[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

[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

[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