Adab practices and training
FAB: When you were with Sufi teachers in France, Turkey, and India, did you pick up any specific adab practices?
AH: There were many rituals around hospitality. Often people would quote the Qur'an to sanctify the meal. They would recite some poetry so that the entire atmosphere was perfumed by mystical joy. They would use their best china or ancient cups that had been used for the special purpose of welcoming a guest. And this is very difficult to put into words you have a very distinct sense when you are being entertained by Sufis that they really are seeing Allah in you, seeing you as the divine. Your plate is always full, your every need is attended to, you are treated with tenderness. This can be in a tent in the middle of the desert, in a poor farmer's home, in a rich home. It doesn't matter where it is taking place. When you are with Sufis there is this holy sweet atmosphere. So I think the three practices I would suggest are perhaps the practice of reading or sanctifying by poetry; using old and hallowed plates and cups and things that have been kept aside for that; and really, really concentrating on the person there, giving them the really distinct sense that they are the representative of the divine in that moment.
FAB: Great. Now let's go one step further. Say you were setting up a training program for adab. What might you include in the curriculum to help participants really understand and incarnate it?
AH: This is a very difficult question because adab is an entire training of the heart and of the mind. Let's see.
It would have to start with their relationship with the Divine and give them some sense that God is infinite love and they are infinitely loved by God. It has to begin with an opening of the whole self to divine love and a recognition that that response must change you. You have to allow that love to soften you, to make you rich with joy and rich with tenderness, and you have to learn to be refined in your inmost thoughts and in your actions.
So first, I would read the great Sufi mystics of divine love with them and ask them to allow that inebriation with love to take hold of them. Exercises would include habits of remembrance, such as zikr and saying of a holy word that helps you stay in constant connection with this divine love that is your essence.
To train the heart/mind, I would give them exercises such as tonglen and metta that stress compassion, that stress seeing other people as wounded and in difficulties and as endangered as oneself, and then using the power of one's own compassion to send them health and strength. Those are tremendous trainings in seeing people who are difficult for you even enemies of yours as holy, and that is crucial to adab.
Next, I would train them in a physical exercise because I think one of the reasons why people are so crude and harsh in our culture is that they have a crude and harsh understanding of the body. Yoga or tai chi practice would infuse the body and your experience of the body with grace and tenderness. That itself helps you live with yourself with more refinement and treat others with more refinement.
So if you are to be serious in about how to train people in adab, there would be those three main things: (1) Readings and exercises of remembrance of God as love and of love as being the essential truth; (2) the training of the heart/mind by exercises like tonglen and metta that constantly introduce you to the depths of your own compassion and compel you, if you do them deeply, to see the woundedness of others and the necessity for compassion of others; and (3) a whole set of physical disciplines that would help you refine yourself, become more graceful, become more integrated in your body, and out of that integration would naturally radiate a far deeper tenderness and compassion to other beings. Those beings who are physically integrated are very much more at home with others.
FAB: Would you say that the greatest obstacles to the practice of adab in our daily lives are our gigantic egos, the lack of humility, pride?
AH: I think it goes deeper than that. The fundamental obstacle is the Judeo-Christian emphasis on God as punisher, judger, and excluder of all kinds of people, which sours the very sources of adab. If we had the image of God that Jesus was trying to give us, of the father who runs out to kiss his returning child, then we'd have at the core of our lives a sense of the overwhelming mercy and compassion of the Divine. That would breed in everybody who is connected to it a very profound joy and celebration of life, out of which comes attention to life, enjoyment of life, and tremendous gratitude for life. And those are the foundations of adab.
FAB: Cynicism in the culture is another barrier the widespread attitude that anyone with an open heart is sentimental, mawkish, or a weakling.
AH: We live in a society that is a concentration camp of reason and ruthlessness. We privilege reason and science and a kind of cold precision, and we privilege a ruthless self-assertion in our lives. All that destroys the possibilities for adab. Unless you understand that the awakened heart is far wiser than the mind, then how will you come to any deep understanding of adab? Our society is in such miserable, fragmented chaos because there simply is no adab between politician and electorate, between doctor and patient, between teacher and student. We are living in a wasteland of cruelty, and this causes depression and grief to people. The restoration of adab in its deepest sense as a response to the divine love by gratitude and adoration and humility and in all of its subsidiary senses of courtesy to the creation and all beings is essential to the renovation of our culture.