Monday, July 30, 2007

How Fraudulent Shaykhs can Abuse Legitimate Principles of Spiritual Guidance (Part 2, continued from yesterday's post)

I'll just touch, in passing, upon the sixth rule of Shaykh Suhrawardi (May Allah be pleased with him).

6. Compassion for the weak.

For a fraudulent teacher to fake compassion for the weak and for anyone else is really child's play. Spencer Tracy (an academy-award winning actor from the '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s) once said that the key to becoming a good actor is to learn how to fake sincerity -- when an actor can do this, he or she has got it made, and false teachers become very adept at faking sincerity, compassion, generosity, honesty, and a lot of other qualities as well.

Shaykh Suhrawardi's (May Allah be pleased with him) seventh rule for shaykhs is:

7. The purifying of speech.

Spiritually purified individuals do speak from the heart and because their hearts are uncontaminated with the machinations of nafs or ego, the purity is reflected in their speech. There are all kinds of predators in nature who imitate what is considered by some other species to be 'tasty', safe, or innocuous, in order to make breakfast, lunch, supper or a snack from the unsuspecting 'victim'. Among human beings, sociopaths are extremely adept at imitating the surface features of emotion, etiquette, and socially approved behaviors, in order to set up a situation which will be to their advantage. The serial killer Ted Bundy was an extremely charming, polite, 'considerate', friendly person right up to the time he raped and killed his victims. Parents who sexually or physically abuse their children are often considered to be upright and moral people by the rest of the community. They are often thought of being moral exemplars by everyone outside of their families. How do they do this? Well, among other things, they have nice ways of talking, and they use all the right code words for: love, goodness, truth, honesty, kindness, and so on, but, the problem is, there is no reality behind what they say when it comes to their children. Spiritual frauds are experts in knowing what linguistic and verbal buttons to push in order to program people they meet to believe that the former are good, decent individuals.

Spiritual frauds are artists in getting people to feel guilty or ashamed for harboring even the least kind of negative suspicion concerning the actual motives of the alleged 'teacher'. While most of us try to say what we mean and mean what we say, the spiritual fraud takes this general principle of behavior and induces us to believe that he or she operates according to the precise same principle, when, in fact, something other is the case. Spiritual frauds rarely say what they mean or mean what they say, and in our desire to think the best of people who carry the label 'spiritual' we are reluctant to suppose otherwise.

8. Exalting the heart to God in the state of speech.

Jimmy Swaggert, Jim Baker, Jim Jones were constantly exalting the heart to God in the state of speech, but, the problem was that this did not carry over, or transfer, very well to the sphere of action. Satan loves God and can talk with the best of them in the language of exalting the heart to God in the state of speech, but it is meaningless, for the nature of the heart is such that it can be influenced by both the nafs/world and the realm of spirit -- and, depending on what is controlling the heart, exalting the heart to God in the state of speech can have very different meanings and ramifications. Niyat or intention is extremely important, and if niyat is not purified, then, no matter how wonderful the exalting sounds, the heart which is under the influence of the darkness of nafs, or dunya, or Satan or unbelievers, tends to create disharmony and destruction, not harmony and constructive acts and words.

A woman once approached the Prophet (peace be upon him) with her child in tow and asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) to educate the child not to eat so many sweets. The Prophet (peace be upon him) asked the woman if she could return with her child the next day and the lesson would take place at that time. The woman did as she was asked and went away. The next day she returned with her child ready for the lesson. The Prophet (peace be upon him) sat with the boy and told him that he shouldn't eat so many sweets. The mother was perplexed and inquired why the boy couldn't have been told the same thing yesterday. The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied that yesterday when they had come to him, he was eating a date, and did not wish to counsel the boy not to eat sweets while he was doing precisely the thing that the boy was being instructed not to do. For the Prophet, the state of speech matched the condition of his heart, and this is one of the reasons why people's condition changed, by the Grace of Allah, when in his presence -- because of this concordant harmony between what he said and what was in his heart.

Unfortunately, for those who are false teachers, the situation is precisely the reverse, and although their speech may wax eloquent as if the reflection of a heart which was engaged in the exaltation of God, in truth, something quite different is going on there, and over time people's spiritual condition is also affected by this state of affairs but in a very different direction and in a quite different manner than occurred in relation to the Prophet (peace be upon him). God knows what is going on in the heart of a human being. But we do not. God knows who the true, authentic servants are whose hearts are exalting God in their state of speech. But we do not always know even though the speech may appear to be noble and exalting in nature ... for, an outward appearance which is not rooted in an inner reality cannot be of any substantial spiritual assistance although from the external point of view things may seem otherwise.

9. Speaking ambiguously.

When in the student the shaykh sees something detestable and wishes to admonish him, so he may strive to remove it. The shaykh should cast it before the assembly ambiguously.

The spiritual himma or aspiration of a true teacher is such that they can focus that himma on the individual within the group for whom a teaching or story my be intended and ensure that the message is received and felt by the intended recipient. However, there is a tendency within most of us to suppose that, in one way or another, everything which is said by the teacher is applicable to us, whether it is or not.

Sometimes seekers become so hypervigilant when it comes to the teachings of the spiritual guide that they see themselves in everything the teacher says -- especially when it comes to faults, weaknesses, sins, errors, blunders, and so on.

Spiritual frauds know this, and by speaking ambiguously, they induce most of the people in the group to begin to seek to change in whatever way is being hinted at in order to please the false teacher, and the seekers assume that the indicated changes are part of the spiritual path when, in truth, the changes are according to whatever agenda the false teacher may be promoting. A great deal of mental and emotional programming of seekers goes on in this way during the public sessions which are held by a sham spiritual guide.

10. Preserving the mysteries of the student.

Fraudulent teachers can fulfill this condition in their sleep since they don't know what the mysteries of the students are to begin with, and, therefore, they have nothing to divulge. Moreover, whatever experiences may be undergone by a seeker -- be they good, bad or indifferent -- can be re-framed by a false teacher into something which either 'shows' that the teacher is 'authentic' (in other words, the argument is this: if an experience appears to have been positive, good, constructive, pleasant, or the like, then, in order for such a 'good' experience to have been possible, the teacher must be authentic -- or, alternatively, if the experience was negative, bad, difficult, and problematic, then, surely, the behavior of the seeker is at fault, and the experience has been a warning for the seeker to change his or her ways to better resonate with the teachings of the guide. In addition, a false teacher could take the above rule of Shaykh Suhrawardi (May Allah be pleased with him) and use it as a tool to lend obscurity to the situation. By claiming that a true spiritual guide is under a duty to 'preserve the mysteries of the student', then, the false guide can always indicate that although he or she 'knows' what the spiritual condition of a seeker is, adab or spiritual etiquette forbids the so-called teacher to talk about it.

11. Pardoning the students blunders.

Although tolerance, forbearance and forgiveness are all admirable qualities, nonetheless, if a false teacher doesn't really care what a seeker does as long as the seeker does not upset the teacher's own self-serving agenda, then, it is easy for such a person to pardon any and all acts -- and, in fact, a false teacher can use this as a technique to gradually program the student to do whatever the teacher wants because the student is so grateful to have found someone who accepts them as they are -- warts and all -- that they are prepared to do almost anything for such an individual -- not seeming to realize there is a difference between being accepted by someone for what one is, and being used in certain ways because the individual's weaknesses are of value to the false teacher's master plan. Some false spiritual teachers even make use of the 'weaknesses' of some of their students and get the latter to serve as pimps for the teacher by instructing such students to seduce people and, then, bring the ones so seduced to the teacher for further disposition. Some false guides even get such individuals to troll the Internet looking for those who are psychologically vulnerable and likely to succumb to emotional assaults which are designed to exploit those vulnerabilities.

12. Descending from his own right

While in an authentic teacher, this quality of foregoing his or her own rights is a sign of integrity and nobility, false teachers frequently will reframe issues to give the impression that things in which they are not interested to begin with are rights that they are foregoing out of the strength of character. There is no virtue involved when people sacrifice that in which they have no investment or to which they have no right in the first place. Furthermore, among authentic guides, there would never be any talk about rights which are foregone. Such matters almost always are handled discretely and privately so that no one else would know either that such a right existed or that the individual declined to exercise such a right due to some higher purpose or commitment -- such as love for Allah, the Prophetic tradition, the saints, the truth, justice, and so on. On the other hand, oftentimes in the case of false teachers, staged 'leaks' are organized so that others come to learn about the 'magnanimity' of character being allegedly being exhibited by the false teacher. The leaks are staged so that the teacher doesn't appear to be tooting his or her own horn, when, in fact, this is what is actually going on.

13. The allowing of the student's rights.

Many people will gladly give up all their rights if they believe they will get peace, truth, knowledge, love, happiness, and self-realization in exchange. Little by little, a person can be manipulated into freely handing over every spiritual right which she or he has because that individual has been led to believe that one will get in return, things which are considered to be much more important than such individual rights. After all, if Rule 12 noted above, indicates that a true teacher is someone who 'descends from his or her own rights', then, by emulating this rule, the student believes that he or she is on the path to having the interior spiritual states which the teacher is assumed to have, and in the interim, all of the student's rights have been given, freely, to the teacher ... the teacher hasn't had to ask for anything or lift a finger -- the student has done it all on her or his own.

14. The distributing of times in respect to Khivlat ( retirement).

Some false teachers claim that their spiritual work was completed years before and that all of their current efforts are dedicated to sharing the knowledge derived through such rigorous practices with the seekers after truth. Such teachers suggest that the first part of their life was devoted to practices such as seclusion, and, now, they are on a journey of return from the spiritual heights and have come back to the lowliness of the world to be with people and through detachment and service they continue to practice their seclusion in the midst of life. The return is described as a great sacrifice and service since they are depriving themselves of being totally immersed in the ways of mystical ecstasy in order to help ordinary people. Oftentimes, the only thing false teachers are in 'retirement' from is authentic spirituality. They are in seclusion, all right, but it is seclusion from the truth of spirituality, and if a seeker does not know what the nature of mystical truth is, then, such individuals become vulnerable to almost any story a false teacher wishes to say about any aspect of spirituality.

15. Increasing of the works of supererogation.

In order not to attract attention, an authentic teacher often will do all their acts of supererogation in private so that the left hand (the nafs and its desire for the praise of others) does not know what the right hand (the spirit) is doing. But, in the case of a false teacher, there are no such private acts because a false teacher has no desire to seek God's favor or blessings -- whether in private or in public. I once knew a so-called teacher who would explain how no one would ever witness anyone saying prayers or doing zikr (remembrance) in his house because all acts of supererogation were done in private so as to avoid tempting the nafs to seek to be well thought of in the eyes of others. The real intent of this proclamation, however, was to misdirect people away from the disparity between the talk about prayer and remembrance and the lack of actual practice with respect to these activities. And, thus, lying about such things was made to appear to be a noble and humble attempt to preserve the sincerity of supererogatory acts which never took place.

The rule about increasing supererogatory acts is a good one. Yet, just as all of the other rules cited by Shaykh Suhrawardi (May Allah be pleased with him) could be corrupted and reframed from the perspective of counterfeit spirituality, so, too, can this last rule for identifying the qualities of a true shaykh be exploited by those who, for whatever purposes, are intent on misleading others.

The bottom line on all of the foregoing is not to try to suggest that mysticism is an impossible path or that there are no authentic spiritual guides. In fact, coming to such a conclusion is one of the most destructive possibilities inherent in spiritual abuse ... for, a very natural tendency is that once one has been spiritually abused, one wishes to give up the quest because of the terrible pain and sense of betrayal one feels as a result of such spiritual abuse. Unfortunately, it is far too easy for some people to counterfeit what is authentic and debase the spiritual currency in the process, poisoning others in the process.In truth, spirituality is a pursuit that, in some ways, is really no different than any other -- we learn from our experiences and from the mistakes which have been, and once these mistakes have been made, recognized, and repented of, then, we push on ... a little wiser than we were before, and, hopefully, prepared to be a little more cautious about jumping too quickly toward possible spiritual opportunities than previously may have been the case. The only thing worse than making mistakes is not learning from them.

The more distant from the time of the Prophet we become, the more careful we must be with respect to the mystical path because there any many occult and satanic forces operative today which seek to mislead us and destroy our thirst for true spirituality, and there are, unfortunately, a diminishing number of authentic shaykhs in the world through whom to receive assistance. Consequently, all too frequently, finding counterfeit forms of spirituality these days is a lot easier than locating authentic forms of mysticism tends to be.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

How Fraudulent Shaykhs can Abuse Legitimate Principles of Spiritual Guidance (Part 1)

Sometimes, when the issues of fraudulent shaykhs or spiritual charlatans arise, a person listening may remark that, down through the ages, various authentic shaykhs have listed and discussed a number of indications which can be used for differentiating between a legitimate spiritual guide and a fraudulent one. For instance, some of these individuals make reference to the exemplary work of Hazrat Suhrawardi (may Allah be pleased with him) and the 15 rules governing the conduct of a shaykh which might be used in this context for identifying authentic teachers.

There are some problems which surface, however –– at least, potentially –– in conjunction with the 15 rules that are cited ... problems which indicate that the difficulties surrounding the recognition and choosing of a spiritual teacher can be fairly complicated and not at all straightforward. Nevertheless, none of what follows should be construed as a criticism of Shaykh Suhrawardi (May Allah be pleased with him), since the material he provided was really not intended to deal with the cleverness or duplicity of spiritual charlatans and the manner in which such individuals often alter the teachings of the great shaykhs to accommodate the needs of a false teacher.

For example, let’s examine the first rule put forth by Shaykh Suhrawardi (May Allah be pleased with him).

1. The purifying of resolution and the searching for the cause.

He should seek out of himself that the cause not be the desire of precedence, the desire of being a shaykh, or the desire of being followed.

While it is true that someone who is a shaykh should not have a desire to be a shaykh, or to be followed, or to have any wish for precedence in the eyes of either the would-be guide or others, let me ask a question: If I am looking for a spiritual guide, how do I know what is in the heart or intention of another human being? Yes, I can spend time listening to what is said, as well as watching behavior and trying to determine if I can detect any trace of the foregoing desires in the man or woman I am considering, but if the person I am thinking of taking initiation with is clever –– and many of the spiritual frauds and charlatans who are out there are very clever and they know the game inside and out -- then, two things are likely to be the case. First, what the sociologist Irving Goffman referred to as ‘front room’ behavior (to distinguish it from how people behaved when they were in ‘back rooms’, out of people’s sight), is likely to appear exemplary. Indeed, the whole advantage that a counterfeiter has is that she or he knows –– from either reading or personal experience –– what the object being imitated (in this case, a spiritual teacher) is supposed to look like. The spiritual fraud knows, for example, that a true shaykh or teacher is supposed to be, among other things, humble, kind, generous, compassionate, loving, considerate, thoughtful, ethical, and so on. Consequently, the ‘front room’ or public arena in which people meet the counterfeit shaykh are often carefully managed and staged to generate exactly this kind of impression in the minds and hearts of unsuspecting individuals.

Secondly, many people who are seeking spiritual guidance will never get a whole lot of time, under a variety of circumstances and settings, to be able to form any kind of informed judgment about what the actual state of desire in a spiritual teaching candidate may be. A seeker’s exposure to an alleged spiritual guide tends to be very restricted, and, consequently, information about a so-called teacher tends to be managed under highly controlled circumstances.

Someone, who was being asked for advice, once asked the advice-seeker who was trying to decide whether to become involved, in some way, with another individual if the man (that is, the advice-seeker) had either been on a journey with the other individual or had any business dealings with that person. The question was asked because such close contact often provides one with some reliable information about the character and temperament of a person under conditions which are not of a person’s choosing and over which they tend to have little control.

Prior to making a decision about whether, or not, to be initiated onto the Sufi path through a certain individual, 99.9999% of the people doing this know, in reality, almost nothing about the actual interior state of the person with whom they are taking initiation. To be sure, a person seeking initiation may have impressions or feelings which are positive in relation to the alleged spiritual guide based on such things as having read a book by the person, or having listened to talks by the individual, or having received the personal testimonies of other people whom one may know who also have had some exposure to the ‘teacher’, or having watched the ‘teacher’ interact with his or her followers, but all of this information is capable of being spun in any direction which an alleged teacher wishes to spin things. Politicians are managed in precisely the same way –– that is, things are done to create certain positive impressions and feelings in the minds and hearts of the electorate.

Let’s move on to the second rule noted by Shaykh Suhrawardi (May Allah be pleased with him)

2. The knowledge of Capacity.

The shaykh must regard the capacity of the student.

Again, there is nothing wrong with this rule. In order to be a good shaykh, a person does need to take into account what the spiritual capacity of a seeker is, and this is necessary for a variety of reasons. For example, the practices which are assigned to a given seeker should be aligned with what a person can handle, and what a person has the potential to handle is an expression of that individual’s spiritual capacity. If a shaykh does not take such things into consideration, a seeker is likely to encounter difficulties which could prove harmful to that individual’s spiritual well-being and growth. We do not grow out of our spiritual potential. Rather, we grow into our spiritual potential, and if an alleged teacher does not understand what that potential is, then, the spiritual instructions given will not be conducive to a healthy, constructive unfolding of the capacity which is present in a given seeker.

Nonetheless, having said this, there are still some problems surrounding this rule. To begin with, if a seeker knew what her or his spiritual capacity actually was, then, someone with that much understanding of one’s own spiritual condition likely would not be in need of spiritual guidance for such a person already would be in direct contact with that for which one steps onto the spiritual path to discover –– that is, the realization of one’s unique, essential spiritual capacity. Lack of knowledge is one of the things that sets us in motion to seek a teacher –– someone who, hopefully, knows what we do not, and someone who will be willing to share with us what she or he knows so that our lack of knowledge can be lessened to whatever extent we are capable of doing. So, when we try to select a teacher who will help us in this respect, we are looking for someone who, as Shaykh Suhrawardi (May Allah be pleased with him) points out, has a knowledge of the spiritual capacities of the seekers who come to him or her. But, knowing this rule doesn’t help a seeker one iota, because the seeker really doesn’t know what such knowledge looks like –– that is why he is called a ‘seeker’ rather than a ‘knower’.

A charlatan can say whatever she or he likes to in this regard, and the seeker won’t know the difference. All a sham-teacher has to do with respect to the issue of ‘capacity’ is have a gift of gab which enables the con-artist to throw things together in a way that sounds interesting, desirable, plausible, and mysterious, and many would-be seekers get hooked –– even when they know about this second rule of Shaykh Suhrawardi (May Allah be pleased with him), since knowing about this second rule provides an individual with absolutely no insight concerning what the issue of ‘spiritual capacity’ really entails. Seekers are trusting the teacher to know this. And, therefore, a seeker’s trust is either well-placed or misplaced depending on the actual spiritual authenticity of the individual in whom the trust is being invested.

Let’s take a look at the 3rd rule cited by Shaykh Suhrawardi (May Allah be pleased with him):

3. Being pure in respect of the students property.

The shaykh must show no greed for the property or service of the student.

Again, this is a perfectly sound rule. The spiritual integrity of a true teacher should be such that like greed have long since disappeared from the interior life of an authentic teacher. After all, one of the purposes of the mystical path is to undergo a process of transformation in which reprehensible properties such as greed become rehabilitated, so to speak, into useful allies rather than spiritual obstacles. For instance, the object of the focus of greed should be directed away from the ego and dunya (or our entanglements with the world) and become occupied with constructive purposes –– thus, the Qur’an describes the Prophet (peace be upon him) as being ‘greedy’ (Harith) for the spiritual welfare of his ummah or community.

Be this as it may, fraudulent spiritual guides are very adept at using a technique which is known as “reframing”. We are all familiar with the fact that how one frames a photograph or painting will determine what will be seen and what will not be seen in relation to that painting or picture. One can select frames which hide certain things (say, flaws in the original) as well as frames which tend to bring out certain colors or features of a painting or photograph. One also can select frames which dominate a painting or picture and take attention away from what should be the center of focus. In addition, one can choose frames which either complement a given painting or picture, and, therefore, leave one with a sense of harmony, or one can select frames which are discordant with the subject matter of a painting or photograph and create a sense of discord. The possibilities for reframing things in the context of human interaction are enormous and very complicated. Among other reasons, this is because we human beings have within us a great many weaknesses which are very vulnerable to being influenced by the manner in which things are presented to us –– quite independently of issues about the actual intrinsic value of what is being presented for consideration ... and smart sales professionals and advertisers have known this for centuries.

Yes, an authentic shaykh should show no greed for the property or service of a seeker. If I am a false spiritual guide and I wish to utilize this rule for my own self-serving purposes, what this rule says to me is this: as long as I don’t do anything which “shows” that I have greed for either the property and/or service of my followers, then, I can actually have greed for their property and/or service –– all I have to do is convince them that I don’t through the art of influence, manipulation, hypnotic suggestion, and reframing. For example, if a false teacher can induce someone to believe that, say, serving the teacher is good for the spiritual condition of a seeker, then, even without asking for service, the false teacher can command service because the whole situation has been reframed –– from one of greed for service on the part of the false teacher, to that of a seeker feeling that it is incumbent on her or him to serve the teacher and, thereby, make spiritual progress through such selfless devotion. The false teacher, through writing, discourses, stories, and so on, indirectly plants in a seeker’s consciousness that serving the teacher is a good thing, a noble thing, an act of love, and, consequently, lo and behold, without having to ask for anything, the teacher is served in more ways than one can shake a stick at.

Now, lest anyone get the wrong idea, service to others is a good thing when it has a proper niyat or sincere intention behind it. But, an unscrupulous teacher can take advantage of this and make it appear that his or her desire for the property or service of others is not present and that, instead, what we are dealing with here is merely the wish of others to serve and give to the teacher –– in fact, from time to time, the false teacher can even put on a big show about how he or she wished one’s followers wouldn’t do these things, but, in the end, bow in humility to the offer of love which is being made to the would-be teacher and accept the gift of property or service with a ‘well, what can one do’ shrug of the shoulders ... which will endear the false teacher to his or her followers even more so.

The forth rule of Shaykh Suhrawardi (May Allah be pleased with him) is:

4. Offering

Delights of offering and of severing attachments are incumbent on the shaykh.

Once again, the teaching is impeccable. A true teacher takes delight in giving to others, serving them, and severing attachments of the nafs or ego in relation to its entanglements with various dimensions of interior and exterior life. However, where there is a will, there is often a way, and the will of false teachers is inclined to look for ways of turning sound spiritual advice –– such as that which is given by Shaykh Suhrawardi (May Allah be pleased with him) –– inside out and using it to their own advantage.

Consider the technique of ‘priming the pump’. More specifically, most people know that if one wishes to get a water pump or a fuel pump or the like, going, then, sometimes, one has to add some water or fuel first in order to get the pump functioning properly. False teachers often are very good at giving things away as a means of priming the pump of material goods and/or service, so that this pump will begin to function ‘properly’ –– that is, so that followers will freely give back to the teacher without the teacher having to say much, or anything, except receive what is offered. Thus, a false teacher might give, for example, a hundred dollars to someone in need, knowing that, in time, either that individual and/or those to whom the needy person talks to about the gift, will interpret the gift-giving as indicating that the false teacher is a humble, charitable, compassionate, loving, selfless individual who is sacrificing his or her own meager resources for the good of others, or a false teacher might arrange to underwrite the expenses of a trip for someone far away to come and visit the teacher (and, more often than not, the money does not come from the teachers own resources but from the resources of someone whom the false teacher controls), and to the recipient of such a seemingly generous and selfless act of friendship, the offer and arrangements are overwhelming to such an extent that the recipient has great difficulty even considering the possibility that something evil or untoward or unsavory may be behind the offer –– which is precisely what the offer has been intended to do ... misdirect attention away from the actual motives to making someone feel guilty or ashamed for being so cynical as to suppose that the offer is not entirely sincere.

In addition, a fraudulent spiritual guide can put on great performances in the public sphere about severing attachments with issues of power, sex, money, property, comfort, control and so on. However, because most of the seekers have no clue about what actually goes on outside of the domain of publicly viewable events, it is the publicly consumed events which shapes people’s opinions, attitudes and judgments of the teacher. Moreover, in most cases, the only people who are permitted to get close to the teacher are those (1) who either have been so corrupted that they have vested interests which parallels those of the teacher and they will not blow the whistle on what is going on and, thereby, undermine their own advantages in the overall set-up, or, (2) those who have become so mesmerized by what is going on that they are ready to re-frame anything which the teacher does –– no matter how destructive and reprehensible –– as being something other than it is, or, (3) those who, however vaguely, do see what is going on, but whose psychological and emotional vulnerabilities are so intense that they cannot bring themselves to act upon what they know and, thus, suffer in silence, not knowing what to do about such knowledge, and experiencing a great deal of anxiety, stress, and fear as a result.

Shaykh Suhrawardi’s (May Allah be pleased with him) fifth rule for identifying an authentic spiritual guide is:

5. Concordance of deed and word in invitation.

Indeed, there should be no inconsistencies or disharmonies between what one says and what one does. Unfortunately, as with everything else, there are ways of circumventing this teaching and transforming it into a tool for misleading people. One of the easiest ways of accomplishing this is to allude to knowledge that the seeker does not have but that if he or she did have, the seeker would be able to utilize in order to reconcile, in a harmonious manner, what, on the surface, appear to be inconsistencies of words and deeds with respect to a false teacher. For instance, almost everyone who has done any reading about the Sufi path or who has heard what are sometimes referred to as ‘Sufi teaching stories’, is likely to be familiar with the Quranic account about Moses (peace be upon him) and Khizr (peace be upon him), the mysterious patron saint of the spiritual path who, from time to time, enters into the lives of certain people in order to teach them or assist them in some spiritual manner. When Moses (peace be upon him) encountered this mysterious figure, the former person had an intuition that this latter individual was someone who possessed hidden or esoteric knowledge which Moses (peace be upon him) hoped to learn. Moses (peace be upon him) asked permission to accompany the stranger, and permission was given with one condition –– no matter what happened, no questions could be asked, and that if any questions were asked that would be the end of the association. Moses (peace be upon him) agreed to this condition. To make a longer story somewhat shorter, there were three events which took place that offended the moral sensibilities of Moses (peace be upon him). On one occasion, Khizr (peace be upon him) put a hole in a boat that belonged to a poor fisherman. On another occasion, Khizr (peace be upon him) killed the young son of a couple who both believed in God, and, finally, on a third occasion, Khizr (peace be upon him) repaired a wall outside of a town where the two had been mistreated. Moses (peace be upon him) believed Khizr (peace be upon him) to be one who believes in, and submits to, the truth of God’s teachings, and, yet, Moses (peace be upon him) was confronted with three deeds which each seemed to conflict with what Moses (peace be upon him) understood to be the truth about treating the property of other people, the sanctity of life, and how one should behave when someone mistreats one. In each case, Khizr violated the expectations and beliefs of Moses (peace be upon him). Each time Moses (peace be upon him) asked a question. Each time, Moses (peace be upon him) was reminded of the promise he had made to not ask any questions no matter what happened. Each time, Moses (peace be upon him) sought pardon and forgiveness for having violated his promise. Each time –– except for the third instance –– he was forgiven and allowed to continue on the journey with his mysterious companion. On the third occasion, Moses (peace be upon him) was informed that the association had now come to an end, but before going their separate ways, an explanation was given of why Khizr (peace be upon him) had done what he had done. In the case of the boat, Moses (peace be upon him) was told that there was an advancing army which was confiscating all boats to use in a war, and that if a hole –– which was easily repairable –– had not been put in the boat, the fisherman, whose entire livelihood depended on that boat, would be ruined. With respect to the youth who was killed, the youngster was no good and unsalvageable and, in time, could undermine the faith of the parents who were good people, so, the youth was eliminated in order to save the parents. Finally, in the town where the two had been thoroughly mistreated by the inhabitants, a wall was repaired because it contained, hidden within it, an inheritance which belonged to two orphans who lived in the vicinity and that if the wall had deteriorated much further, the hidden contents would have been discovered by the miserable town people and they would have stolen it, and, therefore, in order to protect the inheritance of the two orphans –– who in time would be led to the treasure –– the wall was repaired to hide the secret it contained.

Fraudulent teachers can take this teaching and convert it entirely to their own unsavory purposes and all the time, come off smelling like a rose because the surface acts which “appear” reprehensible are really being described as mere camouflage for an underlying and hidden principle which serves the truth and God. If Moses (peace be upon him), as great and knowledgeable as he was, wasn’t able to fathom the truth when a servant of God (namely, Khizr –– peace be upon him) was performing in front of his eyes with God’s sanction, then, how do the rest of us, who are far removed from the elevated spiritual condition of Moses (peace be upon him), know how to differentiate between apparent discrepancies involving words and deeds which can be reconciled on a deeper level of truth, and real discrepancies between words and deeds which cannot be reconciled on a deeper level but are passed off to us as if they could be so reconciled if we only ‘knew’ what the fraudulent spiritual guide allegedly knew and which sometime, perhaps, when we become spiritually mature, we too, will have access to such secrets ... but not just now.

To be Continued tomorrow, insha'Allah.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Authenticity of Sufi shaykhs

There are teachers and, then, there are 'teachers'. A teacher may, or may not, be a spiritual guide. The fact that one can learn from someone does not necessarily make the person from whom one learns either a teacher, a 'teacher', or a spiritual guide, for, among other things, teaching and guidance both depend on the presence of a certain kind of intention.

Although what I 'know', in some sense of this word, about E.J. Gold is limited -- and none of what I 'know' is based on direct experience with him - nonetheless, the dilemma with which he (along with many others) presents a seeker may be instructive. Moreover, all of this can be done without passing judgment on Mr. Gold - either positively or negatively.

Apparently, Mr. Gold is one of those rare individuals who is both multi-talented and quite intelligent. He writes, draws, paints, sculpts, makes jewelry, takes pictures, plays jazz, and does business - and, moreover, he does all of these with a great deal of skill, knowledge, and talent. In addition, he is a consummate speaker, a scholar of considerable resources, and a very insightful and intuitive observer of the human condition.

Jesus (peace be upon him) exhibited few of the foregoing, qualities, and with the exception of, possibly, the realm of business, neither did the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). So, I suppose, the moral of the story is that we should stop listening to such individuals like Jesus (peace be upon him) and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and, instead, follow those individuals who exhibit talent and, as a result, are capable of impressing us in one way or another.

People such as Mr. Gold lead very interesting lives. I am sure that his life experience and the understanding which has arisen out of that life experience are valuable resources for those with whom he comes in contact.

However, neither talent, intelligence, an interesting life, intuition, nor being a valuable resource make someone a spiritual guide, and this is true quite irrespective of whether such people speak, write, or teach about spirituality. A person can write books about spirituality, or go on speaking tours which focus on spirituality, or conduct workshops on spirituality, and none of this, in and of itself, makes someone a spiritual guide - and, this remains so, even if someone who reads a book, or listens to a lecture, or participates in a workshop with such an individual comes away with 'food for thought' which has a spiritual flavor to it.

There is only one factor which can make someone a spiritual guide - that is, someone who serves as a locus of manifestation for the concentrated and consistent transmission of barakah or Divine Grace through which self-realization of essential identity and unique spiritual capacity is, God willing, made possible. This sine qua non of the mystical quest is that the person who serves in the capacity of a spiritual guide has been appointed as such by Divinity.

Divine niyat is the sole key to the issue of someone's being, or not being, a spiritual guide, and the authentic Sufi masters have always alluded to this reality by, among other things, citing the Quranic ayat: "Enter houses by their doors." (2:189). Just as the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "I am the city of knowledge, and 'Ali is the gate," so, too, every authentic shaykh (and God determines authenticity, nothing else) becomes a door to the mystical house to which a silsilah gives expression, and becoming such a door is only possible through a Divine decree that is made known via the mouths and actions of authentic shaykhs, just as Hadith Qudsi constitute the unveiling of Divine intentions by means of the agency of the voice of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Someone does not decide to become a spiritual guide. Someone does not take courses on how to be a shaykh, or become a shaykh by receiving a certificate or diploma from having successfully fulfilled the requirements of a given curriculum or program. Becoming a shaykh is not a matter of scholarship, research, intelligence, talent, or even knowledge since there are, by the Grace of Allah, many people who have become Self-realized who do not, thereby, become shaykhs.

There are no elections or balloting associated with becoming a shaykh. Zikr, fasting, seclusion, night vigils, prayers, community service, meditation, contemplation, recitation of the Qur'an, going on hajj, and the giving of zakat does not render one a shaykh.

The performance of 'wondrous deeds' which, seemingly, break the known laws of physics and/or biology does not make one a shaykh. Indeed, the final dajjal (i.e., imposter) will exhibit all manner of facility with respect to the manifestation of 'wondrous deeds' - including, raising people from the dead - but this does not make the dajjal a shaykh.

Others may proclaim one to be a shaykh. Others may even pay to read one's books, or attend one's workshops, and feel that they are getting good value for the money spent, but personal testimonies and written endorsements do not make someone a shaykh.

One may believe or feel that one has a calling to be a shaykh. However, the existence of such a belief or feeling is not sufficient to make someone a shaykh, and, in fact, there are a number of famous examples of people [e.g., Hazrat Qadir Gilani (may Allah be pleased with him) and the Prophet Jonah (peace be upon him)] who ran away from such responsibilities, not feeling adequate to the task to which they clearly were being called.

There is only one element which makes a person a shaykh. If this element is present - while intelligence, talent, scholarship, and accomplishment are absent, then, one is a shaykh, but if this element is absent, then, irrespective of whatever gifts, diplomas, or kudos can be listed next to one's name, one will not be a shaykh ... and this one element is Divine niyat or intention.

There is nothing paradoxical about the spiritual guidance of the Prophets or the saints or the great shaykhs. It is our ignorance which makes things seem this way.

There is nothing paradoxical about kindness, forgiveness, tolerance, empathy, compassion, love, sincerity, honesty, humility, modesty, poverty, steadfastness, faith, patience, gratitude, piety, wisdom, and friendship. Yes, there is something Divine about all of these qualities, but there is nothing inherently paradoxical about them, although, sometimes, those who seek to pass themselves off as teachers try to reduce mysticism to a series of paradoxical teachings.

There is a difference between a paradox and a mystery, and no matter how many paradoxes one may resolve, the mystery of Self will remain a mystery unless God wishes otherwise. Mysticism, unlike the Bastille, cannot be conquered by assault, but, instead, one gains entry only through inside help - help which has been appointed by Divinity and not help which has been self-appointed as a result of delusion and illusion.

When it comes to people like Gurdjieff or E.J. Gold, what others say about the spiritual qualifications of such individuals really is irrelevant, and, moreover, what those people themselves say about themselves in this respect, is also irrelevant. The only voice which counts is the Divine one.

Trying to discern what the Divine voice is saying to us is not an easy task. Whole lifetimes are often consumed with dealing with such a challenge, and, the result is not always successful.

Trying to step onto the spiritual path is an inherently dangerous activity. There are no guarantees even if one should be fortunate enough to discover, or be discovered by, an authentic teacher.

Furthermore, the problem of trying to differentiate between authenticity and inauthenticity is fraught with peril because we start from a position of ignorance about such matters and, as well, easily become confused due to the many forces acting on us, both from within and without, which have a vested interest in misdirecting us away from the truth in relation to this issue. Ironically, even though the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) gave many clues concerning the advent of the Latter Days, and even though every last one of the many minor signs indicating the nearness of this time have now come into evidence, and even though the Prophet clearly indicated that such times would be filled with spiritual darkness and all manner of dajjal, all too many people suppose that spirituality has never been more advanced than it is today and that almost any Tom, Dick or Harry who has a following qualifies as an authentic shaykh.

Truly, the human capacity for self-deception is seemingly bottomless. And, indeed, human kind continues to prove ourselves to be "extremely oppressive and ignorant," (33:72) and there is no one who is more oppressive and ignorant than someone who claims, or is claimed to be, a spiritual guide who has not been appointed by God - and, this remains true regardless of whatever intelligence, talents, gifts, wit, beauty, scholarship, or charm someone brings to the table.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Gifts - A Sufi Perspective

People sometimes get very confused about what they suppose is the nature and purpose of the Sufi path. For instance, some people read a few books purported to be Sufi treatises and often draw, or are misled into drawing, quite distorted conclusions about the character of Sufi mystical practice.

On the basis of these readings, they may get the impression the whole Sufi thing is nothing but a story-telling tradition. Seen from this perspective, Sufi masters are considered to be master story tellers.

Moreover, Sufi gatherings are events in which everyone sits around telling these neat stories with a Sufi twist and flavor. Presumably, one becomes a Sufi when one participates in the dissemination of these stories.

Sometimes, Sufi masters do tell stories. However, the telling of stories plays, on the whole, a purely secondary or tertiary role relative to the primary task of realizing the presence of Divinity.

This occurs, God willing, when, among other things, the false self is induced to release its strangle hold on management rights and vacate the spiritual premises. Stories may assist in this process, but they are merely a means to a further end which is quite apart from stories per se.

Another confusion which seeps into people's consciousness in relation to mysticism concerns the issue of spiritual gifts. These gifts are loans from God.

Sometimes these gifts are in the form of various extraordinary powers. For example, among these powers are: healing; seeing the future; witnessing events hundreds and thousands of miles away; reading the Tablet of Fate, as well as writing new entries into that Tablet; breaking the norms or laws which usually govern nature; and telepathic communication (both sending and receiving).

There are certain people who hear about these sort of powers, and they begin to drool with desire to possess such abilities. They want to know where they can sign up.

What these people do not understand is the Sufi path, ultimately, is no more about powers than it is about stories. To be sure, God does grant, through spiritual gifts, one or more of the foregoing capabilities to certain individuals on the mystical path. Yet, these gifts are, in a sense, incidental to the essence of the mystical quest.

From the perspective of Sufi masters, one could have a whole treasure chest of extraordinary powers and be missing the point of why one steps onto the Sufi path in the first place. The goal is God.

Powers are not the object of the set of spiritual exercises which constitute the Sufi discipline or methodology. The object of these exercises is to neutralize the aspect of self which, among other things, desires anything other than: to know God, to love God, to worship God and to serve God.

Sometimes powers are bestowed on an individual in order to test that person. In effect, the individual is being challenged by Divinity. Which does the person want more: powers or the Beloved?

When the individual gets mesmerized and intoxicated with such powers, they lose their way on the mystical path. Powers, then, become an impenetrable veil between the person and her or his potential for fully realizing the presence of Divinity.

Human beings who get seduced by spiritual powers are cheating themselves. This is so because when the person becomes enamored by extraordinary powers, he or she is sacrificing intimacy with God for what amounts to very subtle ego gratification.

According to the practitioners of the Sufi path, true happiness, contentment, fulfillment, peace, satisfaction, identity and love can only be realized through spiritual intimacy with God. Powers are powerless to achieve any of this.

Powers, in and of themselves, cannot be used to rise higher spiritually. They have no capacity to do this. On the other hand, refraining from becoming entangled in the seductive allure which powers have for the ego, can help one, God willing, to make significant spiritual progress.

There are many practitioners of the Sufi path who, by the grace of God, have ready access to tremendous powers. However, they often do not utilize them.

Within certain limits, they have the capacity to change things significantly, but, for the most part, they do not. They more or less leave things as they are.

There is something very deep here to which we ought to give considerable reflection. Having powers, is not the panacea we might suppose it to be. There are other principles which constrain the use of powers and, therefore, transcend them in the scheme of things.

The bestowing of Divine gifts in the form of extraordinary powers is not always a spiritual trial. Some individuals are given such gifts as a tool to be used under certain circumstances in the service of God.

God, in a sense, delegates some degrees of discretional authority to some of the servants of Divinity. Just as God has granted various people different kinds of talents and intellectual capabilities in order to fulfil certain spiritual tasks, so, too, God gives some people special powers that permit the fulfillment of those kinds of spiritual tasks which require special abilities.

This means some servants of Divinity become loci of manifestation through which powers are released in order to permit the servant to be able to fulfil certain spiritual duties which have been assigned to her or him. For instance, in order for a shaykh to be able to assist a devotee, the teacher must have considerable insight into the spiritual capacity and circumstances of the individual's life.

Consequently, one of the powers given to the shaykh by God is the capacity to read the life of the devotee like an open book. Nothing the individual has done in the past, or is doing or thinking or feeling now, can be concealed from the shaykh's Divinely supported gaze.

On the basis of this kind of understanding, spiritual diseases are diagnosed and appropriate spiritual remedies are prescribed. God has given spiritual masters the special powers which are necessary for this healing work of the soul.

In addition to the foregoing remarks involving one of the legitimate uses of extraordinary powers, one also might consider the following comments. More specifically, sometimes a Sufi master will employ an aspect or dimension of such powers to help strengthen the faith and allay some of the doubts of an initiate of the path.

When an individual witnesses certain events which give expression to a spiritual power, the individual tends to be powerfully affected, if not nonplussed, by the occurrence. The ego is in a panic because it has just gone through something which pulls the rug out from beneath a whole set of assumptions about how things are supposed to operate.

The heart, on the other hand, is buoyed and intrigued by such an event. The heart has received some concrete confirmation which can be used in the struggle with the ego's disbelief and skepticism.

As a result, the initiate's faith becomes a little stronger. Some of the doubts begin to dissipate.

However, from the perspective of Sufi masters, there are many reasons a shaykh should not become indulgent in relation to this sort of spiritual disclosure. Among the most important of the reasons for restraint in this regard, concerns the adverse effects on faith that would occur if the initiate were, in the beginning, fed a steady diet of extraordinary events.

Faith grows through struggle and conflict with, among other things, doubt. If one takes this element of struggle away, as would be the case were an initiate exposed to constant spiritual disclosure, the quality of the faith is diminished and weakened.

A spiritual guide must strike a fine balance with respect to the extent of such spiritual disclosures, as well as their timing. The shaykh wants to lend the kind of assistance which will help the person through, say, some rough spots of the path. However, too much of this sort of support at the wrong time can prove injurious to the faith of the individual in the long run.

One should not be concerned about gifts from God. If one seeks God with a specificity of purpose which targets only the fullest realization of Divine presence in our lives for which we have the capacity, gifts will look after themselves.

A person who truly is in love does not spend time wondering what gifts the beloved will bring. All thoughts and anticipations concern only the presence of the beloved. To long for anything other than the beloved, is to bring into question the sincerity of one's love.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Essence of September 11th has arrived and is ready for shipping

The books have arrived here at Bilquees Press and are ready for shipping. The Essence of September 11th may be ordered through one of our websites, through Google Base with Google Checkout, or through Amazon.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Some people have a very distorted idea about the nature of worship (ibadat). They are under the impression God is in need of worship.

However, this is not so. Human beings are in need of worshiping God. God does not need the worship of human beings.

The people who believe worship is for God's sake, apparently consider God to be so insecure that Divinity requires constant reassurance from human beings. These people make it sound as if God were saying: "Please, women and men, tell Me again how wonderful I am and how great I am. My Self-esteem is a little shaky today."

Alternatively, maybe these people are implying God is addicted to vanity and needs to hear praise over and over again. In fact, one might suppose a logical progression of this sort of thinking is to believe God punishes people who do not worship Divinity because such people become like a drug pusher who holds out on the one who desperately needs a fix. In the light of this kind of scenario, hell is the revenge, in spades, of an addict scorned.

Sufi masters have a completely different perspective on the issue of worship. To begin with, they maintain God is totally independent of any need of what human beings do or do not do.

Our existence is an act of Divine generosity and love. Something has been given to human beings for which we have done nothing to deserve and which can never be reciprocated in kind by us.

To be sure, we have been created in accordance with a Divine Plan. Yet, the purpose of this plan is all to the benefit of human beings.

God is not getting anything out of it that was not possessed already by Divinity. God, in Essence, is sharing Divinity, as manifested through Attributes, with Divinity, as manifested through human reflections of those Attributes.

Unfortunately, we are, for the most part, too dumb to appreciate what God is doing for us. Thus, the need for worship.

Worship is the path which, if God wishes, leads from, on the one hand, human ignorance, darkness and density, to, on the other hand, the gnosis, light and subtlety of Divinity. Worship, when done properly, is the on-going spiritual realization of, and bearing witness to, the Presence of Divinity in every aspect and facet of human existence.

For many of us, worship is something of a burden. We struggle and strain and huff and puff and sweat and fret to produce some pathetic, tattered, stumbling spiritual offering.

Some of us fervently hope these offerings bear a remote resemblance to expressions of worship which are minimally acceptable to God, worried as we are about the cut off points for heaven and hell. Others among us, are quite taken with "our" efforts, as if we actually had the capacity to do anything on our own. Still others among us, are resentful we should have to make any such efforts whatsoever, as if we were doing God a favor.

Our attempts at worship seem to be saturated with resistance, doubts, uncertainty, conflict, weakness, obstacles, inconsistencies and ambivalence. This is so because our false selves or egos are busy doing everything within their power and capacity to oppose worship of God.

If worship of God can be converted to worship of the ego, the difficulties often will stop. The ego will even permit the external character of the spiritual framework to remain as a front for the underlying non-spiritual reality of things. We seem to find consolation and solace in, at least, being surrounded by the trappings of spirituality, despite the absence of its essence.

Ultimately, worship is not about forms and rituals, although the journey to real worship must begin there. In fact, only when real worship is attained, does the essential value and meaning of the forms and rituals become transparent and alive with truth.

For most of us, however, the forms and rituals are like dead things to us because we are like dead things to them. We may go through the motions, but our minds and hearts are in a state of suspended animation.

For Sufi masters, worship is the essence of life itself. When one becomes attuned to the nature and purpose of life, one becomes worship.

One can never become worship as long as the ego is trying to usurp the role of Divinity. Worship cannot take place in an atmosphere of lordship, only of servanthood.

By the grace of God, worship flows through the intentions of Sufi masters. By the grace of God, worship takes flight on the wings of sincerity of the Sufi shaykhs.

Through the grace of God, the thoughts, feelings and actions of the Sufi masters all become modalities of worship. This is so because every thought, feeling and action reflects the active presence of Divinity in the life of Sufi masters.

Among the Sufi masters, family life, social interaction, worldly activities, spiritual practices, work, sleeping and eating all become occasions for worship. By the grace of God, nothing is done or undertaken by Sufi masters except as an expression of a servant's knowing and aware intention of loving service to Divinity which is present, as manifestation, in the form of the server, the service, and the served.