|Art work by Alex Grey|
God knows what every female carries and what the wombs lose [prematurely] or exceed. And everything with Him is by due measure. [He is] Knower of both the unseen and the seen, the Grand, the Exalted. - The Qur'an 13:8,9
No amount of medical science can take away the breathtaking awe of the body's formation within the womb and how every organ, their intricate functionalities, encoding and decoding of genetic information, cells and organs forming in exact precise sequence, their complex functions unveiled in the most pre-ordained fashion by the Best of Fashioner (Musawwir), the Creator and Sustainer Lord of the worlds. All Glory is His. Yet most of us in humanity are not interested to receive lessons and gnosis from the many open signs of God, as God declares through the revelation:
Most of mankind are heedless of Divine signs. - the Qur'an, Chapter of Jonah, verse 92
On the manifestation of soul, Hazrat Inayat Khan wrote:
When the soul comes into the physical world it receives an offering from the whole universe; and that offering is the body in which to function. It is not offered to the soul only by the parents, but by the ancestors, by the nation and race into which the soul is born, and by the whole human race.
The soul is direct from heaven; it functions in a body, and it is this body through which it experiences life on the earth more fully.
The sufis say, "Only that which cannot be lost in a shipwreck is yours." And it signifies that what we call ours, all the material possession and even this body is impermanent and not ours. Even after a shipwreck if there is anything that remains is our soul.
In this age of erosion of faith and piety, when God-aware ethics is an endangered substance, we find ourselves in an environment where soul is forgotten, suppressed, denied and body is all that is made the king, over sexualized, its image been distorted. It is an age when the temporal has become the highest priority while ignoring what is the locus of our being. What we have is a distortion of our reality field that involves our soul and body.
And they rejoice in the worldly life, while the worldly life is not, compared to the Hereafter, except [brief] enjoyment. - 13:26
And as an antidote to this pattern of our interaction and interface with reality here is a small spiritual practice. It is the spiritual practice of treating the body as your soul and your soul as your body, for a change. It is a reversal of the witnessing of reality so that we may reorient ourselves better to what should matter more and realize the symbols and signs better.
Treating the Body as Soul
Body is the sacred temple where the soul resides. The body is the the kingdom in which there is a palace for the King, and that palace is the Heart. The first level of our existence begins with the body, that is why its important to treat it with honor, with dignity that it deserves. For those who are inclined to spirituality, they often have the tendency to overlook the body and pay too much attention to the spirit and soul while thinking that spirituality must be all about spirit. Yes spirituality is about transcending all forms including body, but that does not mean ignoring the body. It means to give the body the honor, dignity and right it deserves and to use it as the springboard to further elevation.
The idea of treating the body as soul is first to give back the sanctity and honor that the body deserves. The practice of treating the body as soul means to provide the body the kind of loving attention that a spiritual person would invest to the needs of the soul.
Here are few points towards treating the body as soul:
Just like we intend to purify our soul, we aspire for a soul which is pure - the same thing must be brought to the body. Purifying the body is a very basic spiritual precept. To keep it in state of purification is a very useful spiritual practice.
In Islam, the purification of body is done through an ancient ritual which dates back to the practices of the Biblical Prophets, the Essene and far beyond in history. It employs the ritual purification with pure water and given a universal structure which in Islam is called Wudu or ablution. For those who wish to be in perpetual prayer, constant communion with the Divine, for them perpetual state of cleanliness / purified state is a requirement.
Here is the Quranic verses that specify the Divine instruction for bodily purification:
O ye who have faith! when you prepare for prayer, wash your faces, and your hands (and arms) to the elbows; Rub your heads (with water); and your feet to the ankles. If you are in a state of ceremonial impurity, bathe your whole body. But if you are ill, or on a journey, or one of you comes from the call of nature, or you have been in contact with women, and you find no water, then take for yourselves clean sand or earth, and rub therewith your faces and hands, Allah does not wish to place you in a difficulty, but to make you clean, and to complete his favour to you, that you may be grateful. -The Qur'an, Sura 5, Verse 6
So basically Wudu has the following essential steps:
Washing the face once.
Washing both the arms including the elbows once.
Wiping one fourth of the head.
Washing or wiping both the feet once up to and including the ankles.
If you're non-Muslim, please ask a Muslim friend to teach you Wudu, for it has tremendous benefit both physically and spiritually. It soothes the nervous system, brings immediate tranquility and helps one to wash away distractions literally. This method of ablution was the common practice of Biblical Prophets before they prayed or communed with the Divine.
Other than wudu or ablution also take care of the oral hygiene for it is the gateway from where our speech comes out and also medical science tells us that the oral health has a relation with our heart. There are certain bad condition of heart which is developed due to lack of oral hygiene. As mouth is of paramount importance for it represents what comes out of you, and when you treat your body as your soul, you would love that what comes out from your soul is pure, undefiled and free of bad odour (understand the symbology here), then on a regular basis take care of the oral hygiene which is made extremely important in the way of the Messenger who used to brush his teeth every time before prayer and even in between prayer times. If we go deep within the symbologies of such act of keeping our states pure, we will probably understand that the in order to attain purification of the inner, it begins with the outer, with the most basic and on the grossest level. That perhaps may help us why the Prophet said, "Purification is half of the religion."
O faithful ones! Be mindful of God with mindfulness due to Him, and die not until you've surrendered (to the Divine). -3:102
The elevated goal of the soul is to surrender - that is to surrender to the Divine, to God, Ishwar, Allah. To express that state with your body, prostrate on the ground, on carpet, on prayer mat or on a washed piece of clothe as long as its clean. Use your entire body to surrender to signify the surrender of your soul - because dont forget that in this practice you're treating the body as you soul.
So if you wish to surrender with your soul, take on the posture of surrender with your body, and that is the posture of prostration with your forehead on the ground, you surrender your pride, your ego, your intellect, your identity in the most humble manner. Know that in this bodily state of surrender, your heart is above your head. Please understand the symbols for they all are signs pointing to truths.
Do you not see that to Allah bow down everything in surrender whoever is in the heavens and whoever is on the earth and the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, the moving creatures and many of the humanity? - 22:18
3) Make it Perfumed
It is recorded in many spiritual account that the presence of the illuminated beings who have passed away from the threshold of this temporal world, their revisit will always be accompanied by beautiful fragrance. In some account, when a Spiritual Master revisits from the Unseen world, the place is filled with the fragrance of rose. There are other accounts that the resting places are filled with mysteriously sweet fragrance. These all indicates that the luminous souls has this quality of emanating beautiful fragrance, and why wouldn't they, for they are like precious flowers of God in His Kingdom.
Thus while treating your body as your soul, make sure that you apply beautiful fragrance to it. In Islamic tradition, it is said that Prophet Muhammad, the most praised one, loved fragrance and would recommend his companions to apply good fragrance, particularly before prayer. The scent that Muslims love to apply are called Attar which traditionally is made from extract of oils from flowers / plants and free from alcohols. One may find them near Mosques / at Muslim book stores.
4) Gaze at it
Just as soul longs to be acknowledged, when you treat your body as your soul, do acknowledge it also. Gaze into your eyes when you look at your face. Gaze deeply within the reflection of you own eyes, speak to it, expressing your gratitude to your body as well as the Creator. The Prophet used to give thanks to the Lord for his beautiful face and would pray that may God make his inner beautiful as He has made the face beautiful. His exact words when he used to gaze at his blessed face in the reflection, "Allahumma anta hasanta khalqi fahassin khuluqi", "O Allah, just as you have made my external features beautiful, make my character beautiful as well."
5) No violation of its sanctity
The body is the temple, a sacred trust bestowed upon us and we have to be accountable whether we've best used it with gratitude or we've abused and misused it. Thus in this practice of treating the body as soul we must give it the highest honor, not to violate its sanctity in abusing it, be it with drugs, intoxicants, harmful foods and drinks, extra marital relationship, violent use of body etc.
Treating the Soul as Body
Since we're quite fixed and engaged with our bodily needs, bodily desire and pay lot more attention to it, treating the soul as body would be an useful shift in our attitude towards our spirit, our soul because we have this frame of mind and social conditioning to ignore its need and proper care. The amount of care we apply to the body, in our time we hardly give any resources to the soul.
In order to figure out the steps in treating the soul like our body, first it would be useful for us to contemplate how we invest our attention and resources to our physical body and then trying to find its analogous action to have compassion for our soul.
For body these are some of the most basic care we apply
1. We brush our teeth. We bathe, we make sure that our body is clean.
2. We give our body food, feed it thrice, four or even five times a day (three main course and two light meals).
3. We try to keep it fit, in shape.
4. It grows naturally
5. We decorate with beautiful clothings
6. We perfume it with good soap, with good perfumes, etc.
Now lets ask ourselves what would we do if we considered our soul as our body? How would we ensure its becoming pure? What about feeding and nourishing our soul? What is food for the soul and how often should we feed it? How to keep the soul fit and help it grow naturally? How to decorate it and make it beautiful and pleasing to it's maker towards Whom it must return? How do we perfume our soul?
Before we talk about these practices, lets remind ourselves the Quranic supplication:
Inna Lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji'un
Surely we belong to God and to Him shall we return. - 2:156
This belongingness of what we call us, is our soul, our inner heart with which we shall return to the Soul. The body will be left behind, under the earth, rot and disintegrate until we are resurrected by the One Who created us in the first placed when we were nothing.
Wa-itha annufoosu zuwwijat
And when the souls shall be joined with their bodies. - The Qur'an 81, 7
Now lets turn to the practice of treating the soul as our body.
1) Nourishment of Soul
First comes the question of nourishment of the soul. What nourishes our soul? While we are so busy and preoccupied in finding food, feeding the body to keep it nourished, how much effort we must activate to nourish our soul? The lack of nourishment of the spirit, of the soul is the root cause of many diseases in our time, namely depression, constant fatigue, restlessness, lack of inner peace, suicidal tendency and so forth. In our time when we suppress and deny the nourishment of our spirit, we are facing these sickness of the spirit and soul in the highest proportion than anytime in human history. Modern medicine that treats the physical body can only suppress the problem, but can never bring wholesome cure. The cure lies in nourishing the spirit and soul.
The nourishment of the soul is turning to God, worship, meditation, contemplation of the Real, of the Highest, supplication, dua, conversation with the Source. As we are accustomed to feed our body few times a day, to keep our soul nourished, we must also turn to God few times a day, minimum three times, best is six times. That is precisely why five times prayer is prescribed in the Universal, Global and Final religion to mankind in final form of Islam. Those who can, should also pray in the watches of the night in addition to five times daily prayer. And those who are busy or are engaged in unavoidable circumstances, they are allowed to pray three times, joining noon (zuhr) and afternoon (asr) prayers and joining sunset (maghrib) and night (esha) prayer together.
Other than prayer and supplication, good music, poetry, good companionship are also nourishment for the soul. The Sufis also recommend at least once in a week joining in weekly Zikr gathering to super charge the soul. They are like feasting, giving good food to the soul which makes it happy. Zikr is the remembrance of God. This remembrance in a gathering is very powerful and has good effect on the spirit and soul.
The very word Kindred means having affinity, closeness. Kindred Spirit or Kindred Soul refers to those person with whom we feel mental, heartly, spiritual affinity or connection. When we are treating our soul as our body, just as we physically want to be close to loved ones, we exercise the giving and receiving of love physically, in physical space, so the soul requires to be in companionship with kindred souls.
In Sufism this is called Sohbet or companionship. This is from the exemplar companionship of the Master Muhammad that enabled his companions to attain exalted spiritual stations. Similarly for the soul's well-being it is recommended to enjoy companionship with like-minded, like-hearted, like-spirits. This likeness can be the likeness of their love, their interest etc., and the greatest of such common likeness can be the love of God. That is why when Sufis or mystics gather, an current of love flows between the hearts which gather.
3) Purification of Spirit and Soul
Just as we care to purify our body, we bathe, we brush our teeth, we clean ourselves - similarly think of what do you do to purify you spirit and soul? We are often bombarded with negativity, we commit mistakes and burden ourselves with shame, guilt and not being able to forgive ourselves and others. For this the soul needs purification because it often falls from its state of purity. Originally the natural state of the soul is purity and bliss, peace and undisturbed happiness. But do we stay like that? No, we don't because of our own faults, our conditioning, our wrong decision and actions. Such negativity veils the soul from its original state of peace and with time it become more and more clouded and separated from the peace that comes from the divine spark of the soul within.
The very first ingredient of purification of soul is turning back to God. "Repent for the Kingdom of near", taught Christ. This repenting, being sorry for the mistakes, asking forgiveness to God, to the Highest is the first step towards washing the soul in invoking the rain of mercy and grace of God. There are formulas that Sufis repeat where they again and again ask forgiveness and turn themselves towards the Effulgent Face of God which is Every Forgiving, Ever Merciful and Who like a Divine Mother is Ever Loving to those who turn to Him constantly. One of such formula is "Astagh-fi-ru-llah" (I seek your Forgiveness O Allah) in short or "Astagh-fi-ru-llah al-Azim, wa tubu ilai" I seek your Forgiveness O the Most Magnificent, and I turn to You," in its longer version.
Purification also entails forgiving others, as beautifully taught by Isa Messiah in what is known as Lord's prayer, "Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us." We need to forgive the elements within us, the mistakes committed by us towards ourselves. We are often the biggest oppressor to our selves and need to acknowledge the damage we do to ourselves and ask forgiveness to the Sole Forgiver. This is the beginning of purification.
4) Keeping the Soul Fit
In this culture of commodifying everything, we are also conditioned to treat our body as commodity so that it becomes easy for the corporates to sell stuff to further commodify our needs. Thus we see gyms, commercials after commercials that sells healthy diet, medicine, instruments to keep us fit.
The moment we are in the zone of treating our soul as our body, if we turn our attention to the fitness of the soul, what comes to your mind? How do you ensure that your soul is not lethargic, get tired, feel fatigue and feel depressed - all of which can issue from the depth of our being, from our spirit. They are known as ruhani, or spiritual conditions of the inner heart or spirit, and thus requires spiritual medicine or spiritual exercise to keep it fit and not become prone to spiritual diseases.
One of the most effective medicine is the recitation of the Qur'an which not only keep the soul fit, but also a antibody for many other spiritual need of the soul. Those who are not Muslims, for them reading their own scripture with devotion can be its equivalent. And for a change also pick up the translation of the Qur'an and see if it can speak or sings to your soul?
The companionship of spiritually elevated persons, going to visit sacred places (pilgrimage) can also be very effective. Those person who reminds us of God are generally the person whose companionship is a good exercise to uplift the condition of the spirit. You dont have to talk, you can just sit in their presence and feel the difference.
For those who are physically separated, sometime even listening to their talks can be an alternative. Depending on the state of your spiritual evolution, you have to find the right spiritual master and read his or her book, better even to listen to their talk over internet if thats easier to access and best even to visit them and hear from them directly or receive from their energy field.
As you have a sound spirit and soul, with time you will have lesser and lesser diseases on physical body, by the blessings of God and His angels and less dependency on medicine or doctors for you shall be in the providential care of the Sole Nourisher and His Divine Agency. La haowla wa la quwwata illa bil'Llah.
5) Doing Charity with Limbs
While treating the soul as body, if it were body we are asked to perform good with its limbs. To give charity with our hands, to go to places which is good, to look at beautiful things, to hear exalted sounds and speech. Similarly for the soul being generous to others, helping one's fellow human beings, doing selfless acts are charity of the soul.
The soul is the Divine Spark and the Divine Consciousness or God created the creation so that HE be known. As the body grows with time, from childhood to teen to adult and more mature stages of the body, similarly our soul must grow. The growth of the soul is its progress towards knowing God (ma'rifa, gnosis).
There are spiritual sciences that help the soul grow, in having matured spirit that not only experience life, but also have matured faculty of perception that start to recognize truth, distinguish real from illusions. The growth of soul is a process and in following an authentic Path, this growth is guided. Ihsan is the Path of Gnostic Knowledge of Mankind. It is preserved and guarded by the Sufi Mystics after the destruction of earlier Divinely revealed gnostic sciences.
For growth of the Soul one of the most practical thing that one can do is to choose a guide in the Path. This also requires some inner preparation so that one can recognize the right guide, else there is a danger of being attracted to the false ones, instead of the real ones. Be assured that in every age, those pure and real ones exists and chances are, they exists in your very town and city once you know you're ready to encounter him or her.
The Last Testament or the Qur'an and the guidance of the Prophet Muhammad is the bedrock for spirit and soul's growth. Once the purification process is on the way, one sits regularly in the companionship of those who love God, if one has the chance to hear from or sit at the presence of a Master, then the veils of gnosis start to unveil one after another. Then every recitation of verse, every ayah and Signs of the Qur'an or the signs on the horizon start to become visible and multitude of meanings burst forth. So stick with the Qur'an, read them regularly in its meanings and open yourself up for the Divine Sun to bestow the rays of wisdom which shall make the soul grow, help it journey to increasingly higher maqam or spiritual stations. Remembering the saying of the Prophet, paraphrased here, on the Day of Resurrection each person's station will be determined by the amount of Qur'an within them and they shall be called to read from their heart and to attain heavenly station accordingly. (understand its inner meanings with care).
And to finish with the golden words of a Sufi Master Bawa Muhaiyadeeen:
Since the soul will live eternally, you must strive to build a beautiful house for it, a house which is not subject to time or to external conditions. For this house, you are the engineer, you are the contractor, and you are the architect; you draw the plan and you set up the system. And when all the planning is completed, you are the one who must construct that house. You must build it alone; no one else can build it for you.
The materials you need for such a house are the qualities of God, the actions of God, the behavior of God, the duties of God, and the unselfishness with which God performs His duties. You must gather the three thousand beautiful and gracious qualities of God and build your house in the way that God performs His actions.
Say, Rabbi zidni ilma, Rabbi zidni hikmah, Rabbi zidni marefah.
O Lord, increase and equip me with pure knowledge, with wisdom and with gnosis.
May God give us wholesomeness of body, spirit and soul. May we honor the rights and dignity of the sacred trusts bestowed upon us by our Lord Creator, namely our body and our soul by the help of the Divine. May we spark with the Divine splendor which is our birthright. May God increase our capacity to know Him as He deserves to be known. Indeed all success comes from Allah.
- Sadiq M. Alam
25 Nov 2012
* The Soul, Whence and Whither? Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan
* Ihsan – the Gnostic Knowledge of Mankind