Sunday, November 28, 2010

Adab for times of trial and tribulation


1.
In the reality where we find our existence, everything is situated in their proper dimensions (such as space and time). All elements and phenomena in the cosmos abide by (divinely) appointed inner and outer laws. From the electrons revolving around atom to the massive galaxies - all abide by their pre-destined special code of conduct (physical laws), none goes beyond their set limits and in that abiding (baqa) they contribute to an awe-inspiring harmonious cosmos.

Just as in the physical universe of macro-cosmos, so it is for micro-cosmos of human being - in order to abide in harmony, there is adab, a sufi term which approximately means: "proper way of being and acting". Human being is special in the creation because they are bestowed with free-will in which are given opportunity to choose. An electron or a DNA can not choose how it will function, other than the law which is appointed to it. But for human being, there is choice which may lead to chaos or harmony, suffering or happiness. 

In the teachings of the Sufis who are the doorkeepers of secret, adab is greatly emphasized which says that for every time and every place, there is a right way of being and right way of doing. This is not unique to Sufi Path, but common to other Path as well. For example Gautama Buddha's central teaching revolves around the "Noble Eightfold Path" which speaks of right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. They are necessarily elements of adab for various spectrum of human affairs. 

2.
For those who argue against the necessity of abiding by the divine law / commandments or "way of right being and acting", here is a simple illustration, which I adopt here from a modern day book of Kabbalah in slightly compact form. Imagine 18 people gathered on a baseball field. All of them are gifted with tremendous athletic talent, the likes of the greatest baseball players. They are all given the right equipment necessary to stage a ballgame: bats, baseballs, bases etc. But suppose they were missing one vital ingredient - the rules of the games. These 18 people have never heard of baseball and have absolutely no conception of what it is. What would happen if all these players were told to play the game called baseball, and they were not allowed to leave the field until they were capable of becoming like World Series Champions?

Imagine the chaos! Fighting. Arguing. Frustration. Quitting. Some players might make up their own rules. Although the players are gifted, all they can produce is pandemonium. According to Jewish Mysticism, it doesn't matter how much talent they possess. Without the rules of the game, the result is chaos. If an ordinary, much simpler involvement such as a baseball can be like that, what about the inner and out laws for the grand game of life which involves the most precious and guarded secret, our soul? Tremendous chaos, worries, frustration, disharmony exist in individual and collective human life primarily because most of them are participating in the game of life without really knowing how it's suppose to be played. The result is tremendous chaos, loss of purpose. Amidst it all, many try to make up new games and play by their own rules each and everyday. To no avail. 

The adab of right conduct, right mode of being and acting are from the set of universal laws which is timeless that liberate and empower human beings in their life which is wholesome and approaches holiness (hayyatan tayyibah). Because of our prejudice and abuse, the word "law" immediately brings some kind of reaction to our projection-prone mind. But in reality, whether we call them law, commandment or sharia, given we understand them with right understanding the way of right conduct actually contributes towards harmony and enlightenment, absence of it only brings chaos, more suffering and disintegration. This is why Christ, the Guide of the Heart taught, "the proper way to keep any commandment was to fulfill the purpose for which it was given."  Unfortunately we overlook the purpose and out of ignorance discard everything.

On the universality and timelessness of the Sacred Law, Christ said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." It is through our misreading, misjudgment and misinterpretation, the Law has been subject to much abuse and rejection. Those who are endowed with wisdom understands very well that when in every major age the Law has been covered up, forgotten and abused, new way is revealed which renews these universal set of Law. The reason for new revelations and sending of enlightened prophets and messengers are for the sake of renewing these forgotten and covered-up "laws" as well.


3.
The adab of the Sufi Path follows the last cycle of revelation which renewed the Universal Law and modeled as the Way of the Divine Messengers, their conducts and way of being. The Sufis preserve, teach and pass down the adab for every situation and most importantly how to be at times of trial and tribulation. At such challenging times people feel disoriented, worried, stressed in almost inversely proportional to their level of spiritual maturity and souls progress towards prefect equilibrium and tranquility (sakina).

One of the essential teaching of adab at the times of trial and tribulation is to have steadfast patience (sabr) and to place reliance (tawakkul) and trust on the Divine regarding the unfolding of life.

Wa Tawakkal alal Hayyil lazi la yamutu. Wa sabbih bi hamdi: wa kafa bihi bi zunubi ibadihi khabira.
And put your trust in the Living One who does not die, and extol His praise. And He suffices as the Knower of the short-comings of His worshippers.
- 25:58

Its absolutely essential to have faith on the hereafter, because this alone is cure to many diseases that come from short sightedness for those who can see nothing beyond this short material life that finishes in the blink of an eye. 

And human being says, "When I am dead shall I be brought forth alive?"
But does not the human being remember that We created him before when he was nothing?
- The Quran 19:66-67
 
Those who are blessed with certitude of faith knows very well, we are God's and to God is the return.  In fact at the moment of trials it is the recommended prayer that one should contemplate upon the Quranic supplication, "inna nillahi wa inna ilaihi rajiun: Surely we belong to Allah and to Him shall we return." Everything must return, our life, our action and also how we react to situations in which we are placed as tests. 

Many of us claim to have faith which is mostly limited to our lips, and when a time of challenge appear we plunge into ungratefulness by forgetting all the bounties and blessings we were enjoying and have been given and bombard our reactive mind with complaints after complaints. It is these time of challenge that the inner strength of our being is tested and we are given a chance to reflect upon our "claims" of reliance upon God. A smooth sea does not make a good sailor. Rough water in our life help teach us many lessons which otherwise we would never realize. In such time we are sometime shown who are our true friends, we are shown our true weakness and where our improvements are necessary.There is blessing in everything, if and only if we be aware of it. Then even seemingly difficult time can transform into moments of opportunity and new prosperity.

I asked God for strength, and He gave me difficulties to make me strong.
I asked God for wisdom, and He gave me problems to solve.
I asked God for prosperity, and He gave me brains and hands to work with.
I asked God for courage, and He gave me obstacles to overcome.
I asked God for love, and He gave me troubled people for me to help.
I asked God for favours, and He gave me opportunities after opportunities.
I received nothing what I really wanted ... but...  I received everything I wanted. 

Sufi adab maintains that one must give thanks in every affair, in every circumstances. Since everything comes from God and Sufis are certain of this, they always give thanks - even when it is a seemingly challenging time. This is because the true faithful knows that even bearing patiently any bitter medicine has much benefit and cure in it. Sometime goodness is placed in seemingly adverse situation. Sometime we are protected from greater danger by placing us in lesser troubles. 

Two of the key adab in time of trial and tribulation is to have patience and placing trust upon God, the Most High. Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali writes in his valuable work:

It is necessary that the believer have patience for a short while such that through it he will attain everlasting bliss. If he despairs and becomes impatient, he is as ibn al-Mubarak said, "Whoever has patience, how short a time does he have to be patient for (compared to the eternal after-life). Whoever despairs, how a short time does he have to enjoy himself (in this passing world)!

Imam Shafi used to say:

O my soul, it is only a few days, bear them patiently.
A lifetime seems but a fleeting reverie.
O my soul, through this world pass swiftly,
And leave it for true life ahead does lie!


Here is a Ayah (Sign) from the Second Surah of the Holy Quran which offers much wisdom regarding the time of trial and tribulation.This is the last Ayah and a powerful prayer as well for protection and supplication recommended by the great masters. 

La yukallifu-llahu nafsan illa wus'aha. Laha ma kasabat wa alayha mak-tasabat. Rabbana la tu askiznaa in nasinaa ow akhtana. Rabbana wa la tahmil alaynaa isran kama hamaltahu alal-lazina min qablina. Rabbana wa la tuhammilna ma la taqatalana bih. Wafu anna. Wagh firlana. War hamna. Anta Mawlana. Fansurna alal qowmil kafirin. (2:286)


Allah does not burden any soul except with what it can bear. To its account is what it has merited (by way of goodness), and against it what it has earned (by way of the evil it did). Our Lord, do not condemn us if we forget or unwittingly do wrong. Our Lord, do not lay a load on us as You burdened those who came before us. Our Lord, do not burden us with what we have no strength to bear. Pardon us. Forgive us. Have mercy on us. You are our Master, so aid us against the folk who cover up (the Truth).

The first portion of the supplication speaks of the spiritual law that every soul is taxed according to its evolution. "Allah does not burden any soul except with what it can bear." This is followed by the law of karma. "To its account is what is has merited, and against it what it has earned."

Then a greater spiritual law is indicated by the polite supplication, and this spiritual law is the grace, the Rahma the supersedes everything. Even after the soul may commit wrong, mistakes, ungratefulness - yet through the sincere attraction of grace it may rise again. Thus in the last part, earnest supplication is taught which reminds a fact that those who gone past us, suffered much more than us for the sake of truth. Much they had to suffer compared to our condition and many bounties in which we find ourselves. As our faith is weaker, the trials and tribulations that fall upon us are of much lesser in degree. As historical fact, the first generation of Christ's disciples, most of his apostles suffered violent death and were martyred for their faith, many were crucified for the sake of Truth. The first generation of the companions of Messenger Muhammad similarly faced serious persecution, eviction and many were martyred as well for sake of the Truth. Their sincerity of faith was tested at a much higher price than us. At the end the Lord's Lordship is acknowledge and protection is sought against those who cover up the Truth in every form and in every place because it is through their likeness that much disharmony and chaos is brought into human affairs.


4.
And do not sell the Covenant of God for a paltry price. Surely what is with God is better for you if you (only) knew. That which you have, wastes away, and that which is with God, remains (wa ma inda-Llahi baqa). And We will surely give those who were steadfastly patient their reward according to the best that they did. Whoever does wholesome action - from men or women - who is a believer, We will surely cause to live a sanctified life (hayyatan tayyibah). And we shall surely give them their reward in proportion to the best of what they used to do. - The Final Testament, 16:95-97
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