Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Do we really need a guide in spiritual journey?

1.
Sharing Together

A visitor of Inspirations and Creative Thought site recently asked, "Why people look to other teachers, saints, etc for so much guidance. Shouldn't our devotion come from within? Do we really need all these saints and guiders to show us truth, devotion, spiritual enlightenment through their lives, which are as ordinary as ours? Their struggles, simply because they are on a larger scale are no more grander than ours. We have the same capacity, nothing differentiates them from us, can we not be the same? Achieve the same struggle and state of nothingness? So why are we so in awe of them? They are simply human men and women."

"Spiritual journey is suppose to be solely concerned with one's own spiritual enlightenment and search for truth and God. Do we really need a spiritual teacher, a guide?" - that pretty much summarizes one of the most frequently asked question by people who are interested in spirituality.

This poor heart decided to keep the answer simpler here. What's important is to contemplate on what is not spoken, through the hints of the brief words. Verily God is the Granter of deeper understanding and Helper to see things as they truly are.

2.
Newton and the living Physics teacher

It is common sense that knowledge (in any discipline) is taken from one who has attained the knowledge, or at least have learned the fundamentals well. Instead of every one doing their own experiment to come up with the law of gravity, we send children to school, to a teacher who can help the child describe and explain the law of gravity.

We go to university to learn Physics from a living Professor of Physics; the learning transmit from a knowing mind to another mind. We dont just begin reading Physics lessons by grabbing the thickest book of Physics written by dead scientists without any living teacher, because that would be very inefficient, and reinventing the wheel again and again is not practical.

Similar in the Spiritual discipline (irrespective of any spiritual path) the learning is best transmitted by a teacher who already understand the fundamentals by his or her own journey (just as the Professor attained his own degree and approval from his own teacher who took his exam). The teacher in a science class transmit the knowledge from mind to mind. For a spiritual teacher this transmission happens from heart to heart. From time immemorial, every spiritual teacher did transmit from their heart to their disciples', companions heart. There are no exceptions.

It is very naive to think that spirituality can be learned through self-help book (which is arrogance in one hand and also a reflection of our selfish collective psyche in this age). If one to dive deep into any spiritual path, one come to know the alchemy of the self is not a subject that can be mastered through self-help book or by the parrot like memorization of holy books or book of religious rules. In a discipline like Physics one need to learn all the definitions of different terms, before one can solve a complex equation. How naive it is to think one can understand the meaning in its depth without even 'learning how to learn' . To give an example, to arrive at the meaning of the intricate many layered meanings of every single verse of the Quran, there are ways to learn 'how to read' even with the presence of the heart which the sufis call hudur al-qalb.

To journey in spiritual path one encounters terminologies such as qalb (inner heart), tawba (turning back to God), true piety (wara), tawakkul (trust in God), rida (contentment) to name just a few and each of them have many different levels. The knowledge of the soul (nafs) is a precondition to master the self. Arriving at real self-realization, not the kind which is sold as package in some yoga studio, is a matter of first discerning the delusions of the nafs which are many and unless the inner eye is open, everything seen is clouded by veil. And the knowledge of the soul (nafs), its characteristics and inclinations are many such as the subtleties of hypocrisy (riya), hidden lust (al-shahwat al-khafiyya), and hidden polytheism (al-shirk al-khafi) - which if one is not aware then one is susceptible to failure in entering into gnosis or in attaining the knowledge which is real. Without understanding the fundamental laws of physics a student is bound to fail in solving complex equations and practical problems. How unfortunate is the person who fail to attain at self-realization and fail this human birth filled with such exalted divine possibilities. Everything that is created, from this magnificent human body to the awesome cosmos is for an individual to reach that height and who is more unfortunate who doesn't look out for a master who can take him or her by the hand to the door of realization.

"It takes time to make a soul pregnant with God. But it can be done; IT WILL BE DONE...." - Bhai Sahib

"Is there somebody who can take me to the Lord?
I will go to him, touch his feet and kiss his hands,
And serve him faithfully, him,
who can take me to the Lord." - traditional Sikh prayer hymn

The sufis say that one who has traversed the seas of realities of certainty has seen the mirror of realization and is able to help others to attain the same. A true spiritual teacher does exactly such thing, or to be more correct, God provides guidance through such human beings who have traversed the seas of realities of certainty and have arrived at certainty.

"People think that a Sheikh should show miracles and manifest illumination. The requirement of a teacher, however, is only that he should possess all that the disciple needs." - Ibn Arabi

Some say, 'when we have book written by great masters, when we have scripture, then what is the need for a teacher? We can read Scripture, read about this Prophet, that Master. No need of a living master.'

The answer to this question is this, even though Newton might be much better scientist than the average Physics teacher at the science class of grade six, yet the living Physics teacher is more readily available to the student of that class, can offer instant answer derived from fundamentals of physics in response to their spontaneous question, can offer solutions to problems which may not readily available in dead Newton's written manuscript.

Others may say, 'why bother with so much complexity, learning this term, that term, these all sounds very confusing. I want simplicity.'

Thats exactly where the biggest role of a spiritual teacher comes into play because he by understanding the ability and unique capacity of individual disciple, gives slowly, gradually or make things simple or gives them certain practice needed for the progress of their soul based on their need and state. Thus often time the master may not give detail explanations of why this or that but may just ask the student to do certain thing or read and contemplate on certain passage for days or nights until his or her spiritual realization attain what is missing.

The parable of Physics teacher can continue and be shown in many ways to prove the point in plain logic that a guide is the most common sense approach to take in spiritual journey.

Sufi master Abû Sa‘îd was asked, “If someone wishes, is it possible to travel the mystic path without a teacher?” The Sheikh replied, “It is impossible because someone is required to guide him along the way, someone who has already reached the goal traveling that path, who will tell him what are faults and what are virtues on this path. At each stage he will say this is the such-and-such stage, here one must remain a little longer. And if there is a dangerous place somewhere, he will tell him to be on his guard, and will give him kindly encouragement, so that traveling that path with a strengthened heart, he may reach the goal. When he has reached the goal he will find peace.”

3.
Consider this
Consider how wool is turned into an elegantly designed carpet by coming into contact with an intelligent person. See how dirt can be turned into a fine palace by coming into contact with an intelligent person.

If association with the intelligent has such an effect on inanimate objects, think what effect will be when one seeker of God associate with another!

- Rumi, from The Rumi Collection by Editor, Kabir Helminski

4.
Does Islamic Spirituality validate living spiritual guide?

"Verily, those who give thee their allegiance, they give it but to God Himself, God's hand is upon their hands ..." - The Quran 48:10

First lets talk about the sufis who even in this age still maintain and guard the holy tradition of a living spiritual guide for every age. And the concept of Spiritual Master is inspired by no other than the prophetic model of that of Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, the Seal of Prophet after whom there will be no Prophet until the end time where second coming of Christ happens. The basis of the duties that bind the master and disciple together are found not only in the Prophetic tradition (Sunnah) but in the very text of the Quran.

First of all if we turn to Quran, the opening chapter, Surah al Fatiha which is the synthesis of the Quran and all other revealed Divine Book, here we read as part, "O Lord Thee (alone) we worship; Thee (alone) we ask for help. Show us the straight way, the way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace. Not the path of those whose (portion) is wrath, nor of those who go astray."

This portion of the Quran which is repeated by every Muslim in every prayer summarizes the way of the spiritual guidance and the guide.

It first affirms that we turn none other but to God, but the way to walk is exemplified by the way "of those on whom God has bestowed His Grace."

It is perfectly true that for the Sufis the focal point is exclusively God and guidance comes from God alone. But important question is to ask, what guidance comes "through"? What is the medium? The apple seed is through which the magnificent apple tree come through and hidden in that one seed many more apples yet. The seed is small but the secret inside is tremendous. So does God's grace manifest through vehicles and one of the magnificent vehicle of grace is a living spiritual master.

Another very important vehicle is the inner heart of the seeker, the faculty of real understanding, that's why a major practice in Islamic spirituality / Sufi path is to polish the heart, to purify the heart. Thus Sufism is also known as the Science of Purification of Heart. When the heart is pure it is ready to absorb and reflect the light of truth and where guidance descend from the Real Source.

"Show us the right path, the path of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace. Not the path of those whose (portion) is wrath, nor of those who go astray."

This end portion of Surah Fatiha is the calibration scale against which a true spiritual guide can be measured. One is taught to pray to Lord to be shown and to have the vision of straight way (right path, the Tao) to self-realization and ultimately to God realization. Yet the path is defined as, "the way of those" who has the grace of God.

What about guides who spiritually abuse people? Who mislead or who only pretend to be a guide, who are wolves in sheep's skin? Yes thats why its part of the prayer also to teach humanity that it must not be "the path of those whose portion is God's wrath, nor of those who go astray".

Islam absolutely validate the tradition of transmission and receiving spiritual knowledge from heart to heart. This was the model of the Prophet who passed his knowledge, both zahir (inward) and batin (outward) to his close companions, who in turn passed it on to the next and through chain of successive spiritual guides this knowledge continue and guarded. Even during his own life time the Prophet used to send his selected companions to different places to teach the community and instructed them to live with them so that they can represent the Prophet in being and in teaching.

The Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace said: "The Children of Israel used to be guided by prophets. When a prophet passed away, another prophet succeeded him. But no prophet will come after me; The knowers are the inheritors of the prophets."

"In my community there will be my elect followers who will have status equal that of the Prophets from the Bani Israel (Children of Israel)."

5.
The Concept of Spiritual Guide in Judeo-Christian Tradition


Some argue that with evolution of the history of christian church, the role of Renaissance and science, the western spirituality evolved to become more mind-oriented, where as eastern spirituality is more devotional or heart-oriented. For this reason its observed that often its very difficult for western mind or westerners particularly to grasp and accept the idea of devotion, deep love and respect to a particular teacher, a guide in spiritual path. Sometime with weird association this brings up immediately the idea of a cult to some. But a true spiritual teacher who is free from ego never asks for the spot light on himself, put always is humble, free from egoic self-projection and if one does like that - such people must be avoided, let alone be taken as a guide.

Interesting to note that at the heart of the true Judeo-Christian tradition the tremendous role of spiritual guide is gloriously present. Moses, holy benediction be upon him, was the spiritual guide for the children of Israel and while he went into his solitary retreat at Mount Sinai, he appointed his brother Aaron as the spiritual guide of the community in his absence. The tradition of spiritual guide continued with Hebrew sages who were considered specially inspired to give guidance to people. Their inspired writings are considered holy with high importance.

The role of Christ, upon him be peace, is even more striking as a Murshid or guide who beheld the special magnetism or charisma in this heart and transmitted this from his heart to the disciples.

In calling of his first disciples we read in Matthew Chapter 4, "As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him."

If one read this paragraph plainly one may not see the magic, but one who knows the tremendous magnetism that a true master of truth possess in his heart, one will recognize that in Christ. A true teacher's presence alone is works as a miracle like this. Who else can his simply call, "Come, follow me, I will make you fishers of men" and only to be followed by utter deovtion and self-sacrifice. There are no so called high spiritual discourse, no metaphysical promise of secret, but a simple call, 'Come, follow me!' When the disciples were ready, the Master appeared and by the permission of God, such a simple pronouncement is enough to seal a connection between the hearts.

It is the magnetism of a true Murshid that attract the disciple like how moth is attracted to flame. The presence of a master triggers the magic of heart to heart transmission.

And an indication that the transmission of guidance and call to truth continues, is proven by the saying of Christ before his leaving this world when he addressed his saddened companions, "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another counselor to be with you.." (John 14:16). And such counselors of heart are still to be found amidst humanity, remaining always beholding the fragrance of God.

Without further elaboration it is needless to say that a true guide in spiritual journey is validated in every spiritual path, no matter what its name be or where it originated on earth.

6.
The spiritual master is to his community, what the Prophet is to his nation. - Abu Said Ibn Abil Khayr


And God knows the Best, on Whom rests the First and the Last. He is the Perfect Knower.

Ya Hadi
Invoking The Sole Guide of Soul

Ya Rashid
Invoking The Appointer to the Right Path, The Director of the Heart and Affairs


# Related:
. Seeking the Complete Human
. SatGuru | Kamil Murshid
. We are a Door that's never Locked
. With Sufi Guide, Sidi Muhammad al Jamal
. On Traveling the Sufi Path | Interview with Dr. Stewart Bitkoff
. Spiritual Traveler: Finding a Teacher
. Jesus the Murshid
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