Book Review: Be Present in Every Moment: Life Lessons from Moinuddin Chishti
By Dr Usha Bande
Title: Be Present in Every Moment: Life Lessons from Moinuddin Chishti
Edited by Babli Praveen.
Moinuddin Chishti is a familiar and revered name across religious faiths. This Sufi saint, originally from Central Asia, made India his home; served the needy and the poor for more than five decades and became one of the venerated figures of the subcontinent. Be Present in Every Moment has selected nuggets from Moinuddin Chishti’s preaching translated into English. The slim volume is full of everyday wisdom and imparts practical knowledge to help enhance our potential for happiness through tolerance and peaceful co-existence.
The editor, Babli Praveen, who teaches at Delhi University, specializes in Medieval Indian History and has researched on Sufi saints and Sufism in South Asia. The book, published by Aleph under their “Life Lessons” series, is a handy compilation of the great Master’s penetrating yet straightforward teachings that emphasize renunciation, tolerance, generosity and spiritual transformation.
The organization of the book is simple; the introduction gives relevant biographical information about Chishti; it is followed by his teachings arranged thematically. This allows the reader easy access to the key issues highlighted by his insights on the oneness of being, personal piety, music, charity, compassion and spiritual cleanliness.
Hazrat Sheikh Khwaja Syed Moinuddin Hasan Chishti, commonly referred to as Khwaja (sufi teacher) was a mystic, scholar, philosopher and poet known for introducing and establishing the Chishti order in India. Born to Khwaja Ghiyasuddin Hasan and mother Syeda Bibi, in 1142 CE, Moinuddin was an heir to the spiritual legacy of his parents’ lineage. Even at a very young age Moinuddin showed spiritual inclinations.
After the demise of his parents, he disposed off his property and set out on a life-long spiritual quest. He met Hazrat Khwaja Usman Harooni in Haroon (Iran). Khwaja Harooni discovered the spiritual spark in the young man and took him into his fold. Later, he appointed Moinuddin as his khalifa (spiritual successor) and directed him to spread the message of Islam.
After travelling for about 20 years, Moinuddin finally came to Ajmer, a place he decided to call home. He continued preaching from there for the next five decades till his demise in 1236. He set up the Chishti order of Sufism, which soon spread to other parts of the subcontinent.
“Sufism, the mystical version of Islam, was a big contributor in shaping medieval India’s religious ethos,” says the editor. It stresses meditation, renunciation of worldly pleasures and universal love without religious or social distinction or discrimination. The Khwaja’s message of love, brotherhood and tolerance appealed to people so much so that even his detractors felt disarmed in his benign presence.
Be Present in Every Moment offers a window into the life, times and teachings of the Khwaja of Ajmer with insights into his perceptive philosophy. The editor has assembled key precepts of his teachings and arranged them in different sections with a brief introductory note to convey the content of the verses. In ‘Humanity is the Greatest Religion’ Chishti urges:
“Follow your own religion,
but always respect another’s faith.”
Further, the verses say:
“Humanity is the greatest religion.
If you have a human approach,
You are a religious person.”
It is a rewarding experience to read lines that encompass all of human life. According to him, those who possess “Magnanimity of a river, kindness of the sun; And humility of the earth”, are closest to God.
The section ‘Beautiful beginning of the Day’ delivers a sound perspective on the value of developing a proactive nature. The Khwaja gives six principles to start the day; respect for parents, love for one’s children, devotion to the Holy Quran, offerings and prayers, warmth towards neighbours and service to one’s spiritual teacher (Guru). These basic lessons reveal a saint who prioritizes values as fundamental to a peaceful and meaningful existence.
Moinuddin Chishti’s essential focus is on living a pious and selfless life. In the section from which the title of the book is drawn, ‘Be Present in Every Moment’, his maxim is “Live before you die”. He says: “be present in every moment and have a deep gratitude for life”. Any moment could be our last and happiness lies in accepting it as a warning to do good to others and enjoy the beauty of every phase of life that comes with different charms and challenges.
The sections on charity, education and knowledge, truth and honesty, show how these are the “essential pillars of a pure life” to lead us on the path to the ‘Beloved’. In Sufi philosophy, God is the ‘Beloved’ and the seeker is the ‘lover’. The Khwaja says:
“Worldly people work under
The seekers of the world hereafter
Drink the love of God”
Charity, says he, is the “redeemer”; it “humanizes people”; while
“honesty is simple and sublime,
clear like crystal and smooth-flowing like a stream”.
The final section of the book offers a glimpse of his discourse to his disciples before his death. The core of his philosophy, “love all and hate none”, “Overflow with peace and joy”, “Be a blazing fire of Truth”, “With your spiritual light, dispel the darkness of ignorance” is reflected even in his last lesson.
Moinuddin Chishti’s philosophy is as much scientific as it is full of wisdom borne of spirituality. His message has the power to bring new meaning and purpose to life, to fascinate and to enlighten. That peace of mind comes when our life is in harmony with good principles and values is brought home to the reader. He conveys that intrinsic security comes with effective interdependent living, service and meaningful contribution to the world around us. The mantra that motivational speakers and writers are trying to sell today is part of the wisdom preached by great spiritual masters, like the Khwaja, centuries ago.
Be Present in Every Moment can be a good resource to understand the essence of Chishti’s teachings in nutshell. Guiding principles such as his have the power to inculcate unique human endowments like self-awareness, conscience and mutual benefits that can lead to a “win-win” situation. This tiny pocket size book contains voluminous meaning. While it is difficult to thoroughly explore the vast canvas of his teachings, this work provides enough material to whet our curiosity for more.
The production of the book is of good standard; but the print is too fine for reading comfort. Aleph should be thanked for their “Life Lesson” series that introduces lay readers to the great spiritual heritage of the world.
Usha Bande is a retired principal of a college in Himachal Pradesh (India) and a former Fellow of Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla.