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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



THE THEATRE OF LIFE


By Fatima Fleur Nassery Bonnin


One of the signs of awakening in this life from the deep sleep of unconsciousness is to be able to see (perceive) the inner meanings of things, not just the outer. Life is full of various levels of inner meanings and messages, clues and hints according to the level of the person’s spiritual unfoldment. There are many ayat in the Qur’an and ahadith to confirm this phenomenon. This is where the term “blind” has been used in the Qur’an, alluding to people who in spite of having eyes, yet cannot see. Indeed they see the forms and the exoteric aspects of things but do not see the esoteric meaning within.
Allah (swt) points to this repeatedly in various verses in the Holy Book, usually after a story, parable or symbolism:
in this there are lessons for those who can understand” or "there is indeed a lesson for all who have eyes to see" or “if only they could understand” or “if only you could see” or "we detail Our signs for people who understand".

But somehow, although we are looking right at them, the majority of these signs are missed. They go right over our heads and we see only the outermost aspect of them, for good reason since our heads are not the apparatus for the perception of these things. We are told that all the signs/ayat of Allah are in two books; the book of the Holy Qur’an, and the book of the cosmos - life and creation. Both require certain purity of heart and inner sight in order to be given the permission to perceive the inner meanings and signs. We are clearly told with regards to the Qur’an that only the cleansed or pure ones (motaharoun) will be able to touch this (Qur’an 56:79). The “cleansed" or "pure ones” have generally been taken for their outer meaning of having been physically cleansed and having had ablution. While that holds, yet there is more to it. It alludes to the state of inner purity, the purity of heart. If all that was meant was outer cleanliness and ablution, why then would we witness from time to time, that people who have not prepared themselves that way, still gain access and are able to touch the Qur’an? When we consider that Allah’s word is the Truth and there cannot be an exception to it, then when we see these exceptions it should highlight the discrepancy between our understanding and the real meaning of the Words.

If we understand that “to touch” means being touched by the faculty of intellect and perceiving the inner messages; and we understand the “pure ones” as those who possess an inner purity and sincerity in their heart, then there will not be any exception. The fact that the Qur’an can be touched by the ritually unclean is further proof of the esoteric meaning of the verse.

The purpose of these signs is the realisation of the purpose of our life in this human body, which is God-consciousness, in spite of the forgetfulness that has been placed in human beings, and in spite of distractions we experience, some of which provide very strong attractions that constantly pull us in the opposite direction. This purpose has been revealed in a famous Hadith Qudsi, where Allah (swt) explains the purpose of the creation by saying:

I was a hidden treasure and I loved that I be known, so I created the creation so that I can be known”.

It is no wonder that His creation and the life of human beings are encoded with clues towards knowing Him. But that potentiality does not reach fruition for everybody. One needs to have a sincere longing and desire for his Creator and put on the walking shoes and set forth on the journey in order to be accepted as a traveller on the path to God, “salek”. In modern times we see a lot of people putting on their walking shoes but all they do is keep jogging. This walk is a different walk and in reality shoes are not necessary and are allegorical. As Allah (swt) said to Moses:

Take off your sandals”, since he did not need them there.

In Sufism, we are told that there is nothing in this world whose source is not in the unseen. Therefore wherever we look lies a reminder, for those who can see.

Wherever you look is the face of Allah” - Qur’an 2:115

In looking at birth, at childhood and dependency, at growing up, at relationship with parents, at becoming self sufficient and independent, at using our will and putting it in action, at love relationships and at work and making a living; as I am reflecting on the list, I am reminded of at least one ayah in the Qur’an that applies to each stage and/or category, teaching us the right versus wrong behaviour, guiding us to the straight path and therefore to Him.

How many a sign is there in the heavens and on earth which they pass by, and on which they turn their backs!” - Qur’an 12:105

One then must question why it is that with so many reminders, so many people remain asleep and only see things for their outer form, and in one dimension. My response is that the inner eyes do not open until one has done some degree of internal Jihad against one’s ego-personality (nafs). The potentiality is there in everyone – man is made in the image of God – to reach a degree of perfection in his attributes, but he has been sent to the lowest of the low. This lowest of the low has been interpreted as being sent down to earth, again while that holds it has more inner meanings; for the lowest level of man is taking himself as a self sufficient and independent reality, while living as a slave to his ego. This man sets out to respond to every whim of his wants and desires, and reacts poorly to any lack of satisfaction. This is the condition of a normal man in the state of “al-nafs al-ammara”, with imperfect (naghis) attributes, and therefore constantly seeking for perfection (takamol) from being imperfect. In his seeking for perfection (the Source), he has no choice and it is ontological, but he keeps looking in the wrong places and all he gets is a temporary satisfaction which does not last, until with Allah’s Mercy, a wake up call comes. Then the question is whether he wakes up or not, and if he wakes up, whether he stays awake or goes back to sleep.

Every night we go to sleep and dream about various things that seem so real to the point that we even exhibit physical reaction and experience strong emotions to it just like in waking hours. But generally that does not force us to stop and think that if the dreams are not real, then to what extent do these experiences show us what else that we may think is real may in fact not be real and be an illusion just like the dreams. One needs to ponder that there is an “I” in the dream while the other “I” is sleeping in bed. A veil covers our eyes as soon as we wake up. The thicker veil is the role we play in the theatre of life. No doubt the understanding of the dream person would be helpful to the understanding of the role we play in the theatre of life.

He is the Creator of heaven and earth and whatever is in between them”.

It is important to note that Allah who has created everything, has also created the art of theatre through us. The stage for our performance starts before we are born but becomes more apparent from birth and throughout our life. We play a role along with other people as in any production on the stage. There are stories, plots, emotions, good people and bad people interacting. The more it elicits emotion out of us, the more we are absorbed in the story. If you imagine an actor on the stage, he takes the identity of his role as real in order to do the job and we in the audience join him and share his version of reality during the time in the theatre. However the actor on the stage has the chance of remembering his real self during the intermissions or breaks. But we human beings are engaged in a one act show and during this act which is our entire life, our breaks are very subtle reminders and hints of Reality.

If we were not so preoccupied with ourselves and our emotions and thoughts, there might be a space for some realisations through the subtle hints of this theatrical reality. The events of our lives are like the props for the stage where the story and the plot is acted out with others. As Moulana Rumi says every brick that makes up the world is made of illusion.

Our Creator says in the Qur’an:

The life of this world is nothing but a play, whereas, behold, the life in the hereafter is indeed the only (true) life: if they but knew this!” - Qur’an 29:64

These creations are supposed to be a reminder alluding to higher purpose, but we human beings, in our state of “zolum and jahul”, keep using them for different purposes; entertainment, self satisfaction and forgetfulness of the Real. This is how we contaminate the goodness of life. We celebrate the actors performances, give them awards without ever thinking if there is any message for us - as nothing in this life is meant to be just for play without a higher purpose.

Imam Ali (a.s.) says in Nahjul Balagha:

They have not taken lessons from things which are full of lessons, but they have taken them from far off places.” - Sermon 221

Moulana Rumi says:

"You see the world according to the measure of your eye"   and then goes on saying
the Arifs (gnostics) possess a ‘surmeh’ (black powder make-up used on the eyelid),
go and seek it. So that your eye of stream may become an ocean.
" - Mathnawi, Book 5:1905-7

He is alluding that Arifs having done the required inner purification, are given the reward of seeing the inner reality of things, (which is an act of Beauty).

In the story of Moses and his staff, Allah tells Moses to throw his staff down and it turns into a serpent moving rapidly, and then tells him:

Take hold of it, and fear not; We shall restore it to its former state.” - Qur’an 20:21

In this story, first Allah sets the stage by asking "what is this in your right hand O Moses?" and Moses responds:

"It is my staff; I lean on it; and with it I beat down leaves for my sheep; and other uses have I for it." - Qur’an 20:17-18

There have been different interpretations of this verse such as Allah wanting to hear Moses speak or that Allah is testing him.

These verses are pointing to the esoteric and mystical reality. It means that as long as man only sees the outer form of things he will only see the staff. But things in life inherently carry other and deeper dimensions and uses. The miracle is the transformation to perceive the inner dimension of things.
The fear referred to is the fear of letting go of the familiar form and touching (perceiving) beyond the form. We then are being assured in this story not to be afraid since after the transformation we are still able to see the form.

We need to pay attention to every word in the Qur’an and not get carried away with the story, because the story covers the esoteric teaching since the stories are meant to be the apparent (zahir) and the teachings hidden (batin). We know by reading the above that something more mystical is happening since Allah is aware of everything and knows what the staff is and what usage it has. He is the creator of the staff. It is for the benefit of us that He takes us through all the apparent and exoteric usage of the staff that has been enumerated, and then to the esoteric. If we realise this, then we are likely to reflect and wonder how many other things are there that we keep missing and taking the apparent meaning as the only reality.

May Allah help us to recognise the theatre of life and may He grant us to stay awake to our real self.

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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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