The Sufis are the men of the highest morality. They are the people who behave according to the need of the time. They are not bound by the shackles of rituals and customs. Religion for them is important only so long as it does not hinder spiritual progress. The greatest religion for them is the love for the humanity and not to hurt anyone’s feelings. Their objective being to evolve as a complete man by improving one’s character and conduct the principles and practices adopted by them revolve around these central ideas and are to be seen in this light.
A Sufi seeker has to complete his journey to self-realisation. He has to find his Beloved within himself, for He can be found only in a heart that has been purified by the fire of love. The distance, however, can be covered in a moment, the Truth can be realised in a moment, if one wants it as desperately as a drowning man wants the air. Mahatma Radha Mohan Lalji has said, ‘to make a Saint takes no time. But who is prepared to sacrifice everything? Then this world shall be nothing, non-existent for him anymore. Who is prepared to accept it’? The Master has to arouse this longing in the disciple and keep the fire burning. The principles and practices adopted by the Sufis are aimed at achieving this objective.
The book-knowledge more often results in the hardening of the heart, as it makes one feel that he knows everything, but on the contrary in practical terms he remains far away from the reality. Some of the practices commonly prescribed by almost all the religions to purify one’s heart include observation of silence, solitude and fast; giving away alms; spending on charity; and offering ritual prayers.
People generally consider religion as a matter of devotion and faith where reason or argument has no role to play. This is not the right attitude. Faith can be considered as that state of mind where one considers the matter put before him to be right in all respects. It could be possible that one may not be able to comprehend all aspects of that matter but supported by conjecture or inference one believes in its truth. Faith, therefore, can be said to be based on reasoning and analysis. The objective of the religion is to enhance human experiences so that the principles they have been following to guide their lives should gradually lead them to realisation and their lives be based on the truth. The religion that asks its followers to close their eyes and not to use their intelligence or knowledge is not true religion. When even for ordinary worldly affairs one is asked to use his brain, how can one act blindly in the matter of religion and spirituality? Human beings have not been blessed with intelligence and the faculty of reasoning without any purpose.
The worldly knowledge is acquired through three means; through senses such as by seeing, listening, smelling, touching and tasting; through conjecture and inference, the root of which also lies in the senses; and the third is the words of the great people, although they are also perceived by the senses. The foundation of all this knowledge lies in the mind and intellect. The intellect is the reservoir, the mind is the big channel and the five senses are the small channels, which join the mind. All this forms the basis of gathering knowledge. As regards conjecture and imagination, one often comes across examples of sensing the existence of fire by looking at smoke, or of occurrence of rains by looking at clouds. This knowledge may or may not be accurate, but the possibility of its being true cannot be denied. The words of great people carry a lot of weight as their words are based on the truth and they have risen above the selfish interest. One, therefore, needs to acquire the knowledge in order to know the truth. Looking at the limited period of life, it would not be possible for anyone to experiment with everything and base his knowledge only on self-experience. It will be foolishness not to benefit from others’ experiences while at the same time making use of one’s own intelligence and knowledge. If, however, one is not able to understand the truth of something at a particular moment, he should wait for him to grow to that truth in order to understand its reality and to benefit from it when the time arrives. Shah Baha’uddin Naqshband, the great Sufi Master said that ‘if the follower is confused about something his Shaikh has said or done, he should be patient and should not become suspicious’. While a beginner might ask, a murid (disciple or an adept seeker) has no reason to ask and should remain patient with what he doesn’t yet understand’.
One should accept the things that he has understood and wait for the right time for others, which are yet not understood. For the Sufis the importance is not of what one knows, but that of what he has understood and, therefore, become a part of his existence. The progress of humanity is based on understanding.
Sufis consider that the knowledge of the Truth can be based only on self-experience. There is no other way to realise the Truth except through one’s own experience. All the practices are aimed at gaining the capability and to enhance the completeness of this experience. If the religion helps one in this realisation it is worth it, otherwise it is of no use. The essence of all the religions of the world is this that the man should know his own real worth. He knows the worth of everything else but does not know his own worth and that is why he acts as a fool. The Master makes him know his real worth and leads him to the realisation of the Truth through his (seeker’s) own understanding and experience. This is the task of the Master to lead the seeker to this understanding and to develop the capacity in the seeker to realise the Truth.
The basic principles of Sufism were given by Abdul Khaliq al-Ghujdawani, who was one of the greatest Sufi Masters of the Naqshbandi Sufi Order. Till about the 6th Century Hijri, the Sufis practised loud dhikr (jikr, japa or remembrance) i.e. they used to recite the name of the Almighty loudly by tongue. One day while reading the Qur’an, Shaikh Ghujdawani came across the Ayat: ‘Call upon your Sustainer humbly, and in the secrecy of your hearts’. This prompted him to inquire about the silent dhikr. He was the first one in the Sufi orders to use silent dhikr and was later considered the master of silent dhikr. He coined the following phrases to which three more principles were added later by Muhammad Baha’uddin Shah Naqshband after whom the Order acquired its name. In his book Faslul-Kitab, Shaikh Muhammad Parsa, a friend and biographer of Shah Naqshband, said that the method of Shaikh Khwaja Abdul Khaliq al-Ghujdawani in dhikr and the teachings enunciated in his Eight Principles were embraced and hailed by all the forty tariqats (Sufi Orders) as the way of Truth and loyalty.
(i) Hosh dar Dam (Conscious Breathing)-The true seeker should always be alert that he does not take any breath devoid of God’s remembrance. He must remain in God’s Presence with every breath. Every breath taken consciously is alive and every breath taken in heedlessness is to be considered to have been lost. One should ensure with every breath that he does not indulge in doing a wrong or a sin. Shah Naqshband said, ‘This Order is built on breath. One, therefore, must safeguard his breath in the time of his inhalation and exhalation and in between’. Similarly, Ubaidullah al-Ahrar said, ‘The most important mission for the seeker in this Order is to safeguard his breath’. In his book, Fawatih al-Jamal, Shaikh Abul Janab Najmuddin al-Kubra said, ‘Dhikr is flowing in the body of every single living creature by the necessity of their breath-even without will-as a sign of obedience, which is part of their creation’. It is, therefore, necessary to be in the Presence of the Almighty with every breath, in order to realise the Essence of the Creator. It is, however, difficult for seekers to secure breath from heedlessness. Therefore, they must safeguard it by seeking forgiveness, which will purify and sanctify it and prepare them for the Real Manifestation of the Almighty everywhere.
(ii) Nazar bar Kadam (Watch Your Step)-Each step moved forward should be taken consciously i.e. one should not do anything which may drag him down or which may obstruct his spiritual progress. It also means that one should avoid looking here and there aimlessly as the mind by seeing forms impression. This is why Sufi saints ask their followers to look at their feet while walking. As the mind becomes more and more purified by various practices, it becomes more and more prone to be afflicted; a spot on a spotless clean sheet is more likely to be visible and noticed than on a dirty sheet. The first glance is, however, harmless but a second look i.e. a deliberate look forms an impression on the mind. One should therefore, take each step forward in His remembrance.
(iii) Safar dar Watan (Journey Homeward)-This means that the seeker must move from the world of creation to the world of Creator. Moving away from worldly desires and human weaknesses and acquiring godly characteristics is known as ‘Safar dar Watan’.
The Naqshbandi Sufi Order divides this journey into two parts. The first is external in which the seeker desires and searches for the Master. The internal journey begins with the blessing and grace of the Master. The internal journey leads to the purification of his heart and makes him eligible to receive the Divine grace.
(iv) Khilawat dar Anjuman (Solitude in the Crowd)-‘Khilawat’ means seclusion, both external and internal. External seclusion requires the seeker to be away from people, staying by himself and spending his time in the remembrance of God. This helps in gaining control over sensual perceptions and reaching the state of internal seclusion. The internal seclusion means whether amidst a crowd, walking or doing anything else, one should constantly have his mind attuned to the Almighty. This is the state of Sufi adept that they remain constantly in the Presence of the Almighty. Worldly affairs do not disturb them, as Shaikh Ahmad Faruqi has said, ‘Perfection is not in exhibition of miraculous powers, but perfection is to sit among people, sell and buy, marry and have children; and yet never leave the presence of Allah even for one moment’.
(v) Yad Kard (Essential Remembrance)-‘Yad’ means remembrance and ‘kard’ means essence of remembrance. To keep oneself continuously engaged in reciting the ‘japa’ (the internal practice as directed by the Master) and in such a manner that the seeker starts feeling the presence of the Master or the Almighty in his heart is the Essential Remembrance.
(vi) Baj Gasht (Returning)-The literal meaning of ‘Baj Gasht’ is to return back to the origin. In its true sense, however, it refers to developments during internal practice when the seeker may come across different experiences such as sighting of light, activation of the mystique centers, acquisition of miraculous powers etc. These experiences may often result in the downfall of the seeker due to arousal of the ego. The great Masters of this Order have, therefore, recommended the seekers to keep on praying the Almighty at intervals that He alone is the objective of the seeker; He may give strength to the seeker to be happy in whatever condition He keeps and beg Him for His love and knowledge.
(vii) Nigah Dasht (Attentiveness)-The seeker should always keep an eye on his internal condition so that no doubt or ill thought ever arises and he constantly keeps on remembering the Almighty. If ever such a thought arises, one should immediately check that thought, otherwise if it once stays in the mind, it may become difficult to clear it later. Sufism is to protect one’s heart from bad thoughts and from worldly inclinations.
(viii) Yad Dasht (Recollection)-It means continuous remembrance. When the seeker through practice becomes so apt that the remembrance continues in the heart effortlessly on its own, it is called Yad dasht.
The three principles added by Muhammad Baha’uddin Shah Naqshband are:
(ix) Wakoof Zamani (Awareness of Time)-The seeker must watch that the time at his command is spent in the remembrance of the Almighty and he must make all efforts to make progress on the path of spirituality. The seeker must recount his actions and deeds and seek His forgiveness for the wrong doings.
(x) Wakoof Adadi (Awareness of Numbers)-According to the principle of Wakoof Adadi, one should while holding the breath recite the name of the God, feeling His Presence in the heart, in odd number i.e. 5,7,9,11,21 etc. The real meaning of Wakoof Adadi, however, appears to be that the Almighty is One and He likes Oneness. It perhaps also means that one should remember the Almighty alone.
(xi) Wakoof Kulbi (Awareness of the Heart)-The seeker should always have an eye on his heart (Kulb) so that his attention is always towards the Divine Presence and it may not be diverted elsewhere.
Sufis consider their spiritual training as a journey and the seeker is addressed as a wayfarer, who travels the path, passing through various stages and experiences. Although different Sufi Orders (tariqats) state them differently but most of them agree on the basic tenets. The first step for the wayfarer to prepare himself for the higher stages of spirituality is ‘tauba’ (to repent) for the sins committed by him in the past knowingly or unknowingly. This is the awakening from unconsciousness. The wayfarer becomes alert and keeps an eye on his actions. He repents for his past sins and wrong doings and makes a firm resolve not to indulge in them again. However, if he is not committed to refrain from such actions in future, he is not to be considered as a true repentant.
Repentance, however, does not vanish the outcome of action. According to the rule of action, if one begs for forgiveness and takes a vow not to indulge in bad deeds again, there is a possibility of being forgiven. Bad deeds result not only in suffering bodily or mentally but also in a mental unrest that blocks spiritual progress. A firm commitment not to indulge in wrong doings again, repentance in the heart and a vow to do good in the future, take away the darkness from the heart and cleanses it. As a result one undergoes the suffering with a steady mind and does not act like a weak person who considers even a little suffering to be too much and keeps on crying. There is a lot of difference between the two from the point of view of the strength to forbear the suffering. Going through the sufferings and vanishing of the unrest from the mind, which was an obstruction in making spiritual progress, in reality means being forgiven.
The next step after tauba is renunciation of worldly possessions i.e. living in poverty. The real meaning of poverty, however, is lack of desire for worldly possessions. It is the sense of possession that is to be given up. Everything originates from the God and He alone is the real owner of whatever that exists. If one possesses something, he thinks himself to be the caretaker of that thing which is to be used for the benefit of all. To live a life of simplicity and contentment is living a life of poverty.
Mahatma Radha Mohan Lalji used to say, ‘How does one swim? One throws water behind; and the more one throws water behind, more one propels ahead. It is the same in spiritual life. You keep throwing the world behind. This is the only way. You forget the world for something superior. If you have ten rupees, you remember it; but when you get ten thousand rupees, you forget the ten rupees you had, although the ten rupees may still be there with you. You do not think of them anymore’.
The physical desires arise due to lack of knowledge. With the knowledge of Truth, desires vanish. One always craves for peace, but follows the wrong path. One searches for the comfort in material things but it does not lie in them. One himself is the source of peace and happiness but searches them outside. In fact the happiness lies in the soul. Peace in mind gives happiness. When the desires are not fulfilled, one feels discontented and the feeling of happiness is suppressed. On fulfillment of desire, the feeling of happiness reappears. One feels that the happiness was in that thing, whereas that thing only had removed the feeling of discontentment, which had suppressed the feeling of happiness. Desires disturb a peaceful mind in the same way as a stone thrown into still water. Desires are endless and, therefore, can never be fulfilled completely. The cause of our miseries thus is desires, which obstruct us to realise the Truth. The only way to overcome desires is to feel contented i.e. one should neither feel attached with anything nor should one hate anything. One does not acquire peace by renouncing material things because the real peace can be acquired only by sacrificing one’s ego and thereby removing the attachment towards material things. One should also not renounce relations with a view to attain spiritual advancement because by doing so the ego will not vanish, instead it will be inflated because of the pride taken in renunciation.
After renunciation comes abstinence i.e. to control one’s mind and to restrain it from indulging in sensuous pleasures against the dictates of scriptures. To do so often people adopt practices like observing fast, silence and solitude. Sufis, however, lay stress on the evolution of the inner-self and consider it more important than physical restraints. True repentance, Satsang (company of one’s Master) and receiving Master’s grace (tavajjoh) are considered more helpful. In the company of the Master, the seeker starts feeling that the knots of sensual pleasure hitherto tying his mind are loosening and their place is being taken over by the love for the Master or the God.
After this the wayfarer reaches the state of ‘tawakkul’ (trust in the God), and then to ‘raza’ (to live as He desires). Trust in God means complete dependence on God. It does not befit a devotee to look towards anyone else except God. One should have firm faith in Him. All that happens happens according to His desire. The seeker now learns to be thankful to the Almighty in whatever condition He keeps. He learns to live according to the desire of the Almighty. Both the sorrows and happiness are considered to be His blessings. The reactions become dull and one starts accepting things as they are. Fully content the seeker now sees His grace in everything. This leads him to the state of ‘fana’ or merger with the Almighty.
The Sufis believe that the purpose of human life is to attain the state of merger i.e. unity with the Almighty (fana-fil-Allah) and then to live in that state (baqa). When one approaches the stage of merger, it is called Salokyata and Samipyata (the state of Nearness). From here one moves to Sarupyata (baqa) and Sayujyata (the state of complete Unity-baqa-dar-baqa or baqa-bil-baqa).
To reach this state of merger where exists no name, no shape, nothing but Nothingness, the first step is to forget oneself, to become like a dead person. The difference between a dead person and this state, however, is that while in death everything is lost in oblivion but in the state of merger one remains in the state of Presence. Thus, while for everything else, one is like a dead person, yet one remains in the state of Presence, which is the real objective of merger. A person, who has reached such a state, even for one moment, is called ‘Wali’ i.e. a person who has entered in the arena of the Nearness.
For Sufis the only real objective is realisation. They consider acquisition of miraculous powers as distraction, which may take one away from the path of realisation. If one focuses only on this real objective, one is sure to achieve it. However, it is not uncommon that one comes across many seekers who fall into the trap of miraculous powers and lose their way. Sufis, therefore, lay stress on keeping the real objective always before them and to use time and effort in realising the same.
Different people, however, have different characteristics and, therefore, depending upon their individual characters, the method of teaching or the practice to be adopted by a seeker may vary. A thing that may impress and benefit one may not benefit another. For example, one having a better faculty of listening (sound) may be more benefited if asked to engage in japa (remembrance).
The path to spirituality essentially involves three steps. The first is to turn one’s attention towards it, the second is to attend Satsang (i.e. to be in the Company of a realised soul i.e. one’s Master), which is the easiest way to overcome one’s ego, and the third is to develop a keen desire to realise the Absolute Truth. In fact, the first step gradually leads to the second and the second step leads to the third and if the seeker is committed to his resolve, he is bound to succeed. This is the Divine Law.
Sufis lay a lot of stress on the internal practices directed towards one’s heart. All the practices are aimed at shedding of one’s ego, which is the biggest hurdle in the realisation. The objective of all the Sufi practices is to attain a state of constant remembrance of God i.e. to continuously remain in the Presence of the God. Sufis consider Jikr (remembrance), Fikr (contemplation), Muraqaba (Meditation), Mushahada (Vision) and Muhasaba (Reckoning) as the practices that are most helpful in achieving this objective.
Innumerable forms of jikr are adopted by the seekers. Sufis, however, consider four main forms of jikr. The one, which is well known, is recital of the name of Almighty by tongue. The second form of jikr is mental known as Jikr-e-Kulb, which is very helpful in removing doubts or ill thoughts and takes one to the path of continuous remembrance. The third form of jikr is ‘Jikr-e-Sirr’. ‘Sirr’ is one of the energy centers (spiritual Chakra), situated just above the spiritual center of the Heart (Hriday Chakra). By directing the japa at this center, one enters into the state of continuous bliss, which fills one’s heart in such a manner that no other thought or danger can ever enter the heart. It thus appears that ‘Jikr-e-Sirr’ occurs as a result of ‘Jikr-e-Kulb’ (or mental remembrance). The effect of ‘Jikr-e-Sirr’ is that one becomes extremely focused and forgets everything else except the target. Unless this center is activated and energized such a state cannot be acquired by any other means. The fourth form of jikr is ‘Jikr-e-Rooh’, which produces such an effect that the doer forgets that he is doing it or that it is his duty to engage in it. ‘Rooh’ again is one of the spiritual centers, situated on the right side opposite the spiritual center of the Heart. In Jikr-e-Rooh one forgets everything else except the Almighty and it appears that the Almighty Himself is remembering the seeker. In such a situation neither the japa remains nor the seeker nor any of the qualities associated with them. Sant Kabir has described this state in the following couplet:
Japa mite ajapa mite, anahad bhi mit jaae,
Surati samani shabad mein, tahin kaal na khaae.
As jikr can take various forms, fikr (contemplation) can also take various forms. One may contemplate on different matters, for example one may contemplate about one’s conduct and actions; repenting and seeking forgiveness for the sins committed by one knowingly or unknowingly; on the grace of God and one’s own lack of gratitude; the universe created by the Creator and His greatness; and so on. Hajrat Abu Abdul Rahman has said that the difference between contemplation and jikr is that in contemplation one’s companion is his mind, as one works at the level of mind, intellect and ego and, therefore, there is a possibility of getting distracted. In jikr one’s companion is the Almighty, as the Shabd (the sound-the vibration) is related to the Almighty and there is no possibility of a doubt. The power of thought emanates from intellect but the Shabd emanates from the Creator.
Sufis consider jikr superior to contemplation. In contemplation one focuses on various thoughts like repenting and seeking forgiveness of the Almighty but in jikr one engages in remembrance of the Almighty. It is said in the scriptures that the Almighty remembers one, who remembers Him, but there is no such mention about contemplation.’ A person who has risen above the state of meditation enters into the state of trance (Samadhi) i.e. the state where the seeker having withdrawn his attention from all other things focuses only on one idea and does not deviate from it till he wants to do so. In Samadhi (trance) if one is stuck up with an irrelevant thought, then that thought has its impact and being in the state of trance such a thought has a deeper impression, at times even obstructing one’s spiritual progress. Since the mind would need something to be engaged in, it would bring forth all sorts of thoughts even in the state of trance. Sufis, therefore, prefer to engage themselves in discharging the duty enjoined upon them and mentally engaging in jikr or meditation.
The position of the spiritual centers (Lataif) is as under:
Latifa Kulb i.e. Kulb-Chakra is situated under the ribs on the left side in the chest where one feels the sound of the beating of the heart. Latifa Rooh i.e. Rooh-Chakra is situated opposite Latifa Kulb on the right side. Latifa Sirr is situated a little above the Latifa Kulb and similarly Latifa Khafi is situated a little above Latifa Rooh. Latifa Akhafi is situated at the center of Latifa Sirr and Latifa Khafi but a little above these centers, as shown in the figure above. All these five chakras taken together are known as the Hridya chakra (or the center of the Heart). Some Sufis associate these five chakras with emotions, consciousness, intuition, deep intuition and the deepest intuition. *
(*John A Subhan in ‘Sufism-Its Saints and Shrines’)
Heart being situated on the left side, one feels the intensity of vibrations more strongly at Latifa Kulb. On the right side, at Latifa Rooh, the feeling of vibrations is generally very weak, at times not even easily audible but one feels that the vibration does occur there. At Latifa Sirr, one feels vibrations only at times. In Jikr-e-Khafi, one’s own existence gets merged in the soul, as in Jikr-e-Sirr, the existence of the world gets merged into the soul. In Jikr-e-Khafi one does not hear the sound of vibrations, because one forgets the existence of oneself. Sufis consider jikr to be the best form of worship. They consider all such actions that lead to remembrance, awakening and knowledge as jikr or japa. As against this even the time spent in the state of trance (Samadhi) is considered as wasted if the focus of ones contemplation is anything other than the Truth.
Some, however, believe that there are many variations of jikr or japa. Recital by tongue can be loud or low and it can be focused at different centers. Recital by tongue is done by uttering the particular words (alphabets) in a certain manner. The utterance can even be silent. In the mental remembrance (Jikr-e-Kulb), one either focuses on the name or on the one to whom the name belongs i.e. the God. In jikr-e-Rooh, one forgets the name but remains in the presence of the holder of the name i.e. the God.
Since the natures of people differ, therefore, depending upon what would suit one best, the Master may ask the seeker to follow a particular jikr or japa. Besides, one may or may not feel the vibrations, or the intensity of feeling can be quite different. At times, one may not be able to feel the vibrations throughout one’s life but at the time of death strong vibrations may erupt. However, one engaged in doing the japa knows about it and its essentiality. Sufis consider that state of jikr to be the highest in which one forgets about the jaap and the doer i.e. the self. Neither the feeling of bliss nor the existence of one, who feels the bliss remains. Only the One who is being remembered i.e. the God alone remains. This is the shortest route to Realisation.
Some Sufis believe that recital by mouth gradually leads one to the remembrance by the heart. There is, however, no doubt that if the tongue and the heart unite in the remembrance of God, one would reach his target. Remembrance by heart on its own is, however, difficult. The grace of the Master helps the disciple immensely. Masters of different Sufi Orders adopt various practices for transmitting their spiritual vitality to their disciples. In the Naqshbandi Sufi Order the seekers are asked to practice Jikr-e-Kulb. The Master through tavajjoh (transmission of spiritual energy by focusing ones attention) produces the eligibility in the disciple to feel the occurrence of the real eternal Shabd (the Anahat Nad) at Latifa Kulb. By practising Jikr-e-Kulb, the seekers, even the beginners, in the Naqshbandi Order acquire capability to reach the door of the Infinite. In all other Sufi Orders only the adept seekers are asked to practice Jikr-e-Kulb.
The Shabd cannot be explained theoretically it can only be experienced. It is such an entity that cannot be uttered by tongue, cannot be heard by ears, and cannot be described in words. The scriptures can only give an account of the existence of Shabd but not its true knowledge. It exists eternally and can be experienced, can be felt only by the grace of the Master. It is the grace of the Master that works through his will power and activates the Shabd existing in the disciple.
With regard to the Anahat Nad the twelfth Chapter of Srimadbhagwadmahapuran mentions that when Lord Brahmaji started meditating to acquire the knowledge of the Creation that existed in the past, a divine ‘Anahat-Nad’ appeared in his ears which was not due to any friction in the throat or the palate. Similarly, when a jeev exercises check on his impulses, he also feels the occurrence of this ‘Anahat-Nad.’ The great seers and sages also practice to listen to this ‘Anahat-Nad’ and as a result of pursuing it they get over the cycle of rebirth and achieve salvation. From this ‘Anahat-Nad’ emanated the ‘Om’, through the power of which (Om) the nature takes a visible form from invisible form.
Although jikr isconsidered to be more fundamental than contemplation or meditation, depending upon the spiritual state of the disciple some Masters may at times ask the seeker to sit in meditation in the first meeting itself. Even in jikr the Master has to see what kind of japa will help the seeker. Mostly the Sufis practice La/ila/illillah (there is nothing except the God, which is equivalent to Aiko Brahm Dwitiyo Nasti) with regulation of breathing and focusing attention at different parts of the body while reciting the particular alphabets etc.
Some Sufis consider breathing exercises as an important component of various practices for enhancing their spiritual experiences. For them to hold the breath for a while helps in getting rid of thoughts. Chishtia, Kaabardia, Shutaria and Qadaria Orders consider breathing exercises as an essential component of the spiritual training. Naqshbandis neither consider it to be essential nor do they question the usefulness of breathing exercises. Suhrawardis, however, do not approve of breathing exercises.
The breathing exercises (Pranayam) condition the body by regulating the breathing. If, therefore, one practises remembrance with regulation of breathing, Pranayam may help in reaching the state of ‘ajapajaap’ (remembrance without recital) and ultimately to the state of Presence. However, one has to be extremely careful in practising Pranayam under a competent teacher, but it is difficult to find a competent teacher now a days. The spiritual progress, however, is not at all dependent upon physical conditioning of the body. The breathing exercises are, therefore, of no particular importance from the spiritual point of view.
The real objective of the jikr or japa is to attain a state of constant remembrance i.e. to be in the Presence of the God. One may adopt any practice but one needs to excel in it in order to achieve his objective. The grace of the Master, however, is the most important thing for the disciple, as the Master by his will power can remove disciple’s veils of ignorance and help him in training his mind to engage in constant remembrance.
In the language of Sufis, keeping a watch over the mind is known as meditation. Watching the mind, in fact means to ensure that no other thought except that of God enter the mind. Sufis consider irrelevant thoughts entirely undesirable. There are three causes of thoughts entering the mind. The first is the tendency of the mind to indulge in affirmation and negation; the second is the thoughts occurring on their own without any will or control of mind, known as danger (Khatra) in the language of Sufis; and the third is the thoughts occurring as a result of exercising various faculties such as seeing, listening, smelling, touching or tasting or as a result of acquiring their knowledge. Sufis consider jikr or japa extremely helpful in getting rid of thoughts. For getting rid of the thoughts occurring as a result of exercise of will, remembrance of God in the Absolute form (such as Allah or Om) is very helpful. For the thoughts occurring on their own without any will or control of mind, one should remember any of the Names of the God with His Qualities and Attributes and focus his attention on his Master.
The essence of meditation, however, is that one should keep his attention focused on the God, keeping an eye on the mind. When one remembers the God one should be able to think of His Qualities and Attributes as the Creator, the Preservation and the Dissoluter. Not everyone, however, has the capacity to focus one’s attention like this. One may, therefore, think of the God as an ocean of light and himself absorbed and dispersed in that light; or one may think of Him as an absolute darkness and his ownself a shadow, since the shadow gets completely absorbed in the darkness.
In Buddhism also a lot of importance is attached to meditation. They meditate upon different ideas i.e. love and affection for all beings; seeking mercy for all; feeling happy in the happiness of others; thinking on the result of sins committed, sickness and ill-feelings for others; and peace i.e. to live according to His desire.
Sufis, however, consider meditation as the practice to get absorbed in the Master or the God. Some Sufis, therefore, suggest that one should focus his attention on the image of his Master, and when one starts feeling the vibrations (which happens after some time), one should consider his subtle body to be the image of his Master, rather the Master himself. But to witness the presence of the subtle body is very difficult. An easier method is to focus one’s attention at the place where physical heart is situated i.e. on the left side of the chest and do it so intensely that all faculties are absorbed in it. The physical heart and the spiritual heart are so connected as no other part of the body is. Focusing one’s attention in this manner is sure to lead one to the state of self-oblivion and trance. Considering this state of self-oblivion as the straight path to the Infinite, which is never going to end, one should keep on moving ahead.
Seekers are advised to be extremely careful, at least during the early period of the spiritual training to refrain from getting influenced by irrelevant thoughts.
When complete control of the mind is achieved, one can know which thoughts are his own and which have been picked up from the atmosphere around him. One can then keep the thoughts one wants to keep and throw out those one doesn’t want. One then becomes the master of the mind and not the helpless plaything of it as most human beings are.
Whatever one feels through his faculties or through his conscience can be real or delusion. Some Sufis (belonging to the group of Wahadat Wajoodiya-or those believing in the unity of existence, i.e. every thing has the same Origin) consider both to be the part of the same Reality. According to Hajrat Muiuddin Junedi whatever one’s soul experiences, one should treat it appropriately. If there is existence of anything positive, there is also a negative existence, such as light and darkness, good and bad. Knowledge and wisdom lies in knowing the true nature of things and in treating them accordingly depending upon the need of the occasion. The great Sufi Masters have, therefore, refused to enter into the argument of existence of the God as an Absolute Being (Nirakar) or with Qualities and Attributes (Sakar).
If, therefore, one gets a bad thought, one should consider that also to be originating from the same Source. One, however, needs to distinguish between the good and the bad; as to treat them alike is a sign of ignorance. If the thoughts were not to occur then how can one distinguish good thoughts from the bad ones. One should, therefore, not entangle himself in the duel of good or bad and waste his time and effort; rather one should try to see the light of the Truth in both the good and the bad thoughts. One need not be frightened of the bad thoughts, rather in accordance with the dictates of the scriptures one should accept the good and the real thoughts and reject the bad and illusionary thoughts. This would help one immensely in achieving the wonderful state of self-oblivion and revelation of the Divine Knowledge.
Still better than seeing the light of the Truth in everything is to think that whatever is seen, one does not see it. This means to forget both good and bad, and to move beyond the stage of discrimination to the state of complete self-oblivion. Sufis belonging to the school of Wahadat Wajoodiya do not consider it good to come out of this state of complete self-oblivion. They consider this state to be the beginning of the state of Astonishment and the last stage of spiritual attainments. Sufis belonging to the school of Wahadat Shahadi do not consider this state of complete self-oblivion as the last stage of spiritual attainments and take it as the intermediate stage of Pure Ego (Shuddh Ahamkar). The Wahadat Wajoodi saints belong to the school of Aham Brahmaasmi, who consider everything in the world to be Brahma (Hama ost) and are known as Adwaitwadi. The Wahadat Shahadi saints belong to the school of Vishishtadwait and consider everything to have originated from Brahma (Hama-aj-ost). This is thus only a matter of difference in the point of view. The Wahadat Wajoodi saints are in the state of Sushupti (deep-sleep or complete self-oblivion), whereas Wahadat Shahadi saints are in the Turiya Awastha (fourth state of the soul in which the soul has become one with the Supreme Soul).
In the State of Vision (Mushahada), inspirations from the Unseen come to the heart of the seeker and in the state of reckoning, which is the state of self-examination, the seeker evaluates whether he spent time in the complete Presence of the God or in the complete presence of the world.
Sufis consider the present moment to be the most important to make spiritual progress, now and here. A moment lost in oblivion is never going to come back. It is the greatest folly for them to lose time. The moment lost now is lost forever; at no price can it be regained. The Sufis, therefore, consider that they must spend their time in the complete Presence of the God and that they must keep on reckoning from time to time (Muhasaba) whether they have spent their time accordingly?
In the course of spiritual practices, seekers often see lights of different colours. Sighting of light at or above different parts of one’s body may have different meaning. However, it is not a very important phenomenon, as this is an intermediate state and not the ultimate Truth. In this context, some people also argue whether a knower (arif) has continuous vision of the Almighty. While one group believes it to be so, the other group disputes it. It, however, appears that what one sees definitely exists, since there is an evidence of seeing but this light which is seen is only a veil and not the Reality, as the Absolute Truth has no shape, colour or appearance. Thus, this light also is a very fine veil of maya (illusion), although it has some reflection of the Reality in it.
The light of the soul or the light of the Absolute Truth is, however, beyond all perceptions and explanations. Therefore, what one sees has an element of maya. A true seeker goes beyond the state of seeing the light, although he experiences the Presence, but for him the Presence is seeing the light of the soul.
When the mind and the intellect lead to the right path and the mental practice (jikr) culminates in the energisation of Latifa Sirr and thereby to the Realisation, then one does not lose what one has achieved spiritually. However, one may at times see light and at times no light or one may have a lot of spiritual experiences or no feelings at all.
The state of forgetting one’s own existence, oblivion of the physical body, the state of Presence and the state of ‘fana’ (annihilation or the merger) are such states that cannot be explained. In these states there exists only the Truth and the one that realises the Truth i.e. the soul.
A question can be asked that knowledge of the soul cannot be gained as that is beyond the perception of the mind and intellect. Whatever can be perceived by the mind and intellect is worldly. Since the soul is eternal, it cannot be worldly and if it is not worldly, it cannot be perceived by the mind and the intellect.
While the question is valid, one has to understand that where there is existence of two i.e. the soul and the God, there is the existence of the third, called Surat(the attentive power of the soul) through which the soul realises the Absolute. In the state of ‘fana’, it is the Surat that connects the seeker and the God. In such a state the seeker becomes incapacitated because Surat is focused on the merger of the self with the God.
The realisation of the Truth is not ‘seeing’ the Truth in the physical sense. The Truth is beyond perceptions and, therefore, cannot be perceived by the physical eyes. The Realisation means the complete faith in the Presence of the Truth. Although not seen as such, but such a complete faith that the seeker is in the Presence of the Truth, as if he is seeing the Truth, is Realisation of the Truth. Even if one cuts the body of such a person into pieces, he would still say that I am seeing the Truth as you are seeing me. Mansoor al-Hallaj is the proof, in regard to whom it is said that on being punished for uttering ‘Anal Haq-I am the Truth’, every part of his body that was mutilated cried out I am the Truth, even when the ashes of his burnt body were blown into the river Tigris, the water caught fire and the words ‘I am the Truth’ could be heard.
The utility of knowledge and science is in recognizing the true nature of things, and to treat them accordingly. The Truth being eternal our endeavour is to establish that fact and to reach it. If the seeker runs after worldly things, he would be distracted from the real objective. The real purpose of acquiring knowledge is to prove what is true to be true and false to what is false. Consequently, the real knowledge reveals that the Truth exists and is Eternal although it cannot be known in the physical sense. The complete faith in the Existence of the Truth, results in withdrawal of attention from everything else except the Reality.
Knowledge, however, can be acquired related only to God’s Names, Qualities and Attributes but not of the Absolute Truth. One can know about a happening but why has it happened cannot be known. The door of the knowledge of the cause of happening is closed, since the God is the Cause of all causes and He is the Reality of all realities and it is not possible for any one to have the complete knowledge of the Reality. Thus, one cannot understand the reality of anything. This alone is the real knowledge; the perfect knowledge that one knows that he knows nothing. It is, therefore, said that the state of a beginner and that of a knower is the same. The beginner does not know of the Reality and the knower also knows that he knows nothing of the Reality, but there is a lot of difference between the actual understandings of the two. This feeling in the beginner arises out of his ignorance whereas in the case of a knower, he gets immersed in the ocean of knowledge and he realizes that the ocean of knowledge is Infinite. The more he goes deeper, more he realizes about the unending depth of this ocean of knowledge. He, therefore, realizes that whatever he knows is nothing in comparison to what still remains to be known.
All the above explanation, however, is theoretical and is only for the sake of understanding the path by the wayfarer. Will power is a different thing altogether. A disciple seeks the company of his Master for the sake of benefiting from this will power and it is the will power of the Master that helps the disciple, whether he is near or far away. The will power of the Master and his tavajjoh opens the gate of grace for the disciple. Satsang (company of the Master) is the best, the simplest and, the most effective way for the seeker to reach the Truth. It is said:
‘Rahe sulook ishq mein riyazat nahi jaroor,
Sau sau mukam hote hain tay ek nazar mein’
(Followers of the Path of Love do not have to indulge in observing rituals. One gaze of the Beloved takes them to their destination).
Sufis consider the shelter of a competent master as the most important step for the spiritual training of the seeker. On the path of spirituality the seeker has to pass through various stages, i.e. he has to move from this station of death upto the station of the Truth. He is required to cross all the stages. One way could be that the seeker crosses through each stage successively and in the process passes through all the experiences associated with that stage. This is like starting from one’s residence and to halt at the place where the night falls and in the process visit all buildings, rivers, townships etc. that fall on the way and to acquire knowledge about them. There could be another person who although passes through the same route but travels in a motorcar, looking at things only if they happen to fall before his eyes, but does not make any deliberate attempt on his own to look at them or to acquire knowledge about them. Now take a third person who leaves the first few stations and rides a fast moving vehicle to reach his destination quickly.
In the above example the method of training (journey) adopted for the first seeker is called the training in accordance with sulook, and in the second and the third it is called training by ‘jajb’. In the second and the third methods the seeker is pulled upwards. Jajb means getting attracted or being pulled. The motorcar in the above example is the shelter of the Master. One, who is made to leave the first few stations, cannot do so on his own. Only a competent Master can pull his disciple through any stations he desires.
In Jajb (attraction)there are two possibilities. The first is that the seeker (lover) himself through his effort reaches such a stage where the Supreme Being holds him and pulls him up. This is the path of devotion and love for the God. The second is that the God (Beloved) by His grace pulls him up without any effort on the part of the seeker. In both the situations, however, it is the grace of the God, which works. In the first case the seeker passes through all the lower stages whereas in the second case the seeker does not have to pass through some of the lower stages and a few of the intermediary stages. No one, however, on his own can acquire such a capability to jump through these stages, it is only possible through the God’s Attraction. The seekers in the first case start with Sulook and reach the state of Attraction but in the second they start with the state of Attraction and reach the state of Truth.
In the Naqshbandi Order, from the time of Khwaja Shah Baha’uddin Naqshband, after whom the Order acquired its name, the seekers are initiated by awakening the spiritual center of the heart through tavajjoh and Shaktipat, leaving aside the spiritual centers lying below the heart. Their first halt is in the state of fana. It is because of this that the Naqshbandi Order is held in the highest esteem amongst the Sufi Orders.
People, however, try to find a way where they may not need a Master. Sufis believe that one, who has no Master, has Shaitan (devil) as his Master. The seeker, therefore, must look out for a competent Master. But it is difficult to find whether one is a competent Master or not. Besides, one may not have his share of spiritual knowledge with a particular Master and, therefore, he may not benefit from him. There is, however, no such time when a competent Master does not exist. When a disciple is ready, a competent Master according to his need always is there, who finds the disciple and comes forward to help and guide him. This is a spiritual law and operates at all time. If one were thirsty enough, one would not wait to dig his own well but would drink the water offered by some one. In other words it is the Master, who offers the nectar in the form of his spiritual energy flowing to the disciple that helps him reaching his goal faster, rather than travelling all the distance on one’s own by the disciple.
The ways of teaching by various teachers may differ, the practices and methods taught by them may also differ; they may provide different explanations and may tell their experiences in different words; but the purpose behind all this is to arouse the longing for the Truth in the heart of the disciple and to guide him to the Truth.
Some Sufis consider that music and dancing act as a catalyst to produce in them the state of ecstasy. They consider that music rock their hearts by echoing the reverberations and reminding them of their relationship with the God. The effect produced by music, however, depends upon the nature and state of evolution of the listener (and also of the musician). If the seeker has not yet overcome his worldly passions, it may even harm him. But for a Sufi adept, music may stir up in his heart greater love towards the God. It may also lead him into spiritual vision and ecstasies. It is said by them that music produces such purity in their heart that is not possible by other practices. The states of ecstasy may, however, vary according to the emotions predominating in the seeker i.e. love, repentance, fear etcetera.
Fondness for devotional music is a characteristic feature of the Chishti Order. Devotional music in the form of Quawwali helps them to enter into a state of ecstasy. Qutbuddin Kaki, a famous Sufi saint of the Chishti Order started holding musical festivals in India.
It is reported that the Order of Whirling Dervishes (the dancing Sufis), known as the Mevlevi Order started taking shape in the time of Maulana Rumi, who hosted regular Sama gatherings in the memory of his Master Shams Tabriz. They believe that the dance of the Whirling Dervishes symbolizes the dance of the soul out of love for God. The Mevlevi Sufis dance around their Master in a circular motion, while at the same time spinning around their own axes.
It may be mentioned that God has blessed all living beings with His eternal music, the music of the beating of the heart (also known as the Anahat Nad), which occurs in all living beings as a sign of their obedience and a part of their creation. The external music can be considered as an attempt to imitate it and produce the resonance, which may remind one of this eternal music within him and take him back to the source of this eternal music i.e. the God.
Although Islam did not approve of music and dancing as religious practices, but with the passage of time these have found a firm footing in some of the Sufi Orders. These Sufis consider that any practice that arouses in the seeker the remembrance of God is an act of devotion and music and dancing are such acts that stir up in their hearts greater love towards the God. Shaikh Saadi has said that beauty pleases mind and the music pleases soul. Music relates to sound and sound (Shabd) has the power of attraction. Beauty relates to form and form (light) also has the power of attraction. Both the sound and the light attract one’s attention and take the soul to a higher level. If, however, the focus of one’s soul is on the lower level i.e. mind, intellect and ego, then both the beauty and the music will not have any spiritual influence on the viewer or the listener. Mind is the station of Maya (illusion) and, therefore, what it experiences is carnal pleasure. If the seeker has made spiritual progress and has risen to higher spiritual levels i.e. above the spiritual center of heart then he would be able to derive spiritual benefit from them. Even if he listens to worldly music, such a seeker would be benefited spiritually, though temporarily, as it cannot influence one’s inner being for long and on a permanent basis. For the adept seekers due to the effect of their inner light and shabd, even worldly music rocks their heart and for some time they experience its spiritual impact. For the worldly people there is always the danger that such music can have pernicious influence on them and may ruin them. Some Sufi Masters, therefore, feel that people may emulate them in listening to music and instead of benefiting from it they may cause harm to themselves. They, therefore, discouraged people from listening to music.
Naqshbandi Sufis, however, consider music to be bondage. Ceremonials, worship, when done collectively, can also be bondage. They go to the Absolute Truth in Silence, for they consider that it can be found only in silence and it is Silence. On the other hand Chishtias are very magnetic, as they do many things through the physical body. The body, therefore, becomes very magnetic. It is the body which attracts the body, and through it the Soul. In the Naqshbandi Silsila it is the Soul, which attracts the Soul, and the Soul speaks to the Soul.
The Naqshbandi Sufis in India, especially from the time of Maulana Fazl Ahmad Khan (d. 1907 AD) have introduced some simple practices having immense potentiality of leading one to reach the highest stage of spirituality. One of these is remembrance while eating. This is the first and the foremost step for attaining the state of constant remembrance. Usually one keeps on talking about cinema, politics, business or family matters while eating. These are the subjects of common discussion on the dining table. This habit is required to be changed. Food is the source of energy for all living beings. We live on the food we eat. It provides the necessary nourishment for the maintenance of the body. It is undisputed that the kind of food one eats has a tremendous influence not only on his body but also on his mind. Similarly the thoughts occurring at the time of eating also have their influence on the body and mind and in fact this influence is far stronger. If, therefore, one eats in His remembrance, one is sure to be filled with divinity.
One should consider that every grain of the food is filled with divine-light and should eat it in the remembrance of his Master or the God. Still better is to think that it is the Master or the God sitting and taking food in his place. After finishing the food one should thank Him. The Srimadbhagwadgita also exhorts that whatever one does, whatever one eats or drinks, one should do it as an offering to God. Not only eating but also if the cooking is done in His remembrance, the benefit is multiplied manifolds and one can soon acquire the divine characteristics. The food, however, needs to be obtained from honest earnings. Shah Naqshband took all kinds of precautions in regard to his food. He would grow barley himself for his food, harvest it, grind it, make the dough, knead it and bake it himself. Scholars and seekers of his time considered themselves to be fortunate to eat from his table. He cooked for the poor and invited them to his table, serving them with his own holy hands and urging them to take the food in the remembrance of the Almighty. He said that one of the foremost way to the Presence of Allah is to eat with awareness. The food gives strength to the body, and to eat with consciousness gives purity to the mind. He loved the poor and the needy and urged his followers to earn money through lawful means and to spend that money on the poor. Similarly Shaikh Nur Muhammad al-Badawani, another great Sufi Master of the Naqshbandi Order, never used to eat from the food of a proud person. He used to say that the food of proud rich people contains darkness.
The next step is remembrance while sleeping. For this the seeker just before going to sleep should concentrate on his Master or the God and should thank Him for all the good work during the day considering them to be a result of His grace. He should seek His pardon for any wrongdoings, and should resolve firmly not to indulge in them again. He should then sleep in His remembrance thinking that he is lying in the lap of his Master or the God and that the Divine-light is engulfing him from all around.
In the Srimadbhagwadgita also it is said that wise people remain awake when it is night for other creatures; and they sleep when the other people are awake. The true meaning is explained by remembrance while sleeping, which is like remaining awake in the night and similarly selfless action dedicated to God is truly the inaction i.e. sleeping when the others are engaged in selfish action.
If one goes to sleep like this, the remembrance continues throughout the night and also one gets up in His remembrance. Sahajo Bai, a great saint in this regard has said:
Jagat mein sumiran kare, sovat mein lou lay,
Sahajo ek ras ho rahe, tar toot nahi pay.
This is an effortless method and accelerates one’s spiritual progress in an unimaginable manner. Thakur Ram Singhji used to say that one who has learnt to remember Him while eating and while sleeping has surely found the easiest way to reach Him.
The next step is to keep remembering Him while attending to one’s job. It may look difficult on the face of it, particularly for the beginners but once one practises it for a little while it looks easy. For this one should start his work with the thought that it is He who is doing his work. If one begins his work with this in mind and gets engrossed in his work, it is the same as entering into meditation, since the occurrence of irrelevant thoughts is restricted in this process. In the time of recess one should again resume His remembrance. Gradually by doing so one would enter into the state of constant remembrance. The remembrance should similarly be continued even while walking or doing anything else. It should become a habit, a part of one’s very being. There is no objection to remembrance in any condition or in any situation whatsoever. In fact remembrance saves one from forming impressions (Sanskars) and in achieving the steadiness of mind.
The method of meditation has also been made a lot simpler for the present day generation. In this method, the Master (or a person who has been authorized to give sittings to others) asks the person to close his eyes and focus his attention on Hriday Chakra and try to listen to the heartbeat. The Master through tavajjoh bestows the eligibility upon the disciple to listen to this sound of heartbeat. One can think the name of the Almighty to be resounding in place of the heartbeat or the heartbeat itself to be the name of the Almighty. The beating of the heart is an involuntary action occurring constantly in all living beings and reverberating in each of the cells of the body. It is also known as the ‘Anahat Nad’ because of two reasons, firstly it is not produced as a result of any friction or voluntary action and secondly it occurs continuously without any restriction in each of the cells of all the living beings throughout their life. During the meditation one tries to listen to the heartbeat in the form of the name of the Almighty. Gradually through practice one starts listening to the sound of the heartbeat even while he is engaged in the daily routine, which keeps him reminding of one’s Master or the Almighty, which is the objective of meditation.
In the Naqshbandi Order, the Hriday Chakra is used mainly, which is the center of love and when it is activated, such force, such power flows through it, that one forgets everything. By activating the Hriday Chakra, Love is created by the Master with his spiritual power. The result is that the whole work of awakening, activating is done by one Chakra, which gradually opens up all the other Chakras. The Hriday Chakra is the leader and the leader does everything.
The tenth Chapter of Srimadbhagwat Mahapuran mentions thus in this regard: The Rishis (Seers) have agreed upon many methods to realise the Truth. Out of them those who are materialistic, worship You in the form of fire at the Manipurak Chakra (one of the lower mystique centers). The Seers belonging to the lineage of the Sun (Arun-vanshi) worship Your absolute subtle form at the heart (the mystique center of the heart) which is the origin, of all nerves and arteries. From the heart originates the Sushumana nerve (one of the three major nerves) and goes up to the Brahmarandhra (the thousand petalled lotus), which is the path to realise ‘You’. One who gets an access to this lighted path and moves forward on it, does not then fall into the trap of life and death.
Ordinarily, one may take thousands of years through penance etc. to acquire the eligibility to listen to this Anahat-Nad, but in the Naqshbandi Order, through the grace of the Master, one acquires this eligibility very soon. This happens due to the tavajjoh by the Master to the disciple, through the link, which is established between them through love. By activating the Hriday Chakra, Love is created by the Master with his spiritual power. In fact, it is the love of the Master, which because of its intensity induces love in the heart of the disciple and attracts the disciple towards the Master.
The Naqshbandi Sufis consider that the best and the simplest method of meditation is to consider that it is the Master who is meditating in place of the disciple (i.e. the body, mind and even the soul is that of Master), it is the Master who is being meditated upon and that it is the grace of the Master which is flowing in the meditation. The merger of the three ‘dhyata’ (one who meditates), ‘dhyey’ (the object of meditation) and the ‘dhyan’ (the meditation itself) into the one being i.e. the Master is the real objective of the meditation. There is no difference between this state of meditation and love as in the true love there exists only one, the Beloved and none else.
Sufis attach a lot of importance to prayer. Prayer for Sufis means to be in the Presence of the Almighty. As Prophet Muhammad remarked, ‘Thou shouldst worship thy Lord, as if thou seest Him; and if not, He indeed sees thee’. Maulana Rumi has said that a prayer is not merely words. Prayer is not something simply uttered by mouth signifying belief. What can be conveyed and confined by words has a beginning and an end. It starts with the words and ends with the words. Such a prayer is nothing but a hollow thing. The essence of prayer is to forget oneself in His remembrance and get absorbed in His thoughts. One does not have to stick to any external form in offering prayer. The real prayer is to get merged; all the formalities then disappear. Mahatma Radha Mohan Lalji also used to say, what is the use of repeating a prayer mechanically? One has to overcome the language barrier.
In regard to the concept of prayer the biggest contribution has been made by Rabia of Basra, one of the greatest women Sufi saints. Prayer for Rabia was a free and intimate communion with the God. For her the ritual of offering the prescribed prayers (Namaz) and other religious observances were of no merit. The true prayer for her was to be in the presence of God. She did not offer prayer in expectation of any reward or for avoiding punishment. She used to pray: ‘O my Lord, if I worship You from fear of Hell, burn me in the Hell, and if I worship You with the hope of paradise, exclude me from it; but if I worship You for Your own sake then withhold not from me Your Eternal Beauty’.
Prayer is the easiest way to attain to Him. Some one asked Maulana Rumi whether there was any other way easier than prayer to reach the God? Maulana Rumi answered that if there was any such method, it would also be called prayer. A king once requested a saint to remember him in his prayer. The saint replied, ‘When I am in prayer, I do not even remember myself, how can you expect me to remember you’? But when the Lord is pleased with somebody, He fulfills his wishes even without asking. A story is related: A King had a servant who was close to him and was his favourite. People, who knew about it, often presented their applications to him to be submitted to the King for his favourable orders. The servant, however, was so faithful to the King that whenever he entered the royal presence, nothing except the King will remain in his thoughts and he will forget about everything else including his own self. The King, therefore, himself used to take care of his comfort and needs and on looking into his belongings and finding the applications, the King would record his favourable orders, granting much more rewards than prayed for or expected. The other servants of the King, who always tried to impress the King with their loyalty and smartness behaved cleverly and cunningly in the King’s presence. They had no courage to speak out their real intentions and could hardly dare to make any petition to the King. Even if they did so, the King would rarely consider any of their petitions favourably. The essence of the story is that the Almighty looks at the hearts of His saints and if He will see your name engraved in their hearts He will shower His grace on you. He looks only for a shining heart in which He can see His reflection.
The Almighty cannot be persuaded by cleverness. One, who considers oneself to be frail and prays the Almighty in distress, receives His grace immediately. There is lot of strength in prayers. When the devotee cries for His help, the ocean of His mercy gets stormed. He is moved by the tears of repentance and He rushes to help His devotee. He mercifully takes away the will and strength of the body to indulge in wrongdoings again. There is no sin so heinous that it cannot be forgiven, provided one repents truly and firmly resolves not to commit it again.
‘Mein to gunahgar hoon, magar tu bakhsh de,
Kya khata bhi koi cheej hai, teri ata ke saamne’
(I am indeed a sinner, but kindly forgive me. Can there be anything unpardonable, looking at Your Mercy?)
God has no scarcity. He wants nothing. He is the Lord of the Universe with everything under His command. He is competent to do anything and has everything under His control. The only thing that He does not have is humility, which His devotee alone has. The Almighty likes humbleness the most and in return He gives His boundless love. But in the humbleness also lies some ego, which is difficult to identify. This is known as the pure or the subtle layer of ‘Maya’. To get over this one should completely surrender to Him and should remember Him with a pure heart. One day His grace will definitely be received.
Whether one offers prayers or not, it does not matter to the God. If a doctor prescribes medicines to an ailing person, it does not affect the doctor whether the patient takes the medicine or not, but the patient certainly benefits from taking the medicine. Similar is the case with the prayers. Prayer is the food for the soul; it strengthens one’s soul.
All the religions lay stress on love of God, but it is difficult to understand what is really meant by love of God. For most religions the love of God is expressed in obedience and worship. The true nature of love, however, needs to be understood. One loves oneself the most; it is a fact of life experienced by everyone some time or the other. One loves oneself the most because of his identification with one’s own self. If one loves some body else, it is because of the reason that he starts identifying himself with that other person. For example, the mother loves her child because she identifies herself with the child, so much so that the child becomes a part of her own existence. On the contrary, the child has no identity of his own, for his ego has not yet grown up; he knows nothing except the mother, he is completely dependant on her, which explains his love for her. As they both grow, the child starts acquiring his individuality and the mother also starts recognizing his independent existence. The degree of love starts getting affected.
When one talks of the love of God the sequence is reversed. One could consider God as the mother of all mothers and the seeker as the child, who has to traverse the path from a state of grown up ego to the state of complete dependence on God i.e. surrender unto Him. With the complete surrender of the ego one acquires the spiritual knowledge that his essence is the essence of God i.e. cessation of the duality and that his reality is nothing but the Reflection of God. With this realisation one reaches the state of Unity i.e. the state of Oneness. In this state there is no difference between the love, faith and enlightenment. This is the true knowledge. When this realisation dawns one’s self exists no more.
The love for God has, therefore, to be understood as the complete Unity with the God. But then the God is Absolute and for most people it is difficult to surrender, to love something so abstract. Most people, therefore, need the help of a spiritual Master. The Master has a physical body and is like them. The disciple can perceive Master’s existence through his own senses. It is easy for him to surrender his ego at the feet of his Master. The love for the Master gradually leads the disciple to the realisation that there is no duality between the Master and the God. The face of the Master is only a mask under which lies the Reality.
One can consider the Master like the river that is continuously flowing towards and merging in the ocean. At the point of merger there is no difference between the river and the ocean. On merger with the ocean the river loses its identity, its independent existence. It becomes one with the ocean. The disciples who are like small watercourses by merging themselves with this river i.e. the Master can reach the ocean i.e. the God. On their own it is not only difficult but almost impossible for the small watercourses to travel through all this distance without the fear of being lost on the way. Their merger with the river paves the way for them to merge with the ocean. This is the easiest and the nearest path for the seekers to reach their destination. It is for this reason that the Sufis lay stress on the love for their Master.
In unity with the God what exists is only the Reality of the God and one sees the existence of the God alone in all beings. His love takes the form of Divine love for all beings. The love for God does not mean hatred towards the world; rather it results in the understanding that the others need to be treated in the same manner as one would himself like to be treated. One cannot be saying that he loves God by neglecting his duty towards the others. The mother cannot be justified in neglecting her child for the sake of performing her pooja and similarly a king cannot be said to love God if he spends all his time in worship and refuses to protect his people from the enemy. The real love for God is to do one’s duty with utmost care and attention, while at the same time remaining in His Presence i.e. taking it to be a Divine order to discharge his obligations most faithfully.
In regard to supremacy of love, the great Sufi Master Mahatma Ramchandraji has said that ‘love is such a thing which can cross the limits of the Seven Skies’. His dear disciple Thakur Ram Singhji also used to say, ‘Love is all encompassing’. The Almighty can be realized only through love. The illiterate Gopis had won the love of Lord Sri Krishna only due to their unfettered love. The true love brings in enlightenment. In fact there is no difference between Love and Enlightenment. Love is God and the purpose of acquiring knowledge is to know the God. Love is the culmination of knowledge and the height of enlightenment.
The true meaning of love is ‘ekatmata’ (oneness) i.e. complete merger with the beloved and cessation of the duality. There is no scope in love for the separate existence of the lover and the beloved. As soon as the feeling of duality between the Master and the disciple vanishes, one starts seeing His manifestation everywhere in the entire universe. Selfless love gradually turns into devotion, which makes one identical to one’s beloved. The disciple (the lover), however, is imperfect, and, therefore, it is the Master (the beloved), who being perfect, merges with the disciple and takes him on the path of love. We have references in the mystic literature:
‘Jab mein tha tab Hari nahi, ab Hari hai mein nay
Prem gali ati saankri, ya mein do na samay’
(Till I existed, God was not there. Now only He exists and I am not there. The path of love is so narrow that it has no place for the two.)
Love of God is given to all since it is He who has given birth to all. The very fact that something exists is a manifestation of His love. The Sufis consider human beings to be the best creation of the God and that the man has the highest place in His creation. But the perfection of human beings lies in becoming a ‘complete man’ (Insanu’l-kamil). The Qualities and Attributes of the Almighty reflect in a complete man. All creatures endeavour to evolve as complete man, as one could realise the Supreme Being only after that. The journey of all creatures started from the Supreme Being and will end with reaching back to Him. The period spent in the process is the ‘period of being’ (Dauran-e-Wajood). It is, therefore, not possible that His highest creation, the man is devoid of love. This love, however, does not surface till the heart is cleaned and it reflects that love like a mirror reflects the light of the sun.
Initially the Sufi wayfarers considered it necessary to live a life of ascetics and hermits, with immense fear of God. They, therefore, spent their time in meditation and in the remembrance of God to overcome their ego. Gradually, however, they realised that ego could be sacrificed only through love. Without love one cannot stand firmly for long. History is full of such examples where ascetics have fallen to their ego. Famous Sufi Jami has said, ‘You can adopt any method to shelve your ego but love is the only way which definitely protects you from ego’. Sufis believe that Love is God. It is the gift of the God. It cannot be learnt from the human beings. It can be acquired only through His grace. For the Sufis love is the only way to realise the God. They consider the entire creation to be His manifestation and, therefore, unless one loves all the creatures, one cannot claim true love for God. Someone has said, ‘there can be as many ways to realise the God as are there the number of atoms. But the simplest and the fastest way to realise Him is to serve His creation’. Thus, the Sufi, on the one hand endeavours to clear his inner-self, and on the other he renders selfless service and derives happiness in comforting others.
Sufis consider Uns (selfless love) for God as the shortest way to reach Him. The mother loves her son with no self-interest; she does not look at his vices or his goodness, nor does she live on any hopes from him. Even if she has any expectations, which are belied, her love for the son does not become any less. It is possible that at times the mother may get annoyed with the son but it does not mean that her heart would not melt seeing him in any difficulty. If one loves God in the same manner then there is no veil left in between. The only veil is that of self-interest, if that is not there, all the distance is travelled and one reaches his destiny immediately. Mahatma Ram Chandraji has stated in his book ‘Mazhab Aur Tahqiqat’ on the basis of his personal experience that there have been such great persons, who in their lives never engaged themselves in any spiritual practices, no jikr, no meditation, no contemplation, no worry of crossing spiritual stages, no desire of achieving salvation, peace or any such thing nor even to realise the Truth, but because of their intense love for their Master in their hearts and following his order to the hilt without caring for the result or their own interest in it, they have become one with their Master. Mahatma Ram Chandraji has further stated that he would not have believed it if in his own case his experience was not something similar. He, however, has cautioned against exhibition of superficial love to cover up for ones lethargy, which would lead him, nowhere.
Prophet Muhammad was asked once to which religion did he belong and it is said that Jesus Christ was also asked the same question. The fact is that all saints, all prophets belong to the same Religion, the Religion of the Lovers of God.
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