Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri
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The Spiritual Nature of Man

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"Living Islam East & West"
(Excerpts Only)

By: Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri

Whether we believe in any religion, or in God, or in any other value system, there are certain aspects of life that concern us all. These aspects are so fundamental that they do not depend upon one's background, heritage, or belief. The best way to approaching this subject is to first consider the nature of man's spirit. In this way one can avoid becoming bogged down in linguistic and philosophical definitions.

Spirit, in the English language, may mean essence, cause, or nature. If we try to look into our essence, where does it take us to? What is this thing within every other human being that guides us or misguides us? What is it that drives us to do anything? What is it that causes us to want something or not want something else? What is it that makes us tick? What creates desires in us and what satisfies these desires? What do we feel or experience when a desire is satisfied? Why are we constantly searching for satisfaction, never satisfied? What is the nature of man that makes him constantly dissatisfied?

These things are beyond creed, nationality, religion or systems of belief. They are basic. The Arabic term is fitri (primal). This is our nature: we are always looking for something else. Whenever one obtains satisfaction or tranquility from that which one was seeking, the mind by its nature moves to something else. This process does not cease. One is tired and wants to sleep; one has slept long enough and thus wants to get up. One is hungry and wants food; after filling the stomach, one wants to stop eating. One wants to be sheltered from environmental pressures, to control the ecological situation. As soon as a modicum of control is attained, one wants to know what to do within the system.

Let us examine libraries for example. Once these enormous places are built, those responsible must worry about how they are going to fill the building with books. What, one wonders, is the value of all these books? We now have more information and less knowledge. In this age we have such an accumulation of facts, which can be useful, but no method of knowledge to utilize those facts so that we can attain the satisfaction that we are all seeking.

So if we look at the nature of man's spirit, what drives us on at all times, wherever we are, in whatever environment, is this need to achieve desires that are never constant. The desires of a child change all the time and so do the desires of an adult. The higher we move biologically or intellectually, the subtler our desires become. At a lower basic level, we are very physical; we want to be clothed and fed in order to be in a reasonable balance, without agitation. We want to have enough food in order not to be disturbed, because biologically the stomach signals until a pang of pain disturbs us. Equally we want to avid that which impinges on us from the outside and is not conducive to a state of tranquility, therefore, we close the door so that we are not disturbed, to make sure that we have reasonable protection from the sound and noise. Thus, at all times, whatever we perceive, conceive, desire, anything that motivates us from within or without fits into this scheme.

Look into this deeply, contemplate upon it and you will find that what drives us, what makes us act or think, is basically a state of dynamism seeking equilibrium, seeking a position of neutrality. It is a very strange affair. At all times the spirit of man is guided, driven and propelled by the pursuit of peace. Yet, at the same time, we are the creators of that agitation. It is incredible if we really reflect upon it.

What drives man is an ongoing quest, sometimes rational, sometimes not, sometimes emotional, sometimes intellectual. There is a natural, primal hierarchy which fluctuates up or down, generally moving from the physical towards the subtle. The equilibrium that a child seeks is physical. The equilibrium sought by those who have satisfied their basic needs is intellectual. We try to keep our bodies in a reasonable state of equilibrium because, unless we have done this, we cannot progress further.

After the bodily level comes the mental level. Our mind has to be at rest. If my mind is agitated about something or some situation, then this irritation will disrupt my equilibrium, sapping the strength of my mental energy.

We are here discussing aspects of knowledge that go beyond quantification and formulation. Formulas can be applied to them if one wishes and those formulas will change from system to system. But the fundamental issue remains the same: if the physical, mental and intellectual levels are disturbed, equilibrium and balance are not possible. That to which our spirit drives us – one may describe it loosely by the term happiness – cannot be achieved. If we wish to express this as a mathematical equation, we may say that happiness equals desires satisfied over desires unsatisfied. Thus, if one has one hundred desires and fifty are satisfied, happiness is fifty percent achieved. So, mentally we also seek to be at ease, to avoid any issue that disturbs the mind. Mental expectations and attachments that are not met will cause disappointment which is a state of imbalance; and that is not desirable. We do not want to be disappointed, we want to be appointed.

Notice how people who are wealthy and do not wish to be disturbed place layers of secretaries as barriers between themselves and the outside world. Think of Howard Hughes: he died in a corner from malnutrition. We want peace, there is no way out of it. Those who are exposed to any spiritual system know that peace is a high attribute. Those who are Muslims know that peace is from as-Salaam, one of the attributes of Allah, glory be to Him. We all want peace yet are constantly in dynamic agitation at all these levels – the physical, the mental and the intellectual. Those who seek knowledge do so because they have discovered within themselves an aspect referred to as ignorance and this is disquieting. That is why so many people move across from one corridor of an ivory tower to another saying, 'Well, the intellectual atmosphere of this college or school was not conducive.' This can often mean also that there was a nasty head of department. Man's agitations and troubles are everywhere. It makes no difference whether one is in the academic world, the business world, or the political world. Everyone is subjected to the same types of experience, and this is a proof, in fact, of the All-Encompassing Merciful One. Even the sanitation engineers and janitors feel jealousies. Be assured that there is a hierarchy among the bathroom cleaners.

Man's desire to avert disturbance and find equilibrium causes him to form alliances with people of the same orientation: "Birds of a feather flock together." It is natural and unavoidable. We ourselves are a proof of this basic cybernetic process. We do not want to be jolted out of our system, thus we find people of the same belief, lifestyle, or creed banding together.

The process of unification, in this case unifying desires with what will neutralize them, is a selective process. The child, as he starts crawling, tries to assimilate everything he encounters in order to unify with his environment. He picks up things and puts them in his mouth because this is the first and primary organ of unification – mouth to breast. Suddenly the child's mouth is frothing: he is spitting the thing out because it is not in unison with his system. If systems, whether they be psychological, social, ecological or mechanical, do not adapt, then they self-destruct. If a happy person sees someone else who is unhappy and informs him of his happiness, this is perceived as a challenge. The result is conflict, either overt or covert. This is why we see political systems continuously being overturned.

We have spoken about a simple proportional equation relating to happiness. Can that formula be equal to one? The number of desires satisfied equal to the number of desires? As we know, as soon as a situation is satisfied and brought into equilibrium, something else goes wrong. There is an old saying: "As soon as you plug it here, it bursts from there." We are caught in a non-stoppable dynamic situation. And yet, at all times we wish it would stop. If a situation is incongruous, we want it to cease. If it is agreeable, we want to stop it in time so that it will continue. This is why we take photographs, to remind ourselves of the state we were in when we saw our child smiling, or when we won the football game. The trophy is placed on the mantelpiece to remind oneself of the moments of achievement, the experience of tranquility.

Returning to the point, we will never be able to avoid having desires, nor will we be able to achieve all our desires. So it seems, in a sense, a losing battle. But is the nature of reality so cruel? How can God, if we believe in Him, do this to us? How can we all be seeking happiness knowing full well that, by our own definition, it is unattainable? There is a basic incongruity in this situation. Here we are wanting to fixate things and we can only do it on Kodak film. This is not possible. Here we are desirous of unending peace and we cannot attain it even for a few seconds?

Try and attain a total peace for five seconds. Try and sit completely and utterly tranquil with not a single thought in the mind. One may be aware of peace, silence, or tranquility, but this is not what we are talking about. We are talking about pure consciousness that admits no awareness of itself; that is total, absolute peace. One may be aware of something nice, that is very tranquil, but that is agitation. One may also be aware of awareness, and also aware of the awareness of one's awareness. Two mirrors opposite each other illustrate well this condition. But can one be purely, simply, totally just awareness itself? Pure awareness.


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The Recovery of Spiritual Values ] Remembrance of Allah ] Living Real Islam ] Remembrance of the Prophet ] Freedom from the Chain of Desires ] Good News ] Accountability ] Inner Meaning of The Qur`an ] Keys to the Kingdom ] Praising the Lord of Creation ] The Witnesser and the Witnessed ] [ The Spiritual Nature of Man ] The Path of Unity ] The Ecology of Unity ] In Pursuit of True Knowledge ] A Living Model ] The Meaning of Life and Death ]