Discussion on Nursi, The 29th Letter, Ninth Section, 2nd Allusion
Question: What makes this method of the journey of the heart and spiritual progress (i.e. remembrance of God and reflective thought) uniquely Sufi?
Sufism is a trend. Historically, a form of Sufism developed in many different religious traditions. It is the heart of the Hindu, Buddhist, Kabala (Jewish), Monastic, Hermetic tradition. When Islam was spreading it got a taste of these different cultures and saw this need of having a human intimate relationship with God. Some of the people accepted some physical form of it from the other cultures and “islamicized” this tradition. The Sufi trend was thus adopted and implemented into the social life.
Nursi is not denying or endorsing the Sufi tradition but reinterpreting (not redefining) it on how to actually make this journey of the heart and spiritual progress. The author identifies the human need and attempts to respond to it. Humans have a genuine need for spiritual progress, inner peace, and satisfaction of the heart which can be attained by remembrance of God and reflective thought. Besides addressing the human need, it is also very prophetic because it teaches us how to apply the message of God in our practical lives.
It is important to distinguish this from an imitative belief. People like to make the spiritual progress practical and they turn it into institutions where it is performed imitatively. However, this spiritual progress and journey of the heart has to be done by practicing remembrance of God with reflective thought. This is the missing aspect of the Sufi tradition that the author addresses.
Addressing the problem of solitude:
With the rapid increase in urbanization, more and more people are moving into concentrated hubs where they are really in close proximity to one another. It might seem that with so many people around they are much more connected than those in small towns and are free from solitude. However the reverse process is really happening where people have started to become lonelier in the crowd. Millions of people are in the cities and no one really knows each other, they might feel lonelier than a villager. The increase in urbanization is directly proportional to the increase in people being lonely. The urbanization is not solving the human problem of wanting to communicate and share their life with others.
For example in a bar, people seem to be socializing but deep down inside if you really find out what they feel, they are lonely. Even though they may be talking to each other, they are alien to each other because they never share their reality, their problems, and their human concerns but pretend to be sharing them. They are suffering from loneliness and want to forget it.
Finding a solution to this human problem is essential for human nature which the author (Nursi) is attempting to address. We need to find a solution to this physical and spiritual loneliness. For example a person traveling in the NYC subway is alone despite being with thousands of commuters. This person does not trust the other commuters around him and would not be willing to share any personal concerns with them. Neither would any of those strangers be willing to listen to this person’s agony. Similarly, trust has been lost in many families. There are exceptions but generally there is no intimate relationship, i.e. sharing of personal problems and feelings, between family members. Usually when they get together, they gossip about all sorts of things and pass time. It has become hard to find a friend/member in this day and age, someone who would understand and with whom you can really share your intimate concerns.
To overcome your loneliness you have to make this “journey of the heart” (Sufi terminology). It is in my human nature that I want to have a secure/friendly relationship with others. I want to share my feelings, contentment and worries with friends and family members. However, despite having a network of friends and family members, I am unable to share my real intimate internal expectations, worries and concerns based on a trust with them. What should I do?
The author says benefit from this Sufi tradition by taking the essence of it and making it practical in one’s life. Journey of the heart is to make an internal introspective journey. One can do this by remembrance of God and through reflective thought.
Remembrance of God does not mean repetition of words. It is to remember God in every facet/instance of your life when you are interacting with other objects and beings. Upon seeing those objects/beings, you reflect on God’s qualities in them. If we turn this remembrance into a repetition of certain words by the tongue and through which they claim it reaches the heart: since you are repeating those words, your heart will accompany in repeating them too. Thus, you start feeling great according to your understanding. However if we don’t remember God by seeing His qualities manifested in this universe, our hearts are not really satisfied. We have to refer the qualities we see in the objects to an Eternal Source.
If I realize that my existence belongs to an Absolute Eternal Source, my existence is secure. When we remember where we belong, our heart gets satisfaction. Whatever happens to me in this world belongs to Him. The heart only gets satisfaction when it is taught on reflecting the qualities we see manifested in the universe and referring them to an Eternal Source. If we don’t carry this consciousness and awareness then the heart doesn’t really remember anything by itself. The heart looks for serenity, security, comfort and eternity. It is only through the reflective thought that one may remember God. Without remembering God, one cannot have a satisfied heart. This prevents the spirit from making any progress and it suffers because the spirit also wants eternity. Our spirit is in this world, which may seem large but it is limited. Our being is also limited but the spirit seeks eternity.
We need to benefit from this Sufi tradition and turn it into a real human condition instead of an imaginary one. By repeating a few words, my notion that I am making a spiritual progress is not enough. It is not real and is analogous to people repeating song lyrics but make no spiritual progress. Repetition does not make you remember the Absolute qualities of your Creator but reflective thought does.
à Attach your being to this Absolute Source by seeing and reflecting on His manifested qualities.
The problem of solitude is solved by realizing that you are not alone. Everything around you becomes your intimate friend if they remind you of the infinite Source. You can have everything be a message bearer for you, reminding you that you are not alone in this universe. You are the creation of the Absolute Creator. Everything should remind you of this Absolute source and become your friend. Reflect on their existence and see why those things are there. They console you and unlike some friends, they do not quarrel or gossip. Realize that you are not alone. You are always with your Owner. You are given the ability to realize that.
Everything which brings me news from my Creator becomes my friend. It can be either a human being or not. You are with Him only through the objects you interact with and they remind you of God. For example, one can communicate with the trees, stars and clouds. They become friends and are serving your humanity. They help your human needs to be satisfied.
Concern: Communicating with the universe is not the same as communicating with a human. Does this communication replace human relationships? Do we need a specific human relationship to communicate with?
As human beings, we also need a human to human relationship. This need extends to becoming a companion of the prophet regardless of the time and space relationship. The message of God sent to us through the Quran is presented to us through a human being. We cannot interact with the message if there is no human representation of it. Realize that the message was given to a human being which means Quran is a speech to human beings. Human aspect of communication with God is important for me.
The necessity of the physical being of the Prophet (pbuh) is commonly understood by people as belief in messengership. Being next to his physical body or seeing his body does not make one a companion. Even if Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is standing next to you, you can only communicate with him based on your perception of him. It is what you make out of him, not his physical being. Your perception of him has nothing to do with his biological being. It is what the Prophet (pbuh) represents for you, i.e. how you perceive his message. Regardless of time and space, you are always with him. Messengership is within you and your perception. Without the belief in messengership, you cannot have belief in the Quran. One has to say: Asslaam u alaika ya ayyuhan nabi (Peace be to you oh Prophet). This can only be said if one realizes the representation of the messenger in their lives.
I have to get a message as a human being through a human being. This communication is not the same as getting it from a non-being in the universe such as the sky or a tree. Although one may speak to a tree, but the tree speaks to you as a tree and not as a human being. Only through a human, I get the message in my human language according to my human qualities. If I want to establish a relationship with someone then that person should remind me of God which is the best satisfaction for me. That is why we need prophets and messengers to give us news/reminding us about the Creator. I like to hear the news of God from a human being and see it being practiced in the life of a human being. This is the essence of belief in messengership, seeing the message being practiced in one’s life. I want to see the message of my Creator being practiced by a living person and I want to learn and share it.
However, if this relationship with human beings has not been established on remembrance of God, communicating, and conversing with God then my heart gets no satisfaction. The feeling of loneliness and emptiness will remain.
I have to make my belief in God real through the message. It can be practiced and be experiential for me. There is an innate human need to share my human experience with a person. Experience this message together. Friendship must be established on this shared experience. Those looking to get married should get married on this base where you share your understanding of God. I need a representation of the messenger in my life. Getting married for sexual satisfaction is not human but animalistic. Similarly, getting married because you are bored, lonely and need someone to pass time with is not the right reason. We need to be appreciative of the human needs. I cannot share everything going on in my world with a tree. Neither can I share those feelings with a pet such as a dog, a current civilization trend. I need to share my life with a human being, one who will be a reminder of God. This is why the messengership becomes important in my life. The human being must be a representative of the prophet.
You have to be the representative of the prophet for that person as well. The person must bring the message to you. Bringing food, ironing clothes, etc. is not human relationship. Spirit needs satisfaction which is different from physical needs such as that of the stomach. When we are bored, we may get together with someone and gossip. We don’t realize that this need we have is for the messenger. Look for a messenger, one who brings the message of your Creator to you as much as one can. This is someone who shares the message as opposed to the sharing of food, housing, and entertainment. Experience your remembrance of God and reflect together because that person is a messenger to you.
How do I recognize this life partner? I have to prepare and educate myself to be a representative of the messenger of God. If I am not developing myself to be a representative of the messenger, I will not be able to attract the person who is a representative of the messenger.
The fornicator does not marry except a [female] fornicator or polytheist, and none marries her except a fornicator or a polytheist, and that has been made unlawful to the believers. (24:3)
The above verse means that you can marry a person within your scope of interest because that is the one you will notice. If your scope of interest is to be a representative of the messenger of God, then you could marry one who is also striving to be such a representative, one who brings the message from my Creator. I thus need to work on becoming a representative of the messenger of God so that I can recognize this person.
Loneliness has no meaning: In reality, there is no loneliness in creation. If you realize your Lord’s presence everywhere, you are not alone. If I cut off my relationship with my Creator, I feel lonely. Everyone brings his own fire/fuel to hell, i.e. God doesn’t add any fuel to anyone’s hell.
People usually understand loneliness as not being able to speak to people, not having gossiped for a few days. For example, people like gossiping about the weather. It becomes a means of killing time, running away from reality, for the sake of not being alone. People should get together on a foundation of the prophetic teachings, which is what socialization should be based on. One should seriously think about their reality and avoid meaningless conversations. They can get rid of this loneliness by listening to the messengers with the best one being the human messenger.
Imagination versus Reality:
àImagination is something that does not have real existence. It is making a false conclusion and having false belief.
àReal awareness is your reality, i.e. your communication with the Creator. For example reading a book or looking at a bird, whatever message you get is real. Whatever you interact with in this universe has a meaning if you are aware of it, and that meaning is real. It does not have to be something physical or tangible.
Real knowledge is your awareness and this awareness is your reality. This reality affects your physical being as well. For example, if you lie, you blush (exception: professional liars), stress causes physical spots, nervous breakdowns and loss of temper. The awareness is so real that it affects your biological structure. Negative thoughts that one may experience do not exist in reality but these imaginary thoughts also have a physical biological effect on the one who has them. Belief has an effect of paradise for you whereas denial has an effect of hell. Both have a physical effect on your being.