[“In God Love is Light, and Light is Love.”]

“What is ‘love’ at the outset will appear finally as ‘Knowledge’; and what is ‘knowledge’ at the outset will appear finally as ‘Love’.

Perfect Love is ‘luminous’, and perfect knowledge is ‘warm’, or rather it implies ‘warmth’ without being identified with it.”

“The spiritual man of an affective temperament knows God because he loves Him.

The spiritual man of an intellective temperament loves God because he knows Him, and in knowing Him.

The love of the affective man is that he loves God.

The love of the intellective man is that God loves him; that is, he realizes intellectively—not simply in a theoretical way—that God is Love.

The intellective man sees beauty in truth whereas the affective man does not see this a priori. The affective man leans upon truth; the intellective man lives in it.”

“‘God is Light’ (1 John 1:5)—hence Knowledge—even as He is ‘Love’ (1 John 4:8). To love God is also to love the knowledge of God. Man cannot love God in His Essence, which is humanly unknowable, but only in what God ‘makes known’ to him.

In a certain indirect sense God answers knowledge with Love and love with knowledge, although in another respect—in this case direct—God reveals Himself as Wise to the wise and as Lover to the lover.”

“In God Love is Light, and Light is Love. It is irrelevant in this case to object that one divine quality is not another, for here is is not a question of qualities—or ‘names’—but of the divine Essence itself.

God is Love, for by His Essence He is ‘union’ and ‘gift of Self’.”

Source: Frithjof Schuon, Spiritual Perspectives & Human Facts, pp. 158-60

[Some indications on the scope and limits of disbelief in oneself and of complete trust in God]

“Since all the strength by which our enemies are overcome is born in us from disbelief in ourselves and from trust in God, it is necessary for you, my brother, to acquire exact knowledge of this, in order always to have this strength and to preserve it with the help of God. Know then, and never forget, that neither all our capacities and good features, whether natural or acquired, nor all the gifts freely given us, nor the knowledge of all the Scriptures, nor the fact that we have for long worked for God and have acquired experience in these labours, nor all this together will enable us to do God’s will rightly, if at every good deed pleasing to God, which we are about to undertake, at every affliction we wish to avoid, at every cross we have to bear according to God’s will, if, I say, on all these and similar occasions a special divine help does not inspire our heart and does not give us strength to accomplish it, as the Lord said: ‘Without me ye can do nothing’ (John xv. 5). So for the duration of our life, every day and at every moment, we must keep unchanged in our heart the feeling, conviction and disposition, that on no occasion can we allow ourselves to think of relying on ourselves and trusting ourselves.

As regards trust in God, I will add the following to what I have said in the third chapter: know that nothing is easier for God than to give you victory over your enemies, whether they be few or many, whether they be old and strong or new and weak. Yet He has His own time and order for everything. Therefore if a soul be overburdened with sins, if it be guilty of all the crimes in the world, if it be defiled beyond imagination;—if, at the same time, to the extent of its desire and strength, it uses every means and endeavour to become free of sin and turn to the path of good, but cannot get stable in anything right, however small, and, on the contrary, sinks ever deeper and deeper into evil; even if it is all that, it must not weaken in its trust of God or fall away from Him. It must not abandon its spiritual weapons and strivings but must fight and fight, struggling with itself and with its enemies with all its courage and untiring efforts. For know and under- stand, that in this unseen war all are losers except a man who never ceases to struggle and keep his trust in God; for God never abandons those who fight in His armies, although at times He/ lets them suffer wounds. So fight, everyone, and do not give ground; for the whole thing is in this unceasing struggle. /God is always ready with remedies for those struck down by the enemies and with help for overcoming them, which He sends to His warriors in due time, if they seek
Him and firmly hope in Him. At some’ hour when they least expect it they will see their proud enemies vanish, as is written: ‘ The mighty men of Babylon have forborn to fight’ (Jer. li. 30).”

Source: St. Theophan the Recluse, Unseen Warfare, Chapter 6, p. 10

[“One of the signs of relying on deeds is loss of hope when a misstep occurs.”]

How to recognise whether a man acts without self-reliance and with perfect trust in God:

“It often happens that self-reliant men think that they have no self-reliance whatever, but put all their trust in God and rest confidently in Him alone. But in practice it is not so. They can ascertain it for themselves, if they judge by what is in them and what happens to them if they fall down. If, when they grieve at their downfall, reproaching and abusing themselves for it, they think: ‘I shall do this and that, the consequences of my downfall will be effaced and all will be well once more,’ this is a sure sign that before the downfall they trusted themselves, instead of trusting God. And the more gloomy and disconsolate their grief, the more it shows that they relied too much on themselves and too little on God; and therefore the grief caused by their downfall is not tempered by any comfort. If a man does not rely on himself but puts his trust in God, when he falls he is not greatly surprised and is not overcome with excessive grief, for he knows that it is the result of his own impotence, and, above all, of the weakness of his trust in God. So his downfall increases his distrust of himself and makes him try all the harder to increase and deepen his humble trust in God. And further, hating the vile passions which caused his downfall, he thereupon endures peacefully and calmly the labours of penitence for having offended God; and armed with still more trust in God, he thereupon pursues his enemies with the greatest courage and resoluteness, even unto death.”

On the wrong opinion of those who deem excessive grief a virtue

“It is wrong to regard as a virtue the excessive grief, which men feel after committing a sin, not realising that it is caused by pride and a high opinion of themselves, based on the fact that they rely too much on themselves and their own powers. For by thinking that they are something important they undertake too much, hoping to deal with it by themselves. When the experience of their downfall shows them how weak they are, they are astounded, like people, who meet with something unexpected, and they are cast into turmoil and grow faint-hearted. For they see, fallen and prone on the ground, that graven image which is themselves, upon which they put all their hopes and expectations. This does not happen to a humble man who trusts in God alone, expecting nothing good from himself. Therefore, when he falls into some transgression, he also feels the weight of it and grieves, but is not cast into turmoil and is not perplexed, for he knows that it happened through his own impotence, to experience which in downfall is nothing unexpected or new to him.”

Source: St. Theophan the Recluse, Unseen Warfare, Chapter 4 & 5, pp. 9-10; Title taken from the first aphorism of Ibn ‘Ata’illah’s Book of Wisdoms

[Know thyself: the crushing weight of thine own nothingness]

One should never believe in oneself or trust oneself in anything

“Not to rely on oneself is so necessary in our struggle, my beloved brother, that without this, be assured, not only will you fail to gain the desired victory, but you will be unable to resist the smallest attack of the enemy. Engrave this deeply in your mind and heart.

Since the time of the transgression of our forefather, despite the weakening of our spiritual and moral powers, we are wont to think very highly of ourselves. Although our daily experience very effectively proves to us the falseness of this opinion of ourselves, in our incomprehensible self-deception we do not cease to believe that we are something, and something not unimportant. Yet this spiritual disease of ours, so hard to perceive and acknowledge, is more abhorrent to God than all else in us, as being the first offspring of our self-hood and self-love, and the source, root and cause of all passions and of all our downfalls and wrong-doing. It closes the very door of our mind or spirit, through which alone Divine grace can enter, and gives this grace no way to come and dwell in a man. And so it withdraws from him. For how can grace, which comes to help and enlighten us, enter that man, who thinks of himself that he is something great, that he himself knows everything and needs no outside help?—May God preserve us from this disease and passion of Lucifer!—God severely reprimands those who are stricken with this passion of vainglory and self-esteem, saving through the prophet: ‘Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight’ (Isaiah v. 21). And the Apostle tells us: ‘Be not wise in your own conceits’ (Rom. xii. 16).

While God abhors this evil conceit in us, there is nothing He loves and desires to see in us more than a sincere consciousness of our nothingness and a firm and deep-felt conviction that any good we may have in our nature and our life comes from Him alone, since He is the source of all good, and that nothing truly good can ever come from ourselves, whether a good thought or a good action. Therefore He takes care to plant this heavenly seed in the hearts of His beloved friends, urging them not to value themselves and not to rely on themselves. Sometimes He does this through the action of grace and inner illumination, or sometimes through external blows and tribulations, sometimes through unexpected and almost unconquerable temptations, and sometimes by other means, not always comprehensible to us. Yet, although expecting no good from ourselves and not relying on ourselves is the work of God in us, we on our side must make every effort to acquire this disposition, doing all we can, all within our power. And so, my brother, I offer you here four activities by means of which, with God’s help, you may end by acquiring disbelief in yourself, and learn never to rely on yourself in anything.

(a) realize your nothingness and constantly keep in your mind the fact that by yourself you can do nothing good which is worthy of the kingdom of heaven. Listen to the words of the wise fathers: Peter of Damascus assures us that ‘nothing is better than to realize one’s weakness and ignorance, and nothing is worse than not to be aware of them’ (Philokalia). St. Maximus the Confessor teaches: ‘The foundation of every virtue is the realization of human weakness’ (Philokalia). St. John Chrysostom says: ‘He alone knows himself in the best way possible who thinks of himself as being nothing.’

(b) Ask for God’s help in this with warm and humble prayers, for this is His gift. And if you wish to receive it, you must first implant in yourself the conviction that not only have you no such consciousness of yourself, but that you cannot acquire it by your own efforts; then standing daringly before the Almighty God, in firm belief that in His great loving kindness He will grant you this knowledge of yourself when and how He Himself knows, do not let the slightest doubt creep in that you will actually receive it (that you are worthy of it).

(c) Accustom yourself to be wary and to fear your innumerable enemies whom you cannot resist even for a short time. Fear their long experience in fighting us, their cunning and ambushes, their power to assume the guise of angels of light, their countless wiles and nets, which they secretly spread on the path of your life of virtues.

(d) If you fall into some transgression, quickly turn to the realization of your weakness and be aware of it. For God allows you to fall for the very purpose of making you more aware of your weakness, so that you may thus not only yourself learn to despise yourself, but because of your great weakness may wish to be despised also by others. Know that without such desire it is impossible for this beneficent self-disbelief to be born and take root in you. This is the foundation and beginning of true humility, since it is based on realization, by experience, of your impotence and unreliability.

From this, each of us sees how necessary it is for a man, who desires to participate in heavenly light, to know himself, and how God’s mercy usually leads the proud and self-reliant to this knowledge through their downfalls, justly allowing them to fall into the very sin from which they think they are strong enough to protect themselves, so as to make them see their weakness and prevent them from relying foolhardily on themselves either in this or in anything else.

This method, although very effective, is also not without danger, and, God does not always use it, but only when all the other means we have mentioned, which are easier and more natural, fail to lead a man to self-knowledge. Only then does He finally let a man fall into sin, great or small, in accordance with the degree of his pride, conceit and self-reliance. So that where conceit and self-reliance are absent, instructive failures do not occur. Therefore, if you happen to fall, run quickly in your thought to humble self-knowledge and a low opinion and sense of yourself and implore God by persistent prayer to give you true light, so as to realize your nothingness and confirm your heart in disbelief in yourself, lest you again fall into the same or even worse and more destructive sin.

I must add that not only when a man falls into some sin, but also when he is afflicted by some ill-fortune, tribulation or sorrow, and especially a grievous and long-drawn bodily sickness, he must understand that he suffers this in order to acquire self-knowledge, namely the knowledge of his weakness—and to become humble. With this purpose and to this end God allows us to be assailed by all kinds of temptations from the devil, from men and from our own corrupted nature. St. Paul saw this purpose in the temptations he suffered in Asia, when he said: ‘But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth dead’ (II Cor. i. 9).

And I shall add another thing: if a man wants to realize his weakness from the actual experience of his life, let him, I do not say for many days but even for one day, observe his thoughts, words and actions—what he thought, what he said, what he did. He will undoubtedly find that the greater part of his thoughts, words and actions were sinful, wrong, foolish and bad. This experiment will make him understand in practice how inharmonious and weak he is in himself. And if he sincerely wishes himself well, this understanding will make him feel how foolish it is to expect anything good from himself or to rely on himself alone.”

Source: St. Theophan the Recluse, Unseen Warfare, Chapter 2, pp. 7-8

[The Cloud of Unknowing]

“Lift up your heart towards God with a humble stirring of love; and think of himself, not of any good to be gained from him. See, too, that you refuse to think of anything but him, so that nothing acts in your intellect or will but God himself. And do what you can to forget all of God’s creations and all their actions, so that your thoughts and desires are not directed and do not reach out towards any of them, in general or in particular. But leave them alone, and pay no heed to them.

This is the work of the soul that pleases God most. All the saints and angels rejoice in this work, and hasten to help it with all their might. All the devils are driven crazy when you do this, and try to frustrate it in all ways they can. All people living on earth are marvelously helped by this work, in ways you do not know. Yes, the very souls in purgatory are relieved of their pain by the power of this work. You yourself are cleansed and made virtuous by this work more than by any other. And yet it is the easiest work of all and the soonest completed, when a soul is helped by grace in the desire it feels; but otherwise it is hard, and you can do it only by miracle.

Do not give up, then, but labour at it till you feel desire. For the first time you do it, you will find darkness, and as it were a cloud of unknowing, you do not know what, except that you feel in your will a naked purpose towards God. Whatever you do, this darkness and this cloud are between you and your God, and hold you back from seeing him clearly by the light of understanding in your reason and from experiencing him in the sweetness of love in your feelings. And so prepare to remain in this darkness as long as you can, always begging for him you love; for if you are ever to feel or see him, so far as is possible in this life, it must always be in this cloud and this darkness. And if you are willing to labour eagerly as I tell you, I trust in his mercy that you will reach your goal.”

Source: The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works*, Translated with an Introduction by A.C. Spearing, Chapter 3, pp. 21-22

*The author of The Cloud of Unknowing and the group of writings associated with it chose to remain anonymous, but we can deduce that he was an English priest, and probably a Carthusian monk, who lived in the second half of the fourteenth century. In prose of poetic originality he taught ways to achieve union through love with a God whom he saw as totally transcendent, beyond the reach of human understanding and human language.

[Indications from Signs]

The Underlying Structure of the Qur’an

The Qur’an complexifies internally through five phases.

1. SUKUT — silences. The Message is punctuated with breaks, silences, without which the meaning would not be clear.

2. HURUF — letters. The Qur’an in its totality is letters. The means by which they are patterned is listed below. But letters also appear in the isolated form at the beginnings of certain units of the Qur’an. These letters are called al-muqatta’at.

3. KALAM — words. The first level of meanings in the mulk — the outward realm of manifestation. Words have inner structures of their own.

4. AYATS — signs. These constructions of word patterning are the basic meaning clusters of the Book, the second level of meanings in the mulk. They have an inner structure of arrangement — grammar.

5. SURATS — forms. These are the large units united by thematic content. There are 114 surats or 113 which open with the ‘Bismillah’.

Read more: Indications from Signs, by Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi