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)
Peace, one and all…
In recent posts, our readings have begun to focus on the question of will (Kabir Dede on the Will; Meister Eckhart: Counsels on Discernment 3). This question is also brought to the fore in our current portion of the Evrad-i Serif.
Our readings are all drawn from the Quran, and although these verses explore the question of will in interesting and forceful ways, it is their particular arrangement that is especially noteworthy.
Our present portion opens thus:
‘Had We sent down this Quran on a mountain, truly, you would have seen it humble itself and break apart out of awe of God. Such are the parables We offer to human beings, so that they might reflect.
God is He other than whom there is no god; the One who knows what is hidden and what is manifest, as well as all that can be witnessed by a creature’s senses or mind: Hu, the Infinitely Compassionate, the Infinitely Merciful.
God is He other than whom there is no deity: the Supreme Sovereign, the Holy One, the Source of Peace, the Inspirer of Faith, the Preserver of Security, the Exalted in Might, the One who subdues wrong and restores right, the One to whom all greatness belongs! Utterly remote is God, in limitless glory, from anything to which people may ascribe a share in His divinity!
Hu is God, the Creator, the Evolver, the Bestower of form! To Hu belong the Most Beautiful Names. All that is in the heavens and on earth declares His praises and glory: for He is the Exalted in Might, the All-Wise!
(Surah al-Hashr 59:21-24. You can listen to a beautiful recitation of these verses below)
These verses declare the infinite and incomparable majesty of God, in forceful and evocative terms. All power, authority, knowledge and beauty belong solely to Him: anything we possess is given to us by Him, and is effectively on loan to us. Even though we may possess beauty or knowledge or power, it is always and in each instance His. Thus, our will to power, to learn and to perceive beauty are really His. In a strange, paradoxical way the more we understand our abilities as belonging to Him, the more fully ‘ours’ they become. Or, perhaps, the more clearly we understand His absolute ownership, the more authentically we can enter into our own partial occupancy, our own derivative ownership. The more we fully we realise our own weakness, the more fully we can enter into His strength. The more we are able to take back our own projections, and the more fully we are able to let Him be God, the more human we are able to be.
Ibn Arabi makes this clear throughout his writings. This example is particularly instructive:
‘Your attributes are His. Without doubt, your appearance is His appearance. What is in you is in Him. Your before is His Before; your after is His After; your essence is His essence – without Him entering into you or you entering in Him, for ‘Everything is perishing but His Face’ (Surah al-Qasas 28:88)’ (Ibn Arabi, Kitab al-Ahadiyyah)
The Evrad then explores this strange paradox by offering these subsequent verses:
‘And to everyone who is conscious of God, God always prepares a way of emergence,
and provides for him/her in ways he/she could never imagine; and for everyone who places trust in God, God is sufficient. For God will surely accomplish His purpose: truly, for all things God has appointed an appropriate measure’
(Surah al-Talaq 65:2-3)
‘And so, be patient, even though they who are bent on denying the Truth would all but kill you with their eyes whenever they hear this reminder, and though they say, ‘See, most surely he is a madman!’
For this is nothing less than a reminder to all the worlds.’
(Surah al-Qalam 68:51-52)
‘…to everyone who will to walk a straight way.
But you cannot will it unless God, the Sustainer of all the Worlds, wills it’
(Surah al-Takwir 81:28-29)
To be truly conscious of God is to realise that all things are His; at best, we are merely guests, even in the depths of ‘our’ own being. Understanding that our will is already encompassed in His will is both deeply humbling and deeply liberating, freeing us from the urge to control life. This awareness is a deeper ‘way of emergence’, a deeper liberation from the limitations of our workaday egos.
Striving to live this way is also important because it demonstrates that we live in a magical universe, in a realm of unlimited possibilities and of infinite potentiality. We are provided for in ways we could never imagine, both within and beyond ourselves. Living in a world of infinite potentiality requires that we strive to trust in God, and realise that the Divine is absolute beneficence, and absolute sufficiency.
‘…for all things has God appointed an appropriate measure’ is an interesting phrase. It reminds me that that ‘my’ will has a limit, beyond which lies His will. It also reminds me that the trials and tribulations of my own life are measured out for me: I am challenged, but never overwhelmed, stretched but never obliterated. Moreover, this ‘I’ within me that demands and urges is itself limited. There are deeper levels of being within me, beyond this passing ego; there are hidden depths below the shallow waters of conventional reality.
‘And so, be patient…’. Wait in patient readiness for all that Hu might work within and beyond us. Wait in calm alertness for His unfolding will. ‘For this is nothing less than a reminder to all the worlds’. It is a reminder to the universe around me. It is a reminder to the universe within.
‘And to everyone one of you who wills to walk a straight way. But you cannot will it unless God, the Sustainer of all the worlds, wills it’. It is His will that is primary. Our will only becomes a reality when it harmonises with His. This underlines the need for harmonisation, with God, with myself and everything around me. And, as Meister Eckhart makes clear in his counsels, this involves an inner emptying, a giving-over of ourselves to Him, in Him. In Counsel 20, Meister Eckhart says this:
‘And therefore, if you wish to receive your God worthily, be sure that your superior powers are directed toward your God and that your will is seeking His will, that you are intending Him, and that your trust is based on Him’ (Counsels on Discernment, 20)
Merciful One! Join our wills to Yours. Help us to will for ourselves what You will for us. Help us to accept life in all its diversity. Help us to see that all things come from You, for our betterment.
Peace, one and all…
In a recent post, we saw Meister Eckhart speak forcefully of the will. Mevlevi tradition has a similar focus on the will (irada). As a starting point for further discussion, let’s explore Kabir Dede’s definition:
‘The ability to act consciously; the faculty of conscious choice; a power of the soul by which we can direct our thoughts, actions, and, eventually, even our feelings. Will is directly connected with Spirit. It is a unique attribute of the human being, because no other creature, as far as we know, has this degree of conscious choice. Will enables us to rise above personal desire and egoistic satisfactions.
Human will is derived from the divine will as the image in a mirror is a reflection of the source of that image. Human will is a dim reflection of the divine will. The human being, then, is the mirror of God’s will. As we develop spiritually we begin to see how our own will is related to the Will of the Divine …
Will develops as we make conscious choices and bring those conscious choices and decisions to completion. In other words, our fulfilling of our responsibilities develops our will; whereas every uncompleted decision drains us of will. Will is a capacity that we must continually preserve and maintain, if we are to be fully human’. The Book of Language, pp. 145-146
Peace, one and all…
In his third counsel, Meister Eckhart explores the will.
Counsel 3: Of people who have not denied themselves and are full of their own will
People say: ‘O Lord, how much I wish that I stood as well with God, that I had as much devotion and peace in God as others have, I wish that it were so with me!’ Or, ‘I should like to be poor,’ or else, ‘Things will never go right for me till I am in this place or that, or till I act one way or another. I must go and live in a strange land, or in a hermitage, or in a cloister’.
In fact, this is all about yourself, and nothing else at all. This is just self-will, only you do not know it or it does not seem so to you. There is never any trouble that starts in you that does not come from your own will, whether people see this or not. We can think what we like, that a man ought to shun one thing or pursue another – places and people and ways of life and environments and undertakings – that is not the trouble, such ways of life or such matters are not what impedes you. It is what you are in these things that causes the trouble, because in them you do not govern yourself as you should.
Therefore, make a start with yourself, and abandon yourself. Truly, if you do not begin by getting away from yourself, wherever you run to, you will find obstacles and trouble wherever it may be. People who seek peace in external things – be it in places or ways of life or people or activities or solitude or poverty or degradation – however great such a thing may be or whatever it may be, still it is all nothing and gives no peace. People who seek in that way are doing it all wrong; the further they wander, the less they will find what they are seeking. They go around like someone who has lost his way; the further he goes, the more lost he is. Then what ought he to do? He ought to begin by forsaking himself, because then he has forsaken everything. Truly, if a man renounced a kingdom or the whol world but held on to himself, he would not have renounced anything. What is more, if a man renounces himself, whatever else he retains, riches or honours or whatever it may be, he has forsaken everything.
About what Saint Peter said: ‘See, Lord, we have forsaken everything’ (Matt. 19:27) – and all he had forsaken was just a net and his little boat – there is a saint who says: ‘If anyone willingly gives up something little, that is not all which he has given up, but he has forsaken everything which worldly men can gain and what they can even long for; for whoever has renounced his own will and himself has renounced everything, as truly as if he had possessed it as his own, to dispose of as he would’. For what you choose not to long for, you have wholly forsaken and renounced for the love of God. That is why our Lord said: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ (Matt. 5:3), that is, in the will. And no one ought to be in doubt about this; if there were a better form of living, our Lord would have said so, as he also said: ‘Whoever wishes to come after me, let him deny himself’ (Matt. 16:24), as a beginning; everything depends on that. Take a look at yourself, and whenever you find yourself, deny yourself. That is the best of all.