First: Abandoning Habits, Customs and Conventions
The first thing that is to be done is to cast away social habits, customs, and conventions and to do away with fictitious values that hinder the wayfarer from traversing the path. What is meant is that the wayfarer should live in a moderate style among the people, for a group of people are perpetually immersed in social customs and all their thought and efforts are devoted to cultivating friends. They do not avoid any kind of formal and futile or harmful relations for the sake of keeping up their personal status.
They subject themselves to these formalities solely on account of habit and in order to maintain their apparent and imaginary prestige, often putting themselves to severe hardship. In order to preserve that which is peripheral they forgo the very substance of life. Taking the common people's appreciation and blame as a criterion and standard, they waste their lives and lifetime trying to conform to these standards. The ship of their existence is besieged with the tides of social habit and custom, swept hither and thither wherever it is carried away by the waves of common morality and etiquette.
Unconsciously, this group of people are totally submissive to the will of society. In opposition to them is the group of people who have withdrawn from the community, forsaking all kinds of social habits and norms, and depriving themselves of all social advantages. They have no intercourse or terms of friendly relations with the people and dwell in isolation, so much so that they become conspicuous by their very seclusion and known for their reclusion.
In order to attain his goal the wayfarer must adopt a policy of moderation and assume a middle position between those of these two groups, refraining from either extreme and moving on the straight path. This purpose is not attained without intercourse and dealings with the people to the extent of one's social needs. However, if there should arise an inevitable difference in sociability, in respect of quality and quantity, between a wayfarer and a non‑wayfarer, it would not be harmful. Such a difference, of course, will not arise, because while social intercourse is necessary and essential to a certain extent, but the wayfarer must not, by any means whatsoever, submit to the moral characteristics and ways of the people:
وَلاَ يَخَافُونَ لَوْمَةَ لآئِمٍ ذَلِكَ فَضْلُ اللّهِ
And they are not afraid of the blame of any blamer in matters relating to God. (5:54)
This verse is indicative of their steadfastness in the pursuit of this straight policy and their fortitude in pursuing their own way On the whole, it may be said that the wayfarer must evaluate every social matter in respect of its benefit and harm and he should not submit pointlessly to the caprices and opinions of the mass of people.
As soon as the wayfarer puts his foot into the field of spiritual struggle (mujahadah) he is faced with difficult and unpleasant developments arising from the conduct of the people and the behaviour of acquaintances who have no purpose in life except their base desires and social aspirations. By word and action they reproach him, desiring to dissuade him from his path and purpose.
On the whole, they are alarmed by the divergence that has emerged between him and themselves in respect of the program of life, and therefore with whatever means that they have at their disposal they try to dissuade the wayfaring novice from his path with the whip of blame and reproach and they try to crush his feet.
Of course, the wayfarer will confront new problems at each and every one of the stages in his journey, which cannot be overcome without fortitude and steadfastness. The wayfarer must have such steadfastness by relying on God's power and might that he can withstand all these difficulties and annihilate these obstacles with the weapon of fortitude and trust in God (tawakkul). In view of the greatness of the goal he should not be frightened by the terrible winds that obstruct the path of God and he should not allow any fear to enter his heart by any means.
وَعَلَى اللّهِ فَلْيَتَوَكِّلِ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ
And let the faithful put their trust in God. (3:160)
وَعَلَى اللّهِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ الْمُتَوَكِّلُونَ
And let those who trust (anything) put their trust in God. (14:12)
2. Gentleness and Leniency (Rifq wa Mudara)
This is the most important of matters which the wayfarer must observe, because even a small negligence in this regard, aside from the fact that it may halt the wayfarer's progress and advancement, may totally put an end to his journey for ever. At the beginning of his journey the wayfarer finds in himself more than an expected amount of eagerness and zeal, or during the course of the journey he feels a lot of enthusiasm and yearning during the manifestation of formal revelations of Divine Beauty (tajalliyat‑e suriyyeh‑ye jamaliyyeh), and, as a result, he decides to be diligent in performing the acts of worship.
Thus he may spend most of his time in prayer and lamentation, performing every rite and trying to learn something from everyone, taking mouthfuls out of every kind of spiritual nourishment. This kind of practice is not only not beneficial, it is harmful. Because, as it imposes a heavy schedule of worship on the lower soul (nafs), it suddenly reacts as a result of the pressure placed upon it and breaks down. As a result without having drawn any results the wayfarer is deprived of all activity, and he does not find any inclination in himself to perform even the smallest of supererogatory acts.
The secret behind this excess and the following breakdown is that the criterion and standard in performing supererogatory rites was taken to be one's temporary interest and zeal, leading the soul to be overloaded. When that interest and zeal subside and that intense flame becomes dimmer, then the soul, being tired from the heavy burden, suddenly plays truant throwing the journey's burden to the ground either at the outset of the journey or in the middle of it. It develops an aversion for the journey and becomes impatient with bearing the supplies needed to carry out the journey or to continue it.
Hence the wayfarer must not be misled by his passing zeal, but he should, with care and foresight, correctly estimate his own spiritual resources and the requirements of his trade and profession, as well the extent of his capacities. He should select an act that he can continue and is somewhat lighter than his capacity, and. confine himself to it, and engage in it until he derives the complete benefit that accrues to his faith from that action.
On this basis, when engaging in worship the wayfarer must stop at a point when there is still interest left in him and the inclination to continue, so that this desire remains in him and he always find himself eager to perform worship. The case of the wayfarer's engagement in worship is like that of the man desirous of having a constant appetite for food: first he must select a food that suits his taste and then stop eating before he has eaten to his fill so that he continually feels an appetite. It is to this gentleness and mildness that the advice of Hadrat Sadiq (`a) to Abd al‑Aziz Qaratisi relates:
يَا عَبْدَالعَزِيزِ ! إنَّ لِلإيمَانِ عَشْرَ دَرَجَاتٍ بِمَنْزِلَةِ السُّلَّمِ يُصْعَدُمِنْهُ مِرْقَاةً بَعْدَ مِرْقَاةٍ ـإلی أن قال علیه السلامـ وَإِذَارَأَيْتَ مَنْ هُوَأَسْفَلُ مِنْكَ بِدَرَجَةٍ فَارْفَعْهُ إلَيْكَ بِرِفْقٍ، وَلاَتَحْمِلَنَّ عَلَيْهِ مَا لاَ يُطِيقُ فَتَكْسِرَه.
O Abd al‑Aziz, verily faith has ten degrees, like the steps of a ladder, which one climbs step by step .... When you see someone who is at a lower step than yours, lift him up gently to yourself and don't put a burden upon him which would strain him to the breaking point.
On the whole that which can be concluded from what has been said is that a worship is effective in wayfaring which arises solely and exclusively from inclination and interest, and to this refers the statement of the Imam
وَلاَ تُكْرِهُوا أَنْفُسَكُمْ عَلَي العِبَادَة.
Do not force worship on yourself (making it unpleasant).]
That consists of not committing again a wrong action after one has repented, and fulfilling the duty that one has committed oneself to carry out and not to neglect it. It also includes remaining faithful until the end to the promises and pledges one has given to one's aware shaykh and trainer of the way of God.
4. Stability and Perseverance (Thubat wa Dawam)
Explanation of this notion requires an introduction. That which can be inferred from Qur'anic verses and sacred traditions is that whatever external entities we perceive by the means of our senses and whatever external acts we perform and which assume reality in the world of matter are accompanied with certain realities lying beyond the realm of material and physical bodies. Beyond these sensible appearances are realities of a higher order, divested of the dress of matter, time, space and all its accidents. And when those realities descend from their own reality they take material and sensible forms in the external world. It is to this fact that the blessed verse of the Glorious Qur'an expressly refers:
وَإِن مِّن شَيْءٍ إِلاَّ عِندَنَا خَزَائِنُهُ وَمَا نُنَزِّلُهُ إِلاَّ بِقَدَرٍ مَّعْلُومٍ
[And there is no thing but that its stores are with Us, and We do not send it down except in a known measure.] (15:21)
To give a brief explanation, in general that which exists in this world of matter has a reality before its external occurrence, a reality that is without extensions and dimensions. However, on its descent it becomes defined and delimited to certain particular magnitudes with Divine determination and in accordance with the Knowledge of the Supreme Creator:
مَا أَصَابَ مِن مُّصِيبَةٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَا فِي أَنفُسِكُمْ إِلَّا فِي كِتَابٍ مِّن قَبْلِ أَن نَّبْرَأَهَا إِنَّ ذَلِكَ عَلَى اللَّهِ يَسِيرٌ
[No affliction befalls in the earth or in yourselves, but it is in a Book, before We create it; that is easy for God.] (57:22)
The forms of the external world are subject to corruption and destruction as they are finite and limited and are subject to material accidents pertaining to their coming into being and perishing:
مَا عِندَكُمْ يَنفَدُ
[That which is with you is perishing . . . .] (16:96)
But nothing except permanence, unchangeability and universality applies to those higher immaterial realities which make up the Divine stores, and whose mode is that of immateriality and malakut:
وَمَا عِندَ اللّهِ بَاقٍ
[And that which is with God is enduring, ] (16:96)
And to this fact and truth refers the following tradition which is accepted unanimously both by the Shi'ah and the Ahl al‑Sunnah:
نَحْنُ مَعَاشِرَ الاَنْبِيَاءِ أُمِرْنَا أَنْ نُكَلِّمَ النَّاسَ عَلَي عُقُولِهِم.قَدْرِ
[We prophets have been commanded to speak to the people in accordance with the level of their intellects.]
This tradition refers to the qualitative aspect of the description of these truths, not to their quantitative aspect, and it signifies that the Divine prophets had always brought these higher truths down to a lower plane appropriate to the understanding and grasp of their audience. The reason for this is that during the life of the world human intellects gather darkness and obscurity due to their attention towards and interest in worldly attractions and glamour and their hollow and protracted desires. They cannot perceive those truth in their original clarity and reality. Therefore, the great prophets were forced to simplify those truths and to bring them down to a lower plane, like some one trying to explain some matter to children with their ingenuous minds, who describes it to them in sensible terms which are comprehensible to children. Often by the means of the Shari `ah, of which they were defenders, the great prophets described those truth in terms that makes them appear as things that are devoid of sense and consciousness, although each of the exoteric elements of the Shari `ah, such as prayer, fasting, hajj, jihad, fulfillment of obligations towards blood relations, charities, amr bil‑ma'ruf and nahy 'anil‑munkar, and the rest of them possess a reality possessing life, perception, and consciousness.
The `wayfarer' is someone who, with God's help and His succour, and with the means of wayfaring and inner struggle (mujahadah), and in the shelter of the lowliness of servanthood, humbleness, pleading and supplication, removes the obfuscations and crests from the soul (nafs) and the intellect and, with a purified intellect and a clear and luminous soul purged of taints and impurities, witnesses those higher realties in this very material life and dark realm with the purity and burnish of his spirit. Often it happens that the wayfarer observes this very prayer and wudu' in their real form and sees clearly their excellence which is a thousand times superior to its physical form in respect of consciousness and perception. Hence there are traditions of the Immaculate Imams, may God's Peace and benedictions be upon them, containing very sublime and precious descriptions concerning the Imaginal forms (suwar‑e mithali) of the rites of worships in the worlds of Barzakh and Resurrection and their conversing with persons. Also there is a verse in the Glorious Qur'an concerning the possession of the faculties of speech, hearing and sight by bodily members. Hence it must not be imagined that a mosque is something made up of mere bricks and mud; rather it has a reality that is living, conscious, and perceptive. Hence it is mentioned in the traditions that the Qur'an and the mosque will complain before their Lord on the dawn of Resurrection.
One of the wayfarers of the way of God was resting in his bed. As he wanted to turn from one side. to another suddenly he heard a wail from the ground. When he sought the cause for it, he perceived or was told, "It is the earth that is wailing due to separation from you!"
Now after this preliminary introduction, we may say that with perseverance in performing the pertinent acts the wayfarer must reinforce the related immaterial malakuti forms in his soul, so that his passing state (hall) rises to the plane of habit (malikah). By repeating every act the wayfarer must derive his share of spirituality and faith from that act, and until this is achieved he must not stop it. That stable malakuti aspect is attained when the wayfarer performs that act steadily and contiguously until the enduring effects of transient external acts are well established in the realm of the soul and become engraved on it, where, after their establishment, they become irremovable.