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Practical Tips for Self-Refinement

One of the most important obstacle for achieving the self-refinement is negligence. If round the clock we are submerged in worldly affairs, running away from remembrance of death, are not prepared for thinking about dying even for a moment, and if incidentally this thought enters in our minds, we try to deviate from it immediately. If, we are negligent about the dangerous consequences of moral vices, are not concerned about the indictment for sins and eternal punishment, and the belief in the Day of Resurrection has not penetrated the profundities of our soul beyond a superficial mental concept; then with such negligence, how could we take the decision for self-cleansing and refinement, and control and restrain it (the soul) against its desires?

Meditation

One of the most important obstacle for achieving the self-refinement is
negligence. If round the clock we are submerged in worldly affairs, running away
from remembrance of death, are not prepared for thinking about dying even for a
moment, and if incidentally this thought enters in our minds, we try to deviate
from it immediately. If, we are negligent about the dangerous consequences of
moral vices, are not concerned about the indictment for sins and eternal
punishment, and the belief in the Day of Resurrection has not penetrated the
profundities of our soul beyond a superficial mental concept; then with such
negligence, how could we take the decision for self-cleansing and refinement,
and control and restrain it (the soul) against its desires?

Negligence, in itself, is one of the most severe psychological disease and is
the origin of many other diseases. The treatment of this disease is pondering,
foresight, and strengthening the forces of belief. It is necessary that a human
being should continuously keep a strict vigil upon his self, should never forget
death, should ponder about serious consequences of self’s diseases, indictment
for sins and horrible punishment of Hell, and should always keep in mind about
the accounting of his deeds on the Day of Judgment. In that case he is ready for
self-refinement and should take a definite decision for purifying his heart from
sins and other moral obscene deeds.

Imam Ali (a) said:

"Whoever makes his heart’s kingdom habitated with continuous pondering, his
affairs would become good in outward appearance as well as inwardly."

-Gharar al-Hukm, p. 690.

Reward and Punishment

In order to be victorious in attaining self-refinement and abstinence from sins,
we may use the reward and punishment method. In the beginning we must address
the self: I have decide to abstain from sins, if you do not cooperate in this
matter and commit sins, I am going to punish you with such and such punishment.
That is, if you committed back-biting, I will take a fast for one day, or will
speak only the minimum required for one week, will donate such amount for
charity, will not drink water for one day, will deprive you from one diet, and
will remain under the sun during summer, so that you should not forget about the
temperature of Hell ‘s Fire.

After that we must watch over the self strictly so that it does not commit
back-biting, and in case it commits it, we must take a bold stand against it
without being lenient, and must execute the promised punishment against it.
Once, the imperious-self realized that we are serious in refraining from sins
and will strictly execute the punishment without least compassion, he will
surrender himself before our genuine demands.

If, we implemented this program without any negligence, we may close the paths
of Satan’s entries, and achieve absolute domination over the self, with the
condition that we must take a definite decision and must punish the
rebellious-self without showing least compassion. It is strange that regarding
minor violations of civil laws, the violators are indicted and punished, but
unfortunately for self-cleansing and refinement this method is not practiced, in
spite of the fact that our prosperity and eternal salvation depends upon it.
Many of the God’s deserving servants by utilization of the same method were able
to attain self-refinement, self-cleaning, and self-domination.

The Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali (a) said:

"Hunger is the most effective tool for achieving self-domination and breaking
habits."

-Gharar al-Hukm, p-773.

And said:

"Whoever practices self-asceticism is bound to earn benefits.”

-Gharar al-Hukm, p-647.

One of the Prophet’s companion said:

"Once on a hot summer day the Prophet Muhammad (s) was sitting under the shade
of a tree,. suddenly a man appeared who after taking off his clothes laid down
with bare back upon the hot sand and started rolling over it, alternatively
making his back and stomach to bear the hot sand, occasionally covering his face
with it, said: ‘Oh my imperious-self! You better taste the heat of this hot sand
particles, and know it that the heat of Hell’s fire is for severe and painful
than this.

"The holy Prophet (s) witnessed the above scene with interest, and having wore
his clothes when the man wanted to return, the Holy Prophet asked the man to
come near him, and said: ‘I saw you doing some thing strange which is not done
by any other person. What was the motive behind this act?”

"The man replied: ‘Oh Prophet of God: The fear of God forced me to perform this
act. By performing this act I said to my self. Taste the temperature of this hot
sand and know that the heat of Hell’ s fire is much more severe and painful than
the temperature of this hot sand.”

"The Holy Prophet (s) said: Yes! you feared the God-Almighty the way one should.
be really be fearful of Him, and he with this act has glorified you over the
angels of His Throne.’ Then he said to his companions: ‘Come and stand closer to
this man and ask him to pray for you.” The companions assembled around the man
and requested him to pray for them. The man raised his hand for prayer and said:

“O God ! Guide our affairs. make piety provision of our journey, and bestow upon
us Paradise in the Hereafter."

-Mohajateh al-Baiza, vol. 7, p-208.

The Commander of the Faithful Imam ‘ Ali (a) said:

"Arise against the self and chastisement prevent him from becoming addicted to
various habits."

-Gharar al-Hukm, p-350.

Dignity of Human Essence and Strengthening Human Virtues

Earlier, it was pointed out that human self is a precious jewel which has come
into existence from the world of life, knowledge, perfection, beauty, blessing,
benevolence, and by nature is the origin of these things. Therefore, if one paid
attention towards his exalted position and virtues within his existence, he will
then realize that commitment of sins and other moral obscene deeds are below his
dignity, and naturally will be disgusted with them. When one understands that he
is a human being who has descended from the Upper Heavens to be God’s Vicegerent
upon earth, animalistic desires and passions will become worthless in his sight,
and desire for achieving moral excellence shall be revived in his existence.

The Commander of the Faithful Imam ‘Ali (a) has said:

"Whoever appreciated the greatness of his self, will regard passions as
insignificant and worthless."

-Nahjul Balagha, saying 449.

Imam al-Sajjad (a) was asked:

“Who is the worthiest person?’ The one who does not consider this world worthy
of his own existence. replied the Imam."

-Tohaf al-Aqool, p-285.

Therefore paying attention about the exaltedness of human soul, discovering the
worth of his existence, and his lofty position, might be helpful in attaining
self-refinement and abstinence from sins. If we address our self, we must say:

You belong to the heavenly kingdom of knowledge, life, perfection, virtues,
benevolence and blessings; you are the God’s Vicegerent upon the earth; you are
human and have been created for eternal life of Next World and God’s Nearness;
you are superior than animals and following animalistic passions is not worthy
of your existence. In this manner attaining self-refinement and abstinence of
sins will become easier for us. Also, for self-refinement, each vice must be
uprooted gradually by strengthening opposite characteristics, thus, replacing
vices with virtues, which turn into habits or second nature.

For example, if we are jealous with respect to a certain individual, becomes sad
and annoyed seeing his blessings and happiness, and by means of slander, insult,
annoyance, obstruction, and indifference try to satisfy our own internal psychic
disorder must try to show praise, respect, goodwill, and cooperation towards
him. When we behave in this manner exactly opposite to the feelings of
jealously, slowly, this vice becomes weaker day by day, and eventually is
replaced by benevolence.

If, we are sick with the disease of stinginess, must imposed upon the self to
bear the necessary expenditure for our genuine requirements, so that the
undesirable habit of miserliness gradually become uprooted, and eventually
become accustomed to spending money and beneficence.

If, we show miserliness regarding payment of religious dues, we must take stand
against the self and without paying least attention to self’s whims and
passions, must remit our religious financial obligations. If, we show hesitation
for spending money for ourselves and our family, then the genuine expenditure
should be imposed upon the self so that it becomes accustomed to it gradually.
If, because of miserliness we cannot participate in charitable affairs, we must
take action by all possible means at our disposal; a portion of our financial
assets should be spent in God’s Way for supporting the destitute people so that
gradually we become accustomed to it.

Of course in the beginning this task might appear as difficult but with
perseverance and resistance it would become easier over all in order to achieve
self-refinement and to refrain from immoral deeds the following two tasks should
be performed:

Firstly: We should not offer positive response to the demands of immoral and
obscene deeds, so that gradually their roots are dried off completely.

Secondly: The virtuous characteristic opposite to that particular vice should be
strengthened; and in accordance with this virtuous characteristic, task must be
imposed! upon the self so that gradually he becomes used to it, acquiring them
as his habit and temperament thus cutting the roots of wicked deeds forever. The
Commander of the Faithful Imam’ Ali (a) said:

"Force your self to perform good moral deeds, because the wickedness has been
incorporated in your inner essence."

-Gharar al-Hukm, vol. 1, p-130.

And said:

"Make yourself used to performance of good deeds and for tolerance of payment of
severe reparation, so that he becomes noble, your Hereafter becomes fruitful,
and your admirers become more."

-Gharar al-Hukm, p-492.

"Selfish passions and desires are fatal diseases, and the best medicines are
selection of patience and abstinence from them."

-Gharar al-Hukm, p-72.

Renunciation of Bad Company

Human being are susceptible to being influenced with many of the
characteristics, etiquette, and behavior of other people with whom they have
social association, and in reality become like them, especially their best
friends and close social associates play an influential role in their lives.
Friendship with corrupt and wicked individuals forces a person towards
corruption and evil deeds, while association with righteous people with good
morals invites a person towards salvation and goodness. One of the
characteristics of a human being is that he makes himself like others. If, he
mixes socially with corrupt and sinful people -he becomes familiar with sinning
and other immoral deeds, not only he does not see the ugliness of his actions,
on the contrary, regards these acts as manifestation of acts of goodness.

Opposite, to that if his social circle consists of righteous people with good
morals, he become thoroughly familiar with good morals and good character and
desires to become like them. Therefore, a good friend is one of the greatest
blessing of God-Almighty and is considered as an important factor responsible
for progress and prosperity of a human being. And opposite to that a bad friend
is one of the greatest problem and an important factor responsible for his
adversity and deviation.

Therefore. the choice of a friend should not be regarded something as
insignificant and unimportant. rather should be treated with utmost importance.
because. it determines our ultimate destiny. The Commander of the Faithful Imam
Ali (a) said:

“A Muslim should never take a sinful and corrupt person as his friend -because,
a sinful friend presents vices as virtues, and desires that his friend should
behave exactly like himself A bad friend neither helps a person in worldly
affairs nor in the affairs belonging to the Next World, and socialization with
him makes a person disgraced.”

-al-Kafi, vol. 2, p-640.

Imam al-Sadiq (a) said:

“It is not appropriate for a Muslim to make friendship with a lewd, stupid, and
mendacious person."

-al-Kafi, vol. 2, p-640.

The Holy Prophet (s) said:

"A person is bound to follow the religion of his friend and social companion."

-al-Kafi, vol. 2, p-642.

The Commander of the Faithful Imam Ali (a) said:

"Association with evil person should be avoided strictly, because on evil person
is like a burning fire and whoever nears him will be burnt."

-Gharar al-Hukm, p-147.

And said:

"Association With Wicked person should be strictly avoided, because, evil will
be associated with evil."

-Gharar al-Hukm, p-147.

Also said:

"Strictly avoid companionship with an evil friend, because, he will lead his
fellow companion towards destruction and will damage his reputation."

-Gharar al-Hukm, p-142.

Therefore, if some one is really striving to attain self-refinement, and if has
bad friends and evil companions -should quite their company at once, because,
with their company refraining from sins is almost impossible. Bad friends slow
down one’s determination for self-refinement by encouraging him to get indulge
into sins and other immoral deeds. To commit a sin is like a habit, and its
quitting shall be possible only, if the socialization with other addicted
persons should be avoided.

Avoiding Potential Blunders

Self-refinement and refraining from sins forever is something is not an easy
rather is a difficult task. A human being is always susceptible to stumble by
sinning, because the imperious-self naturally invites him towards vices. (The)
Heart, which is the command center for rest of the body is in a state of
continuous change or metamorphism, is influenced by external events, issues
orders in accordance with the situation it encounters, the things it sees, and
the words it hears.

At centers of worships and religious spiritual assemblies the heart naturally
shows inclination towards performance of virtuous deeds, and opposite to that at
the centers of corruption and vices pulls towards evil deeds. Seeing scenes of
spirituality motivates heart towards spiritual matters, while seeing erotic
scene of carnal acts makes him seduced. In a corrupted assembly the hearts
becomes inclined to perform similar vices while in a spiritual gathering the
heart gets motivated towards God-Almighty. If, he gets associated with worldly
people infatuated with accumulation of wealth and properly, the hearts become
inclined towards animalistic desires, and if associates with God’s pious
servants -becomes’ motivated towards virtuous deeds.

Therefore, those who are sincerely interested in self-refinement and abstinence
from sins must close their eyes and ears from seeing erotic scenes of carnal
desires, should not participate in such parties; should not mix socially with
such corrupted individuals, otherwise they themselves are most likely to
stumble. It is because of these considerations that Islam forbids a man from
participating in religiously prohibited (Haram), parties such as gambling,
drinking, and other sinful assemblies. Also, looking at the face (with lust),
meeting in private, hand-shake, joking and laughing with women who are unlawful
(Na-mahram) have been forbidden.

One of the great wisdom hidden behind the recommended Islamic Veil (hijab) is
related to same matter. Since Islam requires an ideal social environment where
self-refinement and abstinence from sins could be made possible. Otherwise,
controlling imperious-self shall become impossible, because, the corrupt
environment naturally pushes human beings towards corruption, even thinking
about sin invites a man to commit that sin ultimately.

The Commander of the Faithful Imam Ali (a) said:

"When eye sees an erotic scene the heart becomes blind from seeing its ultimate
consequences."

-Gharar al-Hukm, p-315.

And said:

"Simply thinking about sinful carnal deeds encourages you to commit them
eventually."

-Gharar al-Hukm, p-518.

Source: Self-Building by Ayatollah Ibrahim Amini

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