The Science of the Self

If you reflect – there are signs in the nafs – because the

whole macrocosm of existence is contained in it.

By purification the nafs expands by the power of the Reality. Now do not say: 'How?' or 'Where?' or 'What?'

It expands by the bestowal of the Trust upon it by Allah

– and god-hood has no limitation.

The great men have proved unable to bear this Trust yet still man has to take it on, and this is the highest task.

             -- from the Diwan of the Perfect Shaykh

In the Makkan Revelations of the Shaykh al-Akbar he tells of al-Junayd, the Imam of the Masters, may Allah be pleased with him, being asked, 'What did you obtain of what was granted?' And his reply: 'My sitting beneath this stair for thirty years.' Then he quotes Shaykh Abu Yazid, may Allah be pleased with him, as saying: 'You took your knowledge from something dead, and we took our knowledge from the Living who does not die.' We have already committed ourselves to a path of learning which rejects information as a knowledge-process. In the sciences we wish to acquire nothing less than direct experience can be accepted as valid. Language does not alter your condition and it is the condition of anxiety and conflict that has to be healed.

What we have to establish first of all is the nature of the work that has to be undertaken, and it must not be confused with the structuralist education we have been forced to abandon. This is how the Shaykh al-Akbar, again in 'The Makkan Revelations', defines the matter:

So let the possessor of himma be in spiritual retreat with Allah. His gift and His grace appear to such a man from a knowledge of which every language-bound person in the world is ignorant. Moreover, not one speculative thinker or logician can possess this state. It is beyond the perception of reason.

Knowledges are on three levels:

1. The knowledge of reason ('aql): it is every knowledge which you acquire by necessity or as a result of speculation in a proof with the condition of the discovery of that proof and its form structured in the world of thought. Thought gathers and selects from that form of knowledge. For this reason, they say in speculation that this is valid and that is in-valid.

2. The second knowledge is the knowledge of states (ahwal), and there is no way to it except by direct tasting. A man of reason cannot limit it nor can he base proof on it, like the knowledge of the sweetness of honey, and the bitterness of aloes and the pleasure of intercourse and passion and ecstasy and yearning. There is no form of this type in the knowledges. So these are knowledges which it is impossible for anyone to know without being characterised by them and experiencing them.

3. The third knowledge is the knowledge of the secrets (asrar), and it is the knowledge which is above the condition of reason. It is a knowledge which the Perfect Dynamic of Existence blows into the heart. No knowledge is nobler than this encompassing knowledge which contains all known things.

Know therefore that the Path of Allah, may He be exalted, is that which the elite of the trusting ones have travelled upon seeking their liberation and not the masses who occupy themselves with other than that for which they were created.

There are four paths: search, causes, behaviour-pattern, and realities.

There are three rights preserved for them which call them to these paths:

– the right of Allah,

– the right of themselves,

– the right of creation.

The rights which Allah, may He be exalted, has over them is that they glorify Him and do not associate any thing with Him.

The right creation has over them is that there is a Road for creatures to go on, restraining them from harm and limiting them on the one hand, and on the other bringing them a good existence by the very act of what is allowed.

There is no way to the harmony of the goal except by the tongue of the Road (Shari'a).

The right due to themselves is that they do not travel except on a path that has happiness and liberation in it.

The four paths mentioned by the Master are the four truths by which we make the approach to our own understanding. But before the practices can be embarked on it has to be established that all this is based on our certainty of the Shaykh's approach and a complete surrender of any kind of opinion or idea or speculation that one might have about the validity or non-validity of the work. This surrender demands that even beyond the bounds of reason one has to be completely acquiescent before the Shaykh's instruction and injunction. It is something very difficult for so-called educated people to accept. This confusion comes from two things: firstly, they are used to the idea that the teacher is as fallible if not more fallible than they themselves are, and if this were true of the Shaykh it would be quite fitting to contradict him and defy him in certain cases. Secondly, the seeker has still held onto some idea or concept of 'freedom' or 'independence' that sets him outside the life-situation. As the Shaykh's sole intention is to set him on the path of his own possibilities and to awaken in him contentment with the totality that surrounds him, these conflicts that call up our defiance have no reality for the Shaykh, and merely indicate the temperature, as it were, of the recovering patient. In other words, this surrender is based on the Shaykh being himself a completely radiant and surrendered slave of Reality. Worse than dissension over behaviour is dispute with words. There is no debate among the people of the Path. Different Masters may use different methods but there is no argument. Assuming that the Master follows the Shari'a, there can be no questioning him – that is the only outward criterion for a seeker as he selects his teacher. As the Shaykh al-Kamil said: 'Even if a man comes to you flying through the air, if he does not follow the Shari'a – leave him.'

Search is that energy-impulse that rises up in a person and puts them on the path of awakening and reality out of the sleep of their previous existence and its fantasies which they mistook for being awake. At first it expresses itself as a restlessness and a dis-satisfaction with this world and the reward-structure of material existence and the reward-offering of so-called inter-personal relationships. When the illusory relationships begin to be rejected as lies, and the so-called 'real' world takes on a kind of unreality, two things can happen – either the person will retreat out of the unsympathetic life-situation and make their own reality-rules and rewards – they might even decide to leave the body quite effectively, cut off all communication through the central nervous system and station themselves out of reach of the totalitarian enemy world system, using their body as a kind of colony or space-station to which they send and from which they receive occasional signals – this condition is variously described as madness or schizophrenia (split self) but which for the moment could merely be looked upon as an extreme and uncompromising defence-system based on the illusion that the enemy was without, when in fact the madman who thinks he is deluding you has merely deluded himself, for the enemy was within. The second possibility is a kind of collapse from within, a car crash of existence in which the driver, unlike the subject in the first picture, manages to survive, but the whole machine of his life to date cannot be road-worthy again. He has to abandon all the inner mind pictures and he is stopped from continuing with the reality game that he has been so long blackmailed into taking seriously. The aims and goals of the society have been revealed to him as worthless, the neon-lit world has been exposed to the splendour of sunlight and all he can do is turn off the false lights and turn to the natural energy source that has been manifested. From the society's point of view he could be labelled many things, politically he is an anarchist, behaviourally he is an introvert in crisis, a neurotic, socially he may be a drop-out or a misfit. The important thing is that he is in motion – where before there was a static and rigid structure, with its collapse has come energy, movement – quest. The great example of this condition in tasawwuf is the case of the Imam al-Ghazzali, called the Proof of Islam, and one of the great Masters of the Way.

Abu Hamid, as al-Ghazzali is called among the Sufis, died at Tus in 1111 A.D. Already established as a great teacher at Bagdhad University under the patronage of the Sultan and with a firmly established reputation as a philosopher, he was suddenly assailed by overwhelming doubts about the reality of all that he knew or thought he knew, and about the very substance of lived existence.

He asked himself:

Do you not see that while asleep you assume your dreams to be unquestionably real? Once awake, you recognise them for what they are – fantasies without substance. Who then can assure you of the reliability of an existence which when awake you derive from the senses and from reason? In relation to your present state they may be real, but it is also possible that you may enter another state of existence which will bear the same relation to your present state as this does to your condition when asleep. In that new zone you will recognise that the conclusions of reason are mere fantasies.

This possible condition is perhaps what the Sufis call 'hal', that is to say, according to them, a state in which, absorbed in themselves, and in the suspension of sense-perception and thought-forms, they are able to see. Perhaps also death is that state, according to the Prince of Messengers who said: 'Men are asleep and when they die they awaken.' Our present life in relation to that future is perhaps merely a dream, and man, once dead, will see things in direct opposition to what is now before his eyes: he will then understand the words of Qur'an, 'Today We have removed the veil from your eyes and your sight is keen.' (50.22) Such thoughts as these threatened to shake my reason and I sought to find an escape from them. But how?

The anguish increased until the whole fabric of his domestic life, his intellectual pursuits and reputation and his formal acts of devotion became devoid of meaning:

Finally, I saw that the only condition of release was to give up honour and riches and to sever the ties and attachments of the life I knew. One day I would decide to leave Bagdhad and give up everything: the next day I changed my mind.

This tension continued over a period of six months during the year 1096 A.D. The climax came when he got up before his students to give a discourse and found that he had been struck dumb. The silence imposed from deep within him by existence shattered what was left of his coherent life-pattern. He could not eat and he could not drink, and the doctors expected him to die. Suddenly the way opened to him and what had seemed impossible became easy for him. He publicly announced that he was going on Hajj to Makka while secretly he planned a departure to Syria. His decision to give up this most honoured academic post caused a tremendous stir that reverberated right across the Muslim community beyond Iraq. People blamed the Khalif, others the Madrassah where he taught, but nothing now could halt his progress. With a clear and integrated purpose he settled all his affairs, leaving his wives and family provided for, so that he could set out for the desert with his begging bowl and seek the company of the Sufi zawiyyas where he hoped to begin his new life. There then followed ten years of sufic practice at the end of which he felt ready to return to the world he had left behind and at last begin to teach by transmission what he had gained:

I learned from a sure source that the Sufis are the true pioneers on the path to Allah, that there is nothing more beautiful than their lives, nor more praiseworthy than their rules of conduct, nor purer than their behaviour. The intelligence of thinkers, the wisdom of philosophers, the knowledge of the most accomplished intellectuals would in vain combine their efforts in order to modify or improve their sciences and their behaviour – it would be impossible. With the Sufis repose and movement, exterior or interior, are illumined with light.

So search, which at first manifests as agitation, disorder and movement, is eventually restructured under the impulse of the sufic practices just as the iron-filings are patterned according to the power of the magnet that attracted them. Search is that faculty which the Master Jalalud-Din Rumi, may Allah be pleased with him, called congeneity. It is not just the energy impulse of the magnetic field, it is the actual susceptibility that the iron has to be attracted, or the straw has towards the amber. So that we may say that search is itself the revealing of the nature of the subject. The appearance of the amber lets us see the straw for what it is, an attracted substance. Not every element can be magnetised, and not every person is drawn to the search. Qur'an says: 'Allah guides to his path who He wills,' (2.213) and 'Allah leads astray who He wills.' (6.39).

So the search, once it has begun, can then be given a different name, for it is the same energy form, only it has then taken direction. Once under the guidance of a Shaykh that impulse is called himma, meaning yearning, or appetite for knowledge of reality. Himma is a key term in our sciences. It is the faculty we must awaken, and the energy to be most desired. It is desire itself and yet it is necessary that it be desired. Himma brings himma. The need for himma in the seeker runs through the Diwan of the Perfect Shaykh as a major theme:

And, Oh my companion, himma is the possession to have,

then if you desire the goal of all the gnostics you can set out for it.

Elsewhere he indicates that it is the means to unification in experience:

To the people, His dhikr does in place of what is other-than-Him.

If you possess himma there is no opposite to Allah.

Or again, it is seen as the faculty which in its perfection is the dynamic of the Shaykh's transmission. Describing how to recognise a true Master he begins:

His signs are: a Light which shines outwardly, and

a Secret which appears inwardly through his himma.

In his 'Lesser Song' he puts it as one of the three essentials the adept needs for unification of his reality:

Whoever has got dhikr, fikr, and himma will in each moment transcend otherness.

He will attain gnosis beyond his desire and fast realise the secrets of existence.

He will see that the purity of the Road is separation, which, properly speaking, is the source of Reality.

In 'The Buraq of the Tariq' he counsels:

Awaken your himma with yearning and longing, and do not be content with less than the Ever-continuing.

So from this we can see that himma is the highest energy impulse of the human creature, it is that motion within a man or woman which rouses them from the whole running-down process of the organism, which lifts them up and moves them with an energy beyond any other energy they possess to strive not for any formal achievement but for re-connection with reality itself. It is life energy, it moves counter to the dying arc of the cellular existence, and it lies outside the self-interest of the social impulse. It is the failure of the academic to understand this energy, for it is not a principle but a force, that has led to the mis-understanding about so-called asceticism. The fasting, the lack of possessions and the poverty of dress of advanced seekers has been seen as an expression of masochism and self-punishment, which in itself is another of those highly subjective projections that is called objective thinking to veil the built-in value judgment against what they themselves fear. There are two situations which may arise and each would outwardly present the same silhouette while inwardly they would express a different reality. As with every aspect of the self-patterns of the Path, the basic situation is exemplified by the Messenger, peace be upon him. It is told that he was walking in Madina with his Companions when a man called out to him, 'I am miskeen,' which is a Qur'anic term denoting not only poverty but a poverty devoid of struggle to survive. The Messenger answered him, saying, 'Poverty is all my glory.' They proceeded on their way when another man made the same exclamation. This time the Messenger frowned and said, 'Poverty is next to covering-up!' That is, next to covering up the true nature of existence which is all-sustaining and all-providing. He then turned to his Companions and noted that they were confused by the two apparently contradictory statements. The first man, he explained, had the condition of miskeen inwardly and outwardly, while the second was 'rich in his poverty,' for he inwardly indulged in it. The man who gives things up or submits to what seem harsh disciplines is devoid of any experience or motive of self-punishment if the source of his actions is his himma, for it is in the nature of himma to make any action pleasing to the seeker if it leads him to the sought. Devoid of himma, the actions could then be seen as part of a neurotic pattern. The outcome of the one man's actions will be an opening into the serenity and wisdom that is the fruit of himma, while the same actions will lead in the other instance to either crisis or collapse.

The Persian Master al-Hujwiri identifies himma with the act of transmission in the same way as the Shaykh al-Kamil in his Diwan, and introduces at the same time a principle of the Way that follows inevitably from the reality-picture which the Wisdom begins to unfold.

In Farghana at a village called Ashlatak there was an old man who was one of the Four of the earth. His name was Bab 'Umar – all the dervishes in that country give the title of Bab to their great Shaykhs – and he had an old wife called Fatima. I went from Uskand to see him. When I entered his presence he said: 'Why have you come?' I replied: 'In order that I might see the Shaykh in person and that he might look on me with kindness, (i.e. transmission).' He said: 'I have been seeing you continually since such and such a day, and I wish to see you as long as you are not removed from my sight.' I computed the day and year: it was the very day that I took the Path. The Shaykh said: 'To traverse distance is child's play. From now on visit by means of himma. It is not worthwhile to visit any person (in this context) – and there is no virtue in bodily presence.' Then he bade Fatima bring something to eat. She brought a dish of new grapes, although it was not the season for them, and some fresh ripe dates which cannot possibly be procured in Farghana.

The reality of this experience, where transmission takes place without 'bodily presence' is referred to in the opening of 'The Greater Song' of the Shaykh al-Kamil:

If you wish to ascend as lovers ascend,

    turn to Layla with sincerity in love

– and dismiss all who deny Her love.

    Travel to the lovers in every land.

– If your sincerity in love is real, then by it

     you will see the lovers without journeying.

So now we can see that himma is the dynamic of love itself, though what love may be we are not yet in a position to say. Shaykh al-Kalabadhi said:

The seeker is in reality the Sought, and the Sought the Seeker. So Allah says, 'He loves them and they love Him,' (5.54), and again, 'Allah was well-pleased with them and they were well-pleased with Allah,' (5.119). If Allah seeks a man it is not possible for that man not to seek Allah: so Allah has made the Seeker the Sought and the Sought the Seeker.

Here is opening up the unitary nature of the dynamic life-energy. He extends it further in showing that on the Path there are people who far from having to struggle are taken up and opened to knowledge, in a reverse picture of himma-action – the himma comes to them and illuminates them. In this pattern the Sought is a man of the Path and the Seeker is Reality itself:

Nevertheless, in the language of the Sufis, the seeker is the man whose toiling preceded his revelations, while the sought is he whose revelation preceded his toiling. The seeker is described in Allah's words: 'But those who fight strenuously for Us, we will surely guide them into Our Way.' (29.69). Such a man is sought by Allah, who turns his heart and implants in it a himma to stir him to work for Him, and to turn to Him and to seek Him: then He accords him the revelation of the spiritual states. So it was with Harithath (a Companion of the Messenger), who said: 'I turned myself from this world and thirsted in the day-time, and watched at night,' then he said, 'and it was as though I saw the Throne of my Lord coming out!' With these words he indicated that the revelation of the Unseen came to him after he had turned away from this world. The 'sought' man, on the other hand, is drawn out forcibly by Reality and accorded the revelation of the states that through the power of vision he may be stirred to work for Allah and turn to Him and bear the burdens laid on him by Reality. So it was with Pharaoh's magicians: after they had received the revelation it was easy for them to endure the threat of Pharaoh, for they said: 'We will never prefer you to what has come to us of manifest signs É decide then what you are able to decide.' (20.72).

(It should here just be explained that in the Qur'anic revelation, the encounter with Sayyedina Musa, the Messenger of Reality, and Pharaoh is an encounter of two reality-views. The Pharaoh was not a mere ruler but a heirophant of great knowledge which gave him yogic power over forms so that he was able to manipulate existence formally. Musa's science was unitary and to do with inner experience of reality, and so was 'powerless' while Pharaoh had powers. Musa was able to transmit knowledge and demonstrate its validity to the Pharaoh's adepts, but the power of Pharaoh blocked his inner ability to recognise that the source of his own powers came from existence itself, of which he was an infinitesimal part. It is important to bear in mind that his wife was however a perfected Master, according to the Messenger Muhammad, peace be upon him, and that he himself, as he was engulfed by the Red Sea, affirmed the truth of Musa's doctrine. His body was preserved, and is, whole, mummified until the world's end, as an affirmation of the power he had over forms, and thus in the end his own self-preservation still had to be gifted by existence and could not be assured by him.)

So right at the beginning of the Path we encounter something that is to be the constant theme of all our learning. If reality is One then everything leads back eventually to the One, and in this world of forms everything leads to its opposite, for there is no dialectic except in description, and no conflict except in imagination. Thus himma which is a yearning must be yearned for, and the One yearned for is the initiator, or the yearning impulse, and the Path is nothing but that energy desire. So, it follows that the goal itself, the existent, the Moment, has to be right here, right now in this present tense we and creation continue to be in – and that is one of the meanings of the Qur'anic ayat, 'Truly Allah is on a straight Path.' (12.56). The whole matter is a divine event, so that al-Junayd's answer to the question of what he had gained was nothing other than the life he had lived, his 'sitting beneath the stair for thirty years' in inner contemplation; he had gained the conscious utterly awake awareness of his own life – this was the inestimable achievement of the Master.

Causes, or veils, or hindrances, or the whole self-structure whose illusory nature stands between you and the clear-sighted seeing of reality as-it-is, without any fantasy self-centre – if we are to free ourselves from the prison of our own self-experience we must be free of its traps and its methods in encasing us in this false situation. The nafs – the term which stands for the experiencing self – is variously described and defined in sufic terminology, and this shifting perspective is deliberate and not a sign of differing theory. Both this is true and that is true of it – it is in itself a non-reality and it may be experienced in different ways and approached in different ways and dismantled in different ways. The word derives from NFS – 'to injure by casting an evil eye upon anyone'. So its very core meaning is that of an energy-form destructively engaged in conflict with another and harming it through its own inner activity. When used adverbially it means: 'willingly', 'of my own accord', 'at my own pleasure'. Here it is seen as a simple act of self-interest and satisfaction. From it comes the word 'to shine' and unsurprisingly in the light of what we have just examined, it can also indicate 'one who yearns or aspires after' – so that with these three aspects of the word we have already got the basic doctrine of the nafs as outlined by Imam al-Ghazzali derived from Qur'anic terminology.

1. AN-NAFS AL-AMARA: the insinuating nafs. It is wholly evil. It is overpowered by passions and obeys their dictates gladly. All energies here are bent on gratification. It cannot discriminate a higher nafs. The lower nafs has become the ideal. They delight in influencing others to like action, and are proud of their own actions. They are not open to encounter and can only be changed by Reality.

'Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing and over their eyes is a covering and there is a great chastisement for them.' (Qur'an 2.7)

2. AN-NAFS AL-LAWWAMA: the reproachful nafs. It is indecisive in choice between good and evil – constantly subjected to inner struggle as a result. Sometimes it is one thing, sometimes another – capable of both. It is able to discriminate between the two nafs, higher and lower, but it is utterly unable to overcome the impulses of the lower nafs when they burst forth, having knowledge without will. Change comes through keeping company with one who has passed this stage, and through shared spiritual practice which gives strength to abandon bad action and alter the nafs.

'No! I swear by the reproachful self!' (Qur'an 75.2)

3. AN-NAFS AL-MUTMA'INNA: the nafs at peace. The nafs has become fixed, good, illuminated consciousness. It has received An-Nur, Light, thus it acts according to it – it is reasonable, it is devoid of evil, and good flourishes around it. The discrimination between the two nafs goes, for the lower one has gone and the true nafs is the master. Man has achieved perfect freedom.

'Oh self at peace, return to your Lord, well-pleased, well-pleasing! Enter you among My slaves! Enter you My Garden!' (Qur'an 89.27-30)

The above description of the nafs in different conditions displays the only basic possibilities within which each individual fantasy history is played out. The nafs at its most reduced and therefore at its most active is in this pattern clearly identifiable with the infant, only the infantile behaviour is ensconced in an adult situation and so it has the aspect of being monstrous. That is, the observer finds that the behaviour of such a person is like that of a small child – at the same time the observer is appalled at the power and effectiveness and scale of the destructive action which, taken out of the nursery, becomes acted out in the larger playpen of 'history'. For most people it is almost impossible to believe from the position of their own repression that the actor-out is doing it and so they stubbornly refuse to confront the mad event they get caught up in, despite themselves. This nafs, nevertheless, cannot possibly function unless it has the setting of the pseudo-adult nafs to play against, for its destructive activity is directed against the self-image which is most clearly mirrored in the authority figure, be it a parent or pseudo-parent. On a global scale this nafs is easily identifiable – Napoleon, Churchill, Hitler and so on. They are the very marrow of what has come to be known as history, which is nothing but the violent foreground event created to draw attention away from the deeper background unreality of the nafs' personal battle which in itself is another fantasy. So the politics of a situation from this point of view is a fantasy structure disguising an inner nafs' conflict that is being acted out in the zone of event – the existential vitality of which obscures the nafs' actual dilemma which is the fantasy structure that has to be dismantled if 'history' is to stop. The nafs in its cunning creates the brilliant diversion of event so that in extremity it will always resort to violence to distract others from recognizing the true inner violence that it expresses – or, to hold clearly to the reality of things, the illusory inner violence. So we are presented with a picture of existence where the arena of activity, the arena of events, is nothing less than an illusion cloaked by an illusion taking place in an imaginary setting and happening to imagined beings.

Shaykh al-Akbar says:

So He, may He be praised! obeys Himself when He wishes with His creation, and He is just to Himself in respect to what He appointed to Himself from the necessity of His right – and it is nothing more than empty phantoms on their empty thrones. In the echo lies the secret of what we allude to – to whoever is guided.

There is no doubt that this idea of the illusory nature of event let alone of phenomena is emotionally very disturbing to people who have been educated in the effective conditioning of present day society. At this stage it is dangerous to fall for the kind of superficial 'realism' of the academic who at worst will blusteringly introduce a common-sense down-to-earth empiricism – the table is there and I am here and that's an end to it. We are not trying here to negotiate existence to neurotic subjects who are ensconced in their world view and committed to the resultant madness that is our contemporary situation. The context of our study of the nafs is that we take our picture from men who have transcended these fantasy experiences which lead to war and crime and insanity and have thus gained a total view of man's possibilities both creatively and destructively – for our common-sense fellow has not only been unable to grasp the sublime possibilities of the human creature, but he has utterly failed to contain the insane and suicidal tendencies of his fellow men, allowed genocide to be the mark of his century on a social level, and crime and madness its private condition. A true science of the nafs must be able to deal with the bad aspects of the nafs – and by bad I do not mean what is parentally censured, but what is destructive to the subjects themselves. It must then be able to understand the means to transform the self so that it can replace all the negative energies, bit by bit, with positive creative energies. It is the former of these that we have called Causes and the latter, Behaviour-patterns.

It is understandable that people are afraid of words like 'wrong' and 'right', 'good' and 'bad', for they do lead to words like 'blame' and the whole punishment syndrome swings into action. It is at this point that a crucial principle of the Noble Way must be grasped. It has already been quoted from the Diwan of the Perfect Shaykh:

É the purity of the Road is separation,

      which, properly speaking, is the source of Reality.

No one knows better than the Sufis that the zone of experiential existence is one of duality. Tawhid nowhere denies it, as the Shaykh al-Kamil insists. If we did not experience duality there would be no need for a science of Unity. It is the mark of the pseudo-sufi that he refuses to adhere to the practices of separation and the Road while pretending to union and the Path. There has been no Sufi who did not approach existence, awed and humbled, a slave approaching his master. There can be no talk of lover and Beloved until the slave has become obedient, not through tyranny, but through the submission of the creature to his creatureness, and until the slave's submission opens him up to his true nature as Khalif of reality. If a man says he does not need to bow and prostrate and fast and ritually wash, he is setting himself above the Masters and so while outwardly he may be engaged in all the tasks of sufic practice, inwardly he is deeply engrossed in the 'monstrous' infantile battle with the parents. The pseudo-sufis are all of this monstrous nature, paternal, dominant and outwardly benign – their followers inevitably are haunted sons desperately trying to overcome the dominant father by an act of ritual magic, for that is what they use 'practices' to do – since practices are for one purpose only, to bring you to the ground, humbled, lowered, broken, and ultimately surrendered and accepting, finally open and receptive to the endless riches of the creation, to the endless bounty of the Truth – it is hardly surprising that their ventures end in schism and collapse.

There is no Master of the Way who has not accepted his obligations as a human being to bow and prostrate and fast, so much so that he is of all men the most submitted and the most diligent in performing what is demanded of him. Shaykh al-Akbar, which means the Greatest Master, at the very opening of his definitive treatise on the Path, 'The Makkan Revelations', is categoric in affirming that there can be no possible transmission unless it comes from a follower of the Messenger Muhammad, peace be upon him. He describes most vividly the Messenger's last pilgrimage to Makka and his calling the people around him to confirm that he had conveyed to them the total teaching of how to live on this planet in harmony with the whole creation and with direct inner knowledge of reality:

Then he said: 'Has it reached you? They said: 'It has, oh Messenger of Allah!' He said, may Allah give him peace: 'Oh Allah – I testify.'

And to the Messenger's testimony the Master adds his own like a humble and ordinary slave:

I believe in all that has been brought to him, peace be upon him, from that which I know and do not know of what He gave him.

Following our Shaykh, who in turn is a follower and inheritor of the wisdom of the Shaykh al-Akbar, we proceed to set in motion the practices of the Noble Way hoping for a guidance that will give us discrimination in this dual world and yet somehow – although we are aware of the open contradiction – will also give us Union. What then is the foundation of discrimination? Given that we have affirmed the Messenger as a reliable witness of existence, in accepting our Shaykh we copy him in the first practice of the Way.


Shaykh Shibli, the disciple of al-Junayd, and a Shaykh of our Shaykh, said, 'Wudu is separation. Salat is joining.' The meaning and effect of wudu underpin the whole structure of practices that you will undergo, so it is essential to grasp the profundity of this rite. The ritual prostrations (salat) are not valid unless they are either preceded by the wudu or the previous wudu is still valid. The wudu is a formalised washing of the hands, mouth, nostrils, face, right arm, left arm, head and neck, ears, right foot and then left foot, accompanied by the appropriate supplication. The act is outwardly a cleansing and inwardly a purification. The manner of doing wudu is swiftness and thoroughness, being sure that the water touches every part of the members being washed. The Shaykh al-Kamil used to say, 'Perform wudu like a majdhub (holy madman) and salat like a dying man.' The effectiveness of the wudu is broken by urination, excretion, passing wind anally, and the sexual act – in the last event ritual purity can only be renewed by ghusl, which is the full act of purification involving the whole body being washed. The act of wudu is followed by a declaration of Shahada, the affirmation of the Unity and the authority of the Messenger. The experience of the washing is its own explanation, for the person feels the shock impact of pure water, forcing the nafs from whatever fantasy has been haunting it to the direct reality of water and body, to the impact of the moment. It brings you to your senses, it snaps the nafs away from the false dream state of that dazedness which hints at an illusory unity while in fact the nafs is simply detaching from the body which is its own totality. And this brings us to our first encounter with a situation that will be met with at every stage of the Way, although it has been obliquely referred to in the story of the two poor men in Madinah meeting the Prophet. Every condition of balance and harmony and every state and station of knowledge is accompanied by a shadow-form that is contrary to the science of wisdom and could be designated as a neurotic situation. For example, and most obviously, the thorough execution of wudu for the five ritual prostrations is the sign of the Mumin (one who trusts reality) according to the Messenger saying: 'Keep to the straight Path, do not make calculations, know that your best action is salat and that only a Mumin observes wudu carefully.' (Thauban reported it, and Malik transmitted it.)

At the same time it is possible to discover a man involved in performing wudu relentlessly so that while outwardly you cannot fault him you are inwardly aware that there is something disturbing in his performance of the rites, something that can be recognised as of an obsessional nature.

Uqba ibn 'Amir reported the Messenger as saying, 'If any submitted one performs wudu well, then makes two raka's (sets of prostrations), engaging in their performance both inwardly and outwardly, he will be guaranteed the Garden.' Muslim transmitted it. Here the Messenger specifies that without the action being inwardly invested with awareness it is of no avail. The implication of this dual situation is that it is possible to see someone apparently ennobled by all the science of the wisdom-behaviour who is inwardly in a state of conflict and ignorance. This to the people of the Way is the vital dividing line between wisdom, which is the Messenger's Way, and either religion – if you see it as mere adherence to forms, or hypocrisy – if you see it as an inner denial of meaningful forms.

Abu Huraira reported the Messenger as saying, 'When a submitted one or a trusting one washes his face in the course of wudu every wrong action he contemplated with his eyes will come out from his face along with the water or with the last drop of water. When he washes his hands every wrong action they did will come out from his hands with the water or with the last drop of water. And when he washes his feet every wrong action towards which his feet have walked will come out with the water, or with the last drop of water, with the result that he will come out pure from offences.' Muslim transmitted it.

It is clear from this that what we are dealing with is a process of effective purification that is suited to man. Every creature has its grooming pattern. The cat's grooming is formal and an essential part of its life. The sign of an animal in captivity losing its life pattern and becoming ill is when it ceases to groom itself. This act of wudu is in quite the same way necessary to man. It is in the nature of the human creature that he imagines his actions adhere to him as idea-forms which he 'carries about with him' until this imaginary load makes life intolerable for him and he breaks under it. The man who has cast aside any recognition of an Unseen reality, and who has rejected any belief in a unified benign energy governing the total existence of the cosmos is, unsurprisingly, far from being liberated from this unfortunate tendency to hold to the idea-form of his actions and to feel burdened by his own illusory selfhood, which to him is nothing other than this accretion of mistakes and misfortunes on the one hand, and triumphs and pleasures on the other. Wudu by its acting upon the surface of the organism at the same time as upon the experiencing centre repeatedly makes a break in consciousness between action and the nafs. Actions have no reality. This is the shock impact of this first ritual action of the Way. The wudu in its turn, according to the Hadith, is useless unless accompanied by this vital inner awareness. That is why in the execution of the wudu, it is essential that there be vocalisation of the Supreme Name, for the act of calling on the Reality during the act is a guide to unifying the outward and the inward aspects of the event. When someone begins the practice of wudu, they will find that there are two basic tendencies of malpractice, one is to be careless and undefined in the separate acts of each state of the washing, and the other is to go through the whole process in slow motion, caressingly as if anointing oneself. Either of these extremes must be scrupulously avoided until the mean is discovered, filling the act with both vigour and dignity and remaining somehow anonymous, so that your doing of it resembles that of the person next to you. There is no individuality in any of the basic practices.

We now come to what underpins the practice of wudu, and makes us aware of the profound importance and effect of the basic practice without which the higher practices would not only be invalidated but their performance would result in serious and damaging effect on the nafs. Invocation without wudu is certainly guaranteed to bring about a destructive crisis in the higher nafs, and in the behaviour rhythm and harmony of the person who attempts this. This is the dangerous and quite malicious practice of the pseudo-sufis whose goal is, of course, manipulation and not liberation. Therefore, from their point of view, the gaining of discrimination is something that has to be precluded from their scheme.

Beneath the wudu – which forms the base of the practices, is the ghusl. It is simply an extension of the wudu, only it involves washing the whole body in running or poured water, thus providing a total ritual purification. This is necessary at the beginning of the Path for the affirmation of the Unity and the acceptance of the Messenger, and it is the final act done to one before burial when the body is washed before being returned to the earth from where it came – the other occasion when it is necessary is following the sexual act. This time the act of separation is again one of being bodily clean and also making a break between the energy of intercourse and the energy of prostration, the leisure of love and the detachment of spiritual practice. There is no built-in moral censure in this, on the contrary it is the act of ghusl which validates and affirms the sexual act and seals it and completes it. It is as much a completion of the act of love as it is a preparation for valid salat. That is why the act of ghusl should not be delayed but should follow as immediately as possible the termination of the love-making.

Lowest in the chain of ritual washings is the washing of the anus and the sexual organs after defecation and urination – this is completed by washing away any urine stain that should have adhered to the garments. Here we have the basic discrimination that defines sane adult behaviour. The basic indiscrimination is the infant's inability to know shit from food. The whole guilt structure when dismantled in the modern therapeutic manner reveals this basic guilt, transmitted by the already guilty parents to the anxious child who is confused as to what is what. In the adult who has been raised in this society that has not formalised this discrimination it is significant that they end up treating food like shit and wastage of food becomes a social habit to them, in the same way that eating every scrap and not wasting food is part of the wisdom teaching.

Here we have then the basic practice on which the total discrimination of behaviour and choices is founded. The Messenger said: 'The key to the Garden is salat, and the key to salat is wudu.' Jabir reported it, Ahmad transmitted it. The Shaykh al-Kamil said: 'The validity of your salat is based on your having performed your wudu. The validity of the wudu is based on the ghusl which preceded it at its time, and the validity of the ghusl in turn depends on having washed the anus and the penis in the lavatory. Thus your whole inner reality is based on the natural act of washing the anus and the penis.' The wudu is a sealing of the body in preparation for the act of salat. That is why passing wind anally, emission, excretion and menstruation break the wudu. Its effect is, on the one hand to bring into the consciousness of the person an acceptance of themselves as being these open, flowing organisms, of intake and giving out – with the obligations of wudu and ghusl, there is no hiding the process, no guilt, no fantasy – these events are natural and they have their natural means of purification: its effect is to make a sharp distinction between these energetic activities which are all concerned with production and reproduction, and the higher nafs which demands a complete separation from them, without a repression either of their activity or of our awareness of that activity. The final culmination of these rites is the washing of the dead.

We wash our own dead, the men the men, and the women the women.

Thus while alive we have the benefit and privilege of preparing others for the grave. In these rites the body is emptied of waste matter, the mouth closed, and then the whole corpse is washed and camphored in a final sealing, so that the body dries rather than rots, and is draped in white cloths then laid to rest in the earth. Incense is burned to awaken the higher self of the mourners, as scent is worn by the person who has done his wudu and is ready for the act of salat which follows.

'Wudu is separation, salat is joining.' Pseudo-sufic teaching, false spirituality, bases itself on the Unity and so instructs its followers that they do not have to follow any particular path since they are all one. It is a doctrine founded on ignorance which bears little scrutiny. It is based on the preservation of the central experiencing nafs and indeed on exalting it and making it powerful and effective in the world of action and events. Why should I bow in that way, or pray in this way – surely I am constantly at prayer, surely the Qur'an tells me that wherever I turn there is the face of Allah? This is basically the superficial argument of the pseudo-sufi with his fear of surrender. The Qur'an has said that wherever you turn there is the face of Allah. It also instructs us to take up a particular direction for the act of prostration, thus unifying all the worship of man around a central point, the Ka'ba in Makka, so that an endless wheel of living glorification of Reality endlessly turns around the empty four-walled Ancient House built by Sayyedina Ibrahim for that purpose. Reality addresses the Messenger in the Qur'an saying:

We have seen you turning your face about in the heavens: now we will surely turn you to a direction that shall satisfy you. Turn your face towards the pure Mosque and wherever you are turn your faces towards it. Those who have been given the Book know it is the truth from their Lord. Allah is not heedless of the things they do. Yet if you should bring to those that have been given the Book every sign, they will not follow your direction. You are not a follower of their direction, neither are they followers of one another's direction. If you follow their caprices after the knowledge that has come to you, then you will surely be among the evildoers whom We have given the Book, and they recognise it as they recognise their sons, even though there is a party of them who conceal the truth – and that deliberately.

The truth comes from your Lord, then be not among the doubters. Every man has his direction to which he turns: so be you forward in good works. Wherever you may be, Allah will bring you all together: surely Allah is powerful over everything.

From whatever place you issue, turn your face towards the Holy Mosque: it is the truth from your Lord.

Allah is not heedless of the things you do.

From whatever place you issue, turn your face to the Holy Mosque: and wherever you may be turn your faces towards it, that the people may not have any argument against you, excepting the evildoers of them: and fear not them, but fear Me:

And that I may perfect My blessing upon you, and that haply so you may be guided, as also We have sent among you, of yourselves, a Messenger, to recite Our signs to you and to purify you and to teach you the Book and the Wisdom, and to teach you that you knew not. So remember Me and I will remember you: and be thankful to Me: and do not be ungrateful towards Me.

                       (Qur'an 2.144-152)

This passage of Qur'an is of importance to the whole validity of the Way. There is a Way, there is a journey, there is a traveller. We are in the world of forms, and to deny the spiritual forms is to exclude Allah from creation and relegate Him by a false esotericism to the formless. The Qur'an cuts through the distorted reasoning of the ignorant by pointing out the unreality of their refusal of a 'qibla': 'Every man has his direction to which he turns.' So, they do not reject direction, what they are in fact rejecting is that one adopted by the guidance of the spiritual science.

It is transmission and the Messenger that they quite rightly from their point of view deny, for their teaching is improvised and their transmission without a source.

This passage also affirms that the taking of direction, that is, the acceptance of a discriminatory science, is what opens the human being up to that living dialogue with Reality that was the Messenger's secret. 'Remember Me and I will remember you,' is the inevitable result of this discriminatory process – Union is the fruit of separation.

The taking of a qibla, contrary to the teachings of the pseudo-sufis, is what makes it possible to grasp the relation between form and no-form, between the limited body-self reality of the slave and the unlimited no-body-self reality of the Lord. It is said that the initial formula of the Shaykh al-Akbar when he faced qibla to begin the salat was, 'I have become kafir, and fastened the belt – Allahu akbar.' This means that he had ceased to be a true Muslim, or one who submits to a Reality which can be associated with no form, and become one who covers up how things are, that is, a kafir. He had fastened the belt, or zunnar, of the Christian – meaning that he had fixed himself in one direction rather than another and that he had engaged in 'locating' reality, the great Christian confusion about the nature of existence. The 'Allahu akbar', being the opening of the salat itself, indicated that nevertheless he submitted as a slave to the injunctions of his Messenger and affirmed that Allah was akbar – greater than any event or comparison or concept.

Shaykh Ibrahim Gazur-i-ilahi in his 'Irshadat' says:

The qiblas are four. The qibla of Ka'ba, one's Pir, the heart, the Truth. One has to turn from the first to the second, from the second to the third, and from the third to the fourth in succession. If, in the prescribed salat these stages are attained, so much the better – you have drunk out of Muhammad's cup, peace be upon him.

Citing the famous ayat of Qur'an: 'Wherever you turn there is the face of Allah,' (2.115) he goes on to tell of a majdhub who used to prostrate before everything he saw and declared: 'Oh Allah, I seek your protection from shirk (associating any form with Allah) in all things.' This of course would be the position of the pseudo-sufi if he held to his own argument, but this state demands real ecstasy. Masud Beg, seeing this, observed to the majdhub's son that his father was asking protection in the very act of shirk. That is to say, every time he bowed down he gave reality a 'direction'. The son replied: 'Do not call him mushrik, he sees everything without the thing-ness.'

QBL, the root, means 'to admit', 'to accept' – the existence of forms. Before examining the details of the ritual act of prostration, let us examine its meaning as a practice, as the crucial practice of the Way.


What is the salat?

We have established the meaning of its whereness, its direction, now we must be quite clear as to what it is and what it does to us.

The act of salat as we have said, is prostration. The root word SLA means 'to hurt in the small of the back' and 'to have the centre of the back bent in, as a mare before foaling'. The central movement of the salat is when the head touches the ground, and this is called sajda, from SJD, meaning 'to be humble', and 'adoration'. So the whole thing is an act of humility, and an act of address. The slave presents himself, he offers himself. It is an opening of the self to the sublime reality. Its successive movements, standing, bowing, head on the ground twice, sitting – all deny the nafs and offer up the humbled nafs to the reality. The standing is the stage where the self is still assertive, the bowing is the greeting, and the prostration itself with the head on the ground is the direct act of submission – one of which is worth a million verbal exclamations of acceptance of the reality. It is the head that has to be laid on the ground. It is the arrogant thought-bound mind that holds the self prisoner in its dazzling structures, that has to be offered up. In the end the final position is neither the proud nafs nor the nafs in abnegation – but poised between the two, in ease and in balance – the slave sits upright and turns his head to the left and right in a salutation of peace.

That is the outward picture – inwardly there is a pattern also. Inwardly the beginning is the vital moment, as outwardly it is the end. The opening of the salat is when the slave raises both hands to behind the ears and then lowers them, as if putting the world behind him – the hands, splayed open, are lowered slowly as if passing through water. With this opening goes a verbal declaration: 'Allahu akbar.' This is called takbir.

Imam Junayd, may Allah be pleased with him, said, 'Everything in nature has a high point and then a falling away, and the high point of the salat is the opening takbir.' The adept must grasp the significance of this before he can embark fruitfully on the act of salat. Imam Junayd here draws attention to the collectedness that is necessary to perform the act. Before performing the takbir, it is therefore an obligation to make a formal act of niyya, or intention, which in its outward form means simply saying to oneself, 'I now intend to pray the salat of sunset,' or whichever it may be. What it means inwardly is that the whole attention has to be gathered in to the experiencing nafs, the whole awareness has to be focused on the point where the head will fall in sajda, and the heart fixed on Allah. Look at what is necessary and what has already been ascertained before one can make valid salat.

The preliminary conditions are:

1. Outward purification from filth and inward purification from appetites (wudu).

2. One's outward garments should be clean and one's inner garments undefiled.

3. The place where one purifies oneself should be outwardly free from contamination and inwardly free from wrong actions.

4. Turning towards qibla, the outward qibla being the Ka'ba and the inward qibla being the Throne of Allah by which is meant the mystery of Divine contemplation.

5. Standing outwardly in the state of power (qudrat) and inwardly in the garden of proximity to Allah (qurbat).

6. Sincere intention to approach Allah.

7. Saying 'Allahu akbar' in the station of awe and annihilation, and standing in the abode of Union and reciting the Qur'an distinctly and with awareness, and bowing the head with humility, and prostrating one's nafs with abasement, and reciting the shahada with concentration, and saluting with annihilation of one's attributes.

This is the description of Shaykh al-Hujwiri, and it is a vivid example of the unification of inward experiencing and outward reality that is the very business of tasawwuf. It is the clarity of this unification that permits the Sufi to see through the fragmentation of other men, how their deeds and, in this age especially, their words are invalidated by the absence of an inner state which would give them reality, how their hearts are separate from their destinies, which is why they do not know where they have been or where they are going. Unification of the nafs has its beginning and ending on the prayer mat of prostration. It is the great practice – in the Unseen it is the practice of the angels and the jinn who affirm the Reality, and they are included in the final salutation, for the adept still makes the salutation even if he or she is alone. It is unification because it is an opening up completely to the moment. It is the most fitting thing to do. It is the best thing to do at the time. For the five obligatory prostrations take place at fixed times that move throughout the year according to the rising and setting of the sun. So that while it is inward unification, inevitably it is also an act of unification from the cosmic point of view. Ignorance is not knowing where you are, knowledge is being aware that you are where you should be. It is in the nature of the Universe that at the dawn, mid-day, mid-afternoon, after sunset, and at the first darkness, the human creature should be prostrate before the majesty and beauty and unity of Reality. This is harmony, cosmically and inwardly in the microcosm of the heart – here is the beginning of the science of unification, here is the opening of the heart to the discovery of its true nature. Here is the first experience of the slave as being someone in dialogue with the Reality. It is movement, it is an activity of the most profound and shattering impact on the nafs.

It is recorded that when the Messenger made his prostrations, there came from deep within his chest the sound of what seemed like a boiling cauldron. When his most beloved Companion, Sayyedina 'Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, was about to do salat his hair stood up on his head and he used to say: 'The hour has come to fulfil a trust which the heavens and the earth were unable to bear.' The Master Sahl at-Tustari, although palsied in his old age, used to recover the use of his limbs whenever the hour of prayer arrived and after having performed his prostrations was unable to move from his place.

Shaykh al-Hujwiri also recounts:

'Abu'l Khayr 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 if off while he is doing salat, for at that time he has no consciousness.' The physicians acted on this advice. When Abu'l Khayr finished his prayers he found that his foot had been amputated.

The wali, Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj, used to perform four hundred raka's (units of prostration) within a day and night. On being asked why he took so much trouble in the light of the high degree which he enjoyed, he replied: 'Pain and pleasure indicate your feelings, but those whose attributes are annihilated feel no effect either of pleasure or of pain. Beware lest you call remissness maturity, and desire of the world search for Allah.' Here we note another example of a condition which outwardly looks like the self-infliction of pain called asceticism when it is inwardly a reality of being beyond the pleasure/pain dichotomy because the nafs has fallen away and there is no one to experience this discomfort.

The Imam of the shaykhs said:

'Do not let your purpose in the prayer be to perform it. For you have not performed it unless you take pleasure and joy in the union with Him to whom there is no means of approach save through Himself.'

Ibn 'Ata said: 'Do not let your purpose in the prayer be to perform it without awe and reverence for Him who sees you perform it.'

Maulana Rumi says that if we really knew how to pray we would begin standing in this world and bow into the next. So it must be clear that the alchemy of prostration is not merely an opening psychologically, as it were, in terms of an attitude of mind being changed by the act of putting one's head on the ground. It cannot be reduced to a mere technique – it cannot be annexed by people as a means to inner tranquillity without the inner recognition it brings of what reality is like.

Now we must look at the whole pattern of ideas that have been up until this point laid aside, but which must be grasped if we are to have any understanding of what the sufic Way is.

One Master said that the persons about to pray should see themselves standing on the Sirat, with their Shaykh before them at Ka'ba, the Garden on their right and the Fire on their left, and over them Azrael, the Angel of Death. The Sirat is the Narrow Bridge over which the dead person has to pass in the after-death state – there is a Tradition where the Messenger tells of it as being finer than the edge between the two sides of the finest swordblade.

What are we to make of this sort of statement? It would be easy to reassure the modern man that it was merely a symbolic language, some pseudo-sufis pretend that it is for simple folk but not for clever people like them who know that an All-Merciful Lord will not punish anyone. Others suggest that it is merely something with a hidden meaning which again somehow annuls the power and uncompromising challenge of the other-world picture.

Firstly let us see what the greatest of the Masters has to say. We now come to the completion of the passage we examined earlier:

Then he said: 'Has it reached you?' They said: 'It has, Oh Messenger of Allah.' He said, may Allah give him peace, 'Oh Allah, I testify.' I believe in all that has been brought to him, peace be upon him, from that which I know and do not know of what He gave him. It is determined that there is an appointed time with Allah. When it comes it is not postponed. I believe in that with an iman (trust) that is without hesitation or doubt, as I have believed. I am established as a slave. The grave is true and the raising of bodies from the grave is true, and the review of the people by Allah, may He be exalted, is true, the scattering of pages is true. The Sirat is true. The Garden is true and the Fire is true. A group in the Garden and a group in the Fire is true. The torment that day on one group is true and that another group will not be grieved by the greatest anxiety. The intercession by the Sent Ones and the Trusting and the bringing out by the Most Merciful of the Merciful from the Fire is true. The group of people with serious wrong actions among the Trustworthy entering the Fire and leaving it with intercession and indebtedness is true. The confirmation of the Trusting and the people of Unity in the Garden is true. Everything which the Books and Messengers brought from Allah, known or unknown, is true.

So the seeker can either lay aside the book and label this as old fashioned religion, binding him along with the others in a form of mental and social slavery which open the way to exploitation and injustice, or he can reject the prejudicial reaction, set aside the labelling of terms that will to him immediately imply that this is a belief system – does he not, indeed, talk of belief? It is time now to approach the business of the Unseen. It is time to clarify this essential aspect of existence – that is both visible and invisible, place and no-place. Again it is essential to re-iterate the basic step that is taken on the Path – Shahada – witnessing – affirming the Unity and the Messengership of the one who is sent by Reality, Muhammad, peace be upon him. The acceptance of the reliable witness is the extent of one's vision to begin with – we cannot see the Unseen but we can distinguish the profound humanity and serenity of the Messenger and, in the living situation, his Masters to whom he has transmitted the knowledge and science of existence. So, when we discover that both the Messenger and his Masters through the ages express themselves in terms of a present phenomenal existence and a hidden and permanent existence, we are forced to examine how they come to this. By their description it is made quite clear that these things are matters of revelation. They are talking about what they have seen and experienced. The significant thing about these vast cosmic visions of an unseen reality, unseen that is to the outward eye, is that the vivid and precise description is always accompanied by a recognition that they have no total knowledge of the Unseen, and that their vision is only a tiny fragment of an inconceivably vast and dynamic display of fulgurating forms that endlessly unfold with the radiant and structured perfection of the aurora borealis.

The greatest work of the sufic sciences is the Shaykh al-Akbar's 'Makkan Revelations'. At the opening of this tremendous book which is incomparable among the works of the Masters, he tells how he achieved the Station of knowledge from which he wrote all that is contained in the Revelations. The actual encounter in the Unseen which is the key to the book comes later and takes place at the Ka'ba, and we will examine that when we come to the knowledge of the Ka'ba. Here is the Master's description:

Blessings be upon the secret of the knower and his subtle point, the quest of the knower and the object of his desire, the Veracious Master who set out at night to his Lord, the Night Visitor who passed the seven paths to Him, in order that he who made the Night Journey might record what was entrusted to him of signs and realities. He is the most incredible of created beings that I witnessed during my writing of this work in the world, or the realities and mirror-forms in the Presence of Majesty. It was a revelation of the heart in an Unseen Presence. I was him, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, a Master in that world, preserved from goals, sustaining the vision, confirmed in victory. All the Chosen Messengers were in front of him, and his community, which is the best community, was clinging to him, and the angels of subjugation surrounded the Throne of his station, and the angels of the birth of actions were lined up in front of him. The Siddiq was on his most precious right, and the Faruq was on his most pure left. The Seal had dispersed before him to tell him of the tale of idols. 'Ali, may Allah bless him and give him peace, was blessing the Seal with his tongue. Dhu'n-Nurayn was wrapped in the cloak of his shame, occupied in his concern.

The Highest Master, the sweetest fresh spring, the most revealed and most glorious Light, turned and saw me behind the Seal, because of a partnership between me and it in decree. The Master said to it: 'This is your like, and your son, and your boon companion. Raise up the mimbar of tamarisk for him before me.' Then he pointed to me and said: 'Muhammad, attend to it and give praise to He who sent me and give praise to me. If there is in you a single hair from me it cannot bear separation from me. It is the ruler in your identity. Thus it will not return to the meeting. It is not from the world of misery: there was nothing from me after my sending out in any way except good fortune, and he is among those who give praise of thanks in the heavenly gathering.'

So the Seal built the mimbar in that most awesome assembly and on the side of the mimbar was written in the most resplendent light: 'This is the purest Muhammadan Maqam. Whoever ascends it has inherited it and the Truth has sent him as a guardian to the sanctuary of the Shari'a and has delegated him.'

The whole work is filled with these moments of radiant and moving vision and it is from these experiences that he unfolds with a crystalline clarity his cosmology and his tasawwuf. The plain reason why he is virtually unknown in the West is that the so-called Orientalists stubbornly insisted that he adhere to their very limited, and from a global point of view, parochial, understanding of how a man might express himself. Once they defined him as a philosopher it was simple enough to dismiss him as muddled and incoherent. The arrogance of the German and English academics who dismissed him deserves somewhere a study on its own, and the most ironic aspect of the affair is that these men had no other genuine qualification to write on 'Ibn 'Arabi than their capacity to read the Arabic language! Those who settled for accepting him as a mystic – an intolerable term in Islam – then had to put aside his science of the self as getting in the way of the simple vision and ended up 'preferring' the clear personal testimonies of experience to the towering structure of 'Ibn 'Arabi's scientific knowledge of the world of form and no-form. Before attempting to see the world of experiential reality as a place in which all these barriers of space and solidity have become fuzzy and fluid, let us examine one more witnessing by the great Moroccan Master, Shaykh Darqawi, which happened two hundred years ago in Fez:

By Allah, my brothers, I did not believe that a learned man could deny the vision of the Messenger, peace be upon him, in the waking state, until the day I met some learned men in the Qarawiyyin Mosque and had a conversation with them on this matter. They said to me: 'However is it possible to see the Messenger when one is awake, since he has been dead for over 1,200 years? It is only possible to see him in a dream, since he himself said: 'He who sees me, that is to say in a dream, sees me in reality, for Shaytan cannot take my form.' I answered: 'Of necessity, he can be seen in the waking state only by one whose mind – or let us say, whose thoughts – have transported him from this world of bodies into the world of Spirits: there he will see the Messenger without the slightest doubt, there he will see all his friends.' They were silent and said not a word when I added: 'Indeed, he can be seen in the world of Spirit.' But after a while they said to me: 'Explain how this is so?' I answered: 'Tell me yourselves where the world of Spirits is in relation to the world of bodies.' They did not know what to reply. And then I said: 'There where the world of bodies is, there also is the world of Spirits: there where the world of corruption is, there also is the world of purity: there where the world of the kingdom is, there also is the world of kingship: in the very place where the lower worlds are, there are to be found the higher worlds and the totality of worlds. It has been said that there exist ten thousand worlds, each one like this world, as recounted in the 'Hilyat al-Awliya' (by Abu Nu'ayam-al-Isbahani) all these are contained in man without his being conscious of it. Only he whom Allah purifies by absorbing his qualities into His own, his attributes into His own, is conscious of this. Now Allah purifies many of His slaves and does not cease from purifying them until their end.' The venerable Master and Wali, Sayyid Ibn al-Banna, may Allah be pleased with him, says in his 'Inquiries':

Understand, for you are a copy of existence for Allah,

so that nothing of existence is lacking in you.

The Throne and the Footstool, are they not in you?

The higher world and also the lower world?

The Cosmos is but the man on a big scale.

And you – you are the Cosmos in miniature.

And the Venerable Master, the Wali al-Mursi, may Allah be pleased with him, said:

'Oh you who go astray in the understanding

of your own secret,

Look – you will find in yourself the whole of existence.

You are the infinite, seen as the Way

and seen as the Truth,

Oh synthesis of the Divine Secret in its Totality.'

So here on the one hand we have a Master talking about meeting with all the Messengers, and initiations that take place opening him to a knowledge he has not gained from any 'outer' source and yet apparently did not know up until that initiation, and on the other hand another Master who says that the creature is compounded of all the forms in the Universe.

The kafir, that is, the one who covers up reality, would describe the situation thus: a human being performs actions in the world and is either gratified and finds pleasure or else punished and finds pain. If the situation becomes extreme, the mental operation relating to the pain and pleasure takes on a primary importance in that the pleasure fantasy and the pain anxiety slip their moorings as it were and become detached from event and float free, creating a crisis in the person's experience between their tumultuous inner reality and the down-to-earth 'factual' reality of events. This crisis can become so great that only the structuring of these fantasies in an imagined 'heaven and hell' dichotomy can hold together the inner fragmentation. Thus the two realms, or imagined realms, invented by the mind to contain the excess material of the fantasy-producing mind. They have a source in the root fear and the root gratification which is understandably infantile in origin. This picture unfortunately is based on the reality of the subjective experience, and somehow on the primacy of the solid over and against the non-spatial. It makes no differentiation between the imagined or let us say fantasised form in mind and the perception of an existing form by mind. In the sufic picture, the whole closed world system is blown wide apart. It does not declare that the positive, as it were, of that negative is true – that is, it is not a simplistic affirmation that the 'inner' experience of fear is hell after all and synonymous with it. On the contrary it affirms the clinical neurotic picture that builds up into an intolerable punishing hell, or the lotus-like fantasy world of gratification that pulls away from event – all this is nothing more than illusion. The illusion is based on the false assumption that there is some kind of essential reality to the self, that it is solid and actual and that it is responsible for its actions and that it is going to pay for what it has done. The guilt and its opposite energy, the gratification, are a modality based on the conviction that actions cohere to an experiencing central form as crystals cluster around a basic salt formation.

The Messenger said that people would be judged not according to their acts but according to their intentions. He also said that people would not be saved from the Fire by their works. So this whole picture that connects the human creature to the heaven/hell condition is a fantasy. This is not what is put forward as how things are. Neurosis is to separate yourself from the total process which is Divinity itself. To posit for yourself a separate reality dooms you to positing your own fantasy heaven and your own fantasy hell. People who deny Divine Reality collapse in inner anguish and experience and fear the hell of the present and an intolerable future – equally they have ecstatic states in their heads which they call heavenly but which are private delusions that they can offer us no access to, unlike the wali who can make available for his disciple the experience of bliss. Reality is not to the gnostic a one-dimensional but a multi-tiered existence. The forms are endless, just as in the phenomenal world so in the Unseen – there are many heavens and many hells.

The two basic images of the Garden and the Fire as the two polar realities of the Unseen are easy of access to the awake mind. On the one hand there is the whole energy process of fire which is one of intensity, enormously powerful energy in transmutation, changing and altering everything which enters into it, breaking it down and recreating it – as in the alchemical picture. From it is born a star, a metal, into it finally by a kind of ultimate persuasion of activity, the other element is unified until it becomes fire itself despite its original density and separateness. It is intolerable, it is the ultimate in heat and unendurableness, it is the present moment as utter anguish, time at its most terrible. The Garden is space, greenness, time opened out into ease. Water runs, there is shade, forms emerge, unfold, plants blossom, bear fruit. Birds sing in the air – the elements are benign, peaceful. It is a place for living creatures and beauty as the other is a place for disintegration and power.

The teaching of tasawwuf is that these worlds are part of the reality of the universe, they are real in a way that your pain or pleasure is not real. If you fear the Fire of the Unseen you will avoid the illusory accretions that cause the neurotic fear in experience, but equally you must desire the Garden or you will yearn in fantasy and split from the ordinary world of lived existence. Without the fear and hope that open you to knowledge of Unity, you are doomed quite inevitably to the anxiety/gratification dialectic that adheres to the illusory self-form, you will live intimidated and at the mercy of your sick fears and hopes. We come back inevitably to the picture we had earlier in relation to the ascetic which showed how every step of the Way was accompanied by an equivalent in neurosis and ultimately in madness. For this all happens in the world of natural order, forms, where everything is double. We find throughout our journey that the science of Unity exists to be applied to the world and our experience just because they are dual when Reality itself is One.

It could be suggested that this was a mechanism to cause a transfer from the urgent existential situation into a condition where the anxiety was, as it were, deferred out and away from the immediate crisis and thus rendered harmless. This could only result in a more fragmented inner experience and would certainly result in making the inner experience of the person labyrinthine and more acute in its tension. What has to be recognised is that this is how the Masters of the Way see and experience reality. They are utterly fearless in this world, they are free in all their actions. To experience fear and hope of Allah is to be devoid of fear of the issue or expectation of the issue. This is the hallmark of Wisdom.

It follows that the man who says, 'I do good things not because I desire the Garden,' or 'I abstain from the forbidden not because I fear the Fire, but I do these things for myself,' is in reality bound to illusion and the persistence of the self-form as some dense and lasting thing – since this is not the case, he has clung to the realm of gratification and congratulation and serenity will elude him. These hidden realities were created for him and are an inexorable part of his Universe, so let him abhor the one and long for the other, for in these two lie the approach that is pleasing to his Lord. His intentions will take him to the Garden or the Fire, and so let him desire a clear heart so that he can the more know his own intentions, and let him fear and hope in accordance with his recognition of his inability to know the Seal of his destiny that is in the Balance. In doing so, he turns away from the giving of reality to actions, and he turns towards the reality of his own heart, which in turn opens up to him all the myriad forms of the visible Unification, and the matter of our sciences. In the chapter relating to Stations we will examine further aspects of fear and hope, and then finally we can look at the very stuff of this so deceptively constructed world of forms.

We had left the adept poised on his prayer mat – we must continue now out beyond the individual act of salat to see it cosmically as a rite performed five times a day at prescribed times.

The close view is of a man or a line of men oriented in one direction bowing and prostrating. The distant view reveals not a line of men, but seen globally, a circle of devotion centring on the point of the Ka'ba. So that what we have is a series of concentric circles moving towards the Makkan focus of adoration. There is another dimension that must be considered to make this a moving and living picture – and that is time. Qur'an specifies that salat is fixed at appointed times, the times being taken very simply from the sun's position in the sky. There are five necessary sets of prostration, the first being at dawn when the first thread of white light appears on the horizon and lasting until the sun's disc is about to be visible – the second is at noon immediately following the meridian – the third is mid-afternoon – the fourth, the sunset, after the descent of the sun's disc – and the last, the night prayer, when the light leaves the sky. Thus, in the global picture, it follows that what you have is an endless rippling movement of circle upon circle, in to the centre point of the Ka'ba, that virtually never ceases, as the sun is constantly rising and setting across the world. At the centre is the Ancient House, of which the Qur'an says:

The first House established for the people was at Makka, a pure place, and a guidance to all beings. (Qur'an 3.96)

So the focus of this worship and opening to the Universal Reality is a place that has been celebrated from the beginning of man's story as a place of meeting between the slave and the Lord. The whole dynamic of energy emanating from the Ancient House is so overwhelming that to align oneself with it, anywhere, is to be in harmony with the Unity of existence, and the patterning of the world as a unique and total creation. This is why the Messenger always sat facing the Ancient House, and slept facing the Ancient House, and did salat facing the Ancient House. Salat, seen from this global point of view, from this cosmic point of view, reveals itself to be the primary and essential rite of any science of gnosis of the Reality which is everywhere present and nowhere graspable by intellect or sensory experience. The first act that the seeker performs is to open himself to this situation where he, in harmony not only with his fellow creatures, but with the whole organic creation, submits himself to the process of which he is already an inexorable part. This is submission, this is peace. The man who has accepted his place as an infinitesimal particle of a vast dynamic multi-dimensional Universe, and who has submitted to his complete helplessness and weakness in a world spinning in a sea of endless planets, has also opened himself to the process of awakening his own inner reality which can swallow up this tremendous Cosmos of stars. A Persian Master puts it:

I went out by the edge of the ocean

And saw a wonderful sight,

The boat within the sea,

and the sea within the boat.

This is the secret of salat, and the secret of the act of submission of being a slave of a mighty reality, the secret of peace. Such a man is called Muslim – one who surrenders his self. The practice is called Islam. The root form is the same – SLM – 'surrender', 'peace', 'to be safe and sound'.

As well as the rhythmic pattern of five daily sets of prostration, there are also times when special sets are performed. These are on the 'Id days which mark the end of the Fast of Ramadan and the completion of the rites of Hajj, these two times being taken precisely according to the position of the moon. The other time is in the case of eclipse. Here we have an opportunity of seeing the extraordinary depths and implications of this ritual act – and how it opened the Messenger to both the cosmic reality of things and the unseen dimension of these same events. The picture we have is of a man so in tune, so in harmony with the creation that he blows with the wind and eclipses with the sun. He tastes and submits to the whole creational event just as the willow tree yields to the changing elements and is itself both tree and wind that blows through it:

'Abd ar-Rahman bin Samura, who was one of the Companions of the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said: 'During the lifetime of Allah's Messenger, peace be upon him, I was at arrow practice in Madinah when the sun eclipsed. I shot the arrows and said: "By Allah, I must see how the Messenger of Allah acts in a solar eclipse." So I came to him, and he was standing in prayer, raising his hands, and saying – "Glory to Allah, Praise belongs to Allah, there is no divinity but Allah, Allah is greater!" – until the sun cleared. When the eclipse was over he recited two suras and prayed two raka's.'

'Ata' bin Rabah reported on the authority of A'isha, the wife of the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, who said: 'Whenever the wind was stormy, the Messenger of Allah used to say: "Oh Allah, I ask you for what is good in it, and the good which it contains, and the good of that for which it was sent. I seek refuge with You from what is evil in it, what evil it contains, and the evil of that for which it was sent." And when there was thunder and lightning in the sky, his colour underwent a change, and he went out and in, backwards and forwards, and when the rain came he felt relieved, and I noticed it on his face. A'isha asked him about it and he said: "It may be as the people of 'Ad said: when they saw a cloud formation coming to their valley, they said, 'It is a cloud which would give us rain." (Qur'an 46.24)

Anas bin Malik reported: 'It rained upon us when we were with the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, and he removed his cloak so that the rain fell on it and we asked, "Messenger of Allah, why do you do this?" He said: "Because it has just come from the Exalted Lord."'

Once the knowledge of salat has been acquired in all its outward detail and practised with its profound and meaningful inner mathematical structure – for the number of prostrations at different times of the day, and the degrees of extra non-obligatory ones, make up the real basis of the spiritual science – then the seeker has got hold of the first part of something which in its totality is the tremendous gift of the Messenger to mankind. Along with his delivering the Message of al-Qur'an, he left behind him the Hikma – the Wisdom. It is this that forms the body of one's inner reality, it is this that gives flesh and blood to the inner impulse towards gnosis. Even though there could be a limited inner experience without this science, with it you have the possibility of that wholeness that returned to the human race when the Messenger opened people once again – as had all the Messengers before him, of whom he indicated there had existed 124,000 since the beginning of man's story – opened them to the true nature of their humanity, to the real measure of man, to perfection and Unity. You must not be surprised to find that this tremendous science of human behaviour on which the full doctrine of gnosis rests is effectively unknown to people in the West – partly because word of it filtered through the same inadequate channel by which knowledge of Islam came to the academic world, that is, through people utterly unequipped to examine the anthropology and metaphysics of Islam, being nothing more than accomplished linguists – and partly because there was and is a quite conscious attempt on behalf of the Christian and Jewish academics to misrepresent the true nature of Islam – but finally because the Muslims themselves in these long centuries have felt increasingly uncomfortable with a science that challenged their own wealth. This science, the Sunna, or Practice, of the Messenger, is properly speaking the whole of the science of man. It rests on the principle that man is the slave of his Lord, and at the same time is the Khalif of his Lord – that is to say, the one who stands for Him or represents Him. We have taken hold of the science of the nafs, for truly the whole science of the nafs – and all you need to know about it is contained in the two purifications, wudu and salat, and adherence to these practices – will make clear the working of the nafs in every situation. We must now try to get a first glimpse of what the nature of the Sunna is, and then approach the meaning of this Khalifdom, which is, of course, the Secret we desire.

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