Inayati Dhikr I

By Pir Netanel Miles-Yépez

Session I: Practice: Inayati Dhikr I (September 4th, 2014)

(Edited and Abridged Session Notes from "Inayati Sufi Study and Practice," Naropa University, Fall Semester 2014)

In Sufism, we sit together in a circle to emphasize our unity. The Sufi circle is called a halqah, or ‘ring,’ the sign of our commitment to one another. In this ‘ring,’ we are bound as in a marriage to the sharing of our experiences. Thus, a Sufi community is also called a halqah because of what is shared between them.

The halqah formed for spiritual practice describes the boundaries of a ritual space. Thus, we form and enter it intentionally with an invocation. The invocation of the Inayati-Maimuni Sufis is performed in the following way:

1. Hold your hands up, palms outward.

2. Place your right palm in the center of your chest.

3. Place your left palm on top of your right hand.

4. Place the thumb of your right hand over that of your left hand.

5. Spread your fingers wide like the wings of an eagle.

6. Now, lift your gaze heavenward.

7. Then, let your chin descend to your chest, as you say, “This is not my body.”

8. Turn your chin to your left shoulder.

9. Then, allow it to drift across your chest to your right shoulder, as you say, “This is the temple of the heart.”

   We then call and recite the Toward the One:

Toward the One

Toward the One

Toward the One

Toward the One

Toward the One

Toward the One.

 

Toward the One,

The Perfection of Love, Harmony, and Beauty,

The Only Being,

United with all the Illuminated Souls

Who form the embodiment of the Master,

The Spirit of Guidance.

In this way, we create and enter into a ritual space and atmosphere. The primary ritual or spiritual practice done in this atmosphere is called dhikr (the dh pronounced with a soft th sound). The word, dhikr or zikr means ‘remembrance.’ (These are merely the Arabic and Farsi pronunciations of the same word.) Which is to say, dhikr is a practice of ‘remembering’ divinity and the divine unity, of being in continual ‘remembrance’ of the holy ground of our being through repetition of a divine name, a sacred formula or phrase.

The most celebrated sacred phrase among Sufis is La ’ilaha illa llah. You might recognize this as the first part of the great creedal statement of Islam, the shahada or kalimah. Literally, it means, ‘There is no god but God,’ which is to say, ‘There are no other gods beside Allah.’ In the Arabian Peninsula in the time of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, this was a radical statement of monotheism, advancing the understanding of divinity in that culture and that time. But, as you might have guessed, Sufis read a still deeper meaning in it, often breaking the phrase into two distinct parts, La ’ilaha and illa llah, changing the emphasis of the entire statement.

La ’ilaha means exactly what it says, ‘There is no God.’ No matter where you look, whether under a microscope or through a telescope, you won’t find God. Which is to say, in the objective universe, in the material universe of science, you won’t find God. This is our experience of the material world. And the Sufi acknowledges this fact, this aspect of our universe with the declaration, La ’ilaha, ‘There is no God.’

But that’s not where it ends for the Sufi; for the second part of the statement says, illa llah, ‘nevertheless, God.’ Here, in my heart, I have a sense of divinity, of holiness, of the sacred. You see, while we must concede that, in the world of the senses, there is no observable or demonstrable God. Nevertheless, there is, within us, an inner testimony that is continually whispering, “God.” This is why the philosopher Martin Buber liked to describe faith as “holy insecurity.” For, while I may not be able to prove it to you, I cannot deny it to myself. Faith is the inner testimony of things unseen. For one person, it may be a simple longing for something Other, something Greater; and for another, it may be an actual experience that cannot be proven, but which, at the same time, cannot be un-experienced. And this is what the statement, La ’ilaha illa llah, describes . . . a paradox of objective and subjective experience, the marriage and mingling of two apparent realities.

On another level, however, La ’ilaha illa llah is also interpreted by Sufis to mean, ‘Nothing exists except divinity.’ But that is another discussion for another time.

To this basic statement, the Sufi often adds the word, hu, which literally means ‘he’ in Arabic; though among Sufis, it is code for the experiential presence of God, and can also be seen as the divine feminine from a certain perspective.

Now, every Sufi lineage has its own way of approaching dhikr, using this sacred phrase with different melodies, different body movements, and even different pronunciations. In the Inayati lineage of Hazrat Inayat Khan, which is derived from the older Chishti lineage of Central Asia and India, La ’ilaha illa llah hu is broken into four parts and performed in the following way:

1. La ’ilaha, ‘There is no god.’ Begin by pointing your chin at your left shoulder. Then, allow your head to loll, drifting down and across your chest toward your right shoulder, continuing to arc upward until your face is exposed to the heavens. As your head makes this 270-degree arc, pronounce the words, La ’ilaha, accompanied by the thought, ‘There is no God.’ This is a movement of expansion, evolution, looking out into the material universe and finding only space . . . no God.

2. Illa, ‘nevertheless.’ You allow your head to fall forward and your chin to drop straight onto your chest, as you say, illa, ‘nevertheless.’ In doing this, we descend inward, looking for our own experience, no longer dependent on our external senses and what we are told in the external world.

3. Llah, ‘God.’ Lift your chin off your chest and gently throw your head straight back, so that you are again facing the heavens. While making this movement, you say, llah, ‘God.’ For this is where we find God, in our highest ideal.

4. Hu, ‘he,’ or ‘the one who is.’ Now allow your head to drift gently down and to the left, settling over you heart, as you pronounce, Hu. We settle consciousness back in the heart where we can actually experience God. Having searched the world in a wide arc, a spiral, we descend and ascend the pole at the center of our being, searching ourselves and finding the ideal, and finally connecting with the actual experience of God in our hearts.

So follow me now in these four movements, pronouncing the vowels with aspiration (the exhalation of breath) and a soft lion-like growl, accompanying the words with deep intention:

La ’ilaha illa llah hu (99x slowly)

When you have completed the round, ask yourself: What am I feeling now? What did I experience? Has the atmosphere around me changed? Am I changed?

We then close the ritual very much as we began it, with a dedication:

1. Hold your hands up, palms outward.

2. Place your right palm in the center of your chest.

3. Place your left palm on top of your right hand.

4. Place the thumb of your right hand over that of your left hand.

5. Spread your fingers wide like the wings of an eagle.

6. Now, lift your gaze heavenward.

7. Then, let your chin descend to your chest, as you say, “This is not my body.”

8. Turn your chin to your left shoulder.

9. Then, allow it to drift across your chest to your right shoulder, as you say, “This is the temple of God.”

In the invocation, at the beginning of our practice, the intention is to go inward. So we say, “This is the temple of the heart.” But at the end, as we are about to re-enter the world, we affirm that this body is “The temple of God,” dedicated to God and God’s service.

Amin.