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Measures against polluted minds

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Endeavor for Renewal

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Measures against polluted minds

Question: How can we save our minds and hearts from the bad effects of negative subconscious accumulation?

Answer: Such a background that pollutes our mind, spirit, world of emotions, reasoning, and judgment, appears before us like an obstacle to block our mechanisms of reasoning and judgment, and can yield disturbing results. It is an unpleasant realization. It paralyzes a person’s religious feelings and pollutes their spiritual subtle faculties. For this reason, one must try to give the willpower its due and try to get rid of such influences as much as possible. Such ugly and harmful accumulations may have emerged as a consequence of situations out of our own will. But it should not be forgotten that such negative factors become elements of the world testing us. Therefore, we need to see them as agents that trigger wrongdoing and sinning, and thus take due precautions. For example, the eye encounters a negative scene somewhere and the memory takes a picture of it. That picture, stored in the subconscious, can surface later on. This situation might drift the person toward obscene thoughts, ugly memories, and slippery grounds. To reiterate, it is necessary to give the willpower its due and keep it under control as much as possible. Indeed, when one feels ugly memories awakening, the verses of the Holy Qur’an recommend moving away from that atmosphere immediately.[1]

Deadly viruses and preventive medicine

To give an example, a mental picture left by an encounter with an obscene sight or an ugly expression might tempt a person at any moment. Therefore, one needs to rid oneself from that situation immediately, without giving it the slightest chance to survive. Because, as time passes, they make their presence felt and pressure the person in certain ways. They resemble viruses. Just as germs begin to prevail over the body during a physical weakness, subconscious viruses come to the stage in times of spiritual weakness and the absence of sublime feelings. They launch an attack and try to take the individual under control. For this reason, some spiritual figures planned their lives in a way that will not allow committing anything evil, even if one intends to do so. In other words, those great guides took such a stance with the precautions they took from the very beginning and thus blocked the ways of even minor heedlessness. Some even preferred to live as hermits in order to keep away from sins. They saw isolation as a barrier against evils that could tempt them. However, for those who are supposed to not only practice faith but also teach it to others, particularly for the inheritors of the Prophetic heritage, the truthful path to be taken is being with the Real, though in public. This is called jalwat (company of people) in Sufism. Togetherness with the Deity within the society is a Prophetic attitude. It is the essential duty of a believer to give one’s hue to one’s environment. As a believer wishes to keep pure at heart, it is necessary to endeavor to make the atmosphere he or she lives in into a pure place and to completely eliminate factors of evil from there.

Holes filled in as a precaution against sinister enemies

There is a parable about the beloved Prophet and noble Abu Bakr during their emigration from Mecca. When they reached the Cave of Thawr, Abu Bakr, may God be pleased with him, entered the cave first to check for any harmful animals and to clean the interior. Then he filled the holes he saw by tearing bits from his robe in order to prevent any vermin from harming the noble Prophet. Then the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, came in to have some rest. However, the pieces of cloth did not suffice for a final hole, which Abu Bakr eventually closed with his foot. Right at that moment, a snake came and bit his heel. Although this parable is not narrated in reliable sources, the gist of the story conveys certain truths for us. One of them is how loyal Abu Bakr was to the beloved Prophet. If there had been the danger of a snake attacking the blessed Prophet, noble Abu Bakr would have done anything to prevent it against all odds, even at the expense of pushing his heel into the mouth of a snake. The second lesson to be drawn from the story is that Believers must fill in all cracks and holes in their environment against every kind of danger that might harm their relationship with God and their spiritual life—including the holes that bear the possibility of turning dangerous. A true believer must fill that hole with one’s own being if necessary and implore God thus: “My God, I might lose everything at this point in terms of my worldly life, but please protect me from any dangerous factor that can harm my relation with You, and consciousness of obedience to You; so let the monument of my spirit always stand upright and if it will ever bow down, let it bow down before nobody but You.”

As I stated before, it is always possible to question the authenticity of this event but with respect to the meanings to be derived from its message, it not only conveys an example of loyalty but also an important lesson of heedfulness and taking precautions. In this second sense, the moral of the story is that “A believer gives his hue to his environment and builds a secure atmosphere where he can live in accordance with his own feelings and thoughts.”

The bad friend and the snake

Getting back to our main subject, we can list things we can do for the sake of ridding ourselves of ugly thoughts and images:

1. The noble Prophet counseled a pattern of action against a possible a corruptive feeling or thought as rage, which can drift one to perdition: “Rage is from Satan; Satan was created from fire, and fire is extinguished with water. Then when one of you is enraged, let him make ablutions.”[2] Here, God’s Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, refers to a change of state and attitude. When the issue is analyzed from a perspective of human psychology, it will be seen that this advice is an effective course of action for controlling rage. Basing this on a saying of the noble Prophet, we can say that one must definitely have a change of state and environment for the sake of ridding oneself from the atmosphere of sinning. Thus, he will first be freed from the pressure of corruptive memories and images, and then by subscribing to a different atmosphere and different kinds of feelings and thoughts, he will be able to rid his mind and heart of the influence of those negativities.

2. A believer must always have righteous friends and be together with them. As I reiterated in many talks, the first thing they would teach a new student to learn religious discipline was a couplet meaning: “A bad friend is worse than a snake. If you come under his influence, he drifts you to Hell. As for a good friend, he takes you to Paradise.”

It is of crucial importance to have good friends, because a person cannot keep standing by oneself all the time. If we compare a person to a tent, one cannot be both the main pole and the pegs of that entity at the same time. As a man bears the tent of being on his shoulders, like a main pole, he needs a few friends to serve as pegs holding its cloth in place. Only then can that structure remain standing. When stones forming a dome lean on one another, they do not fall. For this reason, the noble Prophet stated: “One traveler is a devil. Two travelers are two devils (who run the risk of agreeing on something evil). But three travelers are a group.”[3] As the Messenger of God advised us to keep such company, a believer must adjust his or her atmosphere accordingly. Then what befalls on believers to always keep company with righteous and true friends. Thus, when we are inclined to a certain mistake, those friends will immediately warn us and try to bring us to our senses in the face of a possible wrong. Who knows, maybe most of the time, we will feel shame near those righteous ones and keep away from evil feelings and considerations.

At this point I would like to express one fact about my inner world. When my righteous friends warned me about certain mistakes of mine, I may have felt ashamed and embarrassed a bit. It may have been hard on me. But if looking at the issue in terms of the result it yielded, I always gratefully praised God for it, and felt sincerely thankful toward those friends. As a matter of fact, Bediüzzaman makes a wise warning by saying “If someone were to tell me that there is a scorpion on my neck or in my armpit, I would be grateful to him, not offended.”[4] If a righteous believer warns a fellow believer as “You are not careful enough with what hits your eyes and ears!” then that person will probably be shaken like a car brought to a sudden halt while going downslope. However, when he or she looks at the issue with respect to the eternal life, then it will be clear that it is nothing at all to worry about. Such a warning will help coming to one’s senses and being saved from falling into a vicious cycle. This is the reward of togetherness with righteous friends.

3. For a lifetime, a believer must be full of feelings and thoughts about the values he or she believes, must continuously read and think, and be fed by the essential sources without leaving a gap in one’s personal life. In addition, with serious effort and heartfelt prayer in this respect, it is necessary to pray for protection, help, and guardianship from God with the confession, “O God, please save us from sinning and rebellion. Be our protector! Hold our hand, we cannot do without You!” In fact, the Messenger of God teaches us a course of action by praying as “O the All-Living and Self-Subsistent One! I seek assistance through the means of Your Mercy, correct for me all my affairs and do not entrust me to my soul for the moment of a blink of an eye.”[5]

Let me make one final point, that as those who turned to God sincerely in a heartfelt manner did not remain on the road, those who adopt righteous company, and with the help of God, never became lost.

[1] Al-A’raf 7:200–201; Fussilat 41:36
[2] Sunan Abu Dawud, Adab, 4
[3] Sunan Abu Dawud, Jihad, 86; Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Jihad, 4
[4] Nursi, Mektubat, p. 66
[5] An-Nasa’i, As-Sunanu’l-Kubra, 6/147; Al-Bazzar, Al-Musnad, 13/49