If You Don’t Know Yourself,
There is No Way to Know Your Lord
From the Teachings of Mawlana Shaykh Hisham Kabbani
Sufi Meditation Center – Vancouver, BC
Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem.
The blessings of the Tariqa/tarikat and the Sufi Path. There are spiritual schools that particularly specialize in development and polishing of the heart and its good manners. According to our understanding and belief, developed characteristics of these good manners bring us a step closer towards reaching the Divine Presence. The Divine Presence is only interested in our sincere good manners that become our spiritual garment/dress as well as the foundation upon which any house of worship/belief is built.
You wouldn’t build your house on a cliff, would you?! It would be unstable, hence it must be based on a solid foundation before anything. In other words, our bad temper/character, bad akhlaaq, ill-mannered personality; all represent a house on the cliff, and the risk of it falling anytime. Many religious rituals and disciplines help to perfect this foundation/our character, but we should understand that Divine Oneness is not the one in need of the rituals performed by us, be it prayers/Salat/Namaz, giving of alms/zakat, pilgrimage/Hajj or fasting. On the contrary, we are the ones who are in a critical need of the sacred rituals and disciplines, first of all we do them for ourselves, in order to be and live in harmony. Our beloved teacher Mawlana Shaykh draws this sacred knowledge, realities and light from prophetic presence; and every word has its own deep wisdom and a healing for those who can grasp it.
Holy Hadith Rasul (saw) says that, the one who knows himself will know his Lord/Man `arafa nafsahu faqad `arafa rabbahu, This very well-known hadith is frequently repeated, but to those that are trained to reflect and ponder every holy text or perception and teaching, this one hadith represents a tremendous ocean of knowledge. In this hadith Prophet Muhammad (saw) states that knowing The Divine ensues after the knowing of the self/ego. As we hear this hadith, we should take it personally and immediately try to learn more about our own self. Learn more about our desires, our feelings, negative reactions and also intentions behind these actions, only then, Insh Allah, we will come closer to knowing our Lord. And on the contrary, as it’s implied in this hadith, the one, who doesn’t know himself doesn’t know his Lord. This hadith describes a deep reality, where not knowing yourself will prevent you from knowing your Lord. We often don’t take seriously simple truth like that; we don’t really sit and think about the deeper meaning of it. Many people think they have a right to come and describe God, they assume having a personal and close relationship with God, and some even say that God was speaking for them. Although there are some who tell the truth, be aware that many of those who claim it are delusional.
As in this hadith Prophet Muhammad (saw) implies, if you do not know your personal self how can you know your Lord?! And if you take a minute and sit quietly contemplating on just that hadith, then Allah (swt) will inspire within your heart a simple question, just like a commercial on TV that suddenly hits you: “How could you possibly assume you know Me, if you don’t even know the beast within yourself, although you are never separated from your own self?” You will realize that you don’t understand the main motif of your wants, desires and needs, your temper and reactions to situations. So you basically do not dig deep enough and often enough to even ask why you act the way you act, for you to answer firmly that you indeed know yourself. So how can you say you know God- His Divinely Presence, that is above all prophets, majesty and might?! You don’t even know the beast within you, but you claim to know God and even speak from God.
People of contemplation are not only astonished, but greatly humbled in their meditations and realizations. They teach us that in the same hadith there is also a warning from our Prophet (saw), the warning to be cautious with everyone who claims to know and speak for their Lord, but quite obviously have no idea of who they are. Prophet (saw) warns us to run from so-called knowers, because most likely it’s a very dangerous situation, where this person is delusional and is speaking on behalf of we don’t know who. When you witness such a vivid example of ignorance, in this case The Divine Wisdom is trying to show you your personal reflection/mirror, and suggests that you must begin your own process of learning and asking questions who you actually are. This is the first and most important introductory step towards The Divine presence. It requires personal honesty, and courage for correct self-contemplation /Tafakkur(Arabic)/ Tamakkus(Farsi), so it can lead you to self-realization. Although, we usually assume that we certainly know ourselves, we are often mistaken. In this first level of contemplation we can truly learn who we actually are. It is done best after a certain conflict or argument take place.
As soon as you are left alone and you have admitted that: “yes, perhaps I did overreact,” ask yourself questions like why I lost my temper, what were my true motifs. Answering these questions, try to be brutally honest, only then you can truly begin to know yourself. You must use this technique of Tafakkur/self-contemplation as often as possible, and yes, it is not easy as it seems to be truly honest with ourselves. But more real you become, you will become your own best friend where you will understand your true needs and wants, your overreactions, anger, jealousy sometimes greed or generosity; and why you do what you do. At this point of your self-contemplation the Divine Light will begin to reveal itself within your heart, and you will slightly begin to understand the Lordship that governs you. You will also grasp an introductory understanding of this hadith, where there is no way to know the Divine Presence until I begin to know myself!
One of the first things that are Divinely inspired at this stage of self-contemplation is the vital importance of an actual guide/mentor/teacher/imam/Sheikh and his presence in our life to keep setting us straight. We can use the following analogy to illustrate importance of a living Sheikh in our life, for instance we all know how important it is to be represented in court by an attorney. And those without attorneys considered being fools, because it increases the risk to lose the case. In a spiritual realm if you don’t have a representative/Sheikh, it means that you are represented by Satan. It’s simply not wise to represent yourself in a court of law, similarly in the court of the Divine Presence you cannot guide yourself correctly, and this is what we are trying to avoid knowing how dangerous the verdict could be. When we are self-guided, our ego comforts us by saying that we are the best ones, and they are wrong; we are the majestic ones and everybody else is not. But a true guide warns us of the traps of our own ego, how dangerous our illusions could be. Be aware, don’t trust the self and the best way to do it is to accompany your teachers, who have and constantly are working on their egos. True sheikhs are never satisfied with their darajaat/spiritual station, with their realities, and with themselves; because they are aware of the hidden traps of their own ego. Knowing that our Prophet (saw) often asked in his supplication to Allah: “Don’t leave me my Lord to myself/my nafs, even for the blink of an eye.”
In this supplication Prophet Muhammad (saw) warns us about the possible harm/negative impact of our own self/ego, even in such a short moment as a blink of an eye.
Through this first level of self-contemplation/knowing my self/ego, I begin to realize that, I am trying to come closer towards The Divine Presence, where the Divine Light begins to open within my heart and makes it very clear to me that yes, I am not under the Divine Lordship, I am not in The Divine Ocean of submission, I have been submitting to my own temper/bad characteristics/self/ego all this time! I have frequently submitted to my bad temper and my anger. And being in the state of anger is known to be in a state of kufr/kafir/disbelief, because anger/ghadab is the exact opposite of faith. If you are angry – you have no faith. If you are angry most of the time – you have no faith all this time. In a rage of anger people get harmed and killed, things are destroyed. But nothing get killed in the name of God. Here The Divine begins to teach us to take account of all our daily actions. Instead of counting how many Prayers/salats we have done today, or days we have fasted, They teach us to direct our focus on what more can be done to be a little better each day. At this level, with the help of divinely inspired contemplations we ask ourselves more frequently now: “What was my character like today? Have I harmed anyone? Did I get angry at anyone? Did I insult anyone? Did I abuse anyone? Was I kind to anyone? Was I loving enough?” And as long as your questions are sincere and you are ready to accept the truth and nothing less but truth, the Divine begins to reveal to you that you are a subject to your own vices. It becomes very clear to you that you have been a servant of your own desires, and that Satan upon your heart is the one whom you bowed down to as your Lord all this time, and not Allah(swt).
In our meditations and self-contemplations we ask ourselves again and again:“Why can’t I get up to pray? Why can’t I fast? Why can’t I talk nice? Why can’t I act nice? Why can’t I be loving? Why can’t I be patient? What is this fire that burns inside/Shaytan that doesn’t allow me to submit to Allah(swt)? And what should I do?” Until those vices, bad manners, evil desires that are ruling supreme upon your being aren’t fully acknowledged by you, you won’t be able to direct yourself to go after them.
What it means to be in Tariqa/Tarikat/The Spiritual Path?
Tariqa and the way of spiritual realities teaches us to accompany the Masters so that through their teaching, their energy and all their practices they begin to open within our soul a reality to ponder our own self, contemplate and be accountable for every thought or intention. For instance, we must catch ourselves in any situation and say:“Oh, I should control my anger. I should control my bad temper. I should control my tongue. I should be able to stay quiet. I should be able to be patient.” And after, go back to the teacher and acknowledge your fault. Do not hide your faults as if you are the best disciple/murid in the world and everyone else is a devil, this type of thinking will not help your spiritual progress. The way of Tariqa is to point out your own sickness, to point out your own devil in disguise and to acknowledge it. Tariqa is like a hospital for sick, and if you are not coming to get help here, then you are wasting your time and the precious time of the Shaykh. Yes, we all know that the most effective medicine is usually bitter, expensive and unpleasant; but despite all that, we still take them in order to be cured. So, if you still believe that you are an angel and one of the best students/murids here, not even trying to improve, fix yourself, acknowledge your actions, and understand your true motifs, then what are you doing here? Tariqas are not for the weak. Once again, Tariqas come to teach you a practice of constant self-contemplation. Ponder the following reactions and acknowledge/hisaab them: as soon as somebody says something, I can’t stay quiet; or, as soon as someone says something, I become angry or jealous, or I have hasad/envy. This practice reveals every evil characteristic that holds you from farther spiritual growth. As these bad characteristics become more obvious to you, you should admit them to your Sheikh. Although, the Sheikh has been already aware of your vices giving you spiritual tools to detect them in the first place, it is still very important to admit it to the sheikh, because it’s a gesture of being sincerely humble. In fact if you have paid attention, the recent suhbats/sohbas of your Sheikh were personally directed at you and your vices. It is not easy to admit our bad characteristics, our ego would try to justify your behavior or reject the truth as long as it can, for it takes courage to admit that: ”Yes, I am under the oppression of this bad characteristic(s), my Lord.
“Laa ilaha illa anta subhaanaka inni kuntu min ad-dhalimeen,” (Quran 21:87) – “Lord, You are the Only God whom I glorify. I have certainly done wrong to myself (so forgive me)”.
(Quran 21:87)-this supplication of Prophet Jonah/Yunus(as) from Surah № 21. While being caught inside the whale’s belly Prophet Yunus(as) admits his fault and begs The Divine Presence for help and forgiveness, stating that: “There is no deity but You Allah, and I admit that I have been an oppressor to myself, I am under the oppression of all my desires, and they have wasted and ruined me.” Just like Prophet Yunus (as), and only at the time of true realization of our faults and helplessness we can begin to seek out a remedy. If we don’t acknowledge our own sickness while accompanying the doctors saying: “No, no I am fine,” than you are not ready to face the Truth. If you were fine you wouldn’t be here. If you are fine, go walk on water, open your own place and heal people there. A real seeker knows they are never fine: “At any moment my Lord, I can fall to the desires of my ego and I ask you, don’t leave me for a blink of an eye to be controlled by my desires.” Admitting our weakness, we realize how important it is to always keep a company of our Sheikhs, so their hand is always upon our head, and we are always their student continually seeking infinite Divine reality. We also learn to beware of the ego that is fiercely coming after us, waiting for a moment of error to flip our whole life.
Tariqa comes and teaches us that once you take hisaab/account for our actions and acknowledge every bad characteristic within, only then with the help of zikr, advice, spiritual training you will be able to fix them. If we are not willing to become better, then we have to ask ourselves what we are doing here. Do you just occupy the space like a cushion or a pillow? Or you are among the clever ones, who wish to progress, build themselves, perfect themselves, take the maximum of what the Divine has set aside and proportioned for each of us? If you wish to be among the latter, then go and sit amongst them, because they do have a solution for your difficulties.
As soon as we follow their teachings, their path/way, do the sacred chanting/zikr and take their spiritual prescriptions, we realize that our sickness begins to go away. Then your attention will be focused on another characteristic that slows down your spiritual growth, and more careful you evaluate all of your personal struggles within you, these bad characteristics will be exposed in every life experience you are faced with more obviously. But remember, more aware we become through Divine inspirations, more responsible we are for our deeds, words, intentions and even thoughts. Now, because you aware, when you get angry at a certain situation — your anger is directed at Allah. Look at it like this, if you truly believe and understand that God’s hand is upon everything, then there is nothing that can happen to you unless He has written it; there is nothing that can be taken from you unless He has written it. So then who are you really angry at? You can try to blame your boss for firing you, but if God wouldn’t have signed it, then your boss could not have fired you, it would be simply impossible. Fighting my bad temper/characteristics/desires, I need not forget that I am under The Divine microscope; I am being tested whether I can stay true to what is best in me. Through trials and tribulations people truly show who they really are. And in this case The Divine wants all of our good characteristics to be revealed like never before. Like in the following example, Allah (SWT) told Satan that He is going to test Satan in a way that even Satan doesn’t know himself, and Allah is also going to test His Creation. Satan thought he was the best worshipper, as he was even raised to a level of teaching angels. God let Satan to reach a point in which he was able to see (on the Preserved Tablet), that someone in a future is going to come against his God. Satan was so furious with that fact, and he began to curse and curse that one, until the Divine audience and the Allah(SAW) said: “This is my Khalifa/Vicegerent, I made a Khalifa and everybody bow down.”
This is a story of Sayyidina Adam(as), where Satan refused to bow down, refused to obey Divine order. In this story we see that as much as Satan believed he was the best of worshippers, he still failed the test. It means that there was something in him that Satan wasn’t aware has existed. The Divine revealed the intention behind countless worshipping of Satan. This worshipping meant nothing to God, because the sickness that was always within Satan’s heart was destroying his deeds. Allah said to Satan: “you have made five million or five billion prostrations, but when I’ve asked for one -you said no. What was the value of your five billion prostrations?” They say he worshipped for 70,000 years and prostrated everywhere to be raised to the level of the angels, and to be able to teach the angels. So with this example the Divine teaches us, what were all those prostrations for if that one time, when Satan was asked for something- he said no. Throw away all your prostrations like that, they are not needed.
That is why this is the school of akhlaaq and good character. Prophet (saw) teaches us to not approach the Divine Presence thinking that our rituals worth Their attention, if we are not constantly perfecting our character. If you are angry, jealous, have hasad/envy and still backbite how can you assume that with these characteristics you are allowed to come closer toward the Divine Presence? In this case it would be the school for the sick. Both the school and the hospital work effectively when people are willing to take their spiritual medicine: do the zikr/sacred chanting, admit their fault and constantly work on perfecting their character.
We pray that The Divine inspires more and more within our heart; gives us strength to overcome difficulties, have the courage to overcome obstacles, to improve ourselves, and move closer and closer towards that divinely light InshaAllah.
Subhaana rabbika rabbil izzati amma yasifoon wa salaamun `alal mursaleen wal hamdulillahi rabbil `alameen
Glory to your Lord, (and) the Lord’s might, (which is) beyond what they have been able to describe. (Quran 37:180).
And salaams to the messengers. Praise be to Allah, The Lord of the worlds.