Monday, September 05, 2011
Dr M Aamer Sarfraz gives an overview of the centuries-old Pir-Murid relationship
Sufi literally means 'someone with wool' but in reality it is a person who aspires to union with God through mystical contemplation. When someone seeks union with God, he travels the spiritual path that has seven stages (lata'if): the quest, love, understanding, detachment, unity, astonishment, and poverty and annihilation. During the spiritual journey (suluk), the seeker (salik) tries to conquer his Nafs (ego, self) by transformation of consciousness. He starts with nafs al-ammara (animal self - governed by greed and instincts) and progresses through the seven stages under the supervision of a shaykh (Pir, Murshid) to the level of nafs al-kamila (wholesome self - total union of God with the individual). The Pir is responsible for giving instructions, and then supporting, monitoring, and appraising the spiritual progress of Murid (disciple).
In order to become a Murid, one needs to do bayyat - an oath of allegiance taken by putting one's hand on the hand of Pir and repeating a prescribed oath. A Murid needs to have certain attributes (adab) including a belief that his Pir is the best and the Murid will follow his Pir's command. Each Murid's spiritual journey is different; therefore, he hands over his will to the Pir. The spiritual work given individually to Murids to meet their specific spiritual needs is called wird (plural - awrad). Wird (such as saying, 'Allah, Allah') is described as a unit of dhikr constructed to contain certain patterns of knowledge and self-awakening. The initial goal is to gradually improve concentration by learning to stop the flow of thoughts - 'living in the moment'.
Murid utters 'Allah, Allah' a number of times a day and at a specific time while keeping the Pir in tasawwer (view). The Murid attracts baraka (blessings of God) through the practice of dhikr. He is encouraged to live out in the world but also to do dhikr in solitude. Later he is directed to perform dhikr with each breath; soon realising that he cannot even breathe without dhikr. If progressing successfully, in due course, dhikr al-qalbi which operates automatically becomes activated. The Murid now notices that sitting in his office or on a prayer mat he is immersed in the remembrance of Allah. Once activated, dhikr may manifest as a beating of the heart which is so pronounced that it appears to beat on the outside of the body. Awrad become increasingly 'heavy' and it depends upon the himma (yearning, strength) of the Murid how quickly he can perform the prescribed awarad at specific times and in certain number daily while struggling against the body's desire to sleep, eat and take rest.
If dhikr takes place in the presence of the Pir, the Murid focuses his gaze on the Pir's face, relaxes and then concentrates on eliminating all distracting thoughts. Naqshbandis perform only silent dhikr, a practice that makes them unique among the orders. Mujaddidis employ two basic dhikrs; the first, dhikr-i ism-i dhat, entails pronouncing one of the names of God alone, "Allah," or "Hu," (He). The second, nafi wa ithbat, is an advanced practice in which the Murid sits cross-legged, hands joined together with his left hand clasping the right wrist. The optimum position is to sit directly in front of the Pir and gaze at his visage while repeating 'Allah, Allah, Allah.'.
Dreams are of great value on the Sufi Path. They are indicative of spiritual states and are kept secret only being relayed to the Pir who interprets them. The dreams may increase as the Murid struggles to wake up for Tahajjud (dawn prayer) and sit for dhikr. Frequently, the Pir appears in his dreams to clarify, admonish or praise. Murid is always alert to the ishara (signs) from Pir because teaching and signposting takes place through constant focus. Sometimes, Murids get stuck. The Pir uses different methods to move them to the next stage; these include fasting, whirling, change of milieu and exercises to improve concentration. If these methods do not work, they become stationary - this is the limit of their qualification. However, they continue to draw baraka from their attachment to the order.
The Murid gradually understands the reality that the Pir is his key to reaching Allah. The face of the Pir grows to become the most beautiful, powerful and penetrating. His is the face that the Murid wants to see everywhere and always. The intensity of feelings towards the beloved Pir grows - jealousy, possessiveness, and ambivalence are experienced. The Murid is not sure whether these feelings are a blessing or curse and tries to approach the Pir for clarifications. The Pir will sometimes meet but on other occasions avoids the Murid. On meeting, the Pir does not say much, which inflames these feelings more. The Murid ponders, meditates and eventually finds his own meanings. The profound love that the Murid has for his Pir reaches such a level that he perceives the Pir standing in front of him when he needs him. The Pir also searches in his visionary dreams whether the Murid with his soul and spirit has reached where they are bound to his own; fana fi-shaykh - self-annihilation in the shaykh.
When the seven stages (lata'if) have opened through dhikr and the heart is completely cleansed, with Pir's permission, the Murid undertakes the last stage of Sufi method: the Muraqabat. The muraqabat are advanced contemplative exercises to lead the Murid through the higher realm of wahdat (unity). They are performed usually after 'asr (afternoon prayer) in the presence of Pir or alone at night. The Murid is cautioned about the pitfalls of falling asleep during this exercise when alone. These continue for a number of days determined by the Pir, and the Murid cannot proceed to the next without permission. At each stage, he is obliged to inform the Pir regarding his experiences. In the first muraqaba, the Murid contemplates oneness (ahadiyya), and then proceeds to contemplate other specific attributes of God. In contemplating the various qualities and attributes of wahidiyya, the Murid's task is to invite baraka from the source of each latifa. The objective is to return each latifa to its origin, thereby achieving annihilation in it.
When the first four lata'if are returned to their origin, Murid enters the stage of wilayat alsughra or lesser sainthood. It is here in the 'unity of being' that the Sufi temporarily loses interest in the manifest world and experiences the annihilation of the ego or fana'. Following the remaining akhfa' latifa, being annihilated in the unity of being, he enters the stage of wilayat al-kubra or unity of essence. The state of wilayat al-kubra is one of calm and quiet union with God's unity of essence (baqa'). This is the maqam (station) of 'the expanded breast' (shar-i-sadr), indicating the perfection of the akhfa' latifa which means total elimination of bad habits and desires from the nafs.
A sense of calm and tranquility along with an immense feeling of power rests with the Pir when he qualifies. He believes he can achieve anything (tasarraf) with the reality he has experienced. At this stage, some go quiet while attempting further progress; others go out and provide moral and spiritual guidance to the community. In line with his pre-Sufi traits, the Pir may heal, solve problems, predict the future or try to modify outcomes through the power of his prayer. He would only find his niche after trial and error in good time. When the Pir eventually leaves this world after a lifetime of public service, the anniversary of his physical death (wisaal - union) is celebrated as urs (wedding - with Reality) by his Murids who also continue to get his faiz (blessings) by visiting him (his grave).
Dr M Aamer Sarfraz lives in London