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«Sufism According to the Plotinian Views on the Universe »

Faith accompanies humanity through the entire period of its development. Starting from the fear of the forces of nature and primitively deifying them, the belief in something shapeless and significant has been evolving together with the humankind. Throughout the history, the phenomenon of religious faith had a lot of meanings, being a tool for different justified and unjustified purposes in the hands of priests and kings. At the dawn of philosophy, the ancient thinkers made first assumptions and hypotheses related to faith. Thus, Sufism had a significant influence on the spiritual and cultural development in the Middle East. Some elements of the teachings can be linked to the Greek philosopher Plotinus. The emergence of all things from one source, the definition of this One as being ‘Good’ and ‘Beautiful,’ the rejection of death, the existence of seven heavens, and other aspects unite the Sufi and Plotinus teachings. Being the faith of unification and recognizing practical and philosophical approaches, Sufism does not divide the entity containing different and opposite sides.  

Plotinus, who was the follower of Plato, asserts that there is a principle higher than the intelligence. This transcendent principle that is identical to the divine tends to be the cause and source of thinking, activity, ethics, and aesthetics. Similarly, the philosopher suggests that the problem of everything appearing from the unity cannot be solved. The answers can be found only by the will of God. Consequently, this superior being contains everything in itself and allows it to emerge in the material world. The main principle has no thought and consciousness hence the intelligence that comes from the One has no logic either. Though, every virtue comes from this source, which is entirely full and sufficient. Being a part of God and originating from the only source, the individual soul should strive to return to its divine feeling and condition. Thus, God remains a major purpose, which surpasses the attractions of the material world. Consequently, God represents the omnipresent origin of everything. A person can experience the Divine through the philosophical or emotional ways of comprehension.  

The religious faith of Sufi can be evaluated according to the Plotinian hypothesis. This system emerged in the Middle East in the seventh century. The followers took the teaching of God’s Prophet Mohammad as the basis for their faith. From the tenth century, it has spread widely through the region. After three centuries had passed, Sufism became the crucial element of the spiritual arousal of the Islamic world.  Originating from Medina, Arabia nearly fifteen centuries ago, this doctrine is free from any national boundaries. Thus, Sufis can be those who follow the path of eternal truth and love. However, it is not an abstract theory or effortless way to gain the transcendent benefits. Sufism requires strong discipline, high personal qualities, and devotion from its followers. Particularly, excellent personal qualities are needed to become a successful practitioner. The comprehension of the Divine should arise from the inner essence, which is the heart of the follower. Utilizing the meditation and principles of Koran and the Prophet as the guiding methods, the followers endeavor to open their hearts. The boundless feeling of love and light enables to perceive God entirely. Therefore, this practice of devoted and transcendent realization of the Divine separates Sufism from the philosophical approach to the religion. Without definitions, assumptions, and facts, the followers represent the inner, esoteric Islamic aspect of faith.

After several centuries, Sufism has developed two basic systems of practical and philosophical comprehension of the Divine. The practical Sufism begins when a follower conquers his or her selfishness, forgets the feeling of separation, and surrenders to the transcendental unity of his heart. However, this journey requires more than faith or intuition to proceed. The practice is guided by certain rules. For example, the disciple must reject lie, insult, or hurting the living creatures, and embrace hospitality and humility.  The philosophical Sufism developed during the 12thand 13th centuries. Using specific language, the teachers tried to explain the mysteries and main principles of the religion. However, they usually lacked words to define the feelings and insights, which practitioners were experiencing during their spiritual journeys. The Sufistic interpretation of the physical body suggests that it is the reflection of the spiritual or astral body of an individual. The spirit (Ruh) or soul itself can lead the practitioner to the Divine. Different spiritual practices strengthen the soul, and the ability to perceive and feel God becomes higher. Moreover, those who will acquire their self (the soul) will also easily recognize Allah. Such exposition demonstrates the significance of the evaluation and examination of the personal inner world. Consequently, the better a disciple knows his essence, the closer to God he will be.

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Sufism is based on the practice and esoteric perception of the existence. Having a number of rules and laws, the religion has been guiding its followers almost without any amendments to the modern times. This set of regulations constitutes a rational part of the practice. Thus, the instructions are devised on the expertise of the teachers, thinkers, and prophets who relived the transcendental and divine experiences. At this point, a mixture of rationalistic approach and spiritual emotions occurs. The ability to convey the inner experience in detail was a challenging task for the teachers of the Antiquity. For this reason, they often chose the poetic form of expression and presented the guidelines to their disciples in a symbolic manner. 

The empirical attitude of the Sufi to theory can be witnessed in the philosophical approach they applied to describe the feelings of the followers, which does not contain any arguments of the opposite parts in itself. The person who has a true faith and practices religion by the rules at all times and places will bring these beliefs into the material world. Therefore, the transcendental substance becomes alive. In a time of practice, a person can see and feel the teachers from the past, the prophets, and God itself. Consequently, the empirical evidence of the Divine existence becomes redundant. Moreover, all things come from this union, and God is everywhere, so there is no need to prove it by any other means than by the existence itself.

Plotinus also asserts the existence of the One, the shapeless substance, which is the essence and basis of everything. According to his teachings, the nous is the product of the One. Being opposite, the categories of intelligence and spirituality were derived from the same source. Initially, they only seemed to be different and controversial. However, as the ancient Greek philosopher stated, the individual souls have forgotten their origins and think of themselves as independent. This statement explains the origin of all the controversies. Sufism does not divide the entire existence into the spiritual or empirical world. It stands on the positions of the unity of being, unity with God. The material world with all its living creatures and their products are only the reflection of God. Moreover, if a person turns to the Divine, which is present everywhere in its transcendent form, he or she will immediately face God. Similarly, such connection with the single origin occurs when a person turns to his or her inner world. For example, meditation or implementation of religious ethical principles provides the ability to perceive the personal essence, which appears to be divine.

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The controversies between religion and science existed throughout the evolution of the humankind. There were periods in the history (for example, the Middle Ages or Renaissance) when religion took the guiding positions whereas science was in decay and vice versa. These two perspectives on the civilization balanced each other to facilitate the development of the humanity. However, there are scientists who discussed the spiritual origins of the matter and all the things that can be seen or felt, which led to the unification of religion and science bringing harmony to the evolutionary process in the future.

To conclude, being the religion that unites the existence and all living and non-living creatures, Sufism declares the unity of the different parts of the material world. Similar to Plotinus, this religion claims the union of everything. Thus, the Greek philosopher asserts the existence of the divine and beautiful One, which creates all the things. Like in all religions, faith in Sufism does not need to be scientifically proved to its adherents. However, utilizing the philosophical and practical ways of perception, it does not reject the rationalistic approach to the spiritual experiences. Defining the unification of everything in God, Sufism upholds that all the creatures and their material and mental products have a common nature even if they seem different or opposite.



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