Persia/Chapter 21

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The Sofis, the origin of whose very name is veiled in obscurity, are a species of philosophers not less fanatical than the Dervises, with whom they are frequently confounded. Their doctrine and practices are covered with profound mystery. A Sofi, according to the idea to be formed of him from the works of the Persian poets, is a pious man, living in seclusion from the world, whose morality is pure; whose doctrine is mild and tolerant; whose soul is plunged into the depths of mysticism; who spiritualizes all the ceremonies of religion, and constantly keeps a vigilant eye over himself. Universal indifference, the extinction of every worldly wish and desire, the presumptuous hope of an imaginary perfection, constitute the essence of his contemplative life. It was in this acceptation of the term, that Saadi, Senaï, Hafiz, Djelal-eddin, and Djami, aspired to the rank of Sofis: but mysticism approaches too near to the illusions of fanaticism for the mind to pause at any middle point, and when the imagination has once passed that point, it sets no bounds to its extravagance. Thus there arose in Persia a particular sect of Sofis, which were called impious, and who derive no other fruit from their crude meditations than the belief that there is no God. They gleaned from the Mahometan religion, the relics of the Grecian philosophy, and the reveries of the Indian Gymnosophists, materials for an insensate doctrine, which rather encouraged than checked the passions. The Sofis have a book called Gulshen-raz, the mysterious garden, containing their opinions on theology, philosophy, and morals. As secrecy is the first precept of their order, it is difficult to ascertain its principles. It is said, however, that their doctrine is founded on that of Pythagoras; that they acknowledge one only essence, and believe in the transmigration of souls. They repeat among themselves this distich, which they style the mystery of the Sofis:

"There is one only essence, but there are a thousand forms or figures;

"And how numerous soever these forms may be, they are not worthy of engaging our attention."

There is a striking resemblance between this distich and the following passage of the Baghavat of India:—"He who considers all the different species of beings as forming but a single essence diversified to infinity, that man knows Brahma." It would not be difficult to prove, that these sects of Persian Sofis derived most of their doctrines and practices from India.

The devout Mahometans charge the Sofis with atheism; while the latter not only deny the accusation, but pretend to hold intercourse with God: they assemble at night, and perform the exercises of turning round, jumping and shouting, till they drop down from weakness and exhaustion. Owing to these practices, they are obnoxious to the Persians, and the appellation of Soft, sought some centuries ago by persons of the greatest sanctity, is now a term of reproach.

The sentiments of the reigning monarch respecting these fanatics, cannot be more clearly demonstrated, than in the translation of a letter addressed by him to one of his governors, enjoining him to punish two Sofis who had endeavoured to excite sedition and to defy the supreme authority:—

"Whereas for some time Sofis have spread their opinion in a truly alarming manner, and gained a great number of credulous and silly proselytes, who blindly adopt the faith and the habit of those preachers: as nothing can be more hostile to the interests of the true religion; as the subject has been deemed worthy of the attention of our wisest counsellors, and you have yourselves addressed to us your observations upon it; we have deemed it advisable to take this matter into consideration, and to write to our governors and officers to punish these Sofis, unless they amend their conduct, to take from them what they have craftily obtained from the credulous and people of weak minds; and in case the owners of these things cannot be discovered, to distribute them among the poor. We have lastly ordered this sect to be extirpated and destroyed, that the true faith_may flourish. Aga Mehdy and Mirza Mehdy have misled the people in the neighbourhood of Hamadan, where they were regarded as holy doctors; they have been sent prisoners into our presence. We now deliver them into your hands, considering you as the most ]earned, the wisest, and the most-virtuous of the doctors of this kingdom. Put them to death, imprison them, or punish them in any manner most agreeable to the laws of our holy religion." The two Sofis were executed.