This theme is an advanced teaching. It presumes that we have to some extent developed a healthy capacity for will. By will we mean the capacity to choose consciously; and will power is the capacity to follow through on what we have consciously chosen. Only then can we glimpse the meaning of “Claim nothing, let the Divine do.”
Someone who rarely makes a conscious decision, but follows this or that impulse, has little will. Such a person is only following the impulses, desires, and tendencies arising in the lower self. You may even justify or glorify those impulses with a spiritual rationale, but the reality is that you are under the command of your ego. That’s why every real spiritual teaching begins with a long apprenticeship going against certain impulses of the self, applying a discipline to the soul, being faithful to a spiritual practice that at first seems to involve some sacrifice. In the end, however, that spiritual practice is what frees us from an inner tyranny we may not have even recognized.
The Dog of Ego
O heart, stay with the pain that is a remedy.
No groaning; endure longing without complaint.
Stamp your foot upon your own desires.
Train the dog of ego. Let this be your sacrifice.
Rumi, Quatrain 311
A healthy will is a will that more often than not chooses what is good for the soul and is independent of the whims and desires of the lower self. It is at this stage that this theme becomes applicable. To “claim nothing” is to be scrupulous about not asserting your will, not identifying with your ego, not attributing the power of your own will to your lower self. As the Qur’an says: “There is no power nor strength except with the One.”
If the spiritual path is about remembering Allah in every moment and living your life accordingly, then there are boundless opportunities to “claim nothing.” In fact, as we observe our awakening into remembrance we may see that we are not actually doing it, and yet it does not happen without our strengthening our intention to be in remembrance and being consistent in practices of remembrance. As a result of a faithful practice we may find that we have more and more moments of remembrance, and our spontaneous, natural response could be real gratitude and humility. “Claim nothing, let the Divine do.”
This is very different from following the path of least resistance that is the ego’s way, a way of yielding to any impulse that arises. Following the path of least resistance can actually be the path of dissipation and gradual loss of will. While following the Straight Path is to be aware of choice and naturally choosing what is in alignment with our highest purpose and intention.
To Be Erased
Unless the seeker is absolutely erased,
In truth, he will not come into union.
Union is not penetrable. It is your destruction.
Otherwise any worthless person would become the Truth.
Rumi, Quatrain 800
Our sense and understanding of our highest purpose is informed by the exemplars of the Path—the prophets, masters, and saints whose lives and words inspire us.
This Path of Love is a direct path, merciful toward our human nature, yet calling us to a discipline that spiritualizes the body, the emotions, and even our thoughts. Claim nothing, let the Divine do becomes even more important as we begin to sense the inflow of a spiritual energy that lifts us up and radiates into the world. The danger at this stage is that we (no matter how subtly) appropriate that power to ourselves. While being in the flow of grace is more likely to be given to someone who has overcome the dissipating impulses of the nafs, that flow is not an act of our own will. While the stages of the spiritual path require an inner mastery over ourselves, there is no way to attain that mastery except through humbleness, gratitude, and love.
Yourself without Yourself
If you go on the Way, they will open the Way to you.
And if you become nothing, you’ll be led to real being.
And if you will be humble, the universe will not contain you,
And you will be shown yourself, without yourself.
Rumi, Quatrain 742
(All translations from the forthcoming: The Rumi Daybook (November–Shambhala Publications, to preorder)