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.

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