[Behind the Veil]

“We said: The man had the desire to see you. He kept saying, ‘I wish I could have seen the Master.’

The Master said: He does not see the Master at this moment in truth because the desire which filled him, namely that he might see the Master, was a veil over the Master. So he does not see the Master at this moment without a veil. So it is with all desires and affections, all loves and fondnesses which people have for every variety of thing—father, mother, heaven, earth, gardens, palaces, branches of knowledge, acts, things to eat and drink. The man of God realises that all these desires are the desire for God, and all those things are veils. When men pass out of this world and behold that King without these veils, then they will realise that all those were veils and coverings, their quest being in reality that One Thing. All difficulties will then be resolved, and they will hear in their hearts the answer to all questions and all problems, and every thing will be seen face to face.

It is not God’s way to answer every difficulty singly, but by one answer all questions will be made known all at once and the total difficulty will be resolved. In the same way in winter every man puts on warm clothes and a leather jacket and creeps for shelter from the cold into an oven, into a warm hollow. So too all plants, trees, shrubs and the like, bitten by the venomous cold remain without leaves and fruit, and store and hide their goods and chattels inwardly so that the malice of the cold may not reach them. When spring in a single epiphany answers their requests, all their various problems, whether they be living, springing or lying fallow, will be resolved, and those secondary causes will disappear. All will put forth their heads, and realise what was the cause of that misery.

God has created these veils for a good purpose. For if God’s beauty would display itself without a veil, we would not have the power to endure and would not enjoy it. Through the intermediary of these veils we derive succour and benefit.

You see yonder sun, how in its light we walk and see and distinguish from bad and are warmed. The trees and orchards become fruitful, and in the heat of it their fruits, unripe and sour and bitter, become mature and sweet. Through its influence mines of gold and silver, rubies and cornelians are made manifest. If yonder sun, which through intermediaries bestows so many benefits, were to come nearer it would bestow no benefit whatsoever; on the contrary, the whole world and every creature would be burned up and destroyed.

When God most High makes revelation through a veil to the mountain, it too becomes fully arrayed in trees and flowers and verdure. When however He makes revelation without a veil, He overthrows the mountain and breaks it into atoms.

And when his Lord revealed Him to the mountain He made it crumble into dust.

Someone interposed the question: Well, is there not the same sun too in the winter?

The Master answered: Our purpose here was to draw a comparison. There is neither ‘camel’ nor ‘lamb’. Likeness is one thing, comparison is another. Although our reason cannot comprehend that thing however it may exert itself, yet how shall the reason abandon the effort? If the reason gave up the struggle, it would no more be the reason. Reason is that thing which perpetually, night and day, is restless and in commotion, thinking and struggling and striving to comprehend, even though He is uncomprehended and incomprehensible.

Reason is like a moth, and the Beloved is like a candle. Whensoever the moth dashes itself against the candle, it is consumed and destroyed. But the moth is so by nature, that however much it may be hurt by that consuming and agony it cannot do without the candle. If there were any animal like the moth that could not do without the light of the candle and dashed itself against that light, it would itself be a moth; whilst if the moth dashed itself against the light of the candle and the moth were not consumed, that indeed would not be a candle.

Therefore the man who can do without God and makes no effort is no man at all; whilst if he were able to comprehend God, that indeed would not be God. Therefore the true man is he who is never free from striving, who revolves restlessly and ceaselessly about the light of the Majesty of God. And God is He who consumes man and makes him naught, being comprehended of no reason.”

Source: Discourses of Rumi, translated by A.J. Arberry, pp. 46-8; Title quote by Jalaluddin Rumi

[“But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”]

“We have spoken of those who are on the right, that is, the saved. What of those on the left, the damned? Hell might seem to need some explanation because on the one hand the Quranic descriptions of the sufferings of Hell are unsurpassably terrible, yielding nothing in this respect to the Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian descriptions of Hell, but on the other hand the Qur’an insists that whereas every good deed is rewarded ten-fold each sin is punished only with its equivalent (6:160). How then is it possible to deserve Hell? But before trying to answer this question we must first interrogate ourselves. We may think we are capable of assessing sinful acts such as murder or theft, and we hear not infrequently today of crimes so appalling and indicative of such a horrible state of the soul that we might say no punishment but Hell is bad enough for this, until we remember that Hell is not just for a day or a week but seemingly endless. We will come back later to this question of duration; but are we capable of assessing the gravity of sins which are states lived without respite from one year’s end to another like the sin of atheism to which we may add agnosticism? The Creator says in the Qur’an: I did not create jinn and men except that they should worship Me (51:56). What makes man human is that he should reach beyond this world. The man who fails to worship is subhuman—not merely that, as the Qur’an points out, but even lower than the animals (25:44). In short, man was created as representative of God on earth endowed with immense privileges such as no other earthly creature enjoys. In a very early Meccan revelation the Qur’an affirms: We created man in the fairest rectitude. Then cast We him down to be the lowest of the low, except for those who believe and who do the good deeds that piety demands (95:4-6).

The greatest of God’s gifts to man at his creation is his power to conceive the Transcendent, nor does it begin in this life. The Qur’an stresses that at the creation of Adam every human being later to be born into this world was imbued with the knowledge of the Divine Lordship. In other words every human being has in the depth of his nature a sense of the Absolute. According to the Qur’an the sin of sins is turning one’s back on the Transcendent in order to give all one’s attention to this world, not as the representative of God but as a parody of God, a would-be independent tyrant out for an unrestrained and undirected exploitation of all the resources of the earthly state. This is the great betrayal of trust, and if Hell seems to have a touch of the Absolute it is because this betrayal is in relation to the Absolute. But Hell is not Absolute and cannot be Eternal for that is the prerogative of the Hidden Treasure alone. It is true that the Qur’an speaks of the people of Hell as abiding therein forever, but this forever has to be understood in a relative sense, for there is one very explicit passage in which a double limitation is put on the everlastingness of Hell (11:103-8). Its inmates are described as abiding therein so long as the heavens and the earth endure except as God wisheth. Verily God is ever the doer of what He will. The first of the two limitations, so long as the heavens and the earth endure, can be interpreted ‘until the Creator reabsorbs the created universe back into Himself.’ As to the second limitation, it clearly refers to the possibility of Divine intervention, and this is explained in a well-known saying of the Prophet that after the Judgement, when the wretched are in Hell and the blessed are in Paradise, God will call together the Angels and the Prophets and the believers and bid them intercede for those in Hell, and in consequence a multitude of souls are released until finally He orders the release of all those in whom there is any good so that only those who have no good to their credit are left in Hell. Then He will say: ‘The Angels have interceded and the Prophets have interceded and the believers have interceded and none is left to intercede save the Most Merciful of the Merciful.’ And He will take out of Hell all who are left and will throw them into the River of Life at the entrance to the Gardens of Paradise.

The passage in the Qur’an on which this is a commentary goes on to describe the blessed in Paradise as abiding therein so long as the heavens and the earth endure except as God wisheth. Apparently there is the same double limitation on the everlastingness of Paradise as on that of Hell, but this is not so, for Paradise, unlike Hell, is as it were open to the Absolute, in virtue of the highest Paradise, that of the Essence, which is the Absolute Itself. Thus in the Qur’an immediately after what we have quoted there comes the reassuring promise in the definition of Paradise as a gift that shall not be taken away. The Prophet’s explanation of this whole Quranic passage continues: “After the last people have been taken out of Hell God will turn to the people of Paradise and say: ‘Are ye content?’ And they will say: ‘How should we not be content?’ and He will say: ‘I will give you better than this.’ And they will say: ‘What thing, O Lord, is better?’ and He will say: ‘I will enfold you in My Ridwan (God’s good pleasure).'”

This is something which the highest Saints already know as we have seen. But the lower Paradises belong to the created universe which in the end also returns to the Creator on the day when We shall roll up the heavens as at the rolling up of a written scroll (21:104). So Paradise is a gift that shall not be taken away because although in fact it is taken away it is replaced by the incomparably greater felicity of the Supreme Paradise which is no less than the Infinite Eternal Beatitude of the Hidden Treasure from which all creation proceeds and to which it all returns.

In Christianity we can recall the words of Christ when he appeared to St. Juliana of Norwich  who was greatly troubled by thoughts of the sufferings in Hell: ‘But all shall be well’ to which, when he saw that she was not altogether satisfied he added: ‘All manner of thing shall be well.’

It could not be otherwise, for it must always be remembered that man is made in the image of God, and this means that it is not legitimate to attribute to Divine Providence anything that violates the God-given human sense of values, which includes the sense of responsibility. God knows that the worst sinner in Hell are totally innocent of one thing, namely their own existence, for which He alone is responsible. Thus the Qur’an continually affirms that everything finally will be brought back to Him. In other words He is bound to reabsorb into the indescribable Felicity of His Own Essence everything which He manifested from it. God’s is the Sovereignty over the heavens and the earth; and unto God is the ultimate becoming (24:42).”

Source: Martin Lings, A Return to the Spirit: Questions and Answers, Chapter 6, pp. 74-77

[There is a hierarchy of the real.]

  • “There is no more unpopular concept today than hierarchy. In most people’s vocabulary it means no more or less than ‘established, therefore, arbitrary power.'” Modernity has a distaste for hierarchy, as if it has become synonymous with oppression and antithetical to ‘democracy’. And so the modern revolutionist desires to liberate himself from the dictates of what he perceives to be an arbitrary authority.
  • No doubt history has produced hierarchies that confer power and status on people unequally, and that this power has often been abused. “And when in a particular place and time it became degenerate, it stood as the worst form of idolatry. Instead of functioning as a transparent symbol of the Hierarchy of Being, it became a counterfeit of that Hierarchy, a veil over the face of spiritual realities.”
  • The question of how to prevent hierarchies from becoming brutal, despotic regimes is a most serious one, but trying to solve the problem of unjust authority by attacking hierarchy per se is erroneous, even dangerous. Dangerous because the degeneration of the concept of hierarchy in the modern mind results in a false image of reality.
  • “In both the Old Testament and the Koran, the prime symbol of such falsification of spiritual hierarchy is the Pharaoh of Egypt. According to the Koran, the Pharaoh literally believed he was God—and this is exactly what happens when an elaborate royal or ecclesiastical structure begins to worship its own knowledge and magnificence instead of the God it exists to serve. True hierarchy, like the ladder in Jacob’s dream upon which angels were constantly ascending and descending, is there to provide an ongoing ‘two-way communication’, so to speak, between manifest existence and its transcendent Source. The universe itself is just such a hierarchy.”
  • Hierarchy is integral to the nature of Being. For the ancients, social hierarchies provided a concrete image and reminder of the true ontological hierarchy, the Great Chain of Being.
  • True hierarchy unifies. Unification is an ordering. Order brings about harmony, allowing the parts to function together as an integrated whole.
  • Inverted, false hierarchies are a symptom of social dysfunction. To be fully human is to exist in wholeness, yet, the mechanics of the Kali Yuga, the Age of Confusion, sow discord and disorder…”the world of evil is a chaotic world.”
  • “In other words, there is a hierarchy of the real. The manifold world of our everyday experience is real with a relative reality that is, on its own level, unquestionable; but this relative reality has its being within and because of the absolute Reality, which, on account of the incommensurable otherness of its eternal nature, we can never hope to describe, even though it is possible for us to directly apprehend it.” – Aldous Huxely, The Perennial Philosophy
  • “Moses, by God’s grace and power, was called to ascend Mt. Sinai, symbol of the Hierarchy of Being, to receive the Torah. Those who denied the reality of that Hierarchy, who wanted to relate to God through His Immanence alone while denying His Transcendence, remained below to worship the Golden Calf.”

Source: Charles Upton, The System of Antichrist, pp. 94-5

[Maktub/مكتوب]

Maktub (lit. “written”, “ordained”). In the sense of “it is written”, it is an expression pronounced frequently in resignation to God’s Providence. It refers to the Divine decrees written on al-lawh al-mahfuz (the “guarded tablet”), and to such Koranic statements as: “There befalls not any happening in the earth or in your souls except it is in a book [Kitab] before We [God] manifest it…” (57:22). Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah says in the Hikam:

Antecedent intentions [sawabiq al-himam] cannot pierce the walls of predestined Decrees [aswar al-aqdir].

While Islam views man’s life as predestined in the sense that nothing can finally oppose the Will of God, man nonetheless has the gift of free will in that he does make choices and decisions. Resignation to the Will of God is a concomitant to striving in the Path of God. Above all, man is completely free in what is essential, that is, he can accept the Absolute and surrender himself to It, or reject God and pay the price. In this he has absolute free-will. The Talmud also says: “Everything is in the Hands of God, except the Fear of God.”

Source: Cyril Glassé, The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, Third Edition, p. 319

[Falling Man]

“Taoism regards the actual dichotomy between man and his primordial nature in terms of a disequilibrium. Vedanta starts from the perspective of illusion, while Buddhism speaks of the same thing in terms of ignorance. Judeo-Christianity teaches that man is in a state of fall, whereas Islam describes it from the point of view of rebellion.

‘If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us’ (I. John, I. 10). ‘Manifestation by definition implies imperfection, as the Infinite by definition implies manifestation; this ternary ‘Infinite, manifestation, imperfection’, constitutes the explanatory formula for all that can seem ‘problematic’ to the human mind in the vicissitudes of existence’ (Schuon; De l’Unité transcendante, p. 66). ‘Deem not strange the occurrence of afflictions as long as thou art in this perishable abode, for verily it has begotten nothing except what merits its appellation—and inevitable is this designation’ (Ibn ‘Ata’illah: Hikam, no. 34). Likewise Boethius: ‘Thou hast yielded thyself to fortune’s sway; thou must be content with the conditions of thy mistress’ (Consolat. Philosoph., II. i). No individual as such in time and space is free from the conditions thereof. ‘The man who has found reality, as well as the man who is still in the coils of the phenomenal, is like one travelling over a flooded road’ (Hônen, p. 610); bearing in mind, however, ‘that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose’ (Romans, VIII. 28). ‘Therefore if thou suffer persecution, wretchedness, and other dis-eases, thou hast that which accords to the place in which thou dwellest’ (Richard Rolle: The Fire of Love, I. viii). ‘It is not the world then that deceives men,’ says Hermes (‘De Castigatione Animae’; Hermetica, IV, p. 289); ‘but men deceive themselves, and so bring themselves to ruin. They think their happiness consists in the goods which this world gives, and think that these goods will last for ever, forgetting that life in this world is an alternation of good and bad.’

Source: Whitall N. Perry, The Spiritual Ascent: A Compendium of the World’s Wisdom, Book One, Part I, “Separation — Sin”, pp. 53-4

The Qur’an reminds us of the primeval event of awareness for every human soul in the Chapter The Heights. God asked each soul about its self: “When your Lord made them testify concerning themselves: ‘Am I not your Lord?’ They said: ‘Yea! We do testify!'” (7:172).

Each soul bore witness to their Lord and declared their devotion and servitude. The human soul which, according to the Qur’an, had existed prior to its emergence into this world, was untainted, pure potential before its separation from God.

“So by deceit he brought about their fall: when they tasted of the tree, their shame became manifest to them, and they began to sew together the leaves of the garden over their bodies. And their Lord called unto them: ‘Did I not forbid you that tree, and tell you that Satan was an avowed enemy unto you?'” (7:22)…Then, God told them: “We said: ‘Get ye down all from here (the Garden); and if, as is sure, there comes to you Guidance from me, whosoever follows My guidance, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.'” (2:38)

Perhaps one way to look at the fall of Adam and Eve, and by extension all of Mankind, is to consider the fact that man’s potential, or his self, can only develop and be known through experience. That is, man discovers himself as a consequence of his alienation and separation from God. It is a seeming separation, however, for in reality, separation brought about by rebellion and consequently, the fall,  is but illusion, disequilibrium, and ignorance.

[Hearts tuned to a dead channel are harder than stones.]

“…the mineral world is viewed as the lowest form of creation. It takes outside force to move or change a stone; we throw one and it remains inert. There are many expressions in our language that reflect this lowly aspect of the stone. We say that someone is stupid, or blind or deaf as a stone. Stone lacks sensation or feeling, and we accuse someone of having a heart of stone. When Medusa, in Greek myth, turns someone into a stone, its psychological meaning is that he or she regresses to a less conscious state. Our worst fear freezes us into stone, robbing us of our ability to act.

We are fascinated by the dense nature of stone that refuses us access. In her poem “Conversations with a Stone,” Wislawa Szymborska writes:

I knock at the stone’s front door.

‘It’s only me, let me come in.’

‘I don’t have a door,’ says the stone.”

Source: The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism, The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images, p. 104

And yet, after all this, your hearts hardened and became like stones, or even harder: for, behold, there are stones from which streams gush forth; and, behold, there are some from which, when they are cleft, water issues; and, behold, there are some that fall down for awe of God. And God is not unmindful of what you do!

The allusion to water in the above Qur’anic verse is noteworthy. Although the significance of water manifests itself differently in different religions and beliefs, water is a universal symbol of purity, renewal, and life. It has a central place in the practices and rituals of many traditions. Not only does water purify one externally and spiritually, but it also prepares one to come into the presence of one’s focus of worship. For the Muslim, for example, ablutions performed correctly and with sincere intention purify the soul from the pollution of sin and it is as if one has been given a new will, a new life.

Because all life comes from water, the ancients regarded water as a symbol of “the universal congress of potentialities, the fons et origo, which precedes all form and all creation. Immersion in water signifies a return to the pre-formal state, with a sense of death and annihilation on the one hand, but of rebirth and regeneration on the other.” In India, water is generally regarded as the “preserver of life, circulating throughout the whole of nature, in the form of rain, sap, milk, and blood.”

In light of the above verse, it behooves us, therefore, to ask ourselves this: Are our hearts better than stones? For from the stone—emblem of rigidity, hardness, and coarseness—we can see “streams gush forth” and “when they are cleft, water issues.” Yet, the water of Truth—that which brings life, restores, and purifies—cannot even penetrate a heart that is as hard as stone. Even harder. That heart is so hard and inaccessible, so cold and unyielding, that it is “unaffected by heavenly things” and “slow to credit the words of God.” The stony heart, “hardened by sin, and confirmed in it; destitute of spiritual life and motion; senseless and stupid, stubborn and inflexible; on which no impressions are made; and which remains hard and impenitent” is, essentially, dead.

Sources: Taken from Qur’an (Surah ‘The Cow’, 2:74); J.E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, pp.364-5; Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible and Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Biblehttp://bible.cc/ezekiel/36-26.htm

[Surface Contradictions]

“[E]very evil is by definition a ‘part’, never a ‘totality’; and negations or fragmentary privations, which are the various forms of evil, are inevitable since the world, not being God and unable to be Him, is of necessity situated outside of God. But with regard to their cosmic function as necessary elements of a total good, evils are in a certain way integrated into this good, and this point of view makes it possible to affirm that metaphysically there is no evil; the notion of evil presupposes in fact a fragmentary vision of things, characteristic of creatures, who are themselves fragments; man is a ‘fragmentary totality’.

As we have seen, evil is in the world because the world is not God; now from a certain point of view—of which the Vedantists are especially aware—the world is ‘none other than God’; Maya is Atma, Samsara is Nirvana; from this point of view evil does not exist, and this is precisely the point of view of the macrocosmic totality. This is suggested in the Koran by means of the following antimony: on the one hand it declares that good is ‘from God’ and evil is ‘from yourselves’, and on the other hand that ‘all is from God’ (Surah ‘Women’ [4]:78, 79), the first idea having to be understood on the basis of the second, which is more universal, hence more real; it is the difference between fragmentary vision and total truth. The fact that the two maxims nearly follow each other—the more universal coming first—proves moreover the lack of concern in sacred dialectic for surface contradictions and the importance attached to penetration and synthesis.

And this brings us back to our more general subject, the question of antinomic expressions in the Koran; an example that has become classic is found in the following verse: ‘Nothing is like unto Him (God), and He it is that hears, that sees’ (Surah ‘Counsel’ [42]:11). The flagrant contradiction between the first assertion and the second—the second drawing a comparison, precisely, and thereby proving that an analogy between things and God does exist—has the function of showing that this evident analogy, without which not a single thing would be possible, in no way implies an imaginable resemblance and does not abolish in the least the absolute transcendence of the divine Principle.”

Source: Frithjof Schuon, Sufism: Veil and Quintessence, pp. 13-14