Thought Control, Contemplation and Dhikr
By: Allama Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Husayni Tehrani (RA)
These three constitute important stages in attaining to the goal, and most of those who halt midway and are unable to reach the destination halt in one of these three stages, where they either remain standstill or perish and are destroyed, as the dangers of these stages consist of the worship of idols, stars, fire, and, at times, atheism, Pharaohism and claims to hulul and union (ittihad) and rejection of obligatory duties, considering what is haram as lawful, and the like. Of course, we shall refer to all of them but presently we will discuss hulul and ittihad which are among important dangers and that emerge for the wayfarer while purging his mind through thought control (nafyโe khawatir).
As the wayfarer has not yet emerged from the valley of names and descriptions, therefore, as a result of the revelation of the Attributes and Names, he may imagineโmay God be our refugeโthat God has united with his ego and personality. This is what hulul and ittihad mean, which are kufr and shirk, whereas the meaning of the Unity of Being totally negates plurality and otherness and considers all conceivable existents, in front of the sacred Being of the One, as imaginary and reckons all of them as shadows. The wayfarer is denuded of all his berg through ascent to this station and loses himself, becoming annihilated, not perceiving any being as possessing existence in the realm of being except His Sacred Essence: [There is no master in the house except Him.]
And how far is this from the notions of hulul and ittihad!
As to thought control, it consists of conquering the heart and mastering it, so that it may not say anything or carry out any action nor any notion and thought should enter it except with the permission of its master. The attainment of this state is very difficult, and that is why it has been said that thought control is the greatest of the purging agents of the inner spirit (sirr). When the wayfarer stumbles at the station of thought control he sees that all of a sudden a devastating deluge of thoughts and fancies has besieged him and even thoughts which he never imagine would come to his mind, of distant past or of impossible things, come to him and constantly keep him preoccupied. At this stage the wayfarer must remain steadfast like a mountain and with the sword of dhikr slay every thought that arises and causes trouble. The meaning of dhikr here is the same as the Divine Names toward one of which the wayfarer must turn his attention at the time of emergence of any of the thoughts and make his attention towards it perpetual, witnessing it with the eye of the heart until that thought is cast out of the heart's abode.
And this is a very sound method of keeping out thoughts solely with dhikr which is the same as paying attention to and remembering one of the Divine Names. God, the Exalted, has said: ุฅูููู ุงูููุฐูููู ุงุชูููููุงู ุฅูุฐูุง ู
ู ุทูุงุฆููู ู
ูููู ุงูุดููููุทูุงูู ุชูุฐููููุฑููุงู ููุฅูุฐูุง ููู
[Verily, those who are God-wary, remember when a visitation from Satan troubles them, and then they see clearly.] (7:201)
However, this method has not been allowed in the treatise attributed to the marhum Bahr alโ'Ulum and there it is strongly insisted that thought control must be exercised without dhikr and that one must take up dhikr after that, because control of thoughts with the sword of dhikr is very dangerous. First we shall briefly cite that which has been said there and then take up its refutation. There it is said: Many of the pseudoโmasters (mutashayyikhin) teach that the stage of thought control should be covered through dhikr (evidently, what is meant by dhikr is payment of attention with the heart, not a dhikr said verbally, for which the term is wird) and this is very dangerous. For the reality of dhikr consists of paying attention, to the Beloved and concentrating on His beauty from distance. The vision of the Beloved is permissible when the eye is blind to anything other than Him, for the Beloved is ghayur (jealous), and His ghayrah implies that it is not proper for the eye that sees Him to see any other, and He inflicts with blindness any eye that turns away from Him to view someone else, and beholding Him while viewing other than Him is contrary to His ghayrah, and should this beholding and fuming away be repeated it amounts to contempt and the Beloved responds by delivering such a rap on his neck that that would be the end of him: ููู
ูู ููุนูุดู ุนูู ุฐูููุฑู ุงูุฑููุญูู
ููู ูููููููุถู ูููู ุดูููุทูุงููุง ูููููู ูููู ููุฑูููู [Whoever blinds himself to the remembrance of the Allโmerciful, to him We assign a Satan for comrade.] (43:36)
Nevertheless one kind of dhikr is permissible in thought control, and that is the case where the purpose of dhikr is not the sight of the beauty of the Beloved but to drive away Satan, like someone who calls the beloved to expel an intruder from the place of meeting. Here, the purpose is to threaten the other, and its method is that, while engaging in thought control, if a thought should intrude in such a manner that it be very difficult to dispel it, one engages in dhikr in order to banish it.
However, the method of the adept of the Way and the aware ones who have attained to the ultimate goal (wasilin) is that in the instruction and guidance of the initiates they first order them to exercise thought control and then to proceed to do dhikr. For thought control, they order the wayfarer to concentrate on some sensible object such as a stone or piece of wood and to fix his gaze upon it while refraining as much as possible from blinking the eyes and concentrating upon it with all one's inward and outward faculties. Preferably one should practice it continuously for forty days and, during this period, employ the threefold wirds of isti`adhah, istighfar, and the dhikr "Ya Fa "al" engaging in these adhkar after the obligatory prayers of dawn and night. After this he must concentrate on his heart and continue this practice for some time, concentrating on it fully and not allowing into his mind any thought other than the thought of it. Should any thought intrude upon him during the course of this exercise and give rise to an disturbance, he should take recourse to the words "La mawjuda illallah" (There is no existent except God) and the word "Allah."
He should persevere in this exercise until there emerges a state of selfโabandonment. The dhikr during this exercise is istighfar and "Ya fa "al", and the Name "Ya basil" should be chanted a lot. When the wayfarer reaches this stage, he is permitted to complete the remaining stages of thought control through the means of inward dhikr until thoughts are purged once and for all, for the remaining thoughts will automatically be purged, God willing, on entry into the stages of contemplation (fikr) and dhikr." (Here ends its summary).
It should be known that the method of thought control which has been mentioned here is derived from the Naqshbandi order, who are a group of Sufis whose refuge is in Turkey and other places. Their murshid was Khwajah Muhammad Naqshband and so they are known as the Naqshbandiyah.
However, the tariqah of the marhum Akhund Mulla HusaynโQuli Hamadani, may God be pleased with him, was not such. He and his disciples do not consider thought control to be practical without dhikr. Rather, their method was observance of muraqabah, that is, exercising care in its stages. We have mentioned it briefly earlier and now we shall describe it in detail.
The first degree of muraqabah lies in the wayfarer's abstaining from unlawful things (muharramat) and performing all obligatory duties (wazjibat), without being negligent in these two matters in any way whatsoever.
The second degree consists of an intensification of muraqabah, making an effort to do whatever one does for the pleasure of God and to refrain from matters which are considered vain and frivolous. And when he covers this stage carefully he fords stability (tamakkun) therein, whereafter he does not succumb or lose himself and his selfโpossession approaches the degree of a habit (malikah).
The third degree of muraqabah is to consider, perpetually, the Sustainer of the world as being watchful over oneself, gradually coming to admit that God, the Exalted, is present and watchful everywhere and observant of all creatures. This muraqabah must be observed in all states and at all times.
The fourth degree belongs to a higher stage and is more perfect and that consists of seeing God as present and watchful accompanied with a brief vision of Divine Beauty. These two latter stages of muraqabah are referred to in the advice of the Nobles Apostle (s) to Abu Dharr Ghifari, may God be pleased wide him: ุงููููู ููุฃูููููู ุชูุฑูุงููุ ููุฅูู ููู
ู ุชููููู ุชูุฑูุงูู ููุฅููููู ููุฑูุงููุงุนูุจูุฏู
`Worship God as if you see Him, and if you cannot see Him, thenworship Him as if knowing that He sees you.'
On this basis, the stage of worship โwhere God sees the devotee is lower than the stage wherein he sees God.
When the wayfarer reaches this stage, in order to be able to expel everything other than God totally from his mind, thought control must be practised in the course of one of the acts of worship; for it is not permissible in the sacred Shari `ah to concentrate on a stone or piece of wood, because if death were to come to one in those moments what answer would he have beโfore God? However, thought control in the course of dhikr and with the weapon of dhikr is worship and is commended by the Shari `ah and its best method is to concentrate on the soul, which is quickest of methods for reaching the goal. Because concentrating on the soul is accepted and commended by the luminous Shari `ah, and the noble verse: ููุง ุฃููููููุง ุงูููุฐูููู ุขู
ู ูุงู ููุถูุฑููููู
ููู ุถูููู ุฅูุฐูุง ุงููุชูุฏูููุชูู
ู ุฅูููู ุงููููู ู
ูููููู [O those who believe, take care of your souls. if you are guided, he who ismisguided will not harm you,] (5:105)
bears evidence to this matter. The method of concentrating on the soul was the method of marhum Akhund Mulla HusaynโQuli, and all his disciples followed the method of gnosis (ma`rifah) of the soul, which is essential to the gnosis of the Lord.
The reality of `irfa`n derives from Amir alโMu'minm All ibn abi Talib (`a). The orders that have propagated this reality, handing it down from master to pupil are more than a hundred. But the principal branches of tasawwuf do not exceed more than twentyโfive and all of these orders culminate in Hadrat Ali ibn Abi Talib ( `a). Among these twentyโfive sects, two or three pertain to the Shi'ah and all the rest belong to nonโShi'is ( Ammah) and some of these orders culminate in Imam Rida (`a) through Ma'ruf alโKarkhi. However, our tariqah is that of the marhum Akhund which does not end in any of these silsilahs.
To put it briefly, about more than a hundred years ago there was an eminent scholar in Shushtar, named Aqa Sayyid Ali Shushtari, who carried out the functions of a judge and religious authority for the people. Like other eminent scholars he attended to such general matters as teaching, settlement of disputes and acting as a religious authority (marja`iyyat). One day someone knocked at his door. When asked as to who it was, the visitor said, "Open the door, someone has a business with you." When the marhum Aqa Sayyid โAli opened the door he saw that it was a man, a weaver. He asked him as to what he wanted. The weaver told him that a certain ruling that he had given concerning some case of property in favour of someone on the basis of the testimony of witnesses was not correct, and that property belonged to a minor, an orphan, and that the relevant documents were buried in a certain place.
He said to him, "The way that you have adopted is not a right one; this is not your path." Ayatollah Shushtari said to him, "Have I been going the wrong way?" The weaver said, "I have already given my answer." Having said this he went away The Ayatollah was sunk in thought as to who that man was and what he had said. Then on making an investigation he found out that the documents of the orphan's ownership were buried in the same place and that the witnesses who had testified in the other party's favour had lied.
He becomes dismayed and said to himself, "I am afraid that many of the judgments that I have given have been of this sort." He was possessed by a terror and a deep anguish. The following night the weaver knocks on his door again at the same hour and said to him, "Aqa Sayyid Ali Shushtari! The way is not what you are pursuing." The third night the same episode was repeated in precisely the same manner and the weaver told him, "Don't delay. Gather all your belongings, sell away your house and leave for Najaf Ashraf, and carry out the tasks that I have assigned to you. Then, after six months, wait for me in the Wadi alโSalam (cemetery) in Najaf Ashraf."
Marhum Shushtari immediately began to carry out the instructions. He sold the house and gathered his belonging and made arrangements for his departure to Najaf Ashraf. As soon as he arrived in Najaf, at sunrise he saw the weaver in Wadi alโSalam as if he had come out of the ground and was standing in front of him. Then he gave him certain instructions and disappeared. Marhum Shushtari took up residence in Najaf Ashraf and carried out the weaver's instructions until he reached a station that is not describable. May God be pleased with him and may His Peace be upon him.
For the sake of reverence that he had for the marhum Shaykh Murtada Ansari, marhum Shushtari would attend his lectures on fiqh and usul, and once a week the marhum Shaykh too would attend Aqa Sayyid Ali's lessons on ethics (akhlaq). After the demise of the marhum Shaykh (rh), marhum Shushtari (rh) took charge of the Shaykh's chair and continued the lectures right from where they the Shaykh had left them. However, he did not live for much long and after six months departed towards God's eternal mercy During these six months marhum Shushtari sent a message to one of the outstanding pupils of marhum Ansari, named Akhund Mulla HusaynโQuli Dargazini Hamadani. During the lifetime of the marhum Shaykh he had longโstanding relations with marhum Shushtari and had benefited from his lessons in ethics and gnosis, and after the marhum Shaykh he was planning to rake up teaching and he even wanted to pursue the discussions of the Shaykh and to complete them, himself having compiled a written record (taqrirat) of Shaykh Ansari's lectures. In that message marhum Shushtari reminded him that his approach was not one that was complete and that he should try to attain other higher stations. That is how he converted this pupil and guided him to the valley of truth and reality.
Yes, the marhum Akhund, who for several years had studied the higher Divine teachings under marhum Aqa Sayyid Ali before the demise of the marhum Shaykh, rose to become the most outstanding figure in the fields of ethics, spiritual struggle, and the Divine teachings and turned out to be a wonder of his era. The marhum Akhund, too, trained very outstanding disciples each of whom was considered a citadel of gnosis and tawhid and a mighty sign of the Divine. Among the most outstanding pupils of the circle of the Akhund one must name marhum Hajj Mirza Aqa Maliki Tabrizi, marhum Aqa Sayyid Ahmad Karbala'i Tehrani, marhum Aqa Sayyid Muhammad Said Hubbubi, and marhum Hajj Shaykh Muhammad Bahari.
Our revered teacher, the unparalleled gnostic, marhum Hajj Mirza Ali Aqa Qadi Tabrizi, may God be pleased with him, belonged to the circle of pupils of marhum Aqa Sayyid Ahmad Karbalai. This is the genealogy of our teacher which culminates in marhum Shushtari and ultimately in that weaver. As to who that weaver was, and what were his connections and from where he had brought these teachings, nothing is known.
The approach of our marhum teacher, Aqa'i Qadi Tabrizi, like the approach of the great teacher Akhund Mulla HusaynโQuli, was also that of selfโknowledge, and he would prescribe concentration on the soul for thought control at the first stage. The method was that the wayfarer had to fix a half an hour or more in every twenty four hours for thought control in which he concentrated on his soul. As a result of this concentration he gradually gains in strength and succeeds in controlling thoughts, gradually attaining to the gnosis of the soul and ultimately to his ultimate goal, God willing.
Most of the persons who have succeeded in thought control and in purging their minds of thoughts and who ultimately discover the kingdom of gnosis, that has occurred to them in one of the two states. First, during recitation of the Glorious Qur'an and while concentrating on its reciter, as to who the real reciter of the Qur'an is. At that time it was revealed to them that the reciter of the Qur'an was God, majestic is His glory.
Second, through recourse (tawassul) to Hadrat Abu Abd Allah alโHusayn (`a), because that Hadrat is greatly gracious towards the wayfarers of the way of God in respect of lifting the veils and removing the obstacles of the way.
On the basis of what has been said, two matters have a great role in the revelation of the kingdom of gnosis. First is muraqabah in its various degrees; and second, concentration on the soul. When the wayfarer takes care to be observant of these two matters, he gradually notices that the pluralities of this world derive from one mainspring and everything that assumes reality in it derives from one source, and whatever light, beauty and glory, and perfection is possessed by any existent derives from that Mainspring, and it is from that great Source that the light of existence, beauty and greatness to every existent emanate in accordance with the extent of its essential capacity (qabiliyyatโe mahuwi). In other words, absolute and boundless grace, unlimited by any condition and limit, emanates from the Absolute Source of superabundance and every existent receives it to the extent of its essence (mahiyyah).
In any case, gradually four worlds will be revealed to the wayfarer as a result of his consummate muraqabah and intense care:
The First World: It is the world of the Unity of Act (tawhidโe af`ali). That is, at the first stage he perceives that whatever is seen by the eye and pronounced by the tongue and heard by the ear and performed with the hands, feet and other organs and members derives in its entirely from his own soul (nafs), and the soul does what it wills. Then he perceives that the acts that occur in the external world derive from himself, and his soul is the source of all the external acts. Then he finds that his soul subsists through the Divine Being and is a door for the grace and mercy of God. Hence all acts in the external world derive from His Sacred Being.
The Second World: It is the world of the Unity of Attributes, and it is manifested after the first world. It consists of this that when the wayfarer hears anything he does not see the reality of hearing as belonging to himself but to God. Similarly, whatever he may see with his eyes, he perceives the reality of vision as belonging to God. Thereafter, every kind of knowledge, power, life, hearing, sight, and the rest of things that he observes in the external existents are found by him to derive from God, the Exalted.
The Third World: It is the world of Unity of Names and it rises after the second world. It consists of this: he perceives the attributes as subsisting through essence. For instance, he fords that the one who knows and is powerful and living is God, the Exalted. That is, he perceives his own faculty of cognition as being the cognition of God, his own power, hearing, and sight as being in God. On the whole, he fords that there is one and only one who is powerful, knowing, seeing and living in all the worlds and that is God, the Glorious, and that every existent is a sign and symbol, to the extent of its existential scope, of that Knower, Hearer, Seer, and Living One.
The Fourth World: It is the world of the Unity of Essence which is higher than the third world, and this is disclosed to the wayfarer through the revelations of Essence. That is, the wayfarer perceives that the Essence, from which all acts, attributes, and names derive, is one essence and one reality by which they all subsist. Here the wayfarer pays no attention to Attributes and Names and what he witnesses is solely the Essence. And this is at the point when he bids farewell to his borrowed existence and loses his being once and for all to become annihilated in the Sacred Essence of God, the Exalted. At that point there will be revelation of Essence. Of course, to name this stage as `the station of the Essence' or `the reality of the Essence' or `Oneness' (ahadiyyah) and so for compulsion's sake, for whatever is expressed by the tongue or written by the hand is not beyond names, and the Sacred Divine Essence transcends these and one cannot consider any name or description for It, nor can it be conceived in terms of stages and stations. In fact it is even beyond this inability, for inability, while implying negation, affirms a limit for Him, and God Exalted is 'above limits. When the wayfarer enters this stage and loses his own name and description he will be unrecognizable to himself, nor he will recognize any other and he will not recognize anyone except God. Rather, it is God who know Himself, and that is all there is to it.
The wayfarer loses a part of the effects of his existence in each of the fourfold worlds until, ultimately, he loses the very principle of his being and existence.
In the first world he reaches the station of annihilation in the Act and understands that it is not he who acts but God. Here he loses all his effects pertaining to action.
In the second world, as he understands by virtue of the revelation of the Attributes that knowledge, power and all other attributes are exclusive to the Divine Essence, Glorious and Exalted, at this point he loses his attributes and does not ford them anymore in himself.
In the third world, as he perceives through the revelation of the Names that it is He, the Glorious, who is the knower and the powerful one, here he loses his names and does not ford them in himself any more.
And in the fourth world, which is that of the revelation of Essence, he loses his own existence and does not ford himself anymore. The only essence that there is the Sacred Essence of God.
This stage of shuhud, that is of the revelation of Essence, is referred to by the gnostics as the Anqa or Simurgh, a bird which no hunter can trap. The Simurgh is that essence which is sheer and absolute being, which is called variously as `alamโe `ama, kanzโe makhfi, ghayb alโghuyub, dhat ma la isma lah wa la rasma lah; ุจุฑูุงููโ ุฏุงู
ุฑุบโ ุฏฺฏุฑ ููโ ููโ ุนููุง ุฑุง ุจููุฏ ุงุณุชโ ุขุดูุงููโ
[Go set this snare for another bird, The Phoenix has a nest on inaccessible heights.]
How well has Hafiz, may God's mercy be upon him, sung these lines in his mathnawis, describing this stage in fine metaphors: ุงูุง ุงูโ ุขูููโ ูุญุดูโ ูุฌุงูู โ ู
ุฑุง ุจุง ุชูุณุชโ ฺูุฏููโ ุขุดูุงููโ
ุฏูุชููุง ูุฏูุณุฑฺฏุฑุฏุงูโุ ุฏู ุจู โูุณโ ุฏูุฏ ูุฏุงู
ููโ ุงุฒ ูพูุดโ ูุงุฒ ูพุณ ุจูุง ุชุง ุญุงูโ ููุฏฺูฏุฑ ุจุฏุงููู
โ ุงุฑ ุชูุงููู
โ ูุณุชโ ูุงุฏ ุงุฒ ูพูุฑ ุฏุงูุง ูุฑุงู
โ ูุดุฏ ูุฑฺฏุฒ ูู
ุงูุง ููโ ุฑูุฒูโ ุฑูุฑููโ ุฏุฑ ุณุฑุฒู
ูููโ ุจูโ ูุทูุดโ ฺฏูุชโ ุฑูุฏูโ ุฑูโ ูุดูููโ
ููโ ุงูโ ุณุงููโ ฺูโ ุฏุฑ ุงูุจุงููโ ุฏุงุฑูโ ุจูุง ุฏุงู
ูโ ุจููโ ฺฏุฑ ุฏุงููโ ุฏุงุฑูโ
ุฌูุงุจุดโ ุฏุงุฏ ูุขุฑูโ ุฏุงู
โ ูููโ ุณูู
ูโ ุจุงูุฏ ุดูุงุฑู
ุจฺฏูุชุง ฺููโ ุจูโ ุฏุณุชโ ุขุฑูโ ูุดุงูุดโ ููโ ุงู ุฎูุฏ ุจู โ ูุดุงูุณุชโ ุขุดูุงูุดโ
ุจฺฏูุชุง ฺฏุฑฺูโ ุงููโ ุงู
ุญุงูโ ุงุณุชโ ูููููโ ูุงุงู
โ ูุจุงูโ ุงุณุชโ
ููุฑุฏ ุขูโ ูู
โ ุฏูุฑููโ ู
ุงูุงูโ ุฎุฏุง ุฑุง ู
ฺฏุฑ ุฎุถุฑ ู
ุจุงุฑูโ ูพูโ ุชูุงูุฏ ููโ ุงููโ ุชููุง ุจุฏุงูโ ุชููุง ุฑุณุงูุฏ
[Lo! Wild gazelle, where shall I find you?
I have had with you much familiarity.
Two lonely and friendless wanderers, in wilderness Wild beasts and snares lying in ambush up and down the way.
Come, let's get to know each other's plight, And if we can find out each other's desire.
So do I remember the old sage's words, Which I have never forgotten: That once a traveller in a certain land, Was told jocundly by a libertine sitting on wayside, `O traveller what is it that thou carriest in thy bag, Let us set a snare if thou hast any grain.'
He replied, `Yes I do have a net, But I must the Phoenix catch.'
He said, `How shall you find its trace, For it is traceless and traceless is its nest.'
He said, `Though it should be an impossible thing, But despair too is an affliction.'
That old companion did not proffer his kindness, By God, O Muslims! O Muslims!
Perhaps the Khidr, of auspicious outcome, can do it, For that lonely one can help this lonely one reach his goal.]
Obviously when the Simurgh's nest itself is traceless one cannot hope to find it, except when one is guided by His grace, leading the wanderers of the valley of love and the lovers of His eternal beauty into the valley of tawhid and annihilation, for the sake of the forerunners of the valley of love, the standard bearers of hamd and ma`rifah, Muhammad alโMush and Ali alโMurtada and his eleven glorious sons in the descent of the Batul and the Adhra', Fatimah alโZahra', may Peace of Allah, the Sovereign and the Exalted, be upon them. O God, grant success to all the lovers, and us, to attain to that which pleases You and join us with the Righteous Ones (salihin).
Thank God for His favour. This noble treatise, which has been named Risaleh ye lubb alโlubab dar sayr wa sulukโe uli alโalbab, was completed by the pen of this destitute and nondescript on the 8th night of the month of fasting in the year 1369 of Hijrah (June 24, 1950).
ูุฏู ูููโุงูุงูููููโ ูุงูุขุฎูุฑูุฉูุ ููุขุฎูุฑู ุฏูุนูููุงูุง ุฃููู ุงูุญูู
ูุฏู ููููููู ุฑูุจููุงูุนูุงููู
ูููู. [And to Him belongs all Praise, in the World and the Hereafter, and our ultimate cry is โAll Praise belongs to God, the Lord of the Worlds.']