The Alchemy of Happiness

The Alchemy of Happiness

Kimiya-e-Sa’adat

By Imam Muhammad Al-Ghazali

Translated by Claud Field (d.1941)

First published in 1910

INTRODUCTION

KNOW, O beloved, that man was not created in jest or at random, but marvellously made and for some great end. Although he is not from everlasting, yet he lives for ever; and though his body is mean and earthly, yet his spirit is lofty and divine. When in the crucible of abstinence he is purged from carnal passions he attains to the highest, and in place of being a slave to lust and anger becomes endued with angelic qualities. Attaining that state, he finds his heaven in the contemplation of Eternal Beauty, and no longer in fleshly delights.

The spiritual alchemy which operates this change in him, like that which transmutes base metals into gold, is not easily discovered, nor to be found in the house of every old woman. It is to explain that alchemy and its methods of operation that the author has undertaken this work, which he has entitled, The Alchemy of Happiness.

Now the treasuries of God, in which this alchemy is to be sought, are the hearts of the prophets, and he who seeks it elsewhere will be disappointed and bankrupt on the day of judgment when he hears the word, “We have lifted the veil from off thee, and thy sight today is keen.”

God has sent on earth a hundred and twenty-four thousand prophets to teach men the prescription of this alchemy, and how to purify their hearts from baser qualities in the crucible of abstinence. This alchemy may be briefly described as turning away from the world to God, and its constituents are four:

  1. The knowledge of self.
  2. The knowledge of God.
  3. The knowledge of this world as it really is.
  4. The knowledge of the next world as it really is.

We shall now proceed to expound these four constituents in order.

CHAPTER I – THE KNOWLEDGE OF SELF

KNOWLEDGE of self is the key to the knowledge of God, according to the saying: “He who knows himself knows God,” and, as it is written in the Qur’an, “We will show them Our signs in the world and in themselves, that the truth may be manifest to them.”

Now nothing is nearer to thee than thyself, and if thou knowest not thyself how canst thou know anything else?

If thou sayest “I know myself,” meaning thy outward shape, body, face, limbs, and so forth, such knowledge can never be a key to the knowledge of God. Nor, if thy knowledge as to that which is within only extends so far, that when thou art hungry thou eatest, and when thou art angry thou attackest someone, wilt thou progress any further in this path, for the beasts are thy partners in this. But real self-knowledge consists in knowing the following things: What art thou in thyself, and from whence hast thou come? Whither art thou going, and for what purpose hast thou come to tarry here awhile, and in what does thy real happiness and misery consist?

Some of thy attributes are those of animals, some of devils, and some of angels, and thou hast to find out to which of these attributes are accidental and which essential. Till thou knowest this, thou canst not find out where thy real happiness lies. The occupation of animals is eating, sleeping, and fighting; therefore, if thou art an animal, busy thyself in these things. Devils are busy in stirring up mischief, and in guile and deceit; if thou belongest to them, do their work. Angels contemplate the beauty of God, and are entirely free from animal qualities, if thou art of angelic nature, then strive towards thine origin, that thou mayest know and contemplate the Most High, and be delivered from the thraldom of lust and anger.

Thou shouldest also discover why thou hast been created with these two animal instincts: whether that they should subdue and lead thee captive, or whether that thou shouldest subdue them, and, in thy upward progress, make of one thy steed and of the other thy weapon.

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