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Journeying and Initiation - 2

Sayr u Suluk
| M. Fethullah Gulen | Issue 151 (Jan - Feb 2023)

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Journeying and Initiation 2 (Sayr u Suluk)

In This Article

  • Sincerity or purity of intention (ikhlas) and perfect goodness or excellence (ihsan) are the two bases and the most important sources of power for journeying and initiation.
  • These travelers regard respect for God’s commandments as the first and foremost means of approaching God, and piety and righteousness as the most blessed equipment for the journey.
  • Travelers who have attained this point eat, drink, and sleep little, and always feel wonder. Their interest in and occupation with worldly affairs is only because they live in the realm where cause and effect have a certain part.

Sincerity or purity of intention (ikhlas) and perfect goodness or excellence (ihsan) are the two bases and the most important sources of power for journeying and initiation. When the initiates’ heart beats with a feeling of sincerity and the consciousness of perfect goodness, they sometimes utter There is no deity but God, while having in mind several of the Divine Names, and therefore meaning “There is no Creator, no Provider, no Shaper… but God.” At other times they open a window in the heart for each Name of the Bestower of Life, and set out to observe what is beyond the door that has been opened by the consciousness of perfect goodness. On occasion also they travel

through reflection on the harmony of the qualities (color, scent, form, taste, sound, harmony) manifested on things, or on the horizon of Some faces that Day shall be shining and radiant, gazing toward their Lord (75:22-23), and they burn with the zeal of meeting with Him. With a deep, mysterious desire of observation, which is impossible for any mental faculty to make, they try to rise to the heaven of knowledge of God from the launch-pad of belief. Then their love develops into a passion, which is strengthened with zeal. They fly into the depths of eternality on the wings of attraction and, with the feeling of being attracted by Him, rise toward the high towers of the angels, being welcomed by spiritual beings, reaching points that few can reach, seeing amazing things that few can see. But aware that what they seek in no way has any form, they regard every scene that greets their eyes only as a picture, a tableau, and remain devoted to the truth beyond:

He is neither of bodily nor accidental existence, nor a substance, nor composed;
He does not eat, nor drink, nor is contained in time: He is high above all such features.
He is absolutely free from changing, transformation, and also from having colors or a form:
All of these we spell out so that we can clarify what God is not.

Whatever level they reach, they always feel humble in acknowledgment, We have been unable to know You as knowing You requires, O the One known, and stress that the Divine Being cannot be perceived. To whatever extent they fulfil the demands of devotion to God, they admit: We have been unable to worship You as worshipping You requires; and however deeply and sincerely they mention Him, they whisper their inability, saying: We have been unable to mention You as mentioning You requires, O the One mentioned.

These travelers regard respect for God’s commandments as the first and foremost means of approaching God, and piety and righteousness as the most blessed equipment for the journey. They train their souls and purify their spirits in devotion to the rules of Islam. They consider every effort for training and purification that is opposed to the rules of Shari‘a as falling away from the religion, and if anything out of the way occurs at their hands, they see it as a sign that they are going to perdition. In every stage of journeying and initiation, the travelers pay exceptional attention to the safety of the journey and see this safety in their devotion to the essentials of the religion and religious life, and know that their worth in God’s sight lies in piety and righteousness, and that only the pious, righteous ones can find God. “The final destination of the God-revering, pious will be Paradise, and their drink, the drink of Paradise.”

The author of Gulshan-i Tawhid expresses this truth beautifully as follows:

If you seek safety, know that piety and a righteous religious life are the safest stronghold against all fears and danger.

Self-training, or the training of the soul, has been accepted as an extremely important element of all religions. The self or the soul mentioned here is the human soul or self, which is also mentioned as the speaking self, and is dealt with in seven stages according to some Qur’anic allusions to it:

If the speaking self or soul lives only a life of ease in the swamp of carnal appetites, it is the Evil-commanding Soul; if it falters time and again while following the way of religion to attain piety and righteousness, but each time that it falters it criticizes itself and turns to its Lord, then it is the Self-condemning Soul. The soul which always resists evil in devotion to God and is favored with certain Divine gifts in proportion to its purity, is called the Soul Inspired or Receiving Inspiration. When it reach- es the point where it has a relation with its Lord in perfect devotion and sincerity and when its consciousness is at rest, it is the Soul at Rest. If it has reached the station where it abandons all its choices and is a representative of Divine will, it is the Soul Well-Pleased with God. When its greatest aim is acquiring God’s good pleasure and approval and when it is always acting to this end in consideration of, “I am pleased with You, so be pleased with me,” then it is the Soul Pleasing to God. Finally, the soul which has the capacity to be completely adorned with the full manifestations of Divine qualities and Prophetic willpower and resolution is called the Soul Perfected or the Soul Pure.

A believer with an evil-commanding soul is either unaware of the sins he or she commits or lives an uncontrolled life. Even if such believers perform the daily Prayers and sometimes do supererogatory acts of worship, they are neither conscious of what obedience to God entails nor aware of what committing sins signifies. Such persons need to be assisted, aroused to become aware of the balance between fear and expectation, and made to deepen their knowledge, love and awe of God. It is the beginning of the major or greater jihad (striving) that such believers heed advice, engrave their errors in the memory so that they frequently criticize themselves, and are determined to regularly fulfill their religious duties and resist sins. So long as they continue to strive, some changes will begin to occur in their feelings and thoughts. They begin to see that not even their best deeds are sufficient and criticize themselves even for the least of their evil deeds. This is the second step in the soul’s journey, which is called the Self-Condemning Soul.

Those who have reached the stage of self-condemnation intend to set out toward Him in their heart. However, they falter, making errors that stain their good deeds, and beautiful things follow ugly ones in their life. But whenever they stumble and fall, they pull themselves upright in remorse for the evils committed, cleanse themselves of sin by sincerely asking God for forgiveness and by trying to uproot their inclinations toward evil through prayer. Not content with these, they continuously reprove them- selves, and suffer pangs of conscience. A time comes when they express these pangs with sighs from the depth of the heart, and when they put these feelings into invocations and tears in seclusion. Those with a self-condemning soul advance along the intermediate corridor between carnal appetites and sins, and spiritual peace. They show great care in keeping their hearts upright in devotion to God and their thoughts travel between the outer and the inner worlds. They utter “There is no deity but God,” they turn toward Him and display their yearning for Him, saying “There is none to be desired save Him,” and continuously whisper “He is the Truly Desired One” and “the only One deserving worship.”

In the sight of the self-condemning travelers who have deepened in spiritual attainment and reflection, the smallest errors and omissions begin to seem to them the greatest and most perilous lapses. When they rise to this point, they can more easily distinguish dark from light and good from evil, and when they think of the ugly face of sins, they feel repugnance, and when they think of good deeds, they moan with remorse and regret for not having done them. However, they are always hopeful and determined. It is of the souls that have attained this point that God says: “Those who strive for Our sakesurely We will guide them to the ways to lead to Us. Assuredly, God is with those of perfect goodness who act consciously that We always see them (29:69).” God inspires in them all that is good and beautiful, and the things He approves of together with how they can attain them. The soul that has traveled so far in order to reach God and has come to the point of receiving this inspiration is the soul receiving inspiration.

Travelers who have attained this stage are preoccupied with Him and with consideration of Him. They breathe with observations everywhere of the matchless beauty of His making and look on everything as a beautiful scene of wonder, and they overflow with feelings of appreciation. While saying “There is no deity but He” with their voices, their hearts beat with the truth, “There is none deserving worship save He.” Without being able to find the words to express their wonder in Him and His works, they can only utter “He,” and begin to fuel the love and zeal in their hearts with every breath they inhale and exhale. While their spirit burns, their voices petition Him with the words,

O cup-bearer, in the fire of love I have burnt away,
so give me some water!

Since I fell in love with a beautiful one, I have burnt away, give me some water!

In addition to the world losing its attractions, even those aspects of the Hereafter that do not directly look to the Divine Being Himself, become of secondary importance to them. They seek welcome by Him in His Presence, they adorn their speech with yearning for Him and make their words more meaningful by arousing a yearning for Him in the hearts of others. They fill themselves with gifts that come from Him and try to distribute these, pouring the honey in their spirits into the hearts of those who yearn for Him. They frequently say, as Lamakani Huseyin Efendi131 said,

Clean the fountain of your heart when it is filled,
keep your eyes open when your heart becomes an eye for your heart.
Drive out denial, and put the pitcher of your heart against that fountain;
so that the pitcher may be filled with its exhilarating water.

When they get filled to the extent that they continuously overflow with the gifts coming from God, they pour them into the hearts of those around them, calling them as Muhammed Lutfi Efendi did:

O you who are seeking God’s gifts, come and join this circle (of dervishes)!
O you who are passionately pursuing God’s light, join this circle (of dervishes)!

Travelers who have attained this point eat, drink, and sleep little, and always feel wonder. Their interest in and occupation with worldly affairs is only because they live in the realm where cause and effect have a certain part. Fulfilling the responsibilities that are inherent in their rank and being thankful for the gifts of the Ultimate Truth, they sometimes breathe with the manifestations of the Divine Names and sometimes with those of the Acts. However, if they cannot strictly continue their spiritual journey under the guidance of the Prophetic way or if they do not take refuge in the guidance of those who represent the Book and the Sunna, they may, due to the depth of their devotion, go so far as to make utterances of pride that are incompatible with the rules of Shari‘a; also they may display affectations instead of maintaining humility and self-possession in their relationship with God.

The final point that a soul who receives inspiration can reach is the ultimate point of certainty based on knowledge and the beginning of certainty based on observation. Until travelers reach this point, their belief that everything is from God is only a theoretical assertion. When they reach this point, they confess with all their being that everything is from God. Every time they make this confession, they feel new breezes of contentment and begin to taste every commandment of God and everything pleasing to Him as if it were a dimension of their nature. This means that they are at the threshold of attaining the soul at rest.


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