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The Khwajagan – Their Methods and Influence

# 24
Copyright © S.B. Groves 2012

In his final book The True Christian Religion, Swedenborg declared (No. 279) that
prior to the sacred books of Moses there was a much older collection of holy
writings. This ancient Word disappeared from the Middle East, but a few copies
reached the region, which extended from Turkey to Afghanistan, southern Russia
and Mongolia. In these latter regions it exerted a great influence and stimulated the
development of a wide range of religious movements. Because the ancient Word
was written in pure correspondences where spiritual things were represented by
natural things, most of the Asiatic peoples who contacted this doctrine paid
attention to only the literal sense and tended towards idolatry.

Later, when Buddhism spread into these lands a metaphysical approach was
adopted and the lofty concepts and theories of Mahayana Buddhism were accepted.
This mental preparation paved the way for the entry of Christianity and Islam into
these regions where a great ferment of spiritual activity was under way. From the
earliest Vedic times n India the spiritualization of human life had been actively
pursued by Hinduism, and the numerous deities that were represented in temples,
rock carvings, poetry, songs and scriptures portrayed the many qualities, features
and powers of the One Lord God. Through yoga and related disciplines men and
women sought to bring themselves into conscious attunement with God and sought
to disconnect themselves from mechanical involvement with the material
environment. Some of these methods were revealed from Higher Life, while others
were invented by religious enthusiasts.

Despite the abundance of spiritual technology and teaching that existed in Central
Asia, there was a decline in understanding and people lost sight of fundamental
truths. In the 12th century AD a fresh spiritual impetus got under way in his part of
the world and was mediated through a succession of people who came to be known
as the Khwajagan – the holders and communicators of wisdom. The Persian word
KHWAJA means ‘possessed of superior learning’ and the Khwajagan were the
bearers of this learning. The first of these men was Khwaja Yusuf Hamadani, born in
Turkistan in 1084 and died in 1177 at the age of 95. He was described as being tall
and slender with fair complexion and yellow hair. It was stressed that he was always
happy and smiling, and “He was a very good man, humble and unpretentious, and
with an unlimited love for his fellow beings” (Bennett). He acted upon the doctrines
transmitted to him and achieved a high degree of self-purification. A large group of
people attached themselves to him, and Yusuf and a group of his initiates walked
900 miles to Bukhara where a more tolerant attitude to religion enabled them to
work and study in peace. Yusuf supported his family and self by the labour of his
own hands and never accepted financial or other help from wealthy rulers or
officials. Yusuf and all other Khwajagan completely rejected the paying of respect to
them by their pupils. Yusuf taught and practiced that – “All men know that Love is

the Supreme Power that unites men and God, but no one who is not free from self is
capable of Love”

Freedom from self is itlaq. To find God one must find Truth, tahqiq. Freedom from
self and realization of Truth are achieved by contemplation and transformation.

Yusuf and the succeeding Khwajagan initiates promoted freedom in all religious and
spiritual matters. They respected and never interfered with other religions but
rejected orthodox theology as time-wasting and useless. Some of the leading names
among the Khwajagan are:

Arif Riwgarawi
Mahmud Faghnawi
Sayyud Amir Kulali
Baha ad-din Naqshbandi

There were several more prominent men and many of their disciples in this gentle
and creative group. They knew and understood that behind the written words of
sacred writings was a spiritual sense that conveyed doctrines and methods
pertaining to spiritual growth. They particularly stressed those passages I the Koran
which taught that humanity is asleep and passes its life in a dream. Humans are
inwardly asleep in life, are bound up in externals and never glimpse the Reality from
which they have come. The Khwajagan stress the importance of the saying “mutu
gablan tamutu” – die before you die, and demonstrated within themselves how to
overcome the egotistic self and develop a spiritual life. Whereas orthodox religion
taught that the goal of life was to enter Paradise where endless sensual delights
would be enjoyed, these enlightened men taught with great clarity that beyond
Paradise was the World of Truth and it can be entered by making real efforts to bring
about inner awakening. The Khwajagan expressed some of their important spiritual
doctrines and methods in a series of aphorisms which were collected and
transmitted by Khwaga Abd al-Khalik, and these are some of the vital and most
potent of them.

 Hosh dar dam - The Persian word hosh has the same meaning as the Greek
neepsis, which relates to Self-remembering, intensified consciousness. Hosh
dar dam means ‘to breathe consciously’ and concerns the process of
assimilating second being food. The Khwajagan regarded conscious breathing
as the fundamental technique for self-development. Conscious breathing
nourishes the inner person. It is essential that we give our attention to each
successive breath and be fully aware of our own presence. Should our
attention wander breathing becomes mechanical and the breath does not go
to the right place inside ourselves. Inattention separates us from God, while
breath retention sharpens attention and takes us more deeply inside.
Associated with these principles of breathing there are detailed applications
of zikr or God-remembering.

 Nazar bar qadam – Qadam means fortune, luck, foot or step. It comes from
the trilateral root q-d-m which expresses the idea of origin or source. Nazar
bar qadam succinctly declares ‘watch your step’, and this signifies – ‘focus
your attention on the step you are taking at this moment’. If you remember
where you come from and where you are going you will see the implications
of your step more clearly. In the past we have discussed exercises about
suddenly waking up and trying to be conscious (What am I doing now?) and
endeavouring to see where you are (What is my state and place at this
moment?), and see that nazar bar qadam (watch your step) is the effort to
become conscious of where and how your spiritual movement is directed.

 Safar dar watan - is the journey home. It is an internal rearrangement of

attitudes, memories, wishes and motives so that one is able to move out of
the world of undeveloped potential (alam-I arvah), to the world of will (alam-
I wujub). The alam-I arvah is the realm of untapped psychic and mental
energies and is sometimes called the ‘world of spirits’. It is not the world of
spiritual reality but is a kind of vast reservoir from which infinitely many
things can be developed if the effort is made. These worlds are readily
recognized. In daily life we ignore most of our possibilities and live in a
routine way by means of habits and conditioned behaviour patterns.

Our potentials are not even recognized and we ignore our best possibilities.
But when we study the wonderful and complex nature of the body and
discover the presence and spiritualizing activities of the centres, we can
cultivate a new purpose, drive and direction which starts us on the
homeward journey to God. Once it can be more fully realized that the
cerebral brain is the instrument of the will-to-know (or ‘see’), that the solar
plexus or feeling brain is the instrument of the will-to-be (the urge to become
whole), and the motor-cortex-spinal cord-brain is the instrument of the will-
to-live (the urge to do and retain a hold on life), then we can work with these
centres and develop a real purpose in life that leads somewhere.

 Khalwat dar anjuman – is solitude in the crowd; to be in the world but not of
the world. We can develop the capacity to fully participate in the activities o
the outer world, enjoy its experiences, and find delight in what we do
‘without losing our own inner freedom’. This is the way in which we practice
non-identification. Khalwat dar anjuman declares that outwardly we can and
should be with people and inwardly we should be with God.

 Yad kard – Remembrance. This is not so much a state of memory recall as it is

a concentration of consciousness upon certain fundamental processes in
ourselves. It is essentially an intense awareness of the link between tongue
and heart so that we are truly able to feel what we say, and say what we feel.
Remembrance of this active inward state leads to a clearer understanding of
Truth as we receive it, believe it and speak it. The unification of speech and
high-grade feelings strengthens the life of the inner self.

 Baz gasht – is to travel one way or return; it is to be single-minded. Human
beings are created to be instruments of transformation, and from God the
seeds of transformation have been sown in us. We begin to recognize these
seeds as soon as we formulate an am that takes us beyond the limitations of
planetary life and the space-time continuum. The possibility of
transformation and rebirth into Higher Life is our greatest treasure and in
single-mindedness of purpose we can nurture it and cause it to become fully

 Nigah dasht – is vigilance or watchfulness. Many times every day our

attention is captured by all manner of things. News items, random thoughts,
a melody, a memory, sounds that reach us, movements, people, weather
changes and the like. It is our duty to be aware of what holds our attention
and the way in which attention is held. By developing this awareness we
grow the power to withdraw attention from undesirable things. This applies
equally to thoughts, impulses and feelings as well as outer objects. The
process may be described as being vigilant in though and remembering
yourself (khawatir muraqaba).

 Yad dasht – often called recollection, this process involves gathering up and
unifying the positive gains from sincere work on oneself in preparation for
the completion of transformation. It is also the state of losing the old,
egotistic ‘self’ and being aware that Divine Love infinitely compensates for
this small loss. Inevitably this is a state of humiliation and surrender to the
Divine, but the disturbed feelings are soon swept away by the joy of inflowing
Truth and the delight which always accompanies the good of Love.

 Waqirf-I zamani – this is awareness of time and is the instruction to keep an

account of one’s temporal states and accept responsibility for them. It is the
process of mindfulness or self-possession so that one is conscious of one’s
presence (huzur). One should always be grateful when a sense of presence
arises in oneself because it is awareness of the influx of very fine energy-
substances from the Divine. What we do, say, feel and think in a state of
absence (ghaflat), is enormously different from the same things done with a
sense of presence.

The foregoing aphorisms outline an extensive framework of the conditions required

for successful work on oneself. The virtue of bringing them together in close-knit
form is to show how they overlap and reinforce each other as a unified method. In
the great religions of the world these methods are briefly mentioned and are widely
scattered through sacred writings and verbal traditions. No unity of system is
developed under such conditions. The instructions inherent in these aphorisms
become fully alive when we contemplate and ponder their significance and try to get
at the real issues standing behind the literal sense. To practice the literal indications
of these aphorisms is valuable discipline for the body, but the real work begins with
the unfoldment of the spiritual sense which shows ways of transforming one’s
spiritual life.

The Khwajagan developed the prayer of the heart, zikr-I qalbi, which was also known
to Christian mystical adepts, and relentlessly taught that if human beings work upon
themselves it is possible to bring about the transformation of a sleeping or dreaming
person into a fully liberated, objectively conscious person. They also built a small
‘contemplation cell’ next to the mosque in Bukhara and used it for about 200 years.
They explained that a contemplation cell is not a place where absolutely no thoughts
come into the mind “but rather one where no outer thought takes precedence over
the inner state”. (Bennett). It is like a river whose flow is not affected by grass,
leaves, sticks and straw floating on the surface.

When Genghis Khan led is invading Mongol hordes into Turkestan they headed
towards the holy city of Bukhara, but temporarily stopped at the village of Riwgara
some 20 miles away. There Genghis Khan saw one of the Khwajagan, a certain
Khwarja Avif quietly working at a loom of his own invention. Genghis Khan was
impressed by the tranquil demeanour of this man and admired the skill with which
he worked. He enquired of Arif how he could work with such tranquility when such a
vast army had invaded the place. Khwarja Arif replied: “My outer attention is on my
work and my inner attention is on the Truth; I have no time to notice what is
happening in the world around me”. Genghis Khan was so impressed by this reply
that he ordered the village to be unmolested and invited Arif to go with him to
Bukhara to advise him who to trust in that city. Although a few defenders were killed
at Bukhara and the city was somewhat plundered, within a week the population was
allowed to return in peace and rebuild their homes. The quiet influence of the
Khwajagan had saved tens of thousands of lives.

The way of spiritual transformation as carried out by the Khwajagan involves

awakening people from the deadly dream which they call ‘life’, and which is in fact
ordinary existence. This calls for the removal from people of what is undesirable in
their minds and helping them to acquire what is desirable. The order of
transformation is important and it negates the quite deceptive belief that one can be
filled with Divine Spirit before being emptied of self. The ego has to die and for
many people this is the hardest thing to bring about. Through egoism we are
inextricably bound up with the external world, and we depend upon the external
world for our sense of well-being. Egoism is the primary illusion that we possess
something real and permanent – the ego – and that it is ours forever.

However, it is this very adherence to the ego which cuts us off from our spiritual
destiny. Since ego is a lie and does not exist as a thing but as a belief or attitude,
people turn blindly to the world for support. If they can be awakened to some
degree they discover that the world supports the body but does nothing for the ego.
The shock of this discovery then drives people to find in themselves the reality which
they thought they had in the ego. In the initial search into their inward world people
begin to find new thoughts and sensations and assume they are uncovering their
spiritual reality. They become convinced that this is the ‘real world’ spoken about in
various religions. In truth it is the alam-I arwah – the world of spirits or ghosts, and
people are often very shocked when they see it to be the world that generates the

sleep and dream of daily life. One has to awaken to this big illusion many times
before it can be shaken loose.

If we believe n our illusions we remain trapped in the subjective world of ghosts and
lowly spirits. After physical death this useless state persists and people live as though
they were transformed beings. Very often such undeveloped spirits participate in
spiritualistic mediumship phenomena and communicate with unsuspecting
‘believers’. Out of such communications nothing new comes forth. To cast aside this
illusion world is a very great thing, and it can be done. Persistence of aim, intense
self-remembering, allegiance to Divine Truth, the feeling of love for what is highest
and noblest, and honest self-observation all help people to acquire the will-to-be.
People need the help of proven ancient knowledge – eternal truths – to get them
through this stage, and learning to work on oneself with patience is exceedingly

Inwardly seeing the total reliability of the Divine Life helps to break the bonds of
illusion and open the paths of Divine Influx so that Higher help can reach the human
spirit. With the death of the ego and liberation from the illusory world of dream and
spiritual mediocrity a stage is reached in which the high energy of Divine Love can
enter a person’s life and complete the process of transformation. This is the act of
rebirth and permits entry into the celestial world, the alam-I imkan, the real world.
Overcoming the lesser states of egoism, illusion, sleep, dream and attachment is
technically called fana or annihilation. Beyond alam-I imkan there are still higher
worlds, but the human mind has no means of conceptualizing or representing these

It is very important for people to understand that within them are vast pools of
potentials and resources which they are capable of drawing upon and activating.
Every individual has the possibility of perfecting themselves within the limits of their
capabilities. The attainment of such perfecting leads to states of delight and
fulfillment and the ability to live in a corresponding world and community. Some
achieve more than others and a very rare few evolve to the position of being close to
the Divine Source. All that we can do in life is our bet, and if we make real and
persistent efforts we shall attain what for us will be ‘heaven’.

By contrast, refusal or failure to develop one’s life by ongoing effort and interest
leads to absence of transformation, and such individuals remain as clusters of habits,
unorganized ideas and erratic feeling states. In their lack of coherence and integrity
there is no enduring sense of aliveness, and they oscillate between brief periods of
happiness and long periods of negative feelings. This is what we can call ‘hell’ and is
a very poor quality state of being.

The teachings and way of life presented by the Khwajagan of the 11th – 14th
centuries in and around Bokhara are a continuation of the esoteric work of spiritual
transformation which has been with the human race for thousands of years. The
natural inheritors of the Khwajagan way are the Naqshbandi Sufis who flourish
today. Idriess Shah, who was the head of this order was engaged in making some of

the valuable teachings known through his numerous books. This is useful because it
draws the attention of people to the possibilities of change and inner growth.

Coming from another direction is the very dynamic and informed work of
Swedenborg. Acting under Divine guidance he has reintroduced into the world the
way of inner transformation which was known to the ancients. Although his
terminology is comparatively modern and often scientific, he presents eternal truths
and methods with clarity and drive. Swedenborg very clearly teaches the danger of
‘sleep’ and urges all of us to wake up. To carefully work through “The Arcana
Coelestia” is to uncover psycho-spiritual processes and themes of immense practical
value. While Swedenborg does not refer to the Sufis or the Khwajagan, he deals with
the same truths that they followed and proclaims the same goals they sought. This
reaffirmation of Eternal Wisdom and the stress placed upon the essential role of
Love places Swedenborg on the same line of esotericism as the great adepts and
spiritual geniuses of the past. As seekers of Truth and aspirants for inner
transformation we cannot afford to ignore what these people are able to
communicate to us.

For further references into this material please consult The Masters of Wisdom and
Deeper Man both by J.G. Bennett.