What are the difference between the Naqshbandi and the other Sufi ways?

It is axiomatic that all Sufi paths lead to the Divine Presence. The Prophet (s) said, “The ways to God are as numerous as the breaths of human beings.” The differences lie mostly in the realm of style and taste, and reflect the need to accommodate the variety of types among the aspirants. Differences also stem from the unique individualities of the great luminaries who imprinted each of the Tariqats — May Allah be pleased with all of them!

There are also some differences of approach. Most Sufi paths offer aspirants a gradual unveiling of the heart’s eye, accomplished through the practice of Dhikr, the remembrance of Allah. This spiritual exercise may contain repetition of various of Allah’s Holy Names. Some dhikrs involve practices designed to break the spell of mundane consciousness and propel the practitioner into a state of altered awareness. Such practices may include repetition of many thousands of holy phrases, sometimes connected with breathing exercises and often with physical movements. Without a doubt, through the steadfast and dedicated practice of these methods, the aspirant may experience spiritual states and attain stations unimaginable in a normal state of consciousness. The aspirant may feel himself to be flying towards the heavenly goals, beholding the wonders of the mysterious and hidden aspects of creation.

If your eyes have been thus opened, and if you are greatly enamored of the wide vistas you have beheld, then be warned. Should you embark upon the Naqshbandi path, your colorful plumage will be clipped and replaced with the humble cloak of obscurity. For the main difference between the Naqshbandi Way and others is that while they are giving, we are taking away. Everything must go, even your separate existence. First you will be without anything, then you will be nothing. Only those who are prepared to take such a step can be real Naqshbandi murids. As long as a drop is falling from the heavens, it may be called a drop. When it falls into the ocean, it is no longer a drop, it is the ocean.

If anyone is interested in spiritual stations and powers, he may attain them through following any of the forty Sufi paths, as these ways are quite efficacious. Through the recitation of the most beautiful names of Allah everyone receives bountifully in accordance with his intention. In the end, however, the sincere seeker will be struck with remorse if he becomes fixated at the stage of stations and states. One day he will perceive how he has fallen victim to distraction and say: “Oh my Lord, I have been wasting myself and my efforts on something other than you.”

Should a seeker’s life end while he is in those states, he will regret that they distracted him from seeking the Divine Countenance of His Lord. Therefore, GrandShaykhs have been ordered to strip their followers of their spiritual adornments, so that they may be presented to their Lord in perfect lowliness: “This is your servant, oh our Lord; accept him. He is lost to himself and exists only for You.” This is their top priority, and helping their followers attain such a reality is their duty.

It is understood by all orders that the strange and enchanting experiences are the scenery of the journey, not the goal. The goal is to reach his Divine Presence by the attraction of the Beloved Himself. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (s) is the Guide and Example. On His miraculous Night Journey, in which He was conducted by the Angel Gabriel (s) first from Makkah to Jerusalem and then up to the Seven Heavens and into the Divine Presence, he passed trough the whole universe. Allah Almighty informs us in the Holy Qur’an that the Prophet’s vision “neither swerved nor wavered” [53:2]. In other words, he looked and beheld but never let those sights distract him from ascending towards his most Exalted Destination. The Holy Prophet was able to behold those sights without being distracted because His Heart was only for His Lord. He was the Beloved of Allah. As for ourselves, we are vulnerable and weak-willed. Those experiences and attainments may accord with our ego’s desires, whereas annihilation is never an attractive proposition for the ego.

Therefore, in order to provide maximum protection, the Naqshbandi Masters take a different approach to the unveiling of the heart’s eye. There are 70,000 veils between us and the Station of the Prophet (s). A Naqshbandi Master rends these veils in descending order, starting with those closest to the Divine Presence and then successively downwards towards the level of the murid. This process continues throughout the training of the murid, until there is but one veil, the Veil of Humanity (hijab al-bashariyya), restraining the murid‘s vision from contemplation of the Divine Reality. In order to protect the murid from attraction to something other than his Lord, however, the GrandShaykh does not rend that last veil until the murid reaches the highest state of perfection, or until his final seven breaths on his deathbed.

If the veils are removed from the bottom up by means of mystical practices, the murid beholds a succession of new panoramas. That very vision may keep him from progressing. Those who attain such stations during this life may discover that they have become powerful and famous among people. This is a danger. Power and recognition are conditions conducive to worldliness. The ego will never neglect such an opportunity to demand its share of the excitement and admiration, and by so doing taint the whole process of spiritual endeavor.

The Sufi aspirant must seek his Lord, not fame. Look at history’s most reknowned Holy Woman, the Virgin Mary, who once prayed (Surat Maryam, 23): “Would that I had been a thing forgotten and out of sight!” She has taught all mankind to seek only obscurity in the sight of the world, and not to look for recognition. The striving for power and fame is a heavy burden. The Sufi seeks rather to be forgotten in the Ocean of Unity of Allah Almighty.

The Naqshbandi Sufi Shaykhs say that whoever works according to the following series of recommendations, and acts on it, will attain the exalted stations, especially the Station of Closeness (Qurb) to Allah, Who is Powerful and Sublime, on the Day of Resurrection. The faithful and diligent application of these practices is certain to temper the influence of the lower elements which exist in every human being: the nafs (ego); dunya (worldliness); hawa (vain desires) andshaytan (the devil). A person who manages to keep these principles of the Naqshbandi Order will achieve the light of his Shaykh, who will lift him to the Presence of the Supreme Teacher, the Prophet (s), who in his turn, will lift him up to the Station of Annihilation in Allah.

Allah Powerful and Sublime taught the Prophet Muhammad (s) good manners, for which reason the Holy Prophet (s) said, “My Lord taught me good manners and perfected His Teaching.” The best of manners is to keep the orders of Allah, and the seeker must follow the example of the Prophet in keeping the obligations of His Lord and in following the spiritual path. He must be persistent in keeping to the adab of the Order, until he attains the knowledge of the Sharicah and Tariqat. The beginner must always begin at the beginning. He should recognize the difference between Sharicah and Tariqat. Sharicah is a reality that is obligatory for every believing man and woman. Concretely speaking, the Sharicah consists of practicing that which Allah has ordered and avoiding that which He has forbidden. The believer relies on guides to indicate clearly to him what to discard and what to follow. The Qur’an and Sunnah are the foundation of all guidance. The Madhahib judgments of the four Imams, the writing of the scholars and their living inheritors relay and explain the guidance. Whoever keeps to this guidance will be on the Sirat  al-mustaqim, the straight path.

Tariqat is the firm intention (azimah) of the Sharicah. It does not exist outside of Sharicah. It is the resolution to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet (s) as completely as possible in every aspect, both external and internal, exposed and hidden, exoteric and esoteric, physical and spiritual. To follow Tariqat the murid puts his trust in the judgment of the Shaykh for the correct understanding and application of the guidance of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The murid places his hand in the hand of an authorized, living Shaykh and must procede as indicated by him. He must be ready at all times to receive the orders of his Shaykh, just as the Prophet (s) awaited the coming of Jibril with revelation from Allah, Almighty and Exalted. In the same way he must follow the Shaykh’s orders, carrying them out to the letter. He must have the “adab of anticipation,” which means that he must constantly await the orders of his guide. He must adopt the attitude of a hunter to its prey, being oblivious to all other directions. His sight, hearing, existence and thoughts should be ready to receive orders, and he should always be ready to carry out some new order. Such a man will be a master of the adab of the Exalted Naqshbandi Order, and this tajalli (manifestation) will become apparent in him.

The murid should keep to his daily dhikr and should obey the order of his Shaykh, without veering to the right or to the left. GrandShaykh Shaykh cAbdullah ad-Daghestani said, “My tongue is the tongue of the secret of the Sharicah and of the secret of the Qur’an.” Then he asked a question saying, “Who are the bearers and protectors of the Qur’an?” and answered himself: “The bearers and protectors of Qur’an are the ones who set foot in all the exalted stations and knew them with true understanding. And is it not right, my children, that I should indicate to you that you should follow this path so that you may reach and discover these stations?”

Shaykh cAbdullah ad-Daghestani continued saying, “Whoever receives the keys to the five stations (maqamat): Heart (qalb), Secret (sirr), Secret of the Secret (sirr as-sirr), Hidden (khafa), Most Hidden (akhfa) is the one who takes care to perform the Adab and the Awrad in their correct manner. This enables him to reach the Station of Bayazid al-Bistami (q), in which he said, “I am also the Real (al-Haqq).” Anyone who wishes to enter the Station of the Two Attributes of the Real, Almighty and Exalted: the Attribute of Beauty (Jamal) and that of Sublimeness and Glory (Jalal) must follow this Way.