The Alchemy of Happiness – Imam Ghazali

Now the rational soul in man abounds in marvels, both of knowledge and power. By means of it he masters arts and sciences, can pass in a flash from earth to heaven and back again, can map out the skies and measure the distances between the stars. By it also he can draw the fish from the sea and the birds from the air, and can subdue to his service animals like the elephant, the camel, and the horse. His five senses are like five doors opening on the external world; but, more wonderful than this, his heart has a window which opens on the unseen world of spirits.

In the state of sleep, when the avenues of the senses are closed, this window is opened and man receives impressions from the unseen world and sometimes fore-shadowings of the future. His heart is then like a mirror which reflects what is pictured in the Tablet of Fate (Al Lawh Al Mahfuz). But, even in sleep, thoughts of worldly things dull this mirror, so that the impression it receives are not clear. After death, however, such thoughts vanish and things are seen in their naked reality, and the saying in the Qur’an is fulfilled: “We have stripped the veil from off thee and thy sight today is keen.”

This opening of a window in the heart towards the unseen also takes place in conditions approaching those of prophetic inspiration, when intuitions spring up in the mind unconveyed through any sense-channel. The more a man purifies himself from fleshly lusts and concentrates his mind on God, the more conscious will he be of such intuitions. Those who are not conscious of them have no right to deny their reality. Nor are such intuitions confined only to those of prophetic rank. Just as iron, by sufficient polishing can be made into a mirror, so any mind by due discipline can be rendered receptive of such impressions.

It was at this truth the Prophet hinted when he said, “Every child is born with a natural predisposition towards Islam; then his parents make a Jew, or a Christian, or a Zoroastrian of him.” Every human being has in the depths of his consciousness heard the question “Am I not your Lord?” and answered “Yes” to it. But some hearts are like mirrors so befouled with rust and dirt that they give no clear reflections, while those of the prophets and saints, though they are men “of like passions with us” are extremely sensitive to all Divine impressions.

Nor is it only by reason of knowledge acquired and intuitive that the soul of man holds the first rank among created things, but also by reason of power. Just as angels preside over the elements, so does the soul rule the members of the body. Those souls which attain a special degree of power not only rule their own body but those of others also. If they wish a sick man to recover he recovers, or a person in health to fall ill he becomes ill, or if they desire the presence of a person he comes to them (by Allah’s Will). According as the effects produced by these powerful souls are good or bad they are termed miracles or sorceries.

These souls differ from common folk in three ways:

(1)   What others only see in dreams they see in their waking moments.

(2)   While others’ wills only affect their own bodies, these, by will-power, can move bodies extraneous to themselves.

(3)   The knowledge which others acquire by laborious learning comes to them by intuition.

 

These three, of course, are not the only marks which differentiate them from common people, but the only ones that come within our cognisance. Just as no one knows the real nature of God but God Himself, so no one knows the real nature of a prophet but a prophet. Nor is this to be wondered at, as in everyday matters we see that it is impossible to explain the charm of poetry to one whose ear is insusceptible of cadence and rhythm, or the glories of colour to one who is stone-blind.

Besides mere incapacity, there are other hindrances to the attainment of spiritual truth. One of these is externally acquired knowledge. To use a figure, the heart may be represented as a well, and the five senses as five streams which are continually conveying water to it. In order to find out the real contents of the heart these streams must be stopped for a time, at any rate, and the refuse they have brought with them must be cleared out of the well. In other words, if we are to arrive at pure spiritual truth, we must put away, for the time knowledge which has been acquired by external processes and which too often hardens into dogmatic prejudice.

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