Halwat and Uzlat (Privacy and Seclusion)


Literally meaning solitude and living all alone, privacy and seclusion (halwat u 'uzlat) denote both an initiate's going into retreat to dedicate all his time to worshipping God under the guidance and supervision of a spiritual master, and his being purified from all kinds of false beliefs, dark thoughts and feelings, unbecoming conceptions and imaginations which cause the initiate to fall distant from the Truth. He closes the doors of his heart to everything other than God and converses with Him through the tongue of his inner faculties. Seclusion is one dimension of privacy, while austerity is another. The first step in privacy is completed in forty days and therefore is called undergoing a forty-day period of austerity. When the spiritual master takes the initiate into privacy, he takes him to his retiring room where he prays for him and leaves. The initiate lives an austere life in that room where he is utterly alone. He eats little, drinks little; in that room of seclusion which is regarded as a door to get nearness to God, he decreases and disciplines his bodily needs and tries to forget his carnal desires. He dedicates all his time - day and night - to worshipping God, to meditation, reflection, prayer, and supplication, etc.

 In its aspect of avoiding meeting people and austerities, privacy dates back to the early days of sufism and even to the great Prophets. Numerous Prophets and saints, most particularly the glory of mankind, upon him be peace and blessings, have spent certain portions of their lives in seclusion. Nevertheless, their original system of privacy and seclusion has undergone undesirable changes over time. The seclusion of the Prophet Abraham, the forty-day periods of the Prophet Moses, the austerities of the Prophet Jesus and the privacies of the Prince of the Prophets have been practiced in different ways by different people and have therefore undergone certain alterations. However, this can be regarded as natural to some extent, for inasmuch as seclusion is related to the moods, temperaments and spiritual capacities of individuals, only perfect spiritual masters can know and decide how long and under what conditions an initiate must be kept in seclusion. In the early days of his initiation, Mawlana Jalal al-Din al-Rumi underwent many forty-day periods of austerity in seclusion. However, when he found a true, perfect master, he left seclusion and chose to be in the company of people (jalwat).

Many other people before and after him have preferred being together with people to avoiding meeting with them. Austerity, one of the two dimensions of privacy mentioned above, means keeping a tight rein on the gratification of carnal desires and urging the spirit, enamoured, thereof, to rise to human perfections. It is only through austerity that the carnal self can be restrained and forced to renounce evil impulses and passions and to submit itself to the commandments of God. Again it is through austerity that it can be made to adopt humility and be like 'earth', to be a 'flower-bed': Be like earth so that roses may grow in you For nothing other than earth can be a medium for the growth of roses. Through austerities, everyone can receive certain Divine graces. Some can adorn their knowledge with good morals and their religious acts with sincerity and purity of intention and thereby gain mannerliness in their relations with both God and people. Others find themselves tossed this way and that in their relations with their Lord and continuously search for ways to get nearer and nearer to Him.

There are still others who, like a dragonfly which has just come out of its cocoon, spend their lives among the spirit beings who may be regarded as butterflies of the celestial worlds they have just reached. What is essential to privacy is that the initiate must aim at nothing other than God's good pleasure and constantly wait in expectation of Divine favors to come. He must wait, not sitting idly but, with the eye of his heart open and in utmost care and excitement not to miss any of the Divine inspirations and gifts that may flow into his heart, and with the courtesy and decorum appropriate to being in the omnipresence of God. The following words of La Makani Husain Effendi express this meaning very aptly: Clean the fountain of your soul until it becomes perfectly pure. Fix your eyes on your heart until your heart becomes an eye. Give up doubts and put the pitcher of your heart against that fountain, and when that pitcher is filled with the water giving delight, withdraw yourself and submit to its Owner His home* When you leave it, God doubtless comes to His home. Never leave the devil-robber to enter the home of your heart, For once it has entered it, it is very difficult to throw it out. It is true that God is absolutely free from the confinements of time and space, His relations with man occur on the 'slopes' of the heart. For this reason, the 'emerald hills' or 'slopes' of the heart must always be ready to receive the waves of His manifestations so that, in the words of Ibrahim Haqqi of Erzurum, the King may descend to His palace at night. God Almighty decreed to the Prophet David: Keep that home empty for Me so that I will be in it. Some have interpreted 'keeping the heart empty' as purifying the heart from considerations for others than God and from having relations with others without considering God's good pleasure. The following words of Mawlana Jalal al-Din al-Rumi express this most appropriately:

One wise and sensible prefers the bottom of the well, for the soul finds delight in privacy (to be with God). The darkness of the well is preferable to the darkness people cause. One holding on to the legs of people has never been able to come with a head.** One must seclude oneself from others, not from the Beloved. Fur is worn in winter not in spring. Since the aim of seclusion is purifying the heart from love of others and always being with the Beloved, those who always feel the ever-presence of God while living among people, and who continuously discern the Divine Unity amidst multiplicity, are regarded as always being with God in seclusion. Contrary to this, the seclusion of others who, although they spend their lives in seclusion, have not been able to purify their hearts from attachment to whatever is other than God, is a deception. Those who always feel as if in the omnipresence of God do not need to seclude themselves from people. Such people, in the words of Mawlana Jalal al-Din al-Rumi, while keeping one of their feet fast in the sphere of Divine commandments, turn the other, like one of the arms of a pair of compasses, throughout the world. They experience ascension and descent at every moment. This is the seclusion recognized and preferred by the Prophets and saints. God Almighty once said to Prophet David: O David! What is the matter with you that you seclude yourself from people and choose keeping alone? David, upon him be peace, answered: Lord! I renounce the company of people for Your sake. The Almighty warned him: Always keep vigil but do not keep aloof from your brethren. However, seclude yourself from those whose company is of no benefit to you. *'Home' signifies the heart and its Owner is God. **That is, one who relies on people to attain his goal, will not be able to do so.