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Putting an end to a long journey

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism-4

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Fethullah Gülen: Putting an end to a long journey

Human beings are exceptional creatures in creation; they are travelers whose journey of life passes through the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Commands; their eyes are fixed on the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Attributes and Names, and they intend to advance as far as the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divinity. Human beings are the falcons of the realm of corporeality and are equipped with a great capacity that is open to extra developments and gifts. They begin their journey from the realm of spirits, stop for some time in this abode of troubles and bounties, known as the realm of corporeality or the manifest or physical realm and regarded as a cloudy mirror of the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Commands, and during their temporary stay in this guesthouse, with respect to their insight and horizon of heart, they live turned to the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Attributes and Names, which is the real source of light. While looking up toward the peaks of the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Attributes and Names from the horizon of these Names and Attributes, they dream of the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divinity, tasting the pleasure of different observations with dreams of advancing farther and farther, and progress toward the final point of nearness toward God, which each can attain according to their particular capacity. With their free will absolutely submitted to God’s Will and their outer and inner eyes fixed on the highway of the Prophets, the truthful ones who are completely loyal to God’s Path, and the pious, righteous, endeavoring to please God with every act, aware of the subtle meaning of obedience to the Creator, and under the guidance of the noblest Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, with, they walk toward the realms beyond the heavens, searching for new knowledge about God from everybody and everything they pass. They shudder at the mention of “He!” along the path and push themselves further and further ahead at full speed, like fiery steeds, at the mention of their All-Worshipped, All-Besought, All-Loved One.

The noble Shari‘a is a constantly true guide that never misleads, and the styles that allow different interpretations in the two basic sources of the Shari‘a—the Qur’an and the Sunna—and are regarded as the manifestations of Divine Mercy on different wavelengths, are special gifts and blessings for different temperaments and dispositions and unique breezes from the realms beyond which take the travelers to different depths. The love of truth is an inexhaustible source of energy in the spirit, and the sounds and voices that are heard everywhere, the different tunes and melodies, and the decorative beauty observed everywhere are all messages of knowledge about God and the voices of truth. These pour into the valleys of the faculties of the travelers and it is through these gifts, wrapped one within the other, that the Shari‘a, tariqa (spiritual discipline), ma‘rifa ( knowledge of God) and haqiqa (truth) appear as dimensions of the same fundamental truth; despite each having its own basic principles, they are in perfect harmony with one another.

For those who are looking from this horizon, different states, attributes, acts, and events are indicators of different Divine Names, and the witnesses of God, the Ultimate Truth, are manifest everywhere. Human faculties deepen in their sensations, and the “archetypes,” which are regarded as the background of existence, begin to be perceived. The Divine Attributes, upon Which Divine Names are based, manifest themselves at certain degrees according to the capacity of each traveler; thus, continuous dewdrops begin to descend onto the slopes of hearts from the horizon of the Absolute Identity. This happens until the Divine faculty or intellectual heart is able to contemplate the Unity of the Divine Essence and saved from self-consideration; the result is that it goes into ecstasies. If the limit of such a one who has reached the end of the spiritual journey extends as high as the horizon of the Perfect or Universal Man, the detailed becomes observed in the brief and the brief becomes perceived and experienced in the detailed. The breezes of sensation and perception pervade everywhere and are felt on different wavelengths of manifestation, according to the capacity of each traveler; the slopes of hearts are covered with showers of a variety of gifts. There are as many ways of perception and experience as the number of hearts and as many methods or systems as the breaths of creatures. In such an atmosphere one can be protected against confusions only by strictly following the way of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings.

It is by means of these methods that the travelers to the Ultimate Truth are able to cover the distance that separates them from God and begin to be aware of His nearness by “journeying toward Him” on the horizon of their hearts and spirits; they remove their selves from between them and God in the stage of “ journeying in God” and try to obey Him and please Him in all their thoughts, sayings, and actions. They attempt to transcend their selves to experience His company through the favor of “ journeying with God” and at the stage of “ journeying from God,” they are enraptured with the enthusiasm of causing others to feel what they have felt, to attain what they have attained, and to know what they have known. They put the color of unity on multiplicity, running to make that Most Manifest One known by all, always mentioning Him wherever they are and whenever they have an opportunity. In my opinion, this is the purpose of being a true human being.

A spirit which journeys around this horizon utters “God” with every breath and breathes “He!” in every second of their life; such a one utters, like Ismail Haqqi, and breathes “He!”:

The mention of He is the source of life itself and the soul for the body;
The mention of He is the fountain that sends water descending into the garden of youth.
It is He Who makes manifest and Who manifests
Himself in eighteen thousand worlds;
The mention of He is a gift for all whose eye of soul is receptive.
The gems of mysteries are extracted from the mine of the meaning of He;
Only one with knowledge of God knows what glory the mention of He is.
Spend your capital of life on the mention of He at night and in daytime,
For the perfect prosperity and the most loyal friend is the mention of He.
…..
It is the sun of the mention of He which fills the tongues with light;
O Haqqi, it is the mention of He that every particle constantly busies itself with.

Such heroes of belief in Divine Unity as these turn round the fountains of repentance, penitence, and contrition so that they are completely purified of all sins and faults; they avoid affectation in their spiritual states and experiences, constantly breathing with fear and awe of God. They try to lead an extremely simple, austere life in accordance with the rule: “Let your burden be light, for the hill to climb is steep and high,” while doing their utmost to spend their life in the greenhouses of piety, righteousness, and abstinence. They adopt trust in God, utmost reliance on Him, and submission and commitment to Him as the sole source of their strength. They scrutinize and criticize themselves many times a day for even the slightest of lapses, pulling themselves together through a shower of Divine gifts. They greet God’s bounties with thanksgiving, renew their heartfelt resignation to God’s judgments and decrees in the face of trials, and tremble with fear that the bounties arriving without having been asked for may be a cause of perdition. They never pursue any spiritual pleasures or wonderworking, never contaminate their minds or tongues with foul language, as if they are putting their enthusiasms and breaths under the control of the realms beyond and further beyond. They never abandon truthfulness even at the cost of their own lives, and accept good manners and modesty as “the garment of piety and righteousness,” trying to live in utmost chastity like angels. They are aware that sincerity and purity of intention must be the spirit of whatever they do, and without this their actions are not acceptable in God’s sight. They regard generosity and magnanimity as a requirement of being human and always act in the spirit of altruism, trying to repel evil with good and never leaving any good done to them without return. Thus, their spiritual life gains new depths every day through self-supervision and self-criticism. They admit that their innate impotence and poverty are true means of reaching the Absolutely Wealthy and Powerful One. They see the gifts coming to them as bounties that they have never deserved, and they are filled with gratitude.

Representing the good morals or virtues and voicing the spirit of the Qur’an are the “natural” state of those profound spirits that are dedicated to gaining God’s approval and good pleasure. Weighing each of their acts on the scales of excellence or always acting as if seeing God or in awareness of God’s always seeing them has become their unchanging nature. Out of His pure grace, God has created them with the capacity of attaining this degree of spirituality because He knew beforehand that they would use their free will to the fullest in order to attain such a state. They are so sincerely religious that it is the spirit of the Religion and heavenliness that are always manifested in their every action, as well as in their treatment of people and their interpretation of existence. Religious life is their unchanging character, and the Prophet, upon him be the perfect blessings and peace, is their guide in both worlds, while knowledge of God is their provision in their worldly travel, and the love of truth is the true color of their aims and pursuits. They are clean to the utmost degree, both physically and spiritually. Their hearts are always open to the truth and the Truth of truths, as if the brightest of mirrors; their worlds of the spirit and secrets are like telescopes that are turned toward the realms beyond and further beyond. They try to seek and find whatever can be seen and they cause original compositions of different sounds and voices to be heard.

Despite their richness in Divine gifts and profundity, such people are extraordinarily modest and humble, and in a continuous struggle with arrogance and haughtiness. They are so determined against whatever displeases God that even if all human beings came together to force them to do anything displeasing to God, they would refrain from doing it. They constantly observe the realms beyond the horizon with their outer and inner eyes and spend their lives in self-possession, as if they were always in Prayer. They continuously breathe with love of and yearning for God and are ever ready to sacrifice their souls for the sake of their All-Beloved. Renouncing everything worldly, no matter how valuable it might be in the sight of others, they submit themselves wholly to Him as if a they were a corpse placed on the stone for the funeral Prayer, pronouncing His Grandeur and Exaltedness, condemning themselves to nothingness. How beautiful is the following couplet by Hafiz:[1]

When I took ablution at the fountain of love,
I pronounced the Grandeur of God four times over whatever I had.

The Sufis have expressed this same idea as follows: “When one takes ablution at the fountain of love, they then regard the world, the other world, and themselves as dead, thus pronouncing God’s Grandeur four times as if performing the funeral Prayer; anyone who has not done so has not turned in the direction (qibla) to which they must turn.” Unless one can abandon all of existence on account of itself, they will not be able to turn to God perfectly. Unless one is not filled with feelings of regard, appreciation, love, sincere relationship and friendship, and is not completely saved from consideration of others than God to attain perfect purity by having no expectations other than God’s good pleasure, they will not be able to attain the special horizon of turning completely to Him. It should first of all be recognized that one who has not turned to God will not be able to receive regard or attention from Him. Even though those who lack feelings of appreciation live long, they are not regarded as having really lived. The bosoms that are devoid of love are no different from ruins that are not worth seeing. The sincere relationship with the true Friend grows only on the ground of love for God. The status of His sincere friendship is a special favor for those who have assigned their hearts to the most sincere Friend, and Divine favors and gifts are among the surprises that are at times offered to those who have dedicated themselves to gaining the approval and good pleasure of the Ultimate Truth.

The Divine Being’s regard, attention, and mercy for human beings are in keeping with His infinitude, while the regard and attention given by humans to Him are in proportion to their restricted capacities. Broadening this restricted capacity in the face of that infinitude is dependent on the servants’ purity of intention, faithfulness, loyalty, and sincerity. It sometimes occurs that Divine help, favor, and protection are manifested according to the vastness of His Mercy, due to which Divine regard and attention turn drops of water into seas and particles into the sun. For this reason, however one turns to God, He will not allow those who turn to His Door to suffer loss or disillusionment. He does not abandon those who follow His commands to the pitilessness of the paths, nor does He deprive those who are traveling toward knowledge of Him of His companionship. Sometimes He even gives enough value to a single drop of resolution and endeavor that has been put forth with purity of intention and sincerity to gain the Gardens of Paradise. He makes an iota of belief and knowledge of God the means of salvation and grants a kingdom to the servants waiting at His Door.

Those who have walked toward God without swerving have never been obstructed. None among those who have mentioned Him sincerely in their hearts has ever suffered loss or disappointment. None among those who have set off toward Him with purity of intention has been condemned to eternal loss. Some have always been aware of God in the depths of their hearts, owing to a slight tendency toward Him to fulfil the right of the willpower with which they have been equipped; some have risen to the lofty station at which “kings” are crowned in return for a determined decision to do some good in the future. Still others have advanced so far as to be established on the throne of sincere friendship with God in response for the sensitivity that they have shown in carrying out the religious commands, while some have used their sagacity, insight, intelligence, and logic to an optimum degree, thus attaining true knowledge of God in a single attempt. There are others who have advanced so far as to be able to reach the “shadow of God” without encountering any opposing wind, because they have spent their life in the greenhouses of chastity, innocence, and modesty. Others have aimed to take “the ten steps” one after the other and thus attain the heroism of resolution, steadfastness, and utmost sensitivity when carrying out their religious duties, while others have divided this long, narrow path into seven parts, reaching the horizon of receiving God’s special attention and regard by means of the special help that comes to the weary traveler in subtle ways. Still others have adopted the principle, “Poverty is my pride,” and have become as selfless as a dewdrop that is ready to be evaporated by a ray of the sun and thus feel the Eternal Sun in its pupil, acting in constant expectation of God’s company. Still others have based their journey on the principles of the admission of one’s innate impotence and poverty before God and enthusiasm and thankfulness, always pouring out their hearts to Him with songs of compassion on the plains of reflective thought, continuously uttering “He!” in the bright clime of signposts. Yet others have strictly followed the elevated, good conduct of Ahmad, upon him be peace and blessings, on the horizon of life that is lived at the level of the heart and spirit, and have been fed by the gifts that pour down on his table… In short, everyone who has set off to reach God sincerely has continuously advanced toward Him by following a different path or system, which indicates the infinitude of Divine Mercy and marks a different manifestation of Divine regard for different temperaments and dispositions; they try to cover the distance that lays between God and those seeking God according to their knowledge of Him.

Some among these travelers have done their utmost to attain what they have intended, displaying or offering most beautiful examples to follow and entrusting their experiences to the insight of others, while others have preferred to groan with the pen and pour themselves out with ink, clothing their spiritual states with written expressions, thus providing the possibility to follow behind to those who will come later. Both of these groups have acted correctly; it is not only the right of these heroes of spirituality to receive respect from us, it is also our duty to pay respect to them.

In Emerald Hills of the Heart, we have tried to deal with some of the embroideries of the spiritual state and pleasure, the overflowing ecstasy, rapture and excitement, and the gems of word and meaning, which have so far been experienced, spoken, and embroidered on the pages of books, and present them from our own horizon. We have sometimes observed them from afar on their own horizon and have tried to picture them according to the capacities of the spiritual receptors, referring the truth of the matter to the All-Knowing of the whole Unseen. What we have written is the description of spiritual states and pleasures. Any such state or pleasure can only be experienced and it is not possible for those who cannot experience them to recognize such states in all their depths. All spoken and written words concerning these states are only shadows of what has been reflected from the breast. The original is always different from the shadow. A spiritual state and pleasure is one thing, while description of it is something else. For example, modesty reflects itself in all acts of a human being who has this characteristic; we can only perceive modesty from afar through certain traces. Sincerity or purity of intention is the spirit of actions and—in the words of some of God’s friends—the wing of the bird of worship and obedience. It is only God Who knows the truth of this, even though some heroes of insight can perceive it to a certain degree. Even though everyone knows that spiritual pleasure, enthusiasm, and contentment are the fruits of the horizon of belief, Islamic life, and excellence in actions, only the heroes of austerities who have overcome their corporeality can understand the depth contained therein. It demonstrates one’s sincerity in worship, submission, and deep devotion to God that one does not exult because of what has been granted to them, nor does one grieve for what has been missed. One should refuse, even become irritated by, any praise, and not be annoyed by criticism; one should distance themselves from sins in the same way that they distance themselves from snakes and vermin, fulfilling their duties of worship in good and high spirits, as if they were about to meet with God. However, those who do not pursue perfection, precision, or completion cannot understand this.

Fear and awe of God, and deep reverence are the states of those who have attained a certain degree of certainty and true knowledge of God. Even though those who are lacking in knowledge and spiritual understanding of God cannot comprehend much of such things, the heroes of certainty are well aware of them, and tremble, whether with fear or awe or deep reverence, yet always giving the impression that they are in God’s Presence. Referring everything good or bad to God’s final judgment and relying and depending on Him are special gifts that are given in return for perfect belief, while those who do not respond to God’s judgments or decisions with perfect submission and resignation and who do not see their endeavors as only a petition to God’s Will can never be saved from throwing stones at Destiny; such people always accuse others, and are never willing to agree to criticize themselves. One who has not been able to make their inner world into a honeycomb of belief, and knowledge and love of God is unaware of the love and the meaning of tears. Such people live all their lives bereft of or wearied of pursuing excitement and emotions and can never feel the deep spiritual pleasure of pouring themselves out to God in a solitary corner with sighs and tears. Even though it has been witnessed that such crude souls weep, their weeping resembles the weeping of children whose toys have been taken from their hands. Weeping is, in fact, the voice or translation of the purity of spirit and tenderheartedness. Human faculties are stirred up by this voice, and the slopes of the heart begin to green; spring arrives in the human world of emotions. How well expressed are the following words of Mawlana Jalalu’d-Din ar-Rumi:

If clouds were not to weep, the grass would not smile; if infants were not to weep, the milk would not flow; you should know that unless there is weeping, the Lord of the lords does not give milk.

Some of God’s friends say in the same strain: “Those who do not weep today will not be able to be saved from sighing and mourning tomorrow.” This must have been said in accordance with the Prophetic supplication, “O God! I seek refuge in You from eyes that do not weep.”[2]

It is not possible for one who does not believe to have true knowledge of God; a breast devoid of knowledge of God cannot have Divine excitement, and a spirit bereft of such excitement cannot shed tears from love or yearning for or fear and awe of God. The most important grounds for the feeling of fear and awe of God is taqwa, which means piety, righteousness, and deep reverence for God and seeking refuge in His protection. To explain this better, taqwa consists of heeding and carrying out God’s religious commands, thus deepening one’s theoretical belief through worship and deep devotion. Taqwa also consists of traveling through or studying “natural” phenomena and reading, feeling, sensing, and recognizing God in the face of everything and every event, thus always trying to increase in certainty, advancing toward Him through steps of nearness to Him, and thus living a deeper life by His company.

Taqwa is a safe highway that extends toward love of God and His approval and good pleasure; thus it is the primary foundation of being truly human in God’s sight. It is a way of getting near to Him, the ticket or document for traveling the path that leads to meeting with Him, the food and water of the other life, and the certificate that saves one from Hell and allows entrance to Paradise. The one who has attained taqwa and deepened in it as a dimension of their life has obtained the most precious treasure with which to “purchase” a mansion in the other world. Every door knocked on with sighs of taqwa will certainly be opened tomorrow, if not today; the ways of the hearts that beat with a feeling of taqwa are illuminated by lights from the realms beyond. Consider that in the manifest Qur’an, God Almighty has made guidance to the Straight Path and salvation in the other world dependent on it. To express this, a friend of God wrote:

God Almighty says: “The great among you are those who are God-revering, pious.
The last abode of the God-revering, pious ones will be Paradise and their drink will be kawthar.”

We cannot say that we have comprehended taqwa with its place in God’s sight and with all that it promises. I have neither been able to comprehend nor explain it. I have lowered it below from its heavenly horizon and presented it in the narrowness of my capacity of perception and description. Who knows what other heavenly truths like taqwa I have transformed into earthly concepts due to my limited ability. However, if the highest level of taqwa is, according to some, remaining distant from everything which will contaminate the spirit, keeping silent in any matter that is not pleasing to God, avoidance of even any image or conception in opposition to God’s decrees, always pursuing His good pleasure and living with the intention of feeling, seeing, and knowing Him only and attaining His company, and always breathing with Him with the mention of “He!” in utter oblivion of one own self—if taqwa consist of all these, then it is beyond our capacity of perception or description. Those who experience it at this level travel and live in the realms that are beyond any dimensions we know, saying:

The lights of my eyes are “He!”, and the decree guiding my intellect is “He!”
The utterance of my tongue is “He!” and what is manifested from my wailings is “He!
The recreation of my heart is “He!” and the beloved of my soul is “He!”
….
Its fasting is “He!”, its festival is “He!”, and its abstinence and piety are “He!”
Its meeting with God is “He!”, its separation is “He!”, and the remedy for its ailments is “He!”

As for me, I can only approach and describe it according to my capacity of perception and on the map of my spirit.

There are some other states like excellence in worship and other states and actions even beyond excellence such as always living in awareness of God’s omnipresence and uninterruptedly pursuing the truths that cannot be attained through eyes or other external senses, not even through the mind. People like me either keep silent concerning these or lend ears to those who are qualified to talk about them, only making conjectures. Those who attain these states observe many truths that are hidden to others, scattering around many ever-original gems from the treasures of the Unseen, and offering those who follow them exquisite things from among the Divine gifts that are given to them as presents for their insight. A hero of such a degree of ecstasy and immersion gives voice to his boiling feelings as follows:

The Beautiful One has once more shown me His Face from His Palace of Majesty;
I am once more a wailing, mad lover intoxicated with the eternal wine;
The veil of ignorance has once more been removed from my eyes and heart;
A call has come to my soul from among the calls of the All-Transcending One.
Yazıcızade[3]

In Emerald Hills of the Heart, we have tried to sometimes picture what we have heard from the specialists concerning this multicolored map, sometimes that which we have attained and perceived from relevant books or booklets, sometimes that which we have read on the faces of certain happenings which are common and legendary, and sometimes what has been experienced, spoken, or reported through ages—we have tried to picture these and say some things in the name of the provision and the principles of the journey of the luminous travelers of the Sufi path.

It would be an exaggeration to say that we have been able to interpret according to the Book (the Qur’an) and the Sunna whatever has been said concerning the matters discussed. However, I would like to say that I have done my best and acted with great sensitivity so as to be able to interpret every approach and consideration according to these two basic sources of Islam. The tears I have many times shed over the black lines, which I regard as my sins of thinking, are witnesses to this. I have many times trembled with the consideration that I have not been able to present the elevated, transcending truths in accordance with their essential reality or real nature, and have nearly decided to give up continuing to write about them. I must admit that I have had difficulties in finding religiously true bases for some ambiguous utterances of people of deep spirituality—statements that are apparently incompatible with the essentials of the Religion—or in conforming perfectly to the unique place of the Religion in God’s sight and the fact that the people of deep spirituality are the living representatives of it. I have continuously shuddered with the fear that while trying to remain respectful for the transcending position of the truth and the Ultimate Truth of the truths, I have not been able to explain relevant matters in accordance with their original, essential reality or true nature.

I cannot claim that whatever I have written is true. It is God Almighty Who knows the exact truth of everything. If all that I have written and done is the expression of the truth and has been written and done with the intention of pleasing God, it is from Him and by Him; while whatever mistake has been made, even though I have intended God’s approval and reward, any failure in the pursuit of God’s good pleasure, is from me. I seek refuge in my Lord with the excuse and veil that “All children of Adam are subject to erring much, and the best of those who err much are the oftrepentant,”[4] and request that God also open for me the door of repentance and contrition, a door that He has opened for those who have come before me.

[1] Hafiz al-Shirazi (1230–1291) is the greatest lyric poet of Persia, who took the poetic form of ghazal to unparalleled heights of subtlety and beauty. (Tr.)
[2] Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Fathu’l-Bari, 11:139.
[3] Yazıcızade Muhammed Efendi (d. 1451). One of the important Sufi and literary figures in the 15th century Ottoman Turkey. He lived in Gallipoli. Muhammediye, which is about the life and excellencies of the Prophet Muhammad, is his most famous work. (Tr.)
[4] at-Tirmidhi, Qiyama, 49; Ibn Maja, “Zuhd” 30.