He Who Knows Himself, Knows His Lord

April 17, 2008 § Leave a comment

Today was an interesting day, it began for me a bit reluctantly because I left the window open and it was much colder in my bedroom than normal. But eventually, I prepared myself and quickly raced out of the bedroom to prepare for fajr, the morning prayers. When I left my apartment to catch the train, I noticed the chilly wind had become a soft and cool breeze and accompanied by the Sun set the tone of the day.

When I got to work I everything was as usual until a woman came to me and began to ask me about death. She wanted to know my views on death and how do I – really referring to Muslims – understand death. I did not answer her question directly, instead I shared with her a real life scenario. I told her that the older I get the less I feel the need to acquire things: money, possessions, collateral, etc. I explained that more and more I am feeling satisfied with my basic needs met. She inquired what I meant, so I explained further saying,

“These days, I am happy to have comfortable pants and shirt, a place to sleep and a meal. I feel like having money in my pocket is nice but if I die tomorrow what will I do with it? Pass it on to my family? Yes that is necessary however, there are limits and I feel better about using the money to help others today than holding onto unnecessary amounts for an unknown future.”

We continued our talk and as I was about to walk away she said,

“Thats a good way to look at it. I think you are headed in the right direction.”

Then she paused and said,

“But… I don’t think you are going to Heaven.”

I laughed to myself, but kept a straight face. Then asked why not, she explained that she doesn’t think Islam and its Prophet (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) will lead people to Heaven. So I asked her if she thought my lifestyle was good? She said yes. Then I asked if she thought my values were good? She said yes. Then I asked if she thought that my intentions were sincere? And she said yes. 

So I asked her if the all of these things are good, how is it that I’m on the wrong track? She was a Christian and her disagreement was basically in the age old discussion that I will not entertain in this post. But what I will say is that this showed me something very important. It showed me, in effect, how important the murshid (the Master) is to the murid, (the disciple). 

Essentially, what he is doing is ‘polishing your mirror’ so that you may see yourself more clearly. This is why it is sometimes difficult to accept tariqat ways because in that polished mirror, all the ugliness and dirtiness of our ego’s wants and desires are shown clearly to us and at times others as well.

In an unpolished mirror, we can make up any story about ourselves and others. When looking into the unpolished mirror, that blurred image, can be anything our imagination can dream up. Yet the reality may be something else. The murshid is polishing our mirror so that we may finally see ourselves; so that we may finally meet ourselves:

One of man’s greatest difficulties is also his most obvious drawback. It could be corrected if anyone troubled himself to point it out often and cogently enough. It is the difficulty that man is describing himself when he thinks that he is describing others. How often do you hear people say, about me: ‘I regard this man as the Qutub (magnetic Pole) of the Age?’

He means, of course: ‘I regard this man…’

He is describing his own feelings or convictions, when what we might want to know is something about the person or thing being described.

When he says: ‘This teaching is sublime,’ he means: ‘This appears to suit me.’ But we might have wanted to know something about the teaching, not how he thinks it influences him.

Some people say: ‘But a  thing can truly be known by its effects. Why not observe the effect upon a person?’

Most people do not understand that the effect of, say, sunlight on trees is something constant. In order to know the nature of the teaching, we would have to know the nature of the person upon whom it has acted. The ordinary person cannot know this: all he can know is what that person assumes to be an effect upon himself – and he has no coherent picture of what ‘himself’ is. Since the outward observer knows even less than the person describing himself, we are left with quite useless evidence. We have no reliable witness.

Remember, that while this situation still obtains, there will generally be an equal number of people saying: ‘This is marvellous,’ as are saying: ‘This is ridiculous’. ‘This is ridiculous’ really means: ‘This appears ridiculous to me,’ and ‘this is marvellous’ means: ‘This appears marvellous to me.’

Do you really enjoy being like that?

Many people do, while energetically pretending otherwise.

Would you like to be able to test what really is ridiculous or marvellous, or anything in between?

You can do it, but not when you presume that you can do it without any practice, without any training, in the midst of being quite uncertain as to what it is you are and why you like or dislike anything.

When you have found yourself you can have knowledge. Until then you can only have opinions. Opinions are based on habit and what you conceive to be convenient to you.

The study of the Way requires self-encounter along the way. You have not met yourself yet. The only advantage of meeting others in the meantime is that one of them may present you to yourself.

Before you do that, you will possibly imagine that you have met yourself many times. but the truth is that when you do meet yourself, you come into a permanent endowment and bequest of knowledge that is like no other experience on earth. (Tariqavi; qtd in Shah, Wisdom of the Idiots)

I’m longing for this final meeting, though I see that it is a gradual process, a process that has progressed most effectively in the company of my murshid; the association of my shaykh. And today, it was in the few moments with this woman, questioning me on death, that I realized that: whether we agree, disagree, form this opinion or that one, it is not as important as that meeting in the polished mirror. It was Mevlana Rumi (ks) that said, “If you are irritated with every rub how will your mirror be polished.” When the mirror is polished perhaps then we will know something; perhaps then we will have something to say.


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