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Sufi Teachings:

Ibn 'Arabi On
Proximity And Distance

Why Do Muslims Fast?

Knowledge of Reality and
Ignorance of Reality -
What is Knowledge
of Reality?

Knowledge of Reality and
Ignorance of Reality -
Seeing Versus
Not Seeing

Knowledge of Reality and
Ignorance of Reality -
Journeying In
The Spiritual Path

Book of Theophanies

The Month of Ramadhan

Sufi Psychology:
The Isolation and
Transformation
of the Nafs

To Be Or Not To Be

Imposter Or
Mistaken Identity?

Moulana Rumi -
The Mirror of Divine Love

The Transformative Power
of the Fear of God

Test of the Hardship

The Theatre
of Life

Peace and the
Inner Jihad

Sufism and the
Paradox of Self

Surrender

Faith and Action

What is Tasawwuf
(Sufism)?

Listening for God:
Prayer and the Heart

 



Bismillaah ir Rahmaan ir Rahiim
In the name of Allah, The Merciful, The Compassionate



KNOWLEDGE OF REALITY AND IGNORANCE OF REALITY

Seeing Versus Not Seeing

By Fatima Fleur Nassery Bonnin

Mankind is faced with the following challenge; while he is given the guiding light of revelation, he only understands it to the extent to which the veils of worldly preoccupation have been removed from his inner eyes; otherwise, his understanding is limited to what appears to him.

Many people look at revelations such as the Qur’an and the Gospels and only see the outer meanings, but for someone who has travelled on the spiritual path (the enlightened ones and the real believers, mo'menoon), they see layers of meaning that reveal unseen treasures hidden within the apparent words and literal reading. Specifically, The Prophet (pbuh) is quoted as having said that the Qur’an is wrapped in seven layers of meaning. We will be unwrapping one of those verses in this article.

The sincere believers, mo'menoon, see with the Light of Tawhid which means seeing the Unity of existence, instead of seeing the multiplicity of worldly forms. The latter level of seeing, thinking and knowing indicates a lower level of seeing and a lower level of knowing which equates to an ignorance of reality.

In other words, being able to only see the matter that surrounds us, and not being able to know and see the reality behind it, is called ‘blindness’ in spirituality in general and in Sufism in particular. In Sufism, those with inner sight can reveal to us the deeper and unifying meanings of the revelation of the Qur’an, and shed light on the true purpose of life.

Ibn Arabi, the great 13th Century Sufi mystic and philosopher, in his monumental work The Futuhat al Makkiya (Meccan Revelations), explains and expands one of the ayat (verses) of the Qur'an, which is showing us the meanings of seeing versus not seeing. Referring to the Sura Nur – 24:40

     

"Or the deeds of those who disbelieve is like the darkness of a deep sea made yet more dark by wave billowing over wave, with clouds above it all, depths of darkness, layer upon layer, when one holds up his hand, he can hardly see it, for he to whom God gives no light, no light whatever has he.”

The commentary on this aya covers the subjects of our three articles and its three contrasting states:

  1. Light versus Darkness
  2. Knowledge versus Ignorance
  3. Seeing versus Blindness

Ibn Arabi explains that it is because of the darkness that we are effectively spiritually blind, as we only see the world of forms (the Arabic word often used is Sabab or Asbab (pl.) which translates as “instruments”, “means” or “secondaries”) so we are blind to the owner or maker and real operator of the instruments.

Allah is the giver of the Light that makes spiritual seeing or vision possible, which should not be confused with the sense of sight and/or mental understanding. The opposite of light is of course darkness, that prevents us from seeing spiritual reality, which in essence, is always being pointed to by the outer forms or secondaries. So one who is in darkness:
     a) cannot see anything other than the surrounding forms, and
     b) does not realise that these forms are 'mazaher' (place of manifestation) and represent a deeper reality.

Finally without the light to see, darkness and blindness ensue, which means being left in a state of ignorance of reality (jahl).

So whilst the light of God is always available, if we are not receptive to it and don’t purify the nafs (ego-personality), by using God's teaching through the Prophets and appointed teachers, (which is the meaning of cleansing the mirror of the heart), we remain effectively in darkness, ignorant of the Real and Higher aspect of self and connection with the Planner behind the events of life. It is important to note that in spiritual language, darkness does not mean the darkness that prevents outer sight with the eyes of the senses, rather it is the darkness that prevents inner sight.

In his commentary on the above aya, Ibn Arabi says that Allah has mentioned various degrees of darkness and coverings, ‘veils’ such as:

  1. The darkness of the sea which means ignorance, 'jahl'  meaning lack of Irfan (which is knowledge of reality and God)
  2. The waves represent our thoughts, and in this verse, ‘waves billowing over waves’ represents the density of movements of our thoughts in our busy minds, coming in so close, one after another that no light can get in, and finally
  3. The darkness created by clouds represents the relative lack of belief, ‘kufr’, and infidelity to God and faith.

He goes further, expanding the esoteric meaning of “when he holds up his hand he can hardly see it”.

The hand is the member of the human body that is loci of power and through that one can take action. However if there is no Light to see the hand, then no right effective action can be taken. The power to take spiritually effective action along the purpose of the journey of life then is severely limited, since one is cut off from the help and guidance of "Qudrat Illahi", the Divine Power, due to the blindness in seeing our connection with Him. We can only see ourselves as independent. If we had light to see our hand, we could also see the Divine power behind it and realise who the Real mover of our hand was and we would see Him behind the actions.

The enlightened people and the real believers, mo'menoon, are those who in their pursuit of the Truth have gained the light of knowledge of Reality, and the light of seeing. These people do see the world of form, but unlike the majority, whilst they pay it their dues, they do not worship it because they know what lies beneath and beyond.

Moulana Rumi points out also that knowing the Truth, (Real, Haqq, God) is a matter of seeing versus not seeing. One either recognises the Truth or is blind to it, and in order to see the Truth one must see beyond what is plainly and obviously apparent in front of our physical eyes.

He says: "What covers the eyes of the people from seeing the reality is seeing only the secondaries".

And for himself he prays :

     

"I want a pair of eyes that knows The King

     

     So that I could recognise Him (hidden) in every clothing"

The higher state of the Sufi path is to learn how to become a seer and a hearer. The goal is to see and hear without the accompanying meddling of the mind so that we can see and hear the reality behind what our mind tells us. It takes a lot of work to recognise that - while hiding behind the appearance of being the source of knowledge – the job of the mind of the ego-self is to propel us onto the road of self engagement, not the road of knowledge of God.
 
Note the words of the Prophet (pbuh) throwing light onto this issue, helping us to gain insight into the problem of the mind.

     

"If your hearts were not dispersed and you were not so busy talking, you would undoubtedly hear what I hear.”

     
                                                                                        Mizan Al Hikma X 4990:16956

All the colourful stories of the Mathnawi of Rumi are to help us to look for teachings that enable us to receive such heart and eyes. He says 

     

“The Sufis possess a surmeh1, Go and seek it.

     

     So that your eye of narrow stream may become an ocean."

     
                                                                                        Mathnawi, Book 5:1905-7

He keeps warning us not to try to be clever and think and figure things out with our mind, (since this is an invitation to the ego-mind).  He says:

     “Sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment (hayrat).”

He also says:

     “Keep looking until you recognise.”

In short, Rumi’s advice is that in order to see like a Sufi, we need to follow the ways of the Sufi (seeking the surmeh) and discard our thoughts and our cleverness so that we may develop the capacity to receive the light of seeing.

Sheikh Mahmoud Shabistary, the Persian Sufi master says:

     

This long journey can be shortened for you,

     

     If you sit in the presence.

     

The One you desire is before you,

     

     Become eyes to see Him, surrender your thoughts of Him.

     

Because to think is to be thrown afar.

     

     The Friend does not associate with otherness.

There is a paradox being unearthed here. That the light to see with is required to start the spiritual journey is also the final outcome of the journey. That is, to move from the “lowest of the low” (in Qur'anic language) we must have light, first to see just how preoccupied with ourselves we really are, which is to see how busy our minds are and how little space there is to receive the light. This paradox is resolved by faith, as one does not need insight to start the journey, rather the light of faith and action is required to begin the journey. Paradoxically again, the simple faith of a beginner draws light to them and their sight may be opened so they see the weaknesses in their belief and faith, which gives rise to the opportunity for heartfelt desire to turn to God in daily life. Further along the way, if one chooses the Way of the Sufi, and maintains a desiring heart, and seeks to broaden their sight from a narrow stream, they must then relinquish their fascination with their own thinking. In fact, they have to surrender their very notions of their self as an independent and separate entity. Only then do they become “Eyes to see Him”, and recognise the Light of the Heavens and the Earth.

     

Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth;

     

The similitude of Allah's Light is a Niche in which there is a lamp

     

And the lamp-shade is a shining star lit from a blessed olive tree

     

Which does not belong either to the east or to the west.

     

The oil which does not need to be kindled by any fire;

     

Its light stems from the Supreme Light;

     

Allah does guide with His Light whomever He wills.

     

And Allah sets parables for men to understand the meaning of the message

     

And Allah is the Knower of all things.

     
                                                                                        Holy Qur'an 24:35

................................

Notes:
1. surmeh - black powder make-up used as eye liner

 

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Sufi Teachings:

Ibn 'Arabi On Proximity And Distance

Why Do Muslims Fast?

Knowledge of Reality and Ignorance of Reality - What is Knowledge of Reality?

Knowledge of Reality and Ignorance of Reality - Seeing Versus Not Seeing

Knowledge of Reality and Ignorance of Reality - Journeying In The Spiritual Path

Book of Theophanies

The Month of Ramadhan

Sufi Psychology: The Isolation and Transformation of the Nafs

To Be Or Not To Be

Imposter Or Mistaken Identity?

Moulana Rumi - The Mirror of Divine Love

The Transformative Power of the Fear of God

Test of the Hardship

The Theatre of Life

Peace and the Inner Jihad

Sufism and the Paradox of Self

Surrender

Faith and Action

What is Tasawwuf (Sufism)?

Listening for God: Prayer and the Heart

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For further information contact the
Australian Centre for Sufism and Irfanic Studies (ACSIS)
Phone: (02) 9955 SUFI (7834)
or email: acs@australiansuficentre.org


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