Light Within Me
Attaining Spiritual Perfection
Allamah Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai
To be able to advance on this spiritual path it is necessary for a spiritual
traveler to appoint some righteous man his preceptor (spiritual guide). The
preceptor must have passed away from self and reached the station of ever
lasting abode in Allah. He should be fully aware of all the points which
are to the advantage or disadvantage of a spiritual traveler and should be
capable of undertaking the training and guidance of other spiritual travelers.
Moreover, remembrance and recollection of Allah and prayer to Him with humility
are also necessary for a spiritual traveler.
Besides, to be able to pass all the stages of spiritual path successfully
it is necessary for him to observe certain rules:
(i) Renunciation of customs, usages and social formalities
It means to refrain from all those formalities which are related to mere
customs or stylish living and which are a hindrance in the way of the spiritual
traveler, who is required to live among the people but to lead a simple and
balanced life. Some people are so absorbed in social formalities that they
always observe them too minutely in order to maintain their position in society
and often indulge in useless and even harmful practices, which cause nothing
but inconvenience and worry. They give preference to unnecessary usages over
the real and important necessities. Their criterion for judging what is proper
and what is improper is the appreciation and disapproval of the common people.
They do not have any opinion of their own, and simply follow the common trend.
At the other end there are some other people who lead an isolated life and
ignore all rules of society and thus deprive themselves from all social benefits.
They do not mix with other people and come to be known as cynics.
To be successful in his objective the spiritual traveler should follow the
middle way. He should mix up with the people neither too much nor too little.
It does not matter if he looked different from other people because of his
distinct social behaviour. He should not follow others and should not care
for any criticism in this connection. Allah says: They do not fear the criticism
of any critic in the way of Allah. (Surah al-Maida, 5:54). That means
that the true believer sticks to what he thinks to be right. As a principle
it may be said that the spiritual traveler should weigh every matter seriously
and should not follow the wishes of other people or their opinion blindly.
As soon as the spiritual traveler begins his spiritual exercises, he is bound
to face many unpleasant events. He is criticized by his friends and acquaintances
who are interested only in their selfish desires and current social customs.
They taunt and unbraid the spiritual traveler in order to bring a change
in his behaviour and to turn him away from his objective. When these worldly
people find that the spiritual traveler has a new style of life and his ways
and manners have become different from their own, they feel upset and try
their best to remove him by means of mockery and taunt from the line recently
chosen by him. Thus at every stage of his spiritual journey the devotee has
to face fresh difficulties which he can resolve only by means of his
determination, perseverance, will power and trust in Allah. Let the believers
place their trust in Allah. (Surah Ali Imran, 3:122)
It is one of those important principles which the spiritual traveler must
follow, for a little negligence in this respect not only hampers his progress,
but often as a consequence of a lack of attention to this principle he may
get tired of the spiritual journey itself. In the beginning the spiritual
traveler may show much zeal and fervor. In the middle he may see wonderful
manifestations of Divine light, and consequently may decide to spend most
of his time in acts of worship and make himself busy with prayer, bewailing
and weeping. Thus he may try to undertake everything good and pick up a morsel
of every spiritual dish. But this practice is not only not beneficial but
is also in many cases definitely harmful. Under too much pressure he may
get fed up, leave the work incomplete and cease to take interest in commendable
acts. Too much enthusiasm in the beginning leads to too little interest in
the end. Therefore the spiritual traveler should not be misled by momentary
zeal, and keeping in view his personal circumstances should shoulder only
as much burden, or even less, as he is sure to be able to carry permanently
maintaining due interest in it. He should perform acts of worship when he
is really inclined to them and should withdraw from them when his desire
to perform them has not still completely faded away. He may be compared to
a man who wants to eat something. Such a man first of all should choose a
dish that agrees to his temperament, and then should stop eating it before
his belly is full. This principle of moderation is derived from that tradition
also according to which Imam Ja'far Sadiq said to Abdul Aziz Qaratisi: "Abdul
Aziz, faith has ten degrees like the steps of a ladder which are climbed
one by one. If you find anyone below you by one step, pull him up to you
gently and do not burden him with what he cannot bear, or else you will break
This tradition shows that in principle only those acts of worship are beneficial
which are performed with zeal and eagerness. The following saying of Imam
Sadiq also means the same thing: "Do not force yourselves to worship."
It means that after feeling penitence about a sin and asking Allah's forgiveness
for it, it must not be committed again. Every vow must be fulfilled and every
promise made to the pious preceptor must be kept.
Before explaining this point it is necessary to make some preliminary remarks.
The Qur'anic verses and religious reports show that everything we perceive
by our senses, everything we do and everything that exists or occurs has
a corresponding truth transcending this material and physical world and not
subject to any limitations of time and space. When these truths descend to
this material world, they assume a tangible and palpable form. The Qur'an
expressly says: There is not a thing the treasures of which we do not have
with Us. But we send down everything in an appointed measure. (Surah al-Hijr,
This verse essentially means that everything in this world has had an existence
free from estimation and measurement prior to its material existence. When
Allah intends to send a thing to this world, He appoints its measure and
so it becomes limited: No disaster befalls in the earth or in yourselves,
but it is in a Book before We bring it into being. Surely this is easy for
Allah. (Surah al-Hadid, 57:22)
As the external shape of everything is fixed and limited and everything is
subject to all the changes that are the characteristics of matter such as
coming into a shape and being disfigured, everything in this world is temporary,
transient and subject to decay. Allah says: Whatever is with you is to be
exhausted and whatever is with Allah is to stay. (Surah an-Nahl, 16:96) In
other words, those abstract truths which are not subject to material
characteristics and the treasures of which are with Allah, are not to come
to an end. The following tradition, which is accepted by the Shi'ah and the
Sunnis both, is also relevant in this connection: "We, the Prophets have
been ordered to speak to the people according to their intellectual capacity."
This tradition relates to the description of the truths, not to their quantity.
It says that the Prophets simplify the higher truths and describe them in
a way comprehensible to their addresses. Human mind having been dazzled by
the glamour of the world and being preoccupied with the futile desires, has
become dull and rusty and is not capable of comprehending the reality of
the truths. The Prophets may be compared to a man who wants to explain some
truth to the children. Naturally he will have to explain it in a way
corresponding to the power of understanding and observation of the children.
The same rule applies to the Prophets who are the custodians of the Divine
teachings. Sometimes they describe the living truths in such a way that they
appear to be lifeless, while as a matter of fact even the external rites
such as prayers, fast, pilgrimage, zakat, khums, urging that what is right
and restraining from that what is evil are all living and conscious truths.
The spiritual traveler is he who by means of a spiritual journey and spiritual
exercises seeks to purify his soul and intellect from all impurities to be
able to view the higher truths by the grace of Allah in this very life and
this very world. It often happens that a devotee views the ablution and prayers
in their real form and feels that from the viewpoint of perception and
consciousness, their real form is a thousand times better than their physical
The reports which have come down to us from the Imams show that the acts
of worship will appear on the Day of Resurrection in their appropriate forms
and will talk to the human beings. Even in the Qur'an it has been mentioned
that the ears, the eyes and other organs will be speaking on that day. Similarly
the mosques which appear to be composed of bricks and mortar, have a living
and conscious reality. That is why some reports say that on the Day of Judgement
the mosques and the Holy Qur'an will make complaints to their Lord. One day
a gnostic was lying on his bed. When he turned from one side to the other
he heard a shriek coming out of the ground. He could not immediately know
the reason. Subsequently either he himself realized or somebody else pointed
out to him that the ground, having been separated from him, was shrieking.
After these preliminary remarks now we come to our main point. By means of
continuous practice the spiritual traveler should imprint on his mind an
abstract figure of each act of worship he performs, so that his practice
of it may turn into a permanent habit. He should perform each deed again
and again and should not give it up till he begins to take delight in its
performance. He cannot capture the permanent angelic aspect of a deed unless
he continues to perform for quite a long time so that its impression on his
mind may become indelible. For this purpose he should choose a deed consistent
with his inclination and aptitude and then continue to perform it, for if
a deed was abandoned prematurely, not only its good effects would be obliterated,
but a reaction also would begin to appear. As a good deed is luminous, the
reaction of its abandonment involves darkness and evil. The fact is that
"there is nothing but good with Allah and all the evils, mischief and wrongs
are attributable to us." Therefore man is responsible for all faults and
defects. "My Lord, evil cannot be attributed to You." This shows that Allah's
favor is common to all. It is not a prerogative of any particular class.
Allah's infinite mercy is for all human beings, whether Muslims, Jews,
Christians, Zoroastrians or idol-worshippers. But some men because of their
wrong doing develop certain characteristics which make them unhappy, and
so Allah's mercy makes some people happy and some others distressed.
This means that the spiritual traveler must at no time be forgetful of his
duty and must always abide by the decision which he has taken.
Meditation or contemplation is very vast in its meaning and its sense differs
according to the degrees and stages of the spiritual journey. In the beginning
it means refraining from all acts not useful in this world or the hereafter
and abstaining from saying or doing anything disliked by Allah. Gradually
this meditation becomes stiffer and higher, and may sometimes mean concentration
on one's silence, or on one's self or on a higher truth, that is the names
and the attributes of Allah. The degrees and grades of this kind of meditation
will be mentioned later.
Here it may be mentioned that meditation is an important factor in spiritual
journey. The leading gnostics have laid great stress on it, and have described
it as the foundation stone of spiritual journey on which the edifice of
remembrance and recollection of Allah rests. Without meditation remembrance
and recollection of Allah are not likely to produce any positive results.
For a spiritual traveler meditation is as important as for a patient the
prescribed course of diet, without which the medicines may be ineffective
or may even produce counter-effects. That is why the most outstanding spiritual
guides do not allow any liturgies and recollection of Allah without meditation.
It means that the spiritual traveler should every day have a fixed time for
checking and assessing what he had done during the past 24 hours. The idea
of this checking has been derived from what Imam Musa ibn Ja'far has said:
"He who does not take account of himself once every day is not one of us."
If on checking the spiritual traveler finds that he has not done his duty,
he should seek forgiveness from Allah and if he finds that he has performed
his duty in every respect, he should be thankful to Him.
If the spiritual traveler finds that he is guilty of some lapse or error,
he should take some suitable action to reprimand or punish himself.
This means that the spiritual traveler should be quick in implementing the
decision he has taken. As he is likely to face many obstacles on his way,
he should be vigilant and careful and should try to achieve his objective
without wasting a moment.
(x) Faith and Reliance
The spiritual traveler must have love for and implicit faith in the Holy
Prophet and his rightful successors.1 Complete
reliance and trust are especially necessary at this stage. The more the reliance,
the more lasting the effect of good deeds.
As all the existing things are the creation of Allah, the spiritual traveler
must love all of them and should have regard for them according to the grade
of their dignity. A lover of Allah shows kindness to all men and animals.
According to a tradition, affection for the creation is a part of faith in
Another tradition says: "Allah, I seek of You Your love and the love of him
who loves You."
(xi) Observance of the Rules of Veneration
The observance of these rules of correct behaviour towards all and His
vicegerents is different from the faith and reliance mentioned above. Here
veneration means to be careful not to exceed one's limits and do anything
inconsistent with the requirements of man's servitude to Allah. It is essential