Monday, October 26, 2009

The Art of Spiritual Polishing

In remembrance of the All Encompassing One,
the Bestower of holy gnosis


To the people of manufacturing trade, polishing is a very familiar method by which an uneven, unrefined surface is made refined. Physical process of polishing refers to the process of creating a smooth and shiny surface by rubbing it or using a chemical action, leaving a surface with minimal diffuse reflection and significant specular reflection. Polishing was and still is used even to produce mirror like shiny surfaces. Before the invention of modern day mirrors, reflective surfaces were produced by polishing raw stones.

Among different symbols to convey the subtle realities, the polishing of mirror is one of the frequently used term by the sufis. The term, 'polishing of the heart' can be traced even to the sayings of the Holy Prophet, upon him be peace "there is a polishing for everything that takes away rust (impurities) and the polish for the (spiritual) heart is the remembrance of Divine."

Just as in manufacturing method, polishing involves abrasion, rubbing away of impurities and imperfections, so it is in spiritual journey. First is to learn proper behavior ('adab), spiritual etiquette by discarding what is inappropriate. Enduring difficulties and bearing them patiently are part of practical aspects, preconditions and must be undertaken (or bestowed) before pure mystical knowledge can be attained. One must pass through the maqam (station) of mujahada (struggle) and intihan (trials).

Considering the inner reality that is conveyed by the term 'polishing', the parable of polishing the mirror or simply polishing has become an encrypted allegory for the wise men where mirror like surface refers to the ability of human heart to reflect divine qualities.

The bauls and sufi mystics of bengal sing borrowing the same parable:

'dayal baba qibla kaba
ainar kaarigor,
aina boshaiyache mor
qolober bhitor.'

generous master of mine,
center of my spiritual cosmos -
is a master craftsman.
look how he has placed
a marvelous mirror inside my heart!


In a classic sufi document, Kashf al-Asrar by al-Maybudi (vol 16, pp 726-8), practical advices are offered to seekers of Truth on the art of spiritual polishing.

Polishing the soul-self (nafs) consists of 3 things:

1. Replacing complaint with thanks giving (shukr)
2. Replacing forgetfulness with wakefulness (being aware)
3. Replacing extravagance with sobriety

Polishing the disposition or mind (khuy) also consists of 3 things:

1. Replacing irritation with patience (sabr)
2. Replacing niggardliness with generosity
3. Replacing vengefulness with forgiveness

Polishing the heart (dil) also consists of 3 things:

1. Replacing the insecurity with holy fear or awe
2. Replacing the misfortune of despair with blessings of hope
3. Replacing the tribulation of the distraction of the heart with thanksgiving of the heart

The substance of this polishing consists of 3 things:

1. Pursuing knowledge
2. Taking permissible and wholesome (halal or kosher) nourishment
3. Persistence in litany (wird), spiritual practice of the sufis of extra-supplication and remembrance practices.

The fruit of it consists of 3 things:

1. An innermost heart (sirr) which become adorned with the knowledge (gnosis) of the Lord
2. A soul (jan) set ablaze by the Sun of Eternity
3. And God given knowledge ('ilm laduni) from the Presence found without intermediary.


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