Sufi Service Committee of Boston

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Every Sunday from 10 am to 1:30 pm we get together at Noor Oriental Rugs, Inc. 769 Concord Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138 to sort, organize clothes for homeless children, women and men. Please join us to share your love with them while enjoying a tasty colorful brunch over friendly conversation with other passionate volunteers.


Dr. Alireza Nurbakhsh, Master of Nimatullahi Sufi Order & Founder of Sufi Service Committee: Caring for Others: Sufism and Altruism

Altruism has been a central aspect of Persian Sufism since it was developed by such figures as Ibrahim Adham (d. 782), Shaqiq Balkhi (d. 810), Bayazid (d. 874), Abul-Hasan Kharaqani (d. 1033) and Abu Said Abel Khayr (d. 1049) in the region of Khorasan, now the north-eastern part of Iran. Altruism, as developed by these early Khorasanian Sufis and practiced by Persian Sufis for centuries down to the present day, advocates that Sufis - indeed all human beings - should serve God by remaining in society and helping and serving others. It stands in stark contrast with the Sufi tradition that was developed in Baghdad by Junaid (d. 910) and his followers, which advocated the practice of renunciation and withdrawal from society as the central tenet of Sufism...

Recent studies in neuroscience suggest that there is a neurological basis for altruism, that this trait is inherent in us. These experiments show that when we generously place the interests of others before our own, a primitive part of our brain - usually stimulated in response to food and sex - becomes activated, suggesting that altruism is not a superior moral faculty but rather something hard-wired in our brain, that when stimulated makes us feel good (see note 1). In other words, it is natural for us to behave altruistically; it is not instilled in us through religion or moral teachings. It comes to us as easily as eating food.

Altruistic behavior is rooted in empathy, in the ability to put oneself in another's position and identify with his or her state or situation. Again, recent studies in neuroscience have shown that observing another person's emotional state activates parts of the brain that are involved in processing the same state in oneself (see note 2). Thus, when we are confronted with the pain of another person, we tend to feel pain ourselves. Research has also shown that in people suffering from certain types of psychopathology the components of neural circuits involved in empathy are impaired, causing them not to care about other people and their feelings...

If we are to survive as a species on this planet, we need to embrace views or belief systems that are inclusive of others, that emphasize the essential similarities among people rather than the differences, which we know with a moment's reflection to be superficial and insignificant in comparison. Our views of the world should reinforce our basic instincts of altruism and empathy. Take, for example, the notion of sin that is an element of many religions. Once one views a person as sinful, one creates a chasm between oneself and that person, thereby blocking the path of empathy. By contrast, consider the concept of compassion, which is an integral part of Buddhist practice. Here we are encouraged to direct our compassion equally towards all beings, without distinction, which is in complete agreement with our natural instincts of empathy and altruism.

Sufism also is known for its inclusive nature. All living creatures are essentially manifestations of one being, one reality, and therefore the entire cosmos is in essence one and the same thing - a reflection of the divine. One who experiences the unity of being will embrace all of humanity and all living things with the utmost feelings of empathy. It is in the spirit of such altruism that Kharaqani placed a sign at the entrance of his khaniqah with the following message: "Whoever comes here should be given food without being asked about their creed and religion."

The altruism practiced by the early Khorasanian Sufis went beyond the practice of altruism as I have described here. In fact it was defined in terms of caring for the welfare of others before and prior to one's own welfare and comfort, without any expectation of reward.

Attar, one of the greatest Sufi poets (d. 1221), relates the following story about Ibrahim Adham. One day three people were performing their devotional practices in a ruined mosque. After they went to sleep, Ibrahim stood by the door of the mosque until morning. When he was asked later to explain his action, he replied that the weather was very cold and a harsh wind was blowing. Since there was no door to the mosque, he stood in the threshold to make it possible for the people inside to sleep.

Some Sufis have gone so far as to say that one's altruism is the most important disposition in reaching God. Kharaqani relates the following story to his disciples: There were two brothers, one who devoted himself completely to God and the other who dedicated himself to their mother. After a while the brother who devoted himself to God had a vision in which God tells him that his brother has reached salvation through serving their mother. He was puzzled and asked God for an explanation. "Because," God replied, "He served the needy and you served the One who has no need."...

There are, of course, many methods to overcome such negative states, ranging from psychiatric drugs and psychotherapy to the practice of meditation. In the Sufi tradition, however, the main remedy to cure oneself of such negative states is to actively engage in altruistic actions even when one is not inclined to do so. This enforces our natural instincts. Persistent altruism towards one's spiritual guide and other people, regardless of how one feels or what one wants for oneself, will help the spiritual traveller to rid himself or herself of negative states. This is also borne out by recent psychological studies that indicate there is strong correlation between altruism and the general well-being of an individual. People who engage in helping others suffer significantly less depression and anxiety than those who do not. Clearly altruism plays a key factor in our psychological health.

The early Sufis of Khorasan discovered something fundamental about spirituality as well as the biology of our humanity: that the path of enlightenment converges with our basic instinct of empathy and altruism. Their discovery was as significant then as it is relevant now. With the world population increasing at an alarming rate (by the year 2050 it is estimated the world population will be nine and a half billion), and with limited resources in many poor countries, it seems inevitable that conflicts will increase throughout the world. Though we may never be able to eliminate conflict between people, we can certainly contribute to its decline by following the path of the Sufis from Khorasan.


Though we believe that our work with local charities has been successful up to this point, we always need more help. There are two main ways for you to get involved. If you'd like to serve brunch with us, we'd love to see you on any given Sunday afternoon. First time volunteers need to submit their application form first for an informal interview. Advance notice is also helpful; you can reach us at sufiserviceboston@gmail.com. If you would like to make a donation, you can mail a check to SSC and include the word "charity" in the space for a memo (our mailing address is 84 Pembroke St., Boston MA 02118), or you can send us money via PayPal (once again, our e-mail address is sufiserviceboston@gmail.com.)

We always enjoy sharing our work with new volunteers! Please consider joining us when we serve brunch at a shelter. Members of the community we serve are also occasionally hospitalized. When they are, company proves even more important, so making hospital visits is also a valuable service; please don't underestimate how much you can help just by saying hello to someone in need of companionship.

There are also ways to help that involve less direct contact with those we serve. These include helping us recover food to donate, helping with the project's administrative work, sorting and delivering donated clothing, and, of course, donating food or money.

We welcome volunteers of all ages, cultures and religions to join us in this important effort.

Become a Volunteer

Brunch Update

 

Issue 100 - November 2017

Sufi Service Committee (Boston)

Addressing the most pressing needs of our community

Somerville brunch service

 

"...There was a sage who repeatedly pulled a drowning scorpion out of the Ganges and who was repeatedly stung for his efforts. Asked why he kept rescuing the venomous creature, the sage replied that it was the nature (dharma) of a scorpion to sting but that the nature (dharma) of a human being is to save"

 

- Dr. Alireza Nurbakhsh, Master of Nimatullahi Sufi Order and Founder of Sufi Service Committee

 

Happenings

 

October was a prolific month for our dedicated clothing service, with multiple deliveries of donated and sorted clothing to such organizations as Cradles to Crayons, Dress for Success and the Somerville Homeless Coalition. Our valiant drivers continued to reliably deliver donated food to Rosie's Place, Margaret Fuller House, Project SOUP, Heading Home and St. Francis House.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A dish of soybean-fried tofu

 

 


Hamburger with baked bacon, cheddar cheese, onions, tomatoes, and mushrooms

 

Volunteers preparing for brunch service

 

Text of Cambridge City Council Resolution

 

ORDER ADOPTED
Sep 11, 2017

 

Congratulations to Sufi Service Committee on a successful charity campaign.

 

WHEREAS:

 

It has come to the attention of City Council that Sufi Service Committee has successfully finished their third charity campaign and will be celebrating on Friday September 22, 2017 from 2-3 p.m. at the Noor Oriental Rugs, Inc; and

 

WHEREAS:

 

Sufi Service Committee successfully collected clothes and non-perishable food for the homeless community; now therefore be it

 

RESOLVED:

 

That the City Council go on record extending its thanks to Sufi Service Committee for their work in the community, congratulate them on another successful year, and wish them continued success for years to come; and be it further

 

RESOLVED:

 

That the City Clerk be and hereby is requested to forward a suitably engrossed copy of this resolution to Sufi Service Committee on behalf of the entire City Council.

 

Cambridge City Councilors:

 

E. Denise Simmons (Mayor)
Marc C. McGovern (Vice Mayor)
Dennis J. Carlone
Leland Cheung
Jan Devereux
Craig A. Kelley
David P. Maher
Nadeem A. Mazen
Timothy J. Toomey, Jr.

 

Watermelon for dessert

 

Quotations

"Sufi Service brunch is one of the shining stars in Sufi hospitality galaxy. And this is arguably the place in Boston area to share your love with the unfortunates homeless and the fortunate volunteers on Sunday mornings"


- a visiting volunteer


" I never knew so many people cared for us!"

 

- a residence of the Somerville property.


 

"The first time a baby laughs, the soul enters their body."

 

- Plato as quoted by David Ritter of Boston Consulting Company

 

 

"I would very much like to express my admiration of the wonderful work you've been doing. I can think of no khanaqah which has more effectively in practical terms entered into the spirit of Shah Ne'matollah's and Agha Joon's teachings. You have been doing a fabulous job, attracting people and retaining them with love and service. More power to you, dear darvish!
Love,"

 

-Terry of Banbury England

 

We can't sort clothes on an empty stomach

 

Remarks by Bill B., SCC Volunteer

 

"I first became curious about Sufism 30 odd years ago. They have been odd years, and anybody who knows me can vouch for the fact that I remain a curious person. I initially heard about Sufism by way of some of the musical works of Richard Thompson. Later I became familiar with the books of Idries Shah, and a few years ago I stumbled into the House of Sufism in the South End, Boston, MA, looking for free tea. The rest, as they say, is history.


"The Sufis - or this particular bunch of Sufis at any rate - recommend two basic spiritual exercises - meditation and acts of kindness.
I know very little about spirituality, but I am somewhat familiar with exercise. And in some ways kindness is much like going to the gym. You'll find athletes spending the whole day there, others might come by once a day or once a week. Some like myself show up every twenty years or so.


"To extend the analogy a bit, you could say that Mr. Mo Nooraee plays the role of a personal trainer - but instead of being paid for the service, he provides his clients with free food and Persian Water!


"One exercise I've been indulging in on a weekly basis is picking up donated baked goods on Sunday nights from Panera - right around the corner in the Fresh Pond Shopping Center - and delivering them on Monday to Project SOUP in Somerville. The whole effort requires about an hour and a half - and we always have openings for new volunteers!
 

"Finally, I thought it might be useful to give folks a sense of the flavor of these activities by quoting Dr. Alireza Nurbakhsh, who serves as the head of the Nimat- ullahi Sufi Order and a founder of the Sufi Service Committee:


"'Altruistic behavior is rooted in empathy, in the ability to put oneself in another's position and identify with his or her state or situation. Again, recent studies in neuroscience have shown that observing another person's emotional state activates parts of the brain that are involved in processing the same state in oneself. Thus, when we are confronted with the pain of another person, we tend to feel pain ourselves. Research has also shown that in people suffering from certain types of psychopathology the components of neural circuits involved in empathy are impaired, causing them not to care about other people and their feelings...


"'If we are to survive as a species on this planet, we need to embrace views or belief systems that are inclusive of others, that emphasize the essential similarities among people rather than the differences, which we know with a moment's reflection to be superficial and insignificant in comparison. Our views of the world should reinforce our basic instincts of altruism and empathy. Take, for example, the notion of sin that is an element of many religions. Once one views a person as sinful, one creates a chasm between oneself and that person, thereby blocking the path of empathy. By contrast, consider the concept of compassion, which is an integral part of Buddhist practice. Here we are encouraged to direct our compassion equally towards all beings, without distinction, which is in complete agreement with our natural instincts of empathy and altruism.'"

 

 

 

Volunteers bonding

 

 

HOW TO GET INVOLVED

 

 

 

Volunteers in front of the Drop-off Box outside Noor Oriental Rugs

 

 

You are welcome to get involved by volunteering, making financial contributions, or donating clothes, gift cards, and non-perishable food.

 

Administrative Help Wanted

 

 

Contact:

Mo Nooraee

Sufi Service Committee (Boston)

84 Pembroke Street, Boston, MA 02118

(617) 938-3680

 

sufiserviceboston@gmail.com