Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Necessity of Keeping Company with Spiritual Seekers

1.
The Quran being the final cycle of revealed Divine Revelation, preserved as a Book having both open and encoded Signs from God and guidance for humanity, were revealed over a long period of twenty three years in the life of the Messenger. Even through it finds it place in the the footstep of Old Testament and New Testament - the truth and authenticity of both of which is acknowledged by the Quran - the Final revelation itself was revealed in an unique way as and when it was revealed. Most verses of the Quran were revealed under special circumstances as and when particular events happened outpouring direct guidance. Thus the history of the revelation of the Quran opens up wonderful examples from which guidance can be found for humanity in the time to come.

2.
On the necessity of keeping company of the God-Conscious people, the following verses are found in the Quran, addressed to the Divine Messenger first and by extension to every seeker of truth who seeks guidance upon the luminous Straight Path (Sirat al Mustaqim) which, by pure grace, takes one to the Lord.

And keep thyself with those who call on their Lord morning and evening seeking the Divine Countenance (WajhaHu), and let not thine eyes pass from them, desiring the passing ornaments of this world's life. And follow not him whose heart We have made unmindful of Our remembrance, and he follows his low desires and his case exceeds due bounds. - The Quran, Chapter of the Cave


The above verses were revealed acknowledging a group of close companions of the Messenger who later became known as As'hab us-Suffa.


As'hab us-Suffa (Companion of the Shed)

The Arabic word suffa literally means shed, bench, porch or banquette (it was adapted in other languages such as Turkish and English as sofa). As'hab us-Suffa refers to the Companions of the Messenger who used to live on the long covered veranda or porch of the newly built mosque of the Prophet at Medina. They were single, humble, poor and pious. These companions were the first Sufis who received direct transmission and training by none other but the Messenger Himself. They were great lovers of the Holy Messenger and had burning desire to shun all worldly distractions and make themselves available at the service of the Master.

Suffa was the first archetypal Islamic University, the first Islamic educational institute consisted of a mosque as its classroom, the Suffa as dormitory, the Suffa Companions as students and above all, the Messenger as the teacher, mentor and guide. These people were known to have given up worldly desires and were in a perpetual state of learning their Deen (Way, Tao of Islam). The group were truly international even in their early days, having companions from many regions. For example, Bilal was from Ethiopia, Salman from Persia and Suhaib from Rome. Many of them suffered much injustice and maltreatment and were slaves traded in slave market of that time. Both their material poverty and their high spiritual aspiration qualify them to be described as ‘faqir’ who embraced spiritual poverty (faqr) by turning away from the world to single pointedly dedicate themselves to God and to become ‘murid’ (A murid is one who wants to reach the knowledge of Allah). This term is used in the Quranic verse ‘yuridoune wajhHu’ (wanting the vision of His face). This contains the verb ‘yuridu’ meaning ‘to want’. The one who is in the state of ‘wanting’ is known as a 'murid'. (see: Origins of Sufism)

Check the articles As'hab us-Suffah by Adam Hani Walker and Reviving the Suffa Tradition by Rifat Atay at the end of the post for further details.

One of the famous companion who himself was Ashab us-Suffa, Salman al-Farsi described later: One day few people from Medina came to meet the Messenger and said, 'O Messenger of Allah, if only you could sit at the front of the assembly and remove these people - meaning: Salman al-Farisi, Abu Dharr al-Ghifari and other poor Muslims - and their coarse and smelly outer garments - because the only thing they had on them were these woolen outer garments - from us, then we could sit with you, talk to you and learn from you!'

Their response were equivalent to how Jesus was condemned by the Pharisees, by the religious hypocrites for being with, teaching to and dining with the common, poor and destitute people of his time.

When time of revelation would come, suddenly the Messenger would be overcomed by mystical experiences, he would enter into altered state of consciousness and would receive revelation / divine inspirations which would sometime be so hard on him physically that his body would perspire even in winter night. So when these delegates proposed that the humble and poor companions be removed from the company of the Messenger, new revelation came, which closely translate as:

And recite that which has been revealed to thee of the Book of thy Lord. There is none who can alter His words. And thou wilt find no, refuge beside Him.

And keep thyself with those who call on their Lord morning and evening desiring His Countenance, and let not thine eyes pass from them, desiring the passing ornaments of this world's life. And follow not him whose heart We have made unmindful of Our remembrance, and he follows his low desires and his case exceeds due bounds.

And say: The Truth is from your Lord; so let him who please believe, and let him who please disbelieve. Surely We have prepared for the iniquitous a Fire, an enclosure of which will encompass them. And if they cry for water, they are given water like molten brass, scalding their faces. Evil the drink! And ill the resting-place!

As for those who believe and do good, We waste not the reward of him who does a good work.

These it is for whom are Gardens of perpetuity wherein flow rivers; they are adorned therein with bracelets of gold, and they wear green robes of fine silk and thick brocade, reclining therein on raised couches. Excellent the recompense! And goodly the resting-place!

Upon receiving the revelation, the Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, stood up and went looking for them. He found them at the back of the mosque (at the Suffa) making divine remembrance (dhikr'Llah) in gathering (Majlish) as it were their practice.

He was overwhelmed in seeing them in that state of remembrance and with his loving voice said: "Praise be to Allah Who did not take away my soul until He commanded me to content myself with people of my holy community. It is with you that I live and with you that I die" and he recited to them what was revealed to him momentarily before.

This gives a glimpse of how the Quranic revelation happened as and when they were revealed.

3.
In every spiritual path, the place of community is extremely important. And community spirit can only manifest when people of similar interest and attunement come together. Buddha, one of the greatest teacher of humanity gave three jewels to his disciples which summarized the whole of Buddhist orientation.

This three jewels are recited in the formula:
Buddham sharanam gacchami.
Dharmam sharanam gacchami.

Sangham sharanam gacchami.


They embody the meanings as,
In Pure Awakening Consciousness I enter for Refuge.
In the Sacred Path I enter for Refuge.
In Sacred Community I enter for Refuge.

The early community, Sangha that Buddha developed were very essential to flower his teachings and to give a vessel for it to be embodied, practiced, preserved and to carry forward. For greater transformation of people like heart and mind must come together. Thus the wisdom behind the formation of circle, company of seekers, ummah or community can not be denied, no matter in what age we live. Christ message was transmitted by a select group of people who were made ready and trained for both inner and outer works by Christ himself. Similar example can be found in every authentic Path.




Being together in Remembrance

In Islam the concept of Ummah or community is greatly emphasized. For the Sufis, this essential need for the seekers to gather together, to come in touch with each other, to remember God in unison is absolutely necessary for individuals. This have given rise to sufi brotherhood, tekke, zawiya or Sufi Lodge, remembrance circle. Look for such gathering, no matter where you live.

On a very practical ground, the aspiration of the seeker never remain constant, its like ebb and flow, sometime its high, sometime its low. On individual level we go through many different state of the heart. Sometime we feel elated, sometime in absolute bliss, yet there are moment when we become utterly vulnerable, low and isolated and need other spiritual companions from whom we can drink and replenish again. Even Sufis gather for tea and light hearted chat with their Masters from which they go back much absorbed and their heart contend. The human presence is quite unlike anything else and for lovers of God, this companionship becomes even more significant because after which the world runs after and remain asleep, is not what satisfies the lovers of God. Coming together in divine remembrance provides people more aspiration for the journey and it makes them into travellers. Joining the assemblies for Divine Remembrance (majlish al-dhikrullah) awakens desire for the spiritual life in those who are seeking. This is an an attitude and outer work which is necessary for the inner work and growth.

In the verse, the Messenger when he is approached by those who looked down upon nmeek and humble, yet spiritually focused people - God reminds that he should be content with those who seeks God, therefore the spiritual seekers, the God conscious ones. In a sense the Messenger, God perfect our love for him, was told to keep company with the Sufis, God bless them, who sought his companionship over everything else and chose to remain as close to him as possible. Love is commanded to be answered only with Love.

The verse have both assertion and negation aspect. In the positive it emphasize that true lovers of God must keep company with other seekers and lovers of God. In the negative the verses offer wisdom which is also very significant.

"Let not thine eyes pass from them, desiring the passing ornaments of this world's life. And follow not him whose heart We have made unmindful of Our remembrance, and he follows his low desires and his case exceeds due bounds."

The first point is, that the value of a blessed company such as a community of spiritual seekers, Sufi tariqa (path), company of Sufis or any authentic spiritual community in that matter - to be close to them is commanded. This is equally applicable in our time. Secondly their presence / companionship must not be forsaken for the distractions of the world, for the passing attractions of the world such as fame or money etc.

Third point categorically identifies "false teachers" if one can read between the lines. One of the most important acid test for an authentic spiritual teacher / guide is that they are essentially self-effacing and must not be from those who run after the world (ask for money from his or her students, take their disciples money to increase his or her riches) but rather who occupy and exert themselves in spiritual work, who might receive what is freely given without asking but at the same time give out freely. Infact many Sufi Masters gave and provided to their students, even materially speaking. This is because this exactly was the model of the Messenger as well who took care of the Ahsab us-Suffa by feeding them, inviting them to his home and providing them even when his own family didn't have much to feed themselves. A true Master must be generous like a Sun, anything less suggests something else.

Those who are unmindful of the Divine and those who follow their own desire (this alone have caused many abuses in the world in the name of religion and spirituality, from sexual abuse to abuse of material wealth of the seeker who fall in the trap of a false guru) are never to be accepted as Guide or Teacher of the Path. It is them who are identified as someone who have exceeded their 'limits' and for them retribution from the One Who Take Account will take retribution for what they did in this world in their deception and misleading many by covering up what is true with falsehood, greed, selfishness and hypocrisy.

4.
Win the best bargain

Come out from the circle of time
And into the circle of love

Enter the street of taverns
And sit among the drunkards of Divine love wine

Taste a sweetness in your mouth
that was before bee or honey

Look here's a bargain:
give one life and take for the eternity.

- Rumi

5.
And set forth to them the parable of the life of this world as water which We send down from the cloud, so the herbage of the earth becomes luxuriant thereby, then it becomes dry, broken into pieces which the winds scatter. And Allah is the Holder of power over all things.

Wealth and children are an adornment of the life of this world but the ever-abiding, the good works, are better with thy Lord in reward and better in hope.

And the day when We cause the mountains to pass away, and thou seest the earth a levelled plain and We gather them together and leave none of them behind.

And they are brought before thy Lord in ranks. Now certainly you have come to Us as We created you at first. Nay, you thought that We had not made an appointment for you.

And the Book of Life is placed, and thou seest the guilty fearing for what is in it, and they say: O woe to us what a book is this! It leaves out neither a small thing nor a great one, but numbers them (all), and they find what they did confronting them. And thy Lord wrongs not any one.

- The Final Testament, 18:45-49


# Further:
. Take counsel with the company of the righteous
. As'hab us-Suffah by Adam Hani Walker
. Reviving the Suffa Tradition by Rifat Atay
. Seek the company of the dervishes and become one of them
. The people of the Veranda (Ahl i Suffa)

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