After extinction I came out, and I

Eternal now am, though not as I.

And who am I, O I, but I

–Ali Shushtari

 

As we travel upon this road of self-knowledge with the help of the means

provided by tradition—means without which such a journey is in fact impossible—we

gain a new perspective concerning every kind of reality with which we had

identified at the beginning of our journey. We come to realize that although we

are male or female, that attribute does not really define us. There is a deeper

reality, one might say an androgynic reality, transcending the male-female

dichotomy so that our identity is not determined simply by our gender. Nor are

we simply our body and the senses although we often identify ourselves with

them. As we travel upon the Sufi path, it also becomes more and more evident

that what we call ” I ” has its existence independent of sense perceptions and

the body as a whole although the soul continues to

have a consciousness of the body while being also aware through spiritual

practice of t h e possibility of leaving it for higher realms.

Likewise, although we have emotions and psychological states with which

we often identify, the spiritual path teaches us that they do not

define and determine our identity in the deepest sense. In fact, often we

say, “I must control my temper,” which demonstrates clearly that

there is more than one psychological agent within human beings. As St. Thomas

said, confirming Sufi teachings, “Duo

sunt in homine” (“There

are two in man”). The part of u s that seeks to control our temper

must be distinct and not determined by the part of o u r soul that is angry and

needs to be controlled. Yes, we do experience emotions, but we need not be

defined by them. In the same manner, we have an imaginative faculty able to

create images, and most of t he time ordinary people live in the lower reaches

of that world of imaginal forms. Again, we are not determined by those forms,

and j o u r n e y i n g upon the spiritual path is especially effective in

transforming our inner imaginal landscape. As for the power of memory, it is

for the most part the repository of images and forms related to earlier

experiences of life. Metaphysically speaking, however, it is also related to

our atemporal relation to our Source of Being and the intelligible world to

which we belonged before our descent here to earth. That is why true knowledge

according to Plato is recollection, and in Sufism the steps of t h e path are

identified with stages of the remembrance of t h e Friend. Most people,

however, consider these everyday remembered experiences as a major part of

their identity. Yet again, the center of our consciousness, our I,  cannot be

identified with our ordinary memory.

We can forget many things and remain the same human being. The spiritual life

may in fact be defined as the practice of techniques that enable us to forget

all that we remember about the world of separation and dispersion and to

remember the most important thing, which this world has caused us to forget,

namely, the one “saving Truth,” which is also our inner reality.

The Garden of Truth: The Vision and Promise of Sufism, Islam’s Mystical Tradition

 

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