How to Discipline Our Lower Self?
Some of our friends – especially younger ones – often ask the question “How do we discipline our nafs (lower self)?” Let us dwell on some points here, both in order to educate my own self and to be useful to those who ask the question.
Our Prophet describes the jihad against the enemy as “lesser jihad” and the jihad against the nafs as “greater jihad”. ?smail Hakk? Bursevi uses the expression “seven-headed dragon” for the nafs. Fighting a dragon is not easy of course.
‘Lesser jihad’ and ‘greater jihad’ resemble each other in many ways. Let’s start with a simile:
The inner world of man is like a big country where a crowded nation lives. The ruler of this country is the heart that believes in and obeys Allah. And the mind is its vizier. The members of the body and the feelings of the soul are in the position of this ruler’s nation – its soldiers, officials, workers. In a hadith it is stated that the heart is a ruler and it has soldiers; if the ruler is good, its soldiers will be good; if the ruler is corrupted, its soldiers will also be corrupted.
The nafs in this realm, on the other hand, is a disobedient rebel – pleasure is all it thinks about; it thinks of the moment rather than the future and wants to taste all kinds of pleasures by seizing power. It also has soldiers like greed, envy, lust and anger at its disposal.
The ruler ‘heart’, with the help of the vizier ‘mind’, is obliged to rule and govern its nation, to ensure justice among them, and to fight against the lower self that causes anarchy and terror by [trying] seizing power.
In the ‘body’ country, large pitched battles often take place between the soldiers of the heart and the soldiers of the lower self. According to the change of power in the country at the end of those wars, the name given to this country also changes.
If the lower self beats the heart and dominates the country, this country is called the homeland of “Nafs-i Ammara”. When the lower self seizes power, it declares its divinity in this country; the balance in the inner world of man is disrupted and corruption comes about. Nafs commits all kinds of illegitimate or illicit acts.
If neither can defeat the other in those wars; if both dominate the country in turn, this country is called the homeland of “Nafs-i Lawwama”. Just as wars cause destruction of countries, wars between the heart and lower self in the inner world of man also destroy that world. The condition of Nafs-i Lawwama reveals the unstable, conflicted and depressed condition of the human being.
If the heart defeats the lower self and persuades it to remain within the legitimate circle and administers the country in accordance with the orders of Allah, this country is called the homeland of “Nafs-i Mutmainna”. The homeland of Nafs-i Mutmainna is a country where people are at peace with themselves and serenity prevails all around.
The ruler heart’s being strong or weak and the justice and discipline among its nation affect the country from all aspects. The weakening of the heart or the indiscipline of some faculties from the nation of the heart may cause the lower self to seize power. Therefore, it must always try to strengthen itself and keep its nation under discipline.
Ma‘rifatullah (getting to know Allah) and acts of worship are means of having spiritual effusion and strengthening of the heart. Thanks to this power, the heart preserves its power. Sins, on the other hand, destroy the spiritual effusion, weaken the heart, but strengthen the lower self. Therefore, it is necessary to engage in worshiping a lot and avoid sins.
Nafs wants to break the endurance of the heart with its soldiers and spies as much as it can and to shake the obedience of the people to their ruler. The heart can only prevail if it perseveres and manages its soldiers with discipline with the help of its vizier.
There are three most important conditions for the heart to overcome the lower self with the help of the vizier mind: Knowledge, strengthening of faith and worships.
Thanks to the knowledge, the heart learns about Allah, Who created it, and also learns about itself and its duties, its helpers, the nafs and its tricks, its helpers and how to fight it. With the strong faith it will gain, it will attain the greatest spiritual power against the lower self. Salah, fasting, reading the Quran, contemplation, dhikr, dua, seeking forgiveness and similar acts of worship are means of bringing spiritual effusion and assistance to the heart. If the heart matures in these three areas, it can easily prevail over the lower self. Now, let’s elaborate some conditions in order for the heart to prevail over the lower self.
If we want to educate our nafs, we must first change our environment. If the people around us are people who do not live Islam, it is difficult for us both to be with them and to train our nafs.
Just as there is heat transfer between substances, there are also spiritual exchanges between people. People are inevitably affected by their environment. Our Prophet (asm) states the following regarding this issue: “A man follows the religion of his friend; so each one should consider whom he makes his friend.” “The example of a good companion (who sits with you) in comparison with a bad one, is like that of the musk seller and the blacksmith’s bellows (or furnace); from the first you would either buy musk or enjoy its good smell while the bellows would either burn your clothes or your house, or you get a bad nasty smell thereof.”
With these statements, our Prophet (asm) reveals that a person is certainly affected by his environment, whether intentionally or unintentionally, knowingly or unknowingly. Something we do not hear or see does not affect us. A person who is far from bad environments will surely be away from their bad influence. In a good environment, of course, what we see and hear will affect us in a good way.
2. VERIFIED FAITH
Strengthening of faith is the most important way to overcome the lower self. Someone who believes in Allah, resurrection after death, paradise and hell as if he were seeing them, easily withdraws himself from sensual desires. The greatest evidence for this is the Age of Bliss (Asr-i Saadah). Strong faith made people who had committed all kinds of cruelty and immorality in the period of ignorance into people unable to even step on ants. Faith has the features that can make the same impact on us.
There are two ways that faith can strengthen and become verified: One is contemplation and the other is worship. At this time, the Book of Light (Risale-i Nur) has revealed the shortest and easiest way to make one’s faith verified faith (iman-? tahkiki). The Book of Light, by the method of contemplation, proves all the articles of faith with certain and definite evidences.
It is only worship that makes the rulings of faith into qualities [within man] by strengthening faith. If the conscientious and rational rulings of faith are not reinforced by worship, which consists of obeying Allah’s orders and avoiding His prohibitions, their effects and influence will remain weak. With the lack of worshipful servanthood, the ego in the man gains strength.
Spiritual effusions come to the heart and spirit through worship. These effusions strengthen the mind and heart spiritually and become a means to overcome the lower self. Some verses and hadiths on the subject are as follows:
The greatest means of bringing spiritual effusions and the help of Allah to us is the worship of Salah. Allah Almighty states the following: “Prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds; and remembrance of Allah [by performing Salah] is the greatest (thing in life) without doubt.” (Ankabut, 29:45) And our Prophet (asm) says: “Tell me, if there were a river at the door of one of you in which he washed five times daily, would any of his filthiness remain?” When he received the reply that none of it would remain, he said, “That is like the five times of prayer by which Allah obliterates sins.””(Muslim)
Imam Bediuzzaman Said Nursi says: “The nafs does not want to know his Lord, but he desires lordship for himself like a pharaoh. No matter how much torment he suffers, that weak spot remains in him, it is destroyed by hunger. The fasting in Ramadan directly hits and destroy the pharaonic front of the nafs. It shows its helplessness, weakness and poverty. It notifies that he is [only] a servant.
6. Reading the Quran
“Certainly, these hearts rust, just as iron rusts when water touches it.” They asked “O Messenger of Allah! What is their polish?” In response he said, “To mention and remember death a lot, and to read Quran a lot.” (Bayhaqi)
Imam Bediuzzaman says: “Know O my honourable brothers! Continuing to recite the phrase of Divine unity (kalimah of tawhid) over and over is in order to break the ties with many things that the heart is connected with. And it is in order to turn away from the lovers that the lower self has idolized to a degree to worship. It also indicates that the spiritual feelings of the person who does dhikr have different [types of] tawhid – unification of the unity of Allah; so it is also to cut their connections with the idols appropriate to them.
Know O my honourable brothers! When the heart of a nut that will become a seed is penetrated – that is, when it is pierced through – of course, it cannot germinate but dies. Likewise, if the heart of the egotism, which is called “ana” (self), is burned and penetrated by the dhikr of “Allah, Allah”, it cannot grow up and become a pharaoh through heedlessness. And it cannot rebel against the Creator of the heavens and earth. By means of that dhikr of the Divine, “ana” is destroyed.
Thus, the Nakshibandis have been able to kill the germ of ego and egotism (ana and ananiyyah) with the conquest of the heart and to break the head of the evil-commanding lower self that is the aide of the Satan, thanks to the ‘khafi/secret dhikr’ that they have adopted. Similarly, the Kadiris have routed the idols of the nature thanks to the ‘cahri/loud dhikr’.” (Al-Mathnaw? al-N?riyyah, Hubab)
8. Asking for forgiveness
“Like copper rusts, heart also rusts. Its polish is to ask forgiveness.” (Bayhaqi)
“Verily, when the slave (of Allah) commits a sin, a black spot appears on his heart. When he refrains from it, seeks forgiveness and repents, his heart is polished clean. But if he returns, it increases until it covers his entire heart. And that is the ‘Ran’ which Allah mentioned: ‘Nay, but on their hearts is the Ran which they used to earn.’” [83:14] (Tirmidhi)
9. Meditation on death
Imam Bediuzzaman says: “One of the most effective causes of achieving and safeguarding sincerity is ‘meditation on death (r?bi?atu’l-mawt).’ Yes, just as it is ‘[delusional] long-term hopes’ (??lu’l-amal) that damage sincerity and drive one to ostentation and to this world, it is ‘meditation on death’ that arouses one’s distaste for ostentation and makes one to attain sincerity.” (The Twenty-first Flash)
Some hadiths on this subject are as follows: “Remember much [death] – the destroyer of pleasures!” (Ibn M?jah) “Death is enough for a person as a preacher.” (Tabarani) “The wise man is the one who takes account of himself and strives for that which is after death. And the helpless man is the one who follows his own whims then indulges in wishful thinking about Allah.” (Ibn M?jah)
10. Controlling the gaze
Something we don’t see or hear doesn’t affect us. The following is stated in the Quran: (My Messenger!) Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty. That will make for greater purity for them. And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. (Nur, 24:30)
And a hadith is as follows: There is no Muslim who sees the beauties of a woman and then turns his gaze away from her, that Allah (for this reason) has not created a worship (reward) for him in which he will feel its sweetness in his heart. (Ahmed, Taberani)
The following is stated in a holy hadith: “The glance [at haram] is a poisoned arrow of Shaytan. Whoever lowers his gaze for Allah, He will bestow upon him a refreshing sweetness which he will find in his heart on the day that he meets Him.” (Tabarani)
Imam Bediuzzaman says:
The fact that the worshipping of outward forms shakes the morality badly and causes the spirit’s corruption is understood from the following: just as looking lustfully and desirously at the corpse of a beautiful woman, that is in need of compassion, destroys the morality, so too looking desirously at the pictures of dead women or at the pictures of living women, which are like their little corpses, shakes the elevated human emotions at their cores, and destroys them. (The Twenty-fifth Word)
11. Pleasure and pain
If poisonous honey is eaten, it gives people a taste at the beginning, but then the taste of honey is gone, and the pain of poison makes people suffer. Imam Bediuzzaman likens the taste in sins to poisonous honey. And in this century, the only remedy to save people, who are addicted to sins, from sins is to prove that there is pain in unbelief and in sins and there are tastes of Paradise in Islam and righteous deeds.
Many comparisons between belief and unbelief are made in the Book of Light. It is stated with strong proofs that the belief will give people peace in this world and that a believer will be in a spiritual paradise; the disbelief, on the other hand, has sorrows in this world and the unbeliever will be in pains similar to those of Hell. While making comparisons between belief and unbelief, issues such as “the helplessness of the human against the calamities, his poverty against his needs and desires, the disappearance and seperation in the world, the human connection with the past and the future, the loneliness of the human being, the death and the fear of death” are usually discussed.
12. The blows of compassion
The Tenth Flash of the Book of Light covers the subject of the Blows of Compassion. In other words, the students who made a mistake in serving the Quran had some troubles as punishment. A verse confirming this issue is as follows: “Whatever misfortune happens to you, is because on the things your hands have wrought [i.e. sins], and for many (of them) He grants forgiveness.” (?ura, 42:30)
Whenever we sin, a trouble comes to us as a punishment to that sin. Therefore, our Prophet said, “The believer, man or woman, will continue to be tested with regard to his own self, children, and property until they meet Allah, the Almighty, without any sins in their record.” If we do not want trouble to befall us, staying away from sin is the safest way.
A wali would collect woods and then start reciting his dhikr. When laziness came to him, he would beat himself with those woods. Let us punish ourselves when we sin in order to correct our souls. For example, let’s say “If I do this, I will fast for 3 days”. In other words, when we make a mistake, let’s punish ourselves before Allah punishes us.
14. Convincing and a blind, deaf person
Imam Bediuzzaman says that the lower self is of two types as “real and metaphorical,” and that the real one can be corrected by striving, but the metaphorical one will continue until the end of life. This second self is like a blind and deaf person. Just as you cannot explain a thing to a blind and deaf person or persuade him; similarly, it is not possible to persuade this type of self. The only thing one can do against this self is to ignore its words.
Today the Book of Light (Risale-i Nur) does the job of disciplining of the lower self, which the dervish lodges did in the past, and educate the lower self of people. Even murderers in prisons have learned from it, and they transformed into a state that they were unable to kill even bedbugs. Imam Bediuzzaman declares that “Risale-i Nur, and especially the Epistles on Sincerity, remove all the tricks of those two types of self and heal the wounds they have inflicted”, and he thanks Allah.
For those who really want to correct or refrom their nafs, the epistles in the Book of Light are in the position of one of the greatest guides. May Allah make us of the servants who benefit from this guide to the utmost! Amin.