OBSTACLES ON THE PATH
Starting a spiritual journey upon the road of perfection and attaining higher spiritual positions is not an easy task; rather it is extremely difficult and complicated. A devotee has to encounter plenty of obstacles on his path and struggle to remove them, otherwise he will never be able to reach his desired destination.
First Obstacle: Incompetence
The greatest obstacle for undertaking gnostic journey and attaining God’s Nearness is the incompetency of self. A heart contaminated and darkened by sinning cannot be a center for the illumination of the Divine light. When a heart as a result of sinning turns into a center of Satanic commands, God’s favorite angels will never descend into it.
The heart of a sinner is inverted forcing to move in the wrong direction. He will never move in the direction of God’s Nearness or accept God’s blessings and favors. Therefore, it is necessary for a wayfarer that before starting his journey to achieve self‑purification and self‑perfection, he must first try his best not to commit sins and only then he can engage himself into invocation and worship, otherwise his efforts and endeavors in invocation and worship will not result in his becoming near to Almighty God.
Second Obstacle: Worldly Attachments
One of the greatest barriers is the attachments to the worldly allurements such as desire of wealth and property, love of wife and children, attachment to house and other means of living, ambitions to power and positions, attachments towards family and even desire for educateion and knowledge. These are the types of attachments which prevent man from movement and migration towards Almighty God. A heart that is so much in love with perceptible things and is infatuated in them cannot detach itself so easily or ascend towards the Upper Heaven? A heart that is engaged in the worldly affairs will never have the illumination of the Divine light. According to traditions, the love for this world is the root of all sins and transgressions and a sinner can never ascend towards God’s Nearness. The Holy Prophet (a.s) said:
أوَّلُ ما عُصِيَ اللهُ تَبارَكَ وَتَعالى بِسِتِّ خِصالٍ: حُبِّ الدّنيا وَحُبِّ الرِّياسَةِ وَحُبِّ الطَّعامِ وَحُبِّ الرّاحَةِ وَحُبِّ النِّساءِ وَحُبِّ النَّوْمِ.
“The first six things through which Almighty God was disobeyed are the love of the world, love of authority, love of food, love of comfort, love of women and love for sleeping.” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 73, p. 94)
Jabir narrated that he once visited Imam al‑Baqir (a.s) who said:
يا جابِرُ، وَاللهِ إنّي لَمَحْزونٌ وَإنّي لَمَشْغُولُ القَلْبِ… إنَّهُ مَن دَخَلَ قَلبَهُ صافِي خالِصِ دِينِ اللهِ شُغِلَ قَلبُهُ عَمّا سِواهُ. يا جابِرُ، ما الدُّنْيا وَما عَسى أنْ تَكونَ الدُّنيا؟ هَل هيَ إلاّ طَعامٌ أكَلْتَهُ أو ثَوبٌ لَبِسْتَهُ أو امْرَأةٌ أصَبْتَها؟ يا جابِرُ، إنّ المُؤمِنِينَ لَم يَطْمَئِنّوا إلى الدُّنْيا بِبَقائِهِم فِيها وَلَم يأمَنوا قُدومَهُم الآخِرَةَ. يا جابِرُ، الآخِرَةُ دارُ قَرارٍ والدُّنيا دارُ فَناءٍ وَزَوالٍ، وَلكِنَّ أهْلَ الدُّنْيا أهْلُ غَفْلَةٍ وَكَأنَّ المُؤمِنِينَ هُم الفُقَهاءُ أهْلُ فِكرَةٍ وَعِبْرَةٍ، لَم يُصِمَّهُم عَن ذِكْرِ اللهِ جَلَّ اسْمُهُ ما سَمِعُوا بآذانِهِم، وَلَم يُعْمِهِم عَن ذِكْرِ اللهِ ما رَأَوا مِن الزّينَةِ بِأعْيُنِهِم فَفازُوا بِثَوابِ الآخِرَةِ كَما فازوا بِذلِكَ العِلْمِ.
“O Jabir! my heart is sad and full of grief. If God’s true and pure religion enters in one’s heart, he will become detached to all external attachments (other than God’s). O Jabir! What is the world and what is it worth? Is it more than the mouthful you eat, the piece of dress you use to cover your body and a women you take for marriage? O Jabir! The believers do not trust the world and its life and do not regard themselves as safe from their transfer into the Hereafter. O Jabir! The Hereafter is the permanent abode while the world is a place of temporary abode and death. The worldly ones are negligent of this reality but the true believers who are the people who think, deliberate and take lessons from the world are not. Whatever enters into their ears does not prevent them from God’s Remembrance; and te possession of gold and wealth does not make them neglect God’s worshipping; hence, they earn the rewards of the Hereafter because of their being aware about the religion.” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 73, pp. 36)
The Holy Prophet (a.s) said:
لا يَجِدُ المُؤمِنُ حَلاوَةَ الإيمَانِ فِي قَلبِهِ حَتّى لا يُبالِيَ مِن أكلِ الدُّنْيا.
“One never tastes the sweetness of faith until he is indifferent to whatever has been eaten by him.” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 73, pp. 49)
It is thus necessary for a wayfarer to completely detach his heart from such attractions so that movement and migration towards the higher exalted positions become possible for him. He should thoroughly cleanse his heart from thoughts and anxieties of worldly affairs so that they can be replaced by God’s Remembrance. However, it must be reminded that whatever has been condemned is infatuation and intense attachment to worldly affairs and not worldly affairs in themselves. A wayfarer, like any other human being, for the continuation of life needs housing, clothing, food and life partner and in order to fulfill these requirements, he has no choice except to work.
For the continuation of human race and to leave his offspring, one must marry; and for the sake of social life, he has no choice but to accept social responsibilities. Thus, none of them have been condemned in the Shari`ah. Instead, if perfumed with the intention of God’s Nearness, all of them are considered as acts of worship bringing a person closer to Almighty God because these things in themselves do not act as obstacles for movement, undertaking a gnostic journey and engaging in God’s Remembrance.
What acts as an obstacle is infatuation and intense attachments to these affairs. If these affairs become the life’s main aim and objective occupying the attention and thoughts completely in themselves, such a situation will result in becoming negligent from God’s Remembrance. Therefore, in Islam, money-worship, women-worship, power-worship and education-worship are condemned for they prevent man from migration and movement towards Almighty God; but money, women, education and position in themselves are not condemned.
The Holy Prophet, Amir al-Mu’minin, Imam al‑Sajjad and the other Infallible Imams worked, endeavored and benefitted from the Divine bounties. This is in fact one of the great advantages of Islam.
Third Obstacle: Obedience of Passions
The third obstacle is surrender to selfish whims, passions and carnal desires. Like the dark and thick smoke, self’s whims and passions attack the heart’s domain turning into a darkened heart that lacks the decency for the illumination of the Divine light.
Whim and passion continuously pull the heart from one direction to another and never give it the opportunity to have a union with Almighty God to develop some affection for Him. Day and night, they try to present their own passionate demands. Naturally, in such a situation, the courage to think about migration and ascension towards the Celestial Kingdom of Almighty God becomes limited. Almighty God says in the Holy Qur’an:
وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ الْهَوَى فَيُضِلَّكَ عَنْ سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ.
“And follow not desire that it beguile thee from the way of Allah. 37:26”
Amir al-Mu’minin Imam `Ali (a.s) said:
أشْجَعُ النّاسِ مَن غَلبَ هَواهُ.
“The most couragous is he who can dominate over the passions of his self.” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 70, pp. 76)
FOURTH OBSTACLE: OVEREATING
One of the main obstacles on the way towards God’s Remembrance and invocation is overeating and being a slave of the stomach. A person who strives day and night to arrange good and delicious food and fills his stomach with different sorts of tasty foods will never union with Almighty God, develop affection and establish secret communications with Him. With a stomach full of food, one cannot have a mood for worshipping and supplication. One who considers pleasure simply in eating and drinking will never taste the sweetness of supplication to Almighty God. Hence, overeating has been condemned in Islam. Imam al‑Sadiq (a.s) said to Abu-Ba¥ir:
إنَّ البَطْنَ لَيَطْغى مِن أكْله، وأقْرَبُ ما يَكونُ العَبْدُ مِن اللهِ إذا خَفَّ بَطْنُهُ، وأبْغَضُ ما يَكُونُ العَبدُ مِن اللهِ إذا امْتَلأَ بَطْنُه.
Stomach transgresses under the influence of overeating. The nearest situation between Almighty God and His servant is when the stomach is empty and the worst situation is when his stomach is full.” (Wasa’il al-Shi`ah, vol. 16, pp. 405)
He also said:
إنَّ اللهَ يَبغَضُ كَثرَةَ الأكْلِ.
“Almighty God considers overeating as indecent.” (Wasa’il al-Shi`ah, vol. 16, pp. 407)
The Holy Prophet (a.s) said:
لا تَشْبَعُوا فَيُطْفَأَ نُورُ المَعْرِفَةِ مِن قُلوبِكُم.
“Do not indulge in overeating because it will quench the light of faith from your hearts.” (al-Mustadrak, vol. 3, pp. 81)
Imam al‑Sadiq (a.s) said:
لَيسَ شَيءٌ أضَرُّ لِقَلبِ المُؤمِنِ مِن كَثرَةِ الأكْلِ. وهِيَ مُوَرِّثَةٌ لِشَيْئَينِ: قَسوَةِ القَلْبِ وَهَيَجانِ الشَّهْوَةِ. وَالجُوعُ إدامٌ لِلمُؤمِنينَ وَغِذاءٌ لِلرّوحِ وَطَعامٌ لِلقَلْبِ وَصِحَّةٌ لِلبَدَنِ.
“For the heart of a believer, nothing is worse than overeating, because it will cause hardheartedness and seduction. Hunger is the dish of the believers, the food of the soul, the provisions of the heart and health for the body.” (al‑Mustadrak, vol. 3, pp. 80)
Amir al-Mu’minin Imam `Ali (a.s) has said:
إذَا أرَادَ اللهُ صَلاحَ عَبدِهِ ألْهَمَهُ قِلّةَ الكَلامِ وَقِلّةَ الطَّعامِ وَقِلَّةَ المَنامِ.
“When Almighty God decides to make a servant righteous, He bestows upon him with less speech, less appetite and less sleep.” (al-Mustadrak, vol. 3 pp. 81)
نِعمَ العَونُ عَلى أسْرِ النَّفْسِ وَكَسْرِ عادَتِها الجُوعُ.
“Hunger is the best help for controlling self and breaking up chronic habits.” (al-Mustadrak, vol. 3 pp. 81)
Imam `Ali (a.s) narrated that on the night of Ascension (Mi`raj), Almighty God said to the Holy Prophet (a.s):
يا أحْمَدُ، لَو ذُقْتَ حَلاوَةَ الجُوعِ وَالصَّمْتِ وَالخِلْوَةِ وَما وَرِثوا مِنها... الحِكْمَةُ وَحِفْظُ القَلْبِ وَالتَّقَرُّبُ إلَيَّ وَالحُزْنُ الدّائِمُ وَخِفَّةٌ بَينَ النّاسِ وَقَولُ الحَقِّ، وَلا يُبالي عاشَ بِيُسْرٍ أوْ بِعُسْرٍ.
“O Ahmad! How sweet and beautiful the hunger, silence and seclusion are? Wisdom, heart’s tranquillity, nearness to Me, continuous grief, righteous talks, thriftiness and indifference at the time of ease and hardships are the characteristics acquired by My servant as a result of hunger, silence and seclusion.” (al-Mustadrak, vol. 3 pp. 82)
A wayfarer, like other people, to remain alive and have the required energy for worship, requires food, but he should be careful to eat just to fulfill his bodily requirements avoiding overeating, which causes indigestion, lethargy and depression towards worship, hardheartedness and negligence of God’s Remembrance. On the contrary, moderation in eating and hunger result in one’s feeling active and zealous for worship and attention to Almighty God. Being hungry, man possesses soul’s purification, illumination and enjoyment which is not the case with a full stomach. Therefore, it is extremely important that a wayfarer should eat only to the extent it is required for fulfillment of his bodily needs and especially should be hungry during invocation, worship and supplication.
FIFTH OBSTACLE: UNNECESSARY TALKS
One of the obstacles preventing a wayfarer from movement towards his ultimate desired goal and intervening in achieving concentration and heart presence is useless and idle talks. Almighty God has bestowed upon man the power of speech in order to fulfill his genuine needs. If he uses it to the required extent, he will utilize this great blessing correctly. Because of excessive talking, man’s thoughts are scattered and disturbed disabling him to pay attention to Almighty God with heart presence. Hence, too much talking and conversations have been severely condemned in traditions. The Holy Prophet (a.s) said:
لا تُكثِروا الكلامَ بِغَيرِ ذِكْرِ اللهِ، فإنَّ كَثرَةَ الكَلامِ بِغَيرِ ذِكْرِ اللهِ تُقسي القَلبَ، وإنَّ أبْعدَ النّاس ِمِن اللهِ القاسي القَلب.
“Avoid speaking too much except while reciting invocations, because utterance of too many words other than God’s Remembrance causes hardheartedness and the most distant people from Almighty God are those of darkened hearts.” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 71, pp. 281)
Amir al-Mu’minin Imam `Ali (a.s) said:
أخزِنْ لِسانَكَ وَعُدَّ كَلامَكَ يَقِلَّ كلامُكَ إلاّ بِخَيرٍ.
“Control your tongue and count your words in order to reduce your talk except in goodness.” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 71, pp. 281)
The Holy Prophet (a.s) said:
الكَلامُ ثَلاثةٌ: فَرابحٌ، وَسالِمٌ، وشاجِبٌ، فأمّا الرّابحُ الّذي يذْكُرُ اللهَ، وَأمّا السّالِمُ فَالسّاكِتُ، وأمّا الشاجِبُ فالّذي يَخُوضُ في الباطِلِ.
“Speakers are three—winner, sound and nonsense. The winner speaker is he who mentions God; the sound speaker is he who is silent; and the nonsense is he who talks bad wording.” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 71, pp. 289)
أمسِك لِسانك فإنّها صَدَقةٌ تتصدّق بها على نفسك ولا يعَرِف عبدٌ حقيقةَ الإيمان حتّى يَخزِن لسانه.
“Control your tongue because it is the best gift which you may present to the self. A person never tastes the reality of faith unless he strictly controls his tongue.” (Bihar al Anwar, vol. 71, pp. 298)
Imam al‑Rida said:
مِن عَلاماتِ الفِقْهِ الحِلْمُ وِالعِلْمُ وِالصَّمْتُ. إنَّ الصَّمْتَ بابٌ مِن أبْوابِ الحِكْمَةِ. إنَّ الصَّمْتَ يُكْسِبُ المَحَبَّةَ. إنّهُ دَليلٌ عَلى كُلِّ خَيْرٍ.
“Within the symptoms of religious knowledge are patience, learning and silence, which is truly the gate of wisdom, the achiever of love and the guide to all goodness.” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 71, pp. 290)
Amir al-Mu’minin Imam `Ali (a.s) said:
إذا تَمَّ العَقْلُ نَقَصَ الكَلامُ.
“With the perfection of intellect, wording reduces.” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 71, pp. 290)
Imam al‑Sadiq (a.s) said:
ما عُبِدَ اللهُ بِشَيءٍ أفْضَلَ مِنَ الصَّمْتِ وَالمَشْيِ إلى بَيتِهِ.
“There is no worship superior than silence and going on foot to the House of God (for Hajj).” (Bihar of al-Anwar, vol. 71, pp. 278)
The Holy Prophet (a.s) said to Abu-Dharr:
عَلَيكَ بِطولِ الصَّمْتِ فإنَّهُ مَطْرَدَةٌ لِلشَّيْطانِ وَعَونٌ لكَ عَلى أمْرِ دِينِكَ.
“I recommend you to practice silence, for it keeps Satan away from you and helps you perform your religious duties.” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 71, pp. 279)
It is necessary for a wayfarer to control his tongue strictly, be serious in his talks avoiding over‑talking. In worldly affairs, he should limit himself to the necessary extent and instead engage his tongue in recital of invocations, incantations and discussions of useful and important and useful matters. The most celebrated mystic of our time, the great professor `Allamah ±aba§aba’i, says:
“I have witnessed the most precious effects of silence. I practiced silence for forty days and nights; yet I spoke only when it is absolutely required. I kept myself engaged in meditations and invocations until I attained purity and enlightenment.”
SIXTH OBSTACLE: LOVE FOR SELF
Once a wayfarer succeeds in removing all the obstacles from his path and somehow manages to pass through all stages, he has to be confronted with the greatest barrier which is love for self. Suddenly, he discovers that all actions and deeds, including acts of worship, were done for the sake of love for self. All his worship, asceticism, invocation, supplication, fasting and prayer were perfumed for the sake of self and rewards of the Hereafter resulting a net gain for his self. Such acts of worship, though achieve Paradise and eternal rewards, will not result in his ascent towards the most distinguished sublime spiritual positions of Invocations, Witnessing and Countenance. Without migrating from the positions of love for essence or love for self, one will never be able to witness the unique and unparallel beauty of the Lord of Glory and Majesty; and so long as he does not tear off all the veils including that of self, he will not be able to develop the required capability of witnessing God’s illumination.
It is thus necessary for a wayfarer that through asceticism and struggle, he must arrange his exit from the limited boundaries of love of essence by converting it into love of God performing all deeds for His pleasure only. If he eats, it is because of the fact that his eternal beloved has desired so for the sake of his remaining alive; and if he worships, it is because that he had considered Almighty God as worth of being worshipped. Such a person seeks neither this world nor the next one; instead he is the seeker of Almighty God. He does not want even to have miracles or special discoveries and, except the real Creator, does not have any other desire or objective. If he passes through this crucial stage successfully and has the ability to give up his identity and personality, he may take up a giant step towards the threshold of monotheism (Tawhid) ascending towards the most sublime spiritual positions of Witnessing, Countenance and entering inside the Celestial Kingdom as described by the Holy Qur’an ‘firmly established in the favor of a Mighty King. 54:55’
SEVENTH OBSTACLE: INDECISIVENESS
One of the great obstacles on the path and perhaps the most important is the indecisiveness and lack of determination which prevents a person from starting his deeds. Satan and imperious self in the beginning try their best to reflect matters relevant to gnostic journey and ascesticim as insignificant and unnecessary. They endeavor to convince a person simply to engage in rituals without paying least attention towards heart presence. They will say: ‘You do not have any other obligation except worshipping in a ritual manner. Why do you care about having heart presence, attention and invocation? If occasionally he thinks about these things, they will prevent him from his determination by utilizing hundred of tricks and treacheries and sometimes they will reflect these matters before him as something so much difficult and complicated that he will become disappointed and hopeless.
However, a true devotee should resist the whispers of Satan and imperious self. By referring to Qur’anic verses, traditions and books of ethics, he should make himself aware about the importance and need of spiritual migration, heart presence, invocation and witnessing the Supreme Reality. Once he discovers its real worth and sees his own eternal salvation in it, he will move seriously ignoring all whispers of hopelessness and disappointments telling his self, ‘although it is difficult but since my future salvation depends upon it, I must take action quickly, as Almighty God has promised in the Holy Qur’an: As for those who strive in us, We surely guide them to our paths. 29:69’
 `Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn ±aba§aba’i was born in a family of scholars in Tabriz in AD 1892. He lost his mother at the age of five and his father at the age of nine. He studied his primary education there for six years. In 1918, he entered the field of religious and Arabic studies and was occupied with readings of texts until 1925. In AH 1425, he went to Najaf city for higher religious studies where he studied Jurisprudence, mathematics and philosophy under the most eminent personalities of that period such as Ayatullah Abu’l-Hasan Isfahani, Ayatullah Hujjat Kuhkamani and Sayyid Husayn Badkubi; and after finishing his curriculum, he returned to his hometown in 1935. In 1946, he settled in Qum where he continued his religious studies teaching and research activities until his demise in 1991. `Allamah ±aba§aba’i in his biography writes:
“I forgot all that is fair and foul in the world and thought the sweet and bitter events equal. I withdrew from social contact with any except scholars; I cut back food and sleep and other life’s necessities to the minimum and devoted most of my time to scholarship and research. I would often spend the night in study until sunrise (especially in Spring and Summer) and always review the next day’s lesson in advance making whatever exertions to solve my problems so that by class time I would already have a clear understanding of my lessons.” (`Allamah ±aba§aba’i: Islamic Teachings, pp. 14)
He has written hundreds of religious works the most famous among which is Tafsir al-Mizan (Commentary on the Holy Qur'an) in 20 volumes.