience since then, little has changed. Philosopher Colin McGinn has declared the problem of consciousness unsolvable. Edward Witten, referred to as one of the world’s smartest physicists, has called it a mystery. Just recently, science writer John Horgan, an astute observer of the field of consciousness research, has noted “signs of desperation” in the plethora of theories that have been proliferating.

Such theories fall short because, to recall the famous Nasruddin Hodja joke, they're looking for the key in the wrong place. Occam’s Razor dictates the simplest solution: the so-called “hard” problem of consciousness is not going to be cracked within the realm of physics. The brain is an interface between the mind and the physical world, and the body-brain complex is an interface between the spirit and the sensory world. (To draw a crude analogy, spirit is like “software” downloaded onto our physical hardware.) Naturally, any impairment in the interfaces interferes with the full functioning of both. As soon as you factor spirit into your calculations, the problem evaporates.

The Prophet said: “Knowledge is twofold: first, the knowledge of bodies [i.e. the physical], and then the knowledge of religions [the spiritual].” Our present-day knowledge, then, actually constitutes half of what it ought to be. For in its sadly deficient state, modern science does not recognize the existence of a spirit. Yet consciousness and self-awareness are functions of this entity. You would need to “in-spirit” (our word “inspire” comes from this) or “ensoul” a machine before it could become conscious, and for self-awareness, even this is not enough: you would need a specifically human spirit. And for this, in turn, you need a locus capable of accepting it—in other words, an organic substrate. Nor, finally, will any organic infrastructure do: you need a human body.

So while all our incredible efforts may be able to achieve robots indistinguishable from human beings, we have no grounds to expect that they will be aware or self-conscious. What is happening, rather, is that  programmers are encoding human-like responses into their software. These are testimony more to the ingenuity of their coders than to their own intelligence. There’s no use searching for that magical piece of code that you upload and—Presto!—a robot suddenly becomes conscious, because it doesn’t exist. To pin one’s hopes on sufficient complexity is wishful thinking.

As Master Ahmet Kayhan observed, “The computer emerged from man, not vice versa.” This shows that man is superior.

While the hubristic goal of creating a human being (like God did!) may be unachievable, however (except by the perennial method of procreation), such notions do have Sufic relevance. For all such conceptions—creating conscious robots, turning an animal into a human being, or a puppet into a real boy—are metaphors or allegories for transforming the “only human” into the Perfect Human.

Mechanical Man  

George Gurdjieff (flourished circa 1920-50), some parts of whose teachings were borrowed heavily from Sufism, used to call human beings in their ordinary state “mechanical man” or “machine-man.” By this, he did not mean that humans were composed entirely of matter, as a materialistic worldview would require, along the lines of La Mettrie’s L’homme machine (“Machine Man” or “The Human Mechanism,” 1748). Rather, he meant that a person always responds in the same way to a certain kind of stimulus. Today, we would say that such human beings are bound by their conditioning or programming. In his view, mechanical man was in “the prison of himself.”
In more precise Sufic terms, such a person is in the prison of his Base Self. One has to cast off the shackles of the Base Self if one wishes to  get anywhere. Instead of being a slave to the Base Self, one should make the Base Self one’s slave. And that is no easy task: it requires much struggle, much work on oneself.
Peter Ouspensky, a student of Gurdjieff, put it as follows:

What does it mean that man is a machine? 
It  means that he has no independent  movements, inside or outside of himself. He is a machine which is brought into motion by external  influences and external impacts. All  his movements, actions, words, ideas, emotions, moods  and thoughts are produced by external influences. By himself, he is just an automaton...
Man cannot move, think or speak of his own accord. He is a marionette pulled here and  there by invisible strings. If he understands this, he can learn more about himself, and possibly then things may begin to change for him...
Man is a machine, but... he may find the ways to cease to be a machine.

(The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution (1949).)

The Journey Inwards 
Following Gurdjieff, Ouspensky linked human mechanicalness with consciousness—or rather, the lack thereof.

... the state in which we are now, that is, in which we work, talk, imagine ourselves conscious beings, and so forth, we often call ‘waking consciousness’ or ‘clear consciousness’ but really it should be called ‘waking sleep’... (Ibid.)

And Idries Shah begins his famous study, The Sufis (1964), with the fable of the Islanders, about a people who are asleep even when they are awake. This all derives from the Prophet’s own words: “Human beings are asleep, they wake up when they die.”

According to Gurdjieff, “The evolution of man is the evolution of his consciousness.” Also: “Evolution is the result of conscious struggle.”
(Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous (1949).)

Hence, consciousness is the very opposite of mechanicalness—of dead matter. (One should also mention here British author Colin Wilson’s concept of the robot: as Michael Dirda has summarized it, “we sleepwalk through much of our lives, relying on an internalized robot self that automatically attends to our routine tasks and ignores the richness and wonder around us. The more we rely on the robot, the less authentic we feel.”)

And since consciousness is a property of the spirit, what we are talking about here is a spiritual, as well as psychological, transformation (where “psyche” means the self). The Sufis have identified seven stages in the development of the self, the lowest of which we have already encountered: the Base Self. (Modern psychology is almost wholly concerned with the latter.)

Some have argued that Sufism leads to narcissism. It has been claimed, for example, that “There is no Other in Sufism, only your own ego grinning back from the universe.” Nothing could be further from the truth. This is to radically misunderstand some of the most basic concepts of Sufism. The difference between our little, local self (the Base Self: nafs al-ammâra) and the Self of the Universe (the Total Self: nafs al-kull) is far vaster than the difference between a puddle and an ocean. Not self-love, but the love of God, gets us there. Otherwise, you remain in the prison of your Base Self.

The “Other” Within

To use sociologist David Riesman’s term, human beings are “other-directed,” as opposed to inner-directed. The Base Self too is an “other,” even if it is within us—it is not our essential core. In fact, it is what keeps us from realizing our true Essence.
This means: you yourself are the greatest obstacle to your progress. Your Base Self is the curtain that veils your inner, better self. And for this reason, the Sufis have said:

You get out from in between
And the Creator at once is seen.

They also pray (with the Turkish Sufi poet Yunus Emre):

Remove me-ness from me
With you-ness fill me.

Immoral actions, however, cause the Base Self to become so entrenched that you can never get rid of it. And paramount among these are Illicit Gain and Illicit Sex.
But if we are puppets of our Base Self, we could do worse than consider the cautionary tale of Pinocchio.
This subject merits a separate article in and of itself.


My Love shall be bestowed upon those who love one another for My Sake.
—God (Muwatta, Musnad)

You cannot enter Paradise unless you have faith, and you cannot have faith unless you love one another.
—The Prophet (Muslim)

Sufism and Illicit Lust are two sets do not overlap, that is, they are disjoint. A clearer way to put this is: Sufism excludes Illicit Sex. By the latter, we mean that extramarital relations are prohibited, while Licit Sex refers to marital sexual relations with a spouse of the opposite sex. Here, however, we will be focusing on a subset of Unclean Lust: namely, homosexuality.

First, please read this.

Sufism is the path of the Pure, and such purity cannot coexist alongside defilement. In Kolakowski's famous phrase, you cannot have “fried snowballs.” (For those who have been involved but want to make a fresh start, the door of quitting and repentance is always open.)

How, then, to explain certain Sufic verses which seem to refer to sodomy, pederasty, or pedophilia?

Our image of the human being has today become concentrated exclusively on the physical. Especially in modern science, we do not even acknowledge that s/he also has a spiritual side. Our worldview has reduced spirit to the mind, then the mind to the brain, and finally the brain to electrochemical impulses traversing the synapses. Under such conditions, it is a minor miracle that we can still think of brotherly love, or the love a mother has for her child, as referring to anything other than physical/sexual love. And when God tells us: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:31), He obviously intends something entirely different. In the course of a few decades, the term “making love” itself has been reduced from its original meaning of kissing and embracing to sexual intercourse (see this).

So naturally, we understand poetry written not decades but hundreds of years ago (and in a different—Persian—culture) as referring, not to spiritual, but explicitly physical love. The Sufi poets who wrote those verses, however, were using those expressions symbolically. Sufi poetry is suffused with symbolism. The Beloved is God, the tresses of the Beloved are the many paths that lead to God (a different strand of hair for each human being), wine refers to the intoxicating love of God, and so on.

In some cases, such verses refer to the Perfect Human Being, who acts as a teacher (shaykh or murshid) for disciples. The relationship conceived in Sufi literature between Mahmud the Sultan of Ghazna and Ayaz, his servant, for instance, is a metaphor for the spiritual (not physical!) love between a Sufi Master and his disciples, this love being the main engine for progress along the spiritual path, for it is this love that enables one to overcome and transcend ones nutshell of a self. Poets such as Hafez, Rumi, or Attar exercise poetic license in employing such metaphors.

In other cases, love for a child of unearthly beauty is involved. This is the Child of the Heart, which is one of the most deeply esoteric (and hard-to-understand) concepts in Sufism. It has its roots in the Prophet’s Saying, “I saw my Lord in the form of a beardless youth (shabb al-amrad).” It has been recognized in other mystical traditions: among its counterparts are the Chinese Embryo of the Tao, the Latin puer aeternus (eternal youth/child) and the Hindu hiranyagarbha (golden embryo/child).

This concept has been terribly misunderstood and mutilated in some quarters, however, resulting in the abominable practice called bacha bazi. Another Prophetic Saying, “God is Beautiful, He loves beauty,” has led to the related practice of adoration of the beautiful called shahed bazi. There can be no doubt that these are distortions and perversions of the worst kind. As George Bernard Shaw observed, the lower mind, unable to comprehend the religion of the high mind, drags it down to its own level by degrading it. Certainly the original conception is free of any blame for this sorry outcome.

As Master Ahmet Kayhan explained, the Child of the Heart is the spirit-child. The spirit, the very existence of which we deny today, is capable of bearing a child. Like Jesus, this child has no human father. (In fact, Jesus himself has been adopted as a symbol for the Child of the Heart in Sufi literature.) It represents an advanced stage along the path that leads to the Perfect Human Being (for more details, see this).

The case of Rumi and Shams 
By way of introduction, let me recap what this website has been saying for some time now. We’re mostly hung up on the miracles of prophets and the extraordinary feats of saints, but these are merely secondary effects. We need to move beyond them, for they prove little by themselves. Remember: the devil himself is a miracle-worker.
Rather, the importance of the prophets is that they are primarily ethical role models for the rest of us. And the saints, as the successors of the prophets, are inheritors of that station. But just as there is a tendency to distort the prophets (see this), there is also a predilection to belittle the saints, to divest them of their stature as ethical role models.
Now, gays and lesbians cannot serve as role models for society at large. The reason is simple: otherwise, the human race would become extinct. And this extinction is the top project of the devil, who is the sworn enemy of humankind. He would make everyone gay if he could. (If evil exists in this world, then so must its instigator, the devil.) In all three monotheistic religions, namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam, God has forbidden homosexuality.
Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi and Shams of Tabriz are two Sufi saints of wide renown. They were kindred spirits, perhaps even twin souls, who rejoiced in the fact that they had found each other. Rumi was happy that he had found the perfect master, and Shams was glad he had found the perfect disciple. Unfortunately, they have also become the brunt of slanders in an age when the meaning of spiritual love and the intellectual love of God have been forgotten. Simply put, we are almost incapable any longer of conceiving a kind of love that is not physical.

Some have claimed that it is impossible to determine whether the love between Rumi and Shams was physical or not. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is now time to explode this myth.
Rumi says: “The love of mortals is not eternal” (Mathnawi, 1:216). As for Shams, he says in his Maqalat: “The intended aim of the world's existence is the encounter of two friends of God, when they face each other only for the sake of God, far distant from lust and craving.” These quotes alone ought to prove how lofty their aspirations were, and how far removed these two saints are from the modern-day pestilential projections they are subjected to.

During meditation (tafakkur), Rumi and Shams would sit facing each other in a cell, separated by about a yard (1 m). The cell had a paneless window to the outside, from which they were always clearly visible to any passerby.

Let us see what Professor Franklin Lewis, one of our best go-to authorities on all things Rumi, has to say. In a section titled “Rumi’s Sexuality” in his mammoth study, Rumi: Past and Present, East and West (London: Oneworld Publications, 2000, 2008), Franklin tells us that Rumi was a happily married family man. When his first wife died, he married again, and had children from both marriages. He was 37 when he met Shams, who was over 60 at the time and also got married, so that their relationship would have been more like that of a father and son.
Shams al-Din counseled the young Sultan Valad [Rumi’s son] to avoid hashish and sodomy (Af 633), and condemned Owhad al-Din Kermani for his practice of shahed-bazi, in this case his attention to beautiful boys, in the Hellenistic tradition of the ephebe. Shams and Rumi both condemned the excesses of Sufi behavior, as did other Sufis, and were opposed to libertinism. (pp. 320-21.)
After an in-depth discussion, Franklin concludes:
The suggestion that the relationship between Shams and Rumi was a physical and homosexual one entirely misunderstands the context. Rumi, as a forty-year-old man engaged in ascetic practices and teaching Islamic law, to say nothing of his obsession with following the example of the Prophet, would not have submitted to [advances] of the sixty-year-old Shams, who was, in any case, like Rumi, committed to following the Prophet and opposed to the worship of God through human beauty. Rumi did employ the symbolism of homoerotic, or more properly, androgynous love, in his poems addressed to Shams as the divine beloved, but this merely adopts an already 300-year-old convention of the poetry of praise in Persian literature. (p. 324.)
As Omid Safi notes:
In numerous places in his writings, Mawlānā [Rumi] condemns homosexuality in the strongest possible language, equating it with the worst kind of heresy, disease, and moral impropriety. ... Mawlānā and his companions called [homosexual practices] “the disease of old men.” (p. 67, emphasis added.) 
Finally, another Rumi expert, Dr. Ibrahim Gamard, explains:
... accounts indicate that Mawlānā was already an advanced Sufi, as well as a religious scholar. And they suggest that Shams-é Tabrīzī found Mawlānā to be the hidden saint he had long searched for, one who was advanced on the Sufi path who continued to follow the Prophet Muḥammad, and who acknowledged that the Prophet journeyed far beyond any of the Muslim Sufi masters who came after him in the mystical worship of God.
A contemporary claim has been promulgated that Mawlānā and Shams-é Tabrīzī were “lovers” on the physical level as well as the spiritual. However, this view is ill-informed about significant features of medieval Persian culture: such a relationship would have been incompatible with the homoeroticism of the time. And to believe that such was the case misunderstands the nature of lover-beloved themes in Persian Sufi poetry that had been an established convention for three hundred years (Lewis, pp. 320-24). An example of one such theme relates to the Sufi practice of cultivating intense love of the spiritual master until there is “annihilation in the presence of the master” [fanā fī ‘l-shaykh] as a stage on the path to “annihilation in the Presence of God” [fanā fī ’llāh]. Furthermore, such a claim ignores the basic master-disciple roles in numerous fields of knowledge, professions, and crafts throughout Muslim historyin particular, the training of a disciple by a Sufi master based on traditional Islamic ethics. Mawlānā condemned sodomy and effeminate behavior in numerous places in his poetry (such as Mathnawī 5:363-64, 2487-2500; 6:1727-32, 3843-68). And Shams-é Tabrīzī condemned homosexual acts as unmanly and blameworthy in the presence of God (p. 773) [emphasis added].

Some examples from Rumi in his own words
So, let us look at what Rumi himself has to say (following mainly, though not only, Nicholsons literal translation):
The (true) Sufi is he who has become a seeker of purity: this does not come from wearing a woolen garment and patching it, and from committing sodomy.
With these base scoundrels, Sufism has become patching and sodomy, that is all. (M5:363-4.)
Rumi uses the following expression with reference to a passive homosexual: “they appear human on the outside,  the accursed Devil is within(M2:3159). He also calls an active homosexual an “accursed wretch(M5:2498).
In the following verses, a man comes upon a group of beautiful women. He addresses one of them, using the expression “you vile creatures.”
The woman turned towards him and replied, “O man of trust, do not think it dreadful that there are so many of us.
Consider that even our multitude on earth is not enough for you men to find your enjoyment.
Because there are so few women, you fall into active and passive sodomy, and become disgraced in the world!” (M6:1730-32.)
In this last, note the veiled reference to the Koran: “What, do you approach males, leaving your wives that your Lord created for you? You are indeed a transgressing people.” (26:165-6). And if you switch genders, the same still holds.
In the following verse, a youth castigates an active homosexual:
Some foul, Godless villain like you springs up before me like a wild beast. (M6:3855).
Such language is highly untypical of Rumi, who continues to be known for his legendary tolerance. Example: Rumi once came upon some prostitutes, who showed him great respect. He told them: “If you didnt bear these burdens and hardships, who would subdue so much lust and so many carnal souls? And how would the chastity and purity of chaste and pure women ever be known?” (Aflaki, Manâqeb al-Ârifîn, #542.) Yet he has not a single good word to spare for homosexuality. This shows us that Rumi regarded gay sex as even worse than prostitution, lacking in any redeeming qualities whatsoever. It appears he viewed it as an unmitigated evil. (In the Koran, God calls fornication and adultery (i.e. zina) fahisha, an Abomination (17:32). But He calls the homosexual act al-fahisha (7:80), The Abomination—an act worse than zina.)
As for Shams, the following is from his “Discourses” (Maqalat): “I don’t belong to the prophet Lot’s community of immoral sexual perverts...  They call the prophet Lot ‘Lot’ because he was not a sexual pervert. He was a prophet.” (Maq. p. 255/250, Gencosman translation.)

From all this, it is clear that both Rumi and Shams considered same-sex relations abhorrent and reprehensible. This ought to lay to rest any slanderous claims about two of the greatest Sufi saints of their (or perhaps any) age.