The Alchemy of Happiness II

The Alchemy of Happiness II


The Alchemy of Happiness



By Imam Muhammad Al-Ghazali



IT is a well-known saying of the Prophet that “He who knows himself, knows God”; that is, by contemplation of his own being and attributes man arrives at some knowledge of God. But since many who contemplate themselves do not find God, it follows that there must be some special way of doing so.

As a matter of fact, there are two methods of arriving at this knowledge, but one is so abstruse that it is not adapted to ordinary intelligences, and therefore is better left unexplained.

The other method is as follows: When a man considers himself he knows that there was a time when he was non-existent, as it is written in the Qur’an: “Does it not occur to man that there was a time when he was nothing?” Further, he knows that he was made out of a drop of water in which there was neither intellect, nor hearing, sight, head, hands, feet, etc. From this it is obvious that, whatever degree of perfection he may have arrived at, he did not make himself, nor can he now make a single hair. How much more helpless, then, was his condition when he was a mere drop of water!

Thus, as we have seen in the first chapter, he finds in his own being reflected in miniature, so to speak, the power, wisdom, and love of the Creator. If all the sages of the world were assembled, and their lives prolonged for an indefinite time, they could not effect any improvement in the construction of a single part of the body.

For instance, in the adaptation of the front and side-teeth to the mastication of food, and in the construction of the tongue, salivating glands, and throat for its deglutition, we find a contrivance which cannot be improved upon.

Similarly, whoever considers his hand, with its five fingers of unequal lengths, four of them with three joints and the thumb with only two, and the way in which it can be used for grasping, or for carrying, or for smiting, will frankly acknowledge that no amount of human wisdom could better it by altering the number and arrangement of the fingers, or in any other way.

When a man further considers how his various wants of food, lodging, etc., are amply supplied from the storehouse of creation, he becomes aware that God’s mercy is as great as His power and wisdom, as He has Himself said, “My mercy is greater than My wrath,” and according to the Prophet’s saying, “God is more tender to His servants than a mother to her suckling-child.”

Thus from his own creation man comes to know God’s existence, from the wonders of his bodily frame God’s power and wisdom, and from the ample provision made for his various needs God’s love. In this way the knowledge of oneself becomes a key to the knowledge of God. Not only are man’s attributes a reflection of God’s attributes, but the mode of existence of man’s soul affords some insight into God’s mode of existence. That is to say, both God and the soul are invisible, indivisible, unconfined by space and time, and outside the categories of quantity and quality; nor can the ideas of shape, colour, or size attach to them. People find it hard to form a conception of such realities as are devoid of quality and quantity, etc., but a similar difficulty attaches to the conception of our everyday feelings, such as anger, pain, pleasure, or love. They are thought-concepts, and cannot be cognised by the senses; whereas quality, quantity, etc., are sense-concepts. Just as the ear cannot take cognisance of colour, nor the eye of sound, so, in conceiving of the ultimate realities, God and the soul, we find ourselves in a region in which sense-concepts can bear no part. So much, however, we can see, that, as God is Ruler of the universe, and, being Himself beyond space and time, quantity and quality, governs things that are so conditioned, so that soul rules the body and its members, being itself invisible, indivisible, and unlocated in any special part. For how can the indivisible be located in that which is divisible?

From all this we see how true is the saying of the Prophet, “God created man in His own likeness.” And, as we arrive at some knowledge of God’s essence and attributes from the contemplation of the soul’s essence and attributes, so we come to understand God’s method of working and government and delegation of power to angelic forces, etc., by observing how each of us governs his own little kingdom.

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