Another Way of Journeying and Initiation

Some make spiritual journeys by refining and developing the inner faculties, while others purify the carnal self within, causing it to take certain steps. In both these ways, suffering for certain periods is essential to reach the rank of perfection and to become a perfect human being. Yet there are other ways, different from these two ways, to reach the ranks and stations and the favors and blessings that come through spiritual journeying and suffering. Among these ways, there is one which is based on the way of the Prophet’s Companions and may be regarded as a manifestation of the truth of Messengership.

Relax Way Mountain Landscape Lonely Hiking Trail

Helplessness, poverty, affection, reflection, zeal and thankfulness are the basic elements of this way. Helplessness means being aware of one’s inability to do many of the things that one wants to do, and poverty denotes the awareness of the fact that it is God Who is the real Owner and Master of everything. Embracing everybody and everything because of Him is affection, while reflection is thinking deeply, analytically and systematically about and meditating on the outer and inner world, with a new excitement every day. Zeal is the great, ardent desire and yearning to reach God and to serve in His way. Always thanking God for His bounties and proceeding to Him in full consciousness of all His blessings during the journey is thankfulness.

According to Bediüzzaman Said Nursi,[1] this way is more direct and safer. Helplessness is a path of light leading to being loved by God that is safer and quicker than love; in it the more one perceives one’s helplessness, the more quickly one will reach one’s goal. Poverty is an inexhaustible treasure which, to the extent of one’s consciousness of it, will lead one to the protection and direction of the All-Merciful and His infinite Power much sooner and more safely than the greatest discipline, efforts and endeavors could. Affection is deeper and more sincere than love. No traveller having this feeling, which is a manifestation of Divine Compassion, has ever been left halfway. Reflection is the way of the enlightened spirits who relate everything to wisdom through study and the observation of one’s inner world and the outer world. As for zeal, it is the characteristic of those who are always conscious of the points or senses of reliance and asking for help that are innate to them. These two senses always remind of God. Those endowed with zeal never become desperate or disappointed. And finally, thankfulness is returning with gratitude all the blessings of God that we receive almost gratis.

The essence of the way can be summed up as:

“I am helpless, You are the All-Powerful; I am poor, You are the All-Wealthy; I am needy and in straitened circumstances, You are the All-Compassionate; I am bewildered and seeking a way out, You are the only Goal Which is sought and to be reached.”

It is not possible for those who are aware of their helplessness, poverty, neediness and bewilderment to see themselves as pure or of being of any rank, thus it is not possible for them to be heedless or forgetful of God while knowing that whoever forgets Him is forgotten and bound to forget him or herself also. Nor is it possible for them to attribute to themselves the accomplishments with which God has favored them, using the pretext of their endeavors, nor to ascribe their evil and sins to Destiny, thus regarding themselves as existing independently of God.

According to Bediüzzaman, this way can be dealt with from the viewpoint of the following four disciplines:

  • Making efforts to see the carnal self as not being purified and sinless, as against its innate tendency to see itself as pure and sinless.
  • Being careful and resolved to forget oneself when and where one should forget and remember oneself when and where one should remember.
  • Being well aware of the fact that God creates everythinggood and eviland is the only source of all good. Thus, one should attribute to oneself all one’s sins and evil as being caused by one’s own person, albeit it is God Who has created them, and all good and all accomplishments should be attributed to God, and one should be thankful.
  • Whatever state one is in and whatever rank one reaches during one’s journey, one should know that both one’s existence and merits are but a shadow or a shadow of the shadow of the lights of Divine Existence, and that all aspects of one’s existence are a mirror of the manifestations of His Knowledge and Existence.

Now let us explain these points in accordance with the approach of Bediüzzaman:

soulThe first discipline: The carnal self in its nature is fond of itself, and only loves and has relations with others because of itself. The self-love of the carnal self is so great that its adoration of itself is like the adoration of God felt by a sincere believer devoted to the One Who absolutely deserves worship and who should be sought. It never shows inclination to acknowledge its errors and always sees itself as being pure and free of error. So, one should wage the major (greater) jihad against such an attitude, always criticizing and questioning it, softening and melting it in the blast-furnace of self-criticism and self-supervision in order to reshape it. One should never see oneself as free and absolved of errors and sins, and the acceptance of this is, in fact, the tap under which it should and can be cleaned. Only by doing so can one’s innate positive potentialities be developed.

If we continuously seek purification in seeing ourselves as prone to evils and errors, angels and other spiritual beings will greatly appreciate our decency and cleanliness, and, as stated in a Prophetic saying,[2] they will come down from all sides to shake hands with us. If, by contrast, we are so heedless that we see ourselves as clean and infallible, we will inevitably be representatives of a loathsome nature from which even devils will keep aloof in disgust. As Mawlana said, human beings are such that sometimes they become like the Devil under the influence of satanic impulses, and sometimes they are on a par with angels at the summits of spiritual life.

SATAN (DEVIL)

The second discipline: A person with an unpurified, evil-commanding carnal self may be forgetful of the most vital matters, which should never be forgotten, and such a person does not even want to recollect them, while pulling up from the heart matters that should never be remembered. Human beings should always think of serving God’s cause, of being earnest in their deeds, of their responsibilities to the people around them, and of death and what lies beyond it. They should uproot from their spirit hatred, jealousy, worldly ambitions, greed, and carnal desires. Only by doing so can human beings keep their innate tendency toward spirituality alive, and hold themselves back from rousing the satanic tendencies within them.

We, travelers on the way to God, should see belief in God and living along the line of His good pleasure as a blessing, and concentrate on how we can please Him with all our thoughts, feelings, and actions. We should also try to lead our lives in His company, and by virtue of this company, we should continually seek new means to be always in close relationship with Him. We should always be aware of what Mawlana reminds us of: “There is a hidden One here; O heart, do not see yourself as alone.” Based on our relationship with Him, we should strive to transcend our limited nature in order to advance toward infinity, developing our drop-like existence into an ocean, and seeking the mysteries of the universal in our particular existence. If we lead such a life, the things that are seen as impossible to do are done and obstacles that seem insurmountable are surmounted. Particulars become reflections of and mirrors to the universal, and what we see as non-existent takes on the color of existence, a dew-drop excels the moon in reflecting the sun, earth becomes as elevated as the heavens, and our particle-like natures expand to the extent of the universe.

Mawlana, the prince of the lovers of God, advises us to transcend the corporeal dimension of our existence and discover the mysterious potentialities of our spirit, saying:

A pitcher which has found the way to the sea:
Rivers prostrate themselves before it.

Meditation Stone Towers Stone Tower Balance TowerThe third discipline: A carnal self that has not yet been able to step on the way to refinement through journeying in itself and the outer world, ascribes to itself whatever good and achievement it is favored with, while imputing evils and failures to either external factors and causes or its incorrect, stunted concept of Destiny. Instead of overflowing with thankfulness for whatever favors it receives, it inwardly collapses because of self-pride, conceit, and arrogance, and extinguishes its feelings of thankfulness to and praise for God. It contaminates its horizon with the filth of such bad morals, and ruins itself. Whereas, if the carnal self is able to attribute to God all the good and achievements and impute all evils, shortcomings and failures to itself, then it would be favored with blessing after blessing, even in the most unfavourable circumstances. What is necessary is that the carnal self should see that its perfection lies in its perception and acknowledgment of its imperfection, and that it should always be humble before and devoted to God. The carnal self should also overflow with thankfulness and zeal by perceiving and acknowledging that its power comes from its helplessness, and its richness lies in its innate poverty.

It is extremely important for us as believers to know that all our merits and accomplishments are from God, while all our imperfections and errors are from our own selves, and that we should keep our system of self-interrogation and self-control alive and active. So long as the travellers to God can do this, they will always yield fruit, even in the most unfavourable circumstances. Whereas, from the moment when aridity arises in the spiritual world of the carnal self, due to certain erosions, then only thorns will grow, even in the most favorable circumstances, and it will hoot like an owl, lamenting its loss.

If human beings were only physical beings, their concerns and worries about corporeality would be meaningful. Seeing a noble being as consisting only of a physical body means reducing it to the level of flesh, which is bound to disintegrate and rot away and be food for microorganisms. This is the most abominable form of despising the noblest and most honorable of all creation. But the actual fact of the matter is that humankind, by virtue of their creation, endowment, and potentials, are more valued and sublime than even the angels. Human beings are much more than being mere body; they are endowed with heart, spirit, and other inward spiritual faculties, with consciousness, intellect, perception, intelligence and other outer and inner senses and feelings. Human beings are an assemblage of values that transcends the physical dimension of their being. Human beings are such precious and well-endowed creatures that they can sometimes fly so high that even the angels desire to catch up with them; sometimes they can reach the peaks which separate the realm of mortal beings from eternity and infinity. Using their mental faculties to the utmost degree, they arrange travel to celestial bodies, and transfer sounds, voices and images from great distances, offering us the most beautiful melodies of time and space shrinking at great speed.

However, despite the extent of their capacity and exceptional nature, humans can fall into a net of hatred, grudges, greed, and lust, becoming the most wretched and abased of all beings. They can be wretched slaves and beggars, despite their nature and capacity to be the masterpieces of creation; they can become nothing more than worms creeping on the earth, despite their potential to be heavenly beings. But if they turn completely to God with all their inner dynamism, overflowing with thankfulness for all the good He has bestowed on them, and impute to themselves all the evils they may commit and shortcomings they may suffer, they can become perfected and be saved from those shortcomings through awareness and wakefulness, and by being cleansed under the taps of self-control and supervision. Then humankind can set up the tent of true humanity on the debris of evil feelings and passions, and express themselves through accomplishments, without ever losing their humility and feelings of nothingness before God. This also means discovering themselves anew at every attempt, being fully aware of themselves in their own depths, and experiencing a new revival at every moment. Mawlana sees this as the feet of the soul being freed from the fetters of corporeality and the spirit starting to become heavenly. A spirit which has become heavenly also attempts to arrange its own, inner world with its whole power of perception and consciousness, makes incessant efforts to repair the defects standing in the way of its perfection. Such a spirit travels sometimes in the realm that stands before the veil over existence and sometimes beyond it, and goes into ecstasies at every seeing of the depths of its heart. Every such seeing arouses in it a new desire to grow into perfection, and every desire a new zeal for self-renewal. It sees its heart as a home of God and utters:

The heart is the home of God; purify it from whatever is there other than Him,
So that the All-Merciful may descend into His palace at night.

The truly and fully human beings cleanse the heart of foul concepts and images, adorn their “secret” with knowledge of God, illuminate their “private” with the torch of love and zeal, and make their “more private” utter loyalty. They are always occupied with the Beloved One, and ready to sacrifice themselves for His sake. This is their affliction, which is preferred to all cures; they are exhausted with the excitement of being on the way to Him. However, their affliction is sweeter than all cures, and their exhaustion is preferable to every rest or repose. Their affliction causes them to travel through deserts in quest of greater afflictions, saying:

I used to seek a cure for my inward affliction;
They said: “Your cure is the affliction itself.”
I used to seek something to sacrifice in the court of the Beloved;
They said: “Your soul is the thing you seek to sacrifice.” (M. Lutfi)

The soul also utters, as many have uttered:

I used to seek a cure for my affliction;
I have come to know that my affliction itself is my cure.
I used to try to find that which is hidden in my origin;
I have come to know that my origin is that which is hidden. (Niyazi Misri)

Many have sung melodies of love about Him, and of separation from Him and yearning to meet with Him with all of their being, as if each part of their bodies were a flute.

Concerning this, Mawlana says:

O heart! You and your suffering for Him exist; ah, how nice it is always to be concerned with Him and suffering for Him! That suffering is, in fact, your cure. So, bear with all the afflictions and troubles coming from Him, without making the least complaint. So does He decree. If you have been able to trample your bodily desires, then you have killed the dog of your carnal self, which is the thing that should be killed.

The fourth discipline: The carnal self sees itself as if it were a being which exists independently. It sometimes adopts a manner so refractory and abased that every attitude and act it performs is disobedience and hostility to Him Whom it must unquestionably worship. In reality none other than Him has an independent existence of itself. Every existing being or thing, living or non-living, functions as a mirror to the Names of the Most Exalted Creator with respect to the level of life with which it is favored. Even though the human carnal self has an exceptional nature and capacity particular to itself among other beings, its existence with whatever it has is from Him, and subsists by Him alone. For this reason, with respect to itself, it is a zero in the face of Eternity, a shadow in the face of the Original Being, and is nothing in the face of the Truly Existent One. Its perception of this is the first step to the attainment of true existence, while thinking otherwise is a lethal stumbling. When one sees oneself as an independent being existing and subsisting by oneself, one rolls headlong into the dark abyss of non-existence. Yet, when one functions as a polished mirror to the Truth (having whatever is good and valuable as only a reflection from Him), one is en route to eternity. One smashes the tight frame around one and finds the light of the Existence of the True Being. Concerning this, Muhammad Iqbal[3] says:

In your essence, there is a substance from the Existence of God, and a ray from His manifestation. But for His ocean, I do not know where we would have been able to find this “pearl.”

The following couplet, whose author is not known, relates the matter to the famous saying, “He who knows himself, knows his Lord:”

Know your own self, if you desire to have knowledge of God;
Only he who knows his own self, is one who has knowledge of God.

Mawlana sums up the matter as follows:

So long as a servant is annihilated with respect to his ego and conceit,
It is impossible for him to attain true belief in God and His Unity.
Unity does not mean union with God; it means freedom from ego.
Whoever says otherwise, speaks a lie and cannot make falsehood truth.

To sum up, it is possible to say that, other than the way composed of love, suffering and similar essentials by which one can reach God, there is another way; this is the way of one’s perception and the acknowledgment of one’s own helplessness and poverty before God, and of affection and reflection. This second way is safer and more direct than the former one.

Travelers following such a way in consciousness of their helplessness turn to the One of Infinite Power with all of their being, each saying: “Hold me by the hand, hold because I cannot manage without You.” The more aware they are of their poverty, the more sincerely they take refuge with the Divine Wealth, and attribute to Him whatever in their possession is good and praiseworthy. They are in constant thankfulness and act zealously where others stumble because of their self-pride and utterances that are incompatible with the rules of Shari’a. Those who study deeply and reflect on their inner world and the outer world do not fall into pride (by ascribing any accomplishment and the favors they have received to themselves,) nor do they fall into mental and spiritual confusions by imputing evils to external causes or Destiny. On the contrary, they attribute to God all of their accomplishments and the favors they receive, rely on Him, and enjoy the pleasure of dependence on Him. As for evils, they ascribe them to themselves and turn to God with repentance, penitence and contrition, feeling pangs of separation from Him and pleasures in the expectation of again meeting with Him. Since they regard their existence as a shadow of the light of the Divine Existence, they never consider that they have independent self-existence, nor do they need to be preoccupied with such notions as Unity of Being and Unity of the Witnessed. With the conviction that their existence, with all its attributes and potentials and whatever endowment they have been granted, are all from Him, then they live with the pleasure or the hope of His company, and act in thankfulness for being on the way to Him. They never value or esteem easy behavior or utterances that suggest self-pride and self-complacency.

The basic essentials of this way were once expressed by the present author as follows:

O friends, come and listen, O friends!
Our way is the way of zeal;
The comrades satisfied with belief,
Thorns are roses for us.

Thanks to Him, we have seen the Face of the Truth,
And found the very essence of everything;
We have adopted His every word as a principle;
And His Speech is evidence for us.

All strength by which we are strong is His;
We are known for His Name, by Which we act,
And travel, going beyond the summits;
All difficulties are easy for us to surmount.

We have no wealth but are extremely wealthy;
And are noble and honored by relation to Him.
Reflection is our way; and everything, wet or dry,
Is a source of knowledge of God for us.

Plains, residences, and deserts,
All voices mention Him throughout the universe,
Roses of all colors that have opened,
Each is a message to us from Him.

You know us from serving God with utmost zeal;
Our work is always thinking of Him,
And what we will always do and declare:
His Book is the guide for us.

We have found Him and submitted to Him;
And been saved from grief and despair;
We were sullied but have been cleaned;
His Mercy is the ocean in which we were cleaned.

O Lord, accept my repentance, and clean me of the dirt, answer my prayers, secure my place in religion, guide my heart, make my voice always speak the truth, and root out all kinds of hatred and envy from my heart. And bestow Your blessings and peace on our master and support Muhammad, and his family and Companions altogether.

By M. Fethullah Gulen


[1] Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1877-1960) is the most famous and one of the greatest Muslim thinkers and scholars of the 20th century. He wrote about the truths and essentials of the Islamic faith, the meaning and importance of worship, morality, and the meaning of existence. He is very original in his approaches. Sozler (“The Words”), Mektubat (“The Letters”), Lem’alar (“The Gleams”), and Sualar (“The Rays”) are among his famous works. (Trans.)
[2] Al-Muslim, “Tawba,” 12-13; Al-Tirmidhi, “Qiyama,” 59.
[3] Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) is one of the most outstanding Muslim thinkers and activists of the 20th-century Muslim world. He studied in England and wrote many books. The Reconstruction of the Islamic Thought is the most well-known among them. (Trans.)

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