The Means of Attainment
In order to achieve perfection of faith and attaining higher spiritual positions of God’s Remembrances, Witnessing and Countenance, the following means should be utilized:
Meditation and Reasoning
Reasons and arguments presented for the proof of God’s Existence are of some help in this regard because reasons presented in the Holy Qur’an and other books of wisdom and gnosticism confirm that all the worldly phenomena are needy and deprived. In their essence, they are absolute indigence and deprivation. In order to exist and continue their actions and movements, they all are related to a ‘Free from Want Existence,’ rather in essence are related and dependent upon Him. All are needy and limited. In the entire circle of existence, there does not exist other than one ‘free from want,’ Self-Sufficient and Infinite Being and that is the Essence of Self-Existent Whose being is absolutely free from defects, limitations and needs. He is the Source of all perfection. His power, knowledge, life and other characteristics are absolute and infinite. He is present everywhere and is the overseer of all things; nothing is hidden from Him. He is closer to all the creatures, even is nearer to man than his vein. Qur’anic verses and traditions explain this in detail. Following are some examples:
وَلِلَّهِ الْمَشْرِقُ وَالْمَغْرِبُ فَأَيْنَمَا تُوَلُّوا فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ.
“Unto Allah belong the East and the West, and whithersoever ye turn, there is Allah's Countenance. Lo! Allah is All-Embracing, All-Knowing. 2:115”
وَهُوَ مَعَكُمْ أَيْنَ مَا كُنْتُمْ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ.
“And He is with you wheresoever ye may be. And Allah is Seer of what ye do. 57:4”
وَلَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنْسَانَ وَنَعْلَمُ مَا تُوَسْوِسُ بِهِ نَفْسُهُ وَنَحْنُ أَقْرَبُ إِلَيْهِ مِنْ حَبْلِ الْوَرِيدِ.
“We verily created man and We know what his soul whispereth to him, and We are nearer to him than his jugular vein. 50:16”
إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ شَهِيدًا.
“Lo! Allah is ever Witness over all things. 22:17”
Pondering and reasoning over the Divine proofs helps man exit from the intense darkness of unbelief, make him enter inside the boundaries of faith, open the path of perfection and invite him towards action which is the prerequisite of belief.
DELIBERATIONS OVER THE QUR’ANIC VERSES
The Holy Qur’an regards all worldly phenomena as signs and indications of the existence of the World’s Creator. The Qur’anic verses entphasize repeatedly on deliberating and thinking about God’s signs and the beauties, wonders, rhythm and coordination which is controlling them in order to discover the existence of the All-knowing, All-wise and All-omnipotent God.
Human beings have been asked to deliberate deeply about their own creation, mysteries and wonders incorporated within the structures of their sprit and body, the differences of colors and languages and the creation of their spouses. Similarly, they are asked to ponder upon the creation of sun, moon, stars and their wonderful movement. Further, they are encouraged to look and think about the creation of earth, mountains, hills, trees, plants and animals living inside the water and over the lands. Also, the Holy Qur’an has described a lot of examples from these creations.
The world is indeed beautiful and fascinating and a little bit pondering will reveal hundreds of hidden wonders and mysteries within its creatures. Starting from sun, moon, stars, milky ways and clouds until the fascinating and mysterious world of atom; from the great forests until different types of plants and smaller and larger trees; from the great animals like elephants and camels until the tiny ants, mosquitoes, bacteria and viruses—all of them reveal special beauty and elegance.
By witnessing the wonders of these worldly phenomena and the most accurate precise coordination prevailing upon them, man may discover the Infinite Grandeur, Majesty, Wisdom and Knowledge of the Creator and he becomes astonished and fascinated crying from the inner depths of this heart:
رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَذَا بَاطِلًا سُبْحَانَكَ.
“Our Lord! Thou createdst not this in vain. Glory be to Thee! 3:191”
Look at the brightening sky full of stars and deliberate deeply over their creation; sit near the edge of a forest and see the Majesty and splendor of Almighty God. Alas! The world is so beautiful!
Having been blessed with faith and enlightenment, man must strive and endeavor to perform righteous deeds and discharge his religious obligations because it is through the performance of righteous deeds that the belief and enlightenment achieve perfection, ultimately ascending towards God’s Nearness. It is true that belief, enlightenment and words of purity (monotheism) ascend towards Him; but in this movement, they are assisted by the righteous deeds. Almighty God says in the Holy Qur’an:
مَنْ كَانَ يُرِيدُ الْعِزَّةَ فَلِلَّهِ الْعِزَّةُ جَمِيعًا إِلَيْهِ يَصْعَدُ الْكَلِمُ الطَّيِّبُ وَالْعَمَلُ الصَّالِحُ يَرْفَعُهُ وَالَّذِينَ يَمْكُرُونَ السَّيِّئَاتِ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ شَدِيدٌ وَمَكْرُ أُوْلَئِكَ هُوَ يَبُورُ.
“Whoso desireth power (should know that) all power belongeth to Allah. Unto Him good words ascend, and the pious deed doth He exalt; but those who plot iniquities, theirs will be an awful doom; and the plotting of such (folk) will come to naught. 35:10”
Righteous deeds are compared to the fuel in an airplane. So long as it contains fuel, it may continue to ascend, but the moment its fuel is finished, it falls down immediately. Likewise, belief and enlightenment are so far accompanied by righteous deeds. They help ascend man towards Upper Heavens, but without the assistance of righteous deeds, man crashes like an airplane without fuel. Almighty God says in the Holy Qur’an:
وَاعْبُدْ رَبَّكَ حَتَّى يَأْتِيَكَ الْيَقِينُ.
“And serve thy Lord till the Inevitable cometh unto thee. 15:99”
The only way to achieve self‑perfection and attain the state of certainty is to strive seriously to discharge obligations, worshipping and servitude of Almighty God. If one imagines that he may attain exalted spiritual position through means other than worship is in gross error. God willing (inshallah), the discussions regarding righteous deeds will be continued later on.
INVOCATIONS AND SUPPLICATIONS
Islam has emphasized on the importance of continuous recital of invocations and in this regard special invocations and supplications have been prescribed by the Holy Prophet and the Infallible Imams (a.s) whose recital earns a special reward. Invocation in Islam is considered as type of worship which helps achieve self‑perfection and God’s Nearness. For example, the Holy Prophet (a.s) said:
خَمسٌ ما أثْقَلَهُنّ في المِيزانِ: سُبحانَ اللهِ وَالحَمْدُ للهِ وَلا إلهَ إلاّ اللهُ وَاللهُ أكَْبَرُ، وَالوَلدُ الصّالِحُ لِمُسْلِمٍ يُتَوفّى فَيَصبِرُ وَيَحتَسِبُ.
“Five things make man’s deeds heavier: Subhanallah (Glory to God), Alhamdulillah (All praise be to God), La ilaha illa’llah (there is no God but Allah), Allahu-Akbar (God is Great) and to remain patient at the demise of a righteous offspring.” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 93, pp. 169)
لمّا أُسرِيَ بي إلى السَّماءِ دَخَلْتُ الجَنَّةَ فَرأيْتُ فِيها قيعاناً وَرَأيْتُ فِيها مَلائِكَةً يَبنُونَ لَبِنَةً مِن ذَهَبٍ وَلَبِنَةً مِن فِضَّةٍ وَرُبَما أمْسَكوا. فَقُلتُ لَهُم: ما لَكُم قَد أمْسَكْتُم؟ قالوا: حَتىّ تَجِيئَنا النَّفَقَةُ. قُلتُ: وَما نَفَقَتُكُم؟ قَالوا: قَولُ المُؤمِنِ ”سُبْحانَ اللهِ وَالحَمْدُ للهِ وَلا إلَهَ إلاّ اللهُ وَاللهُ أكْبَرُ“ فإذا قالَ بَنَينا وإذا سَكَتَ أمْسَكْنا.
“At the Night of Ascension (Mi`raj), I was taken into Paradise where I saw the angels building palaces of silver and gold. Occasionally, they suspended the work. I asked them, ‘Why do you work intermittently?’ When we have construction material, we continue on working, but when the material is consumed, we are forced to terminate the work,’ they replied. ‘What sort of material do you require?’ I asked. ‘The material is a believer’s saying in the world, Subhanallah (Glory to God), Alhamdulillah (All praise be to God), La ilaha illa’llah (there is no God but Allah), Allahu-Akbar (God is Great). When he/she is busy in invocation, we receive the material and start building; but when he/she forgets invocation, we too are forced to stop.’” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 93, pp. 169)
مَن قالَ ”سُبحانَ اللهِ“ غَرَسَ اللهُ لهُ بِها شَجَرَةً فِي الجَنَّةِ. وَمَن قالَ ”الحَمْدُ للهِ“ غَرسَ اللهُ لهُ بِها شَجَرةً فِي الجَنَّةِ. وَمَن قالَ ”لا إلَهَ الاّ اللهُ“غَرسَ اللهُ لهُ بِها شَجَرةً فِي الجَنَّةِ. وَمَن قالَ ”الله أكْبَرُ“ غَرسَ اللهُ لهُ بِها شَجَرةً فِي الجَنَّةِ… إيّاكُمْ أنْ تُرسِلوا إلَيها نِيراناً فَتُحرِقُوها. وذَلِكَ أنَّ اللهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ يَقولُ: ﴿يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَلَا تُبْطِلُوا أَعْمَالَكُمْ.﴾
“If one recites Subhanallah (Glory to God), a tree is planted for him in Paradise. If one recites Alhamdulillah (All praise be to God), a tree is planted for him in Paradise. If one recites La ilaha illa’llah (there is no God but Allah), a tree is planted for him in Paradise. If one recites Allahu-Akbar (God is Great), a tree is planted for him in Paradise… But be careful not to send fire which will burn all these trees, for Almighty God says in the Holy Qur’an: ‘O ye who believe! Obey Allah and obey the messenger, and render not your actions. 47:33” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 93, pp. 168)
Each phrase which induces God’s Remembrance in man and whose meanings are related to praise, supplication and adoration of Almighty God is called invocation (dhikr). Traditions, however, have prescribed special invocations whose recital brings special rewards. Some of the important invocations are Subhanallah (Glory to God), Alhamdulillah (All praise be to God), La ilaha illa’llah (there is no God but Allah), Allahu-Akbar (God is Great), La hawla wa la quwwata illa b’illah (All power and mighty belong to God only), Hasbuna’llahu wa ni`ma’l-wakil (God is Sufficient for us! Most Excellent is He in Whom we trust), La ilaha illa anta subhanaka inni kuntu mina’¨alimin (There is no God save Thee. Be Thou Glorified! Lo! I have been a wrong-doer), Ya hayyu ya qayyumu ya man la ilaha illa anta (O Alive! O Eternal! O there is no diety save Thee), wa ufawwidu amri ila’llahi inna’llaha ba¥irun bil’`ibad (I confide my cause unto Allah. Lo! Allah is Seer of (His) slaves), La hawla wa la quwwata illa b’illah al-`Aliyy al-`A¨im (All power and mighty belong to God only. He is the Most High the Most tremendous), ya Allah (O God), ya rabb (O Lord), ya Rahman (O the All-beneficent), ya arham al-rahimin (O the Most Merciful of the all merciful ones), ya dha’l-jalali wa’l-Ikram (O the Lord of Mighty and Glory), ya ghaniyyu ya mughni (O The Free from needs, O the Granter of our needs.)
Similarly, there are other Holy Attributes of Almighty God which have been mentioned in the traditions and supplications. All of them are invocations that motivate man towards God’s Remembrance and Nearness.
A wayfarer may select any of the abovementioned invocations and recite them continuously. But some enlightened gnostics prefer certain invocations some of which are recommended, such as La ilaha illa’llah (there is no God but Allah), while others selected Alhamdulillah (All praise be to God) and so one. Yet, according to some traditions, it may be concluded that La ilaha illa’llah possesses distinction over other invocations. The Holy Prophet (a.s) said:
خَيرُ العِبادَةِ قَولُ لا إلَهَ إلاّ اللهُ.
“The best worship is saying La ilaha illa’llah.” (Bihar al‑Anwar, vol. 93, pp. 195)
سَيّدُ القَولِ لا إلَهَ إلاّ اللهُ.
“La ilaha illa’llah is the chief recital.” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 93, pp. 204)
The Holy Prophet (a.s) narrated from Archangel Gabriel that Almighty God said:
كَلِمَةُ لا إلَهَ إلاّ اللهُ حِصْنِي، فَمَنْ دَخَلَ حِصْنِي أمِنَ مِنْ عَذابِي.
“Saying La ilaha illa’llah is the most stable shelter of Mine. Whoever enters in it shall be immune from My Punishment.” (Bihar al-Anwar. vol. 93 pp. 192)
Since the aim of invocation is attention to Almighty God, every phrase which improves and increases one’s motivation to remember Almighty God is indeed the most suitable. Generally speaking, individuals, conditions and their spiritual ranks differ. It is quite possible that the phrase ya allah (O Allah) under certain conditions is interesting and suitable for definite persons while the phrase ya mujibu da`wat al-mud§arrin (O the Responder to the prayers of the depressed) may suit others and so on. It is better for a wayfarer who has access to perfect teacher to seek his guidance in this regard; otherwise, books of supplications, traditions and guidelines left by the Holy Prophet and the Infallible Imams can be sought.
All invocations and acts of worship are good and, if performed correctly, can help a wayfarer attain higher gnostic stations. A wayfarer can utilize some or all of them but the learned teachers of gnostics recommend that in order to attain the positions of invocation and witnessing, a wayfarer must select a special invocation and then undertake its recital for a certain numbers in a special manner for accomplishing the desired goal.
It is important to point out that the main aim of invocations and supplications prescribed in the religious law, though being acts of worship and means of achieving God’s Nearness, is attaining the stage of absolute cut off from other than God and absolute attention and heart presence to Him. Hence, simply recital of phrases without paying attention to their meanings and remaining negligent of their real aim is useless because the recital of invocations and even their continuous repetition is not so difficult; rather it may not help a wayfarer attain his cherished goal. What is useful is concentration and heart presence to Almighty God, and negation and complete cut off from every thing other than Him. This is yet extremely difficult. as one does not achieve negation of other than God, he does not attain the worthiness and decency of receiving God’s blessings and illuminations. Only a heart absolutely and thoroughly cleansed from all existence other than God has the honor of becoming a sacred place for the illumination of Divine light. Attaining concentration of thoughts and negation of things other than God require serious decision, perseverance, supervision and constancy. It cannot be achieved during the first attempt without practice and undertaking exercises. We must treat the self cautiously and make it habitual of this act gradually.
 According to a tradition narrated by Imam `Ali ibn al‑Husayn (a.s), since God is aware that the later period of history will produce curious people, He revealed the first six verses of Surah of al-Hadid (Iron; 57) in order to define the boundaries for investigating His essence and Attributes. Therefore, whosoever has allowed himself to ponder over these prescribed limits is bound to be doomed. As if the Surah of Tawhid (Unity of God; 112) says to him who offers the prayer, ‘God is uniquely Supreme Power, the Most High, Exalted, the Needless, His essence beyond description, neither Begets nor Begotten and there is no one similar to Him or His equivalent.’ He is Learned, Seer and Wise… etc., and other Attributes of God’s Essence whose knowledge and awareness is obligatory for Muslims and are regarded as influential and effective in shaping their lives and ascension of their spirits have been repeated in other Surahs. Do not think beyond the limits as already defined in this Surah about God’s essence and know‑how about His Attributes. Rather, concentration should be exerted for performing deeds, which will eventually enlighten the the believer in knowing God better. Do not think that by engaging in lengthy mental debates about His essence, you will achieve more enlightenment. It is not so! Instead, try to achieve this desired enlightenment by bringing purification and spirituality to your inner self and by practicing the principles of Monotheism in your deeds and action; and that is the way the Prophets, saints, righteous servants of God, pure Monotheism and gnostics were. (Profundities of Prayer, Ayatullah Sayyid `Ali Khamana’i, pp 45-46) [Tr].