Friday, January 29, 2010


Last night our master taught the lessons
of Love on cellular level.

We were given the silent heart meditation:
'Who am I?'

'You are That'
'You are Ruhullah, the Divine Breath. '

At the break of the dawn
in our circle of poor hearted wanderers,
we prayed, we bowed, we prostrated in unison
and our master uttered these words:
"O You in Whose Dazzling Existence
is our wondrous subsistence!
In every cell of our being
pour us Your Light,
Your Life giving Breath.

O Lord of Majestic Grace
O Lord of Boundless Forgiveness
May we journey until
we reach to that place
where every cell of our being
be in love with the entire existence.

Tasting and Journeying,
Journeying and Tasting.

O Sole Guide of the Mystical Pah
Guide us to the Way Station, wholly free from divine amnesia
where we may ever witness the truth of our reality.

Sohum, Sohum, Sohum
We are That,
We are That,
We are the Oneness.

Indeed from Pre-Eternity to Post-Eternity
The Truth has declared thus:
La ilaha illallah
There is no other reality but You
who else is there but You
only You.

May every fiber, every cell of our being
become a shining witness
to You and only You
O Bearer of Infinite Grace."

- Sadiq Alam
28 January, 2010

[Sama | Listen to a Sufi discourse]  Love on a Cellular Level by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, recorded in London, January 2008. via The Golden Sufi Center Audio Archives Page

The Truth declares: 'I Am you, more than you yourself are.'

The Divine - is closer to you than your jugular vein,
- is with you, wheresoever you may be.
Wheresoever you turn, behold, there is the Divine Countenance!
- The Quran

    O, friend! Nobody veils you, but yourself.
        In your path there is no thorn or weed, but yourself.
    You asked:  shall I reach the Beloved or not?
        Between you and the Beloved there is nobody, but yourself.
- Awhadoddin Kermani

In the spiritual terminology of advaita vendata (non-dualistic school of hinduism), the central teaching is pivoted around four words:

dehum, nahum;

The 20th century great master and mysticsaint of this ancient lineage, Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950), may God be pleased with him, taught in great details on this theme.

the word 'dehum' (also written as deham) means body,
'nahum' means 'not me', not the i.

ko-hum means 'who am I'? - the quintessential question of atma-vichara or self-investigation.

sohum - I am the Oneness.

The first sentence, ‘dehum nahum’ or ‘the body is not I’, denotes the initial process of self-analysis by which we gain the intellectual conviction that the body, mind and other adjuncts that we have superimposed upon ourself are not our essential self or ‘I’; the second sentence, ‘kohum?’ or ‘who am I?’, denotes the practice of atma-vichara or self-investigation, whereby we will actually experience what ‘I’ really is; and the third sentence, ‘sohum’ or ‘he is I’, denote the experience of true self-knowledge that we will gain by practicing atma-vichara (sufis call this muhasiban nafs or self-reckoning, which gives birth to suhud, witnessing).

In the first two lines of this verse Sri Ramana explains the first sentence, ‘dehum nahum’, saying that the body is not ‘I’ because it is jada (non-conscious) like a clay pot, because it does not have any ‘shining’ (or consciousness of itself) as ‘I’, and because our nature (or essential being) is experienced by us daily in sleep, in which this body does not exist.

In the last two lines he explains the last two sentences, ‘kohum? sohum’, saying that within the heart-cave of those who abide (as self), having known (by self-investigation) ‘who is this ego, the person who poses as I?’ (or) ‘where is he?’, the omnipresent God (arunagiri-siva-vibhu) will shine forth spontaneously as the sphurana (the clarity of pure self-consciousness) ‘he is I’. That is, when we investigate ‘who am I?’ we will experience the truth that ‘I’ is nothing other than the one omnipresent absolute reality, one without any second.

"Who am I?" is the question only you can ask and only you can answer. Whatever you are, oneness, reality truth - the answer cannot be given readymade to you by the others, by teachers, by masters. Even if others have experienced this oneness, this truth, their words become a lie to you. Because the answer of this existential question: "Who am I?" is also existential, it is the experencing itself. Not the words of others about, but your own experiencing of the true answer. Unless you yourself have experienced who you really are, you will never know the truth, or better said, you will never be the truth.

O my Lord, Sustainer of all that lives,
Your Real Face is covered by Your Dazzling Effulgence.
Kindly remove that covering and exhibit Yourself to Your pure devotee
- Isha Upanishad

# Reference and Further Readings:
. I Amness - Ken Wilber and Sufism
. Teachings of Sri Ramana
. Be as You are - Teachings of Ramana Maharishi (book download)
. Ulladu Narpadu Anubandham – an explanatory paraphrase
. Happiness of Being
. The Self
. Meditation on Bhagavad Gita | with Ram Das
. The phantom 'i' and Real 'I'
. So Hum: Contemplation Meditation
. Mantra Meditation on So Hum

Art on top: Hu (Divine Pronoun) by Shaykh Nooruddeen Durkee ash-Shadhili, Rahmatullah
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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On Human Will | Sufi Wisdom

Man, in fact all and everything, has three aspects:
essence, attributes, and actions.

If we wish to describe a person (or a thing) we might start with its shape and form and physical characteristics, describing a man as tall, thin, blond, blue-eyed, etc. Next we might describe him by his actions or capabilities: strong, intelligent, farsighted, kind, generous, etc. These are his actions, or possibilities of actualizing things.

Both the attributes and the actions and functions of a person may change. The tall may get taller, the young become old, the thin become fat, and blondes go gray. Actions also change. The strong may become weak; the generous may become poor and be unable to give.

When the shape and character and actions of men or things change, if there is something constant left, that is the essence of that person or that thing.

Allah Most High blew from His own soul into this body of flesh and bone of a hundred or two hundred pounds. The body is weighable, measurable, changeable, temporal, subject to decay, while the soul is immeasurable, invisible, immortal, coming from another realm.

When the soul enters the body, it is as if an act of marriage takes place. The flesh, the mother, world-bound, joins with the soul, the father, heaven-bound. From this marriage two children are born. One is called the heart, resembling the father, yearning for the fatherland, attached to and under the guidance of the father. The other child is called the ego, having the character of the mother, attached to the motherland and loving this world.

In this family of your being, your actions, your character, your behavior, your beauty or your ugliness are either from the heart or from the ego. They are changeable. When they are from the heart, they correspond and are is in harmony with your father, the eternal soul. When they are from the ego they relate to your mother the flesh and her country, the world.

Your shape, your form, your physical appearance, your behavior your actions are first manifested in your wants and wishes. The ego wants what the flesh wants. The heart wants what Allah wants. These wants are manifest in one’s will.

Will is wanting to have something or to do something, and to think that you, yourself, are able to get what you wish to have and to think that you are able to do what you wish to do. Will is a unique gift which Allah Most High has given only to man. It enables man to choose the right from the wrong, that which is good for one from that which is bad for one.

Yet man does not know what is good for him. Therefore Allah has given to His chosen servants a perfected religion in which He has completed all His blessings upon them and is pleased. That is Islam. When man listens to his heart and is in accordance with its wishes and chooses to submit that most valuable gift of Allah, his will, to Allah’s greater will - that is Islam. Then the divine light, an-nur al-Muhammadi, the beauty of the beloved of Allah, will be his physical appearance and he will receive ihsan and will be in the presence of his Lord forever.

There was once a shaykh of great wisdom who had been given marfetullah (gnosis). The sultan of his nation was surrounded by advisors whose knowledge was the sciences of this world, the knowledge of the ego. They misguided the sultan and the world suffered.

The true wise man wished to warn the sultan, but the advisors prevented him. So he thought of a scheme. He declared publicly that there was no such thing as man’s will.

Such a declaration is heresy (just as it is also heretical to say man is the creator of his own actions). The advisors of the sultan saw this as an occasion to condemn the wise man and reported him to the sultan.

The sultan asked that the wise man be brought to his presence in order that he judge him. He asked, "Is it true that you claim that man has no will, while Allah says that it is His gift to mankind?"

The wise man said, "Yes, I claim that man has no will. I also confirm that he does have will. But what do you say, my sultan? For instance, do you believe that I have will? "

"Certainly," said the sultan.

"Do you also believe that I have the ability to actualize what I will?"

"Of course," said the sultan.

The wise man said, "In that case, I will that all that you have in your treasuries be distributed among the people!"

The sultan turned to his advisors and said, "Answer him."

They could only mumble, protesting, "He is doing this for the sake of intellectual argument. it is not serious!"

"Then destroy his argument with your knowledge," the sultan insisted.

The advisors fell silent.

The wise man said, "Let me explain my own argument, my sultan.

"In your presence, in your palace, the only will is yours, and I have none. When I return home, however, I can tell my wife, my children, and my servants what I wish, and they will do it. There I have a will.

"But even here there is a Sultan above all sultans, the Owner and the Lord of all and everything, All-powerful, Ever-living, known by His attributes, seen by His actions, ever-present, all and everywhere. The ones who know Him and know that they are in His presence at all times—for those people of the heart and of the essence there is only one will, the divine will of Allah. They say nothing but from Him, they see nothing but of Him, they do nothing but by Him.

"Then there are those who are heedless of Him and of what is His, who feel that they are at home in this world, which is theirs~ These are the ones who have will and think they can do.

"Perchance they will think that their freedom extends to where others’ freedom begins. Society as men know it depends on that sense of responsibility. That is why man’s will is a gift to humanity.

"But these heedless ones know that what they will seldom happens, while they see that the ones who have given up their will for the greater will of Allah are satisfied, at peace, and pleased, for whatever happens to them is for the best. They are envious and critical of those who have given up will, and are aggressive toward them. Yet they are bound to fail.

"All praise is due to Allah."

- Article by Shaykh Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi al-Halveti, may Allah be well pleased with him and accept him among His noble servants

Credit: On Will via

Related: The Reality of Human Essence | the Hu of Hu-man Pin It Now!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Divine Hint is an Order

Catching the Thread, Book Cover Illustration1.
The Sufi master, Bhai Sahib, stresses how one should never judge by appearances:

Saints are like rivers; they flow where they are directed... If a Hint is there, I have to do it, and if I don’t, I am MADE to do it. Divine Hint is an Order. Sometimes the Saints have to do things the people will misjudge, and which from the worldly point of view could be condemned, because the world judges by appearances.

One important quality required on the Path is never to judge by appearances. More often than not things look different from what they really are. There is no good or evil for the Creator. Only human society makes it so. A Saint is beyond good or evil, but Saints are people of the highest morality and will never give a bad example.

- from Catching the Thread: Sufism, Dreamwork and Jungian Psychology by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Irina Tweede

The Divine hint is “quicker than lightning” and if we interfere, through any judgment or censorship, the hint is lost. If we respond, “What if . . . ,” or “But . . . ,” or “I am not sure . . . ,” or with any of the mind’s conditioned responses, then the hint is lost, the opportunity gone. A Divine hint requires that we listen and act accordingly. Nor will a Divine hint always be about an action. Sometimes it is something we need to know, a quality we need to develop, an attitude we need to change. What matters is that we are always attentive and respond in the moment. We do not weigh up the consequences or consider our actions. We listen and act. But in order to listen and respond unconditionally, the mind has to become free of many patterns of conditioning. We have to leave behind our normal desire to understand, to know what we are doing.

- Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Sufi Dreamwork

Wa qalu: "samiAAna, wa ataAAna
Ghufranaka Rabbana,
wa ilayka-l maseer."
- The Quran 2:285

And they say: "We listen, and we obey:
Your forgiveness
(we seek), our Lord,
and to You is the end of all journeys."

# Related:
. Describing Sufis
. Golden Sufi Center Pin It Now!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Untold Story of Jesus | Bawa Muhaiyaddeen

Untold Story of Jesus
The Bible tells us the story of Jesus, upon him be peace, but it does not explain where he was between the ages of twelve and thirty. It does not say whether he remained in this world or went to the kingdom of heaven. Where was he? What happened during those eighteen years?

My grandchildren, if we don't know the complete history of Jesus, how can we understand him? How can we know who he truly is if we do not know his state? How can we know his glory?

My love you, my grandchildren. Let me explain something to you about those eighteen years.

Have you ever noticed how, in the morning when the sun is still low on the horizon, you can see long shadows stretching from the trees? Sometimes a shadow might extend a hundred and fifty feet. But when the sun is directly overhead at midday, you cannot see any shadow at all. Then later, when the sun is at low angle again, even your own shadow will be over a hundred feet long. But are you really that tall? No, you are only a few feet tall.

My grandchildren, we live in a world which casts shadows. People only know that something exists when they see its forms, a form that casts a shadow. If that form is missing, they cannot see anything. That is why the prophets came as forms which cast shadows. For our sakes they appeared to us in a way that we could understand, in a form which we could see with our eyes. But because their shadow forms are no longer here today, people say, 'The prophets are no longer here. They are dead and gone.'

Jesus did live in this world during those eighteen years, but he dwelt where the people of the world could not know him. He did not live within earth, fire, water, air, or ether. He did not live with the desire for women, earth, and gold. He made the world within him die. He surrendered to God and merged with God. His body was still in the world, but he was not in his body. The soul was with him, but the world was not. No one saw him during those eighteen years, for Jesus was with God, immersed in prayer.

His body was in the world, but he was not in the body, he was in the section of God.

The people who believed in the body, because they only had the eyes to see the world, did not see him during that time. Those who caried the body of five elements of earth, fire, water, air and ether could not see him. Those who believed in the differences between I and you could not see him. Those who were caught by arrogance, karma, illusion, and pride could not see him. Religions, races, and scriptures could not see him. None of these could see Jesus, because the world was not in him. He was here, but he was not visible to the eyes of the world.

During the time that Jesus was with our Primal Father, surrendered in Allahu, the light of God was at its zenith within him, just as the sun in midday is directly overhead. The shadow of his body was not to be seen. But then he came back to the world to continue his work. When he came out of that state, people said, "Jesus has returned," because they identified him with his body. They were looking for a physical form, not for the true Jesus.

For the next three years, Jesus spoke to the people, saying, "My father God says..." And it was then that people began to find fault with him. The Bible says that he was finally captured and crucified. But during the crucifixion that is spoke of Jesus' state was comparable to his state during those eighteen years.

My love you, my grandchildren. Do you understand? We can only explain something if we have understood its meaning. We are only able to speak about what we have seen after we have experienced it. And we can only know the truth when we have opened the eye of wisdom to understand it.

The knowledge you have now, my children, is limited by the intellect. The scriptures are also limited by this boundary. You can understand the words of the prophets and the lights of God only up to that level. Intellect cannot see beyond itself. Only when you transcend the intellect can you know what is beyond. Only with the four higher levels of judgment, subtle wisdom, analytic wisdom, and divine luminous wisdom can you progress.

God is beyond intellect. He is beyond scriptures, religion, race and caste. He is a treasure which cannot be described within the bounds of intellect, a perfectly pure treasure beyond all beginnings and endings.

My love you, my grandchildren. Just as the world did not see Jesus during those eighteen years, the world will not see us when we do not have the world within us. The state in which we forget this body and this world and dwell within God is true meditation and prayer. If you are in that state, you will not be aware of this body. Your body will be here, but it will be forgotten, as if it were dead. Your friends, relations, and possessions will all be forgotten. You will see only God. You will be living in His truth and in His body.

My love you, my grandchildren. What do you think people are searching for? They seek only a shadow that comes from darkness. But when a body is connected to God, it becomes light. When such a pure light or resplendence appears, it will be invisible to those whose eyes can perceive only shadows, the forms of darkness.

No one saw Jesus for eighteen years because they were looking for him in that way. The sign they held dear and searched for was not there. He had become light, and the darkness had gone away. The body had no more pull on him, and he disappeared within God. But after the work of those years was completed, the form emerged in the world again, and the people found what they were looking for. Then the rest of his history was written.

My loving grandchildren, even though you and I are in the world, we will not be in this body when we dwell in God. At that time we will be in light, and when that light comes to us, we will not cast any shadow. Only God's power will exist when we reach the state in which our prayers, worship, and our devotion, or ibadat, dwell within God. However, as long as we are not in that state, the body will exist. We will live in this world and not within Him, and we will be in darkness.

Histories can only be written about the time that one is in this world. They cannot be written about the time that on dwells in God. That is why the Bible does not speak about the life of Jesus during those eighteen years. And that is also why the true state of all the prophets has never really been known. The world searched for their shadows, their bodies. Without searching for their true state and without knowing who the prophets really were, people beat them and chased them and made them suffer. Such is the wonder of the ignorance of man.

My love you, my grandchildren. When light comes, this section of earth disappears. But when the section of earth and darkness comes, the light fades away.

Think about this. You must understand the prophets that God sent and know their true form. You must think about their words. You must think about everything with wisdom. In what way should you establish your connection with God? In what way should you conduct your life? Acquire God's qualities. Learn wisdom and the divine knowledge of 'ilm. Understand every section and then know. Amin.

- from
Come to the Secret Garden:
Sufi Tales of Wisdom

by M. R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen

[>] Click here to read the book in full via Google Books

# More Books by M. R. Bawa in Google Books Pin It Now!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Spiritual Wisdom of the Desert Fathers

.. and nearest among them in love to the believers wilt thou find those who say, "We are Nazarites" (Followers of Jesus of Nazareth): because amongst these are men devoted to spiritual knowledge and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant.

- The Quran, Chapter of Table Spread, 5:82

The Desert Fathers were Hermits, Ascetics and Monks who lived mainly in the Scetes desert of Egypt, beginning around the third century and also in Syria and Palestine. They were the first Christian hermits, who abandoned the cities of the pagan world to live in solitude. The solitude of these places attracted them because the privations of the desert were a means of learning stoic self-discipline. Such self-discipline was modelled after the examples of Jesus' fasting in the desert and of his cousin John the Baptist (himself a desert hermit). These individuals believed that desert life would teach them to eschew the things of this world and allow them to follow God's call in a more deliberate and individual way. From the 4th Century onwards, along with biographies and full-length treatises, their reflections were brought together and widely circulated. The Desert Fathers provided the inspiration for Christian spirituality throughout the Middle Ages and beyond.

The Sagacious Desert Fathers, like the Sufs are People of Love (Ahl-e-Ishk). For them there was insistence on the primacy of love over everything else in spiritual life, over knowledge, gnosis, asceticism, contemplation, solitude ir prayer. For them without love the exercises of the spirit lose all meaning. Like what sufis call Futtuwah, their idea of love was not sentiment but spiritual identification with one's brother; taking one's neighbor as one's self. The full difficulty and magnitude of the task of loving others is recognized everywhere and never minimized. They understood that it is very hard to love others in the full sense of the word and that it involved a kind of death of their own being, of their ego. Thus the Desert Fathers embodied what Sufis call 'Die before You Die'.

Purity of Heart, exactly like the Sufis was one of the central goal for the Desert Fathers. The basic principle of the Desert Life was that God is the Authority and that apart from His manifest will there are few or no principles. St. Anthony said,. "therefore whatever you see your soul to desire according to God, do that thing, and you shall keep your heart safe." For them the purging of anything that makes one unmindful of God allowed for the emergence of the true secret self in which the believer and Christ were "one spirit." The end of all striving was purity of heart which culminated in a clear unobstructed vision of the true state of affairs and an intuitive grasp of one's inner reality anchored in God.

The survived teachings and discourses of the Desert Fathers, may God accept their service and illuminate their noble souls, offer great spiritual wisdom which is common heritage of humanity. Through their devoted life, what was passed down to their inspired heart - have the capacity to inspire many generations to come. Here are selection of Spiritual Wisdom from the Desert Fathers with further resources.

God is a fire that warms and kindles the heart and inward parts. Hence, if we feel in our hearts the cold which comes from the devil - for the devil is cold - let us call on the Lord. He will come to warm our hearts with perfect love, not only for Him but also for our neighbor, and the cold of him who hates the good will flee before the heat of His countenance. - St. Seraphim of Sarov

This is the truth, if a monk regards contempt as praise, poverty as riches, and hunger as a feast, he will never die. - Blessed Macarius

The roof of any house stands upon the foundations and the rest of the structure. The foundations themselves are laid in order to carry the roof. This is both useful and necessary, for the roof cannot stand without the foundations and the foundations are absolutely useless without the roof - no help to any living creature. In the same way the grace of God is preserved by the practice of the commandments, and the observance of these commandments is laid down like foundations through the gift of God. The grace of the Spirit cannot remain with us without the practice of the commandments, but the practice of the commandments is of no help or advantage to us without the grace of God. - St. Symeon

A man who keeps death before his eyes will at all times overcome his cowardliness. - Desert Elders

If the soul is vigilant and withdraws from all distraction and abandons its own will, then the spirit of God invades it and it can conceive because it is free to do so. - Abba Cronius

In the matter of piety, poverty serves us better than wealth, and work better than idleness, especially since wealth becomes an obstacle even for those who do not devote themselves to it. Yet, when we must put aside our wrath, quench our envy, soften our anger, offer our prayers, and show a disposition which is reasonable, mild, kindly, and loving, how could poverty stand in our way? For we accomplish these things not by spending money but by making the correct choice. Almsgiving above all else requires money, but even this shines with a brighter luster when the alms are given from our poverty. The widow who paid in the two mites was poorer than any human, but she outdid them all. - St. John Chrysostom

O monk, take thou the greatest possible care that thou sin not, lest thou disgrace God Who dwelleth in thee, and thou drive Him out of thy soul. - Abba Epiphanius

Why do you trouble yourself in a house that is not your own? Let the sight of a dead man be a teacher for you concerning your departure from hence. - St. Isaac the Syrian

Humility is the only thing we need; one can still fall having virtues other than humility -- but with humility one does not fall. - Elder Herman of Mt. Athos

Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved. - Abba Anthony

God descends to the humble as waters flow down from the hills into the valleys. - St. Tikhon of Voronezh

Have unfeigned love among yourselves, keep the tradition, and may the God of peace be with you and confirm you in love. - St. Paul of Obnora

If you are praised, be silent. If you are scolded, be silent. If you incur losses, be silent. If you receive profit, be silent. If you are satiated, be silent. If you are hungry, also be silent. And do not be afraid that there will be no fruit when all dies down; there will be! Not everything will die down. Energy will appear; and what energy! - St. Feofil, the Fool for Christ

# Credit and Further:
. One Hundred & Twenty Wise Sayings from The Holy Fathers
. Teachings of Early Egyptian Desert Fathers
. Sayings of the Desert Fathers
. Selections from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers (PDF)
. In the Heart of the Desert: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers by John Chryssavgis
. The Desert Fathers: sayings of the early Christian monks by Benedicta Ward
. Eternal Wisdom from the Desert: Writings from the Desert Fathers Pin It Now!

Friday, January 22, 2010

ZUHD | Sufi Teaching of Doing-Without

'Do-without the world
- Allah will love you.

Do-without what you find
in the hands of
people of the world
- people will love you.'

- Saying of the Prophet, peace be upon him

Zuhd means doing-without.

The zuhd of the sufis is that their doing-without should be an emptying of their hearts from desires of the world. Its aid is the emptying of their hands in sadaqa and generous gifts.

The word 'ascetic' has nothing to do with zuhd as understood by Islam. Zuhd is giving-up only when you have recognized that your need was a fantasy need. It is not zuhd to go in rags and to fast too much. Rather it would be zuhd to take control of clothes and patch them, or to eat less and not to eat one's fill. Zuhd is not, therefore, in any way a repression of appetites. It is an abandoning of excess appetite when the self has developed to the point of no long needing that thing.

To be zahid of objects is easy. To be zahid of words is more difficult, or the attention of others, or reputation. Do-without praise. Do-without reputation. Do-without being in the right. Do-without being seen. It is often easier for a king to be zahid than a poor man - beware!

The true zahid does-without a glance which sees creation and not the Lord.

Zuhd is easy. Its opposite is difficult. Remember the journey is to the place where the opposites have become the same for one. Do not dwell in the means - traveler - would you live in the stables?

- from The Hundred Steps by Shaykh Abdal Qadir as-Sufi al-Murabit, may Allah bless his path and give him good life

# Related:
. Az-Zuhd: Islamic approach on Asceticism
. The Poverty of Prophet Muhammad

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dure Kothai, Dure, Dure | To What Enchanted Lands

dure kothai, dure, dure
amar mon berae go
ghure, ghure

Oh to what enchanted lands
my soul wanders
ever and forever!

je banshi te batash kandey,
shei banshitir shure shure

(from its separation in pre-eternity)
the tune in which the wind laments,
in that tune grieves my soul

je poth shokol desh paraye
udaash hoye jae haaraye,
shey poth beye kangal poran
jete chae kon ochinpurey

the path which crossing every land
fades away into the oblivion,
this thirsty soul wishes to travel
upon that path to what great unknown!

dure kothai, dure, dure
amar mon berae go
ghure, ghure

Oh to what enchanted lands
my soul wanders
ever and forever!

Original lyrics (in italics, bengali): Rabindranath Tagore
English Rendition: Sadiq Alam

. download the song in mp3 audio
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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Humility as the Foundation of All Other Virtues

The loving and humble heart cannot pay homage enough, either to God or to His noble manhood, nor can it abase itself as much as it would. And that is why a humble man thinks that his worship of God and his lowly service are always falling short. And he is meek, reverencing Holy Church and the sacraments. And he is discreet in food and drink, in speech, in the answers which he makes to everybody; and in his behaviour, dress, and lowly service he is without hypocrisy and without pretense.

And he is humble in his devotions, both outwardly and inwardly, before God and before all men, so that none are offended because of him. And so he overcomes and casts out Pride, which is the source and origin of all other sins. By humility the snares of the devil, and of sin, and of the world, are broken, and man is set in order, and established in the very condition of virtue. And heaven is opened to him, and God stoops to hear his prayers, and he is fulfilled with grace. Whosoever therefore grounds his virtues in humility, he shall never err.

- From Chapter 12: How Humility is the Foundation of All Other Virtues of The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage by Jan van Ruysbroeck also known as Flemish Mystic, Blessed St. John of Ruysbroeck (1293-1381), may God be well pleased with him

. Blessed John Ruysbroeck via Catholic Encyclopedia
. Writings of John of Ruysbroeck Pin It Now!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

To be in the world, but not of it | From Interview with Sheikh Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi

My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that, and I intend to end up there. This drunkenness began in some other tavern. When I get back around to that place, I'll be completely sober. Meanwhile, I'm like a bird from another continent, siting in this aviary. The day is coming when I (will) fly off. - Rumi

On the theme of "In the World But Not Of It", What is Enlightenment? Magazine (now renamed as Enlighten Next) did a lovely interview with contemporary Dervish Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi. The magazines Executive Editor Carter Phipps was the interviewer. During the conversation, wonderful wisdom is shared by Sheikh Tosun Bayrak which provides valuable insight on this ancient saying, "To be in the world, but not of it."

Sheikh Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi al-Halveti (Istanbul: 1926) is an author, translator and a contemporary Sufi teacher. In 1970 Bayrak met Sheikh Muzaffer Ozak Ashki al-Jerrahi, Allah bless his soul, who became his teacher. Bayrak is now a Sheikh of the Helveti-Jerrahi order residing near the Jerrahi Order of America mosque in Spring Valley, New York. He has been spiritual guide of the Jerrahi Order of the Americas, (the primary Western branch of the Halveti-Jerrahi Order of Dervishes) since 1977. He is the author of many valuable Sufi books, including The Name and the Named, The Unveiling of Love, What the Seeker Needs (translation) and many other valuable books on Sufism. May Allah continue to bless his path.

What does it mean to be in the world but not of it?

It means that, as Sufis, we are supposed to be out in the world participating in the world, but not falling in love with the world. There is a hadith [a saying of the Prophet Muhammad] that tells us: The world is your friend if it reminds you of God, and it is your enemy if it makes you forget God.

One Sufi mystic is quoted as saying, "To leave the world is not to abstain from property, wife, and children, but to act in obedience to God and to set the things of God above those of the world."

Exactly. Another hadith tells us that when Allah ordered the world, he spoke to the world, saying, "World, the one who becomes your servant, treat him as the worst of slaves. Beat him. Make him work hard and when he dies, crush him. But if he becomes my servant, care for him well and when he dies, hug him like a mother would hug her child." That means that if you are the servant of Allah, then the world is going to be your servant and obey you and make you rich and everything else. And when you die, it will hug you gently like a mother caressing you. But if you forget Allah and become the servant of the world, then the world is going to whip you, kick you, and make you work like hell. And when you die, it's going to crush you.

In the Sufi tradition, what is the ideal relationship to the world for those who have gone very deep into the spiritual life?

I'll just say that what I myself do and what I ask my students to do is to find their place in the world, or I should say their duty, their function in this world. And when they find it, they should do it as best they can. And they should ask for Allah's help in finding it and doing it. For example, when a person wants to go to college and study certain things, they often take aptitude tests. So in a much larger and more complete sense, we have to pass ourselves through aptitude tests and find out what we have been brought into this world to do, and then we must do it as best we can. I think that's how one's relationship should be to the world.

Thirty years ago, if somebody would have told me that I was going to be a Sufi and a sheikh, I would have laughed and said, "What are they talking about?" Therefore, you cannot say that I did it. Finally, Allah has to do it for you. That is why when we pray, we open our hands. If your hands are open and something drops into them, you can catch it. But if they're not open, you can't. It falls away. So you have to be open, and that's all that you can do. I don't even say open your heart. You have to open yourself, everything - your body, your mind, your potential. You have to keep everything open and somehow hope to receive direction and indication as to what your function is. And once you find your function, I think then you will also find yourself through your function.

As you've said, Sufism isn't generally known as a spiritual tradition that emphasizes renunciation of the world. But, in the Sufi tradition, does renunciation play some role in the quest for spiritual union? I've read many stories by Sufi mystics that detail the dangers of the "deceiving" world with its "limitless tricks" and that encourage the seeker to fly away from it on the "wings of prayer." That seems to suggest that renunciation or removal from the world offers the surest and safest path to the realization of spiritual freedom and communion with God.

In our discipline, we don't agree with this. On the contrary, I would go so far as to say that renunciation is a sin. Renunciation means that I am thirsty and he, Allah, is offering me a glass of water and I say, "No thank you." That's a sin! For instance, Allah offers to reduce our prayers when we are traveling. And some idiots say, "No. I will continue making my prayers as if I'm not traveling." That's an insult. It's a sin. Because Allah offers you a gift and you say, "No, keep your gift." It's arrogance in the extreme, this renunciation business. This isn't just my opinion; this is the opinion of the Sufis. You should take whatever it is you receive, and you should put it to good use. If you don't want it, give it to somebody who needs it! I have, praise to Allah, enough money. But if he gave me a million dollars today, I'm not going to refuse it. I'm going to take it and I'm going to give it to the ones who need it and keep some for myself too. I'll buy myself a new car instead of an old one, and maybe a $150 pair of shoes. That would be the day!

So there is no going to the monasteries, no climbing up the Himalayas, no pouring ashes on your head and sitting cross-legged on nails. You have to go out into the world and participate. For example, my own teacher, Sheikh Muzaffer, loved to eat, loved good food. And he had a young wife, whom he loved very much. He used to say, "Money - there should be a lot in your pocket, but none in your heart."

In the "new American spirituality," instead (..) of cognizant submission to a higher authority, many people are speaking about self-authority - where it is up to us to pick and choose as we see fit from among the world's wisdom traditions, to find our own methods and spiritual practices that suit our lives in the world.

There you go kaputski. There you go crazy. There you go arrogant. You're saying: I know better than God. I know better than Jesus. I know better than Moses. I know better than the sheikhs. You see, we are forbidden to say "my." We are forbidden to say "me." This is my idea. This is my concept. This is my right. This is my wrong. Forget it, it's just anti-discipline. This is self-glorification, making your own self your God. And that's deadly. And those people, they die. They're living zombies. They live this life with imagination, with no concept of truth, no concept of reality. They live in their imagination, and they die in their imagination and they will wake up when they die and say, "Oh, my God, what have I done to myself?"

For 6,000 years in Judaism, for 2,000 years in Christianity, for 1,500 years in Islam, hundreds of thousands of saints and spiritual teachers have devoted themselves to this, and they have found and refined the relationship of the human being to the world, to life, to the hereafter. And here comes this man or this woman who studies a little psychology, a little philosophy, and rejects the whole thing. Millions of people, intelligent people, devout people, have made this their specialty. We are living in a period of specialty, but those people were super-specialists. And their documents are here, their words are here, their principles are here. It's not even worth discussing.

At what point on the spiritual path are we ready to be of service to the world?

At the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. This is in the Qu'ran. Allah said that "I have created man so that he can make ibadat to me." Ibadat means "service." But it also means "worship." So the true worship is in service. Allah said that "I have created man so that he serves me." But God doesn't need service. On the contrary, he is our servant. Every minute of our lives, we are being served. I inhale; he makes me inhale. I exhale; he makes me exhale. He brings me coffee; he makes me drink the coffee. Twenty-four hours a day, to all of us - from the microbe to the highest specimen of this creation - he's in continuous service. So what does he mean when he says that he has created human beings so that they would serve him? In short, he means to serve his creation. If we are the supreme creation, then we have to serve those in creation who are like us, who are in need, or who are under us. That's the purpose of our creation.

So as I said, service should be from the moment you are born until the moment you give your last breath, but you have to find out in what way. That's what's most important. We have to find out in what manner we are supposed to serve.

[>] Excerpts of the Interview shared here. The full interview can be read via Enlighten Next Magazine.

[>] Click to Read the interview in full, The World is Beautiful Pin It Now!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

why there is no monasticism in Islam?

In the Name of the All Knowing Creator, the All Loving Fashioner Who Created everything in the Cosmos with Truth and Real Purpose

Monasticism and its ideals

Monasticism (from Ancient Greek monachos > monos, alone, solitary) is the religious practice in which someone renounces worldly pursuits to fully devote their life to a monastery environment and its way of living. Among Abrahamic faith lineage, Monasticism was institutionalized by Christians. It began to develop early in the history of Christian Church, modeled upon Old and New Testament examples and ideals, but important to note that monasticism is NOT mandated as an institution in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.

In Jewish tradition there has been example of living hermit life and in community of brotherhood away from the worldly life under certain vows, but this didn’t include celibate lifestyle and complete disassociation with earthly responsibility. Judaism originally does not support the monastic ideal of celibacy, but two thousand years ago taking Nazarite vow was a common feature of the religion. Nazirite Jews abstained from grape based intoxicant drinks, haircuts, and contact with the dead. However, they did not withdraw from general society, and they were permitted to marry and own property; moreover, in most cases a Nazirite vow was for a specified time period and not permanent. Even though we find traces of Monastic tradition in Judaism through the Nazarite way, but it wasn’t a life long monasticism.

As a sign of special dedication Christian monasticism took its practical root in the early fourth century, though there were individuals and communities living austere, solitary and ascetic lives long before this time. Mostly inspired by certain ascetic teachings of Christ, early Christians were inspired towards monastic ideals of solitary living, silent meditation and forsaking the worldly engagement for the sake of divine focus. The early desert fathers embraced a life of contemplation and devotion to God in their hermit cell of retreat and thus the formation of monastic way came into being.

Islam and Monastic Practices

When the Seal of Prophets was asked about Monasticism, God reveals in the Quran the following verses:

“..Then We caused Our messengers to follow in their footsteps; and We caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow, and gave him the Gospel, and placed compassion and mercy in the hearts of those who followed him. But monasticism they invented - only seeking God's pleasure, We ordained it not for them, and they observed it not with right observance. We therefore gave the believers among them their reward; and many of them are sinners.” - The Quran , 57:27

It categorically clears a number of points. First it was a divine gift from God that those who followed Christ and his teachings of Gospel, God placed compassion and mercy in their hearts. Secondly Monasticism was a later invention, it was neither ordained in Old Testament as an organized religious practice nor a direct teaching of Christ. Thirdly Quran acknowledge the good intention behind Monasticism which was to seek divine favor. Fourthly, even though the intention was right, yet those who observed monasticism, they didn’t observe it with the right observance. Fifth, monastics who were sincere believers, their rewards are with God, but at the same time its also acknowledged that many of them have gone astray.

There is a famous saying attributed to Prophet that says, “There is no monasticism in Islam.” The saying comes from a practical advice the prophet gave in response to some extreme form of asceticism that some of his companions wished to take upon themselves, and often the case is that certain practices are better left as private rather than mass and public because if common people begin to follow in an organized fashion they will fail to observe it properly.

In Islam sacred tradition it is narrated, "Some of the Companions of the Prophet decided to relinquish the world, forsake their wives, and become like monks. The Prophet told them with asperity: People before you perished because of their asceticism; they made excessive demands on themselves until God brought hardships on them: you can still see a few of them remaining in monasteries and temples. So worship God and do not associate anything with Him, perform the pilgrimage, be righteous, and all affairs will be set right for you."

In another narration it is recorded, "Three people came to the Prophet's wives and asked how the Prophet conducted his worship. When they were told about it, they seemed to consider it but little, saying, "What a difference there is between us and the Messenger of God, whose past and future sins have been forgiven him by God!" One of them said, "As for me, I will always pray during the night." The other said, "I will have nothing to do with women and will never marry." When the Prophet heard about this, he explained to them their error and deviation from the Straight Path, saying, I am the one who is conscious of God the most among you, yet I fast and I break my fast, I pray and I sleep, and I marry. He who turns away from my holy way (sunnah) has nothing to do with me.”

So in Islam the excessive austere practice is shun because in most cases many can not sustain it and perish in the process. Also if we look current evolution of human life style, in one generation or two, monasticism as a vocation will become even more impractical. Already the monasteries in many places of the world are getting emptied. I remember in Singapore they had to import buddhist monks from China for religious occasions. Also in the western world the crisis is maturing at a very rapid rate.

Same applies to other monastic tradition. There is a very sharp decline of new nuns in Europe for example and if we project the trend we will know that as our life-style changes rapidly, this vocation will lose its appeal and slowly die down.

Shared Ideals

Islam is probably the most divine centered path (deen) in a sense that it brings almost all of the devotional ideals found in monastic life, that of saintly beings at the heart of day to day living, giving freedom of practices equally for all without division of lay people and special monastic class. If you can imagine the piety that run through a monastics life and if you can imagine common people to practice that in their life without abandoning their duties, that is what the practices of Islam are.

Infact Islam offers piety in such a way that common people in their ordinary living can practice the devotion equivalent or even greater than a monk or nun in a monastery. For Islamic ideal the statement that “there is no monasticism in Islam” means that contemplatives (dhakirun/ dhakirat) must not withdraw from the world, but that the world must be withdrawn from them, the intrinsic idea of asceticism (zuhd) and meditative contemplation (muraqaba) upon divine signs is in no way affected. Infact in Islam to practice detachment (zuhd) from everything other than God is a way station of spirituality.

What inspire the monastics to leave worldliness still runs through the spiritual ideals of Islam, which reminds that family, wealth or children are not the things to measure success in spiritual kingdom.

It is not your wealth nor your sons, that will bring you nearer to Us in degree: but only those who believe and work righteousness - these are the ones for whom there is a multiplied Reward for their deeds, while secure they (reside) in the dwellings on high! - The Quran, Chapter of Saba, 34:37

If monasticism is defined as ‘withdrawal for God’, then indeed the ideal and holy intention do find its place very central in the Islamic tradition.

For the traditional monastic orders are based upon:

Firstly, contemplation of the Divine, for the monk aspires to preserve a solitude wherein the divine is not forgotten but constantly remembered. The Quran enjoins upon the believers constant reflection and contemplation of the Divine by His statement:

Those who remember Allah standing, sitting, and reclining upon their sides; and reflect upon the creation of the heavens and the earth (saying),’Our Lord, You have not created this in vain, exalted are You, guard us from the fire’! [3:191]

When the Messenger of God was asked about a deed one could do when it seemed that the demands of the Sacred Law were overwhelming, he said:

Let your tongue be constantly moistened by the remembrance of God.

Secondly, most orders have an embodiment of an ideal by which they base their outward practices: their daily prayers, litanies, vigils, etc. For the believers it is the Messenger of God who is the model par excellence. There is no need to cite relevant Quranic verses which substantiate this. The Messenger of God has said:

God is pure and only accepts that which is pure, indeed God the Exalted has commanded the believers that to which He has commanded the Messengers.

The Last Testament says, "And We have not sent before you any messengers but they most surely ate food and went about in the markets; and We have made some of you a trial for others; will you bear patiently? And your Lord is ever Seeing." - The Quran 25:20

Taking food symbolizes fulfilling the need of the human body (not only literal food) and also their going around markets and shopping places symbolizes living in the world. Thus we see every messenger sent by God lived among society, had family, did marry and had children. This is necessary because through our participation in the world fully can one become a complete human being.

Muslims abstain from intoxicants (alcoholic drinks) which is part of vow of monastic way of life both in Christian and Buddhist way, yet while honoring this commandment of the Last Testament Muslims dont need to run away from the society. Prophet Muhammad exemplified holy poverty and living simplicity which is one of the central teaching of Islam. Also honoring chastity is part of muslim creed and guarding one’s chastity is something which every Muslim see as an essential piety. Thus to have relations sanctified in a bond of marriage is not only accepted but strongly recommended because of the dangers of perversion and going astray when it comes to trying to deny our biological impulses of human life.

None of the Biblical Prophet had monastic living. Even the woman who symbolizes the most surrendered and devoted human soul, who embodied a life of utter purity – Mother Mary after her immaculate conception did embrace a family life. This is because true spirituality doesn’t negate essential human experiences and doesn’t create a separation between doing what is necessary as human being and becoming spiritually evolved souls.

Absorbed in this world
you've made it your burden.
Rise above this world.
There is another vision.
- Rumi

Ten Noble Precepts of Islam

In Quran the essential and noble qualities of lovers of God are outlined which when a human being embodies, regardless of their vocation in the world, they progress towards divine favor. These 10 noble precepts of Islam are outlined in the Quran as follows:

Surely surrendered men and surrendered women,
and faithful men and faithful women,
and devoted men and devoted women,
and truthful men and truthful women,
and patient men and patient women,
and humble men and humble women,
and charitable men and charitable women,
and fasting men and fasting women,
and chaste men and chaste women,
and men who remember God abundantly and women who remember God abundantly - for them God has prepared gracious forgiveness and vast reward.
- The Quran 33:35

Thus the Ten Noble precepts are: Surrender, Faithfulness, Devotion, Truthfulness, Patience, Humility, Charity, Fasting, Chastity and Frequent Divine Remembrance.

If one to carefully contemplate on this verse of the Quran one will find all the ideals of a devoted monastic life, yet these ideals are infused in a life living naturally in the world. The final cycle of divine guidance through Islam provides pathway so that every single human being can live a life of surrender, devotion, remembrance while perfectly being in a family life, rising children, yet in their heart of heart they can align and re-align themselves with the divine center in ever moment of their life. The practice of daily prayers, nightly meditative prayer (tahajjud) fasting (sawm) and retreat (ittikaf) are such that they can beautifully be practiced while one can respond to their duties and responsibilities as a contributing member of the society.

Embracing organic rhythm of spirituality

The position of Islam embraces organic rhythm of spirituality in full participation in life. Unlike Monasticism which creates a different lifestyle all together, separating the monastics from ordinary people, in Islam this is united. It's not that if you give away your vocation and become a monk or hermit and retire in forest or cave you can attain the blessed nearness and if you do not do that, you will miss everything – Islam doesnt advocate such attitude. Through the Quran and the imitation of the Seal of Prophet, Prophet Muhammad, Islam trace out religious / spiritual practices which can elevate the spiritual station of any being, regardless of their role.

The ideals upon which monasticism revolves around, such as surrendering to divine way, devotion, sense of intimate community of fellow seekers, simplicity of living, embracing holy poverty, solitude, remembrance – all are very naturally established within the framework and daily practices of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad himself remains as the living example through whose life God exemplified how to participate in life in its full spectrum and still live a life centered around God. Spirituality is organic in Islam which dissolved the dualistic boundary of family life and monastic life. Hence Monasticism becomes a matter of the old from a Muslims perspective and world is also agreeing.

Service is seen an essential goal of what makes us truly human being. And to live in a monastic boundary means to limit that opportunity to server the others. A contemporary sufi master said, “Service should be from the moment you are born until the moment you give your last breath, but you have to find out in what way. That's what's most important. We have to find out in what manner we are supposed to serve.”

Made with no artificial flavors

The universal path of divine surrender or Islam doesn’t offer artificiality. There is no unnaturalness and synthetic in Islam but only the organic and primordial. What is natural in the creation is honored in the path. Love, specially personal love and affection is something very natural in human life and monastic life doesnt allow a human being to participate in that love in personal way. In Islam such attitude to take the vow of celibacy is not encouraged. But chastity yes.

And let those who do not find the means to marry keep chaste until God makes them independent out of His grace. - The Quran 24:33

Too much materialism or worldiness (dunya) and too much negation of the world (monasticism), both are not seen as ideal in Islamic faith tradition. The universal way of surrender is a path which anybody can walk upon and at the same time can reach their goal by God’s grace.

Quran states: “O you who have attained faith, do not make unlawful the good things that God has mad lawful to you and do not overstep the limits. Truly God does not love those who exceed the limits (that He has ordained)”. - The Quran 5:87

This verse contains the gist of the balanced way of Islamic spirituality. Family life, participating in human love, relationship and all other human experiences that make life on earth beautiful and pleasant are made for all human beings and made lawful by divine command. Quran, the Final Testament prohibits to make unlawful that which God made lawful (such as marriage, having family etc.) and also to exceed the limits are not something which is loved by God.

Climbing the Mystic Ladder

One of the prime reasons why monasticism is rejected in Islam is because it denies the essential experience of human love. There is no doubt that no other principal is more important than love itself; and yes even though divine love is the highest and in reality the only love that exist in the entire cosmos, yet to taste that love, human love is the seed-bed. At least that is true for the majority of humanity.

There is a sufi anecdote that goes like this:

A seeker went to ask a sage for guidance in the path of Truth. The sage counseled:

“If you have never trodden the path of love,
go away and fall in love first;
then come back and see us.”

There is much wisdom in the participation of the human experience of love, even when it means simply to fall in love with another human being. This is because the heart is made open in that human experience. Thus for the Sufis, the experience of human love is so essential that in the story, the master wouldn’t even accept the newcomer as his disciple until he fall in love first.

For the sages of Islam, love is the path to God. Rumi tells us that only the person whose garment is "rent by the violence of love" can be wholly pure from covetousness and sin. Love makes the heart sincere.

When one wishes to actualize Jesus' teaching, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" - one has to climb a mystic ladder and the first step to that love is experiencing what it means to love like that by unconditionally loving another human being. Apostle John says, "love is perfected in us" and the beginning of that perfection starts here on earth, in a very human way by our falling in love hopelessly with another human being.

In Islam the love for other human being is made obligatory to such an extent that it is said that to become a muslim, a person has to develop the love (ashk) for the beloved Prophet more than any other human being. This is a quintessential experience that a true muslim who is accepted to God do experience and the imitation of the beloved prophet is a Sign of that love. To fully love another human being means to negate one’s self, to love another human being means to put the very ‘self’ secondary for the sake of the lover. This is a potent spirituality in practice. And to experience human love in one’s spouse, in one’s beloved is an extension of that practice.

Thus through the ideals of embracing all human experiences, Islam elevates the whole of physical world and participation in it into spiritual entity and opportunity for spiritual practice.

Being in the world, but not of it

One of the hallmark of Islamic spirituality is its ideal of "Being in the world, but not of it." This summarize the attitude of a Muslim, that is to partake in all human experiences which is bestowed upon humanity as natural, yet they must not be bound by it, rather be free from worldly concerns. Thus to be in the world can, infact also be the place where righteous deeds are performed, other human beings are helped and mercy and compassion is shared. To be in the world also enables one "to love their neighbor" which is the second major commandment of Christ. And to become a hermit or monastic means you live away from society with no neighbor to love.

"Not to be of the world" means not to forget that the time in the world is but for a very tiny amount of time. The existential reality of man in the world is but a ephemeral reality that passes away very quickly. The world is a place of harvesting, the fruits of which are to be found in the eternal hereafter. And for that the world is created so that humanity can strive towards recognizing their self, their creator and the reality that surrounds them.

The great mission before us as believers is to show to the world that contentment does not lie somewhere far away in a treasure to be sought or in a world to be built, but here where we belong to God. The believer represents, in the face of a dehumanized world, what our true standards are; the true believers mission is to remind the world what it means to be human.

# Previous:
. Why there is no priesthood in Islam?

# Related:
. al Faqr | Holy Poverty, Spirit of Poverty in Islam
. What Does It Mean to Renounce the World? via EnlightenNext Magazine
. "In the World But Not of It" - Traditional Sufi Saying
. No Monasticism in Islam

# Resources:
. Christian Monasticism via Wikipedia
. Monasticism via New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia
. Monasticism in Medieval Christianity
. New Monasticism: What it Has to Say to Today's Church
. History of Monasticism across different faith tradition
. Monasticism via
. The Holy Rule of St. Benedict
. Monastic Vows via youtube
. Monastic Vows
. On Monasticism, Secularism and Christian Culture: Part I, Part II, Part III Pin It Now!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

why there is no priesthood or monasticism in Islam?

The religious law is like
a candle showing the way.
Unless you gain possession of the candle,
there is no wayfaring;
and when you have come on to the way,
your wayfaring is the Path;
and when you have reached the journey's end, that is the Truth.

- Rumi

With evolution of human consciousness and changing need of new humanity from one great cycle to another, divine guidance and its modality changes as well. The principal and essence remains the same, but certain old ways or laws give way for new. Religious codes of any time reflect the need of that particular time as well as certain projected time in the future. What used to suit the social structure, norms and life style of certain generation can totally become obsolete and out dated, hence require new paradigm shift. When that time / cycle come to an end, new guidance arrive with the advent of new messenger or teacher or even with new interpretations (reforms).

If we look at the Abrahamic lineage from which comes three great major world religions (essentially embodying the same message), Judaism, Christianity and Islam succeeding one another, we find that certain laws and ways metamorph to accommodate new needs and challenges of humanity. Even though the primordial focus has always been recognition of divine surrender, yet the laws and ways (sharia) which serve as vehicle for that surrender to take place did change over time.

To every one of you (Jewish, Christians and Muslims) We have prescribed a law and a way. And if God so willed, He could have made you one community (ummah), but (so) that He might test you by that which He has give you (He has made you as you are). So compete with one another in good works. - The Quran 5:48

Lets take Sabbath as an example to illustrate the point of the fact that divine guidance do address the changing need of humanity. Under Mosaic Law, the divine guidance and prescription to the children of Israel (as a model to humanity) were commanded to refrain exclusively from all works on the Sabbath Day. There are deep wisdom in keeping the commandment of Sabbath, as a day set aside to turn away from the earthly engagement and re-juvinate in divine remembrance. But the sanctity of the day was grossly violated by many over many generations and also the commandment was abused. Very complex and elaborate laws were super-imposed concerning the Sabbath regarding what could be done and what couldn't to the extent that it made it a practice void of its spiritual focus.

At the coming of Christ, he openly criticized the turning Sabbath into a heartless practice devoid of its true meaning and purpose, and reminded them that doing good on Sabbath day takes precedence over being passive. So Christ did exemplify being engaged on Sabbath day. Now in Islam, the Last Testament, Quran offers even more pragmatic practice. Friday is set aside as a weekly day of assembly to communal prayer and at the same time encourage people to engage in activities after the prayer is over.

O you who believe! when the call is made for prayer on Friday (the Day of Assembly), then hasten to the remembrance of God and leave off business; that is better for you, if you know. But when the prayer is ended, then disperse abroad in the land and seek of the Bounty of God, and remember God much, that you may be successful. - The Quran 62:9-10

Another potent example can be cited to understand how divinely sanctioned modality address the need of humanity is the attitude towards divorce.

In Judaism the right to divorce is only preserved with the husband and the wife cannot initiate divorce under Jewish law. A Jewish wife, however, could claim the right to a divorce before a Jewish court provided that a strong reason exists. The Court might support the wife's claim to a divorce but it cannot dissolve the marriage. Only the husband can dissolve the marriage by giving his wife a bill of divorce.

The Old Testament gives the husband the right to divorce his wife even if he just dislikes her:

"If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house.." (Deut. 24).

Due to this reason and other associated complexity of a matriarchal Jewish society where once divorced, a woman certainly went through much trouble and neglects with almost no right left to the woman, Christ in his time disliked the idea of divorce all together and was fiercely opposed to the idea.

The New Testament unequivocally advocates the indissolubility of marriage. It is attributed to Jesus to have said, "But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery" (Matthew 5:32).

Although there was wisdom in the context of Jewish society and its practice, yet in modern world's context this uncompromising ideal is, without a doubt, unrealistic. Thus even though it is contrary to Christs teaching, the whole Christian world did have to accept divorce.

Islam occupies the middle ground between Christianity and Judaism with respect to divorce. Marriage in Islam is a sanctified bond that should not be broken except for compelling reasons. Couples are instructed to pursue all possible remedies whenever their marriages are in danger. Divorce is not to be resorted to except when there is no other way out. In a nutshell, Islam recognizes divorce, yet it discourages it by all means. Islam does recognize the right of both partners to end their matrimonial relationship. Islam gives the husband the right for Talaq (divorce). Moreover, Islam, unlike Judaism, grants the wife the right to dissolve the marriage.

This testifies the fact that with the progression to an evolved society, every new cycle of renewal of divine laws do reflect the need of the time. Thus from Judaism to Christianity to Islam, the progression is clear. The same example can be found in many other areas when it comes to divine guidance and ways shown by the illuminated beings from the one brotherhood of messengers such as Abraham, David, Moses, Christ and Muhammad, upon them all be peace and blessings.

Ummat al Wasat | community of the middle way

Islam being the third and final cycle of great Abrahamic faith tradition, after which no new divine revelation and guidance will be given to humanity as new rules until the second coming of Christ - finalizes the divine prescription and holds the balanced middle ground. Thus Muslims are called in the Quran as Ummat al wasat (the community of the middle way or balanced way).

And it is thus that We appointed you to be the community of the middle way, so that you might be witnesses before all mankind and the Messenger might be witness before you. - The Quran 2:143

The purpose of creating 'the community of the middle way', according to this Quranic verse, is to make it stand as witness 'before all mankind and the Messenger might be a witness before you'. What this means is that when the whole of mankind is called to account, the Prophet, as God's representative will stand witness to the fact that he had communicated to the Muslims and had put into practice the teachings postulating sound beliefs, righteous conduct and a balanced system of life which is sanctioned by the Most High.

This balanced system of life is also reflected on the question of why there is no priesthood or monasticism in Islam and this also has to do with the evolution of consciousness of new humanity which makes some old traditions obsolete.

No Priesthood in Islam

One of the hallmark of Islam is the dissolving the institutionalized priesthood and church. In the old ways since not many people could read or write, it was the priests who read the scripture for the mass, led prayers, administered religious rites such as rites of sacrifice and it was perfectly alright during that age.

With the advent of Seal of Prophet, the institutionalized super structure of priests working as intermediary link between ordinary people and the Divine, has been dissolved. Priesthood was necessary at an earlier stage of human consciousness when the ability to read the scripture, let alone its comprehension was limited (sometime non existent with no literacy of the common mass) and only the priest class was privileged in reading and writing, so they could work as an effective communicator. There even in certain ancient tradition, priests were the only people who had permission (and ability) in a community to access the scripture (common people were forbidden to touch even) and read it.

Truly We sent down the Torah, in it is guidance and light. The prophets who submitted (to God) judged by it (for the) Jew as did their Rabbis and scholars who judged by what they were entrusted with from the Book of God, and they all bore witness to it.

But with the revelation of Quran, which began by “Iqra” meaning, an unprecedented commandment “To Read”, to way of illumination of knowledge - was an affirmation that human consciousness has come to a new cycle of knowledge, direct and without intermediary (and now we perfectly understand what knowledge based society means, but on the spiritual level this knowledge based spirituality began with the first revelation of Quran about 1400 years ago, and it marked the beginning of a new way forward for Jnana Yoga, union through knowledge and gnosis).

With the Last Testament or The Quran, the era of scripture being read only by the privileged priest class became obsolete. Each and every individual is invited to read the Message by the proclamation of 'Iqra' in the first revelation to Prophet Muhammad. Apart from the proliferation of knowledge, the institutional structure of priesthood also left lots of room for monopoly of religion by a very small group of people, namely the priests. Jesus Christ, the second last divine messenger, who's mission is highly characterized by his continual clash and opposition with the priest class or the pharisees. The problem of priests monopolizing and abusing the way of Truth has been a major problem by the time of Christ's mission and the whole structure is taken away with Muhammad, the successor of Christ in the following cycle of revelation.

In his own saying, Christ himself pointed out the problem of abuse by the priest class:

"The Priests and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you (out of respect of Mosaic laws sanctioned by God). But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them."

In Mathew, Christ condemns the priest class and the pharisees who were responsible for abusing the religious way:

"Woe to you, priests and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, priests and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. Woe to you, blind guides! You say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.' You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?

"Woe to you, priests and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices- mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Woe to you, priests and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Woe to you, priests and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Woe to you, priests and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!

You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. and so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar"

Its not surprising that after such fierce language of criticism by Christ, in the next cycle of revelation in the mission of the Seal of Prophet, the very structure of priesthood is totally abolished.

In Quran we find the similar adomishment, "Many of the Rabbis and the monks fraudulently devour the wealth of people and bar people from the way of Allah." - The Quran 9:34

The further we travel into the older traditions such as Hinduism, the deeper we find the role of priests and even deeper runs the misuse of priesthood. Whole elitist attitude of class system was designed by the priest class in ancient India to discriminate and separate people even within the same village or society. The discriminatory and racist creation of different caste system including the invention of the lowest caste, the dalits (the untouchables) has been a mater of shame for many modern day hindus of conscience. The abolition of priest class is also an abolition of a root cause of rift and separation and discrimination.

Islam made the communication between individual and God direct by leaving no room or provision for priesthood. Anybody can lead prayer in an assembly and thus Islam empowered the individual. The equality of brotherhood and sisterhood of all of humanity now made uninterrupted. This was necessary and expected of the new humanity. Beside the power structure, abuse and misuse of the religious authority of priests in older traditions also made it the most pragmatic and fitting for new humanity.

And we see this perfectly valid in modern day context. The priest class is in the rapid decline in both Christianity and Judaism as well as in older religious traditions. (Come fifty years from now, I bet you will find almost no people turning to priests for any matter of religion and the vocation might well come to extinct in another generation). In our time where priests still exist, less and less people are feeling their role as important as they used to hold in ancient society. This also affirms that the Final Divine Revelation through Quran and the Seal of Prophet being a step up prescription for new humanity as compared to the earlier laws given in Torah, Talmud, Gospel and its interpretations.

With the coming of Islam, man now stands directly face to face to their Creator without the need of a priest at the altar. Islam not only did away with the altar and the super-structure of Synagogue and Temple but also the priests class, the pharisees who once held the sanctified role to ensure salvation. Now in the final cycle of divine law, human consciousness has progress to a maturity where salvation has no other dependency but upon the very human being. The place of Mosque (as a place of prayer and gathering) are much different than what a Synagogue used to be in Jewish tradition in terms of the exercise of religious power. And the Seal of the Prophet openly declared that the whole expansive earth is made a place of prostration Mosque for him (and by extension to his community) thus dissolving the exclusivity of one temple over another (as used to be and still is, the importance that the Temple of Jerusalem holds in Jewish tradition over any other).

Empowerment of Individuals

“No one saves us but ourselves.
No one can and no one may.
We ourselves must walk the path.” - Buddha

If we try to understand what was the original role of a priest, we understand that a priest used to be the link between the heaven and earth. A priest devote himself to God and live a life of surrender and according to Judeo-Christian concept, a priest represent the role of Moses, Aron or Christ. A priests role used to be to sanctify himself. A priest is also expected to perform the corporal and spiritual acts of mercy among the people God places in his path.

Now with the evolution and rapid progress of human consciousness, all human beings are capable to be empowered. Islam by releasing the role of priesthood, seeks to empower every individual so that they all can become the link between the heaven and earth, so that they all can sanctify themselves without depending on another. Islam recognize the equality of one brotherhood and sisterhood and all are equal in the eye of God, even in their communion with God.

This seems to be well reflected as well in the teaching of Christ when he was addressing the priests and rabbis saying, "But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers."

So in eliminating priesthood, Islam makes a return to the original equality of man and direct communion with divine with nothing standing between him and That which is Most Holy.

God has given you the polishing instrument, Reason,
so that by means of it the surface of the heart may be made resplendent.

- Rumi

End of first part. In the next post, why there is no monasticism in Islam us explored.

# Reference:
. Priest via Wikipedia
. Meaning of Ummat-e-wasat
. Muhammad, the natural successor of Christ Pin It Now!