Peace, one and all…
Ibn Ata’illah’s Hikam also contains private devotional poetry (munajat). These prayers are profound and beautiful.
from the diversity of created things
and the changes of states,
I know that it is Your desire
to make Yourself known to me in everything
so that I will not ignore You in anything.
Intimate Discourse 11
Peace, one and all…
Today’s reading from Ibn Ata’illah’s Hikam (or aphorisms) explores the nature of humility.
The humble man is not the one
who, when humble, sees that he is above what he does;
instead, the humble man is the one
who, when humble, sees that he is below what he does.
Ibn Ata’illah, Hikam 239
Humility demands that we consciously stand below our efforts, that we see ourselves as beneath them. That is, acts of humility that leave us feeling proud of ‘our’ achievements, that leave us looking down from above, are not really acts of humility, rather they are the half-concealed acts of pride and boastfulness. Arrogance is a poison, and very often a sublte one. We are not always aware of our own blind spots. The only way to sincerity is to constantly see ourselves as below what we do.
Peace, one and all…
Only the ignorant man scorns the recitation of litany.
Inspiration is to be found in the Hereafter,
while the litany vanishes with the vanishing of this world;
but it is more fitting to be occupied with something
for which there is no subsitute.
The litany is what He seeks from you;
the inspiration is what you seek from Him.
What comparison is there
between what He seeks from you and what you seek from Him?
Ibn Ata’illah, Hikam 112
The daily litany (or wird in Arabic) is given by Him, through the hands of His beloved friends, the awliya, for our benefit. It is a blessing for us. It is what He seeks from us, and I find it deeply important to remember that this means it is for us. God needs nothing, and so anything demanded of us is a help, and a blessing and a mercy. The Evrad-i Serif is a healing for my heart. But, how often we turn away from that which is good to which is not!
Beloved One! Let the light of my wird guide me in each new day. Let it be my ‘firm handhold’, my time of alone-ness with You.
Peace, one and all…
In his tenth counsel, Meister Eckhart examines the nature of the just will, and how it might be used in the service of God.
Counsel 10: How the will can do all things, and how all virtues are a question of the will, if only it is just
A man should not be too afraid of anything, so long as he sees that he has good will, nor should he be depressed if he cannot accomplish his will in his deeds; but he should not consider himself deprived of virtue if he finds in himself a will that is just and good, because the virtues and everything that is good are a question of the good will. You can want for nothing if you have a true and just will, not love for or humility or any virtue. But what you desire with all your might and all your will, that you have, and God and all created things cannot take it away from you, if only your will is wholly just and godly and is directed toward the present. So do not say: ‘One day I should like…,’ because that would be for the future, but ‘I want it to be so now.’ Pay good attention: If something is more than a thousand miles away and I want to have it, I really have it – more than what is lying in my lap and what I do not want.
As Meister Eckhart makes clear in this passage, the will is absolutely fundamental to any true growth. Moreover, the will has to be good, just and oriented towards God, or else it becomes distracted. Reading this passage in the context of my Ramadan readings of Ibn Ata’illah makes clear that the will can only be good, can only be true, when it is humble. Without a fully grounded humility, we run the real risk of understanding our will as ‘ours’ in an absolute sense. Seeing it as ours in this way is an unhelpful act, as it leads to the notion of a separative existence, a life somehow apart from the Real, a life somehow compartmentalised. If we aim to unite our will with God’s will, we can’t at the same time have a misguided notion of separation.
Peace, one and all…
Today is the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. It is a time for worship and for introspection. As such, this year I am exploring the spiritual aphorisms of Ibn Ata’illah, a spiritual master from the late 13th – early 14th centuries. His aphorisms have long been seen as important, for their wisdom, clarity and above all, their direct challenges to our wayward hearts (nafs). I chose the Hikam because it has always challenged me, moved me out of my comfort zone, and so I wanted to spend some time living with these aphorisms during this Ramadan.
I have chosen to focus on Chapter 25, which looks closely at notions of humility and spiritual poverty, though I will also look at other chapters too. Each day I will offer a short reading. I will also post relevant lectures too, as God wills.
He who attributes humility to himself is really proud,
for humility arises only out of a loftiness;
so, when you attribute humility to yourself,
then you are proud.
Ibn Ata’illah, Hikam 238
Peace, one and all…
In his seventh counsel, Meister Eckhart turns to explore the notion of work, and how we might pursue our work in a spiritually appropriate manner.
Counsel 7: How a man should perform his work in the most reasonable way
One often finds people who are not impeded by the things that are around them – and this is easy to attain if one wishes – nor do they have any constant thought about them. For if the heart is full of God, created things can have and find no place in it. But, what is more, this alone should not satisfy us. We ought to turn everything into great profit, whatever it may be, wherever we may be, whatever we see or hear, however strange or unlikely it may be. Then for the first time all is well with us and not until then, and one will never come to an end in this. One can always go on increasing in this, gaining more and more from it in true growth.
And in all his activities and under all circumstances a man should take care to use his reason, and in everything he should have a reasonable consciousness of himself and of his inwardness, and find God in all things, in the highest degree that is possible. For a man ought to be as our Lord said: ‘You should be like men who are always watching and waiting for their master’ (Luke 12:36). Truly, people who wait stay awake and look around them for whence he for whom they are waiting may be coming; and they are on the lookout for him in whatever may come, however unknown it may be to them, for perhaps he might somehow be in it. So we should have in all things a knowing perception of our master. We must show zeal in this, and it must cost us everything we are capable of in mind and body, and so it will be well with us, and we shall find God in everything alike, and find God always alike in all things.
Certainly, one work differs from another; but whoever undertakes all his works in the same frame of mind, then, truly, all that man’s works are the same. Indeed, for the man for whom God shines forth as directly in worldly things as he does in divine things and to whom God would be so present, for such a man things would be well. Not indeed that the man himself would be doing worldly things, unlike to God; rather, whatever external matters he chanced to see and hear, he would refer it all back to God. Only he to whom God is present in everything and who employs his reason in the highest degree and has enjoyment in it knows anything of true peace and has a real kingdom of heaven.
For if things are to go well with a man, one of two things must always happen to him. Either he must find and learn to possess God in works, or he must abandon all works. But since a man cannot in this life be without works, which are proper to humans and are of so many kinds, therefore he must learn to possess his God in all things and to remain unimpeded, whatever he may be doing, wherever he may be. And therefore if a man who is beginning must do something with other people, he ought first to make a powerful petition to God for his help, and put him immovably in his heart and unite all his intentions, thoughts, will and power to God, so that nothing else than God can take shape in that man.
Peace, one and all…
In his sixth counsel on discernment, Meister Eckhart discusses detachment of the soul.
Counsel 6: Of detachment and of the possession of God
I was asked: ‘Since some people keep themselves much apart from others, and most all like to be alone, and since it is this and in being in church that they find peace, would that be the best thing to do?’ Then I said: ‘No! and see why not!’ If all is well with a man, then truly, wherever he may be, whomever he may be with, it is well with him. But if things are not right with him, then everywhere and with everybody it is all wrong with him. If it is well with him, truly he has God, he has him everywhere, in the street and in company with everyone, just as much as in church or in solitary places or in his cell. But if a man really has God, and has only God, then no one can hinder him.
Because he has only God, and his intention is toward God alone, and all things become for him nothing God. That man carries God in his every work and in every place, and it is God alone who performs all the man’s works; for whoever causes the work, to him it belongs more properly and truly than it does to the one who performs it. Then let our intention be purely and only for God, and then truly he must perform all our works, and no person, no crowds, no places can hinder him in all his works. In the same way, no one can hinder this man, for he intends and seeks and takes delight in nothing but God, for God has become one with man in all his intention. And so, just as no multiplicity can disturb God, nothing can disturb or fragment this man, for he is one in that One where all multiplicity is one and is one unmultiplicity.
A man should accept God in all things, and should accustom himself to having God present always in his disposition and his intention and his love. Take heed how you can have God as the object of your thoughts whether you are in church or in your cell. Preserve and carry with you that same disposition when you are in crowds and in uproar and in unlikeness. And, as I have said before, when one speaks of likeness, one does not mean that we should pay like to all works or all places or all people. That would be quite wrong, because praying is a better work than spinning, and church is a better place than the street. But you ought in your works to have a like disposition and a like confidence and a like love for your God and a like seriousness. Believe me, if you were constant in this way, no one could come between you and the God who is present to you.
But a man in whom truly God is not but who must grasp God in this thing or in that thing from outside, and who seeks God in unlike ways, be it in works or people or places, such a man does not possess God. And it may easily be that something hinders such a man for he does not possess God, and he does not seek him alone, nor does he love and intende Him alone; and therefore it is not only bad company that hinders him. Good company can also hinder him – not just the street, but the church too, not only evil words and deeds, but good words and good deeds as well, for the hindrance is in him, because in him God has not become all things. Were that so, everything would be right and good for him, in every place and among all people, because he has God, and no one can take God away from him or hinder him in his work.
On what does this true possession of God depend, so that we may truly have Him?
This true possession of God depends on the disposition, and on an inward directing of the reason and intention toward God, not on a constant contemplation in an unchanging manner, for it would be impossible to nature to preserve such an intention, and very labourious, and not the best thing either. A man ought not to have a God who is just a product of his thought, nor should he be satisfied with that, because if the thought vanished, God too would vanish. But one ought to have a God who is present, a God who is far above the notions of men and of all created things. That God does not vanish, if a man does not willfully turn away from Him.
The man who has God essentially present to him grasps God divinely, and to him God shines in all things; for everything tastes to him of God, and God forms himself for the man out of all things. God always shines out in him, in him there is a detachment and a turning away, and a forming of his God whom he loves and who is present to him. It is like a man consumed with a real and burning thirst, who may well not drink and may turn his mind to other things. But whatever he may do, in whatever company he may be, whatever he may be intending or thinking or working at, still the idea of drinking does not leave him, so long as he is thirsty. The more his thirst grows, the more the idea of drinking grows and intrudes and possesses him and will not leave him. Or if a man loves something ardently and with all his heart, so that nothing else has savour for him or touches his heart but that, and that and nothing but that is his whole object: Truly, wherever he is, whomever he is with, whatever he may undertake, whatever he does, what he so loves never passes from his mind, and he finds the image of what he loves in everything, and it is the more present to him the more his love grows and grows. He does not seek rest, because no unrest hinders him.
Such a man finds far greater merit with God because he grasps everything as divine and as greater than things in themselves are. Truly, to this belong zeal and love and a clear apprehension of his own inwardness, and a lively, true, prudent and real knowledge of what his disposition is concerned with amid thigns and persons. A man cannot learn this by running away, by shunning things and shutting himself up in an external solitude; but he must practice a solitude of the spirit, wherever or with whomever he is. He must learn to break through things and to grasp God in them and to form him in himself powerfully in an essential manner. This is like someone who wants to learn to write. If he is to acquire the art, he must certainly practice it hard and long, however disagreeable and difficult this may be for him and however impossible it may seem. If he will practice it industriously and assiduously, he learns it and masters the art. To begin with, he must indeed memorise each single letter and get it firmly into his mind. Then, when he has the art, he will not need to think about and remember the letters’ appearance; he can write effortlessly and easily – and it will be the same if he wants to play the fiddle or to learn any other skill. It will always be enough for him to make up his mind to do the hard work the art demands; and even if he is not thinking about it all the time, still, whatever he may be thinking of when he does perform it, this be from the art he has learned.
So a man must be penetrated with the divine presence, and be shaped through and through with the shape of the God he loves, and be present in Him, so that God’s presence may shine out of him without any effort. What is more, in all things let him acquire nakedness, and let him always remain free of things. But at the beginning there must be attentiveness and a careful formation within himself, like a schoolboy setting himself to learn
Peace, one and all…
If you have reached greatness, what is form to you?
If you have found a path to the spiritual realm,
what is this world to you?
Give up this world; come and enter the fire of love.
Reach the stage ahead;
what is this remaining behind of yours?
This body’s property is not just fire and water and earth.
Each one of these returns to its source;
what is this heedlessness of yours?
Idol-temple and wine shop become a mosque to the true soul.
Not one coin of yours will be wasted;
what is this lying to you?
Since you are strong enough to go to the Hereafter,
leave aside the false pretension of this world.
If you are a lover, what is this love of goods and treasures to you?
If you gather goods saying, ‘They are mine,’
do you have pretensions of being God?
The King will not look at your crime;
what is this being lost on the way to you?
Night and day you suffer worries; ‘What should I do? I am a miserable wretch,’ you say.
He is generous; He gives you your daily bread;
what is this worry to you?
Unfortunate one, eat, feed others; if food is lacking, God will provide.
One day your body will enter the earth;
that which is left behind – what is it to you?
Yunus, you have become very drunk from this goblet of love.
While you lost consciousness of self, you reached God;
what is sobriety to you?
Yunus Emre, translated by G.S. Smith
Peace, one and all…
In his fifth counsel, Meister Eckhart focuses on exploring the ground of our being.
Counsel 5: See what can make our being and our ground good
A man’s being and ground – from which his works derive their goodness – is good when his intention is wholly directed to God. Set all your care on that, that God become great within you, and that all your zeal and effort in everything you do and in everything you renounce be directed to God. Truly, the more you do this in all your works, whatever they are, the better they are. Cleave to God, and He will endow your with all goodness. Seek God, and you will find God and every good thing as well. Yes, truly, with such an attitude you could tread upon a stone, and that would be a more godly thing for you to do than for you to receive the Body of our Lord, if you were thinking more of yourself with less detachment. If we cling to God, then God and all virtues cling to us. And what once you were seeking now seeks you; what once you hunted after now hunts you, and what you once wished to shun now avoids you. Therefore to him who clings greatly to God, everything clings that is godly, and from him everything takes flight that is unlike God and alien to Him.
Peace, one and all…
In his fourth counsel, Meister Eckharts turns to examine the notion of self-abandonment.
Counsel 4: Of the profits of self-abandonment, which one should practice inwardly and outwardly
You should know that there was never any man in this life who forsook himself so much that he could not still find more in himself to forsake. There are few people who see this to be true and stick by it. This is indeed a fair exchange and an honest deal: By as much as you go out in forsaking all things, by so much, neither less nor more, does God go in, with all that is His, as you entirely forsake everything that is yours. Undertake this, and let it cost you everything you can afford. There you will find true peace, and nowhere else.
People ought never to think too much about what they could do, but they ought to think about what they could be. If people and their way of life were only good, what they did might be a shining example. If you are just, then your works too are just. We ought not to think of building holiness upon action; we ought to build it upon a way of being, for it is not what we do that makes us holy, but we ought to make holy what we do. However holy the works may be, they do not, as works, make us at all holy; but, as we are holy and have being, to that extent we make all our works holy, be it eating, sleeping, keeping vigil or whatever it may be. It does not matter what men may do whose being is mean; nothing good will come of it. Take good heed: We ought to do everything we can to be good; it does not matter so much what we may do, or what kinds of works ours may be. What matters is the ground on which the works are built.
Peace, one and all…
‘It is pain that guides a man in every enterprise. Until there is an ache within him, a passion and a yearning for that thing arising within him, he will never strive to attain it. Without pain that thing remains for him unprocurable, whether it be success in this world or salvation in the next, whether he aims at being a merchant or a king, a scientist or an astronomer. it was not until the pains of parturition manifested in her that Mary made for the tree:
‘And the birthpangs surprised her by the trunk of the palm-tree’ (Quran 19:23)
Those pangs brought her to the tree, and the tree which was withered became fruitful.
The body is like Mary. Every one of us has a Jesus within him, but until the pangs manifest in us our Jesus is not born. If the pangs never come, then Jesus rejoins his origin by the same secret path by which he came, leaving us bereft and without portion of him.
‘The soul within you is needy, the flesh without is well fed:
The devil gorges to spewing, Jamshid lacks even for bread.
See now to the cure of your soul while Jesus is yet on earth;
When Jesus returns to heaven all hope of your cure will have fled’
(A Quatrain by Rumi himself)
Taken from Fihi Ma Fihi, translated as Discourses by A J Arberry
Peace, one and all…
More on the will from Meister Eckhart:
‘It is good when our will becomes God’s will, but it is far better when God’s will becomes our will. When your will becomes God’s will and you fall ill, then you would not want to become well again against God’s will, but you wish that it should be God’s will for you to become well again. And when things are going badly then you wish it might be God’s will for things to improve. On the other hand, if God’s will becomes your will and you fall ill – so be it! If your friend dies – so be it! God’s will be done!’ (On Detachment, 91 f.)
‘A free mind is one which is not deceived by anything and is not bound to anything, it is one which has not bound its best part to any specific manner of devotion and which does not seek itself in anything, living rather in God’s will and stripped of itself’ (On Detachment, 190)
Peace, one and all…
In his third counsel, Meister Eckhart explores the will.
Counsel 3: Of people who have not denied themselves and are full of their own will
People say: ‘O Lord, how much I wish that I stood as well with God, that I had as much devotion and peace in God as others have, I wish that it were so with me!’ Or, ‘I should like to be poor,’ or else, ‘Things will never go right for me till I am in this place or that, or till I act one way or another. I must go and live in a strange land, or in a hermitage, or in a cloister’.
In fact, this is all about yourself, and nothing else at all. This is just self-will, only you do not know it or it does not seem so to you. There is never any trouble that starts in you that does not come from your own will, whether people see this or not. We can think what we like, that a man ought to shun one thing or pursue another – places and people and ways of life and environments and undertakings – that is not the trouble, such ways of life or such matters are not what impedes you. It is what you are in these things that causes the trouble, because in them you do not govern yourself as you should.
Therefore, make a start with yourself, and abandon yourself. Truly, if you do not begin by getting away from yourself, wherever you run to, you will find obstacles and trouble wherever it may be. People who seek peace in external things – be it in places or ways of life or people or activities or solitude or poverty or degradation – however great such a thing may be or whatever it may be, still it is all nothing and gives no peace. People who seek in that way are doing it all wrong; the further they wander, the less they will find what they are seeking. They go around like someone who has lost his way; the further he goes, the more lost he is. Then what ought he to do? He ought to begin by forsaking himself, because then he has forsaken everything. Truly, if a man renounced a kingdom or the whol world but held on to himself, he would not have renounced anything. What is more, if a man renounces himself, whatever else he retains, riches or honours or whatever it may be, he has forsaken everything.
About what Saint Peter said: ‘See, Lord, we have forsaken everything’ (Matt. 19:27) – and all he had forsaken was just a net and his little boat – there is a saint who says: ‘If anyone willingly gives up something little, that is not all which he has given up, but he has forsaken everything which worldly men can gain and what they can even long for; for whoever has renounced his own will and himself has renounced everything, as truly as if he had possessed it as his own, to dispose of as he would’. For what you choose not to long for, you have wholly forsaken and renounced for the love of God. That is why our Lord said: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ (Matt. 5:3), that is, in the will. And no one ought to be in doubt about this; if there were a better form of living, our Lord would have said so, as he also said: ‘Whoever wishes to come after me, let him deny himself’ (Matt. 16:24), as a beginning; everything depends on that. Take a look at yourself, and whenever you find yourself, deny yourself. That is the best of all.
Peace, one and all…
In this second counsel, Meister Eckhart turns to explore prayer.
Counsel 2: Of the most powerful prayer, and of the highest work of all
The most powerful prayer, and almost the strongest of all to obtain everything, and the most honourable of all works, is that which proceeds from an empty spirit. The emptier the spirit, the more is the prayer and the work mighty, worthy, profitable, praiseworthy and perfect. The empty spirit can do everything.
What is an empty spirit?
An empty spirit is one that is confused by nothing, attached to nothing, has not attached its best to any fixed way of acting, and has no concern whatever in anything for its own gain, for it is all sunk deep down into God’s dearest will, and has forsaken its own. A man can never perform any work, however, humble, without it gaining strength and power from this.
We ought to pray so powerfully that we should like to put our every member and strength, our two eyes and ears, mouth, heart and all our senses to work; and we should not give up until we find that we wish to be one with Him who is present to us and whom we entreat, namely God.
Peace, one and all…
In our first readings the interconnected themes of devotion and obedience emerged very strongly. I’d like to offer a few thoughts on how these two themes might be connected, and to do that I’d like to start with a verse of the Quran. In Surah al-Baqara we find the following passage:
‘The Messenger has believed in what was revealed to him from his Lord, and [so have] the believers. All of them have believed in Allah and His angels and His books and His messengers, [saying], “We make no distinction between any of His messengers.” And they say, “We hear and we obey. [We seek] Your forgiveness, our Lord, and to You is the [final] destination’ (2:285)
In the opening sentence of this passage, we encounter the Prophet of God (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) and his complete openness before the Divine. His devotion and obedience to God had rendered his heart capable to accepting all that the Beloved chose to reveal therein. It also rendered him fully open to all the wisdom of the prophets of old (alaihim al-salam). The following saying of the Prophet (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) is important in this light:
‘Seek knowledge, for it is the intimate friend (khalil) of the believer. Moreover, forbearance is the minister of knowledge, intellect its guide, action its pivot, benevolent character its father, gentleness its brother, and patience is the general of its armies’ (Related by al-Hakim)
Elsewhere, the following saying is recorded:
‘Pursue knowledge even to China, for its pursuance is the sacred duty of every Muslim’ (Related by Ibn Abd al-Barr)
Although the outward details of their respective revelations differed, the same inner reality permeated all of them – a complete stillness in God’s presence. By referring to ‘the believers’ this verse also shows that this openness in God is not just the preserve of the prophets: we are all potentially capable of such a relationship, and devotion and obedience are the means of achieving it. Indeed, if the prophets represent the true spiritual potential of humanity, such openness is our human birthright.
Our verse then proceeds… ‘We make no distinction between any of His messengers’. To truly live in oneness, we must be open to whatever wisdom comes our way. We must be ready to make use of, to integrate, the collective spiritual wisdom of humankind. Moreover, though we can all be rightly proud of our respective traditions, insofar as they lead us out into His infinity, there is a sense here that the path to God requires us to be fully open. Furthermore, not only do we have to be open, we also have to rid ourselves of our common tendency to exclusivity, of saying ‘my way is better than his way’. Of course, to follow a tradition we need to believe in it as our way to God, but we also have to understand that God’s way is broader than our human minds can imagine. In other words, we have to be devoted to, and obedient to, God Himself.
The last section of this verse is particularly significant:
And they say, “We hear and we obey. [We seek] Your forgiveness, our Lord, and to You is the [final] destination’
This sentence categorises the true believers as those who say: ‘we hear and we obey’, or sami`na wa a`tana in Arabic. To truly hear the voice of God within the depths of our soul, we have to be present, we have to be fully there in each new moment. In other words, hearing implies a devoted listening, a patient waiting on God, for all that He might choose to reveal within our souls. Devoted listening is a form of obedience, and the more we obey, the more we engage in conscious relationship with the Divine. This verse concludes with a prayer for forgiveness. Devoted listening and active, human obedience to the Truth are means of asking for forgiveness. The more fully we enter into a relationship with God, the deeper we come to understand our human shortcomings. A Dervish is someone who waits at His door, in each new moment and circumstance. It is no accident, therefore, that today’s Evrad-i Serif passage contains this prayer:
9. I ask God’s forgiveness for my mistakes (literally, ‘shortcomings’).
More deeply, from the perspective of oneness, our prayers for forgiveness are given to us by the Divine. In other words, devoted listening and obedience are a kind of ‘virtuous circle’ in which an ever-increasing spiritual charge can be built up. And it is this charge that Meister Eckhart goes on to examine with such subtlety. True obedience is an emptying of our will in His, a forgoing of our sense of control in the Hand of His greater working:
‘In true obedience there should be no trace of ‘I want it so, or so,’ or ‘I want this or that,’ but there should be a pure going out from what is yours’
Although we should take all of our worries and anxieties to God, just as we should take all of our hopes and joys to Him, true and complete obedience is an emptying in Him, a complete giving-over of ourselves to Him. Those who are able to give themselves so completely to God are thus enabled to stand with the Prophet (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) and to say they have ‘believed in what was revealed to him from his Lord’
May the Beloved give us all the ability to turn to Him truly, in work and in rest, in need and in safety. Ya Rahman!
Peace, one and all…
The main theme of our first Evrad-i Serif offering is, perhaps, devotion: devotion to God, as the Source of Peace and the Sustainer of All, is the essential first element in any spiritual growth. Within the Abrahamic family of faiths, this means striving to come into a close and loving relationship with the One Reality, with God. There is something deep within us that is only activated when we devote ourselves to that loving relationship. This is often expressed in terms of obedience (though it isn’t the only form by any means). It is, therefore, not surprising that in his first offering from the Counsels on Discernment Meister Eckhart explores the nature of true obedience.
Counsel 1: First, about true obedience
True and perfect obedience is a virtue above all virtues, and no work is so great that it can be achieved or done without this virtue; and however little and however humble a work may be, it is done to greater profit in true obedience, be it saying Mass, hearing it, praying, contemplating or whatever else you can think of. But take as humble a work as you like, whatever it may be, true obedience makes it finer and better for you. Obedience always produces the best of everything in everything. Truly, obedience never perturbs, never fails, whatever one is doing, in anything that comes from true obedience, for obedience neglects nothing that is good. Obedience need never be troubled, for it lacks no good thing.
When a man in obedience goes out of himself and renounces what he possesses, God must necessarily respond by going in there, for if anyone does not want something for himself, God must want it as if for Himself. If I deny my own will, putting it in the hands of my superior, and want nothing for myself, then God must want it for me, and if he fails me in this matter, he will be failing Himself. So in all things, when I do not want something for myself, God wants it for me. Now pay good heed. What is it that God wants for me that I do not want for myself? When I empty myself of self, He must necessarily want everything for me that He wants for Himself. And if He were not to do this, by that truth which is God, He would not be just, nor would he be the God that it is His nature to be.
In true obedience there should be no trace of ‘I want it so, or so,’ or ‘I want this or that,’ but there should be a pure going out from what is yours. And therefore in the best of all prayers that a man can pray, there should not be ‘Give me this virtue, or that way of life,’ but ‘Lord, give me nothing but what you will, and do, Lord, whatever and however you will in every way.’ That is superior to the first way of praying as the heavens are above the earth. And when one has concluded that prayer, one has prayed well, for then one has in true obedience wholly entered into God. And just as true obedience should have no ‘I want it so,’ so also one should not hear from obedience ‘I do not want,’ because ‘I do not want’ is a sure poison of all obedience. That is what Saint Augustine says: ‘God’s faithful servant has no desire for people to say or to give to him, or what he likes to hear or see, for his first and his greatest aim is to hear what is most pleasing to God’
Peace, one and all…
Our first Ramadan post starts with the opening of the Mevlevi wird (litany), known as the Evrad-i Serif. It contains a number of beautiful prayers and affirmations and is an appropriate place to begin, with its focus on the peace and love of God.
In the Name of God, the Infinitely Compassionate, the Most Merciful…
1. Our Sustainer, You are Peace and from You comes all Peace and our ultimate return is to You, to Peace.
2. O our Sustainer, continually, You enliven us with Peace.
3. Allow us to enter Your Garden, the Abode of Peace.
4. O our Sustainer, bless us with Peace.
5. With Your Peace You have exalted everything, O Lord of Majesty and Infinite Generosity. All praise and glory belongs to You.
6. Limitless are You in Your glory. We could not worship You as You truly ought to be worshipped, O You who are worshipped.
7. Subtle are You beyond all knowing. We could not know You as You truly ought to be known, O You who are the object of knowledge.
8. All praise is due to God who guides one to well-being.
9. I ask God’s forgiveness for my mistakes.
10. I bear witness that there is no god but God and that He is One and has no partner.
11. I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and messenger.
12. There is no god but God. The dominion belongs to Him. All praise is His. He gives life. He takes life. He is Ever-living and never dies. All goodness is in His hand. He has power over all things.
13. There is no god but God. All benefits are His. All blessings are His. To Him belongs the most exceptional beauty.
14. There is no god but God, the Possessor of the Most Ancient Oneness, that has no beginning and no end.
15. There is no god but God. We worship none but God with sincere devotion to Him alone despite those who deny the Truth.
16. O my Allah! No one can keep me from receiving what You bestow. No one can bestow that which You do not wish someone to receive. No one can act contrary to Your will. No one can guide to the true Way the one whom You cause to stray. No one can lead astray the one whom You have guided to the true Way. No one can change anything about which You have made Your will clear. Wealth cannot help the wealthy if Your help is not with them.
17. In the Name of God: when with whose Name one begins anything then nothing on earth or in the heavens may harm it. And He is All-Hearing and All-Knowing.
18. (I begin) in the Name of God with my self and my Way.
19. (I begin) in the Name of God with my family and all that I own.
20. (I begin) in the Name of God with whatever my Sustainer has granted to me. God is my Sustainer and never do I attribute any partner to Him.
21. God is dearer and greater than the things that I fear and are of concern to me.
22. How precious is Your protection and how great is Your uniqueness. Exalted is Your praise. How holy are Your Names. And there is no god but You.
23. O God! Surely, I seek refuge with You from the evil within myself, from the evil within others, from all tyrants, and from all obstinate oppressors,
24. and from the evil of every recalcitrant satan.
25. ‘Truly, my protector is God, who sent down the Book: for it is He who takes into His protection the righteous ones’ (Quran 7:196)
26. ‘But if they turn away, say: ‘God is sufficient for me! There is no deity except Him. In Him have I placed my trust, for He is the Sustainer, in awe inspiring majesty enthroned’ (Quran 9:129)
I won’t be posting the entire Evrad-i Serif, but I will be posting passages that seem relevant, and that speak to our unfolding spiritual dialogue with Meister Eckhart.
- Mevlana and Me: Poetry, the Moment and Suhbah
- ‘And Spread the Greeting Among Yourselves': Exploring the Salam
Peace, one and all…
In one the verses dealing with Ramadan, the Quran makes explicit the purpose behind fasting:
‘O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become God-conscious’ (2:183)
This is a very revealing verse, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it connects the ritual fast of Ramadan with the rest of human sacred history. Although the details differ, the religious institution of fasting is probably as old as humankind itself. Fasting is thus part of our wider human heritage, and in that sense, Islamic teaching builds on the innate religiosity of the human being (expressed as ‘the primordial faith’, or din al-fitra, in other texts). Islam is thus part of a much longer sacred history.
Secondly, fasting is said to activate the quality of God-consciousness. Why? To answer this question, it is helpful to understand the word behind ‘God-conscious’, or taqwa. Taqwa is an essential Islamic concept, and derives from a root meaning ‘to guard against, preserve, shield and prevent’. It is often translated as ‘fear’, and refers to a cautious awareness of the presence of God, an awareness that shields one from actions that God would disapprove of. In other words, taqwa is a state of being, a state of vigilant awareness.
But why should fasting develop this quality so particularly? From the perspective of oneness, fasting reminds us in a direct, immediate manner that we are more than intellectual beings. We exist on many different levels – intellectual, physical, spiritual and emotional – and God-consciousness must be activated at each level to be made whole, to be made one. Fasting is thus a time for all-round awareness of ourselves in the presence of God, of all of those automatic behaviours that the normal course of life often serves to obscure.
Ramadan is thus a time of spiritual reflection. As such, during this Ramadan, I will be undertaking a comparative reading of two key spiritual texts, the Counsels on Discernment by Meister Eckhart and the Mevlevi Wird, arranged by Mevlana. As we shall hopefully see, these two works complement each other in very interesting ways, offering some important insights into spiritual growth in God. My basic plan is to post a passage from Meister Eckhart and then follow it with a passage from the Mevlevi Evrad-i Serif, before offering any insights that might emerge, insha Allah.
Peace, one and all…
Love whispers in my ear,
‘Better to be a prey than a hunter.
Make yourself My fool.
Stop trying to be the sun and become a speck!
Dwell at My door and be homeless.
Don’t pretend to be a candle, be a moth;
so you may taste the savour of life
and know the power hidden in serving’