Recommended Reading: Ishanusharan | The Imitation of Christ

Iqra Bismi Rabbika allazi Khalaq


In my last visit to India recently, I went to visit the Temple at Dakhineshwar, blessed by the presence of the famous mysticsaint of Bengal Sri Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa (1836-1886). Sri Sri Ramakrishna was a very inclusive and universalist sage of his time who not only realized and taught that there is truth inherent in all Paths, but himself practiced three major religious path  (Hindu, Christian and Islam at a time and at a place, which was quite an extra-ordinary feat to achieve) which includes his initiation from the Sufis and practiced Islamic mode of being. The banyan tree under which Ramakrishna and his Sufi brothers and mendicants used to gather for sohbet and zikr is still preserved at the Dakhineshwar temple premise. Sri Ramakrishna was a remarkable spiritual figure  who removed all barriers between paths, creeds, genders, nations, persons and traditions in his own life and in others who came in contact with him..

In the book, Great Swan written by Lex Hixon (who later became Shaykh Nur), Hixon considered Ramakrishna as the forerunner of the Feminine Age which is now dawning. Ramakrishna's experiences and teachings contain essential secrets for the unfolding of harmonious cultural interaction and spiritual growth during the twenty first century.

The sage taught: "Place your devotion whole-heartedly at the service of the ideal most natural to your being, but know with unwavering certainty that all spiritual ideals are expressions of the same supreme Presence.

Do not allow the slightest trace of malice to enter your mind toward any manifestation of God or toward any practitioner who attempts to live in harmony with that Divine Manifestation. Kali, Krishna, Buddha, Christ, Allah -- these are all full expressions of the same indivisible Consciousness and Bliss. These are the revelatory initiatives of Divine Reality, not man made notions.

The ecstatic lover has burning faith in every Divine Manifestation -- as formless Radiance, as various Forms or Attributes. Meet as many adepts from various paths as you can. Love these persons, receive their initiations, and passionately practice their disciplines. But enter your own inner chamber of primordial awareness to enjoy selfless peace and delight. Everyone will attain God-consciousness and be liberated. Some receive their meal early in the morning, others at noon, still others not until evening. But none will go hungry. Without any exception, all living beings will eventually know their own true nature to be timeless awareness."

That is a glimpse of how Sri Sri Ramakrishna was and his great faith on God and humanity's unfolding.

Along with the Temple I also had the opportunity to visit the Head Quarter of Ramakrishna Mission and Monastery Belur Math which his chief disciple Swami Vivekanada established. Belur  Math, situated on the other side of the Hooghly river, is quite an expansive place having various temples, beautiful garden, preserved river banks and quarters for residence Monks including the room where Swami Vivekananda used to live. After strolling on the beautiful premise of the Belur Math, on my way out I went to the check the book store there.  It was wonderful to see that the Mission is still continuing the legacy of Sri Sri Ramakrishna by carrying books of other religious tradition. Much to my delight I found translation of Tazkeratul Awliya (Memoirs of Muslim Saints) as well as some other translation of book from Christian faith.

There along other books I was attracted to the book by the title, Ishanusharan (literally translates as Following Isa / Jesus) - a Bengali translation of the Christian Classic, The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A. Kempis. This particular copy is translated by one of the monks of Ramakrishna Mission, Swami Sacchidananda (not the same person who founded the Yogaville). The book has history connected with Ramakrishna Mission. It was one of the most favorite book of Swami Vivekananda. Around 1888, leaving the monastery, he wandered without fixed abode, without ties, independent and stranger wherever he went. At that period his sole possessions were a water pot, staff, and his two favorite books - Bhagavad Gita and The Imitation of Christ. He himself used to read this book with great devotion and advised other to read it. He was inspired by this book so much that he started to translate a portion of it. His unfinished translation copies are no longer available. Swami Sacchidananda did a remarkable job in translating the book in the most natural flow of language and meaning so successfully that it reads like original Bengali Book.

About the Book

The Imitation of the Christ is considered as one of the most read spiritual classic of all time, which is translated in almost every language of the world. Its said that no other book after Bible has so many editions as this book has. It was first published anonymously, in Latin, in 1418. The work is a manual of devotion intended to assist the soul with its pursuit of holiness and communion with God. Its sentences are statements, not arguments, and are pitched in the highest key of Christian experience. Behind and within all its reflections runs the counsel of self-renunciation. What is striking is the books ability to fill the reader's heart with grace, as it did when it came out, it still continues to do so.

Kempis's The Imitation of Christ is divided into four treatises on the spiritual life, the interior life, internal consolation, and the sacrament of the altar. The practice of virtue and the avoidance of vice are major themes of this masterwork of ascetical literature. Vanity and intellectual pretension are put down.

The book gives counsel to read the scriptures, statements about the uses of adversity, advice for submission to authority, warnings against temptation and how to resist it, reflections about death and the judgment, meditations upon the oblation of Christ, and admonitions to flee the vanities of the world.

The uniqueness of Swami Sacchidananda's translation Ishanusharan is that he not only translated in fluid Bengali language, but also provided beautifully relevant verses from the Veda, Upanishad, Tantra, Gita and Dhammapada which witness to the universal truth found in the words of the Imitation of the Christ. This makes it much enjoyable for those who love comparative religion and integral spirituality. When read in the light of truth from other faith tradition, it makes the reading far more expansive, far more inclusive. The translator has been successful in retaining the sweetness and the inimitable grace that is found in the original.

In the book the translator, a follower of Hindu Vedanta Path makes it clear that the teachings, even though is pivoted around the devotion, love and faith on Christ, the truth spoken within in reality transcendent the boundary of exclusivity of Christianity.Those who are follower of Krishna, can easily read it as a treatise on Imitation of Krishna, those who are lover of Buddha can do so because in reality its talking about imitation (and manifestation) of the higher divinity that is within (and dormant), waiting to be embodied and made visible in us, in every human being.

If understood from the vantage point of higher reality, from the point of view of non-duality - the truth of imitation of Christ, the Spirit of God (Ruh-Allah in Quranic term) - is a journey to perfect our own Insaniyyat (perfection of being human in the image of the Divine) by imitating the Ideals of what it means to be Rabbani (adorned with divine qualities). Those who are students / travelers of the Sufi Path can identify many authentic teachings / principles in the inspired work of the Imitation of Christ - which are living tradition and practiced in the Sufi Path. Below are some of the favorite selection from the book with their corresponding Sufi reflections (inserted as italics).

Imitation of the Way of Insan Kamil (the perfected HuMan)

There is One God, the Eternal, the Only Being;
None exists save He.
There is One Master, the Guiding Spirit of all souls,
Who constantly leads all followers toward the Light.
There is One Holy Book, the Sacred Manuscript of Nature,
the only Scripture that can enlighten the reader.
There is One Religion, the unswerving progress
in the right direction toward the Ideal,
which fulfills the life's purpose of every soul.
- Hazrat Inayat Khan

In Imitation of Christ we read in the beginning chapter, "INDEED it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God.. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone." 

Reflecting the same truth, the Sufis would say, the Path of Truth is not based on intellectual premises. It is based on direct, personal experience. And so we seek not to discover the truth through book-learning but, rather, through reading the manuscript of our own selves and thereby having a direct personal experience. God does not look at the outer appearance, but He looks whats in the heart. There is no other goal in the Path than to love and serve God.

"EVERY man naturally desires knowledge; but what good is knowledge without reverence of God? Indeed a humble rustic who serves God is better than a proud intellectual who neglects his soul to study the external sciences." 

"WHAT good is much discussion of involved and obscure matters when our ignorance of them will not be held against us on Judgment Day? Neglect of things which are profitable and necessary and undue concern with those which are irrelevant and harmful, are great folly." - The Prophet Muhammad said, "It is (part) of the beauty of a man's Islam to leave what does not concern him." Also he advised, "Leave what you have doubt about, for that you have no doubt about; for it is truth that brings peace of mind and it is falsehood that brings doubt".

"VAIN is the man who puts his trust in men, in created things. Do not be ashamed to serve others and to seem poor in this world. Do not be self-sufficient but place your trust in God. Do what lies in your power and God will aid your good will. Put no trust in your own learning nor in the cunning of any man, but rather in the grace of God Who helps the humble and humbles the proud. If you have wealth, do not glory in it, nor in friends because they are powerful, but in God Who gives all things and Who desires above all to give Himself. Do not think yourself better than others lest, perhaps, you be accounted worse before God Who knows what is in man. Do not take pride in your good deeds, for God’s judgments differ from those of men and what pleases them often displeases Him. If there is good in you, see more good in others, so that you may remain humble."

The Sufis will remind the teaching of the Quran "In God let the believers put their trust. (9:51), …Then when thou hast taken a decision put thy trust in God. For God loves those who put their trust (in Him)" (3:159). And if any one puts his trust in Allah, sufficient is (God) for him. (65:2).

Certainly God does not love the prideful ones. (16:23) .. therefore do not consider yourselves pure. Allah knows well those who guard themselves." (53:32)

A favorite talismanic prayer for the Sufis is "HasbunAllahu wa ni'amal wakil." Allah is enough for us and He is the Best Guardian.

The Book Imitation of Christ advises, "DO NOT open your heart to every man, but discuss your affairs with one who is wise and who revere God." - Once the Prophet was asked, "who is the best person?" for which he replied, "the one whom, seeing, brings remembrance of God in you." The Sufi masters recommend us to keep company with such men of God and to enter into sohbet (opening of heart in conversation) with them. Keeping company with the righteous is necessity of the Sufi Path.

"IT IS a very great thing to obey, to live under a superior and not to be one’s own master, for it is much safer to be subject than it is to command. Go where you may, you will find no rest except in humble obedience to the rule of (spiritual) authority."

This is also the advise in the path of the Sufis who cling to their guide and live in obedience than becoming one's own master by following the whims and whispering of the neglectful self. Rumi tells us, feed your heart in conversation with someone harmonious with it; seek spiritual advancement from one who is advanced.

"SHUN the gossip of men as much as possible, for discussion of worldly affairs, even though sincere, is a great distraction inasmuch as we are quickly ensnared and captivated by vanity. When the right and opportune moment comes for speaking, say something that will edify. Bad habits and indifference to spiritual progress do much to remove the guard from the tongue. Devout conversation on spiritual matters, on the contrary, is a great aid to spiritual progress, especially when persons of the same mind and spirit associate together in God."

Master of the mystics, Rasulullah said : "Do not talk for long without remembering Allah, for talking much without remembering Allah, Glorious is He, is hardness of the heart. The most distant among man from Allah is one with a hardened heart". He also said, "He who truly believes in Allah and the last Day, should speak good or keep silent"

The Sufis say, the faqir is the one who has turned from the future search for this world and set out on the quest of the Real, that is, the secret of his own existence. The first requirement of this search is that he keep company with people who also wish to acquire this holy science. 

The Beloved of Allah transmitted that Allah declares: "My love is due to those who love each other for my sake, who sit with each other for my sake, who visit one another for my sake, who spend on each other for my sake"

WITHOUT CHARITY external work is of no value, but anything done in charity, be it ever so small and trivial, is entirely fruitful inasmuch as God weighs the love with which a man acts rather than the deed itself. He does much who loves much. He does much who does a thing well. He does well who serves the common good rather than his own interests. Now, that which seems to be charity is oftentimes really sensuality, for man’s own inclination, his own will, his hope of reward, and his self-interest, are motives seldom absent. On the contrary, he who has true and perfect charity seeks self in nothing, but searches all things for the glory of God. Moreover, he envies no man, because he desires no personal pleasure nor does he wish to rejoice in himself; rather he desires the greater glory of God above all things. He ascribes to man nothing that is good but attributes it wholly to God from Whom all things proceed as from a fountain, and in Whom all the blessed shall rest as their last end and fruition.

From the Quran: Those who spend their wealth in the Way of Allah and then do not follow up what they have spent in charity with reminders of it (in vain boasting) or by hurting (the feelings of the recipient) will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will be upon them nor will they grieve. And those who spend their wealth out of desire to please Allah, and for the strengthening of their own souls, their parable is a garden on high ground which is hit by a (heavy) downpour so that it yields double its fruits. And if it is not hit by a (heavy) downpour then a light rain (is sufficient). And Allah sees what you do.

Those who spend their wealth by night and by day, secretly and openly - for them their reward is with their Lord. No fear shall be upon them, they shall not grieve.

The Prophet said, "When a man spends to support his family hoping (for Allah's good pleasure) even that is counted for him as sadaqah (charity)"

The Divine Revelation unveils: Behold! You are those who are called upon to spend in the way of God; but of you there are some who are niggardly. And whoso is niggardly, is niggardly only against his own soul. And God is Self-Sufficient, and it is you who are needy.

"IF YOU WOULD persevere in seeking perfection, you must consider yourself a pilgrim, an exile on earth. You have come to serve, not to rule. You must understand, too, that you have been called to suffer and to work, not to idle and gossip away your time. Here men are tried as gold in a furnace. Here no man can remain unless he desires with all his heart to humble himself before God."

Sacred tradition of Islam declares: "The search for the Real is an exile (ghurba)." The Last Revelation calls, "O you who believe, do not die unless you submit to the divine (state of being muslim)."

VERY soon your life here will end; consider, then, what may be in store for you elsewhere. Today we live; tomorrow we die and are quickly forgotten. Oh, the dullness and hardness of a heart which looks only to the present instead of preparing for that which is to come! If you have ever seen a man die, remember that you, too, must go the same way. Do not put your trust in friends and relatives, and do not put off the care of your soul till later, for men will forget you more quickly than you think. It is better to provide now, in time, and send some good account ahead of you than to rely on the help of others. If you do not care for your own welfare now, who will care when you are gone? Keep yourself as a stranger here on earth, a pilgrim whom its affairs do not concern at all. Keep your heart free and raise it up to God, for you have not here a lasting home. To Him direct your daily prayers, your sighs and tears, that your soul may merit after death to pass in happiness to the Lord.

The Criterion of the Sufis, the Quran declares: "You who have iman (faith)! have taqwa (conscious awareness) of Allah and let each self look to what it has sent forward for Tomorrow (the Day of Requital). Have taqwa of Allah. Allah is aware of what you do." (59:18) The advanced Sufi is forever recalling death, for it is the time appointed for seeking the countenance of the Friend, and no lover can ever forget the time fixed for meeting his beloved and prepares for it with provision for 'the Journey'.

Quoted here only a small selection from the Book One of The Imitation of Christ. Link to download the entire book as PDF is provided at the end of this post under Resources. May Allah guide us and increase our iman (faith), 'ilm (knowledge) and ihsan (excellence).

Do not look at vessels.
Dive into the sea of meanings.
Perhaps you will see Me
In the company of the Sufis.
- Shaykh ash-Shushtari

# Resources:
* Download PDF version of The Imitation of Christ
* The Imitation of Christ in downloadable mp3 audiobook
* Sri SriRamakrishna Kathamritam
* Great Swan: Meetings with Ramakrishna by Lex Hixon (Shaykh Nur al Jerrahi)



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Technology of the Heart: Recommended Reading: Ishanusharan | The Imitation of Christ
Recommended Reading: Ishanusharan | The Imitation of Christ
Technology of the Heart
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