THE SEARCH FOR THE MEANING AND REALITY OF FORGIVENESS
(The Word, the Meaning and the Reality)
THE POWER OF FORGIVENESSMaking Right
On the Value of the Sufi’s Knowledge of God
When the true explanations for behavior become known, it results in the reasoning either being right or seeming right for the action in question. The questioning of an action causes doubt with the possibility of guilt, shame and regret. Instead of knowing it to be from God as either a right action or a mistake for the purpose of learning consequence, we attribute it to a “wrong” self in need of correction through punishment and hence we blame and persecute ourselves.
But even when the reasoning behind the “wrong” action or mistake is analyzed in the light of truth it becomes understood how the mistake was made through a false assumption leading to a mistake which then became obvious because the action proves to be a mistake so that the false assumption could be corrected. Hence the mistake was not a mistake from an evil self worthy of self-punishment but an act of God demonstrating the consequences of false assumptions based on incorrect beliefs and allowing for the correcting of them. Accepting this leads to what is commonly known as forgiveness or absolution from the blame which leads to the sense of guilt and need for self-punishment. All things, even and especially our mistakes, otherwise known as “sins”, lead one to understanding God, and in that light all things are forgiven.
So in that light, healing is the process of making right what would otherwise never be, through the demonstration of practical forgiveness.
Your sins are forgiven because news of them reaches the People Who Judge With Mercy.
The Search for the Meaning and Reality of Forgiveness
(The Word, the Meaning and the Reality)
The Meaning of Istighfar in the Sufi Path
Istighfar is a noun. It means "the seeking" of forgiveness, with the emphasis on the "seeking", or the noun. "Isti" is that part. "ghfar" is the object of the seeking, in this case, Ghafara, loosely translated as forgiveness. So Istighfar is the "the seeking of forgiveness", or the "act" of seeking forgiveness. To “do” Istighfar is to “do” the “seeking” of the Forgiveness. In the Sufi path of learning, repetition is the key to understanding. Like anything else, if we “mull it over” or contemplate or think about or repeat something long enough, the meaning of effect will dawn on us. So in the contemplation of Forgiveness, the “seeking” of it if you will, we are given a word or a phrase to repeat until the meaning and therefore the effect of it is truly felt and understood. This word in this case is “`Astaghfirullah” meaning and symbolizing the search for or seeking of “the Forgiveness of God”.
If looked at properly, this very act (let alone its completion or attainment) becomes one third of the path to the perfection of the being in surrender. Its significance cannot be overestimated, for it is foundational to progress on the path of learning and realization. And without a "path", we have no means, and without means, no arrival.
Learning begins with realization that there is something to learn, an identification, if you will, of some "object" of interest, even if only of curiosity. And even though there are many formulas given, and as "effective” as they may be, their efficacy is highly dependent upon their ability to convey understanding as well as effect, or OUR ability to receive understanding and effect. For example, we may use the formula of a traditional Sufi Oration (wird) quite successfully and with full benefit, day after day never with any complaint and always with the highest of respect, result and joy, and still never fully understand the mechanism by which it works, or even what its ultimate goal might be. Understanding the mechanism, in my opinion, adds an entirely new dimension of reality to the benefit, and bestows the healing power (Baraka) of that understanding upon one and makes it also more easily dispensed.
The Three Parts of the Oration
Using the learning model of Health, Education and Welfare, we may confidently ascribe the whole of Health to Istighfar, the whole of Education to Salawat, and the whole of Realization to Tahlil. Because it is Realization that brings prosperity and Welfare. The engineer does not make his money, build his house and live in prosperity as a student of engineering. All that begins with the realization or the reality of being a successful Engineer. So Sufism maybe the hardest of all studies to master, but the payoff is commensurate to the effort.
So a key teaching is the intent and mechanism of Istighfar, which, if understood properly, returns us to perfect health. For without health, learning is at best distracted, if not entirely off target, as it is in so many tragic cases. And realization, or welfare, will only be partial, because Allah in His Mercy, provides our needs to be used for our own benefit.
So how does Istighfar – the seeking of the Forgiveness of God - return us to perfect health, you might ask?
This is how we link A Course In Miracles, New Thought, Christianity, Buddhism, Advaita, Hinduism, Taoism, Sufism and Islam all together - in seeking the Forgiveness of God. But what does it mean, “the Forgiveness of God”. There are two ways to look at it. One is most common but incomplete and the other is less common but manifestly complete. One we seek for ourselves and another we seek in and for others - but also for ourselves. We complete it by dispensing it. We really own only what we give away.
The Common Way
We all seek to be forgiven. We seek to be forgiven by our parents, our siblings, our relations and our friends. As a matter of fact, in the case of the latter we rely upon it. Is it not true that our friends are the ones who forgive us most easily? Not quite so easy in the case of family or lovers, right? Is it any wonder then that in Sufi lore the true saints are referred to as the "Friends" of Allah? Do we not turn to them for the forgiveness and salvation from our sins that we cannot find anywhere else - and often because we cannot find it anywhere else? In Qur`an it is stated that mankind often turns to God only as a last resort, preferring self reliance in most cases to supplication.
The feeling of relief and joy found in forgiveness is superior to and unlike any other. Forgiveness is manifest love. You know it when you've got it, and that's why we work so hard for it. It is the source of health and vivaciousness itself. Forgiven we feel prepared for anything. It is the essence of healing and its absence anywhere holds us back, still in search for that missing "something".
“I seek the Forgiveness of God”. This is what is said in the formula symbolizing the "act" of "seeking" forgiveness. This “act” is called Istighfar, and the act consists of the "doing". The "doing" consists of repetitively rephrasing or re-saying the word "Astaghfirullah". Now what does this word mean? It means ""I" "Seek" "the Forgiveness" "of Allah". And each of those words and their various combinations has a myriad of meaning, only the simplest and most basic of which we will explore.
I separate "I" and "Seek" simply to note that they have separate meanings and are to be (and can and should be) explored separately. But for the sake of this treatise, I'll not go into that and simply combine them into the act of seeking. Of greater interest and more pertinent to this theme is an exploration into the meaning of the word "forgiveness"; and then a brief understanding of the meaning of the word Allah, the "Name" of God, and its sociological and physiological implications. And what does “Forgiveness” mean when combined with the word Allah in the way that it is. Ghafrullah - ghfirullah, and how does that meaning impact our lives and sense of realization.
The simplest meaning of the phrase is that I seek the feeling of relief that I get after reciting this phrase any certain numbers of times. Minimally, it is a small sense of accomplishment and relief as in getting a small daily chore out of the way, like brushing your teeth or getting dressed or getting the kids off to school so that you can now buckle down and get to the work of earning your livelihood. The purpose of reciting it in this case is simply to get it done because it's a discipline that you've agreed to after seeing its benefit and not wanting to lose it. This is good. Very smart, and few of us give it much more thought that that. Get up in the morning, make the morning prayers, recite our oration and get into and on with our day. Feeling really great, I might add.
And it never feels quite so good when we miss it for some reason or other, but we count on forgiveness anyway, and soon we're back in full swing, relatively "unpunished" for our oversight, negligence, or even deliberate avoidance. Right? We count on, even totally rely upon God's Gracious Forgiveness, even when we do not recognize it or formally supplicate it. Right? Our lives are in total reliance upon that to the point of expecting it even when we "know" or even feel, that we do not in any way deserve it. Even and especially in the case of the person who claims to be a complete unbeliever in anything remotely resembling belief in anything. He still takes life and the general forgiveness and good nature of everyone in it for granted. Right?
But don't you know that the Forgiveness of GOD is health itself? Forgiveness is such a deep word. The acceptance of it and the dispensing of it is the essence of good health and the absence of it anywhere in you life is a major stone and stumbling block which has the power to cause incompletion in any endeavor you undertake. If you feel unworthy of the success that you plan on in your endeavors in life, that feeling, however subconscious, will be a greater attraction to you, have a greater power over you, than the desire for the success you project and plan on, and this because of the Forgiveness of Allah which He wishes you to have and know completely. So it is actually the power of God's love that keeps you distracted from your success because your knowledge of His forgiveness is more dear to Him than the success that you project, desire and expect.
This brings a new light of recognition to our practice of repeating the phrase "astaghfirullah" so many times in the morning and evening. Now are we not only "seeking" it (for ourselves), but also realizing it and its importance in our lives, through recognizing and accepting it in every part of our being. This is one part of the forgiveness we seek for ourselves. It is a deeper recognition of the power of recognizing the feeling and liberating effect of forgiveness. It is still part of the limited personal benefit.
Let's explore this aspect a little more before we move on to another. Suppose you have tensions or physical pains in your body. Is this not a cry for attention? What kind of attention are you going to pay it, even if any? Possibly none, by deliberately ignoring it; possibly hostile, by treating it as an enemy to be killed, drugged or done away with in some malevolent fashion, or possibly with curiosity and maybe even forgiveness (sometimes referred to as Love). Nevertheless, it IS a cry for attention, will you not concede that?
If we can concede from experience that nothing heals like Forgiveness, why can we not apply that principle to ourselves and our personal ailments? Why can we not look into them in search of some application for Forgiveness? If it is true that all physical aliments are rooted in unprocessed emotional disturbances, then isn't this an ideal opportunity for the use of Forgiveness? Can we not seek it? Understanding the Forgiveness of Allah as a general (Rahmani) truth (as in His Mercy outstrips His Wrath) that can also be applied specifically (Rahimi - upon supplication, as in we can "seek" it) could be a major tool in our healing arsenal and certainly a power of knowledge to be explored. (I've written elsewhere on the substantive nature and intentional use of Baraka, but what is the essence and beginning of Baraka if not Forgiveness? And are we not seeking it even now by pondering its meaning and possible application?)
Now let me go into the meaning of Forgiveness a bit more. Because of our simplistic understandings of the meanings of words, it may be a bit difficult to grasp the full significance of any of them and especially of this one, Forgiveness.
We often think of Forgiveness in terms of correction of error. We think of it in terms of apologizing for mistakes or wrongdoing. Since we recognize that we are often unwilling to admit to mistakes or wrongdoing, we must seek Forgiveness for the millions of mistakes and wrongdoings that we were/are afraid to admit to or in denial of.
The search for Forgiveness is the search for life itself. For what holds us back from it if not our sins? Is it not a sin to BE held back from life? Is that not, in effect, the ultimate punishment, to be held back from life everlasting because of our sins, to be anchored in any form of suffering because of and by our unforgiven sins? Is that not even in its slightest degree the opposite of Heaven? And does it not imply that there is yet still work to be done? And does that work not include the discovering of the stones and stumbling blocks that are holding us back? And will not Forgiveness of self and others be a major tool for the release of those nagging past memories that keep us pinned to the past, unable to move forward until proper attention has been paid to those signs of God's request for our attention?
The Search for the Ability to Apply Forgiveness
Applied Forgiveness is the Act of God and of the God realized. Sins are forgiven because news of them reaches the ears of the People Who Judge with Mercy. We apply Forgiveness from God Realization and we apply it for God Realization. In other words, if you want to realize God in yourself, apply Forgiveness to yourself and others. Applied Forgiveness implies the knowledge of reasoning and a means that can and does absolve from sin, which reasoning and means is God Himself, and the only (temporarily) unforgivable sin is to not seek Forgiveness - for with Forgiveness there is Life in eternity; Forgiveness is the means to salvation from the bonds of temporal life.
"Ghafrullah" means the forgiveness of God - God’s Forgiveness. Meaning in this case changes everything. If I mean by saying Istighfar "`Astaghfirullah", I am seeking forgiveness FROM God, that’s personal, and it’s for me. It is well, and the hadith in this tells us that to thank God without thanking your neighbor is incomplete, and also in the same vein, to seek forgiveness FROM God without seeking it from one you may have offended is also incomplete. And we can feel when we have said "enough" Istighfar to feel good about ourselves again. In fact, we have done a form of penance by the numbered repetitions of a holy phrase of formula. "Enough" for ourselves maybe, but is it "enough" for all of humanity, including the ones who have repeatedly offended, violated and abused you?
When I say “Astaghfirullah”, I'm meaning that I am seeking THE Forgiveness OF God, and by that I mean the power and the ability to forgive as God forgives, to bring healing, health and understanding to all mankind. I want to Heal as God Heals and forgive as God forgives. Take another look at the meaning of ghafrullah – it means the Forgiveness OF God. This is the Herculean Forgiveness OF God - not the “personal well-being” Forgiveness that so often satisfies us temporarily until we need to repeat the formula over again.
What I want is the Forgiveness that God Himself uses in His Forbearance, Understanding and Forgiveness of the human situation. This is the Forgiveness that will ultimately put out the fires of hell and extinguish any need for them ever again. This is the Forgiveness that the Dalai Lama singularly refers to as Compassion, the all important missing ingredient for the forgiveness and salvation of the world that Buddhism is aimed to accomplish. In this way I might be able to fulfill my small part in the first "Sunnah", or example, of the Prophets of God, that of being "A Mercy unto all the Worlds" (Rahmatun lil `Alameen). (Oh, yes. “`Adheem” means, “capable of doing anything”.)