Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri
This discourse was delivered at a conference at the University of South Africa.
The speaker emphasized the dual nature of creation and the secular/spiritual complementarity of the human self and soul (or spirit). The essence of life is one supreme cosmic light from which everything emanates and returns to. The human quest is to unify with this eternal truth by way of self/soul unison. Ethics, morality and service to others are essential for a balanced and fulfilled life. Traditional African way of life contains many lessons for our present day global harsh worldly emphasis. Everything in existence has both a secular and a spiritual aspect to it. Secular, meaning worldly, discernable, or physical. The spiritual side is metaphysical, intangible, and is to do with meaning or subtle realities.
Life is experienced as interplay between two complementary opposites, dualities or polarities. There is time and timelessness, inner and outer, meaning and form, vice and virtue, person and society, and very importantly, self and soul (or spirit). Sentiency and life are discerned through a spectrum of consciousnesses. The basic foundation of life is a universal consciousness, which brings about all creation and their need for survival as well as all other basic evolutionary drives. All creation relates to this consciousness, which is conditioned and becomes specifically definable with individual beings or species.
Natural selection, the drive for procreation and all other human, sexual or egotistical drives, is energized by that level of consciousness. The other level of consciousness is to do with pure, primal, or divine absolute consciousness. It is this that human beings are endowed with as distinct from other animals. It is the call of this higher eternal consciousness that drives human beings towards ethics, morality, and all the other higher transformative and transcendental tendencies; to go beyond mind, to be beside one’s self, to be inspired from beyond thought towards subtle intuition and other inspirations.
Most world religions began through enlightened insights regarding a supreme, all encompassing pure consciousness, or god-awareness. A few individuals (prophets and sages) have seen the unity and one power behind the diversity of manifestation in this world. Prophets have seen the eternal light beyond countless shadows with beginnings and endings, all of which relate to light whose nature is most sublime and complex. The universal truth is that there is one unique essence and source behind the web of life, which engages everything that has emanated from it and returns to it. This is the meaning behind the Islamic declaration that ‘there is no god but God’
. This truth means that whatever is durable and sustainable is close to this Godhead, and everything else is shadows or flashes of the ever-present light. Islam was a revival of the ancient Abrahamic revealed knowledge which had not reached the Arabs and had been distorted and eroded by many of its adherents, as happens to most religions over time.
In their early beginnings, prophetic teachings connect the eternal truth with worldly, changing realities in an attempt to bring about a balance and a purpose in this worldly transitional life. But in most cases the natural human tendency towards egotistic control, greed and other worldly desires brings about the emphasis of religion towards structure, rituals and laws that are neither sufficiently flexible in a worldly sense, nor eternal as far as truth is concerned. The transformative light of religion and its spiritual dimension is often hijacked by a priestly class and rulers for the purpose of serving their desire for cohesion, continuity and control through cultural familiarities of their people.
Every aspect of life’s experience, all cognition, awareness and behavior are relative and changeable issues because these are subject to time and space. Truth embodies time and space but is not subject to it. Indeed, humanity’s eternal quest is both relative and absolute, material and metaphysical. The growth and evolvement of wisdom implies both unison and balanced lives in this world, individually and collectively. Islam came to the Arabs based on the original prophetically revealed truth that was broadcast by thousands of previous messengers. Its revolutionary message was against human ignorance, arrogance, pride, and tribal injustices and discord. It brought God and absolute truth to the centre of every aspect of life at all times. Through the uplifting and recharging of human consciousness, the backward Arabs were galvanized by a unifying higher cause beyond their immediate clan or tribe. The result was the emergence of a major global empire and civilization within a few decades. The emphasis upon the ever present, all knowing, all seeing, perfect God brought about a very high level of personal ethics and morality amongst these desert people who lived a most basic and harsh life. Indeed, it is this personal accountability to the light within the heart, to one’s God-consciousness, or higher pure consciousness, that brings the individual back to appropriate reference and stability. The notion of the hereafter radically changes the natural human egotistical tendency towards immediate gratification and pleasures. When this notion is internalized, it becomes transformative; otherwise it remains a ritual or a barren belief without much benefit or meaning.
There are so many issues deep within the human psyche that are not easy to answer purely by philosophy or science, but can be resolved if we understand the paradox of dual consciousness within human beings. Are we free, or are we predestined and fated? We experience and, deep down, know that both are true. So far as normal day-to-day worldly relationships and events are concerned, everything is subject to cause and effect and follows rules and directions. The rational mind saves us from much superstition, speculation, fear, and emotional entanglement. Freedom, however, lies in our desire and disciplined attempt to evolve beyond the mind and access the zone of creativity and pure consciousness within us. That zone is the soul or spirit within the heart. By acknowledging our dual nature, we can deal appropriately with our natural biological human tendencies as well as referring to the soul or spirit within.
We human beings can be most sublime and most ridiculous, most selfish and beyond selflessness, lower than the most brutal animals and higher than the angels. In a lifetime we reflect the entire cosmic story, from the Big Bang and life’s occurrence on earth, to all the evolutionary steps leading to the distinction of the Homo sapiens. The rise of the Adamic consciousness occurred when the energy of the supreme consciousness (a personal god) touched us with its call to go beyond the limitations of space and time, body and mind. This is referred to by religious-minded people, as God’s will, desire, or command.
Unless we combine both the secular and the spiritual in every aspect of life, we suffer imbalance and insecurity and fall for insatiable worldly desires. The human soul or spirit carries the blueprint of boundless power and eternal riches. The individual person (a self), which is energized by the soul, picks up this beam and internalizes it as a personal drive and desire for wealth and power. Unless self and soul are brought together in unison, no durable stability or contentment is possible. Our ‘globalised’ present world, prevalence of instant communication, and interaction through the Internet is radically different from the culture of family units and communities of two generations ago. Human morality and ethics then were enforced by family, the neighborhood, the clan, society, religion, nation and other factors. The legal systems and enforcement of law cannot successfully curb human egotistical and monopolistic tendencies, which continue until spiritual awakening overrides them. Personal conditioned consciousness and the illusion of individuality of separation in this world is the foundation of all conflict and wars. Reference to pure consciousness (God or Truth) can energize the fields of accord and harmony.
Until very recently in Africa, tribal allegiance and accountability brought about relative stability and contentment amongst the indigenous people. With the advent of so-called political independence, many Africans formed the new super tribes in the form of political parties. Most of the developing world had not gone through the long process of political, social, economical, and industrial evolvement that the West had experienced over a few centuries. Therefore much lip service is given to democracy, equality, and social justice whilst most of the population remains under the influence of old collective values and mindsets.
Many Africans live and think collectively and rely upon sharing rather than individualistic success or achievement. In many villages in remote areas of Africa, one finds people that are generally cheerful, content, and live on a day-to-day basis without much anxiety or stress. An average Westerner’s fear of even the possibility of unemployment or reduction in standard of living can be a cause of depression and much anxiety. The present responsible African leaders need to be creative in order to safeguard the unique human tendencies in Africa without marginalizing rural people with limited educational possibilities. Most people need to earn their keep and basic human needs and dignity. It is no longer possible to turn every human being in this world into an economically viable worker according to Western standards. What is needed is the emergence of a new alternative to the global onslaught of capitalism with all its rational justifications. The purpose and journey of humanity is not only secular but also to connect and align self and soul, head and heart. God is one, and so is each human being. The purpose of life is to witness the perfection of every instant in spite of one’s own desires or expectations. Sufism is the heart of Islam, and the awakened Sufi regards death as the day of emancipation from this ever changing world and the door to everlasting union. When personal consciousness and awareness are made subservient to the truth of everlasting consciousness, then one is in constant harmony and well being, irrespective of outer events. This is where all shadows of reality fade away in the light of truth. This is where the secular and the spiritual are eternally connected.