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I take the following quotation from the Mawaqif of Niffari, an author with whom we shall become better acquainted as we proceed:

"God said to me, 'The least of the sciences of nearness is that you should see in everything the effects of beholding Me, and that this vision should prevail over you more than your gnosis of Me.'"
Explanation by the commentator:
"He means that the least of the sciences of nearness (proximity to God) is that when you look at anything, sensibly or intellectually or otherwise, you should be conscious of beholding God with a vision clearer than your vision of that thing. There are diverse degrees in this matter. Some mystics say that they never see anything without seeing God before it. Others say, 'without seeing God after it,' or 'with it'; or they say that they see nothing but God. A certain Sufi said, 'I made the pilgrimage and saw the Ka‘ba, but not the Lord of the Ka‘ba.' This is the perception of one who is veiled. Then he said, 'I made the pilgrimage again, and I saw both the Ka‘ba and the Lord of the Ka‘ba.' This is contemplation of the Self-subsistence through which everything subsists, i.e. he saw the Ka‘ba subsisting through the Lord of the Ka‘ba. Then he said, 'I made the pilgrimage a third time, and I saw the Lord of the Ka‘ba, but not the Ka‘ba.' This is the 'station' of waqfat (passing-away in the essence). In the present case the author is referring to contemplation of the Self-subsistence."
So much concerning the theory of illumination. But, as Mephistopheles says, "grau ist alle Theorie"; and though to most of us the living experience is denied, we can hear its loudest echoes and feel its warmest afterglow in the poetry which it has created. Let me translate part of a Persian ode by the dervish-poet, Baba Kuhi of Shiriz, who died in 1050 A.D.

"In the market, in the cloister--only God I saw.
In the valley and on the mountain--only God I saw.
Him I have seen beside me oft in tribulation;
In favour and in fortune--only God I saw.
In prayer and fasting, in praise and contemplation,
In the religion of the Prophet--only God I saw.
Neither soul nor body, accident nor substance,
Qualities nor causes--only God I saw.
I oped mine eyes and by the light of His face around me
In all the eye discovered--only God I saw.
Like a candle I was melting in His fire:
Amidst the flames outflashing--only God I saw.
Myself with mine own eyes I saw most clearly,
But when I looked with God's eyes--only God I saw.
I passed away into nothingness, I vanished,
And lo, I was the All-living--only God I saw."

The whole of Sufism rests on the belief that when the individual self is lost, the Universal Self is found, or, in religious language, that ecstasy affords the only means by which the soul can directly communicate and become united with God. Asceticism, purification, love, gnosis, saintship--all the leading ideas of Sufism--are developed from this cardinal principle.
Among the metaphorical terms commonly employed by the Sufis as, more or less, equivalent to 'ecstasy' are fana (passing-away), wajd (feeling), sama‘ (hearing), dhawq (taste), shirb (drinking), ghaybat (absence from self), jadhbat (attraction), sukr (intoxication), and hal (emotion). It would be tedious and not, I think, specially in-structive to examine in detail the definitions of those terms and of many others akin to them which occur in Sufi text-books. We are not brought appreciably nearer to understanding the nature of ecstasy when it is described as "a divine mystery which God communicates to true believers who behold Him with the eye of certainty," or as "a flame which moves in the ground of the soul and is produced by love-desire." The Mohammedan theory of ecstasy, however can hardly be discussed without reference to two of the above-mentioned technical expressions, namely, fana and sama‘.
As I have remarked in the Introduction, the term fana includes different stages, aspects, and meanings. These may be summarised as follows:
1. A moral transformation of the soul through the extinction of all its passions and desires.
2. A mental abstraction or passing-away of the mind from all objects of perception, thoughts, actions, and feelings through its concentration upon the thought of God. Here the thought of God signifies contemplation of the divine attributes.
3. The cessation of all conscious thought. The highest stage of fana is reached when even the consciousness of having attained fana disappears. This is what the Sufis call 'the passing-away of passing-away' (fana al-fana). The mystic is now rapt in contemplation of the divine essence.
The final stage of fana, the complete passing-away from self, forms the prelude to baqa, 'continuance' or 'abiding' in God, and will be treated with greater fullness in Chapter VI.
The first stage closely resembles the Buddhistic Nirvana. It is a 'passing-away' of evil qualities and states of mind, which involves the simultaneous 'continuance' of good qualities and states of mind. This is necessarily an ecstatic process, inasmuch as all the attributes of 'self' are evil in relation to God. No one can make himself perfectly moral, i.e. perfectly 'selfless.' This must be done for him, through 'a flash of the divine beauty' in his heart.

While the first stage refers to the moral 'self,' the second refers to the percipient and intellectual 'self.' Using the classification generally adopted by Christian mystics, we may regard the former as the consummation of the Purgative Life, and the latter as the goal of the Illuminative Life. The third and last stage constitutes the highest level of the Contemplative Life.

Often, though not invariably, fana is accompanied by loss of sensation. Sari al-Saqati, a famous Sufi of the third century, expressed the opinion that if a man in this state were struck on the face with a sword, he would not feel the blow. Abu ’l-Khayr al-Aqta‘ had a gangrene in his foot. The physicians declared that his foot must be amputated, but he would not allow this to be done. His disciples said, "Cut it off while he is praying, for he is then unconscious." The physicians acted on their advice, and when Abu ’l-Khayr finished his prayers he found that the amputation had taken place. It is difficult to see how any one far advanced in fana could be capable of keeping the religious law--a point on which the orthodox mystics lay great emphasis. Here the doctrine of saintship comes in. God takes care to preserve His elect from disobedience to His commands. We are told that Bayazid, Shibli, and other saints were continually in a state of rapture until the hour of prayer arrived; then they returned to consciousness, and after performing their prayers became enraptured again.

In theory, the ecstatic trance is involuntary, although certain conditions are recognised as being specially favourable to its occurrence. "It comes to a man through vision of the majesty of God and through revelation of the divine omnipotence to his heart." Such, for instance, was the case of Abu Hamza, who, while walking in the streets of Baghdad and meditating on the nearness of God, suddenly fell into an ecstasy and went on his way, neither seeing nor hearing, until he recovered his senses and found himself in the desert. Trances of this kind sometimes lasted many weeks. It is recorded of Sahl ibn ‘Abdallah that he used to remain in ecstasy twenty-five days at a time, eating no food; yet he would answer questions put to him by the doctors of theology, and even in winter his shirt would be damp with sweat. But the Sufis soon discovered that ecstasy might be induced artificially, not only by concentration of thought, recollection (dhikr), and other innocent methods of autohypnosis, but also by music, singing, and dancing. These are included in the term sama‘, which properly means nothing more than audition.

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