“He indeed will be successful who purifies himself, and magnifies the name of his Lord and prays.” (87:14-15)
“And the soul and Him Who made it perfect. Then He inspired it to understand what is right and what is wrong for it; He will indeed be successful who purifies it, and he will indeed fail who corrupts it.” (91:7-10)
The above verses of Holy Qur’an lay down the fundamental law of success and failure. As per this law, the success is granted to those who cleanse and purify their soul, and the failure is meant for those who have corrupted themselves and have blinded their hearts. The purification of soul makes man eligible for Divine guidance and mercy and the ability to make distinction between right and wrong, while the corruption takes him near to Accursed Satan and deprives him of his capabilities of understanding and following the Truth.
If we follow our material desires unstopped, without any discretion, they become like a bottomless trench which takes a man deeper and deeper into the corruption.
Our Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) says in one of his prayers about the treacherous tendencies in our souls:
“My Lord, to You I complain of a soul
Commanding to evil, rushing to offenses,
Eager to disobey You,
And exposing itself to Your anger.
It takes me on the roads of disasters,
It makes me the easiest of perishers before You.
Many [are] its pretexts; drawn out [are] its expectations.
When evil touches it, it is anxious;
When good touches it, grudging;
Inclining to sport and diversion,
Full of heedlessness and inattention,
It hurries me to misdeeds and makes me delay repentance.
…My Lord, to You I complain of a heart that is hard,
Turned this way and that by tempting thoughts, clothed in rust and seal,
And of an eyes too indifferent to weep in fear of You and
Eagerly seeking that which gladdens it.”
The above supplication describes the reality of human Nafs, which is always like treacherous enemy ready to deceive us and make us do sin against the commands of Our Lord.
The Commander of the Faithful (peace be upon him) presents the way to salvation and contentment of soul in the following words: “The best riches is abandonment of desires.”
Human desires are unlimited, and this material world makes us more and more trapped into the quagmire of desires. As a result, we get more and more absorbed with this world and forget the ultimate purpose of this life and birth on this earth. As the thirst for material goods has no end, we always feel short of resources to satisfy our ever-increasing desires. Our Imam says that if we control our lust for this material world and abandon our desires, we can be rich, as being rich is not about having wealth of this world but rather a mental state whereby one feels content and Ghani in his heart.
In the same vein, his saying that “Contentment is the wealth that does not diminish” explains the basics of human happiness.
Tazkiya Nafs, or purification of the soul, is about making our soul pure and free from the filth and dirt of forbidden desires. Ayatollah Ibrahim Amini in his book Self Building mentions that the purpose of prophethood was to cleanse the evils in man’s moral character: “God did confer a great favor on the believers when he sent among them an apostle from among themselves rehearsing unto them the signs of God, purifying them, and instructing them in scripture and wisdom, while before that they had been in manifest error.” (3:164) Therefore, it is obvious that the subject of human education and training was of such vital importance that God Almighty sent Divine Messengers especially for this purpose, thus conferring a great favor upon the believers. The individual as well as collective personality, prosperity, or cruelty (of this world and Hereafter) of a human being depends upon how much efforts he had already made or is still making for self-building. It is from this consideration that self-building is regarded something of such vital importance, because it determines ones eventual destiny. The Divine Messengers came to teach human beings regarding the path of self-building, nourishment, and perfection of self, as well as to accompany them as their guide and helper in this vital and determinant task. They came for cleansing and sanctifying human selves from their indecent moral characteristics and animal instincts, and bestowing upon them superior spiritual virtues.
The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) has said: “I emphasize the importance of good morals for you because God Almighty has sent me especially for this purpose.” The human self is very much liable for training and education. If we educate ourselves and rise above the level of animalistic lusts, we can really achieve the success and accomplish the purpose for which we have been sent in this world. Imam Ali said about the Nafs: “The Nafs is like a precious jewel: whoever strives for its protection, it will help him attaining exalted positions, and whoever acted negligently in its protection, it shall pull him towards humiliation.” “Whoever knows the worth of his self will never allow himself to be indulging into passing worldly amusements and shameful deeds.” “Whoever discovers the nobility of the Nafs shall guard it against lowness of passions and false desires.” “Whoever possesses the nobility of the Nafs will become free from wants.”
The above traditions from the Imam show that the human has great potential and great capacities for progress and success; what is required is self-control through Islamic means and abandonment of low desires which take us to destruction.
Ayatollah Amini quoting the above traditions in his book says: “From the above-quoted verses and narrations, whose examples are frequent, it can be derived that the human Nafs is a valuable and precious jewel which should be carefully guarded, protected, and nourished.” In contrast to this is another aspect of our self, it is heedlessness and waywardness. This path is the path of desires and lusts, too much indulgence, and thus making us forget His remembrance and the purpose of life. This path is the path of darkness and ignorance, leading to destruction in the both worlds. Imam Ali said: “The Nafs commands you continuously to indulge into evil deeds; therefore, whoever trusts his Nafs will be deceived by it, whoever believes his Nafs will be destroyed by it, and whoever is satisfied with his Nafs will be led to the worst kind of disasters by it.”
Our Lord says in His Book of Guidance: “And if they answer you not, then know that what they follow is their lusts. And who goes farther astray than he who follows his lust without guidance from God? Lo! God guides not wondering folk.” (28:50) Allah also says, “Have you then considered him who takes his low desire for his god, and Allah has made him err having knowledge and has set a seal upon his ear and his heart and put a covering upon his eye. Who can then guide him after Allah? Will you not then be mindful?” (45:23)
The above verses teach us that the indulgence in low desires deprives us from His guidance. On the other hand, success is for those who refrain from deviating base desires: “But as far as he who feared to stand before his Lord and restrained his soul from lust – lo! The garden will be his home.” (79:40-41) And Imam Ali says: “Self-consciousness is one of the most profitable assets of a person.” Indeed, self-consciousness shows us the path, makes us realize our mistakes, urges us confess our sins, and helps us understand His status. But this self-consciousness is not possible without purification of the soul and avoidance of that which is forbidden.