Heightened Senses

Hello. I'm Imraan. This is the only thing I own outright; I write from time to time, in the hopes that free-association might save a trip to a sanatorium.

Category: Books

Be God’s Alone

Know (and may God be merciful to you) that the destitute, when he exchanges the remembrance of all things for the remembrance of God, purifies his servitude, and whoever serves God in a pure and unmixed way is holy…So remember only God; be God’s alone; for if you are God’s, God will be yours and blessed is he who belongs to God so that God is His…

(Letters of the Sufi Master: The Shaykh al-Darqāwī, Trans. Titus Burckhardt; with minor modifications [Fons Vitae; Louisville, KY])

Living in this world; outrage at evil or seeing the Good of God?

Friends – all three of you! –  I thought I’d share a passage mentioned in the introduction to a translation of a short treatise the great sage and master, ibn al-‘Arabī of Andalusia, wrote to an aspirant. He seems to in some way, renounce the world and somewhat subvert traditional ideas on wayfaring (from what I gather), but this is a subject for another discussion.

I quote a short passage from the introduction, wherein ibn al-‘Arabī mentions his encounters with one of the elite sages and saints of God, one of the ‘abdāl’ about which he wrote extensive passages (as I understand it), in his most major text, the Futuḥāt al-Makkiyya – The Meccan Openings, and their cosmological roles.

Here is an encounter he had with one of them: [from ‘The Four Pillars of Spiritual Transformation,’  trans. Stephen Hirtenstein, (Oxford: Anqa Publications, 2008) pp 14-15]

“Apart from his own personal meetings with such saints, he also relates three incidents regarding other people that he personally knew and one of the abdāl: one as a part of this treatise, which involved one of his companions in al-Andalus…and twice in his Futūḥāt. The Futūḥāt meetings shed further light on the elevated degree of these men of God, who exhibit apparently miraculous powers:

‘I once met one of the wandering pilgrims on the sea-coast between Marsā Laqīṭ and the light-house [near Tunis]. He told me that on the same spot had he come across one of the abdāl walking upon the waves of the sea. He said: “I greeted him and he returned my greeting. This was a time of great injustice and oppression in the country, so I asked him what he thought of all the terrible things that were happening in the country. He glared at me angrily and said: “What is it to you or to God’s servants? Don’t speak of anything but that which is good! May God grant you help and accept your apology for this.”‘

I wonder, then, if this is a way (and I do recommend the text) if the Great Shaykh tells us to try to look past the apparent tragedy and carnage, but simultaneously to find ourselves less attached to the world and its outcomes? We may not need a Benedict Option, if in one way or another we are able to connect ourselves to the Divine through a process of gradual renunciation through some spiritual rigours? What say you? Do we need to be perpetually on-edge due to geopolitical or local concerns, or should we place our trust – though this is a matter of Grace – somewhere else? Someplace…Higher?

“And thus He unites you to Himself…”

I’ve lately been pondering as to what would amount to the Almighty drawing us Near to His Proximity, and certainly what it might take to taste the fruits of paradise in this world. What if I have been precisely wrong the whole time, and thus sought Him with my (poor attempt at) deeds, and not allowing myself to be inhabited by the Almighty at the level of the heart/spirit.

Perhaps this takes, courage, determination, and perhaps even love… what say you?

125

Cling to the attributes of His Lordship

and realise the attributes of your servanthood!

126

He has prohibited you from claiming for yourself,

among the qualities of created beings,

that which does not belong to you;

so would He permit you to lay claim to His Attributes,

He who is the Lord of the Universe?

127

How can the laws of nature be ruptured for you

so that miracles result,

while you, for your part,

have yet to rupture your bad habits?

128

The point at issue

is not the fact of searching;

rather, the point at issue

is that you be prescribed with virtuous conduct.

129

Nothing pleads on your behalf like extreme need,

nor does anything speed gifts to you quicker

than lowliness and want.

130

If you were to be united with Him

only after the extinction of your vices

and the effacement of your pretensions,

you would never be united with Him!

Instead, when He wants you to unite you to Himself,

He covers your attribute with His Attribute

and hide you quality with His Quality.

And thus He unites you to Himself

by virtue of what comes from Him to you

not by virtue of what goes from you to Him.

Ibn ‘Ata’ Illah, The Book of Wisdom, 78-9

Source:

The Book of Wisdom / Intimate Conversations; Trans, Victor Danner/Wheeler M. Thackston (Paulist Press, New York: 1978)

Trans, Victor Danner/Wheeler M. Thackston

Series: The Classics of Western Spirituality

 

 

 

 

“Borrowed” from Facebook – On Virtue

Jesus said, ‘Devote yourselves to obtaining that which fire cannot burn.’ ‘And what is that?’ asked the disciples. ‘Virtue’ he replied.”
–– Cited in Ghazali, Ihya, from Jesus in the Eyes of the Sufis by Dr. Javid Nurbaksh.

NYTimes: My Year of No Shopping

My Year of No Shopping https://nyti.ms/2k1AuLR

Definitely worth a read, as we descend into further materialism still. Sickness and chronic difficulties make this endeavour that much harder – Lord knows how many supplements, health foods and creature comforts I need to make it through the hour, but this (whilst a little superficial) might tap into a religious impulse that society has so-quickly lost, a rage against rampant Capital and value-materialism. Even if it’s not as radical as I’d like! 

“Are Christians Supposed to be Communists?” By David Bentley Hart in the same newspaper 

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/11/04/opinion/sunday/christianity-communism.html 
Perhaps a little more theological, but an intriguing (and perhaps not all-too-controversial) reading of the Gospel

Breath of Life and Navel Gazing

http://www.gosh.nhs.uk/news/latest-press-releases/gosh-position-statement-issued-high-court-24-july-2017 

…”what is in their child’s best interests.” That’s the only bit with which I have a difficulty. That doesn’t seem to be an inherently medical question but seems more loaded with moral urgency than anything; to let someone die (as in, switching off whatever support is keeping said child alive) does indeed go to the heart of medical ethics. I find it troubling that the courts have a remit over what inherent ‘dignity’ is, and that physicians can have a say in it if they simultaneously, essentially, argue in favour of death. Sure, there are fates worse than death, so we believe, but could they scientifically make that case, or give an account for the phenomenology of what occurs when the eyes close permanently… ? I don’t see how medical professionals or the court systems can.

…There has to be a change to the system; whilst these parents will have had to accept a treacherous fate for their son and their family, it seems to me that the system is essentially mechanised to sever the link between parent and child based purely on the knowledge of the day; either the bond and the decision of parents in favour of life has to be acknowledged, or we get to that point in our history where we decide that that particular line is an arbitrary construct. That someone is irrational if going against medical advice for the sheer glimmer of hope of some experimental therapy….

Lord knows I’ve been told by at least three doctors that I ‘may as well be dead’ (or words to that effect) – and my conditions are chronic but not terminal, mind you – when their treatments or approaches haven’t worked on me – and Lord knows, with all cards on the table, that I have for short periods begged for death in the moments I have suffered extreme pain before it could be controlled- and I worry that such cynicism prevails to the extent that the void of death (which is the only thing they can assume) is better than a very difficult life, that the marginal hope that these parents might have is not worth the investment, and that death is an actual solution to a particularly complex problem. Close to two-thousand years of religious, particularly Christian, history in the ‘West’ doesn’t seem to strike me as believing in that, in fact the Resurrection is the Triumph over death in a fallen world – is the problem that it’s a post-metaphysical world? And what of the place of the family and the parent, and marriage as a union open precisely to life, not death?

Obviously I’m not a doctor so will not necessarily see it from that vantage – trying to mitigate harm and construing the Hippocratic Oath in such a way as to insist that a procedure may do more harm still strikes me as going against the spirit of such an Oath, or an oath to that effect.

I reckon that there are broader philosophical problems here that navel-gazers may have to thrash out.

The Theophany of Perfection

Oh, my beloved! How many times I have called you without your hearing Me!

How many times have I shown myself without your looking at Me!

How many times have I become perfume without your inhaling Me!

How many times I have become food without your tasting Me!

How is it that you do not smell Me in what you breathe?

How do you not see Me, nor hear Me?

I am more delicious than anything delicious,

More desirable than anything desirable,

More perfect than anything perfect.

I am Beauty and Grace!

Love Me and love nothing else

Desire Me

Let Me be your sole concern to the exclusion of all concerns.

Ibn ‘Arabi

 

 

The Life of Faith

“The Life of Faith…[is] very hard in our culture. It’s not because our culture doesn’t believe in God, it’s because our culture doesn’t believe in Death….we have quite a lot of people in this country… and in the West in general, who believe in God, but they don’t believe in death really, and as a result, don’t really get the point…

“And we do live in a culture that’s dedicated to distracting us from this inconvenient truth. Because, really, what is the business of life if you are A Good American, say, or a good Late-Modern Westerner? It is to buy things. Things. And more things. Some toys. And then some other things, and some more toys. And then to buy some things. That’s what ‘Life’ is. And I’ll tell you, if you think too much about God and the soul, if you haven’t turned God and the soul into happy names for ‘American values,’ but you really think about them and then you think about the horizon of Death, you start thinking that buying things might not be enough to keep Death at bay….and then you might stop buying things! And we know where that leads…Norwegian dentistry.”

David Bentley Hart.

Every branch reverts to its root, no more in any way than when it sprang forth.

My Arabic is sadly not where I’d like it to be, so I have to rely upon a translation (by Ralph Austin, see here for original link and commentary by Austin).

That said, I hope you enjoy this poem as much as I did. I don’t tend to read much of poetry – the sheer exertion to decipher them can send me spiralling into overthought!

However, in this case, I had to make an exception. This is from the writings of the great Andalusian Sufi master, Abū ‘Abd Allāh, Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad ibn ‘Arabī al Ḥātimī aṭ-Ṭā’ī, better known to most as Muḥyiddīn ibn ‘Arabī (d. 1165) who is said to be among the most sophisticated and original thinkers the Islamic tradition has ever produced, and whose insights into the Divine, received to regular ‘unveilings’ through which he composed some of his most important works.

The following poem was constructed at some point after he buried his seven-year-old daughter, with his own hands, and his reflections on the matter. Often I’ve heard critics level profound judgements on those mystics, perhaps because they have no sense of perspective nor have not suffered, which is why they felt they could always see the Divine, His Beauty, His Love, etc.; ibn ‘Arabī himself writes what is a moving and (for me) devastating piece of poetry regarding his relationship to his Creator on such a tragic occasion . He seems to foray into his perception of the Divine Reality in the middle somewhere (and for someone like me, uninitiated, I cannot dare to comment on the specifics), but I’ve highlighted to you verses that spoke to me, giving this poetry significant poignancy given the occasion upon its composition.

The themes of the world of multiplicity, the ‘other-ness’ in relation to God, how His Names manifest in a world so relative, and so on are beyond my scope.

If you are unable to read the whole of the commentary, might I suggest you look at just those below verses 19-20, and 21, the latter of which seems to suggest that these profound mystical insights came to him, were triggered by, the demise of his daughter,  which are both gripping and shocking in content. I’ve pasted these below in block quotes. All credit goes to Ralph Austin.

Is it really possible to see His Agency in everything then, when even such a sad happening brings out such depths?I pray this is as edifying for you as (I hope it will be) for me.

With love, and wishes for a thoroughly blessed year ahead, meanwhile. I shall try not to leave it a year before I write again.

1. With my very own hands I laid my little daughter to rest becauseshe is of my very flesh, 

2. Thus am I constrained to submit to the rule of parting, so that myhand is now empty and contains nothing. 

3. Bound to this moment we are in, caught between the yesterday thathas gone and the tomorrow that is yet to come. 

4. This flesh of mine is as pure silver, while my inner reality is as pure gold.

5. Like a bow have I grown, and my true posture is as my rib. 

6. My Lord it is who says that He has created me in a state of suffering and loss. 

7. How then can I possibly hope for any rest, dwelling as I do in sucha place and state? 

8. Were it not for that state I would be neither child nor parent. 

9. Nor indeed would there be any to compare with me as is the casewith my Creator. 

10. It is surely a case of the qualification being one with respect to an essence which is full of implicit multiplicity. 

11. Because I am for my Creator, in our creation like one of a multitude. 

12. Then my God alighted between us, in the very fabric of existence – not merely a figment of belief.

13. All with a firm, well established emergence, to which I may trace my antecedents with confidence.

14. Thus, on the one hand, I can say that I am a mortal like yourselves, while You do vouch for me.

15. Always, however, on the understanding that I am not ultimately a ‘like’, thus to maintain my integrity.

16. For You have banished all ‘being like’ from me in the pre-eternal state; and that is my conviction.

17. See how sublime and lofty is my garden of paradise, secure in the company of matchless beautiful maidens.

18. He speaks of this as we have also in our book the Maqsid ai-Asmā’.

19. Is not created nature His family and people, as also the very
essence of the Unique One? 

20. Consider how He is a consort for her and how they came together
upon my being, so that it split asunder. 

21. These words of mine are not written after long deliberation, but have been a part of me eternally.

22. It was none but the apostle of the Eternal One who activated them within me.

23. He it was who dictated it, leaving me to write it with my hand.

24. Thus is the matter, and none truly knows it,

25. Save a leader of the spirit surpassing in goodness or one of the
golden mean.

26. Indeed, one who is ‘other’ cannot know it now or ever.

27. Every branch reverts to its root, no more in any way than whenit sprang forth.

Commentary to verse 19-20:

Verses 19 and 20 are really quite shocking in the context of Islamic religion. They are extremely paradoxical and are perhaps the most powerful two verses of the poem.

19. Is not created nature His family and people, as also the very
essence of the Unique One?

Nature, as representative of creation, is in this line a feminine word. As Ibn ‘Arabi points out in the last chapter of the Fusūs, the male God or the male element is surrounded by two female elements-created nature and the very essence itself of God which contains all the essences that we are. It is also a feminine word – dhdt. Nature, the creation itself and the sophic basis of that creation – the deep inner wisdom which provides all the material for that creation are as a family, like a wife and family for God, the Reality. He speaks then of His family. His ahl – His household. The creation is compared to a household – a family or a wife to God but, also the very innermost essence. Here we have the union of the two things that were contrasted in the earlier part of the poem – the worldly state and the pre-eternal state are brought together. They are both a ‘consort’ for the Divine One and therefore, very much a part of the Divine. This is a very difficult idea to articulate without causing certain misunderstandings which is rather compounded in the next verse.

20. Consider how He is a consort for her and how they came together upon my being, so that it split asunder.

‘Her’ is Nature on the one hand and the Essence on the other. In this verse, the Arabic word ba’al is used meaning a husband or a consort. (The Arabic word ba’al is the same word as ‘Baal’ used in this way in the Old Testament.) God is seen here as the consort of the double but single feminine. Therefore, the rest of the line is concerned with how ‘they’ consummated their union ‘… upon my being’. Here ‘my being’ (wujudi) is the material which provides the wherewithal for a birth to result from this union of God the Divine al-Haqq and His inner/outer consort. The Hindu concept shakti gives a similar taste of what is indicated by this idea for without the shakti nothing would happen and thus, God would be alone and undivided. It is only the shakti –  the female energy (expressed here by Ibn ‘Arabi in terms of the inner essence and the outer world) which can bring about the whole drama of creation. In this respect then, ‘my being’ is ‘my inner essence – my divine pre-existent being’. The words ‘… so that it split asunder’ refer to the fact that because of the coming together of these two elements, the difference between them became apparent. In many ways, this situation is similar to the vivification of the egg in the womb – splitting, dividing into the eternal and non-eternal.

Verses 19 and 20 are very powerful and central forming the actual conclusion of the poem. In the beginning we had the difference between the two things, then the linking of the two things by the worshipped God and finally the identity of the two things in a union which itself again produces the difference once more so that it is really a cycle that is being discussed here. These two verses are concerned with what is known in religion as hieros gamos – the sacred marriage.

Commentary to verse 21:

21. These words of mine are not written after long deliberation, but
have been a part of me eternally.

This verse harks back to the constant theme of eternal subsistence in this poem. He is saying, in effect: “I have not sat down and thought: ‘What sort of poem can I write? What has my daughter’s funeral conveyed to me?.'” Ibn ‘Arabi is declaring that this rich and difficult poem that he has written has always been there in his heart of hearts, in his deepest depths – from all eternity. His daughter’s death and funeral simply served to trigger the release and articulation of these thoughts, images and ideas into writing.

O Man, you make me wonder so!

Sayings by Imam Ali (a)

More wonderful than man himself is that part of his body which is connected with his trunk with muscles. It is his brain (mind). Look what good and bad tendencies arise from it. On the one hand it holds treasures of know- ledge and wisdom and on the other it is found to harbour very ugly desires. If a man sees even a tiny gleam of success, then greed forces him to humiliate himself. If he gives way to avarice, then inordinate desires ruin him, if he is disappointed, then despondency almost kills him. If he is excited, then he loses temper and gets angry. If he is pleased, then he gives up precaution. Sudden fear makes him dull and nervous, and he is unable to think and find a way out of the situation. During the times of peace and prosperity he becomes careless and unmindful of the future. If he acquires wealth, then he becomes haughty and arrogant. If he is plunged in distress, then his agitation, impatience and nervousness disgrace him. If he is overtaken by poverty, then he finds himself in a very sad plight, hunger makes him weak, and over-feeding harms him equally. In short every kind of loss and gain makes his mind unbalanced.

Imam Ali

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