The friendship with the Sheikh is friendship with a form, and the form may disappear. A person may say, ‘I had a father, but now he is no more.’ In fact, the impression of the father whom he has idealized remains in his mind. The devotion to Rasul is like this; his name and qualities remain though the earthly form is no more on earth. Rasul is the personification of the light of guidance, which a mureed, according to his evolution, idealizes. Whenever the devotee remembers him, on the earth, in the air, at the bottom of the sea, he is with him. Devotion to Rasul is a stage that cannot be omitted in the attainment of divine love. This stage is called Fana-fi-Rasul. –Inayat Khan, Love: Human and Divine: Divine Love. Sufi Message Volumes, Sufi Order International. This excerpt is from a private document PDF document owned by the writer of this blog.
In the Sufi order in which I am a disciple, we take our teachings from a long line of illuminated teachers, called a Silsila. It means, simply, chain, the chain of beings down which the teachings are passed down from on high. This concept, obviously, appears in many spiritual traditions. I have this teacher, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, and he gave me the teachings on behalf of his father, Hazrat Inayat Khan, quoted above. I have a spiritual guide, too; in fact, I’ve had several, but one of them has been my guide for, maybe, 12 or so years. I love him dearly; he has been a wonderful friend and teacher.
Oddly, he kind of deserted me recently, or at least, that’s how it feels. Felt. Well, maybe not so recently. I haven’t heard from him in well over a year, and I have kind of stopped wondering about it. I have been through the classic stages attendant upon loss: grief, anger, acceptance, and back again. I suppose, at this point, I am simply waiting. Meantime, I have been trying to figure out what to do with myself now that I no longer have a teacher, at least an earthly one. There has been a good deal of loss in my life of recent years, and I suppose this is a stage most people come to at my age. But this is more than that.
Sufis of most of the various orders take the theme of fana for concentration. Literally, the word means annihilation, but it is easy to misunderstand the concept if we think in terms of destruction or annihilation. Actually, fana, an Arabic word, means losing one’s concept of oneself and the world in the reality of the being of the teacher, not in terms of the personality, but the realization, and the divine qualities one experiences in that being. The classical stages of fana are fana-fi-Sheikh, fana-fi-Rasul, and fana-fi-Allah. One moves through losing one’s self-centered identity in the being of the teacher, in the Rasul, and finally, in God alone. The term Rasul can be translated somewhat as Messiah, the messenger that appears at the time and place where that person is needed by a people who have lost their way. It is a sort of lessening by degrees of one’s attachment to one’s more limited concept about being in the One Being, God before being. Murshid (by whom I mean Hazrat (Saint) Inayat Khan, the founder of our order, a development of the Chishtia Order in India) points out that ultimately, one arrives at the state of Baqi-bi-Allah, annihilation in the Eternal Consciousness, God beyond becoming.
So when I began asking myself what this ‘desertion’ of me by my teacher meant, and how I was now to guide myself, it occurred to me that I could turn to the concentration I have worked on more or less my entire spiritual life, an attunement to my Murshid, who died in 1927, at least insofar as we conceive of death on this planet. My entire schooling as a Sufi initiate has been founded in this concept of fana, and it has many practical as well as spiritual purposes. Murshid, the one I call Murshid (teacher), has been a reality to me for almost as long as I have been on this path, and over the years I have added to that attunement his successor. In case it seems obvious to some of you adepts who may be reading this, it has occurred to me that my own immediate guide and teacher is inviting me to realize that our relationship, as well, is far more real and meaningful in the silence than in all the phone calls, visits and emails we have exchanged over the years, even better than the wonderful friendship we have had. And moreover, the process of fana leads one progressively up the ladder to God.
But I wasn’t ready.
Until I was. Am. Sort of. I have been through an increasingly difficult time in recent years. My health has been deteriorating, there has been other loss, and I have, for many years, struggled to love a child who has many problems which seem to culminate in the one central one, which is her inability to receive love, let alone to return it. There are clinical names for her problems, but I have tried to stay afloat and, at the same time, never lose my vision of her soul, which I know to be a pure and evolved one. That hasn’t made it any easier, and our relationship has been a very, very draining one. I will admit I have wanted to whine about the requirements being put on me:
The surrender to God is so hard that the disciple cries tears of blood. –from the Hadith of Mohammad
But, other than my wonderful husband and second child, there doesn’t seem to have been many people around to listen to me whine, so that didn’t do any good.
A very close spiritual friend of mine and I often talk about how there really aren’t any teachers any more. There is a truth in this: an earthly teacher will always prove fallible, and perhaps what we are meant to realize eventually is that we are to be our own teachers. This idea has great heuristic value to me. As well, I have learned that if I want realization, I have to give up all attachment to the pretty, comforting patriarchal images of God that most of us in this culture are raised on. But what of this idea of fana? It certainly seem to denote a relationship with an uneven power balance! And if one does achieve something like it, what does this mean in terms of one’s own unique personhood, one’s divine purpose in this world, the one thing that makes all this worthwhile?
I think I got it today, or something like it. In my present dilemma, I have gone through those stages I mentioned, and that has led me to a sincere attempt to rekindle my attunement to my Murshid, my Pir and my guide. At the highest levels, of course, there is no difference between them, and between them and me; but one begins with images and qualities, and hopefully moves on to the reality. What I have found is that, as I attune to the teacher(s), they begin to step in for me, to kind of take over the rudder so that I can rest a bit, and I experience their strength; their divine qualities, as I experience them, become available to me personally, and I feel supported. It lets me feel as if I will be prevented from making any more stupid mistakes, if I continue to pay attention, and that I have, in fact, traded a pebble for a pearl, as the saying goes, by giving up my attachment to my own marvelous being and qualities and taking on the more experienced nature of the teacher(s). There is experience beyond the practical, but I would have difficulty speaking of that, and that is why this blog has been called “Footprints.”
It isn’t easy to do this. It’s going to be even less easy to continue to do this, because it is a reality that has been available to me for at least 30 years, one that I have utilized more or less according to my own willingness, and there is a sense that I no longer have the right to treat these gifts cavalierly. But life is the real teacher: it has a way of bringing about fana, surrender in the reality of What Is. I see that the fears of my ego-centered self, the one that says “but what about me? Where will I go?” if I surrender, trades in an old model of thinking for a reality of power and creativity that is uniquely mine because of my surrender. Not a bad trade, really.
A recurring theme in my dreams, all my life, has been that of climbing a ladder into the dark, starry sky. In this culture, of course, there is always that dichotomy of up and down, good and bad, higher and lower, so it is logical that this should be a helpful archetype for me, if not the reality of my advancement toward the divine ideal. Perhaps life is about climbing that ladder into the heavens, uniting both in the One Reality of whatever it is that one calls God.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, because the first heaven and the first earth had disappeared, and there is no longer any sea. Revelations 21:1, New Standard American Bible.
One thought on “Fana”
Your story here pulls many threads together into one realization, which I loved reading. It seems to me that when we do find “the teacher inside” this is an inner guide who is more true, but who asks for more surrender as we go along the path this guide illuminates. Can I say “I am my own guide”? No, not in the literal sense. Can I say “I have no teacher”? No, because that isn’t true. Can I say “I have achieved”? No, because then I don’t go forward, only remain standing on that ladder from earth to heaven you described. Thanks so much for sharing and revealing your process here, alluding to the subtle and serious game – Rumi told us about it all, too!