Greetings of Peace. This blog contains selections from my correspondence and other sources on a variety of subjects related to religion, philosophy, and spirituality. I hope that they may be of benefit to the interested reader. Concerning the title of the blog, read this entry.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Tasawwuf and Tantra




al-Da'iratu-l Fath of Shaykh Abu-l 'Abbas al-Mursi

There are certainly elements and perspectives of Tasawwuf that are analogous to Tantra but this is quite different than an incorporation of Tantra into Tasawwuf. Concrete examples can include awrad, dawa'ir, and lata'if, which correlate to mantras, yantras, and chakras, and a shared perspective concerning the theophanic quality of nature. Despite the formal and practical similarities of these elements, the content differs considerably because the manifestation is delimited in each case by the scope of the revelation. In Islam, every element of tasawwuf either derives from or is reconciled to the Quran. Likewise, the function and authority of the Shaykh is modeled after the Prophet Muhammad - may peace and blessings be upon him - and derived from the transmission of his initiatic and legislative power in contradistinction to a Shaivite Guru for example who is modeled after and derives his authority from Dakshinamurthi or Shiva in the form of the first Guru.

This is what I was referring to previously by stating that the classical Sufi tradition seems to avoid many of the problems of occultism, which is characterized by syncretism and eclecticism. There is no place for improvisations within the spiritual life because the recognition of the Quran as al-furqan, the criterion, is still very strong. I have encountered the teaching for instance that when the gnostic receives an inspiration, he measures it according to the criteria of the Quran and Sunna and if he finds it contradictory to the revelation he discards it. Bearing in mind that the Quran is a vast ocean of knowledge with a universalist perspective, this should in no wise be considered a diminution or exclusivism as much as a divinely established boundary preventing one from straying off the path.

Schuon asserts that "between one esoterism and another there are possibilities of mutual influence that can hardly exist on the exoteric plane, but in certain cases extend into the domain of outward forms." I believe that the converse also holds true, that between one exoterism and another there are divinely ordained formal limits which can hardly exist on the esoteric plane, but in certain cases extend into the domain of spiritual realization.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Absolute, Infinite, Perfection



Commentary on Surah al-Ikhlas by Seyyed Hossein Nasr excerpted from The Need for a Sacred Science, p. 10-11

The metaphysical doctrine of God as absolute and infinite is contained in an explicit fashion in the Quranic chapter called Unity or Sincerity, al-Tawhid, or al-Ikhlas (CXIII), which according to Muslims summarizes the Islamic doctrine of God.

In the Name of God - Most Merciful, Most Compassionate
Say: He is God, the One (al-Ahad)!
God, the eternal cause of all beings (al-Samad)!
He begeteth not nor was He begotten.
And there is none like unto Him.

The "Say" (qul) already refers to the source of manifestaion in the Divine Principle, to the Logos which is at once the Divine Instrument or Manifestation and the source of manifestation in the Divine Order. He (huwwa) is the Divine Essence, God in Himself, God as such or in His suchness. Al-Ahad attests not only to God's oneness but also to His absoluteness. God is one because He is absolute and absolute because He is one, al-ahadiyyah or quality of oneness implying both meanings in Arabic. Al-Samad, a most difficult term to render into English, implies eternal fulness or richness which is the source of everything; it refers to Divine Infinity, to God being the All-possibility. The last two verses emphasize the truth that God in His Essence is both above all realtions and all comparisons. The chapter as a whole is therefore the revealed and scriptural counterpart of the metaphysical doctrine of the Divine Nature as it issues from the inner revelation which is the intellect.

There is, however, one more statement in this Quranic chapter with which in fact the other chapters of the Quran also open and which is related to the third aspect of the Divine Nature referred to above, namely goodness. God is not only absolute and infinite, but also goodness and perfection. To use the Quranic terminology, He is al-Rahmah, mercy in Himself, and being mercy and goodness cannot but manifest Himself. The expansive power of the Divinity, which "breathing upon the Divine possibilities" manifests the world, issues from this fundamental aspect of the Divine Nature as goodness or mercy. That is why the Sufis consider the very substance of the universe to be nothing other than the "Breath of the Compassionate" (nafas al-rahman). If God is both absolute and infinite, goodness or mercy also reside in His very nature for as Ibn 'Arabi has said, "Mercy pertains to the essence of the Absolute because the latter is by essence 'Bounteous.'"

Saturday, September 05, 2015

The Return to Tradition




Christian knocks at the wicker gate in The Pilgrim's Progress

The return to tradition is a wonderful stage in the spiritual quest of the contemporary seeker of truth and reality who is sensitive to both the beauty and diversity of revelation. It is an opportunity to examine yourself and find the fulfillment of your disposition and aspirations within one of the world's great orthodox religions.

Different people tend to approach this task in various ways. Some seek to rekindle an appreciation of that which is most familiar by returning to the faith of their parents or ancestors. Others seek fulfillment in foreign religions free from cumbersome prejudices acquired through negative experiences of the past. Some take a circuitous route of trial and error leading to discernment while yet others with a clearer goal in mind take the path of least resistance based upon the consideration of expediency. It is ultimately up to you to find your own way but it is always helpful to share your inquiries and solicit feedback from others who have previously passed through this stage or are currently traversing it themselves.

One of the most helpful guides related to this question that I have encountered is Some Thoughts on Soliciting and Imparting Spiritual Counsel by Marco Pallis which I strongly recommend to your attention. He provides remarkably intelligent and succinct answers to common questions proposed by seekers as well as various related considerations likely to arise along the way.

A useful preliminary consideration is that of accessibility. Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, as religions of conversion with universal appeal and applicability to all people indiscriminately, are generally the most accessible to the contemporary unaffiliated Western seeker. This is not to say that other traditions are absolutely closed to the Westerner but rather that there are various social and cultural barriers that make those possibilities more remote.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ibn Ata Allah on Invoking with the Shahadah



The novice should invoke with perfect force and respectful veneration. La ilaha illa llah should rise from above the navel. By the phrase la ilaha, he should intend excluding from the heart what is other than-God. By the phrase illa llah, he should intend uniting the formula with the cone-shaped physical heart so as to fix illa llah firmly in the heart and let it flow throughout all the members of the body, causing the meaning of the invocation to be present in his heart at every instant.

- Ibn Ata Allah, The Key to Salvation, p. 70

Monday, August 24, 2015

Where the Journey Begins





In his book, The Alchemy of Happiness, the great 11th century Muslim sage Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali wrote that "the key to the knowledge of God is knowledge of one's own self ... Therefore, thou must seek out the truth about thyself: What sort of a thing art thou? Whence camest thou? Whither goest thou? Why hast thou come to this stopping place? For what purpose wert thou created? What is thy happiness and in what does it lie? What is thy misery and in what does it lie?" The teachings of the traditional school originally resonated with me because they provide concrete and intellectually satisfying answers to these fundamental questions of the nature and purpose of human existence by drawing upon and contextualizing the wisdom of the various religions and philosophies of the world.

Islam was providentially the last of the world's great religions that I was to explore in my personal quest for meaning. This was especially appropriate because it represents the last great revelation of God to man and as such serves as something of a synthesis and recapitulation of the essential elements of previous traditions while explicitly confirming them within its vision of the cosmos and history. According to the Quran, there has never been a time when humanity has been without divine guidance and the various religions issue from the messages transmitted to God's Prophets in all periods of history. Although the proximate cause of my conversion to Islam was my profound affinity and love for the Prophet Muhammad - may peace and blessings be upon him - that emerged as I read Martin Lings' biography, the religion itself also satisfied my need for universality through the explicit acknowledgement of the legitimacy of other religions.

Each orthodox tradition contains within itself the means of satisfying the needs of all human types and dispositions including a path of salvation through the accumulation of meritorious actions, a path of beatification through devotion to a human manifestation of the Divinity, and a path of unification through interior knowledge of the Divine Reality. Sufism reveals the inner meaning of the outward observances of the religion of Islam while simultaneously providing access to the fullness of the possibilities contained in the revelation by integrating elements of all three of these paths to God.

To take what you are reading and actually begin to incorporate it into your life is to make the transition from theory into practice. It is not sufficient to take up the practice of a few techniques, however. Within the context of a perspective which embraces both the universality and exclusivity of various religions, it is necessary to search within yourself to determine which tradition is appropriate to your needs and disposition and then to commit yourself to it totally.

In the Islamic tradition, which you appear to be drawn to, this means to practice the five pillars of the religion beginning with reciting the Shahadah with conviction in the presence of Muslim witnesses. This is the first meritorious act of the religion which incorporates elements of both faith and knowledge and is also the act that formally makes you a Muslim. This two-fold testimony, la ilaha illa llah, muhammadur rasulullah, communicates your knowledge of the reality of God and of Muhammad as a prophet and messenger of God. Esoterically it also contains implicitly and symbolically the entirety of the doctrine of metaphysics. Furthermore, to take the first step upon the straight path of Islam requires a tremendous act of faith because at this stage both the road and its destination are not as of yet clearly defined. In my experience it is like leaping into an abyss and relying upon God himself to guide you to the narrow bridge which may carry you safely to the other shore.

This utterly simple but ultimately profound act is where the journey begins.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Esoteric Amorality


 Tantric Carvings from Vishwanath Temple, Khajuraho

Greetings of Peace. Today I began re-reading The Transcendent Unity of Religions after many years and encountered the following esoteric conception of amorality. I was surprised to find it in this book because I was under the impression that these ideas were not developed as such until many years later. I found the example at the end to be somewhat problematic and was wondering if anyone had any additional thoughts on the matter. Here is the quotation

“It may nevertheless be asked what consequences such a ‘nonmoral’—we do not say ‘immoral’—conception of ‘evil’ implies for the initiate; the reply to this is that in the consciousness of the initiate, and consequently in his life, ‘sin’ is replaced by ‘dissipation’, that is by everything which is opposed to spiritual ‘concentration’ or in other words to unity. Needless to say, the difference here is primarily one of principle and of method, and this difference does not affect all individuals in the same way; however, what morally is ‘sin’ is nearly always ‘dissipation’ from the initiatory point of view. This ‘concentration’—or tendency towards unity (tawhîd)—becomes, in Islamic exotericism, faith in the Unity of God, and the greatest transgression is to associate other divinities with Allâh; for the initiate (the faqir), on the other hand, this transgression will have a universal bearing in the sense that every purely individual affirmation will be tainted with this aspect of false divinity, and if, from the religious point of view, the greatest merit lies in the sincere profession of Divine Unity, the faqir will realize this profession in a spiritual manner, giving to it a meaning which embraces all the orders of the universe, and this will be achieved precisely by the concentration of his whole being on the one Divine Reality. To make clearer this analogy between ‘sin' and ‘dissipation’ we may take as an example the reading of a good book. From the exoteric point of view this will never be considered as a reprehensible act, but it may be considered incidentally so in esotericism in cases where it amounts to a dissipation, or when the dissipation entailed by the act outweighs its usefulness. Inversely, a thing which would nearly always be considered by religious morality as a ‘temptation’, and hence as a first step on the path to sin, may sometimes play the opposite part in esotericism, inasmuch as, far from being a dissipation, ‘sinful’ or otherwise, it may be a factor of concentration by virtue of the immediate intelligibility of its symbolism. There are even cases, in Tantrism for example and in certain cults of antiquity, where acts which in themselves would count as sins, not only according to a particular religious morality but also according to the legislation of the civilization in which they occur, serve as a support for intellection, a fact which presupposes a strong predominance of the contemplative element over the passionate; however, a religious morality is never made for the benefit of contemplatives only but for that of all men.” (p.49-50)

***

Greetings of Peace. Thank you for your responses. I seem to have somehow overlooked that lengthy passage concerning nudity during my first reading of the referenced chapter or perhaps it is simply the case that I did not have a frame of reference for it yet. I am beginning to realize that my first foray into Schuon's writings was much like my first exposure to Plato. I read through his work quickly and uncritically, understanding portions of it while passing over the rest in silence. It is very relevant to my own problematic reference because it provides a concrete illustration with which to engage the idea of the non-moral dimension of esoterism. Indeed, the majority of the references to tantrism in his writings seem self-reflective, pertaining to the explanation and justification of his own practice of sacred nudity and perspective concerning sexuality.

The original problem that I encountered in the passage that I quoted concerns the seeming tension and disproportion between Revelation and Intellection within the domain of moral activity. If esoterism is capable of bypassing the exoteric laws of morality by an appeal to the symbolic and theophanic quality of the natural world, carried to its furthest possible application, this effectively destroys the significance of moral boundaries and renders uninhibited access to anything provided that the qualitative vision of things is accessible through it. Again, carried to its furthest possible application, all created things bear the trace of the divinity.

***

I agree with you concerning the concept of intrinsic morality which we have discussed in the past. In fact we may expand the inquiry to include the concepts of intrinsic orthodoxy and the implied concomitant of intrinsic orthopraxy all of which stem from the dichotomy introduced between subjective intellection and objective revelation. If, to follow our example, an objectively beneficent activity transposed into the subjective intellectual domain of the faqir (engaged in methodical invocation for example) can become a dispersive and therefore intrinsically immoral activity and an objectively immoral activity transposed into the same context can become beneficent, this seems give rise to a rather deeply rooted and problematic relativism. If one man's poison is another man's medicine and potentially vice versa, what happens to the higher order and deeply rooted nature of things?

Thank you for engaging in this exchange. My interrogation of these ideas is not meant as some kind of challenge. It is only a small part of my ongoing effort toward understanding Frithjof Schuon's teachings and their practical application.

***

My initial perception of the seeming relativity of the esoteric perspective was limited and provisional. I now recognize that this is because although all things may bear traces of the divinity, they do not all do so in the same manner or to an identical qualitative degree. Schuon refers to exoteric morality transposed into the esoteric domain as the Sense of the Sacred, a mode of intelligence which in contrast to the rigorous and logical mind, is characterized by a kind of aesthetic and musical sensibility which allows us to exercise a subjective discernment over the holiness and interiorizing qualities of things independent of but not necessarily in condratiction to their consecration through an objective revelation.

***

This is a very important reminder for me as I seem to have created a false dichotomy between these two phenomena that Schuon did not intend or in fact communicate. Revelation and intellection are not equivalent to exoterism and esoterism. Rather, it seems that revelation is addressed to our will and sentiments exoterically and our intelligence esoterically, whereas our intellect itself is unconditioned and therefore linked in a mysterious way to the esoteric and universal dimensions of all revelations indiscriminately, to that domain of metaphysics in which they converge upon one another.

In case you are wondering where all these questions are coming from, I basically woke up one morning to find that I had been operating under the illusion of certitude due to an acceptance of these teachings without any true understanding. The adolescent breaking free of his childhood fantasies concerning God affords an apt analogy. Unlike the typical adolescent response of rebellion, however, I am instead reapplying myself to these teachings with renewed vigor. As Schuon wrote, "It is all too evident that fundamental intelligence is manifested, not necessarily in the fact of accepting lofty ideas, but by the capacity to really understand them..."

***

The following is a quotation from William Chittick's The The Sufi Path of Knowledge concerning The Scale of the Law that is very pertinent to all of the above considerations. He wrote,

"One of the most common terms that Ibn al-Arabi employs in referring to revelation in both a general sense and the specific sense of the Koran and Sunna is shar', which will be translated as 'Law' and from which the well-known term Shari'a, the revealed law of Islam, is derived. The original sense of the term is 'to enter into the water to drink of it,' said of animals. Secondarily it means a clear and open track or path. It came to be applied metaphorically to the clear and obvious path which leads to God, or in other words, the Law which God revealed as guidance to mankind. Ibn al-Arabi often speaks of revealed Law in general terms, showing plainly that he means revelation in a general sense, given to all peoples throughout history, down to Muhammad. But when he turns to specific applications and interpretations of principles, he always remains within the Islamic universe ...

According to Ibn al-Arabi, the Law is the scale (al-mizan) in which must be weighed everything having to do with God, knowledge, love, spiritual realization, and the human state in general. Without the Scale of the Law, we will remain forever swimming in a shoreless ocean of ambiguity. Only the Scale can provide a point of reference in terms of which knowledge and all human endeavors may be judged. The Law makes it possible to move toward the Center and avoid wallowing in indefinite dispersion, overcome by ignorance, multiplicity, and misguidance.

One might say that the function of the Law is to sort out relationships and put things in their proper perspective, this providing a divine norm for human knowledge and action. Faced with He/not He wherever they look, human beings cannot possibly search out the He and cling to light without a discernment deriving from the Light Itself. No doubt everyone has an inner light known as intelligence, but that also needs correct guidance to grow in intensity and begin functioning on its own. Only the friends of God have reached the station where they can follow the inner light without reference to the outer law. But this, as Ibn al-Arabi would say, is a station of great danger (khatar). Iblis and countless 'spiritual teachers' have been led astray by it. The law remains the only concrete anchor." (p.27)

***

Although the question of external authority was not central to my consideration, it certainly is not unrelated. My primary consideration was that if the exoteric perspective determines practical limitations through the legal dimensions of revelation (in a general sense without touching upon the consideration of varying interpretations as you have demonstrated), does the esoteric perspective also possess criteria for determining practical limitations? The answer was found in the realization that although esoterism does not conceive of limitations in light of a morality pertinent to the passional aspect of man, it does take consideration of qualitative differences "in the nature of things" with respect to their relative remotion or proximity to the Principle. It is of course comforting to note Schuon's acknowledgement that there is oftentimes, though not necessarily in all cases, a direct correlation and complementarity between the domains of moral rectitude and contemplative concentration as when he states, "what morally is ‘sin’ is nearly always ‘dissipation’ from the initiatory point of view."

***

God-willing brother, I think that [the movement from taqlid to tahqiq] is an appropriate description of my current tendency. I am also coming to believe that it is a necessary transition on the path of Gnosis.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Am I an Ideological Totalist?

Am I an Ideological Totalist?:
A Self-Examination Based Upon the Research of Robert Jay Lifton



The following is an outline of the method of self-examination that I referenced in The Devil is Especially Active Against the Fuqara which I employed to interrogate my beliefs and the cult-like tendencies that I had developed in relation to the traditional school. Whereas I am thoroughly convinced that ideological totalism is absent from my present environment and affiliations, it does seem to have crystalized at a late stage of the development of the movement centered in Bloomington where elements of it seem to have persisted to the present day. It is curious to note Lifton's observation that "... if totalism has at any time been prominent in the movement, there is always the possibility of its reappearance, even after long periods of relative moderation." All questions are derived from the eight psychological themes common to the totalist environment described by Lifton in Chapter 22 of Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.

Milieu Control

Is my communication with the world outside of the microcosm of my group limited or controlled?

Does my group dictate what is acceptable and unacceptable for me to see, hear, read, write, experience, express, or think?

Does my group claim exclusive possession of the knowledge of reality?

Mystical Manipulation

Is the central or controlling agency of my group surrounded by a mystique?

Does my group claim to be the vanguard chosen by a supernatural agency to carry out a mystical imperative of wide-ranging social or cosmic importance?

Is any thought or action which questions the higher purpose of my group considered to be stimulated by a lower purpose - to be backward, selfish, and petty in the face of the great, overriding mission?

Am I asked by my group to place absolute trust or faith in the veracity of the mystical imperative?

Does the preservation of my trust in the group necessitate that I manipulate others into the adoption of a similar perspective?

Have I been deprived of the opportunity or capacity for self-expression and independent action?

The Demand for Purity

Does my group sharply divide the experiential world into the "pure", absolutely good ideas, feelings, and actions consistent with the doctrine and policy of the group and the "impure", absolutely evil ideas, feelings, and actions which consist of anything contrary to this?

Am I asked to rigorously root out and destroy all taints and poisons from myself in the pursuit of absolute purity or perfection for my own benefit and to prevent them from harming others, especially the group?

Do I suffer from guilt and shame as a result of failing to live up to the demand for purity?

Does my group subject me to guilt and shame through rejection, accusation, humiliation, or ostracism due to my inability to live up to their demand for purity?

Does my group possess control over me through their capacity to forgive my guilt?

Do I view my impurities as arising from influences outside of the program and perspective of my group?

Do I continually and hostilely denounce and express my hatred toward and the threat posed by these outside influences? Does this help to alleviate my sense of guilt?

The Cult of Confession

Does my group demand that I confess to real or imagined crimes and sins, especially those committed against the group, and submit to a cure or penance?

Does my group require that I expose as much as possible my life experiences, thoughts, and passions, especially negative ones?

Do I suppress and keep secret any doubts about or resentments toward the group as well as any aspects of identity or personality derived from or existing outside of the program and perspective of the group?

Do I believe that the more I accuse myself, the more right I have to judge others?

The Sacred Science

Do I believe that the doctrine of my group is sacred, attribute to it a supernatural origin, and view it as the ultimate vision of human, cosmic, and/or divine order and morality?

Does the group prohibit me from questioning these basic assumptions concerning the doctrine, its revealer, or current expounders and representatives?

Do I hold those who question the authority of the doctrine of my group, its revealer, or representatives to be immoral, irreverent, illogical, or ignorant?

Do I believe that the doctrine of my group is absolute and true for all people at all times?

Do I obtain a sense of comfort and security from the exclusive possession of the truth communicated to me by my group in the form of sweeping non-rational insights or intuitions?

Do I feel guilty due to or afraid of exposure or attraction to ideas which contradict those of my group? Does this hamper my quest for knowledge or receptive search for truth?

Loading the Language

Does my group reduce the most complex and far-reaching ideas into brief, highly reductive, definitively sounding phrases?

Do I memorize and repeat these phrases to describe the ideas of my group toward which I possess a sense of certitude?

Do I use repetitious, all-encompassing, abstract, categorical, or judgmental jargon to criticize, dismiss, or avoid the quest for individual expression, the exploration of alternative ideas, or the search for balance and perspective in personal judgements?

Is my use and development of language stunted by the repetition of the same words and phrases?

Do I feel a sense of insight and security or constriction and uneasiness through this repetitive use of the common words and phrases of my group?

Doctrine Over Person

Are historical events altered, rewritten, or reinterpreted to conform to the doctrine of my group and its internal logic?

Does my group insist that my character and identity be reshaped to fit the rigid contours of its doctrinal mold rather than pursuing accordance with my own special nature and potentialities?

If my group begins to deviate from its prescribed doctrine and program, does it employ new rationalizations to demonstrate its unerring consistency and integrity?

Does my group demand absolute sincerity through doctrinal compliance both in terms of my beliefs and my direction of personal change?

Does my group attribute any tendencies toward doctrinal deviation to personal problems, errors in thinking, negative heredity, or the trauma of past experiences?

Does my acquiescence to the demand for sincerity through doctrinal conformity give me a sense of well-being and wholeness?

The Dispensing of Existence

Does my group draw a sharp distinction between those who have a right to existence and those who have no such right?

Does my group express or imply the conviction that it presents the one path to true existence and the one valid mode of being and that all others are false or limited?

Did my entrance into the perspective or program of the group involve a conversion experience?

Do I believe that my primary reason for existence is to believe the doctrines and follow the practices of the group?

Do I believe that there is nothing that exists for me outside of the doctrine and practice of the group?

Am I afraid to leave the group?

The following video, although somewhat tongue-in-cheek, accurately portrays in outline the extreme manifestations of the totalist milieu.





Saturday, August 01, 2015

Al-Ghazali on the Guide of the Way



When these veils [wealth, rank and pomp, following precedent, and sin] have been pulled away, one's similitude is that of the person who has performed the obligatory purification and is prepared to perform the obligatory formal prayer. Now, he needs an imam to lead him in performing the prayer. That is the spiritual guide (pir), for without a spiritual guide, traveling the path will not be direct. The path to God is hidden and mixed with the paths of Satan. The path to God is one, but there are thousand paths to the false. How will it be possible to travel that one path without a guide? When one has found his spiritual guide, he must put all of his affairs in the guide's hands and set aside control over himself. He must know that his profit in the spiritual guide's error will be greater than his own correctness. Whatever he hears from the spiritual guide that he does not understand should remind him of the story of Moses and Khidr. That story is for the spiritual guide and his disciple, for the shaykhs know things which the mind of the disciple cannot entertain ...

Therefore when the affair is entrusted to the spiritual guide, the first act of the spiritual guide is to place one in a fortress so that evils do not circle around him. That fortress has four walls: one is seclusion, another is silence, another is hunger, and another is wakefulness. Hunger closes the way of Satan, sleeping little illuminates the soul, silence keeps the soul from the distraction of talk, and seclusion turns away the darkness of people from him and closes the way to the eyes and ears. Sahl Tustari (R) says: "The saints who have become saints became so by seclusion, hunger, silence, and wakefulness."

When one has risen out of the path of preoccupation, one starts to travel on the path. The beginning of the path is that one start to overcome the first obstacles of the path. The obstacles of the path are the blameworthy qualities of the soul. They are the root of the things from which one must flee - such as the greed for wealth and rank, the greed for comfort, haughtiness, hypocrisy, and the like - until the materials of distraction are cut off from within and the soul is empty of them. It may happen that a person be emptied of all of these until he is not polluted by more than one blameworthy quality. Then he must strive to sever that one by the means that the shaykh approves and considers more suited to him, for these vary with conditions.

Now that he has cleared the field, the sowing of the seed begins. The seed is the Remembrance of God Most High, since he has been emptied of all save Him. Then he sits in seclusion and continually recites Allah, Allah in his soul and with his tongue until the time when the tongue falls silent and the soul begins to speak. Then the soul, too, ceases to speak and the meaning of the word overwhelms the soul. The significance is not in the letters. It is not Arabic or Persian, for speaking with the soul is also speech. Speech is the sheath and the husk of the seed, not the seed itself. Then, the import of that must become firmly established in the soul, dominating and victorious, so that the soul not be forced to that state. Rather, it should become like a lover from which the soul cannot be held back by force. Shibli said to his disciple, Husri: "If from Friday to Friday when thou comest to me, thou lettest anything pass in thy soul other than God Most High, thy coming to me will be unlawful."

So, when the soul has been cleared of the thorns of worldly temptations and the seeds have been planted, nothing still remains that is related to free choice. The soul has chosen to be there in that condition. After that, one remains waiting for what will grow and appear. Usually the seed is not wasted, for God Most High says: Whoever desires the harvest of the Hereafter, We give him increase in his harvest. (42:20) He says "Whoever cultivates the work of the Hereafter and does the seed, We shall bestow in crease upon him.

From this point, the conditions of the disciples are various: there is the person to whom the meaning of the word begins to appear plainly, but spurious imaginings come to him. There is the person who is delivered from these, but the essence of the angels and the spirits of the Prophets begin to appear to him in beautiful forms, as though he were dreaming. He opens his eyes and still sees them. After that, there are other states, the discussion of which would be lengthy. There is no benefit in relating them because the way is for traveling, not speaking. Each person has a different experience. For whoever desires to travel that path, it is better that he not have heard anything about it, so that expectation not occupy his soul and itself become veil.

- Al-Ghazali, The Alchemy of Happiness, pp. 473-475

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Mary of the Soul and Jesus of the Heart




(Excerpts are from the Pickthall Translation of the Quran and Tafsir Al-Kashani translated by Feras Hamza)

3:33 Lo! Allah preferred Adam and Noah and the Family of Abraham and the Family of 'Imran above (all His) creatures.

3:34 They were descendants one of another. Allah is Hearer, Knower.


The seed of one another, in terms of religion and in reality, since generation by birth are of two types, formal and spiritual. Every prophet is a successor to another prophet in terms of the affirmation of Oneness, gnosis and what relates to the esoteric principles of religion and is as such that [other] prophet’s son, similar to the [case of] sons of [Sufi] shaykhs in our times. As they say, you have three fathers, a father that has given birth to you, a father that has nurtured you and a father that has given you knowledge. So just as the existence of the body in the formal birth is generated within the womb of the çmother from the seminal infusion of the father, so the existence of the heart in the true birth becomes manifest within the womb of the preparedness of the soul [generated] by the [spiritual] infusion of the shaykh or teacher; it is to this [latter] birth that Jesus, peace be upon him, alluded in his saying: ‘He who has not been born again shall not enter the kingdom of heaven’ [cf. John 3:3] ...

3:35 (Remember) when the wife of 'Imran said: My Lord! I have vowed unto Thee that which is in my belly as a consecrated (offering). Accept it from me. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Hearer, the Knower!

Lo! It is You Who are the Hearer, the Knower. Know that the intentions and configurations of the soul have an effect on the soul of the child, just as foods have an effect on its body. Thus the one whose food is licit and wholesome and the configurations of whose soul are luminous, and whose intentions are sincere and directed towards the Truth, his child will be a believer, a truthful one, a saint or a prophet. The one whose food is forbidden and the configurations of whose soul are dark and vile, whose intentions are corrupt and despicable, his child will be corrupt or a  vile disbeliever, since the semen from which the child issues is generated by that food, nurtured in that soul and thus corresponds to it. That is why the Messenger of God said, ‘A child is the innermost secret of its father, and so the truthfulness of Mary and the prophethood of Jesus were the blessing of the truthfulness of her father.

3:36 And when she was delivered she said: My Lord! Lo! I am delivered of a female - Allah knew best of what she was delivered - the male is not as the female; and lo! I have named her Mary, and lo! I crave Thy protection for her and for her offspring from Satan the outcast.

3:37 And her Lord accepted her with full acceptance and vouchsafed to her a goodly growth; and made Zachariah her guardian. Whenever Zachariah went into the sanctuary where she was, he found that she had food. He said: O Mary! Whence cometh unto thee this (food) ? She answered: It is from Allah. Allah giveth without stint to whom He will.

[Whenever Zachariah went into the sanctuary, where she was,] he found her with provisions: it is possible that what is meant by this is spiritual provision in the way of gnoses, [spiritual] realities, knowledge and wisdoms that were being effused upon her from that which is with God. Since to be designated specifically by [divine] withness (ʿindiyya) is proof that these [provisions] were provisions directly from God (laduniyya).

3:38 Then Zachariah prayed unto his Lord and said: My Lord! Bestow upon me of Thy bounty goodly offspring. Lo! Thou art the Hearer of Prayer.


Then Zachariah prayed to his Lord: Zachariah was an extremely old man and a leader and guardian of the people. He requested from his Lord a true child who would take his place in nurturing and guiding people, as alluded to in sūra Kāf-hāʾ-yāʾ-ʿayn-ṣād. He then bestows upon him the gift of John (Yaḥyā) from his own loins through his own ability after he had been commanded to cleave in spiritual retreat for three days. At this point you might seek the interpretation [of this] by seeking a correspondence [with this story] to your own states and the details of your existence as you have come to know. That is to say, the corporeal nature, that is, the corporeal faculty is [represented by] the wife of ʿImrān the spirit, who vowed as an offering what was in her faculty of the reassured soul to God, exalted be He, by complying with the command of the Truth and by her obedience to it and so she gave birth to the female of the soul. God thereupon placed the Zachariah of reflection in charge of her after He accepted her [offering] on account of her being pure and holy. Whenever the Zachariah of reflection entered into the sanctuary of the brain, where she was, he found her with provisions of intuitive meanings which had been unveiled to her [simply] as a result of her purity without any distinction of reflective capacity on her part. Then the Zachariah of reflection called upon the compositions of those meanings and sought from God as a bestowal a wholesome child sanctified from the pollutants of nature. God heard his call, that is, He responded. Thereupon the angels of the spiritual faculties called to him as he stood fulfilling His command putting together the components of knowledge, communing with his Lord, seeking that the lights descend upon him and approaching Him by orienting himself towards the world of holiness in the sanctuary of the brain;

3:39 And the angels called to him as he stood praying in the sanctuary: Allah giveth thee glad tidings of (a son whose name is) John, (who cometh) to confirm a word from Allah lordly, chaste, a prophet of the righteous.

That ‘God gives you good tidings of John, of the intellect in act, confirming, Jesus of the heart, believing in him, as he is Word from God, sanctified as he is above the world of bodies and material generation, a lord, to all kinds of faculties, and one chaste, preventing his soul from engaging [his] corporeal nature or clothing himself in the natures of the corporeal faculties, and a prophet, informing [as he will] of forms of gnosis and universal truths and teaching virtuous character traits and correct manners of governance by the command of the Truth; of the righteous’, of the dispersions and disengagement that by virtue of their acts merit being among those brought near to the divine presence after the reflection [sc. Zachariah] had attained the old age of the limit of its [creational] stage but had not reached the ability to perceive the holy truths and the universal gnoses; while his wife, who constituted the nature of the egocentric spirit being the locus for the disposal of reflection, barren by [pure] disengaged light. The indication of that, namely, the indication of the actualisation of the disengaged light and its becoming manifested by the pure soul is the abstention [by Zachariah] from communing with the corporeal faculties as these seek to actualise their demands and desires as well as [abstaining from] mixing with them with regard to the surpluses of their pleasures and lusts for three days, each day constituting a full decade of the [various] stages of his life, ten years [in all], except for gesturing to them by some subtle token, commanding them to [perform] the glorification specific to each one of them — without drawing near to any of them with regard to their goals — and occupying himself for three days, the duration of which is thirty years starting from the age of discernment which is [after] the first ten [years], with the remembrance of his Lord in the sanctuary of the brain and [with] the glorification specific to that always. Likewise the angels of the spiritual faculties said to Mary of the pure wholesome soul:

3:40 He said: My Lord! How can I have a son when age hath overtaken me already and my wife is barren? (The angel) answered: So (it will be). Allah doeth what He will.

3:41 He said: My Lord! Appoint a token for me. (The angel) said: The token unto thee (shall be) that thou shalt not speak unto mankind three days except by signs. Remember thy Lord much, and praise (Him) in the early hours of night and morning.

3:42 And when the angels said: O Mary! Lo! Allah hath chosen thee and made thee pure, and hath preferred thee above (all) the women of creation.


God has elected you, because of your being above lust, and made you pure, from the vices of reprehensible character traits and attributes, and He has chosen you above the women, of the concupiscent souls variegated by despicable acts and vile natures.

3:43 O Mary! Be obedient to thy Lord, prostrate thyself and bow with those who bow (in worship).

O Mary: be obedient to your Lord by [the fulfillment of] the duties of acts of obedience and worship, and prostrate, at the station of brokenness, humility, poverty, incapacity and pardon-seeking, and bow, at the station of submissiveness and heartfelt humility with those who submit.

3:44 This is of the tidings of things hidden. We reveal it unto thee (Muhammad). Thou wast not present with them when they threw their pens (to know) which of them should be the guardian of Mary, nor wast thou present with them when they quarreled (thereupon).

That is of the tidings of the Unseen, that is, the states of the unseen aspects of your existence. We reveal it to you, O prophet of the spirit, for you were not with them, [you were not] with the spiritual and ego-centric faculties, that is, at their rank or station, when they were casting their quills, which of them should have charge of Mary: that is, [when] they were vying against one another with their arrows and hurrying with their shares, which of them should govern Mary the soul and take charge of it in accordance with his opinion and what his nature entails, to preside over it and command it to what he sees as beneficial to his affair; nor were you with them, at the station of the breasts, which is the locus for the conflict between the spiritual faculties and the ego-centric ones, the locus of the their conflict being the breast, when they were disputing, in conflict back and forth seeking to be in charge when this [possibility] became manifest, before [engaging in] spiritual discipline, when the angels of the spiritual faculties were victorious with the success granted by the Truth after spiritual discipline and said to Mary the soul:

3:45 (And remember) when the angels said: O Mary! Lo! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a word from him, whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, illustrious in the world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near (unto Allah).

‘God gives you good tidings of a Word, the heart, bestowed, from Him, whose name is the Anointed one, because he shall anoint you with light, honoured shall he be in this world, because of his perception of particulars and his determining of the means of livelihood in the best, purest and most correct way, such that the human beings of the outer faculties and the jinn of the inner faculties obey, revere and exalt him, and, in, the Hereafter, because of his perception of universal meanings and holy gnoses and his management of the final return and his guiding to the Truth such that We shall grant him the kingdom of the heaven of the spirit and honour him, being among those brought near to the presence of the Truth, accepting of His self-disclosures and unveilings.

3:46 He will speak unto mankind in his cradle and in his manhood, and he is of the righteous.

He shall speak to mankind in the cradle, of the body, and in his manhood, as one having attained the stage of the shaykh of the spirit overtaken by the brightness of his  light, and he is of those who are good, for the station of gnosis’.

3:47 She said: My Lord! How can I have a child when no mortal hath touched me ? He said: So (it will be). Allah createth what He will. If He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is.

She said, ‘Lord, how shall I have a child when no mortal has touched me?’: the soul marvels at its bearing child and giving birth without having been touched by a mortal, that is, without having been nurtured by a shaykh or taught by a mortal teacher, this being the significance of her virginity. He said, ‘It is such. God creates what He will, that is, He elects whom He will through divine attraction and unveiling, endowing that person with the station of the heart without nurture or pedagogy, as is the state with [God’s] beloved and some of the loving ones.

3:48 And He will teach him the Scripture and wisdom, and the Torah and the Gospel,

And He will teach him, by Lordly pedagogy the Book of intellectual knowledge and the wisdoms of the divine laws and the gnoses of the divine scriptures such as the Torah and the Gospels, in other words, the exoteric and the esoteric gnoses.

3:49 And will make him a messenger unto the Children of Israel, (saying): Lo! I come unto you with a sign from your Lord. Lo! I fashion for you out of clay the likeness of a bird, and I breathe into it and it is a bird, by Allah's leave. I heal him who was born blind, and the leper, and I raise the dead, by Allah's leave. And I announce unto you what ye eat and what ye store up in your houses. Lo! herein verily is a portent for you, if ye are to be believers.

To be a messenger, to the spiritual ones who are prepared from among the children of Jacob the spirit: ‘I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that proves that I have come from His part; I will create for you, through [my] nurture and acts of purification and practical wisdom, out of the clay of the souls of the deficiently prepared ones, like the shape of a bird, the one that flies off to the Holy Side by the intensity of its yearning; then I will breathe into it, of the breath of divine knowledge and an infusion of the true life by the effects of [divine] company and nurture, and it will be a bird, that is, a living soul, flying away with the wings of yearning and aspiration towards the Side of the Truth. I will also heal the blind, the one veiled from the light of the Truth whose insight has never opened up [to the truth] and the sun of whose face has never seen the Truth or His light and has never known His folk adorned as they are by the light of guidance; and [heal] the leper, whose soul is disfigured by the sickness of vices and corrupt beliefs and the love of this world and the pollutants of lusts, with the medicine of the souls; and I bring to life, the dead of ignorance by means of the life of knowledge, by the leave of God. And I will inform you too of what things you eat, [of what things] you partake in your pursuit of lusts and pleasures, and what you treasure up in your houses, that is, in the houses of your unseens in the way of motives and intentions. Surely in that is a sign for you, if you are believers.

3:50 And (I come) confirming that which was before me of the Torah, and to make lawful some of that which was forbidden unto you. I come unto you with a sign from your Lord, so keep your duty to Allah and obey me.

Likewise, confirming that which was before me of the Torah, that is, of the Torah of exoteric knowledge, and to make lawful for you some of that which was forbidden to you, of the inner lights; I have come to you with a sign, a proof, from your Lord, namely, the proclamation of Oneness concerning which no prophet has ever disagreed with me. So fear God, if you oppose me, for I am upon the truth, and obey me, when I call you to the proclamation of Oneness.

3:51 Lo! Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is a straight path.

3:52 But when Jesus became conscious of their disbelief, he cried: Who will be my helpers in the cause of Allah ? The disciples said: We will be Allah's helpers. We believe in Allah, and bear thou witness that we have surrendered (unto Him).


And when Jesus, the heart, sensed, on the part of the ego-centric faculties, disbelief, veiling, denial and opposition, he said, ‘Who will be my helpers unto God?’, that is, he demanded from the spiritual faculty what he required to assist him against them in his orientation towards God. The disciples said, that is, the purest and best aspects of the mentioned spiritual elements [said]: ‘We will be helpers of God; we believe in God, through proofs and by being illumined with the light of the spirit; witness that we have submitted, [that] we are obedient and compliant.

3:53 Our Lord! We believe in that which Thou hast revealed and we follow him whom Thou hast sent. Enrol us among those who witness (to the truth).

Lord, we believe in what You have revealed, of the knowledge of Oneness and the effusion of [Your] light, and we follow the Messenger; inscribe us therefore with those who bear witness’, those who are present before You, observing Your command, or of those who bear witness to Your Oneness.

3:54 And they (the disbelievers) schemed, and Allah schemed (against them): and Allah is the best of schemers.

And they schemed, that is, the estimations and imaginations [schemed] to seize the heart and destroy it through all sorts of tempting insinuations, and God schemed, by making rational arguments and definitive proofs prevail over their imaginations and doubts, raising Jesus the heart to the heaven of the spirit and casting his likeness upon the soul so that their attempt to slay [it] collapses; and God is the best of schemers, for His scheming prevailed; and He said to Jesus:

3:55 (And remember) when Allah said: O Jesus! Lo! I am gathering thee and causing thee to ascend unto Me, and am cleansing thee of those who disbelieve and am setting those who follow thee above those who disbelieve until the Day of Resurrection. Then unto Me ye will (all) return, and I shall judge between you as to that wherein ye used to differ.

‘I shall gather you, that is, I shall seize you unto Me from among them, and raise you to Me, that is, to the heaven of the spirit alongside Me, and I shall cleanse you of, the impurity of being alongside, those who disbelieved, from among the vile faculties and their scheming and [from] the vileness of their company; and I shall set those who follow you, of the spiritual ones, above those who disbelieved, of the ego-centric ones until the Day of the Greater Resurrection and the arrival at the station of the Unity. Then, on that Day, to Me shall be your return, and I will decide between you, in truth, as to what you were at variance about, before unity, in terms of the contention and conflict that resulted from [those] faculties. I shall then establish each one in its rightful abode there and shall grant it what is appropriate for it from that which is with Me, whereafter disagreement and conflict shall be removed.

3:56 As for those who disbelieve I shall chastise them with a heavy chastisement in the world and the Hereafter; and they will have no helpers.

As for the disbelievers, I will chastise them with a terrible chastisement, by depriving them of the station of the heart and veiling them in the guises of their deeds.

3:57 And as for those who believe and do good works, He will pay them their wages in full. Allah loveth not wrong-doers.

But as for the believers, from among the spiritual ones, who do deeds of righteousness, of all sorts of acts of [spiritual] augmentation, adornment and purification in order to assist the heart against the soul and remaining closely behind it as it orients itself towards the Truth; He will pay them in full their wages, by way of the holy lights and spiritual illuminations that radiate upon them; God loves not the evildoers, who stint what is due by right of wages. As for the intepretation [of this verse] without [effecting] correspondences, it is that they schemed to send someone to slay Jesus, peace be upon him. But a corporeal form was presented to them as a likeness, which was the manifestation of Jesus, the spirit of God, peace be upon him, in the real form of Jesus such that they supposed it to be Jesus and so slew it and crucified it, when God had raised Jesus, peace be upon him, to the fourth heaven as his spirit, peace be upon him, was an effusion of the spiritual aspect of the sun. But in their ignorance they did not know that the spirit of God could not be slain. When he was certain of his state before  being raised, he [Jesus] said to his companions: ‘I am departing to my father, your heavenly father’, that is, I am seeking purification from the world of impurity and connecting to the holy spirit, bestower of forms, effuser of spirits and perfections, nurturer of men by means of infusing [their] spirit with the breath. I shall reinforce you with that effusion. At that time his call was not heeded and his example was not  followed and so he commanded the disciples to disperse after him across the land and to call [people] to the Truth. They said, ‘How are we to do this if you shall not be amongst us and now when you are our call is not heeded’. He said [to them]: ‘The sign of my reinforcement of you is that people will accept your call after me’. After he was raised, his companions would not leave anyone until he heeded their call. Acceptance of their call appeared amongst people, their word prevailed, and their religion spread in all corners of the world. But since he [Jesus] did not reach the seventh heaven to which Muḥammad, may God bless him and grant him peace, ascended, the one referred to as the Lote-tree of the Ultimate Boundary [Q. 53:14], by which I mean, [that Jesus did not reach] the ultimate station of perfection and did not attain the degree of [divine] love [which Muḥammad attained], it was inevitable that he would have to come down again in a corporeal form to follow the Muḥammadan religious community by which he would attain that degree [of divine love], and God knows best the realities of things.

3:58 This (which) We recite unto thee is a revelation and a wise reminder.

3:59 Lo! the likeness of Jesus with Allah is as the likeness of Adam. He created him of dust, then He said unto him: Be! and he is.


Truly, the likeness of Jesus, in other words, his attribute in God’s sight, his being created by [divine] power without a father, is as Adam’s likeness, in having been created without parents. Know that the marvels of [divine] power are endless and there can be no analogy in this respect to the effect that there is an analogue from the world of wisdom for the creation of a human being without parents, since there are many deficient animal beings of unusual nature that are generated from the point of creation in a short period of time then reproduce and propagate [further] … As for His saying: ‘Be’, and he was, this is an allusion to the infusion of the spirit, which derives from the world of the command and as such is not preceded by any substrata or [time] duration, as in the case of the creation of human bodies. Adam thus corresponds to Jesus as mentioned in that both share in the breaking of the [creational] habit and in that both of their bodies were created from the dust of the elements, both preceded by substrata and a duration, and that their spirit is originated [without precedent] from the world of the command which [spirit] is not preceded by substrata or duration.

3:60 (This is) the truth from thy Lord (O Muhammad), so be not thou of those who waver.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Al-Ghazali on the Sufi Path of Knowledge



"And it is not for any human being that God should speak to him except by revelation or from behind a partition or that He sends a messenger to reveal, by His permission, what He wills." (42:51)

If you have come to know this, know also that the inclination of the Sufis is toward the knowledge gained through inspiration, more than that gained through instruction. Therefore they do not jealously covet the study of knowledge, nor the acquisition of that which authors have written, nor discussion about the statement of [doctrines] and proofs that have been mentioned. But they say, "The way of knowledge is to put foremost spiritual striving, to abolish blameworthy trait, to cut all ties, and to advance toward God, the Exalted, with utmost concern." Whenever this takes place, God becomes the ruler over the heart of His creature and the surety for his illumination with the light of knowledge. When God becomes the ruler of the heart, He floods it with mercy and sheds His light upon it, and the breast is opened and there is revealed to it the secret of the world of spirits (malakut), and by a gift of mercy there is cleared away from the surface of the heart the veil of whiteness that blinds its eye, and there shines in it the real nature of divine things.

The servant has only to make himself ready by a thorough purification, by summoning intention along with a sincere desire, by complete yearning, and by watching with constant expectation for the mercy that God, the Exalted, may grant to him. For prophets and saints have had divine things revealed to them, and the light has flooded their breasts, not by learning and study and the writing of books, but by asceticism (zuhd) in this present world, by cutting the self off from all of its ties, by emptying the heart of all of its busying affairs, and by advancing with the utmost concern toward God, the Exalted; for whoever belongs to God, God belongs to him.

The [Sufis] assert that the way to this is, first of all, by cutting off ties with this present world and by emptying the heart of all of them, by taking away concern for family, possessions, children, homeland, knowledge, rule, and rank. Nay rather he must bring his heart into that state in which the existence of all these is the same as their nonexistence. Then he must withdraw alone, apart, into a place of private devotion (zawiya), and limit himself to the prescribed religious duties (fara'id) and the supererogatory prayers (rawatib). He must sit with an empty heart  and concentrated purpose. He must not divide his thought by reciting the Qur'an, nor the contemplation of its exposition, nor by books of hadith, nor anything else. But he must strive [such] that nothing save God, the Exalted, shall come into his mind. Then after he has seated himself in a place apart (khalwa) he shall keep saying continuously with his tongue, "Allah, Allah," and his heart shall be fixed on it too, until he comes finally to a state in which the motion of the tongue will cease and it will seem as though the word is flowing over his tongue. He must continue patiently in this until every trace of the word is effaced from the tongue and he finds his heart persevering in this devotional exercise (dhikr). Still he shall persevere until the form and letters of the expression and the very appearance of the word is effaced from the heart and there remains present in it naught save the ideal meaning which is, as it were, adhering to and inseparable from the heart.

To attain to this point is a matter of his choice; so too is the prolonging of this condition by warding off the suggestions of Satan. Not by his choice, however, can he procure the gift of the mercy of God, the Exalted. By what he has done thus far he has exposed himself to the breezes of God's mercy, and it only remains for him to wait for such mercy as God may grant to him, even as He has, in this way, given His mercy to the prophets and saints. Upon doing this, if his lusts do not draw him aside nor the suggestions of the self (hadith al-nafs) engross him with the ties of this present world, there will shine forth the gleams of reality into his heart. In its beginning this will be like a blinding flash of lightning. It is not continuous but it returns, although it may delay. If it returns it may continue, and it may be but a flash. If it continues it may be for a longer or shorter time. These different types may appear, the one succeeding the other, or they may be limited to one sort only. The stages (manazil) of the saints of God, the Exalted, in this are unlimited, even as the superiority of their nature and moral characteristics is not to be reckoned. So this way goes back to an absolute purifying and clarifying and brightening of the heart on your part, and then only to make ready and wait in expectation.

(From The Revival of the Religious Sciences, Book 21: The Marvels of the Heart)

Meditation Upon the Divine Essence and Attributes According to Al-Ghazali



The Second Sphere is Meditation upon God Most High. Meditation (upon God) is either about His essence and attributes, or about His acts and handiworks; and the greatest station is meditation upon His essence and attributes. However, if people do not have the strength for that and their intellects not comprehend it, the Religious Law has forbidden it and has said: 'Do not meditate about that for truly ye have not the strength for its magnitude.' This difficulty is not because of the concealment of the majesty of God; rather, it is from its radiance ... Therefore, it is preferable that this not be discussed, nor should it be meditated upon, except by a person who is perfect. And then, too, he will necessarily fall into perplexity and stupefaction at the end.

- The Alchemy of Happiness, pp. 848-849

The first share is a knowledge of these meanings by way of witnessing and unveiling, so that their essential realities are clarified for them in a disclosure equivalent in clarity to the certainty achieved by a man in regard to his own inner qualities, which he perceives by seeing his inward aspect, not by outward sensation. How great a difference there is between this and a faith derived from one's parents and teachers by conformity and persistence in it, even though it be accompanied by argumentative proofs from Kalam.

- The Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God, p.31

Allah - The Divine Essence

You should know that this name is the greatest of the ninety-nine names of God - great and glorious - because it refers to the essence which unites all the attributes of divinity, so that none of them is left out, whereas each of the remaining names only refers to a single attribute. Man's share in this name should be for him to become god-like [ta'alluh], by which I mean that his heart and his aspiration be taken up with God - great and glorious, that he not look towards anything other than him nor pay attention to what is not He, that he neither implore not fear anyone but Him. How could it be otherwise? For it had already been understood from this name that He is truly actual Existent, and that everything other than He is ephemeral, perishing and worthless except in relation to Him.

Asma al-Husna - The Divine Attributes

Al-Qayyum - The Self-Subsisting

If an existent were to exist whose essence would suffice for itself, whose subsistence would not be from another, and whose existence would not be conditioned by the existence of another, it would subsist in itself absolutely. If beyond that, every existent subsisted by virtue of it, such that the existence and conservation of things would be inconceivable without it, that would be the self-existing one since it subsisted in itself and each thing subsisted by it. But that is none other than God - may He be praised and exalted.

And man's access to this attribute is in proportion to this detachment from everything that is not God the most high.

Al-Mu'min - The Faithful

The Faithful is the one to whom security and safety are ascribed because he conveys the means to attain them and blocks the path of dangers. For security and safety are only conceivable in locations of fear, and fear only arises with the possibility of annihilation, diminishment or destruction. The absolutely faithful one is God - may he be praised and exalted - as the one from whose direction alone security and safety may conceivably emanate.

Man is basically weak by nature, subject to sickness, hunger and thirst from within; and to harm from burning, drowning, and from wounds and ferocious animals from without. The only one who can protect him from these fears is one who prepares remedies to counter and repel sickness, food to eliminate hunger and drink to slake the thirst, limbs to protect his body, and senses to gain information warning him from anything about to destroy him. Then there is his greatest fear - of eternal damnation - and nothing will protect him from that but the profession of faith in the unity of God. For God - may He be praised and exalted - guides him to it and makes him desire it, so that He says: '"there is no god but God", is My fortress, and whoever enters into My fortress is safe from my punishment'. For there is no security in the world unless it be derived from intermediaries which He alone creates and guides us in using. For he is the one who gave unto each thing its nature and then guided it aright (XX:50). He is truly the absolutely faithful one.

A man's share in this name and attribute lies in all creatures' being safe from him. Moreover, every fearful person can anticipate help from him in keeping harm away from them, whether in religious or worldly affairs. As the messenger of God - may God's blessing and peace be upon him - said: 'When one believes in God and the last day, his neighbors safe from his misdeeds'. Those men will be most worthy of the name 'faithful' who are instrumental in protecting a man from the punishment of God, but guiding him to the way of God - great and glorious - and directing him on the path of salvation …

Al-Muhaymin - The Guardian

The Guardian means with regard to God - great and glorious - the one who tends to His creatures with regard to their actions, their sustenance, and the time of their death. He tends to them by His cognizance, His possession, and His protection. Everyone who has complete comment of a situation, who takes possession of it and protects it, will be its 'guardian'. Taking command comes down to knowledge, possession to the perfection of power, and protection to action. The one who unites these meanings is named guardian. But only God - great and glorious - joins them absolutely and perfectly, so it was said: it is one of the names of God the most high recorded in ancient writings.

Every servant who watches over his heart until he supervises its depths and its secrets, and also takes possession of reforming his inner states and attributes, and undertakes to protect it continuously according to the requirements of his reform, will then be 'guardian' in relation to his heart.

Al-Qabid - The Constrictor

He who contracts is the one who appropriates souls form dead bodies at death and appropriates alms from the rich. He holds sustenance back from the poor until no strength is left. He contracts hearts and restricts them by what he discloses to them of His exaltation and majesty and His lack of concern.

The one who contracts among men is the one who is inspired by marvels of wisdom and has been given comprehensiveness of speech. He contracts the hearts of men by warning them of the majesty of God and His greatness, and the varieties of His punishments, His scourge and His revenge on His enemies. 

Al-Matin - The Firm

Firmness indicates intensification of strength. So God - may He be praised and exalted, insofar has He has intense strength, He is firm.

Al-Mumit - The Slayer

This comes down to bringing into existence. If the object is death, doing it is called killing. None is the creator of death but God, great and glorious.

Al-Hayy - The Alive

The living is both agent and perceiver, so much so that one who does not act or perceive at all is dead. the lowest level of perception involves the one perceiving being conscious of itself, for what is not conscious of itself is inanimate and dead. But the perfect and absolute living thing is one under whose perception all perceived things are arranged, as are all existing things under its activity, so that no perceived thing escapes its knowledge and no action its activity, and this is God - great and glorious, for He is the absolutely living one. As for every living thing other than He, its life is commensurate with its perception and its activity, and all of that is circumscribed within narrow limits. Furthermore, the living things diverge among themselves in this, and their ranking is a function of this divergence, as we indicated earlier in considering the ranks of angels, men, and beasts.

Al-Qahhar - The Dominator

The Dominator is the one who breaks the backs of the powerful among His enemies, and subdues them by killing and humiliation. Indeed there is no existing thing that is not subject to the domination of His power, and powerless in His grasp. That is all.

The dominator among men is the one who subdues his enemies. The greatest enemy of man is his soul, which is within him. The soul is more of an enemy to him than Satan, of whose enmity he is wary. Whoever conquers the passions of his soul conquers Satan, since Satan lures him to ruin by means of his passions. One of Satan's snares is woman, and it is inconceivable that one who has lost the desire for women fall into this snare. Similarly, one conquers this passion under the influence of religion and the counsel of reason. Whosoever conquers that passions of the soul has conquered all men; no one has any power over him since the goal of his enemies is to try to annihilate his body, yet that person lives for his spirit. Whoever dies to his passion in life will live in his death. Think not of those who are slain in the way of God, as dead. Nay, they are living. With their Lord they have provision. Jubilant are they … (3:169-170)

Al-Fattah - The Opener

The Opener is the one by whose providence whatever is closed is opened, and by whose guidance whatever is unclear is disclosed. At times He opens kingdoms for His prophets and removes them from the hands of His enemies, saying: Lo! We have given thee [O Muhammad] a signal victory [opening] (48:1), and at other times He lifts the veils from the hearts of his holy men, opening to them the gates to the heavenly kingdoms and the beauties of his majesty. So He says: That which Allah opens unto mankind of mercy, none can withhold it (35:2). Whoever has in his hands the keys to the invisible world and the keys to sustenance, it is proper that he be called an opener.

Man should yearn to reach a point where the locks to the divine mysteries are opened by his speech, and where he might facilitate by his knowledge what creatures find difficult in religious and worldly affairs, for him to gain a share in the name of opener.

Al-Qawwi - The Strong

Strength indicates perfect power. So God - may He be praised and exalted, insofar as He possesses the utmost power and is perfect in it, is the strong one.

Al-Muntaqim - The Avenger

The Avenger is the one who breaks the back of the recalcitrant, punishes criminals, and intensifies the punishment of the oppressor - but only after excusing and warning them, and after giving them the opportunity and the time to change. Yet this is harsher vengeance than a quick punishment, for when the punishment is swift, one does not persist in disobedience, and as a consequence he does not deserve the full punishment.

Human vengeance is praiseworthy if it takes vengeance on the enemies of God the most high, and the worst such enemy is one's lower soul. So it behooves him to take vengeance on it in as much as it yields to disobedience or fails in its duty of worship. As it is reported regarding Abu Yazid - may God be merciful to him - that he said: 'My soul was so lazy one night as to keep me from litany, so I punished it by depriving it of water for a year. In this way should one pursue the path of vengeance.

Al-Ghalib - The Conqueror

Ar-Rahman - The Beneficent

The meaning of Rahman should be a kind of mercy beyond the powers of people, and related to happiness in the next life. The Infinitely Good is he who loves men, first by creating them; second, by guiding them to faith and to the means of salvation; third, by making them happy in the next world; and fourth, by granting them the contemplation of His noble face.

Man's share in the name of al-Rahman lies in his showing mercy to the negligent, dissuading them from the path of negligence towards God - great and glorious - by exhortation and counseling, by way of gentleness not violence, regarding the disobedient with eyes of mercy and not contempt; letting every insubordination perpetrated in the world be as his own misfortune, so sparring no effort to eliminate it to the extent that he can - all out of mercy to the disobedient lest they be exposed to God's wrath and so deserve to be removed from proximity to Him.

As-Salam - The Flawless

The Flawless is the one whose essence is free from defect, whose attributes escape imperfection, and whose actions are untarnished by evil; and given that He is like that, there is nothing flawless in existence which is not attributed to Him, and originates from Him.

Every servant whose heart is free form deceit, hatred, envy, and evil intent; and whose limbs are unblemished by sins and forbidden actions, and whose attributes are not affected by inversion and reversal, will be one who comes to God the most high with a flawless heart. Among men, whoever comes close in characterization to that true and unadulterated Flawless One, whose quality cannot be duplicated, may be considered to be flawless.

Al-Basit - The Expander

He who expands is the one who extends souls to bodies at quickening. He extends sustenance to the weak. He extends sustenance to the rich to the point where no need remains. He expands hearts by what He makes available to them of his godliness, kindness, and beauty.

The one who expands among men is the one who is inspired by the marvels of wisdom and has been given comprehensiveness of speech. He expands the hearts of men by reminding them of the blessings of God - great and glorious - and His consolation.

Al-Wasi' - The Vast

The Vast derives from expansiveness, and expansiveness is sometimes linked to knowledge, when it extends to and comprehends a multitude of objects; and at other times it is linked to charity and widespread blessings, extending as far as possible to whatever they descend upon. So the absolutely vast is God - may He be praised and exalted - for it His knowledge be considered, the sea of things He knows has no shore; in fact the seas would be exhausted if they were ink for His words. And if His beneficence and blessing be considered, there is no end to the things He can do. Moreover, every expansiveness, however, immense, comes up against limits, so the one which does not come up against limits is most deserving of the name of expansiveness. Now God - may He be praised and exalted - is the absolutely vast, for everything that is vast is confined by comparison with what is yet more vast, and for every expansiveness which comes up against limits, additions to it may still be conceived. Yet it is inconceivable for anything to be added to what is without limit or boundary.

Expansiveness for man consists in his knowledge and his character. For if this knowledge is increased, he is vast in proportion to the extent of his knowledge; and if his character expands to the point the tit is not confined by fear of poverty of the anger which accompanies envy, or the dominance of greed, or other attributes - then his is vast. Yet all of that has limits; only God the most high is truly vast.

Ar-Rafi' - The Exalter

The Exalter is the one who raises up the faithful by salvation. He exalts His holy people by bringing them closer. And whoever elevates his vision above tangible and imagined things, and his intention above blameworthy desires, God has raised him to the horizon of the angels close to Him. None but God most high does this, for He is the Exalter.

Man's share in this consists in exalting the truth but supporting those who are right and befriending God's friends in order to exalt them.

Al-Jamil - The Beautiful

Ar-Rahim - The Merciful

Perfect mercy is pouring out benefaction to those in need, and directing it to them, for their care; and inclusive mercy is when it embraces deserving and undeserving alike. The mercy of God - great and glorious - is both perfect and inclusive: perfect inasmuch as it wants to fulfill the needs of those in need and does meet them; and inclusive inasmuch as it embraces both deserving and undeserving, encompassing this world and the next, and includes bare necessities and needs, and special gifts over and above them. So He is utterly and truly merciful.

His share in the name al-Rahim lies in not turning away from any needs persons without meeting their needs to the extent of his ability, nor turning from any poor in his neighborhood or town without committing himself to them and ridding them of their poverty - either from his own wealth or reputation, or by interceding on their behalf with another. And if he be unable to do all that, he should assist them by prayer or by showing grief on account of their need, in sympathy and love towards them, as though he were thereby sharing in their misfortune and their need.

Al-Ghafur - The All-Forgiving

He is all-forgiving in the sense that He is the perfection and completeness of forgiveness and forgiving, to the point of reaching the highest level of forgiveness. 

Al-Karim - The Generous

The Generous is the one who forgives it he has the power, follows through when he promises, and exceeds the limits one could hope for when he gives; nor is he concerned how much he gives or to whom he gives. If a need is brought before someone else, he is unhappy; if he is treated badly, he reproves but does not pursue it. Whoever seeks refuge and support with him is not lost, and one may dispense with entreaties and mediators. Now, the one who unites all this in himself, without affectation, is the absolutely generous one, and that belongs to God alone - may he be praised and exalted.

Man may endeavor to acquire these qualities, but only in some things and with a sort of affectation. In this way he may be characterized as generous, yet he remains deficient by comparison with the absolutely generous.

Al-Mujib - The Answerer of Prayers

The Answerer of prayers is the one who responds to the requests of those who ask by assisting them, to the call of those who call upon him by answering them, and responds to the plight of the poor with all they need. In fact, he blesses before the request and grants favors before the entreaty. But that belongs to God alone - great and exalted, for He knows the needs of the needy before they even ask; indeed He already knew them in eternity, so He arranged the sources sufficient to their needs by creating good and nourishment, and by facilitating both the causes and the means of fulfilling all these needs.

Man needs to be responsive first of all to his Lord, in whatever He commands or forbids him to do, and whatever He assigns to him or summons him to do. Then to His servants, in whatever God - great and glorious - bestowed on him by way of enabling him to do it; and in assisting every beggar in whatever they ask him, if he is able to do it; or with a kind response if he is unable to do so. For God - great and glorious said: Therefore the beggar drive not away (43:10).

Al-'Afu' - The Effacer of Sins

The Effacer of sins is the one who erases sins and overlooks acts of disobedience. Man's share in this name should be clear; he is one who excuses everyone who harms him, doing good for him instead, as he sees God the most high doing good in this world to the disobedient and the unbeliever rather than bringing them swiftly to punishment. And he may excuse them by relenting towards them, for should he thus relent, their sins will be erased, since 'the one who repents of wrongdoing becomes like the one who did no wrong.' and this is the utmost point of erasing the crime.

Al-Qarib - The Near

Al-Ahad - The One 

Al-Ali' - The Most High

The Most High is the one above whose rank there is no rank, and all ranks are inferior to Him. Angels are above men, men above animals, and God - great and glorious - is above everything, for He is absolutely high. he is the living and the life-giver, the absolute knower, creator of scholars' knowledge, transcending every kind of imperfection. Indeed, the inanimate are assigned to the lowest grades of the grades of perfection, while nothing is assigned to the other side but God the most high, and this is the way you should understand His being above and His height.

It is inconceivable that man be absolutely high, since he does not attain any rank without there being a higher one is existence, namely the ranks of prophets and of angels. Of course, it is conceivable that one again the rank such that there is none above it among people, and that is the rank of our prophet Muhammad - may God's blessing and peace be upon him. Yet even he falls short by comparison with the absolute height, since he is high by comparison with some existing things. Yet because he is high by comparison with what in fact exists, and not by way of necessity, his existence might be accompanied by the possible existence of a man above him. Now the absolutely most high has the quality of being above not comparatively but necessarily, that is, not in relation to any existing thing which might be associated with it as a possible contrast. Enough!

Al-Wahid - The Unique

The Unique is the one who can neither be divided nor duplicated. Concerning its not being divisible, it is like a unitary substance which cannot be divided: it is said to be one in the sense that no part of it is itself a substance, as a point has no parts. And God the most high is one in the sense that it is impossible for His essence to be arranged into parts.

A Man may be unique when he has no equal coming his fellow men in a characteristic reckoned among good qualities, yet that is a function of the class of men and the times, since it is possible that one like him emerge in another time, and furthermore, it is said in relation to some qualities and not all. So it belongs to none but God to e absolute unity.

Al-Muqsit - The Equitable

The Equitable is he who demands justice for the wronged from the wrongdoer. Its perfection lies in linking the satisfaction of the wrongdoer [resulting from the crime] to the satisfaction of the one wronged, for that is the ultimate in justice and equity, yet none is capable of it but God - may he be praised and exalted.

Those men who have the greatest share in this name are those who insist first of all on justice from themselves for others, and then from one for another, but forbear demanding it from another for themselves.

Al-Nur - The Light

Light is the visible one by whom everything is made visible, for what is visible in itself and makes other things visible is called 'light'. In the measure that existence is opposed to non-existence, what is visible cannot but be linked to to existence, for no darkness is darker than non-existence. What is free from the darkness of non-existence, and even from the possibility of non-existence, who draws everything from the darkness of non-existence to the manifestation of existence, is worthy of being named light. Existence is a light streaming to all things from the light of His essence, for He is the light of the heavens and the earth. And as there is not an atom of the light of the sun which does not by itself lead one to the existence of the sun which illuminates it, so there is not a single atom from the existents of the heavens and the earth and what lies between them which does not lead one by the very possibility of its existence to the necessary existence who brings them into being.

Al-Bayyan - The Evident

As-Samad - The Eternal

The Eternal is the one to whom one turns in need and the one who is intended in our desires, for ultimate dominion culminates in him. The one whom God has appointed to be a model for His servants in fulfilling their worldly and religious duties, and who secures the needs of His creatures by his word and action - to that one God bestows a share in this attribute. But the absolutely eternal is the one to whom one turns in every need, and He is God - may he be praised and exalted.

Al-Jalil - The Majestic

The Majestic is the one qualified by the attributes of majesty. Now the attributes of majesty are might, dominion, sanctification, knowledge, wealth, power, and other attributes we have mentioned. And the one who combines all of them is the absolutely majestic, while the majesty of one qualified by some of these attributes is proportional to what he receives of those particular attributes. So the absolutely majestic is none other than God - great and glorious. And as 'the Great' refers to the perfection of essence, and 'the Majestic' to the perfection of attributes, so does 'the Tremendous' refer to the perfection of essence and attributes together, as perceived by intellectual insight - provided it encompasses the intellectual perception rather than being encompassed by it.

The majestic and beautiful among men is the one whose interior attributes are attractive so as to give pleasure to discerning hearts; exterior beauty is of lesser worth.

Al-Majid - The All-Glorious

The All-Glorious is the one who is noble in essence, beautiful in actions, and bountiful in gifts and in favors. It is as if nobility of essence is called 'glory' when goodness of action is combined with it. He is also the one who glorifies - yet one of these is more indicative of intensification. It is as if The All-Glorious combines the meanings of The Majestic, The Bestower, and the Generous.

Ash-Shahid - The Witness

The Universal Witness refers in its meaning to knowledge with a specific addition, for God - great and glorious - is knower of invisible as well as visible things (9:94). Now the invisible comprises whatever is interior and the visible whatever is external, and this is what is seen, So if one considers knowledge alone, He is the one who knows, while if it is linked to invisible and interior things, He is the One who is aware of everything; and if it be linked to external thing, he is the Universal Witness. And it may be considered as well that He will bear witness to mankind on the day of resurrection from what He knows and has seen concerning them.

Al-Haqq - The Truth

The Truth is the one who is the antithesis of falsehood, as things may become evident by their opposites. Now everything of which one is aware may be absolutely false, absolutely true, or true in one respect and false in another. Whatever is impossible in itself is absolutely false, while that which is necessary in itself is absolutely true, and whatever is possible in itself and necessary by another is true in one respect and false in another. For this last has no existence in itself and so is false, yet acquires existence from the side of what is other than it, so it is an existent in this respect that acquired existence is bestowed upon it - so in that respect it is true while from the side of itself it is false. For that reason the Most High said: everything is perishing but His face (28:88). He is forever and eternally thus; not in one state to the exclusion of another, for everything besides him - forever and eternally - is not deserving of existence with respect to its own essence but only deserves it by virtue of Him, for in itself it is false; it is true only in virtue of what is other than it. From this you will know that the absolutely true is the One truly existing in itself, from which every true thing gets its true Reality.

The existent most deserving of being called true is God the most high, and the knowledge which most deserves to be called true is the knowledge of God - great and glorious - for it is true in itself; that is, it corresponds to what is known, forever and eternally. 

The most true assertion is your saying: there is no god but God, for it is correct forever and eternally, by virtue of itself and not by virtue of another.

Man's share in this name lies in seeing himself as false, and not seeing anything other than God - great and glorious - as true. For if a man is true, he is not true in himself but true in God - great and glorious, for he exists by virtue of Him and not in himself; indeed he would be nothing had the Truth not created him.

Al-Muta'ali - The Exalted

The Exalted means the same as The Most High, although its form is intensified.

(All meditations are excerpted from Al-Ghazali's The Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God)