Under a clear blue sky, I was playing chess with a Christian Hermit named Francis. He was a man whose inner balance did not tilt easily, a man who knew the meaning of submission. And since Islam means the inner peace that comes from submission, to me Francis was more Muslim than many who claim to be so:
“Submission does not mean being weak or passive. It leads to neither fatalism nor capitulation. Just the opposite. True power resides in submission – a power that comes from within. Those who submit to the divine essence of life will live in unperturbed tranquillity and peace even when the whole wide world goes through turbulence after turbulence.”
I think this is a very beautiful thought, and all of us could learn from it:
“The universe is one being. Everything and everyone is interconnected through an invisible web of stories. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all in a silent conversation. Do no harm. Practice compassion. And do not gossip behind anyone’s back – not even a seemingly innocent remark! The words that come out of our mouths do not vanish but are perpetually stored in infinite space, and they will come back to us in due time. One man’s pain will hurt us all. One man’s joy will make everyone smile.”
One of my favourite passages from the book. Answers about God, heaven, hell, religion feel complicated? Read on:
Instead of searching for the essence of the Qur’an and embracing it as a whole, however, the bigots single out a specific verse or two, giving priority to the diving commands that they deem to be in tune with their fearful minds. They keep reminding everyone that on the Day of Judgement all human beings will be forced to walk the Bridge of Sirat, thinner than hair, sharper than razor. Unable to cross the bridge, the sinful will tumble into the pits of hell underneath, where they will suffer forever. Those who have led a virtuous life will make it to the other end of the bridge, where they will be rewarded with exotic fruits, sweet waters, and virgins. This, in a nutshell, is their notion of afterlife. So great is their obsession with horrors and rewards, flames and fruits, angels and demons, that in their itch to reach a future that will justify who they are today they forget about God.
“Hell is in here and now. So is heaven. Quit worrying about hell or dreaming about heaven, as they are both present inside this very moment. Every time we fall in love, we ascend to heaven. Every time we hate, envy, or fight someone, we tumble straight into the fires of hell.”
Why worry so much about the aftermath, an imaginary future, when this very moment is the only time we can truly and fully experience both the presence and the absence of God in our lives? Motivated by neither the fear of punishment in hell nor the desire to be rewarded in heaven, Sufis love God simply because they love Him, pure and easy, untainted and non-negotiable.
Love is the reason. Love is the goal.
“The human being has a unique place among God’s creation. “I breathed into him of My Spirit, ” God says. Each and every one of us without exception is designed to be God’s delegate on earth. Ask yourself, just how often do you behave like a delegate, if you ever do so? Remember, it falls upon each of us to discover the divine spirit inside and live by it.”
Instead of losing themselves in the love of God and waging a war against their ego, religious zealots fight other people, generating wave after wave of fear. Looking at the whole universe with fear-tinted eyes, it is no wonder that they see a plethora of things to be afraid of. Wherever there is an earthquake, drought, or any other calamity, they take it as a sign of divine wrath – as if God does not openly say, My compassion outweighs My wrath. Always resentful of somebody for this or that, they expect God the Almighty to step in on their behalf and take their pitiful revenges. Their life is a state of uninterrupted bitterness and hostility, a discontentment so vast it follows them wherever they go, like a black cloud, darkening both their past and their future.
There is such a thing in faith as not being able to see the forest for the trees. The totality of religion is far greater and deeper than the sum of its component parts. Individual rules need to be read in the light of the whole. And the whole is concealed in the essence.
As long as I knew myself, I would be all right. Whosoever knows himself, knows the one. The moon showered me with its warm glow. A light rain, as delicate as a silk scarf, began to fall on the town. I thanked God for this blessed moment and left myself in His hands. The fragility and brevity of life struck me once again, and I recalled another rule:
“Life is a temporary loan, and this world is nothing but a sketchy imitation of Reality. Only children would mistake a toy for a real thing. And yet human beings either become infatuated with the toy or disrespectfully break it and throw it aside. In this life stay away from all kinds of extremities, for they will destroy your inner balance. Sufis do not go to extremes. A Sufi always remains mild and moderate.
The past is a whirlpool. If you let it dominate your present moment, it will suck you in. Time is just an illusion. What you need is to live this very moment. That is all that matters:
“Fret not where the road will take you. Instead concentrate on the first step. That’s the hardest part and that’s what you are responsible for. Once you take that step let everything do what it naturally does and the rest will follow. Do not go with the flow. Be the flow.”
Every man is an open book, each and every one of us a walking Qur’an. The quest for God is ingrained in the hearts of all, be it a prostitute or a saint. Love exists within each of us from the moment we are born and waits to be discovered from then on. It is one of the rules:
“The whole universe is contained within a single human being – you. Everything that you see around, including the things you might not be fond of and even the people you despise or abhor, is present within you in varying degrees. Therefore, do not look for Sheitan outside yourself either. The devil is not an extraordinary force that attacks from without. It is an ordinary voice within. If you get to know yourself fully, facing with honesty and hardness both your dark and bright sides, you will arrive at a supreme form of consciousness. When a person knows himself or herself, he or she knows God.”
“The sharia is like a candle,” said Shams of Tabriz. “It provides us with much valuable light. But let us not forget that a candle helps us to go from one place to another in the dark. If we forget where we are headed and instead concentrate on the candle, what good is it?”
Shams of Tabriz straightened up, his gaze fixed as if reading from an invisible book, and he pronounced [the next rule]:
“Each and every reader comprehends the Holy Qur’an on a different level in tandem with the depth of his understanding. There are four levels of insight. The first level is the outer meaning and it is the one that majority of the people are content with. Next is the Batini – the inner level. Third, there is the inner of the inner. And the fourth level is so deep it cannot be put into words and is therefore bound to remain indescribable.”
With glinting eyes Shams continued. “Scholars who focus on the sharia know the outer meaning. Sufis know the inner meaning. Saints know the inner of the inner. And as for the fourth level, that is known only by prophets and those closest to God.”
- The First Rule of Love (thethinkeist.wordpress.com)
- The Fourth Rule of Love (thethinkeist.wordpress.com)