imaginative touch

life consists in the humble prayers

Higher stages still of contemplation are mentioned--a region where there exists nothing, and wherethe mediator says bioderma matricium: "There exists absolutely nothing," and stops. Then he reaches another regionwhere he says: "There are neither ideas nor absence of ideas," and stops again. Then another regionwhere, "having reached the end of both idea and perception, he stops finally." This would seem tobe, not yet Nirvana, but as close an approach to it as this life affords.[247]

[247] I follow the account in C. F. Koeppen: Die Religion des Buddha, Berlin, 1857, i. 585 ff.

In the Mohammedan world the Sufi sect and various dervish bodies are the possessors of themystical tradition. The Sufis have existed in Persia from the earliest times, and as their pantheismis so at variance with the hot and rigid monotheism of the Arab mind, it has been suggested thatSufism must have been inoculated into Islam by Hindu influences. We Christians know little ofSufism, for its secrets are disclosed only to those initiated. To give its existence a certain livelinessin your minds, I will quote a Moslem document, and pass away from the subject.

Al-Ghazzali, a Persian philosopher and theologian, who flourished in the eleventh century, andranks as one of the greatest doctors of the Moslem church, has left us one of the fewautobiographies to be found outside of Christian literature. Strange that a species of book soabundant among ourselves should be so little represented elsewhere--the absence of strictlypersonal confessions is the chief difficulty to the purely literary student who would like to becomeacquainted with the inwardness of religions other than the Christian. M. Schmolders has translateda part of Al-Ghazzali's autobiography into French:[248]-[248] For a full account of him, see D. B. Macdonald: The Life Of Al-Ghazzali, in the Journal ofthe American Oriental Society, 1899, vol. xx., p. 71.

"The Science of the Sufis," says the Moslem author, "aims at detaching the heart from all that isnot God, and at giving to it for sole occupation the meditation of the divine being. Theory beingmore easy for me than practice, I read [certain books] until I understood all that can be learned bystudy and hearsay. Then I recognized that what pertains most exclusively to their method is justwhat no study can grasp, but only transport, ecstasy, and the transformation of the soul. How great,for example, is the difference between knowing the definitions of health, of satiety, with theircauses and conditions travel trade publication, and being really healthy or filled. How different to know in whatdrunkenness consists--as being a state occasioned by a vapor that rises from the stomach--andBEING drunk effectively. Without doubt, the drunken man knows neither the definition ofdrunkenness nor what makes it interesting for science. Being drunk, he knows nothing; whilst thephysician, although not drunk knows well in what drunkenness consists, and what are itspredisposing conditions. Similarly there is a difference between knowing the nature of abstinence,and BEING abstinent or having one's soul detached from the world.--Thus I had learned whatwords could teach of Sufism, but what was left could be learned neither by study nor through theears, but solely by giving one's self up to ecstasy and leading a pious life.

"Reflecting on my situation, I found myself tied down by a multitude of bonds--temptations onevery side. Considering my teaching, I found it was impure before God. I saw myself strugglingwith all my might to achieve glory and to spread my name. [Here follows an account of his sixmonths' hesitation to break away from the conditions of his life at Bagdad, at the end of which hefell ill with a paralysis of the tongue.] Then, feeling my own weakness, and having entirely givenup my own will, I repaired to God like a man in distress who has no more resources. He answered,as he answers the wretch who invokes him. My heart no longer felt any difficulty in renouncingglory, wealth, and my children. So I quitted Bagdad, and reserving from my fortune only what wasindispensable for my subsistence, I distributed the rest. I went to Syria, where I remained abouttwo years, with no other occupation than living in retreat and solitude, conquering my desires,combating my passions, training myself to purify my soul, to make my character perfect, toprepare my heart for meditating on God--all according to the methods of the Sufis, as I had read ofthem.

"This retreat only increased my desire to live in solitude, and to complete the purification of myheart and fit it for meditation. But the vicissitudes of the times, the affairs of the family, the needof subsistence, changed in some respects my primitive resolve, and interfered with my plans for apurely solitary life. I had never yet found myself completely in ecstasy, save in a few single hours;nevertheless, I kept the hope of attaining this state. Every time that the accidents led me astray, Isought to return; and in this situation I spent ten years. During this solitary state things wererevealed to me which it is impossible either to describe or to point out. I recognized for certain thatthe Sufis are assuredly walking in the path of God. Both in their acts and in their inaction, whetherinternal or external, they are illumined by the light which proceeds from the prophetic source.

Thefirst condition for a Sufi is to purge his heart entirely of all that is not God. The next key of thecontemplative which escape from the fervent soul, and in themeditations on God in which the heart is swallowed up entirely. But in reality this is only thebeginning of the Sufi life, the end of Sufism being total absorption in God. The intuitions and allthat precede are, so to speak, only the threshold for those who enter. From the beginningrevelations take place in so flagrant a shape that the Sufis see before them, whilst wide awake, theangels and the souls of the prophets.

They hear their voices and obtain their favors. Then thetransport rises from the perception of forms and figures to a degree which escapes all expression,and which no man may seek to give an account of without his words involving sin. "Whosoeverhas had no experience of the transport knows of the true nature of prophetism nothing but thename. He may meanwhile be sure of its existence, both by experience and by what he hears theSufis say. As there are men endowed only with the sensitive faculty who reject what is offeredthem in the way of objects of the pure understanding, so there are intellectual men who reject andavoid the things perceived by the prophetic faculty. A blind man can understand nothing of colorssave what he has learned by narration and hearsay. Yet God has brought prophetism near to men ingiving them all a state analogous to it in its principal characters.

This state is sleep. If you were totell a man who was himself without experience of such a phenomenon that there are people who attimes swoon away so as to resemble dead men, and who [in dreams] yet perceive things that arehidden, he would deny it [and give his reasons]. Nevertheless, his arguments would be refuted byactual experience. Wherefore, just as the understanding is a stage of human life in which an eyeopens to discern various intellectual objects uncomprehended by sensation; just so in the propheticthe sight is illumined by a light which uncovers hidden things and objects which the intellect failsto reach. The chief properties of prophetism are perceptible only during the transport, by those whoembrace the Sufi life SUV.



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