Dimensions of wisdom and advices of Nahj al- Balaghah(3/4)piety and spirituality

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piety (zuhd) as the essential condition for exuberance of gnosis
Another fountainhead of zuhd and renunciation of hedonism is the aspiration to avail of spiritual bounties. It is evident that a materialistic outlook of the would, the rejection of hedonism, materialism, and love of money and wealth as a prerequisite for acquisition of spiritual virtues is devoid of any meaning. We have, nothing to say about the followers of materialism as a school of thought. At present, we address only those who have experienced the aroma of spirituality. For anybody who has smelled its fragrance knows that as long as one does not liberate oneself from the bondage of desire, as long as the infant soul is not weaned away from the breasts of nature, and as long as the material aspects of life are seen as not being the ultimate end of life and are seen as means, the domain of the heart is not ready for the emergence of chaste emotions majestic thoughts, and angelic feelings, that is why, it is said, that zuhd is the essential condition for exuberance of gnosis and is inalienably liked with it.

The worship of God, in its real sense, that is, ardour of love and zeal of devotion and service in the way of God, his constant presence in thoughts and his remembrance, the sense of delight and ecstasy in his adoration and worship- it is not at all compatible with self- adoration, hedonist attitude, and being captured by the glamour and charm of material things.

The need of zuhd is not characteristic solely of the worship of God, rather, every kind of love and adoration, whether it pertains to one’s country, creed, conviction, or something else, calls for some kind of zuhd and indifference towards material aspects of life.

It is characteristic of love and adoration, as opposed to knowledge, science or philosophy, that they have to deal with the heart and as such do not tolerate any rivals. Nothing prevents a scientist or a philosopher who is enslaved to money and wealth from devoting and concentrating his intellectual powers, when necessary, on the study of problems of philosophy, logic, physics, or mathematics, but it is not possible, at the same time, that his heart should be full to the brim with love, especially love of a spiritual nature such as for humanity, or his religion and creed, certainly, it cannot burn with the light of Divine love nor can it receive an enlightenment or inspiration of a Divine sort, consequently, the essential condition for reception of spiritual grace and realization of authentic humanhood is purging the temple of the heart from every trace of materialistic attachments and exterminating from the ka’bah of the heart all the idols of gold and silver and destroying them.

Piety (zuhd) as the read back of social responsibility
As we have said before, we should not be led to misinterpret freedom from the bondage of gold and silver, and indifference towards what these metals can be exchanged for, as monastic asceticism which is an attempt to evade responsibility and commitment. Instead, it is only in the light of such zuhd that responsibility and commitment reacquire their real significance and are no longer empty words without content and hollow claims. The personality of Ali, upon whom be peace, is a glorious example of it, in him zuhd and commitment were combind together. While he was a zahid who had renounced the world, at the same time, he had a heart that was most sensitive to the demands of social responsibility on the one hand he used to say:

What has Ali to do with perishable niceties and short-lived pleasures.

On the other hand, a small injustice or the sight of someone in distress was enough to snatch sleep from his eyes at nights. He was ready to go to bed with an empty stomach lest some one in his dominion might have remained hungry:

Shall I stuff my belly with delicious food while in the Hijaz and Yamamah there may be people who have no hope of getting a loaf of bread or a full meal?

There was a direct relation between that zuhd of his and this sensitiveness, since Ali(a) was a zahid indifferent to the world and unselfish, with a heart that overflowed with the exuberance of the love of God, he looked at the world, from the minutest particle to the greatest star, as a unit entrusted with responsibility and duty. That is why he was so sensitive towards the matters of social rights. Had he been a hedonist devoted to his own interests he would never have been the responsible and committed person that he was.

The IsIamic traditions are eloquent in regard to this philosophy of zuhd and the Nahj al- balaghah lays particular emphasis upon it, in a hadith, is it related from al-Imam Ja’far al- sadiq (a) that he said:

All hearts that harbour doubt or entertain shirk shall be inauthentic, that is why they adopted zuhd so that hearts may be emptied and made ready for the Hereafter.

As can be seen from this tradition, every kind of hedonism and attachment to pleasures is considered shirk and contrary to the worship of the one God Mawlana (Rumi) describes the zuhd of the arif in these words:

Zuhd means taking pains while sowing;
Mystic knowledge (ma’rifah) is ( care during) its cultivation;
The arit is the soul of the law and the spirit of taqwq;
For Mystic knowledge is the fruit of the labours of zuhd.

Gnostic piety, according to Ibn sina’s view
Abu Ali Ibu sina, in ninth namat of his al- I sharat, which he devotes to the description of various stations of the mystics ( maqamat al- arifin), differentiates between the zuhd of the arif and that of the non- arif. He writes:

The zahids who have no knowledge of the philosophy of zuhd, make a certain deal in their imagination: they barter the good of the world for the good s of the hereafter. They forego the enjoyments of the world in order that they may enjoy the pleasures of the hereafter. In other words. They abstain here in order to indulge there. But an aware zahid, acquainted with the philosophy of zuhd, practices it because of his unwillingness to engage his inner self with anything other than God. Such a man, out of his self- respect, regard any thing other then God to be unworthy of attention and servitude.

His own words are as follows:
الزهد عند غیر العارف معاملة ماکان یشتری بمتاع الدنیا الاخرة، والزهد عند العارف تنزه عما یشغل سره عن الحق و تکبر علی کل شی غیرالحق
In another section of the same book where he discusses spiritual discipline, Ibn sina says:

This training has three ends in view. First, removal of impediments from the path towards God; Second, subjugation of the carnal self (a-nafs al- ammarah) third, refinement of the inward (batin).

Then he proceeds to mention the effective means of realization of these three ends, he tells us that true zuhd helps in achieving the first of these objectives, that is, removal of impediments, the non-God, from the way.

The contradiction Between the world and the Hereafiter
The problem of the conflict between the world and the Hereafter and the contradiction between them as two opposite poles- such as the north and the south which are such that proximity to the one means remoteness from the other- is related to the world of human heart, conscience human attachment, love and worship. God has not given two hearts to man:

God has not assigned to any man two hearts within his breast …(33:4).

With one heart one cannot choose two beloveds that is why once when questioned about his old and worm- out clothes, Ali(a) replied:

These make the heart humble, subdue, the self, and induce the believers to follow it as an example.

That is, those who have no new clothes to wear are not ashamed to put on old and worn- out dress, they no longer feel humiliation on their account for they see that their leader himself hasn’t put on any better. Then Ali (a) goes on to add that the world and the hereafter are like two irreconcilable enemies. they are two divergent paths. Any one who loves the world and choose its bondage is, by nature, led to loathe the hereafter and detest everything that is related to it. the world and the hereafter are like the east and the west, the north and the south. Anyone who approaches the gets farther from the other. They are like two wives.

In one of his epistles, he writes:

I swear by God that, God willing, I shall so discipline my own self that it would rejoice to have a single loaf of bread for eating and be content with only salt to season it, ( in prayer)I shall empty my eyes of tears of until they become like dried up springs. The cattle fill their stomachs on the pasture and lie down to repose, the goats graze, devour green herbs ,and enter their enclosures. should Ali in a similar manner swallow whatever he can lay his hands on and lie down to doze? Congratulations! For, if he does that, after, long years he has chosen to follow the wild grazing animals and the cattle led out to pasture.

Then he goes on to add:

Happy is the man who fulfils his duties to God and overcomes hardship like a mill grinding the grain, who allows himself no sleep at night and when it over powers him lies down on the ground with his hand for a pillow. He is accompanied by those who keep their eyes awake in fear of the Day of Judgement, whose bodies are ever away from their beds, whose lips constantly hum in the Lord’s remembrance, whose sins have been erased by prolonged supplications for forgiveness, they are the party of Allah, why surely Allah’s party- they are the prosperers. (58:22).

To sum up, one has to choose one of the two paths, either to drink ,eat, browse and hanker after sensual pleasures in under indifference to the secrets of the spirit, to avoid the agonies of love and its tears to speak not of enlightenment and progress, not take a step beyond the threshold of bestiality, or to resolve on a journey into the valley of authentic humanhood, towards the effulgence and exuberance of Divine grace which descends upon chaste hearts and enlightened souls.

Piety (zuhd), minimum of intake for maximum output

Zuhd is IsIam means drawing a minimum of intake for the sake of maximizing the output.

That is, there exists a relation between drawing as little as possible of material benefits of life on the one hand and aiming at maximizing one’s out put on the other. Human “out put”, whether in the sphere of the actualization of one’s potentialities, whether on the level of emotion and morality, or from the point of view of individual’s role in social co-operation and mutual help, or from the aspect of realizing spiritual edification and refinement, all in all have a converse relationship to his intake of material benefits.

It is a human characteristic that the greater one’s enjoyment of material benefits and indulgence in such things as pleasures, luxuries and affluence, the greater is one’s weakness, indignity, impotence, sterility, and impoverishment. conversely, abstinence from indulgent and extravagant enjoyment of nature –of course, within definite limits – refines and purifies human nature and invigorates and strengthens two highest of all human power thought and will.

It is true only of animals that greater benefit from the possibilities provided by nature contributes to their animal development and perfection. Evan in animal it is not applicable when we consider what is called the “marit” desirable in a beast. For example, sheep and cattle milk. or fleece should be given greater attention and care and fed well however, this is not true of a race hose, it is impossible for a common stable horse to show any good performance in a race. The horse which has to run and win races is given days or rather months of training with a controlled diet until its body becomes lean and nimble, shedding all its excessive fat so that it can acquire the desirable agility and speed or the excellence of which it is capable.

Piety (zuhd) as an agile exercise and tolerating difficultiues
Zuhd is also an exercise and discipline for man. But it is the exercise of the soul. Through zuhd the soul is disciplined, shedding all excessive appendages, and becoming, as a result right, agile, and nimble, it take an easy flight into the skies of spiritual merits.

Incidentally, Ali (a) also describes taqwa and zuhd exercise and practice. the world riyadah originally meant exercising horses intended for racing. Physical exercise is also called riyadah Ali (a) says:

Indeed, as to my self, I shall exercise it and discipline it through taqwa..

What about plant life? Like animals that which my be, loosely speaking, called the merit of a tree or shrub its capacity to thrive with a minimum amount of nourishment from nature. Ali (a), also, makes an allusion to this point in one letters to his governors. In that letter, after describing his own ascetic life- style, characterized by a minimum of consumption, Ali (a) encourages him to emulate it, he says:

I can already anticipate your criticism. Some one might say that if this is what the son of Abu Talib eats then weakness should have made him unfit for an encounter with the enemy ‘s warriors. Remember the untended tree that thrives in the harsh conditions of the desert –its woods is firm and tough, even the fire lit from it is more enduring and fierce.

This law, which applies to all living thing, is more effective in the case of man because of the various characteristics special to him which are summed up under the term “ human personality”.

piety means dominating over the would
What school of thought and what kind of logic can justify monasticism? What school of thought can recommend and justify the worship of money. Consumerism, love of goods, lust for position, or- to use an expression which includes them all –worldliness? Is it possible for man to be the slave and prisoner of material things- or the words of Amir al- Mu’minin Ali(a), the salve of the world and the salve of him who exercises control over it- and yet speak of human personality?

Here, it would not be out of place to cite the views of a Marxist writer about the relation between love of money and human personality. In a useful and concise book regarding capitalist and Marxist economies, he points out the moral consequences of the power of money for society. he writes:

The extraordinary power of gold over our contemporary society is something deeply detested by men of sensitive nature. Men in search of truth have always expressed their strong aversion towards this metal, and consider it to be the main cause of corruption in contemporary society. however, those little round pieces of a shining yellow metal called gold are really not to be blamed. The power and domination of money as a general manifestation of power and authority of things over man is the essential characteristic of a disorderly economy based on barter and exchange in the same way as the uncivilized man of ancient times adored and worshipped idols made by his own hands, the contemporary man also worship the product of his own labour, and his life is overwhelmed by the power of things he has made with his own hands, in order that the worship of consumer good and the worship of money, which is the filthiest from evolved of idolatry, my be completely eradicated, the social causes which brought them into existence should be eliminated and the society should be so organized that the power and authority of the little coins of his yellow brilliant metal would be thoroughly obliterated. In such an organization of society, things will no more wield their present power over human beings. On the other hand, man’s power and predominance over things shall be absolute and according to a preconceived scheme, then worship of money and things shall give their place to honour and reverence for the human personality.

We agree with the author that the power of things over man, and in particular the authority of money, is opposed to the demands of human dignity and nobility, and is as condemnable as idolatry. However, we do not agree with his suggested exclusive prescription for solution of this problem.

Here we are not concerned with the question whether collective ownership preferable from a social or economic point of view. Nevertheless, morally speaking this suggestion, instead of redeeming social’s spirit of honesty, eliminates right away the very object of honesty!

Man can reclaim his identity only by liberating himself from the power of money and by bringing money under his own control. True human personality can emerge when the danger of money and good remains possible without overcoming man, who is not ruled by them but rules them. This kind of personality is what IsIam calls zuhd.

In the educational system of IsIam, man regains his personality without the need to obliterate the right of property. Those who are trained in the school of IsIamic teachings are equipped with the power of zuhd and subjugate them to their own authority.


Glimpses of the Nahj al-Balaghah- pages:206 to 221


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