In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful
That which is understood from the Quran and from traditions is that the best form of self-building is keeping the purpose of creation in mind. The purpose of creation is serving the Most High in all aspects of life because man is only His servant and must show humility in all aspects of life.
Depicting humility and servitude to Allah, which is the form of perfection that we can present, causes the reality of our existence to bear fruit. This humility is obtained by perfect obedience to Allah and His saints. The best path for reaching it is watching over oneself night and day.
Man must be sensitive in regards to religious commandments, ethical duties, and accounting for his actions. This sensitivity will point man in the direction of spiritual growth and will lead him to eradicate all obstacles. If this method is continued it will illuminate man. He will be granted with divine satisfaction and will be granted with higher levels of spirituality.
Servitude, as faith, has various levels. The prophets and the saints (a) have reached the highest levels of servitude and have invited us towards them.
There is an important obstacle and enemy along our road to sincere servitude of the Lord. Its name is Satan. Satan is our sworn-enemy who blocks the path towards servitude and the Straight Path. Allah has also promised that anyone who wears the chains of servitude around his neck will be relieved from being overpowered by Satan. Therefore, one must rely on Allah in order to traverse the path and in order to reach this great purpose; he must always remember the resurrection. If one does this his life will have purpose and will be related to immortality. He will be outside of the reach of Satan and under the guardianship of Allah and His saints (a). Any path which is taken from the saints (a) in order to serve Allah sincerely is the truth. If taken from anyone else it would be invalid and misguiding. Every day we ask Allah for help and we request that he guides us to the right path during our prayers.
This path – the path of divine guidance – has friends and companions: the prophets, the truthful (sadiqan), the witnesses (of actions), and the righteous.
The best life is a life where on is with these great human beings and where one has a constant connection with the Creator of the world. One can only reach the starting point by serving Him and then gradually the doors of his heart will open to the realities of the world. At this stage man will reach the good life (hayat al-tayibah).
So, in order to take a step along this important path it is necessary to have a high level of ambition, a strong will, dependence upon Allah and constantly seeking a means to Allah by means of His saints. This is the background to the straight path. Keeping these issues in mind along with performing one’s religious and ethical duties will improve one’s foundation which:
One: will be in congruence with all of one’s actions his daily life.
Two: will allow one to gradually discover his faults which he will gradually be able to remove by paying attention to religious methods.
Three: along with constant accounting, will remove rebellion from one’s soul. One should not loose hope if his carnal desires and satanic whispers overcome this person from time to time and man commits a sin in action or an ethical sin. Rather, while regretful, he must seriously decide to refrain from repeating this action or this negative ethical trait. He must seriously decide to return to Allah. These are the foundations of this path.
In order to start the purification of one’s soul and to traverse along the path that leads to Allah, one must precisely account for the actions that he performed from the beginning of his religious adulthood until the present time. These actions are divided into divine rights (haqq-i Allah) and human rights (haqq-i nas). Divine rights are obligations and prohibitions. One must precisely review the obligations that one was responsible for since he reached religious adulthood and see if he performed them correctly or not. If he did not perform them correctly he must gradually make them up. If, may Allah save us from this, he committed a sin he must seriously repent and decide to never repeat it while being regretful and mentioning his repentance in speech.
Human rights are divided into financial rights and non-financial rights. If the property of somebody else has been destroyed in one’s hands or one did not return it the property, or its value, must be returned to its owner. If one cannot reach the owner then he must account for the value (one must refer to their marja’ taqlid to see whether the present price of the item is considered or the previous price) and give it to the marja’ taqlid or a jurist (mujtahid) under the title of eradicating oppression. This duty, in regards to property that has been destroyed, is necessary for whatever occurred before one reached adulthood as well.
It is not enough to only repent in regards to human rights on non-financial issues, for instance backbiting, slander, and swearing. In regards to backbiting and slander one must clear the accused person’s name. Also, if mentioning the issue to the accused would not have negative effects it is better to tell him as well.
Another issue is when two people have enmity towards each other. In this case one must try to quell the enmity.
The effect of these accounts becomes greater the more precise they are.
Religious duties have positive effects on one’s soul. If they are performed orderly and under an accounted for plan, they will have greater effects, God-willing.
After accounting and gradually making up for the past there is a prayer in Mafatih al-Jinan found in the actions for the month of Dhil-Qa’idah. One should recite this prayer in peace.
A person who takes a step to correct himself must pay attention to the following three points:
1. He must have ambition in traveling along the path in an organized fashion, after he is sure of what the path is and has weighed it with the Quran, traditions, and the general words of the professors of ethics. 2. Gentleness and companionableness. 3. Spiritual growth is gradual, therefore small amounts of continuous actions are better than a one-time worship fest.
From the words of great teachers of ethics, issues will be mentioned in which acting in accordance to them will be beneficial for even one who is far from or does not have any access to a teacher of ethics. There will not be any problem in acting in accordance to what will be mentioned.
A person must be seriously careful of performing all obligations and refraining from all prohibitions; during the night he should account for the actions he performed during the day. If he was successful he should thank Allah and decide to continue this in the following days. He should also ask Allah to help him with it. If he was not successful in serving Allah; if he did not perform an obligation he should immediately make it up. If, may Allah save us, he committed a sin he should repent and seriously decide not to repeat the sin.
First, one should not consider these issues to be light because, according to traditions, the foundation of the effects of actions is dependant upon how a person performs his obligations and refrains the prohibitions.
Second, the effects of being careful over oneself and of accounting are gradual. Before man wakes up from his sleep of ignorance he was free and was not bound by religion or the intellect. Therefore, becoming a perfect servant and being completely careful and accounting precisely at one instant is difficult. Hence, one must not loose hope if he is unsuccessful at the beginning of the path, rather he should seek assistance from Allah directly and by means of His saints (a). Therefore, man must never loose hope because hopelessness is one of the armies of Satan.
Third, one must know that there are many obligations and prohibitions. Therefore, one must not imagine that performing some obligations and refraining from committing some prohibitions is enough. For instance, the scholars of ethics mention 25 sins and unethical actions of speech. All of them must be observed with precision, continuance, carefulness, and accounting.
Fourth, knowledge about the obligations and prohibitions is necessary along this path. Some of them have been mentioned in the Risalahs (worship, transactions, najasat, taharat, etc.). Ethical issues and understanding their symptoms and cures are found in books such as Mi’raj al-Sa’adah, Jam’i al-Sa’adat, and Muhajah al-Bayda’.
Fifth, in order to obtain more success along this path it is very good to perform recommended actions and refrain from committing disliked actions. This would have an effect and would further illuminate a person. In accordance to gentleness and companionableness that was mentioned before, it is better that one performs the recommended actions which his body and soul are able to perform. Actions have more of an affect one one’s soul if they are performed out of desire and with energy. Therefore, recommended actions should be performed while observing gentleness and companionableness and while observing continuity, even if it is very small.
Another important issue which must be observed is that one should perform the recommended actions that have grave importance because these recommended actions have a huge affect on one’s soul.
It is also important to observe family issues. Taking care of one’s family is one of the necessities of servitude. It is placed after acts of worship on the totem pole.
The issues that one has to observe in order to grow spiritually are:
1. Always being in a state of wudu. 2. Praying at the beginning of the time for prayer if it does not contradict any other obligatory action. If one is able to observe religious and ethical standards it is better that he perform the prayer in congregation. 3. Reading the Quran – 20 verses a day with thinking about the verses. When one is accustomed to doing this they should add 10 verses until the number of verses reaches 50. If one starts the Quran from the beginning and reads it all the way up to the end giving it as a gift to one of the imams (a) or one’s deceased relatives it would greater illuminate his soul. 4. Continually reading the books of jurisprudence so that one’s religious duties are always on his mind. 5. Women should, during their menstruation periods – if they do not have any physical or spiritual problems – perform wudu during the time of the prayer, sit facing the direction of prayer and recite the phrase ‘La ilah ilallah’ for five to ten minutes. 6. According to one’s physical strength and by observing marriage duties, the rights of one’s spouse, and without creating any difficulty for anyone else, one should wake up 15 to 20 minutes before the morning adhan in order to pray the midnight prayer. 7. Reciting the supplications after prayer, by observing obligatory rights, in a normal amount. If a person has a good state they should recite more of these supplications after the morning prayer. In regards to the midnight prayer it must be said that if one is successful in waking up early enough to pray only four rakats he should perform the rest of them at the time of the adhan and after it. If one was unable to wake up, because of the importance that the midnight prayer has, it is recommended to make it up before one sleeps at night – no matter if it is separated throughout the day. 8. Reciting the supplications of the days of the week as well as the ziyarats of the imams (a) that have been written in books of supplications for each day of the week. 9. Gradually one should recite the supplication ‘allahuma baligh mulay sahib al-zaman’ which is written after the supplication of Nudbah. This should be recited every day after the morning prayer. Likewise, performing the actions of the Thursday night and Friday, as much as one’s physical and spiritual condition would allow and by observing social and family duties. The supplications of Kumayl, Nudbah, and Samat are emphasized. 10. Participating in Akhlaq lessons with the intention of being reminded – if there is no religious impediment. This is emphasized in the month of Ramadan and the first ten days of the month of Muharram, especially on the day of Ashura. 11. It is very good to visit graveyards once in awhile, for example once a week. One should think about death while he is there. He should think about how he entered the world and the natural changes that took place growing up and then he should think about the final destination and how everything will be separated from mankind except his positive or negative ethical traits. The stronger these thoughts are the more effective this action would be. 12. Reciting supplications at any time in any amount. 13. Observing the actions that should be performed in each lunar month. Reading the book Al-Muraqabat by the late Ayatollah Hajj Mirza Jawad Aqa Malaki Tabrizi would be beneficial in this regard.
In the month of Rajab one should recite the repentances of the morning and afternoon. Likewise one should read the supplications of this month, especially those that start with ‘bismillah ar-rahman ar-rahim.’ One should also perform whatever else he can of the actions of this month.
In the month of Sha’ban one should recite the repentances of each day and the salawat recommended at noon. He should also recite parts of the Munajat Sha’baniyah with the heart. He should recite some parts every day in such a way that the whole thing would be read once or twice during the month.
In the month of Ramadan one should recite the complete Quran and give it as a gift to one of the fourteen infallibles (a). Reciting the supplications after prayer, reciting the supplication Iftitah every night, reciting the supplication Sahar, and reciting a part of the supplication of Abu Hamza after dawn so that it would be completed once throughout the month should be done.
One should do as much as he can on the nights of qadr. One should also especially seeking nearness to Allah through means of the imams (a), especially Fatimah Zahra and Imam Zaman and should recite the supplications for each day of the month.
In the month of Muharram and Safar, in addition to participating in sessions of morning, if possible one should recite Ziyarat Ashura from the day of Ashura until the fortieth. After the ziyarat one should prostrate and then perform two rakats of prayer.
In regards to the months of Dhil-Qa’edah and Dhil-Hajjah, which are holy months, one should have a special feeling of spirituality. Since the promise to meet Prophet Moses (a) has been given in the month of Dhil-Qa’edah and the first ten days of Dhil-Hajjah, the pious people give importance to these days. They strengthen their carefulness and account and they worship more. These forty days are known as the forty days of Moses and have a special importance.
The first ten days of Dhil-Qa’edah are known as the days of understanding and they have been given grandeur in the Quran. Fasting one the first day has the rewards of fasting for a whole lifetime. Likewise, performing two rakats of prayer between the sunset and night prayers of these ten days has a lot of merits.
The supplications of these ten days and the actions of the night and day of ‘Arafah, which is not less important than the night of qadr, should be performed well.
Reminder: It is not necessary that others know about one’s recommended actions. Rather, if these actions are performed in secrecy it would be better, especially for protecting one’s sincerity and keeping the negative ethical trait of vanity (‘ujb) from arising.
Another issue is that one should force himself to perform these actions. It is not necessary to force someone else to perform them. Guidance is positive and recommending others to perform them would be an invitation to goodness and piety.
The condition for all of these actions to be effective is observing piety and being precise in staying careful over one’s actions and accounting for them. The more precise the carefulness and accounting is the more one would know about his shortcomings. Likewise, thinking about death and the worthlessness of the world creates a sense of disinterest in worldly affairs (zuhd). One must move step by step so that he can remain on the path.
Being careful over one’s actions is the most principle, the most important, and the first step of disinterest in worldly affairs. Man needs to be careful of his actions from the beginning of his movement until the moments of his death. Of course, the carefulness that is applied is in congruence with the spiritual station that one is on.
Man will become more illuminated by continuously being careful of his actions. This will enable one to recognize his faults and the worthlessness of the world further concluding in him correcting himself.
Performing these actions and being careful of one’s actions would, apparently, suffice from reviewing the books which give special orders of recitation. By performing what was mentioned and by performing one’s individual and social duties, one would slowly move forward. If one has a truthful amount of desire to move further Allah is definitely merciful and his saints should be grabbed onto. Allah says:
“As to those who hold fast by the Book and establish regular prayer,- never shall We suffer the reward of the righteous to perish.” (Quran, 7:170)
The method that has been presented to you is the method of the great ‘Allamah Tabataba’i and the other great mystics.