Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spiritual Poverty

Ya ayyuhan Nasu, antumu al fuqrao ilaAllahi,
wa Allahu Huwa al-Ghaniyyu, al-Hameed.

O man, you are poor [fuqarâ] in relation to God,
and God is the Rich, the Praiseworthy.

- The Qur'an 35:15

To expliana the concept of spirtual poverty or faqr , Let me ecount a story;
This lesson was learned by a very great early Sufi whose name was Ibrahim Adham Balkhi. He was the king of Balkh which was a kingdom in Afghanistan. Ibrahim Adham was a great king living in opulence. Of course, each of us in this contemporary era live, by comparison to the people of former times, like kings. So in some sense, Ibrahim Adham was a person just like any one of us. But he was the king of the court of a mighty kingdom. And this king was visited by another strange mystic from the dessert. This was Khizr, the green man of the dessert. He blew in, evaded the guards, and made his way into the inner court. Instead of bowing in obeisance as was the protocol, he impudently went up to the throne. The king was deeply offended and said, “What brings you to the court of the great king?”
And Khizr replied, “Oh, I’m just passing through this caravanserai,” which means motel. You can imagine how angry the king was to hear his palace called a motel.
He said, “How dare you say that!”
And Khizr said, “Well, who sat on that throne before you?”
The king answered, “My father.”
Khizr said, “And before him?”
“His father,” said the king.
“And before him?”
“His father.”
And Khizr replied, “And you mean to tell me that this isn’t a motel with people constantly coming and going all the time?”
Suddenly a revelation came to the king. He realized that all he had invested himself in, his persona of grandeur and wealth and power, was ephemeral; it was trifling in the grand scheme of things. He was just passing through a motel. The words of Khizr went straight into his heart, like a barb. He was compelled to leave his crown and his throne and live as a wandering dervish. For many years he wandered. One time, he came upon a dervish who was complaining about his poverty and the ex-king said, “You must have bought your poverty very cheaply.”
The dervish said, “Does one buy poverty?”
Ibrahim Adham said, “I paid all the wealth in the world and still I feel I got a very good deal.”
Then he became a disciple of Fuzail bin Ayaz who was a highway robber turned Sufi. There at the khanqua, he was made to renounce his false pride. His murshid, his teacher, was very strict with him, and he made him carry out the garbage; this, for a man who was pampered all his life. But Ibrahim Adham took it in stride and carried the garbage. The other students couldn’t bear to see that great noble being subjected to humiliation so they said, “Please, take it easy on him.”
The murshid said, “Well, alright, well have a test.”
He sent someone to knock over the garbage while Ibrahim Adham was carrying it. The former king looked at him very sternly and said, “When I was king, I would have never put up with that.”
This report went back to the murshid and he said, “He’s not ready yet.”
Some months later, they did it again. This time, Ibrahim Adham just looked at the one who knocked over the garbage. When he heard this report, the murshid said, “Hes still not ready.”
Then, finally, months later when they again knocked over the garbage, Ibrahim Adham didn’t even look to see who did it. He just picked up the garbage and continued with his chore. His murshid went and embraced him and gave him a very high initiation. He became successor in that order. In fact, that is the order that we are continuing in this line. So he followed in the footsteps of the Buddha who was also a great king who renounced his worldly position to discover an eternal reality.
Here is another definition of Sufism:
“The Sufi is the possessor of breaths.” 
The previous definition said the Sufi does not possess anything. This is an exception to the rule. “\It is through the breath that we attain presence and through the neglect of the breath that we are absent. My grandfather was told by his murshid that in this path of Sufism there is only one sin and one virtue. The sin is the breath that escapes in forgetfulness and the virtue is the breath that is breathed in awareness of the unity of being. It is as simple as that. Just one lesson in Sufism: each breath to be breathed in remembrance of the One Being. It is something very simple, but it is a lifetime study.

In words of René Guénon spirtual poverty is  state of detachment from material world.In his book he writes " 
detachment with regard to all manifested things, for the being knows from then on that these things, like himself, are nothing, and that they have no importance whatsoever compared with the absolute Reality.This detachment implies essentially and above all, in the case of the human being, indifference with regard to the fruits of action as is taught particularly in the Bhagavad-Gita, and which enables the being to escape from the unending chain of consequence which follows this action; it is "action without desire" (nishkaama karma), whereas "action with desire" (sakaama karma), is action carried out in view of its fruits. "The true cause of things is invisible and cannot be grasped defined or determined. It can be attained in deep contemplation by him who is re-established in the state of perfect simplicity, and by no one else". (Lie-Tseu. ch.IV.)

"Simplicity" meaning the unification of all the being's powers, is a feature of the return to the "primordial state"; and here is seen the whole difference that separates the transcendent knowledge of the sage from ordinary and "profane" knowledge. This "simplicity" is also what is called elsewhere the state of "childhood" (in Sanskrit baalya), to be understood of course in the spiritual sense, and this "childhood" is considered in the Hindu doctrine as an indispensable condition for attaining to true knowledge. This recalls the corresponding words in the Gospels; "Whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein" (St. Luke, XVIII 17.), "Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them unto children. (St. Matthew, XI. 25; St. Luke, X. 21.) "Simplicity" and "smallness" are here equivalents, in reality, [attributes] of the "poverty" which is so often mentioned also in the Gospels, and which is generally very much misunderstood: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven" (St. Matthew, V. 2.) This "poverty" (in Arabic al-faqr) leads, according to Islamic esotericism, to al-fanaa, that is, to the extinction of the "ego"; and, by this "extinction" the "divine station" is reached (al-maaqam al-ilaahii).

This "extinction" is not without analogy, even as to the literal meaning of the term which is used for it, with the Nirvana of the Hindu doctrine; beyond al-fanaa there is fanaa' al-fanaa' the extinction of the extinction, which corresponds similarly to Parinirvana.

"Poverty", "simplicity" and "childhood", are no more than one same thing, and the process of being stripped which all these words express culminates in an "extinction" (fanaa) which is, in reality, the fullness of the being, just as "inaction" (wu-wei) is the fullness of activity, because it is from it that all the particular activities are derived; "The Principle is always inactive, and yet everything is done by it". (Tao-Te-Ching, XXXVII.) The being who has reached in this way the central point has realized, by this very means, the human state in its entirety; he is the "true man" (chenn-jen) of Taoism, and when, starting from this point to rise to the higher states, he has achieved the perfect fulfillment of his possibilities, he will have become the "Divine Man" (sheun-jen) who is the "Universal Man" (al-insaan al-kaamil ) of Islamic esotericism.

So it can be said that it is those without [realization, who] are the "rich" from the standpoint of manifestation [and] who are really the "poor" with regard to the Principle, and inversely; that is what the following Gospel sentence expresses very clearly, "The last shall be first and the first shall be last" (St. Matthew, XX, 16.); and we are compelled to see in this respect, once again, the perfect agreement of all the traditional doctrines, which are no more than the diverse expressions of the one Truth."

So sever the head of (your) selfness, O sword of Ali.
Become self-less-- a dervish-like annihilated one.

(And) when you become self-less, everything you do (will be an
example of the verse) You did not throw when you threw (and)
you will be secure [from self-will].

The responsibility is (then) with God, not with the appointed
trustee. The details of it are in plain view in (the books of)
religious law.

Certainly, every shop has a different merchandise. O son,
the Mathnawi is the shop for spiritual poverty.

- Rumi, Mathnawi, VI: 1522-1525


  1. There's another story about Ibrahim bin Adham, that he found a slave sleeping on his bed. So he ordered her whipped, but she just laughed. When they asked why she said "if this is the punishment of the one who sleeps on the bed for one hour, imagine the punishment of one who sleeps on it every day." That had such an effect on him that he abandoned the kingdom and all it's coercion and pride etc.

  2. I had read this ..but I thought it was story about Rabia basri and her slave master.Still good to have my sources corrected.Thankyou!