Book of Advice by Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi
For the ascetic believer, the vicissitudes of spiritual journey and path to Allah appear in full splendour at each step, displaying enchanting views (through habitual presence and intuition or at least in the form of true dreams) as well as joyful certainty and knowledge of the real world . As shown below, these magnificient experiences are at their best when the God-seeking traveller reaches the final steps at an advanced age.
Firstly: As per the verse:
یا أیها الانسان انک کادح الی ربک کدحاً فملاقیه
O Man! Thou art labouring unto thy Lord laboriously, and thou shalt encounter him. (Quran, The Rending, 84:6)
An aged traveller has suffered a great deal of hardship throughout the long years of vicissitudinous path towards his Lord as well as in defence of the Lord’s sanctuary and protection of His religion. Naturally, his share from the Lord is more, and he finds greater pleasure in watching the beauty of his beloved.
Secondly, his existential capacity and magnitude is higher with age and therefore his being receives more blessings from the heavens.
Thirdly, at this advanced age, his life has savoured a world of experiences, from infidelity and ingratitude of the people to lessons learnt from mistakes and defeats to delusions from life’s mirages:
کسراب بقیعه یحسبه الظمآن ماء
Their works are as a mirage in a spacious plain which the man athirst supposes to be water. (Quran, Light, 24:39)
ما الحياه الدنيا الا متاع الغرور
The present life is but the joy of delusion. (Quran, House of Imran, 3:185)
and the world’s deceptive splendours :
كل شيء من الدنيا سماعه اعظم من عيانه …
Everything in the world looks greater than what it really is. (Behar, 8:191)
In short, the older ascetic has deeply tasted and perceived the experiences in his and others’ life. It goes without saying that such experiences go hand in hand with an inclination to separate from all of these transient mirages and pageantry, to abandon all worldly attachments, and to turn towards and rely upon his eternal and immortal Beloved.
كل شيء هالك الا وجهه
Everything perishes but Him.
Obviously, the above three factors (and some others) support, validate and intensify the truthfulness of dreams and intuition, and ineffable joy of certainty and knowledge of the ascetic. There is no doubt that such maturity, purity and clarity can provide an invaluable source for admonition and advice. His labour and hardships suffered for revival of God’s religion and the ideology of Prophet’s Household and his extensive experiences and achievements in confronting worldy vanities has bestowed wisdom and uprightness that is clearly reflected in his writings in general (so that his prose and poetry are touching and meaningful), and in his advice and admonition in particular. His advice comes straight from the heart and has a ring of honesty, earnestness, frankness and sensitivity around it. It has credibility written all over it which mutiplies its effect and influence.
Now, after this short introduction, if (like the writer of these phrases) you desire to varnish your worn soul with the flood of your tears, and quench your thirsty spirit with the clear heavenly fountain of an old ascetic, read and understand deeply these gems from a master . Reading his “Book of Advice”, you may tread in the “path of proximity to God”, and observing “divine abstinence”, you may leave “material stations which are cheaper than what we think”! Do not neglect the “role of experiences”, and do seek “compensation of mistakes”. Remember that “we shall take a new step every day”. Embrace tranquility and peace through “struggle with the temptation”! “Seek the main missing one!”, and eliminating selfishness, superiority complex and egocentrism, remove “the great veil” from the eye of your soul! Finally, turning to “whispers of the lovelorn”, like the friends of Allah, express your poverty and full dependency to God! And refuting polytheism and hypocrisy, remove the last hindrance.
Derived from the book, “Half century of service to the Prophet’s Household (a.s.)” (biography of Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi) by His Holiness Qodsi.
Book of advice
Many of the dear friends, particularly the youth, ask for an appropriate advice and admonition, to follow it as a light in their life, and pave their way to proximity to God . They believe that we have trodden this path, and are aware of its highways, alleys, and dead-ends ( how I wish it was so!) However, a request, especially one coming from truth-seeking believers, cannot be left unanswered. I have written this summary with the help of the Quranic verses and sayings of The Infallible (a.s.) as well as the practices of the great men of religion and my personal experiences in life. I request all dear friends to remember me in their benediction, as I do for their success.
1- Divine abstinence
First of all, I recommend my dear friends and myself to divine abstinence. It will act as a mighty strong fortress , shielding us as we seek provision for the day of resurrection, a means to perhaps “the best provision with the our Creator ”. We are talking about abstinence which penetrates into the depth of our soul and influences everything….
من احسن من الله صبغه ….
The tincture of whom is fairer than God. (Quran, 2:138)
Such abstinence orients all of our desires, determines the path of life, and makes the way clear, and elevates the destination.
The same abstinence, which is the best capital and the highest honor, ties man with God, and leads him to the rank of His exclusive servitude. Then, he calls:
الهي كفي بي عزاً أن اکون لک عبداً و کفی بی فخراً أن تکون لی رباً
O God! The best dignity for me is servitude to Thee, and the highest honor for me is Thy Divinity. (Beharol Anvar, 74:402)
2- Material stations are cheaper than what we think
My dear friends! I have experienced so many ups and downs in my short life. I have tasted honor and abjection, poverty and wealth, hardship and ease. Finally, I came to realise precisely the meaning and truth of the following Quranic verse:
و ما الحيوه الدنيا الا متاع الغرور
The present life is but the joy of delusion. (Quran, The House of Imran, 3:185)
Yes, this world is indeed the joy of pride and deception, and it is vainer than we think. As the poet says:
Life is not a mysterious point
It is nothing save night and day
The ups and downs called life
Verily is not so attractive and interesting
Only belief in the eternal life of the other world makes life in this world meaningful. Otherwise, this life would seem to be devoid of any purpose!
I did not find any valuable thing throughout my life except those which related to the spiritual aspects and humanistic values. The material aspects were all mirages. Men are asleep, the plans fail, and man is always in trouble and labour.
Yesterday’s children are today’s youth, and today’s youth are tomorrow’s old, and the old are tomorrow’s burials into the earth, as if they never existed!
When I pass by the houses of yesterday’s great scholars and influential individuals, I remember the throngs of people converging there, the tumult, the commotion, the many who consulted and relied on them. But today, they are forgotten, forlorn, silent. I remember this sentence of Imam Ali (a.s.) in Nahjul Balagha :
فکأنهم لم یکونوا للدنیا عماراً و کان الاخره لم تزل لهم داراً
As if they have not been living in this world, and the other world has been their residence throughout. (Nahjul Balaghe, sermon 188)
I see some of the friends, bent and leaning on the stick, taking some steps, then stopping to catch their breath before taking some more steps. Memories of their youth come pouring into my mind. That tall stature, that vitality, the bustle and roar of their laughter ! But now, the dust of grief and sadness has covered their face, and they are so depressed as if they have never passed the alley of mirth and joy!
We can now perceive and appreciate the concept behind that succintly phrased wakeup call from our Creator:
و ما هذه الحيوه الدنيا الا لهو و لعب
This present life is naught but a diversion and a sport. (Quran, The Spider, 29:64)
I am sure that when you too become as old as me, you will come to the same conclusion.
Now, what is the reason behind so much struggle and endeavor for wealth, rank and highness? For whom do we acquire money? Why let it be the cause of so much negligence?
This reality is more sensible in the present world, where the changes and modifications happen more quickly.
I know families, the members of which were all living together, but now they are scattered. One lives in America, the other in Europe, and the parents are left alone. It reminds me of the brilliant remark of Imam Mousa Ebne Ja’afar when he was passing by a tomb:
ان شيئاً هذا آخره لحقيق ان يزهد في اوله
It is better to avoid avarice and acquisitiveness at the beginning, for what its end is so. (Beharol Anvar, 70:103)
In my occasional visitation of tombs, particularly the tomb of the learned and scholars, I have seen that a large number of my previous friends have slept here. Their photos display familiar faces. I reflect on the past, and think that haply I am among them, and suppose that I am alive.
3- Role of experiences
My dear friends! Life is nothing save experience. The experience which corrects man’s mistakes and teaches him how to live better.
The experience which reveals frankly and clearly the realities of life before man, and removes any ambiguity. On this account, some of the wise have requested another life from God: One for acquiring experience, and the other for applying it in practice!
However, the fact is that we do not have this second chance and it is also the case that our own experiences and the rationality and maturity that comes with it are only fully available to us till the later stages of our life. So we need to find other ways to achieve the objective. An excellent way to resolve this predicament has been highlighted by our great leader, Imam Ali (a.s.), in his advice to his son, Imam Mojtaba (a.s.):
My son! I have closely studied the history of those who have preceded me, and their states, and have benefited from their numerous experiences. In this way, I have added their several thousands years of life to my own life, as if I have lived with them from the first day of creation of man till now, and I have become aware of the bittersweet events of their life as well as the causes of their triumphs and defeats. (Nahjul Balaghe, last will to Imam Hassan a.s., letter 31)
My dear friends! let me reiterate the importance and immense value of what has been mentioned in the Quran about the states of previous prophets and nations, wherein great realities are hidden. These are great treasures for the ascetics and travelers upon the path of God. Yet there are these obstinate people who insist on trying everything themselves before they will accept it. The reason why they refrain from accepting the experiences of others is difficult to understand . The ones who have completed life’s journey are presenting to us the product of the whole of their life in a few lines or pages. Why deprive oneself of something so useful and so easily available …. These ignorant people reach the end of their life inexperienced and immature!
My dear friends! Don’t be like them. You shall rather be one of the wise and men possessed of minds, whom Quran describes:
لقد كان في قصصهم عبره لاولي الالباب
In their stories is surely a lesson to men possessed of minds. (Quran, Joseph, 12:111)
Do not forget to study the lives of the past scholars and the great men of knowledge, courtesy, virtue and the travelers in the path of Allah. You will discover a variety of unique and thought-provoking aspects to their lives, each of which is a valuable jewel. I have always acquired significant experiences through studying their lives.
4- Compensation of mistakes
The next step is to understand that man (except the infallible a.s.) is fallible, and is subject to all types of errors. The important point is that one should correct his mistakes and sins and refrain from repeating them. He should avoid obstinacy and bigotry. He should accept that the greatest mistake lies in being egoistic, neglecting corrective actions and persisting in mistakes and sins !
The possibility to repent was available to even the greatest sinner, Iblis, who criticized divine wisdom and refused his Creator’s order to prostrate to Adam on the basis of his flawed reasoning. What prevented him from saving himself were the veils of obstinacy and stubbornness that covered his eyes, and his arrogance and self-conceit ! In addition, they set him on a course of inviting others towards sins and becoming liable for punishment for these sins as well. What a disaster, how utterly unbearable the charge he incurred through these ugly traits !
On this account, our leader, The Commander of Believers, Ali a.s. says of him:
فعدو الله امام المعتصبين و سلف المستكبرين
He is the enemy of God, the leader of self-opinionated and predecessor of the arrogant. (Nahjul Balaghe, sermon 192)
Our Imam advises all to learn a lesson from this story, and see how Iblis lost the rewards of thousands of years of servitude and worship for one hour of pride, selfishness and obstinacy. He was excluded from the rank of angels and degraded to the lowest of the low.
My dear friends! if you have committed a sin or mistake, confess it bravely in presence of God, and say explicitly: O God, I made a mistake, forgive and excuse me, and deliver me from the Satan’s snare and sensual desire, as you are “the Most Merciful of all merciful”, and “the Forgiver of sins”.
This confession and request comforts you and leads you to the path of correction and proximity to God.
Then, you may try for correction of the past, and compensation. You shall know that repentance does not degrade you. Rather, it promotes and dignifies your state.
The path of proximity to God does not allow for conceit and obstinacy. There were so many people who could be the pioneers of this path, but they were thwarted by this moral vice (arrogance and obstinacy) and wandered instead in the valley of deviation.
Those afflicted with the vices of arrogance and obstinacy are not only unable to reform themselves but also fail to achieve high scientific ranks or social and political success. They always live in a world of vain imaginations and die therein! They always seek the causes of their defeats and failures in external factors when the main cause exists right inside their own selves and this realisation only increases their adversity and misery!
5- We shall take a new step every day
My dear friends! The most obvious sign of a living thing is growth and development. When development is stopped, death is near, and when an organism is in decline, its gradual death has begun. This rule applies to the material and spiritual life of a person. Not only that, take note that it applies to the entire society as well!
This leads us to conclude that if we are not taking a new step every day towards growth and development, towards improvement in our beliefs, virtues, morality, courtesy, sincerity and honesty, we have in fact lost our way, wandering aimlessly, suffering losses and heading towards dangerous territory.
Our great leader, Imam Ali (a.s.) has expressed it most beautifully :
من استوي يوماه فهو مغبون
When two days of a person’s life are the same, he has suffered loss! (Because he is spending the capital of life without any gain, exchanging something so precious with nothing but sorrow and sadness.) (Beharol Anvar, 68:173)
و من كان في نقص فالموت خير له
Whoever is in decline, is better off dead! (Because this puts an end to the prolonged misery of a gradual decline. And this is a great blessing!) (Beharol Anvar, 67:64)
The mystics and ascetics practise preconditioning in the morning, vigilance during the day, self-examination and then punishment at night. Such discipline prevents the travelers in the path of God from negligence, and encourages them to compensate for any existing fault and defect. This allows a new horizon from the divine lights to reach them, and like the people of paradise, every morning and night they taste a new blessing.
و لهم رزقهم فيها بكره و عشيا
There they shall have their provision at dawn and evening. (Quran, Mary, 19:62)
So, dear friends! Watch out lest you suffer a loss in the great trade of life. Opt for the trade where the precious capital of life is exchanged only for deeds that have excellent merits and thus reap everlasting profits of enormous proportions.
ان الانسان لفي خسر
Surely Man is in the way of loss. (Quran, Afternoon, 103:2)
Do not neglect self-examination. Examine yourself each day and month, before you are examined!
6- Compromising faith for the sake of conformity with others is disgraceful!
My dear friends! It often happens that in Islamic or non-Islamic countries, one, as a divine trial, finds himself living among a licentious group, who invite him to conformity and joining them. The sensual and satanic temptations come into play, persuading him that there is no alternative, coaxing him to join in on the basis of flimsy arguments and excuses !
In such a situation, the reality of a person’s degree of moral development, personality, independence and faith becomes crystal clear. Those who drift along with the waves like chaff are drowned in degradation. They take the easy way out and do not see any disgrace in imitating others. They are the cheap people, content with a shell from the essence of manhood.
But my dear! This is the time to challenge yourself and project your merits by sticking to your principles and values. Deploy the power of your faith, strength of your virtue, and independence of your personality and say to yourself: “Compromising faith for the sake of conformity with others is disgraceful”!
Prophets, saints and their followers often encounter this situation. They find ways to deal with it. Using patience, resistance and tolerance, not only do they refrain from conforming to the devious ways of others but they also become catalysts and role models for positive changes in the environment and the people!
Only the weak-kneed and indecisive individuals conform to a tainted environment. They indulge in blind imitation and their motto is:
انا وجدنا آبائنا علي أمه و انا علي آثارهم مقتدون
They say, “We found our fathers upon a course, and we are guided by their footsteps.’ (Quran, Ornaments, 43:23)
On the other hand, the strong and courageous men of faith go forth and create new, improved environments for all to emulate. Their method involves reflection, deep thinking and merit-based selection, and their motto is:
لا تجد قوماَ يؤمنون بالله و اليوم الاخر يوادون من حاد الله و رسوله و لو كانوا آبائهم او ابنائهم او عشيرتهم اولئك كتب في قلوبهم الايمان و ايدهم بروح منه
Thou wilt not find any people who believe in Allah and the Last Day, loving those who resist Allah and His Messenger, even though they were their fathers or their sons, or their brothers, or their kindred. For such He has written Faith in their hearts, and strengthened them with a spirit from Himself. (Quran, The Disputer, 58:22)
That is right. The Holy Spirit strengthens them and heavenly angels guard and invite them to resistance.
My dear friends! When you are faced with such conditions, submit yourself to God’s will and trust in His pure essence. Do not fear the abundance of the corrupt, and pass this trial successfully to enjoy its great blessings, and say:
قل لا يستوي الخبيث و الطيب و لو اعجبك كثره الخبيث فاتقوا الله يا اولي الالباب لعلكن تفلحون.
“Say: The bad and the good are not equal, though the abundance of the bad may please you; so be careful of (your duty to) Allah, O men of understanding, that you may be successful.” (Quran, The Table, 5:100)
This divine trial is more critical for the dear youths of our time. They can pass this great trial and, riding on the wings of the angels of mercy, fly high into the sky, to the heights of proximity to God!
7- Seek the main missing one!
If we look into our hearts, we find that all of us have a missing one that we are searching for. Since we do not analyse in depth as to who it is that we miss, we look for it in everything and in every place.
At times one thinks that it is wealth and property, and that once he finds it, he will be the happiest man around. However, when he acquires this wealth, he soon realizes that the fearsome eyes of the greedy, glib tongues of the flatterers, vicious snares of the thieves, and biting words of the jealous are lying in wait for him. Looking after wealth can often be more difficult than acquiring it and cause much bigger worries and anxiety! So, the realisation dawns that an error was made, that wealth is not the missing one that his heart yearns!
Others may think that if they had a beautiful and wealthy spouse, life will be a breeze. But when he achieves his goal and comes face to face with the dangers and difficulties of maintaining such a spouse, and the burdens of her high expectations and unusual demands, he finds that his dream was in fact a nightmare!
Then there are those who find the prospect of fame and high position much more enchanting. But in reality these translate into much greater burdens and tribulations including the accountability before God and men when one presides over the affairs of many.
The late Grand Ayatollah Boroujerdi, who had reached the position of the highest religious authority and power in the Shiite world and among the clergy of his time, had this to say when faced with the troubles of fame and rank: “If someone is going to achieve a position and rank similar to me, not for God, but for his sensual desire, have no doubt about his utter stupidity”!
That is right. These are nothing but mirages. On achieving them, the thirst inside is not quenched. Instead, one becomes thirstier in the desert of life. As Quran says:
كسراب بقيعه يحسبه الظمآن ماءَ حتي اذا جائه لم يجده شيئاَ
“But the Unbelievers,- their deeds are like a mirage in sandy deserts, which the man parched with thirst mistakes for water; until when he comes up to it, he finds it to be nothing..” (Quran, Light, 24:39)
Is it possible that in a creation based on such wisdom, a solution for man’s yearning for that missing one would have been overlooked? Undoubtedly, based on the God’s wisdom, thirst without water is impossible, as water without thirsty is meaningless!
Yes! The man of perception gradually finds that the missing one he has been searching for high and low without success, has always been with him, has embraced him, and is nearer to him than his jugular vein:
و نحن اقرب اليه من حبل الوريد
We are nearer to him than the jugular vein. (Quran, Qaf, 50:16)
Yes! Man’s real missing one is everywhere, always with him, but the veils do not let him see it. Man’s preoccupation with the mundane and pursuit of the material needs and desires hinders him from searching in the right places.
Yes my dear! The missing one is with you. Try to remove the veils to see His beauty and love, and make your soul and spirit quench the thirst at His door. Here you will savour the real tranquility and peace and find the hosts of the heavens at your service! Your real missing one is the same being who created you.
The entire world of being is a beam of His existence:
هو الذي انزل السكينه في قلوب المؤمنين ليزدادوا ايماناَ مع ايمانهم و لله جنود السموات و الأرض و كان الله عليماَ حكيماَ.
“ It is He Who sent down tranquillity into the hearts of the Believers, that they may add faith to their faith;- for to Allah belong the Forces of the heavens and the earth; and Allah is Full of Knowledge and Wisdom” (Quran, Victory, 48:4)
8- Struggle with temptation
My dear friends! We were talking about “tranquility” and peace of mind and soul – the same precious jewel for which Abraham (a.s.), the Friend of God, was searching in the heavens and the earth:
و كذلك نري ابراهيم ملكوت السماوات و الأرض و ليكون من الموقنين
“ So also did We show Abraham the power and the laws of the heavens and the earth, that he might (with understanding) have certitude.” (Quran, Cattle, 6:75)
When Abraham said: “Show me, Lord, how You will raise the dead, ” He replied: “Have you no faith?” He said “Yes, but just to reassure my heart.” Allah said, “Take four birds, draw them to you, and cut their bodies to pieces. Scatter them over the mountain-tops, then call them back. They will come swiftly to you. Know that Allah is Mighty, Wise.” (Quran, The Cow, 2:260)
According to some interpreters, each of the four birds represents a bad trait in man (peacock: the symbol of pride and pretense, rooster: the symbol of lust, pigeon: the symbol of frivolity, and crow: the symbol of greed and high aspirations!
How can we find this precious jewel, that is, tranquility and peace? In which ocean shall we look for it?
I shall reply that the way of access to it is very easy and at the same time quite difficult. Study this example carefully:
Have you ever embarked on an aeroplane on a cloudy day? The plane takes off and is soon surrounded by clouds on all sides. It keeps going up slowly through the clouds and eventually leaves them behind and is now flying way above the clouds. The scenery now takes a dramatic turn. The world-illuminating sun is shining splendidly. Brilliance and splendour meets the eye wherever you look. Neither today nor any other day of the year will you see any trace of the dark clouds up here. The sun has no veil once you leave the clouds behind!
The sacred essence of the Creator of the world is like the sun which illuminates the whole world and the clouds are like the veils which hinder us from seeing the beauty of The Truth. These veils are our own bad deeds, desires and aspirations.
As the great gnostic, Abouhamzeh Thamali, says in his invocation:
انك لا تحتجب و من خلقك الا ان تحجبهم الاعمال دونك
The veils are the same satans, which have penetrated into us as a result of our deeds, and have surrounded our heart, and this is narrated in a tradition as follows:
لو لا ان الشياطين يحومون علي قلوب بني آدم لنظروا الي ملكوت السماوات.
If Satans did not surround the hearts of children of Adam, they would see the kingdom of the heavens. (Behar, 59:163)
These veils are the various idols made by our hands and nourished by our sensual desires and placed by us in the temple of our hearts. Men of understanding have summed it up so well:
كل ما شغلك عن الله فهو صنمك
Whatever amuses you and causes you to forget God, is your idol!
My dear friends! Take the axe of faith and virtue and smash these idols to be able to see the kingdom of the heavens. And thus join the ones who have sure faith, just like Abraham!
…. و ليكون من الموقنين
The dust of desires has darkened our soul. Our mind’s eye cannot see. Your task is to remove this dust.
Consider this: God is nearer to us than ourselves; why then are we far from Him? He is beside us; why then are we separated? How strange !
This is the crux of the problem and continues to be the cause of our suffering and frustration, despite the fact that the way to treat it is clear and obvious.
9- The great veil
What is the man’s main veil that hinders him from meeting his Lord?
Surely, there is no veil worse than selfishness, superiority complex and being self-centered. Men of high ethics and learning believe that “egoism” is the greatest hindrance for the travellers on the path to God and must be eradicated if one is to achieve closeness to Allah. However, it is easier said than done as such eradication involves what can be described as separation from one’s own self !
To succeed one needs strong determination and disciplined efforts, self-correction, seeking help from the Truth, and resorting to the graces of God’s saints. One thing is certain: unless the weeds of love and affection to anything other than God are removed from the heart, the seedling of His love and affection will not grow there!
An event is related about a pious man who as a young champion wrestler had been scheduled to wrestle against a very famous champion who was now past his prime. When the two champions were ready to start wrestling, an old woman, who happened to be the famous champion’s mother, came to the young contender and whispered something to him and went. She said: O young man, it is clear that you will win, but do not be in haste to satisfy yourself by causing disgrace to us.
This threw the young champion in a hard struggle within himself with his ego pulling him in one direction and his conscience reminding him of the rewards of foregoing the fame and numerous advantages. Finally he made his decision. At a critical point of the fight he deliberately slackened so that his rival could win and avoid abasement before the people!
He says: “At that moment, when I was defeated, suddenly I saw that the veils were drawn from my eye, and the manifestations of the Truth revealed in my heart, and I saw what one sees with the eye of the heart!
That is right, the effects of monotheism are revealed through the breaking of these idols.
10- Whisper of the lovelorn
My dear friends! For treading in this path, we need to approach His sacred essence step by step. Start by seeking the divine favor, take help from the relevant invocations from Quran and those recommended by the infallible (a.s.). Be sincere in adopting the concepts laid down in these invocations, acknowledging wholeheartedly the poverty and total dependence of man on His Creator.
Like Moses, you should say:
رب اني لما انزلت الي من خير فقير
My Lord! surely I stand in need of whatever good Thou mayest send down to me. (Quran, The Story, 28:24)
And like Job, cry out to your Lord:
رب اني مسني الضر و انت ارحم الراحمين
And (remember) Job, when He cried to his Lord, “Truly distress has seized me, but Thou art the Most Merciful of those that are merciful.” (Quran, The Prophets, 21:83)
And like Noah, call out:
رب اني مغلوب فانتصر
Then he called on his Lord: “I am one overcome: do Thou then help (me)!” (Quran, The Moon, 54:10)
And like Joseph, say:
يا فاطر السموات و الأرض أنت وليي في الدنيا و الآخره توفني مسلماَ و الحقني بالصالحين
O Thou Creator of the heavens and the earth! Thou art my Protector in this world and in the Hereafter. Take Thou my soul (at death) as one submitting to Thy will (as a Muslim), and unite me with the righteous.” (Quran, Joseph, 12:101)
Like Saul and his followers, say:
ربنا أفرغ علينا صبراَ و ثبت اقدامنا و انصرنا علي القوم الكافرين
Our Lord, pour out upon us patience, and make firm our feet, and give us aid against the people of the unbelievers. (Quran, The Cow, 2:250)
ربنا اننا سمعنا مناديا ينادي للايمان ان آمنوا بربكم فآمنا ربنا فاغفر لنا ذنوبنا و كفر عنا سيئاتنا و توفنا مع الابرار
Our Lord, we have heard a caller calling us to belief, saying, ‘Believe you in your Lord!’ And we believe. Our Lord, forgive Thou us our sins and acquit us of our evil deeds, and take us to Thee with the pious. (Quran, The House of Imran, 3:193)
If you reflect deeply, there is an ocean of divine knowledge and light in each of the above phrases, indicating love and affection to the great origin of the world, which causes man to approach Him.
You may seek assistance from the invocations of the infallible (a.s.), Zhiarat Ashura, Zhiarat Aal Yasin, Dua’ Sabah, Komeil, Nodbeh and many others like these. You can also recite many verses from Dua’ Arafeh in your daily prayers. And do not forget the night prayer, even if you keep it short. It has the power to transform – what alchemy and what an elixir ! Few people can succeed without it. Also, help people as much as you can and in any possible way. You will be surprised by the influence it has on the purification of soul and achievement of high spiritual ranks.
You shall internalise the precepts and the flavour of these invocations in your heart, and continue to seek assistance from the bounteous origin. Heart is dead and spiritless without His remembrance.
Then, you can try to benefit from the men of good deeds and piety (Prophets and Imams a.s. and the great scholars and ascetics among their followers. Think about them and study their lives. Based on the principle of representation, their inward light will illuminate your heart, and you will begin to follow in their footsteps.
In fact, association with the history of the great men is like association with them, and in the same way, association with the history of evil-doers is like association with them!
The former improves intellect and religion and the latter results in distress and misery.
I will never forget an experience I had during one of my pilgrimages to the tomb of the Eighth Imam (a.s.). I had some free time and decided to read the biography of one of the contemporary Islamic ascetics. I took my time to study it carefully and found it very educational. I was suddenly full of unprecedented enthusiasm in myself. I saw myself in a new world in which everything had a divine tincture. I did not think about anything save God and it did not take much to make me shed tears.
Regretfully, this mood did not last more than a few weeks. When the environment changed, the level of spiritual attraction changed as well. How I wish I could have continued to stay in that beautiful new world; each moment of it was worth a world!
The last advice for the last hindrance!
The most difficult task for the travellers in the path of God is purity and sincerity, and the most dangerous hindrance is to be tainted by dualism and dissimulation.
A well-known tradition sounds this warning for all the travellers on this path:
ان الشرك اخفي من دبيب النمل علي صفوانه سوداء في ليله ظلماء
Verily polytheism is more hidden than movement of a dark ant on a dark stone on a dark night. (Behar, 18:158)
There is also a rather disturbing tradition about how some scholars too will be among the perished and how the devoted too are always at risk.
هلك العاملون الا العايدون و هلك العايدون الا العالمون … و هلك الصادقون الا المخلصون … و ان الموقنين لعلي خطر عظيم.
Fortunately for us, verses like these spring up from the book of the Merciful to revive the light of hope in our hearts and keep despair at bay:
انه لا يبأس من روح الله الا القوم الكافرون
“And never give up hope of Allah’s Soothing Mercy: truly no one despairs of Allah’s Soothing Mercy, except those who have no faith.” (Quran, Joseph, 12:87)
Yes, it is sincerity that makes the reward of paying the alms-tax seven hundred fold or even more, and sincerity is that water that produces the bountiful grains in each ear of the crop.
في كل سنبله مأه حبه
“The parable of those who spend their property in the way of Allah is as the parable of a grain growing seven ears (with) a hundred grains in every ear” (Quran, The Cow, 2:261)
When sincerity and purity rains on the territory of the heart, it doubles the fruits of belief and faith:
فاصابها وايل فآتت أكلها ضعيفين
“.. upon which heavy rain falls so it brings forth its fruit twofold ..” (Quran, The Cow, 2:265)
However, achieving sincerity is a very strenuous task. Although it is a clear path, passing it is very difficult. The more knowledge and familiarity with the attributes of His beauty we have, the more sincerity we will have.
If we understand that honor and abjection is in His hand, and the key of all good things is with Him, there is no case for seeking honor from someone else through dualism, affectation and insincerity.
قل اللهم مالك الملك تؤتي الملك من تشاء و تنزع الملك ممن تشاء و تذل من تشاء بيدك الخير انك علي كل شيء قدير
Say: ‘O God, Master of the Kingdom, Thou givest the Kingdom to whom Thou wilt, and seizest the Kingdom from whom Thou wilt, Thou exaltest whom Thou wilt, and Thou abasest whom Thou wilt; in Thy hand is the good; Thou art powerful over everything. (Quran, The House of Imran, 3:26)
If we understand that no one can do anything unless He wills, it makes no sense to rely on anyone but Him:
ما تشاؤن الا ان يشاء الله
But you will not unless God wills. (Quran, Man, 76:30)
If we understand that he is aware of our inward and outward, we will strictly control ourselves:
يعلم خائنه الأعين و تخفي الصدور
He knows the treachery of the eyes and what the breasts conceal. (Quran, The Believer, 40:19)
That is right. If we correctly understand the foregoing and proceed with firm belief in them , we will pass the impassable and dangerous path with our sincerity intact on the condition that we surrender ourselves to God for protection against the fanciful temptations of the material world, and say: O God, do not leave us alone even for an instant in the world and hereafter:
رب لا تكلني الي نفسي طرفه عين ابداَ لا أقل من ذلك و لا أكثر
My dear friends! Leaving the affairs to God does not imply stopping efforts and endeavours and becoming lazy or lax. On the contrary, you are to do your best and leave to Him whatever is out of your control, and surrender yourself to Him in all states. Here is an extract from dua’ Kumail that you should recite and act upon :
الهي قو علي خدمتك جوارحي
و اشدد علي العزيمه جوانحي
هب لي الحد في خشيتك
و الدوام في الاتصال يخدمتك
My God! Strengthen my limbs for Thy service!
Make me determined for this purpose!
Grant me the success for endeavor in the path of Thy piety!
Allow me to continue constantly in Thy service! (A part of dua’ Komeil )
Finally, this is what to do and not to do. If you are determined to tread this path, recite “In the name of God”, and make the following verses your motto (and do not forget the narrator of this advice):
O God! Grant me a heart to be worthy of Thee
To be full of Thy love, light and pleasure!
A heart free from the uproar of desires
That is independent from anything save Thee
O God! I do not have any desire save “Thee”
It’s enough for me if Thee grant it to me!
O God! Make the Kaaba of my heart pleasant
So that I may do all my best for your pleasure
Rinse my heart with the “water” of my eyes
So that my heart may always think about Thee
Keep me away from everything other than Thy essence
So that my heart may survive for Thy existence
Give “Nasser” a cupful from Thy wine
So that he may be drunk with Thy love and affection