Bonding the Heart with the Shaykh
“In our path (the Naqshbandiyya) arriving at the degree of perfection is related to a loving bond (rabita) with the exemplary shaykh. The sincere disciple, through his love of the shaykh, receives divine energy (fayd) from the inner being (batin) of the shaykh and becomes colored with the color of the shaykh, having an essential connection to the shaykh… They call this annihilation in the shaykh, the beginning of true annihilation [in God]. [Anyone doing] dhikr without bonding his heart with the master (rabita) and without achieving annihilation in the shaykh will not arrive.” –Khwaja Muhammad Masum Rabbani, Maktubat
In terms of the spiritual practices described here, namely, recollection of God (dhikr) and contemplation of God (muraqaba), the most efficacious method for spiritual development arises from the bond (rabita) with the mentor that enables the seeker to benefit from the focused energy of the shaykh’s spiritual attention (tawajjuh). The success of spiritual travel depends on cultivating the relationship with the spiritual guide; solitary recollection without this bond will make the goal (the vision of God) extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reach. The need for this bond grows out of the principle that the Sufi genealogical chain (silsila) conducts the divine energy (fayd) mediated by the Prophet Muhammad (sallAllahu alayhi wasalam). Without a sound connection to the shaykh one remains disconnected from God. The spiritual tie (rabita) determines the disciple’s progress.
Mawlana ‘Abd al Rahman Jami (d. 898/1492) gives one of the earliest and most complete descriptions of rabita for the Naqshbandiyya. Being with the spiritual guide is equivalent to being in the company with one of the protégés of God, since they both have the highest degree of perfection in contemplating the divine essence (maqam-i mushahada) and also cause tears to flow when imparting the recollection of God. The venerable Khwaja ‘Ubaydullah Ahrar, wrote in his Fiqarat, “The shadow of the master is better than the recollection of God (dhikr)” which the venerable Imam Ahmad as-Sirhindi later interpreted as the superiority of rabita over dhikr, because without a complete connection to the shaykh the seeker will not be able to derive full benefit from recollection of God.
Historically rabita was an essential component of both companionship with the shaykh (suhbat) and ability to receive his transmission of spiritual energy (tawajjuh). This concept of bonding can also be traced to the writings of Najmuddin Kubra (d. 618/1221) and Abu Hafs as-Suhrawardi (d. 632/1234). A century later ‘Ala’uddawla Simnani (d. 736/1336), who wrote about the schema of colors and subtle centers, mentions how the tie of the heart with the master (rabita-yi shaykhi) determines the quality of bonding with the Prophet (rabita-yi nabawi). Later Sufis describe the disciple’s ego as dissolving in the shaykh (fana’ fi’l-shaykh) before becoming annihilated in the Prophet and eventually God. The bond with the shaykh (rabita) in the Sufi path corresponds to the Ka’ba in the shari’a; both are means of worship between the Creator and the created, since God’s light had been confirmed both in the Ka’ba (the house of God) and in the heart of God’s slave.
This intentional flow of fayd from the pir is often described as spiritual attention (tawajjuh, tasarruf, himma) which hastens the disciple’s inner transformation as a profound bond develops with the shaykh. When a disciple becomes psychologically and emotionally attuned with the guide, the shaykh’s spiritual attention can work effectively.
The concept of divinely emanating power in the larger paradigm of protégés of God acting as mediators between humans and God explains how the shaykh can positively influence a disciple’s behavior or cure others of undesirable conditional and illnesses. The Indian Naqshbandi mystic Sher Muhammad’s (d. 1346-47/1928) multidimensional spiritual attention, for example, changed common people’s worldly situation through lectures and discussions. Depending on a disciple’s capacity, he would transmit this divine grace through physical contact, with a handshake or touching their forehead or places on their chest. Physical distance does not impair the transmission of divine energy when “hearts are near,” i.e., when there is a close bond between the shaykh and disciple. The venerable Mawlana Rumi attributes a similar type of silent companionship and a wordless transmission to the third Caliph, Uthman ibn Affan.
When Uthman (r) became Caliph he went to the pulpit (minbar) [to give a sermon].
People waited for him to say something, [but] he did not say anything. He [just] kept looking intently at the people, causing [such] a state of ecstasy to descent upon the people that they could not leave nor have any idea where each other were sitting. Never with a hundred admonishments, preaching’s, and sermons would they have had such an excellent state. [Nor] would they have received [such] benefits and have [had such] secrets revealed with so much effort and preaching. Until the end of the session he kept looking at them like this without uttering a word. When he wanted to decent from the pulpit he said “It is better that you have an effective imam [leader] rather than a prattling imam”
Perfect rabita, however, is not only a function of tawajjuh, but is achieved from the simultaneous efforts of both the master and disciple in a reciprocal process. While the disciple receives the shaykh’s focused spiritual attention the disciple continuously visualizes the shaykh’s face.