Sayr u Suluk (Journeying and Initiation)

In the language of Sufism, when used together, sayr u suluk (journeying and initiation) denotes becoming free of bodily and animal appetites to a certain extent within the framework of certain principles, searching for ways to reach God and traveling toward Him by the heart in order to lead a life at the level of the spirit and heart. It also signifies becoming refined from evil nature and morals and adopting Qur’anic morals in order to be able to travel toward and meet with God.

Journeying and initiation have connotations with regard to the Divine manifestations that come during the journey. From the viewpoint of these manifestations and an initiate’s being favored with them, journeying has been dealt with in two categories:

1. Journeying downward: in order for a restricted, conditioned, and transient existence to emerge, the Absolute, Necessary Existence manifests Itself with mercy and blessings. In other words, the Almighty, True One graciously condescends beyond all concepts of modality to manifest Himself. He does so universally, with all His Names, and gives existence to, and maintains, beings and things, and He does so particularly, with some of His Names, and bestows its particular shape, character, quality and capacity on, and maintains, each being and thing. This can also be regarded as the expanding manifestation of the Necessary in the spheres of the contingent, and the Absolute in the spheres of the conditioned. This journey extends from the earliest determination of beings and things in the Divine Knowledge to the step expressed in the Prophetic saying, “The first thing which God created is my light,” and from here to all degrees of existence in the whole of the universe, and finally to the realm of humankind.

2. Journeying upward: Human beings, the most comprehensive fruit of the tree of creation, set out for a spiritual journey with their will-power, senses, consciousness, and heavenly faculty (the core of the heart) to return to their original home or source. They find that the original home toward which the journeying is, is in one respect the spirit in its primordial purity. When the spirit finds its original home, it is annihilated in respect of its bodily associations or appetites in the Light of the Existence of the Absolutely Necessary Being. It is this journey that we deal with here in four steps or stages:

1. The first stage is journeying toward God, which is also called the first journey as it is the beginning of traveling toward God. It begins in the realm of the manifestation of the Divine acts and continues through the realm of the manifestation of the Divine Names and ends in reaching the Name which determines a traveler’s existence with all its peculiarities. There are many who set out for this journey, but few who can continue it. Whether this journey is made in the outer worldthrough reflection on God’s works in the universeand called journeying in the outer world, or it is made in the inner word of travelersthrough self-purificationand is called journeying in the inner world, when it ends the travelers no longer feel interested in anything save God and find themselves in tides of annihilation in God. This favor has been described as minor or lesser sainthood.

2. The second stage is journeying in God. Since it requires another determined attempt and beginning, it is regarded as the second journey and is sometimes called the absorption. Travelers at this stage are freed from evil morals and mortal attributes and acquire praiseworthy or Qur’anic qualities, and represent the Divine Names according to their individual capacity. They reach a higher horizon where they begin to discern what lies beyond material existence and feel that a knowledge from the Divine Presence flows into their heart. They gradually melt away in the face of the rays of knowledge that concern the realms of the Divine Names, Attributes and Qualities that are essential and indispensable to the Divine Being, and that are favored with a full perception of what belonging to God means. This favor has been called subsistence with or by God.

3. The third stage is mentioned with different names, such as journeying with or in the company of God, the third journey, and distinguishing together with absorption. One who has reached this final point only sees Him beyond all concepts of modality, knows Him, and feels Him, and is surrounded by the lights of knowledge of Him. The manifestations of His “Face” destroy everything and everywhere it is echoed: “All that is on it (the earth) is perishable, and the very Being of your Lord possessed of Majesty and Munificence remains permanent” (55:26-27). All other existent beings, and kinds of knowing, seeing, and feeling begin to be reduced so that they are of only a nominal nature in the initiates’ deep knowledge of God and their overflowing spiritual pleasures. Feeling the existence of all others, even if only temporarily, is distressful to the heart. Travelers who are not among the successors of the Prophet in his mission of representing, conveying and practicing the Divine Message in its universality, are lost in the depth of their spiritual pleasures in their private worlds. The final point of this stage, where all opposites are lost in the sight of a traveler, is called absorption itself. Nasimi expresses this spiritual state of pleasure where all appearances have disappeared, in a typical style of immersion as follows:

The place where I am has developed into no-space;
This body of mine has completely become a soul;
God’s Sight has manifested Itself to me; and
I have seen myself intoxicated with His meeting.

A call has come to me from the Truth:
“Come, O lover, you have intimacy with Us!
This is the place of intimacy;
I have seen you to be a faithful one!”

This is also the station where, like a wine glass, one becomes filled with and emptied of His love, loving and urging others to love Him madly. One who overflows with the gifts of this station regards any speech that is not about Him as being a mere waste of words, and any other consideration as being disrespect for Him. One desires that every word should essentially be about Him, every meeting should end with mention of Him, and everyone should talk about Him alone in the manner of a lover. How nicely one of His lovers says:

I wish the people all over the world loved Him Whom I love;
And all our words mentioned the Beloved One.

4. The fourth stage is journeying from God. This journey has also been called the fourth journey or coloring after self-possession. One who has got to this point, where one meets with God, turns towards the realm of multiplicity with new interpretations of the way of unity after having reached unity. In other words, descending while following the way of the Messenger, who descended after having ascended as high as “God’s Presence,” the traveler returns to be amidst people in order that others may also feel and experience what he or she has felt and experienced during some degree of meeting or reunion with God. Such returning travelers devote their life to saving others from worldly and other-worldly dungeons, causing them to rise to the holy Presence of God, attaining what they have attained, seeing what they have seen, and arousing in others a burning desire to meet with Him. Guiding those baffled by the depths of darkness to the light; guiding those bewildered about what lies beyond the corporeal world; educating those who have decided to follow the way to Him; making the hearts of those who aspire after His good pleasure content and at rest; assisting those who have found light to overflow with a knowledge of God; and allowing those favored with this knowledge to travel amid the hills of spiritual pleasuresall these are among the tasks incumbent upon the travelers upon their return to people from God. This is the state of the special apprentices of the Prophets, which some leading Sufi scholars described as subsistence by God and with God or distinguishing after absorption.journey

Those who have attained this horizon see unity in multiplicity and multiplicity in unity; they experience at the same time two depths with one dimension, and they set out for a new meeting with God at every moment with the pleasure of feeling His company and the pleasure of others whom they lead toward that meeting. They neither fall into confusion and make utterances of pride that are incompatible with the rules of Shari’a, nor do they show feigned reluctance to attract His mercy. Instead, they always breathe self-possession. They feel breezes of journeying in God in journeying toward Him, and they observe the truth of journeying from God in journeying in Him. They are in a state of having both found Him and lost Him, and of having both met with Him and departed from Him, and of feeling a nearness to and a distance from Him all at the same time.

Those travelers are the most perfect of travelers, the greatest of guides, and the masters of human education and upbringing. They cause the hearts of those who turn to them and follow them as masters of guidance to overflow with the feelings of belief, knowing God and loving Him. Modeling their actions on the Prophetic saying, “Make God loved by His servants, that He may love you,”[1] they both love God and are loved by Him. Their purity of intention and feeling, the profundity of their thought, their earnestness in their representation of Islam, and the refinement in their manners make them such a source of the water of life and a torch of light that everyone who aspires to the Divine gifts and radiance appeals to them, and every lover of Divine light takes refuge in their guidance. Because:

Good actions originate in good nature and being virtuous;
Traces of perfection are found in good nature and virtues.

Initiation means acquiring the ability to meet with God, living in constant consideration of journeying, which is regarded as an important means of being always together with Him, showing continuous resistance to bad morals, adopting good morals or a good nature and laudable virtues as one’s character, purifying the heart, in which God is known to be as a “hidden treasure,” refraining from worrying about and considering all else save Him, and of being inwardly prepared to entertain the Dearest of Guests. Concerning this, Ibrahim Haqqi of Erzurum says:

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.

As mentioned before, the word initiation is used on its own to express the spiritual journey discussed, and it is also used together with journeying as in journeying and initiation. Sometimes the word spiritual is added and the concept is expressed as spiritual journeying and initiation. What is meant by all is that we should turn away from everything else save God, in the sense that we should not feel interest in or attachment to other things with respect to their own being and our worldly considerations, and that we should give our attention to Him exclusively. It also includes the guidance of those who represent the Qur’an and the Sunna perfectly in belief, thought and action, and appealing to them in cases of doubt, hesitation and bewilderment. Initiation also denotes living in perception of our absolute need for the Almighty in awareness of our helplessness, poverty, and neediness; having a heart overflowing and empowered with love and zeal, feeling with observation of the Divine manifestations, will-power and all other faculties with asking God for forgiveness, and praying so that inclinations to evil may be uprooted and inclinations to good strengthened.

Sincerity or purity of intention 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, sound) 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 towards 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 are unable to know You as knowing You truly requires, and stress that the Divine Being cannot be perceived. To whatever extent they fulfil the demands of devotion to God, they admit: We are unable to worship You as worshipping You truly requires; and however deeply and sincerely they mention Him, they whisper their inability, saying: We are unable to mention You as mentioning You truly requires.

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 pious and righteous will be Paradise, and their drink, the drink of Paradise.”

The author of Gulshan-i Tawhid[2] 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 self; 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-accusing self or soul. The self which always resists evil in devotion to God and is favored with certain Divine gifts in proportion to its purity, is called the self receiving inspiration. When it reaches 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 self at rest. If it has reached the station where it abandons all its choices and is a representative of Divine Will, it is the self 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 self with which God is pleased. Finally, the self which has the capacity to be completely adorned with the full manifestations of Divine qualities and Prophetic will-power and resolution is called the self perfected or the self pure.

A believer with an evil-commanding self 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 self’s journey, which is called the self-accusing self.

Those who have reached the stage of self-accusation intend to set out toward Him. 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 accuse themselves, 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-accusing self 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-accusing 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 souls that have attained this point that God says: “Those who strive for Our sake-surely 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 self that has traveled so far in order to reach God and has come to the point of receiving this inspiration is the soul or the self 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 Effendi[3] 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 did:

O you who are seeking God’ 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 Truth, they sometimes breathe with the manifestations of the Divine Names and sometimes with those of the Attributes. 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 and part of His creation is only a theoretical assertion. When they reach this point, they confess with all their being that everything is from God and a part of His creation. 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 self at rest.

In the eyes of those who have reached the stage of the self at rest, all things, all colors and forms disappear with their peculiar features. They continuously think of and utter the truth of “There is no deity save God,” and while doing so, they feel only Him as the true Self-Existence, they live surrounded by the light of this Existence, and experience with delight all creation as the manifestation of His Knowledge and Existence. In this state of pleasurable experience, they pronounce “There is no truly existent being save God,” in the sense that every other existent being comes into existence by His giving it existence. This implies neither the Unity of Being nor the Unity of the Witnessed. It is a state of pleasure which those who do not experience it cannot perceive, and those who experience it cannot describe fully. In the hearts of the travelers who have risen to this point, all else save Him disappears under the light of His Existence, and the Holy Acts, Names and Attributes begin to appear wherever they look. The travelers who go on further and further become intoxicated with new signs of meeting with Him at every step, and feel that everything belongs to Him alone due to a certainty based on observation. These travelers attempt to make presents out of their existence which they see as a borrowed garment they have been made to wear, pronouncing: “I have found the most genuine, sweetest honey, so let my existence be plundered!”

These travelers are such that if they are asked to offer their souls, they stretch out their necks like a sheep in order to be sacrificed. They follow in the footsteps of the Prophet Ishmael, who is mentioned in the Qur’an, (Ishmael) said: “Father, fulfill that which you are commanded, and you will find me patient, by God’s will.” So when they both (Abraham and his son Ishmael) wholly submitted (to God’s will), and Abraham laid him prostrate on the side of his face (for sacrifice) (37:102-03). They are extremely tender-hearted and unburden themselves with tears. They love everything, smell and caress everything, and especially feel a heart-felt interest in human beings, as they are polished mirrors that reflect the Creator. They exchange greetings with His manifestations in every color, taste, scent, and sound, and every exchange of greetings causes them to think and feel new things. They put the brake of self-possession and wakefulness on their pleasures and zeal. Fearing that they may fall into the error of thinking that all the spiritual pleasures, joy and delight that seethe in their spirit and pervade their whole being in waves originate in themselves and therefore belong to themselves, they pay no attention to these feelings, although many tend to sacrifice their souls for the same, but rather pursue only God’s good pleasure and approval in every word and act of theirs. Like Yunus Emre, they always say: “I need and want You, only You.”

At this point of the self at rest, God’s gifts begin to pour abundantly on those with special capacities. In addition to several other characteristics, this rank is also the stage where those who have reached it are tested with spiritual discoveries and wonder-working. Sincerity requires that all spiritual discoveries and wonders which the travelers encounter should have no worth in their sight. They should even fear that these discoveries and wonders may cause their gradual perdition if they attribute them to themselves. At exactly this juncture, where a second nature begins to grow in them, the travelers’ hearts expand and discover newer and newer truths and many secrets are revealed to them. At this stage, the veil is removed from their eyes with the result that the truths beyond things and events begin to appear in their own colors and dimensions, and where some become dazzled and feel dizzy, travelers with insight hasten to take refuge with the Sunna of the master of creation, and think and talk according to the fundamental principles of religion. They continue their journey, guided by the reflectors of the way which the Messenger and his Companions followed. Formerly, in the times after the Universal Teacher and Perfect Guide, upon him be peace and blessings, perfected guides who represented the way established by the Book and Sunna brilliantly and fully used to show the way to travelers. However, during times that have been deprived of such guides, many have been deviated and many others have been left stranded halfway.Prayers For Endurance

The rank of the self at rest is also the station where an initiate journeys with or in the company of God, and the station which attracts particular Divine gifts. Some express these gifts with words that suggest incarnation and union; this is only because of a lack of suitable words or expressions. But it may cause a loss that leads the travelers to fall. Even though they may be at a summit, they can still fall into the abyss. Summits and abysses exist side by side. The higher one’s rank, the deeper the abyss into which one can fall. One who falls from the apex of the tower of sincerity will fall into an extremely deep abyss. For this reason, as one covers distances along the way, reaching higher and higher points, one should become more and more self-possessed and wakeful. When the horizon or destination is within sight, travelers should supervise themselves more strictly, they should be more aware of their nothingness before God, and be conscious that whatever favor and blessing they enjoy is from Him and that they are only mirrors that reflect the same. They should turn more sincerely and deeply to the Source of those favors and blessings; they should affirm that the greatest favor and blessing is servanthood, and do so with a deep feeling and perception of their poverty, neediness, and helplessness; and they should pray in the manner of Uways al-Qarani:

O God! You are my Lord, and I am a servant.
You are the Creator, and I am the one created.
You are the All-Providing, and I am the one provided.
You are the Master and All-Owning, and I am the one owned.
You are the All-Mighty, and I am the one humble and abased.
You are the All-Wealthy, and I am the one impoverished.

According to some verifying scholars of Sufism, the final rank in the spiritual journey is the self at rest. Other ranks, such as being pleased with God, God’s being pleased with the traveler, and perfection or purity, are different manifestations or evolved forms or dimensions of the being at rest. It is better to view these as the manifestations of feeling attracted toward God rather than different ranks or degrees.

However it is viewed or called, travelers who have reached the final point of being at rest receive fullyfully according to the capacity of a created beingthe manifestation of the Divine Name the All-Living and become a polished mirror of It, only pursuing God’s good pleasure as a requirement of the second nature that they have acquired. This summit is that of being pleased with God. Having attained this spiritual profundity, where they welcome with the same contentment whatever comes from Himwhether it be grace or reprimandthe travelers are freed from the influence of all the features of their corporeality, and gain a new existence in all its fresh aspects. This is the existence that comes with sobriety after self-annihilation, subsistence after annihilation, and certainty based on observation after certainty based on knowledge. In the sight of such a traveler, every particle becomes a voice which mentions Him in all the circumstances in which it exists. Every voice or sound is a tune that echoes from Him in a different way that is peculiar to it. Every color pours into the eyes and hearts, as if they were smiles from a clime of holiness. The traveler breathes with the truths of There is none to be desired save Him and There is none to be worshipped save Him. In proportion to their position, they take in these blessed words as if they were oxygen for their spiritual life, and send out, as if carbon dioxide, everything else that arises in the bodily existence that occasionally makes itself felt because of human nature. The travelers calm their nerves and irritations, things regarded as the remnants of the carnal self. When they feel stressed under the pressure of struggling with those remnants, they turn to their eternal Goal with supplicating tears, and experience their accomplishments as favors of God, saying as Muhammad Lutfi said:

That which I have-I am not worthy of it;
This favor and grace-why are they bestowed on me?

Their every word, act, and manner reveal the sincerity and depth of their being pleased with God the Almighty. Everyday they refresh the thought of resignation to God’s will, without even being aware of the beauties that flow into the eyes of their hearts from the heaven of feeling that is attracted toward Him. They whisper:

Whatever comes from You-
be it a reprimand from Your Majesty or a favor from Your Grace;
Both are a pleasure for my soul; both are pleasant-
whether this or that is from You.

Having set up their thrones in such a world of approach and feeling, travelers advance through the manifestations of the Divine Names and Attributes toward the final point of certainty that is based on knowledge. Beyond this lies the peak of God’s being pleased with them. Here they feel His pleasure and approval with the signs peculiar to this state, and which they know as witnessed by their sound, pure consciousness. This summit has been called by different names, such as the rank of God’s special manifestation of His particular Names or absorption within absorption. Those who have reached it continue their journey on the summit of journeying from God in deep wonder and self-possession. With the Almighty acting as their eyes with which they see and their ears with which they hear, they can always see and hear correctly and they act endowed with most praiseworthy qualities. They overlook the evils done to them, ignore the imperfections they see in others, never cherish an ill opinion of believers, embrace everyone with affection, and live in peace with all people because they know that they are all creatures of God. They always feel happy in their inner world (even though suffering with the afflictions of others) because they are pleased with God, Who is also pleased with them, and this converts everything into a confection in the workshop of their hearts, the abundance of which they then turn and offer to others. With their hearts always indicating God’s good pleasure, they act in all places as those who direct their hearts to the One Who is Pleased with them. They love for God’s sake, embrace for God’s sake, smell for God’s sake, and try to fulfill what is required by such a great favor, which is regarded as the beginning of the rank of the Truth of the Messenger as being Muhammad, and to deepen their relation with this rank.

The ultimate, indescribable point of the self at rest is the self perfected. Travelers at this point feel that Divine manifestations have pervaded all the created worlds to give them their color, and all other colors, forms and qualities have been wiped out, and they experience transformation after transformation in their inner world of pleasures and visions. This highest summit, where travelers continue their journey in journeying with God and experience unity in multiplicity and multiplicity in unity, belongs, first of all, to the Prophets. The pure scholars succeeding the Prophets in their duties can feel in their hearts only a reflection of this in loyalty to the Prophets. The most important characteristic of these scholars is wakefulness. They are aware of their place-where they are and why and with what mission. They distinguish between the whole and the parts, the universal and the particular, the origin and the shadow, and the ones who are leading and the ones who are led. They never fall into confusion. They are seen to neither make utterances of self-pride that are incompatible with the rules of Shari’a, nor do they display affectations such that God’s attention may be drawn to themselves. Neither do they see themselves as superior to others nor do they expect privilege. They attribute to Him whatever they have that is worthy of appreciation, and regard every effort to preserve the same as thankfulness to God for those things. They are exceptionally humble and modest. Without expecting anything in return, they are ready to shoulder further tasks and responsibilities.

The souls with such a degree of purity fulfill all their responsibilities in the manner and solemnity of performing their duties of worship and they cause every moment to overflow with a new delight in meeting with Him in the depth of their being. Their breaths reflect the breezes of His nearness, causing serenity wherever they blow. Their silence is a deep reflection that uncovers the meanings of things and events, and their words are sparks of wisdom from Prophetic psalms. Numerous eyes search for them. Their manners remind people of the Creator, and wherever He is remembered and mentioned, hearts are aroused to self-supervision, and boil like magma, burn like a furnace, and cry aflame:

O nightingale crazy with love, do you cry again in pain?
Do you head for a rose once more shedding such profuse tears?
You hasten into fire like moths throwing themselves to light to burn;
Or have you constantly been burning in the fire of love?

Besides the stages of the carnal self or soul, the Sufi scholars have also mentioned some degrees or ranks of depth and purity for the spirit. The inward dimension of the spirit is “secret,” and the inward dimension of “secret” is “secret within secret.” The most important dimension of “secret within secret” is “private,” and its deepest aspect is “the more private.” What is meant by “inward” is the essence or substance of a thing. These faculties are from the pure realm of Divine commands. The deepest, most abstruse and impenetrable of these faculties is the “more private.” The “private” envelops the “more private” with its aspects belonging to the realm of Divine commands. “Secret within secret” surrounds them like a wall, and the spirit embraces all these faculties like an atmosphere and connects them to the heart. The development of these faculties depends on possessing a deep spiritual life to govern the human daily life. For this reason, it is not possible for unfortunate ones who have not been able to save themselves from their corporeality and to discover their real human faculties, to feel the gifts that flow into those who have risen to high levels of spirituality. The minimum conditions of feeling such are to have the necessary capacity and to make the required efforts to develop it, and then to be able to be saved from the domination of corporeality through periods of suffering.

May God guide us and you to the right, sound path. And let God’s blessings be upon our master Muhammad, who was tender-hearted and compassionate, and on his family and Companions, the noble, godly ones.

By M. Fethullah Gulen


[1] Al-Tabarani, Al-Mu’jam al-Kabir, 8:91.
[2] The author of Gulshan-i Tawhid is Shahidi Ibrahim Dede (1470-1550). He was among the famous Sufi masters belonging to the Mawlawi Order. He wrote in Persian and Turkish. Gulshan-i Esrar (“The Rose Garden of Secrets”), Gulshan-i Tawhid (“The Rose-Garden of Divine Oneness”), and Gulshan-i Wahda (“The Rose-Garden of Unity”) are among his famous works. (Trans.)
[3] Lamakani Huseyin Effendi (d., 1625) was one of the famous Sufi poets and guides of the 17th-century Istanbul. Wahdatname (“The Book of Unity”) and Insan-i Kamil (“The Universal Man”) are his most well-known works. (Trans.)

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