Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Perfection comes from Balance

"They insist on saying that so-and-so is all gentleness. He is sheer gentleness. They fancy that perfection is in that. It isn't. He who is all gentleness is defective. It would never be allowable for this attribute to belong to God- that all of Him should be gentleness. You would be negating the attribute of severity. Rather, there must be both getleness and severity, but each in its own place. The ignorant man has both severity and gentleness, but not in their place, because of caprice and ignorance."

- Shams Tabrizi, (pg 279)

"After all, the Prophet said, "Assume the character traits of God!" In God's character there are both severity and gentleness. There's no flavor if everything is gentleness. Hard toward the unbelievers, merciful among themselves [Qur'an 48:20]

- pg 275

"God's gentleness is equal to His severity. However, His Essence is all gentleness, so gentleness predominates." - pg 119

Monday, February 27, 2006

Harshness with friends

Shams Tabrizi insists on the importance of showing severity to the student, in order to drive away hypocrisy and to show them the truth of their state. Everyone wants to be praised. As long as you praise them, they like you, and when you criticize them they hate you. You should find a teacher who will criticize you, so that you know the truth and correct yourself. By acting cruelly to someone, you help him become more perfect. By praising them you only lead them further into error. However, this severity is only the outer appearace. Shams Tabrizi says that your essence has to be Gentleness, like God whose essence is Gentleness. In fact it is this Gentleness that causes the outward severity. Severity is gentleness because it is for your sake. It perfects you and pushes you forward. It also tests you and tests your sincerity on the path. If you do not accept severity then you're only a pretender, you're not sincere in your quest, and you're not willing to go through any trouble for it. After all, a child will love you if you are gentle with him. Be cruel to him and he will run away from you. But a real man will stay with the shaikh even if he treated him severely, because he knows that he is bringing him benefit and sees that he is instilling the secret in him. Shams compares it to the siraat al-mustaqeem: a sharp sword surrounded by hell. Once you cross it, you're in Heaven for ever.

"I've said it a thousand times: Whenever I love someone, I act cruelly toward him. For a tiny slip, I gave him a hundred thousand retributions. As for the others, I don't call them to account for a mountain of sins... Don't you see that all the tribulations of the prophets and the saints were because they were His elect? " - pg 289

"Whenever I love someone, I bring forth cruelty. If he accepts that, I belong to him like a morsel. I mean, if you act with kindliness toward a five-year old child, he believes in you and loves you. It's cruelty that does the work." - pg 281

"I had a group of students. Out of kindness and good advice, I spoke cruelly to them. They used to say, 'When we were children with him, he never called us by these bad names. Maybe he's become melancholic.' I used to smash all that kindness." - pg 7

these are just quick quotes. He focuses on this a lot, and it's a theme continually repeated in his maqalaat (sayings). You'd have to read the whole thing to get a better idea of the whole philosophy and truth of it. I'm just quoting the outer "result", the action.

of course there must be gentleness too. It's just that people only want gentleness and flee from severity. There must be each in its proper place. Shams compares it to grapes that are not yet ripe. They must be alternated between the clouds and direct sunlight. The sun is needed so the grapes dont whither, and the clouds so that the grapes dont burn. Before they become sweet, the grapes would be ruined by cold weather. But after they are perfected and ripe and sweet, it doesnt matter even if they're covered in snow. (pg 118)

Monday, February 20, 2006

How to think of those who fight against Muslims

He said, "If they were thorns, it would have been necessary to set them on fire."

I said, "That would be following Noah, not following Muhammad. Noah said '[My Lord,] leave not on the earth even one of the unbelievers!' (Q 71:26). Muhammad said, 'O God, guide my people, for they do not know.' "

- Shams Tabrizi. Me & Rumi , Pg 255

The Prophet said that on the day he was attacked by the people of Taif and they threw stones at him until his shoes were full of blood. Note how the Prophet considered those who were non-believers and who attacked him violently as "his people", for he was sent for all mankind.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Omar Khayyam: Fact and Fiction

It is widely recognised that the 'translation' that FitzGerald made had about it a good deal of FitzGerald himself. The first verse is entirely his own invention, and as to the rest:

"It must be admitted that FitzGerald took great liberties with the original in his version of Omar Khayyam."

So wrote W Aldis Wright, who edited a version of the Rubaiyat for Macmillan in 1962.

"None but the fool the wine of Earth doth quaff,
none but the wise the wine of Life do draw...

The means that do the ends of life defeat,
are: drink, fornication and other unlawful acts
committed by the flesh, gambling and untruth.

No threats of Hell, no hope of Heaven, can lift
the cloud that doth enshroud a defiled earthly temple.
Such flowers as these forever die,
uselessness has no place in creation's fertile fields.

Oft has the Way on earth been blazed, that all the
Path might see and rightly follow.

Sages the Pateran* have placed at every crossroad.
And though so many have pushed those darkened doors aside,
none have returned of that Way here to tell!
Which to discover, all for themselves must tread.

Yet some may question the Wisdom of the Law,
that free salvation grants to all on earth who fall.

Yet falling they must rise again; oh slayer of our foes,
renunciation is thy name!

With thee we fight the hordes of pain, and passion slay,
and thus destroy the cause of all our ills.

Each his own salvation wins! Each all earthly sin must here renounce!
Thus have the wise all taught.

Let us call Him the All-Merciful, for He the Path doth light,
so man from mortal darkness may be led into the Light.

Hear ye then this simple, yet most ancient of the truths,
how man can gain the knowledge of life beyond the tomb.

"Control thyself, and with thy senses send thy soul unto its elements,
there to wring out the secret of its birth and end."

- Omar Khayyam [1]

* Pateran: a leaf that travelers place at the cross roads to show the way to their followers.
1. Hazeldine, Norton F.W., The Sufism of the Rubaiyat, Pg 37-40

Sunday, February 12, 2006

When poverty is complete...

Shams Tabrizi:

"Now concerning the meaning of idha iktamala l-faqr, huwAllah[1], people have spoken a thousand inanities. It means that when poverty is complete, God is seen plainly. You find and you see- not that you become God. When poverty is complete, you find God. Otherwise, it's unbelief.

Someone said, "Maybe it doesn't mean that."

Shams said, "Then, what is the difference between you and the Christian? After all, Jesus was subtler than Hallaj, Abu Yazid, or the others.[2] So why do you blame the Christian for saying that Jesus is God? You say the same thing. No, the meaning is When poverty is complete, you find God."

In other words: When someone's soul dies, and when his satan dies, when he is purified of blameworthy character traits, he arrives at God. God forbid! Rather, he arrives at the path of God. Otherwise, he has strayed from the path of God and the soul is still alive, the satan is still alive. If he does not distinguish between the light of God's path and the light of God, he is in darkness and blindness. "Surely God has seven hundred veils of light," or "seven hundred thousand veils of light. Were one of the veils removed, this world and everything in it would be incinerated." Little by little, you pass beyond these veils until you arrive at the light of the Essence, at a light that grows up from the Essence."

- Shams Tabrizi. Me & Rumi Pg 129-130 [3]

1. This is understood by most ppl as "When poverty is complete, he is God", meaning when someone becomes a complete faqir empty of all attributes, he arrives at God. Shams Tabrizi is correcting the belief, saying it should be understood as (and therefore translated as), "When poverty is complete, 'It is God!' ", meaning when someone becomes a complete faqir, he finds God so that he says, "huwAllah!. And if anyone thinks otherwise then he has been tricked by his ego and his satan, who are not really destroyed.

2. i.e. the sayings of Jesus according to the Christians, where he might attribute a share of divinity to himself. He doesn't mean the actual Jesus as Muslims know he was.

3. Not an exact copy from the book, I changed a few things to make it clearer.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Reading Vs Realization

"The treatise of Muhammad the Messenger of God would not profit me. I must have my own treatise. If I were to read a thousand treatises, I'd become darker.

They don't know the secrets of God's saints and they study their treatises. Everyone stirs up his own imagination, then makes accusations against the speaker of the words. They never accuse themselves. They don't say, 'There's no mistake in those words- it's in our ignorance and imaginings!' "

- Shams Tabrizi. Me & Rumi, Pg 119

This is of course talking about treatises on esoteric matters. The reader can never understand what the author is really saying because the author has seen and realized things that the reader has not, and is (usually) at a far higher station than the reader. So the reader is only imagining what he thinks the author is talking about, according to his own limited understanding. Everyone must do the works necessary to progress on the path and write his own treatise. Commenting on this, Chittick clarifies,

"Shams is saying, 'What good are such treatises? If Muhammad himself had a treatise, it would be useless.' The issue is of course verification and realization, which are utterly different from rote learning." (Ibid, pg 326)

"Know that studying is also a great veil. Man goes into it, as if he has gone into a well or a moat. Then at the end he regrets it, because he comes to know that he was kept busy with licking the pot so that he would be held back from the subsistent, endless food. After all, words and sounds are the pot."

- Ibid, pg 45

BUT, when it comes to more outward matters in regards to the path (and these are the things that are most important since the inward matters are left for us to experience on our own), some instructions are more useful than others:

"I would not trade the least report from Muhammad (pbuh) for a hundred thousand treatises by Qushayri, Qurayshi, and the others. They have no flavor, no taste."

- Ibid, pg 71

The road to perfection is not straight

"In my view, no one can become a Muslim just once. He becomes a Muslim, then he becomes an unbeliever, then again he becomes a Muslim, and each time something comes out of him. So it goes until he becomes perfect."

- Shams Tabrizi. Me & Rumi. Pg 237

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Sufism is a light in the heart and mind

“Abu Bakr does not precede you for praying much or fasting much, but because of a secret that has taken root in his heart.”
- The Prophet (pbuh) [1]

“Tasawwuf is not the profusion of prayer and fasting, but wholeness of the breast and selflessness.” - Junayd [2]

"O ye who believe! Be mindful of your duty to Allah and put faith in His messenger. He will give you twofold of His mercy and will make for you a light with which you will walk, and will forgive you. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful" (Qur'an 57:28)

[must get hadiths quoted in Ibn Jawzi's kitab al-adhkiya in which the Prophet says that one's Islam could be measured by his intelligence, or something to that effect.]

1. Related by Ahmad with a sound chain in Kitab fada'il al-Sahaba, ed. Wasi Allah ibn Muhammad Abbas (Makkah: Muassasat al-risala, 1983) 1:141 (#118).
2. al-Qushayri, Risalat kitab al-sama in al-Rasail al-qushayriyya (Sidon and Beirut: al-maktaba al-asriyya, 1970) p. 60.

Wealth and the Heart

"Someone remarked to Ahmad Ghazali, 'You spend the whole day blaming this world and encouraging people to cut off their attachments, but you have several tethers of horses, mules, and donkeys. How do you explain that?' He replied, 'I have driven the tethers' pegs into the ground, not into my heart' "

- Tabsirat al-Mubtadi. A Sufi text written in Konya in 1260. Me & Rumi note 2.212, pg 331.

"Money—there should be a lot in your pocket, but none in your heart."

- Shaykh Muzaffar Ozak al-Jerrahi, quoted by Shaykh Tosun Bayrak in The World is Beautiful

There is "subtlety" outside of predestination

"These great ones, they all fell into predestination - these gnostics. But the Path is something other than that. There is subtlety outside of predestination. God calls you "freely-choosing." Why do you call yourself predestined? He calls you "powerful" and He calls you "freely-choosing" because commandments and prohibitions, promises and threats, and sending messengers all demand free choice. There are a few verses on predestination, but not many."

- Shams Tabrizi, Me & Rumi pg 86. See also second quote in this post for continuation of this talk and its importance for the path.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The state of the Muslim world

"O Abu Dharr! The world is the prison of the believer, the grave his place of safety, and the Garden his end. O Abu Dharr! The world is the Garden of the disbeliever, the grave is his torment, and the Fire his end." - The Prophet (pbuh)

"The world is the prison of the believer, and the heaven of the unbeliever." - The Prophet (pbuh)
[Muslim, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Ahmad]

"...while those who reject Allah will enjoy this world and eat as cattle eat; and the Fire will be their abode." (Qur'an 47:12)

Commenting on the verse, "He is the one who creates and renews his creation. "(85:13), Ja'far Sadiq (r.a.) said,

"That is, he clothes the enemies in the garb of friends so they might be led along little by little. He clothes his friends in the garb of enemies that they might not admire themselves*. Then, at the moment of death, he renews his creation."

* Michael Sells comments: "An early example of the attitude known as malaamatiyya, the regarding of blame in the eyes of the wider society as a protection against self-admiration, and conversely, the regarding of praise as dangerous. The point draws on a number of Qur'anic passages explaining to the Prophet Muhammad and to the general hearer of the message why the wicked are sometimes allowed to prosper and be praised."

(Sells, Michael A. Early Islamic Mysticism)

I heard Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami say that Abu Amr al-Anmati said,

"The vizier, Ali bin Isa, rode in a great procession. It made strangers ask, 'Who is that? Who is that?' A woman standing by the roadside said, 'How long are you going to ask, "Who is that, who is that?" That is the servant who has fallen from God's favor so God is trying him with what you see!' Ali bin Isa heard this. He returned to his house, freed himself of the vizierate, and went to Mecca and remained there."

- Qushayri, On Repentance


Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Truth about the Khalwa

"Withdrawal from the world does not mean going away from inhabited places. The essence of seclusion is to isolate blameworthy traits in order to substitute the divine names for them. Thus it was asked, "Who is the gnostic (arif)?" and they replied, "A creature distinguished," that is, someone who appears to be together with people, but is inwardly separated from them." - Qushayri [1]

"[Seclusion] is to go among the crowd, while your secret prevents them from crowding you and to withdraw your ego from sins while your inner awareness is bound by the Real." -al-Jurayri [1]

It has been said, "Whoever prefers seclusion has attained seclusion." - Qushayri [1]

"Someone who is concealed from the people by retreat is not like someone who is concealed from them by God." - Dhul-Nun [1]

"There was an ascetic in the mountains. He was of the mountain- he was not of Adam. If he had been of Adam, he would have been among the people. Such people have understanding, they have imagination, they have the capacity to know God. What was he doing in the mountain? He was mud, so he inclined toward stones. What does man have to do with stones?

Be among the people, but be alone. Don't go into seclusion, but be solitary.

Muhammad (pbuh) said, "There is no monasticism in Islam." According to one interpretation, this is prohibition of cutting oneself off, of coming out from among the people, and of making oneself notable among the creatures because of knowledge. Another meaning is that it is prohibition of refusing to take a wife. Take a wife, but be disengaged. In other words, be separate from all and be rid of all in your heart." - Shams Tabrizi [2]

"When you serve the shaykh and are in the presence of the most outstanding of the shaykhs, you will have a permanent seclusion without sitting in seclusion. A state will come over you such that you will always be in seclusion. God has servants such that, when someone joins their service, he has a constant and continuous seclusion." - Shams Tabrizi [7]

"[The forty-day seclusion] is an innovation in the religion of Muhammad (pbuh). Muhammad never sat in a forty-day seclusion. That's in the story of Moses. Read, "And when We appointed with Moses forty nights" (Qu'ran 2:5).

Don't these blind people see that Moses, with all that grandeur, used to say, "My Lord, make me one of the community of Muhammad!"? In other words, "Make me one of the folk of vision!" This is the secret of those words. Otherwise, why would Moses want to be with me and you with our stinking armpits? " - Shams Tabrizi [3]

"These people who do the forty-day seclusion are followers of Moses- they have not tasted the following of Muhammad. Far from it! Rather, they do not have the following of Muhammad according to its stipulations. They have a bit of the flavor of following Moses, and they've taken that." - Shams Tabrizi [8]

"In short, in those outward seclusions, the more they go forward, the more imagination increases and stands in front of them. But in the path of following [Muhammad], the more they go forward- reality upon reality, and self-disclosure upon self-disclosure!" - Shams Tabrizi [4]

"So if I had the power, when he began telling the story of Abu Yazid and the seclusions yesterday, I would have said, 'This is innovation in Muhammad's religion. Don't talk about innovators.'...I would have said: 'Get up, go, and don't do anything like this again- listening to other people's words, and quoting the sayings of faulty transmitters about God's servants" -Shams Tabrizi [5]

"God's speaking-companion (Moses) said Show me (Qur'an 7:143). Since he knew that this belongs to the Muhammadans, he asked, "O God, make me one of the community of Muhammad!" This is what he meant by Show me: Make me one of the community of Muhammad. When he saw that the radiance of manliness fell on that mountain, and the mountain was smashed, he said, "That's not my work, but Make me one of the community of Muhammad."

It was said, "Now go for a few days in the service of Khizr." Khizr also says "Make me of the community of Muhammad." There is another light that plunders Moses and Khizr. If you look at Jesus, you'll see him perplexed in that light. If you look at Moses, you'll see him transfixed by that light. Muhammad has a light that overcomes all lights.

After all, those forty-day seclusions and those invocations- are they really the following of Muhammad? Yes, Moses received the instruction forty nights (Qur'an 2:51). What then is the following of Muhammad that Moses did not dare to ask for it? Rather, he said, "Make me one of his fellow riders." - Shams Tabrizi [6]

1. Qushayri's Risala. On Solitude and Seclusion
2. Me & Rumi pg 203-204
3. Ibid, pg 147
4. Ibid, pg 88
5. Ibid, pg 190
6. Ibid, pg 113
7. Ibid, pg 210
8. Ibid, pg 255

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Focusing on God, not the Ego

The Sufi masters of Gnosis believe that if a man were to focus too much on destroying their ego, always thinking about it, then it will only get bigger and bigger, while they suspect not. That is why they recommend instead that one acquire proper knowledge and focus on God instead. I also dont believe the ego could be killed, but that it could be subdued and momentarily extinguished. And that he who believes his ego has been killed for good has been tricked by it, but who am I to say, and God knows best.

AbulMalih reported on the authority of a man: I was riding on a mount behind the Prophet (peace be upon him). It stumbled. Thereupon I said: "May the devil perish!" He said: "Do not say: May the devil perish! for if you say that , he will swell so much so that he will be like a house and say, 'By my power'; But say: 'In the name of Allah' for when you say that, he will diminish so much that he will be like a fly".

- Sunan Abu Dawud, Kitab al-Adab, Number 4946

"[Hakim al-Tirmidhi's] letter to Abû 'Uthmân al-Hîrî, as well as the other two letters mentioned above revolve around the important issue of how best to deal with the ego (nafs) which undermines all spiritual attainments. Touching on this question, Hakîm al-Tirmidhî writes to Abû 'Uthmân:

I have received your letter, my brother, one letter after another. You confirm repeatedly [how] the blemishes of the lower self (nafs) [are an obstacle] in the [attainment] of [spiritual] knowledge. My brother, if you can refrain from being occupied by this obstacle, since this is other than Allâh, do so. For Allâh has servants who indeed have knowledge of Him, and they ignore all things but Him. They are wary of being occupied with the lower self and instead they fear Him. Whenever anyone of them is afflicted by its memory, his stomach turns as if he were about to vomit. How can one who strolls through gardens of roses, jasmine and wild lilies graze in valleys of thorns? How can one who is nourished by the remembrance of the Majestic be aware of anything but Him? (72)

Tirmidhî's objections to an exaggerated preoccupation with the nafs in the mystical quest is expressed here as well as in other letters and in many passages throughout his writings. In his letter to Abû 'Uthmân he presents the nucleus of his own understanding and approach in which the nafs is conceived as the centre of negative qualities: lust, desire, fear, anger, doubt, idolatry and forgetfulness. A transformation (tabdîl) of these negative qualities into positive ones is possible. This transformation is possible, however, only by means of the heart, that is, by the capacity of the heart to "see things in their essence" (haqâ'iq al-umûr). The heart's vision is obscured by the negative qualities of the lower self which cause a veil (ghitâ') to fall between it and the Truth. This vicious circle can be broken by faith (îmân) which resides in the heart. Faith is reinforced by the grace of God, and its light intensifies gradually. As the light of faith intensifies in the heart, the impact of the 'veil' becomes weaker. As it weakens, 'the essence of things' becomes clearer and more visible to the heart. When the heart 'sees' the 'essence of things', its faith is transformed and becomes 'certitude' (yaqin). At this stage, when the heart has attained 'certitude', the full transformation occurs: the desire of the nafs becomes desire for God, fear becomes fear of God, anger becomes anger for the sake of God, lust becomes longing for God, doubt becomes certitude, idolatry becomes pure unity and forgetfulness becomes determination.

Evidently Hakîm aI-Tirmidhî's teaching, although revolving around the same psychological issues and obstacles which occupied the Malâmatiyya, advocates an utterly different approach. Excessive concern with the nafs regardless of its prominence in counteracting the sincere spiritual and devotional quest, will lead nowhere as long as the seeker's attention remains focused on it alone. Tirmidhî's method, as he reiterates in his letter, is based on "the science of God" (al-'ilm bi'llâh), whereas the method of Abû 'Uthmân and the Nîshâpûrî school - who are not mentioned by name but are undoubtedly implied - is based on "the science of the self" (al-'ilm bi'l-nafs). If one focuses one's attention on the science of the self - says al-Tirmidhî - one will never be released from the self. "If one occupies oneself with the knowledge of the self's blemishes, one will spend all one's life in the attempt to be released from it (fa-'in ishtaghala al-'abd bi ma 'rfat al- 'uyûb baqiya 'umrahu fîhâ wa fi 'l-takhallus minhâ)," he comments. On the other hand, if one focuses one's attention on the science of God, the heart becomes stronger and its vision of Divine revelations clearer. These revelations revive the heart, and its antithesis, the self, withers away. "When the self gives up because of the impact of the Divine revelations, the heart is revived by the Lord; what blemish remains then?" (73) "

"In loving God, I have no time left in which to hate the Devil" - Rabi'a al-Adawiyya

"The Venerable Master, the Saint Ibn Ata-Illah says in his Hikam: "Since you know that the Devil will never forget you, it is your business not to forget [God]." And our Master used to say: "The true way to hurt the enemy is to be occupied with the love of the Friend; on the other hand, if you engage in war with the enemy, he will have obtained what he wanted from you and at the same time you will have lost the opportunity of loving the Friend." " - Shaykh ad-Darqawi[1]

"Nothing can burn this Satan- only the fire of the love of the man of God. All the other ascetic disciplines that people perform do not hold him back. Rather, he gets stronger. He was created from the fire of the appetites, and light alone puts out fire.

Your light extinguishes my fire." - Shams Tabrizi[2]

72: B. Radtke, op. cit., p. 191 (Arabic section).
73: Ibid., pp.191-2 (Arabic)
(72+73 Taken from "Hakim Tirmidhi and the Malamati Movement in Early Sufism" by Sara Sviri.

1. Letters of a Sufi Master, Pg 29

2. Me & Rumi, pg 226.