Researcher of Political Science & Classical Islam. Initiated by the Khwajagan i-Naqshband.
Visualization (tasawwur) and bonding (rabita) can only be made to the directing shaykh. The directing shaykh is the heir of the Prophet, and represents the living archetype of the Prophetic idea. Psychologically this master has to be perceived as an infallible guide for the disciple since both the ego and the discursive mind constantly attempt to convince the reader that they know better than the master. Sufi training performed by a friend of God subdues the ego while purifying the mind, emotions, and heart.
Even though the repertoire of Naqshbandi spiritual methods appears relatively uniform in the literature, there have been creative variations not only between individual shaykhs but in the techniques each individual master used for each person. The venerable Khwaja Baqi-billah, for example, used to teach the way of bonding with the shaykh (tariq-i rabita) to novices having an inclination for love. One particularly adept disciple reportedly achieved such an intense connection to God (nisbat-i ‘azim) after two days of visualizing the venerable Baqi-billah that, in spite of his advanced age, he would spring two arm-lengths off the ground from the intense uncontrollable intoxication that resulted.
For most seekers, however, the venerable Baqi-billah would teach remembrance of the heart. The venerable Khwaja ‘Ubaydullah Ahrar, on the other hand, was so occupied with administrative activities in Tashkent, Herat, and Samarqand that he had little time to train his students in recollection of God (nafy wa-ithbat) or the contemplations (muraqabat). Instead, he relied mostly on creating a heart to heart bond (rabita) with them as the means to their training and spiritual purification.
Busy schedules aside, the vast majority of Naqshbandi elders have declared the visualization of the shaykh to be more effective than the remembrance of God (especially for the beginner). Historically this situation literally and symbolically represents the increasing tendency over time for authority to be more and more concentrated in the person of the Sufi shaykh. This visual focus on the spiritual guide involves both an emotional tie of love and a specific psychological tie of modeling.
Since the love of God is obligatory (mujib) for Muslims, it is a religious obligation (fard) to love both the Prophet and an intimate of God since both have happily arrive (muwassil) at God. Yet this cannot be forced; instead the disciple should spontaneously love the shaykh. Naturally a true lover never finds fault with the beloved.
There is synergistic effect between the visualization of the shaykh and love of the shaykh which allows the seeker to open him-or herself to a transformative process activated by the pir’s character and actions. This in turn strengthens the seeker’s connection to God. Eventually the pir’s astral body (jism i-mithali) can be summoned and one becomes eligible to take guidance from him directly in ones affairs.