Prayer and Concentration – Part 3

Excerpts from the original by Ayatullah Khomeini

Contributed by Jameel Kermalli ((Sanford, United States)

Just reflect what kind of good news is this that the Truthful One (al-Sadiq) of the Family of Muhammad-may peace be upon them-gives to the faithful! Alas, we, poor folk, who dwell in nescience and are devoid of attentiveness to God, the Exalted, unaware of His friendship, and liken His love to that of His creatures! Those who possess gnosis (ma’rifah) state that God, the Exalted, removes blindfolds from the sight of those whom He loves, and God knows what nobilities lie in freedom from such a blindness. The ultimate hope and goal of the awliya’ has lain in this freedom from nescience. And the Commander of the Faithful-may peace be upon him-and his noble descendants say in the supplications known as the Munajat-e Sha’baniyyah:

My God, grant me the utmost absorption in Thee and illuminate the vision of our hearts with the light of Thy Vision, until the sight of the hearts can penetrate the curtains of light and reach the source of Greatness and until our spirits get anchored to the threshold of Thy Sanctity. [9]

My God! What is this illumination of the heart’s vision that Your awliya’ beseech of You and seek to attain? O Lord, what are those concealing curtains of light that our Infallible Imams spoke about? What is that source of Greatness, Glory, Sanctity, and Perfection, reaching which is the cherished goal of those sacred souls and which for always lie beyond the ken of even our theoretical knowledge, to say nothing of our experiencing and witnessing it?

 

O God, be gracious to us, wretched and fallen creatures that we are, who neither know anything beyond gluttony and slumber, hatred and lust, nor seek to discover anything beyond them! Awaken us from this waking slumber and this stupefied sanity.

In any case, this single hadith is sufficient to induce those who are worthy of it and receptive to spend all their lives for attaining to God’s love and to seek His Face. But as to the like of us, who don’t belong to this field and valley, we would do better to stick to other traditions like the following ones:

In the Thawab al- a’mal, al-Shaykh al-Saduq reports with his chain of transmitters from someone who heard al-‘Imam al-Sadiq-may peace be upon him -that he used to say: “One who offers two rak’ahs of salat with the knowledge of what he says therein, he does not finish them without God forgiving him every sin that there is between him and God.” [10]

The Messenger of Allah-may Allah’s benediction be upon him and his Family-said: “Two light rak’ahs offered with contemplation are better than a whole night spent in worship. ” [11]

  1. The Various Levels of Concentration:

Having known that an attentive heart is the soul and heart of worship and that its luminosity and degree of excellence depend on the attentiveness of the heart and its degree, it should be known that there are different levels of the heart’s attention. Some of these levels are special to the awliya‘ of God and others are incapable of climbing to those heights; but some of its levels are attainable for the common people. And it should be known that attention in worship is generally divisible into two main kinds: one of these is attention of the heart to worship and the other is attention of the heart to God.

Before explaining this issue, we are forced to mention one preliminary matter, which is this. The gnostics say that worship is, absolutely, glorification of the Lord. However, each of the various kinds of worship is a praise of God in accordance with one of His Names and Attributes, excepting salat which is glorification of God with all of His Names and Attributes. Earlier it was mentioned in the exposition of some traditions that praise of the Worshipped One is a proclivity ingrained in all human beings.

 

It is a necessity demanded by nature that makes man submit in humility to the absolutely Perfect One, the absolutely Beautiful One, the absolute Provider and the absolutely Great. And since no one can discover the real significance of the praise of the Sacred Essence-for that depends upon the knowledge of the Essence and its Attributes and the reality of the relation between the Manifest and the Hidden it is impossible except through the means of revelation and divine inspiration. Accordingly, the acts of worship are absolutely prescriptive and laid down’ by God, and no one has the right to legislate in this regard and innovate some rite of worship. The kind of ceremonies of homage and reverence that are in vogue in the courts of kings and princes have no worth or value before His Sacred Essence. Hence man should sit up and take notice, and learn the manner of worship or devotion through the agency of revelation and prophethood and refrain from making any kind of unauthorized dispensations in this regard.

Having known that worship is glorification of the Worshipped One, one should note, as pointed out earlier, that attention of the heart is of two main kinds: attention to worship and attention to the Worshipped One.

Attention to Worship:

There are various degrees of this kind of attention, which are divisible into two main levels. One of these is attention of an incomplete and summary character. In this kind of attention, while performing an act of worship-whatever that may be, whether related to taharah, such as wudu’ or ghusl, or to prayer, fasting, or Hajj pilgrimage or something else-one is attentive in a general way that he is magnifying the Lord, though he himself does not know the nature of his own glorification nor understands the significance of any of the Divine Names. Our shaykh, the perfect `arif that he was, and may my soul be his ransom, used to mention an analogy comparing this kind of worship to the recital of a child who is asked to recite a panegyric in the praise of someone. The child, who himself does not understand the panegyric, is told that it is meant to eulogize the person in whose presence it is read. As he recites it, the child knows summarily that he is eulogizing the person praised without knowing the character of the praise. We, too, who are children singing the praise of God, do not know the secrets that lie in these acts of worship. Neither do we understand the character of relation that each of these divine forms has to some Divine Name, nor do we know in what way it is glorification of God. However, we should at least be cognizant of the fact that each of those acts of worship is magnification of the absolutely Perfect One, of the One Who is absolutely worthy of all praise and worship, a form that the Sacred Essence Itself has prescribed for Its glorification and commanded us to magnify It through its means in Its sacred presence.

Another of the levels of attentiveness of the heart is its detailed attention to worship; its complete attainment is not possible for anyone except the sincere awliya’ and the gnostics. However, some of its lower degrees are attainable for others, the first stage wherein is concentration on the meaning of the words during salat and prayer. The tradition cited earlier from the Thawab al-‘a’mal refers to this stage. Another stage of it is that one should understand to the extent of his capacity the mysteries of worship and the character of glorification of the Worshipped One underlying each of the ritual forms.

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