Peace, one and all…
Ibn Ata’illah’s Hikam also contains private devotional poetry (munajat). These prayers are profound and beautiful.
from the diversity of created things
and the changes of states,
I know that it is Your desire
to make Yourself known to me in everything
so that I will not ignore You in anything.
Intimate Discourse 11
Peace, one and all…
Today’s reading from Ibn Ata’illah’s Hikam (or aphorisms) explores the nature of humility.
The humble man is not the one
who, when humble, sees that he is above what he does;
instead, the humble man is the one
who, when humble, sees that he is below what he does.
Ibn Ata’illah, Hikam 239
Humility demands that we consciously stand below our efforts, that we see ourselves as beneath them. That is, acts of humility that leave us feeling proud of ‘our’ achievements, that leave us looking down from above, are not really acts of humility, rather they are the half-concealed acts of pride and boastfulness. Arrogance is a poison, and very often a sublte one. We are not always aware of our own blind spots. The only way to sincerity is to constantly see ourselves as below what we do.
Peace, one and all…
Only the ignorant man scorns the recitation of litany.
Inspiration is to be found in the Hereafter,
while the litany vanishes with the vanishing of this world;
but it is more fitting to be occupied with something
for which there is no subsitute.
The litany is what He seeks from you;
the inspiration is what you seek from Him.
What comparison is there
between what He seeks from you and what you seek from Him?
Ibn Ata’illah, Hikam 112
The daily litany (or wird in Arabic) is given by Him, through the hands of His beloved friends, the awliya, for our benefit. It is a blessing for us. It is what He seeks from us, and I find it deeply important to remember that this means it is for us. God needs nothing, and so anything demanded of us is a help, and a blessing and a mercy. The Evrad-i Serif is a healing for my heart. But, how often we turn away from that which is good to which is not!
Beloved One! Let the light of my wird guide me in each new day. Let it be my ‘firm handhold’, my time of alone-ness with You.
Peace, one and all…
In his tenth counsel, Meister Eckhart examines the nature of the just will, and how it might be used in the service of God.
Counsel 10: How the will can do all things, and how all virtues are a question of the will, if only it is just
A man should not be too afraid of anything, so long as he sees that he has good will, nor should he be depressed if he cannot accomplish his will in his deeds; but he should not consider himself deprived of virtue if he finds in himself a will that is just and good, because the virtues and everything that is good are a question of the good will. You can want for nothing if you have a true and just will, not love for or humility or any virtue. But what you desire with all your might and all your will, that you have, and God and all created things cannot take it away from you, if only your will is wholly just and godly and is directed toward the present. So do not say: ‘One day I should like…,’ because that would be for the future, but ‘I want it to be so now.’ Pay good attention: If something is more than a thousand miles away and I want to have it, I really have it – more than what is lying in my lap and what I do not want.
As Meister Eckhart makes clear in this passage, the will is absolutely fundamental to any true growth. Moreover, the will has to be good, just and oriented towards God, or else it becomes distracted. Reading this passage in the context of my Ramadan readings of Ibn Ata’illah makes clear that the will can only be good, can only be true, when it is humble. Without a fully grounded humility, we run the real risk of understanding our will as ‘ours’ in an absolute sense. Seeing it as ours in this way is an unhelpful act, as it leads to the notion of a separative existence, a life somehow apart from the Real, a life somehow compartmentalised. If we aim to unite our will with God’s will, we can’t at the same time have a misguided notion of separation.
Peace, one and all…
Today is the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. It is a time for worship and for introspection. As such, this year I am exploring the spiritual aphorisms of Ibn Ata’illah, a spiritual master from the late 13th – early 14th centuries. His aphorisms have long been seen as important, for their wisdom, clarity and above all, their direct challenges to our wayward hearts (nafs). I chose the Hikam because it has always challenged me, moved me out of my comfort zone, and so I wanted to spend some time living with these aphorisms during this Ramadan.
I have chosen to focus on Chapter 25, which looks closely at notions of humility and spiritual poverty, though I will also look at other chapters too. Each day I will offer a short reading. I will also post relevant lectures too, as God wills.
He who attributes humility to himself is really proud,
for humility arises only out of a loftiness;
so, when you attribute humility to yourself,
then you are proud.
Ibn Ata’illah, Hikam 238
Peace, one and all…
In his seventh counsel, Meister Eckhart turns to explore the notion of work, and how we might pursue our work in a spiritually appropriate manner.
Counsel 7: How a man should perform his work in the most reasonable way
One often finds people who are not impeded by the things that are around them – and this is easy to attain if one wishes – nor do they have any constant thought about them. For if the heart is full of God, created things can have and find no place in it. But, what is more, this alone should not satisfy us. We ought to turn everything into great profit, whatever it may be, wherever we may be, whatever we see or hear, however strange or unlikely it may be. Then for the first time all is well with us and not until then, and one will never come to an end in this. One can always go on increasing in this, gaining more and more from it in true growth.
And in all his activities and under all circumstances a man should take care to use his reason, and in everything he should have a reasonable consciousness of himself and of his inwardness, and find God in all things, in the highest degree that is possible. For a man ought to be as our Lord said: ‘You should be like men who are always watching and waiting for their master’ (Luke 12:36). Truly, people who wait stay awake and look around them for whence he for whom they are waiting may be coming; and they are on the lookout for him in whatever may come, however unknown it may be to them, for perhaps he might somehow be in it. So we should have in all things a knowing perception of our master. We must show zeal in this, and it must cost us everything we are capable of in mind and body, and so it will be well with us, and we shall find God in everything alike, and find God always alike in all things.
Certainly, one work differs from another; but whoever undertakes all his works in the same frame of mind, then, truly, all that man’s works are the same. Indeed, for the man for whom God shines forth as directly in worldly things as he does in divine things and to whom God would be so present, for such a man things would be well. Not indeed that the man himself would be doing worldly things, unlike to God; rather, whatever external matters he chanced to see and hear, he would refer it all back to God. Only he to whom God is present in everything and who employs his reason in the highest degree and has enjoyment in it knows anything of true peace and has a real kingdom of heaven.
For if things are to go well with a man, one of two things must always happen to him. Either he must find and learn to possess God in works, or he must abandon all works. But since a man cannot in this life be without works, which are proper to humans and are of so many kinds, therefore he must learn to possess his God in all things and to remain unimpeded, whatever he may be doing, wherever he may be. And therefore if a man who is beginning must do something with other people, he ought first to make a powerful petition to God for his help, and put him immovably in his heart and unite all his intentions, thoughts, will and power to God, so that nothing else than God can take shape in that man.
Peace, one and all…
In his sixth counsel on discernment, Meister Eckhart discusses detachment of the soul.
Counsel 6: Of detachment and of the possession of God
I was asked: ‘Since some people keep themselves much apart from others, and most all like to be alone, and since it is this and in being in church that they find peace, would that be the best thing to do?’ Then I said: ‘No! and see why not!’ If all is well with a man, then truly, wherever he may be, whomever he may be with, it is well with him. But if things are not right with him, then everywhere and with everybody it is all wrong with him. If it is well with him, truly he has God, he has him everywhere, in the street and in company with everyone, just as much as in church or in solitary places or in his cell. But if a man really has God, and has only God, then no one can hinder him.
Because he has only God, and his intention is toward God alone, and all things become for him nothing God. That man carries God in his every work and in every place, and it is God alone who performs all the man’s works; for whoever causes the work, to him it belongs more properly and truly than it does to the one who performs it. Then let our intention be purely and only for God, and then truly he must perform all our works, and no person, no crowds, no places can hinder him in all his works. In the same way, no one can hinder this man, for he intends and seeks and takes delight in nothing but God, for God has become one with man in all his intention. And so, just as no multiplicity can disturb God, nothing can disturb or fragment this man, for he is one in that One where all multiplicity is one and is one unmultiplicity.
A man should accept God in all things, and should accustom himself to having God present always in his disposition and his intention and his love. Take heed how you can have God as the object of your thoughts whether you are in church or in your cell. Preserve and carry with you that same disposition when you are in crowds and in uproar and in unlikeness. And, as I have said before, when one speaks of likeness, one does not mean that we should pay like to all works or all places or all people. That would be quite wrong, because praying is a better work than spinning, and church is a better place than the street. But you ought in your works to have a like disposition and a like confidence and a like love for your God and a like seriousness. Believe me, if you were constant in this way, no one could come between you and the God who is present to you.
But a man in whom truly God is not but who must grasp God in this thing or in that thing from outside, and who seeks God in unlike ways, be it in works or people or places, such a man does not possess God. And it may easily be that something hinders such a man for he does not possess God, and he does not seek him alone, nor does he love and intende Him alone; and therefore it is not only bad company that hinders him. Good company can also hinder him – not just the street, but the church too, not only evil words and deeds, but good words and good deeds as well, for the hindrance is in him, because in him God has not become all things. Were that so, everything would be right and good for him, in every place and among all people, because he has God, and no one can take God away from him or hinder him in his work.
On what does this true possession of God depend, so that we may truly have Him?
This true possession of God depends on the disposition, and on an inward directing of the reason and intention toward God, not on a constant contemplation in an unchanging manner, for it would be impossible to nature to preserve such an intention, and very labourious, and not the best thing either. A man ought not to have a God who is just a product of his thought, nor should he be satisfied with that, because if the thought vanished, God too would vanish. But one ought to have a God who is present, a God who is far above the notions of men and of all created things. That God does not vanish, if a man does not willfully turn away from Him.
The man who has God essentially present to him grasps God divinely, and to him God shines in all things; for everything tastes to him of God, and God forms himself for the man out of all things. God always shines out in him, in him there is a detachment and a turning away, and a forming of his God whom he loves and who is present to him. It is like a man consumed with a real and burning thirst, who may well not drink and may turn his mind to other things. But whatever he may do, in whatever company he may be, whatever he may be intending or thinking or working at, still the idea of drinking does not leave him, so long as he is thirsty. The more his thirst grows, the more the idea of drinking grows and intrudes and possesses him and will not leave him. Or if a man loves something ardently and with all his heart, so that nothing else has savour for him or touches his heart but that, and that and nothing but that is his whole object: Truly, wherever he is, whomever he is with, whatever he may undertake, whatever he does, what he so loves never passes from his mind, and he finds the image of what he loves in everything, and it is the more present to him the more his love grows and grows. He does not seek rest, because no unrest hinders him.
Such a man finds far greater merit with God because he grasps everything as divine and as greater than things in themselves are. Truly, to this belong zeal and love and a clear apprehension of his own inwardness, and a lively, true, prudent and real knowledge of what his disposition is concerned with amid thigns and persons. A man cannot learn this by running away, by shunning things and shutting himself up in an external solitude; but he must practice a solitude of the spirit, wherever or with whomever he is. He must learn to break through things and to grasp God in them and to form him in himself powerfully in an essential manner. This is like someone who wants to learn to write. If he is to acquire the art, he must certainly practice it hard and long, however disagreeable and difficult this may be for him and however impossible it may seem. If he will practice it industriously and assiduously, he learns it and masters the art. To begin with, he must indeed memorise each single letter and get it firmly into his mind. Then, when he has the art, he will not need to think about and remember the letters’ appearance; he can write effortlessly and easily – and it will be the same if he wants to play the fiddle or to learn any other skill. It will always be enough for him to make up his mind to do the hard work the art demands; and even if he is not thinking about it all the time, still, whatever he may be thinking of when he does perform it, this be from the art he has learned.
So a man must be penetrated with the divine presence, and be shaped through and through with the shape of the God he loves, and be present in Him, so that God’s presence may shine out of him without any effort. What is more, in all things let him acquire nakedness, and let him always remain free of things. But at the beginning there must be attentiveness and a careful formation within himself, like a schoolboy setting himself to learn
Peace, one and all…
If you have reached greatness, what is form to you?
If you have found a path to the spiritual realm,
what is this world to you?
Give up this world; come and enter the fire of love.
Reach the stage ahead;
what is this remaining behind of yours?
This body’s property is not just fire and water and earth.
Each one of these returns to its source;
what is this heedlessness of yours?
Idol-temple and wine shop become a mosque to the true soul.
Not one coin of yours will be wasted;
what is this lying to you?
Since you are strong enough to go to the Hereafter,
leave aside the false pretension of this world.
If you are a lover, what is this love of goods and treasures to you?
If you gather goods saying, ‘They are mine,’
do you have pretensions of being God?
The King will not look at your crime;
what is this being lost on the way to you?
Night and day you suffer worries; ‘What should I do? I am a miserable wretch,’ you say.
He is generous; He gives you your daily bread;
what is this worry to you?
Unfortunate one, eat, feed others; if food is lacking, God will provide.
One day your body will enter the earth;
that which is left behind – what is it to you?
Yunus, you have become very drunk from this goblet of love.
While you lost consciousness of self, you reached God;
what is sobriety to you?
Yunus Emre, translated by G.S. Smith
Peace, one and all…
In his fifth counsel, Meister Eckhart focuses on exploring the ground of our being.
Counsel 5: See what can make our being and our ground good
A man’s being and ground – from which his works derive their goodness – is good when his intention is wholly directed to God. Set all your care on that, that God become great within you, and that all your zeal and effort in everything you do and in everything you renounce be directed to God. Truly, the more you do this in all your works, whatever they are, the better they are. Cleave to God, and He will endow your with all goodness. Seek God, and you will find God and every good thing as well. Yes, truly, with such an attitude you could tread upon a stone, and that would be a more godly thing for you to do than for you to receive the Body of our Lord, if you were thinking more of yourself with less detachment. If we cling to God, then God and all virtues cling to us. And what once you were seeking now seeks you; what once you hunted after now hunts you, and what you once wished to shun now avoids you. Therefore to him who clings greatly to God, everything clings that is godly, and from him everything takes flight that is unlike God and alien to Him.
Peace, one and all…
In his fourth counsel, Meister Eckharts turns to examine the notion of self-abandonment.
Counsel 4: Of the profits of self-abandonment, which one should practice inwardly and outwardly
You should know that there was never any man in this life who forsook himself so much that he could not still find more in himself to forsake. There are few people who see this to be true and stick by it. This is indeed a fair exchange and an honest deal: By as much as you go out in forsaking all things, by so much, neither less nor more, does God go in, with all that is His, as you entirely forsake everything that is yours. Undertake this, and let it cost you everything you can afford. There you will find true peace, and nowhere else.
People ought never to think too much about what they could do, but they ought to think about what they could be. If people and their way of life were only good, what they did might be a shining example. If you are just, then your works too are just. We ought not to think of building holiness upon action; we ought to build it upon a way of being, for it is not what we do that makes us holy, but we ought to make holy what we do. However holy the works may be, they do not, as works, make us at all holy; but, as we are holy and have being, to that extent we make all our works holy, be it eating, sleeping, keeping vigil or whatever it may be. It does not matter what men may do whose being is mean; nothing good will come of it. Take good heed: We ought to do everything we can to be good; it does not matter so much what we may do, or what kinds of works ours may be. What matters is the ground on which the works are built.
Peace, one and all…
‘It is pain that guides a man in every enterprise. Until there is an ache within him, a passion and a yearning for that thing arising within him, he will never strive to attain it. Without pain that thing remains for him unprocurable, whether it be success in this world or salvation in the next, whether he aims at being a merchant or a king, a scientist or an astronomer. it was not until the pains of parturition manifested in her that Mary made for the tree:
‘And the birthpangs surprised her by the trunk of the palm-tree’ (Quran 19:23)
Those pangs brought her to the tree, and the tree which was withered became fruitful.
The body is like Mary. Every one of us has a Jesus within him, but until the pangs manifest in us our Jesus is not born. If the pangs never come, then Jesus rejoins his origin by the same secret path by which he came, leaving us bereft and without portion of him.
‘The soul within you is needy, the flesh without is well fed:
The devil gorges to spewing, Jamshid lacks even for bread.
See now to the cure of your soul while Jesus is yet on earth;
When Jesus returns to heaven all hope of your cure will have fled’
(A Quatrain by Rumi himself)
Taken from Fihi Ma Fihi, translated as Discourses by A J Arberry
Peace, one and all…
More on the will from Meister Eckhart:
‘It is good when our will becomes God’s will, but it is far better when God’s will becomes our will. When your will becomes God’s will and you fall ill, then you would not want to become well again against God’s will, but you wish that it should be God’s will for you to become well again. And when things are going badly then you wish it might be God’s will for things to improve. On the other hand, if God’s will becomes your will and you fall ill – so be it! If your friend dies – so be it! God’s will be done!’ (On Detachment, 91 f.)
‘A free mind is one which is not deceived by anything and is not bound to anything, it is one which has not bound its best part to any specific manner of devotion and which does not seek itself in anything, living rather in God’s will and stripped of itself’ (On Detachment, 190)