Study Theme for Humans who Aspire to be Awake



~ Idries Shah

A certain sufi teacher was asked, “If you were to give a number of study themes to the people present, which ones would you stress?”

Following were his answers in brief and bold. The texts in italic are commentaries by this author.

1. All approaches to a study or an individual may start with a desire for attention. However they start, they must never end up in this manner. 

Desire for attention of others is a pervasive, very hard to eradicate disease of nafs or the lower self. Thus even the apparent engagement of spiritual study, religious quest, to be associated with a pious and spiritual person or to be included in a spiritual circle, one need to be vigilant so that one does not fall in this trap of desiring attention upon the self. This tendency can be super subtle, almost invisible and very very hard for the individual to detect and it may disguise itself in the worst possible manner, camouflaging itself inside the apparently most noble cause or relatively unreal intention.

2. Study the assumptions behind your actions. Then study the assumptions behind your assumptions.

The reality of all actions are measured or evaluated by the intention behind that action. Most human beings are not that conscious enough to engage in action with intentions. Our actions are mostly unconscious because we are people who are far from being awake. So one good practice is to contemplate and probe into the assumptions behind the actions, even if we are well inside the action, for example we have started a new profession or have engaged in a study of a subject. If we probe sincerely and find out the assumptions, we may still have chances to correct our intentions, adjust our courses or make better intentions.

3. 'Why did I do such-and-such a thing?' is all very well. But what about 'How otherwise could I have done it?'

This is connected to the above points. The “Why..” question is the checking of the exact intention or intentions behind action and the “How otherwise..” question is to seek a better course and guidance to improve upon the assumptions and intentions. There are always room for improvement and the potentiality to better ourselves and our actions never cease to exist. Those who try, Allah helps them and literally the entire Universe conspire by the permission of the Lord of the Universes to reach that person to a better destination.

4. You have come a long way, and you do not know it. You have a long way to go, and you do know what that means.

This is self explanatory and only reconfirms the truth that the potentiality to better ourselves and our sanctions never become zero. That potentiality exists as long as we have our last breath still left.

5. In respect to some, you may have advanced. In relation to others, you have not progressed at all. Neither observation is more important than the other.

''He who knows himself knows his Lord", transmitted the Messenger. So knowing ourself is of paramount importance and its worth investigating in which areas we have advanced (if we really have over last 5 years or 10 years or 20 years) and in which areas we haven’t progressed at all (for example our bad habits, our anger, the way we speak when we are upset etc., our concentration in our prayers). To do so one must observe these aspects of the self. This is muhasiban nafs, accounting of the self.

6. If your desire for 'good' is based on greed, it is not good, but greed.

7. Exercise power by means of kindness, and you may be causing more damage than you could by cruelty. Neither approach is correct.

Equity and Justice is the keyword here, not kindness or weakness as that it may translate to or cruelty which again is of course a wrong approach.

8. The man who knows must discharge a function. The one who does not, cannot arrogate one to himself; he can only try to do so.

Everything has a right in this universe, including knowing of higher order. One who become a knower of God, at some point in time he or she will be moved to share that knowing with others. Allah does everything with a medium. Human heart is the best medium for imparting knowledge and gnosis and thus sacred knowledge of highest degree transmits from heart to heart.

9. Do not try to be humble: learn humility.

So true. 'The trying to be humble' ones suffer from a disease called self righteousness, may Allah save us from such calamity. We can never finish our learning of humility and some of the best places to be learn such humility is the study of the Life of Messengers of Allah, life of his holy family members, and his blessed companions. After that the next best arena to learn humility is the lives of the Awliya Allah (saints and friends of God). This learning is best complemented by finding someone who follow the spirit of Submissin, one who has mastered harmonious surrender (Islam) and who is a follower of the way of the Messenger, not just the outer aspects of it but as well as the inner.

10. Assume that you are part-hypocrite and part heedless, and you will not be far wrong.

This is an excellent wisdom. We have the tendencies of hypocrisy as we’ll as heedlessness in varying degree. In fact people in this last age are far more hypocrite and heedless than any other time in human history, but they are equally unaware of it. None of us are immune from such hypocrisy and heedlessness and our state of affairs are precisely so miserable because of this. The earlier we admin and acknowledge our hypocrisy and heedlessness, the better chance we have to be more conscious and knowingly avoid them.

11. To copy a virtue in another is more copying than it is virtue. Try to learn what that virtue is based upon.

The inner meanings of virtues, for example the real Sunnah or Way of the Messenger needs to be understood, reflected, internalized and practiced; rather than imitating the outward clothes, appearances and so on and so forth.

12. No practice exists in isolation.

Community and companionship must not be neglected.When migratory birds fly for hundreds of miles, they form such a formation where the birds in front give more energy and the vaccum created by their wings help the birds at the back to take rest and they change positions over time, helps each other to rest and travel together. Likewise there are mutual helping when spiritual journey is taken together in shared companionship and fellowship, the down periods of mind, heart and spirit of individual is protected and taken cared of by others in the group.

13. If you seek a teacher, try to become a real student. If you want to be a student, try to find a real teacher.

This is a real wisdom for those seekers who are impatient in finding a teacher or have found one but have been refused for the time being to be accepted as a student.

14. The more often you do a thing, the more likely you are to do it again. There is no certainty that you will gain anything else from repetition than a likelihood of further repetition.

When we are engaged in an action or practice which is repetitive in nature its important to not get caught with just the habit of it. If we refocus and reeducate and remind ourselves the significance and real reason of those practices only then we may avoid being caught in the pattern of repetition that fail to provide nourishment.

15. At first, you are not worthy of the robes and implements of the Sufi. Later you do not need them. Finally, you may need them for the sake of others.

This is a great hint for those who has the intelligence to understand. It encompass guarding against arrogance and vain pride and to replace that with humility, spiritual independence which is free from showiness and pretension and finally its about service to creation (haqqul makhlukat).

16. If you cannot laugh frequently and genuinely, you have no soul.

Humor is a sign of intelligence and one needs to develop a genuine sense of humor which again is a fruit of enlightenment.

17. When a belief becomes more than an instrument, you are lost. You remain lost until you learn what 'belief is really for.

We are reminded in the Scripture not to go overboard with religion or do excess in it. Even God doesnt care about belief that has no sincerity, fossilized rituals and fake religiosity.

18. When a dervish shows interest in your material welfare, you may be pleased. But it is frequently because you are not yet ready for anything else.

19. When someone asks for you to help in doing something, do you imagine that it is because he cannot do it unaided? Perhaps he is a Sufi who wants to help you by connecting you with his task.

Do you recognize the shift in focus away from the self? Thats what this Path is all about.

20. If you are lazy, count yourself lucky if someone points this out, giving you a chance to improve. Laziness is always your fault. It is the sign that a man has persevered in uselessness for too long.

Time is short. Our time in this world is extremely short, while awaits for us the unending afterlife in our Real Home, the Garden, the Paradise of Bliss. When we reach at the final breath our life may look like as if we have picked up a glass of water and have just finished taking a sip from it and have hardly put it down and its over. Yes that long this life may seem and yes thats how fast this life vanishes from us. So lets seek refuge to the Lord of Refuge from every laziness, from every moment which we have not used to remember the Real, hence have missed the opportunity to be more awake. "Allah there is no god but He alone Is. Ever Living, Peerless. He is Ever Awake (La ta'khudhuhu sinatun wa la nawm)."

These points are in fact exercises in outwitting the false self, which thrives on smaller satisfactions. The Sufi aims at Fana (passing away - of the Faise Self) and Baqa (remaining - of the Real).



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Technology of the Heart: Study Theme for Humans who Aspire to be Awake
Study Theme for Humans who Aspire to be Awake
Some practical wisdom from a Sufi Master on the Path for those who aspire to be Awake
Technology of the Heart
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