Shaykh Yusuf da Costa: Seclusion and the silent dhikr

When one is a student, one knows what loneliness is.  While the rest of the world is busy with all kinds of activities, the student sits with his books.  This may last considerable lengths of time as he strives, through his studies, to obtain certain qualifications in one or other field.  This is the reason why most students are “loners”.  We have to understand that they can achieve what they do only by going through very long periods of being in isolation, and being on their own; only with their books.  Even at the post-graduate level, students spend long periods of time doing research on their own, and without company.  I have always said that all of us who have been students have the skills, very anti-social of course, to do things in isolation.  If we can transfer these skills to our religious quests or striving for spiritual stations, then we have a major advantage that others do not have.

Let me come to what I am dictating.  In my long walk on this path, generally under the religious guidance of shaykhs, I have come to learn that one of the keys to achievement in this field is to be able to seclude oneself.  But it is more than this.  It is to work silently in seclusion.  Although we talk much of associations, we talk seldom of seclusion.  Associations in the company of the shaykh or his representative or others designated to supervise the association, are not only important sources of spiritual guidance and upliftment, but it is also a means of establishing a connection between the heart of the shaykh and the hearts of the murids.  I think, if I am correct, that if the shaykh is not present, then he uses the heart of his representative to make contact with the hearts of the murids.  In these associations there’s also major “presences” of angels, for example.  They surround the gathering, calling on their Lord for forgiveness for those who are participating in the associations, for example in the congregational dhikr.  We see, when we look at the congregation, a large number of human beings sitting together.  Actually, it is the “sitting together” of those human beings and the number of other “presences” that are important.  In the congregations therefore, there is a major display of spirituality.  This is perhaps the most important reason for our being in such associations; to obtain the spiritual benefit of this display, by being part of it.  There is also a major angelic connection between the association and Allah Almighty.  And so all in all, the congregational dhikr, as an association or even a sohbet by the shaykh in such an association, have to do with the obtaining of major spiritual benefits and the participation in major spiritual displays. Those who say that these associations are innovations, have little understanding of spirituality.

The murid in seclusion, engaging heart and possibly mind in the celebration of praises of his/her Lord, is functioning at another level.  If one is engaging in this seclusion at certain appropriate times such as the last third part of the night, or between Maghrib and Esha, then one draws benefit from the time of one’s engagement.  Seclusion in the engagement of spiritual exercises, which includes recital of Qur’an and supplications, places the murid in very private and confidential communication with his/her Lord.  This confidential communication is called the munajat.  I read once about a great sufi scholar who, when asked about his spiritual development, indicated to a small room under a staircase.  In seclusion in semi-darkness at certain appropriate times, he was quietly busy with his Lord.  His being busy was essentially a function of the heart and not with the tongue.  It is in that little room that his greatest achievements took place.  Silently and in seclusion, he brought his whole being into relationship with his Lord.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons that one is encouraged to be busy during the last third part of the night, when one is generally on one’s own and when one is engaged in silent remembrance.  We have to understand that we are all essentially social beings and so the association whether for congregational dhikr or whether for sohbets, is very pleasing to our natures.  The human being prefers company.  When one is engaged in spiritual quests in the silence of the night and with the silence of the tongue, then one functions contrary to one’s natural inclinations.  This, of course, is part of our striving against the will of the ego.  But it is even more than that.  There can be no pretence with regard to one’s religious activities when one is on one’s own and one is only engaging one’s heart.  If there is any pretence, it is just bits and pieces of imagination that go wild.  The danger of pretence is to a large degree removed when one is on one’s own.

Of course, one of the major problems of seclusion is the active mind.  But there is little one can do about one’s mind that is involved in all kinds of mental processes when the heart is busy.  The actual mind is an interference with regard to the activities of the heart.  But we should not worry too much about that.  For one to be totally engaged in the remembrance of Allah (ﷻ) with a heart with no interference of the mind, is a special achievement.

All of this is being dictated as advice to the murids.  Take what comes of associations but spend time in seclusion.  Many of the great achievers of spirituality used to leave human company and go into the deserts or mountainous areas to be away from human beings.  Sitting quietly somewhere, they achieved in their seclusion, and they were able to establish exceptional links with their Lord in that way.  I have never spoken to you about seclusion or about the silent dhikr, which is the Naqshbandi way.  The Naqshbandi way with dhikr is the way of the ladies.  They practice silent adhkar all the time.  Perhaps this is also one of the reasons why great spiritual figures have gone into seclusion for long periods of time; sometimes for years.  This is also the reason why Mawlana Shaykh Nazim places many of the murids in forty-day periods of seclusion. When they come out of those sessions, their spiritual powers know very little limit.  My appeal to each one of you is to move into the direction of putting yourself into short periods of khalwah (seclusion).  That is also why the i’tikaaf during the last ten days of Ramadan is so special [this is Fowzia’s Clark’s comment as she records the dictation].  We ask Allah Almighty to help us in all of this, amin.

[Letters to Seekers on the Spiritual Path Vol 3 – Unpublished 2012]

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