Neti Neti

"I was blessed with a very special teacher, the Thai envoy to Egypt while my parents were posted there. This wonderful man, whom I called 'Uncle' Sunthorn, was a devout Buddhist who taught me a powerful lesson about controlling violence in thoughts and words as well as in action. Listening to me one day as I railed against the hardships and injustices inflicted on the Palestinians, he complimented me on my passion for justice but suggested that angry thoughts, when they fester in the mind, create noxious feelings that give rise to vengeful fantasies, a volatile combination. When we continue to feed these feelings and fantasies unmindfully, our hearts become poisoned, and we are prone to acts of violence. Quoting the Buddha, he warned me that 'We are what we think — everything that we are arises with our thoughts.' Did I want to think myself into being an angry, volatile young man? Better, he taught, to negate my angry scenarios by saying 'Neti! Neti!' ('Not this! Not this!') whenever I caught them swirling in my mind. This powerful practice has stood me in good stead for over forty years and has drastically reduced the energy of violence in my speech and action, even as I continue to advocate for justice and human rights for all God's people."
Religion Gone Astray

How are You Just?

"The Prophet said, 'Everyone sets out each day and trades his soul, either emancipating it or oppressing it.' When I am just with someone, my soul is emancipated; when I am unjust, it is oppressed.
"Ask yourself the following questions: Am I just with my family members? How do I treat those who can offer me no material or personal advantage? Do I pay attention to and help those who are marginalized, poor, or helpless? Reflect honestly on these questions, and be grateful that you have the gifts of awareness and free will to act justly and compassionately."
Spiritual Gems of Islam

Meditate on Death

"From time to time, as an integral part of your spiritual practice, meditate on your death. Aware of the mystery of death, meditate on the Prophet's words, 'It is better to blush in this world than in the next.' Ask yourself what you might do to purify your heart more deeply, say what needs to be said to others, and perform more righteous deeds. Do all of this not with a sense of fear but out of a soul-felt desire to become free and fulfilled. The Prophet has sage advice for all of us: 'When you were born, everyone was smiling but you were crying. Live such a life that when you depart, everyone is weeping but you are smiling.' "
Spiritual Gems of Islam

Learning About Other Religions

"My father and mother were remarkable teachers, deeply versed in Islam and possessed of the precious spaciousness that grandfather referred to repeatedly. They rooted their children in the teachings of Islam but encouraged us to nourish those roots by learning about other traditions. Growing up in Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian countries, we visited mosques, temples, synagogues, and churches. My parents genuinely believed that a sincere appreciation of other faiths deepens and widens one's own inner faith. An appreciation of other traditions is not about conversion; it is about completion. Many times, especially in India, I heard Mahatma Gandhi's beautiful words often in our household: "It is a sacred duty of every individual to have an appreciative understanding of other religions."
The Fragrance of Faith

Compassion for Self

"To be compassionate with self does not mean that you avoid or deny what needs to be looked at and worked on in aspects of your personality. You do whatever is necessary, but with the energy of compassion and mercy. Grandfather explained what compassion meant to him. 'Observe your personality with the eyes of the soul; work on what is necessary in your personality but with the qualities of your soul. The primary qualities of the soul are mercy, gentleness, and graciousness. The soul makes no judgment and is filled with unconditional love .'

"Grandfather highlighted a simple point, 'If I cannot be compassionate with myself, I cannot truly be compassionate with others. I might learn the mechanics of being kind and think I am merciful and loving, but that compassion is incomplete.' "
The Fragrance of Faith

Consult Your Heart

"When you are weighing options for an important decision, remember the Prophet's advice: 'Consult your heart! Consult your heart! Consult your heart!' With eyes closed, lovingly focus on your heart and intend to breathe through it. Allow divine Breath to caress you in that space. Then, place each option separately in your heart and become aware of the feelings that arise. 'Closest to the light,' and therefore the wisest option, is the one that evokes a feeling of inner peace and joy."
Spiritual Gems of Islam

Sacred Symbolism

"Grandfather enjoyed sharing with everyone a simple but powerful practice called 'sacred symbolism.' Make your day-to-day activities part of a larger story. What is commonplace becomes sacred and meaningful.

• For instance, every time the Prophet Muhammad [Peace Be Upon Him] passed through any door, he paused to say, 'Open to me the doors of Thy Mercy.'
• When removing your clothing, you can say, 'I am peeling off layers of my ego.'
• When showering: 'These waters are cleansing and healing me physically, emotionally, and mentally.'
• When talking on the phone: 'The telephone is connecting me soul to soul to the other person.'
• When shaking hands: 'Through these hands, I transmit God's love and blessing.'
• When driving a car: 'May God's will steer me in the right direction in life.'
• When falling asleep: 'I surrender into the embrace of angels who transport me into celestial dimensions that nourish and nurture me.' "
The Fragrance of Faith

Embracing Joys and Sorrows

"Embracing joys and sorrows: The primary way, for me, to open the heart is to embrace not only the joys but also the sorrows of life. The Qur'an says that it is God who has created feelings and has given us the capacity to shed tears (23:78 and 53:43). Feelings are sacred, begging to be acknowledged and integrated. While it requires courage and patience to embrace difficult feelings, the rewards are phenomenal. Once the heart breaks open, I gratefully realize that, by grace of God, there is so much more space for love, compassion, forgiveness, intimacy, and passion to flow in."
Getting to the Heart of Interfaith

Sacred Journaling

"I find that a major method of maintaining vigilance over the nafs, the little salf, is to keep a notebook or journal. I try to be continuously aware of my speech and actions, and keep notes about the qualities I discover in myself — both qualities that reflect my higher self and those that reflect my nafs. I glorify God for my good qualities and look for ways to deepen them. As for shortcomings, I acknowledge them with compassion for myself and remember that these qualities do not reflect my true self.

"Then, with awareness and discipline, I try to diminish them. One technique I use is what Sufis call 'therapy of opposites.' When I am inclined to be miserly and selfish, I make deliberate efforts to engage in acts of generosity. With mindfulness, I go out of my way to help a neighbor or give money to someone in need. If I experience resistance and awkwardness, I need to be gentle and merciful with myself. I find that through persistent practice of compassionate self-awareness, the negative attribute of my personality dissolves, and I evolve slowly but surely into my divine nature. If I slip up, I know that the Light of the Heavens and the Earth is boundlessly merciful. I am compassionate with myself and persist. I trust the Universe to provide me with a stream of opportunities to help me build my spiritual muscles and connect me to my divine attributes."
Getting to the Heart of Interfaith

A Word of Endearment to Your Name

"Grandfather rejoiced in a practice in which he asked his students to add a word of endearment to their names and to make a lifelong habit of using that affectionate term with their names whenever talking to themselves. The truth is that we talk to ourselves very often and a lot of the talk is negative. Become aware of this internal conversation. Make it a practice to relate to yourself with affection and compassion.

"Grandfather called himself Heda bhai (bhai in Bengali means brother) and conversed with brother Heda quite often, with compassion, of course. This practice Grandfather claimed encourages one's divine identity to step forward."
The Fragrance of Faith