By Roshan Shah, New Age Islam
12 December 2016
Leading a Spiritual Life
Author: Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
Publisher: Goodword Books, Noida
Price: Rs. 125
A Spiritual Treasure Trove
91 year-old Maulana Wahiduddin Khan is a
truly remarkable man. He is one of the world’s best known contemporary Islamic
scholars and is deeply engaged in promoting interfaith harmony, dialogue and
peace. He is a well-known spiritual guide and heads the New Delhi-based Centre
for Peace and Spirituality. Even at his age he remains a prolific writer.
Issues related to Islam have been the main focus of his writings, and in recent
years he has written extensively on issues related to Islam,
conflict-resolution and peace-building as well as on various dimensions of
Islamic spirituality. A noted feature of his writings is a concern to address
issues of contemporary as well as existential import and to explain eternal
spiritual truths in a manner intelligible to the modern mind.
Most of the Maulana’s earlier books have
been specifically about Islam and/or Muslims, but this latest book of his is
different. A compilation of several of his essays that have appeared over the
years in The Speaking Tree of The Times of India, it lays out a universal
vision of spiritual living that can easily appeal to people of all faiths (or
of none in particular) and that is not restricted by the dogmas and rituals,
names and forms that have come to be associated with different religions as
they have been historically interpreted.
The Maulana makes an immensely valuable
contribution in refining our understanding of spirituality. Positive thinking
is at the very root of the spirituality that he talks about. It is based on realizing and acknowledging
the existence of the Creator through reflection on the amazing universe. This
connection with the Creator is to be expressed in relating positively with the
creation in one’s daily life. To live in this way on an everyday basis is to
lead a spiritual life.
With the help of instances from his own
life and that of others, including ‘ordinary’ folk and ‘noted’ people from
different parts of the world and references from the Christian, Hindu and
Islamic traditions as well as everyday events as reported in newspapers, the
Maulana brilliantly explains how spirituality is all about avoiding negativity
and living our ordinary lives in a positive and truly meaningful manner,
leading to inner as well as outer transformation. Spirituality, we learn from
the Maulana, is not something enormously difficult which is meant only for a
select few. Nor is it something esoteric or mysterious. Nor, too, is it about
simply clinging on to some dogmas or ritual practices.
Spirituality is not renouncing the world or
self-absorbed meditation that is indifferent to the outside world. Nor does it
consist of simply performing some physical or other such exercises. Nor, too,
is it trying to achieve some ecstatic or emotional condition. Rather, authentic
spirituality is about leading our everyday lives in an authentic—that is,
positive—way, based on intellectual development. It is about refining our minds
and, accordingly, our behaviour, through imbibing spiritual lessons drawn from
reflecting on everything that we see, feel, hear or otherwise experience in our
lives. The spirituality that the Maulana articulates is a mind-based, rather
than a heart-based, one, being based on reflection on and contemplation of the
world around us.
This book consists of 150 short essays,
each of which focuses on a particular spiritual value or lesson that the
Maulana draws from everyday things and events as well as from nature and
history. Even something as ‘mundane’ as a tree can help us grow spiritually, he
tells us. In the opening page of the book the Maulana writes:
In front of my
residence there is a tree […] It is a source of spiritual nourishment for me.
For me, it is like a spiritual partner […] The greatest lesson I have learned
from this tree is: try to live on your own. Be positive in every situation.
Adopt the culture of giving rather than taking […] According to my experience,
a tree is an illustration of spiritual life. It is a model for spiritual
Or, consider this beautiful spiritual
lesson that the Maulana derives from a bee:
It is the
honeybee’s culture to fly out from its hive every day and reach places where
flowers are available for it. The bee extracts nectar from the flower and
returns to its abode. It pays no heed to anything else.
Where there are
flowers, there are also other things like thorns; but the honeybee simply
ignores the presence of those thorns and does not waste time in complaining
about them. It simply extracts the nectar from the flowers and returns to the
This behaviour of
the honeybee provides a symbolic lesson for man—‘Live like the honeybee’. That
is, extract what is good for you and leave what is unwanted. Do not waste your
time in complaints and protests.
Every single experience that we go through,
even the seemingly most negative or difficult, the Maulana explains is of great
potential spiritual value, because we can draw a spiritual lesson from it and
thereby develop our minds.
The Maulana has brilliant advice for us to
tackle difficulties that inevitably come our way almost every day. The key to
remaining positive in such conditions, he says, is to change our way of viewing
them. Instead of taking them to be problems and fret about them, we can view
them as challenges that can help us become stronger and more resilient,
confident and wise. As the Maulana explains:
Life is full of
unwanted experiences. There is no one who is not destined to travel through a
jungle of problems. It is the destiny of every man and woman. The question is:
what is the formula to deal with this?
successful formula is: Don’t take things as an evil. Take them as a challenge.
If you take things as evil, you will simply develop a negative attitude, and a
negative attitude will only increase your problems. But if you take untoward
situations as a challenge, this attitude will unfold the hidden capacity of
your mind. You will be able to face all challenges bravely and intelligently,
and sooner or later, reach your destination.
Everyone wants to be happy, and people have
different views about how to achieve happiness. The Maulana, in line with what
other spiritual guides have said, tells us that authentic and lasting happiness
has to come from within and is not dependent on external circumstances. It is a
question of our thinking, he says, which means that one can be happy in even
the most challenging situations if one simply chooses to be so. With the help
of real-life examples, the Maulana explains that the key to this is to learn to
adjust to situations, to accept reality as it is, to discover and focus on the
positive even in seemingly very negative circumstances, to never lose hope, and
to discern the opportunities that always exist, even in what may appear the
most difficult situation. This applies as much to individuals as to communities
and entire countries, the Maulana says.
This book is a masterpiece and is
definitely among the best-written books on spirituality that I’ve read so far.
It expresses deep truths in an immensely appealing conversational mode.
Providing invaluable guidance for leading a truly meaningful life, it deserves
to be very widely read and to be translated into various languages.
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