Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Ten Differences Between Spirituality and Religion

1.) Religion tends to be heavily preoccupied with the world of concepts. These concepts- whether in the form of theology, dogma, philosophy, or personal interpretation, play fundamental roles in mediating and coloring an individual's understanding of Reality or Divinity.

Spirituality, on the other hand, is preoccupied with the different levels and dimensions of the experience of Reality or Divinity. In other words, spirituality is advocating that one's spiritual experience, at some point, should not be mediated by concepts, theories or interpretations.

Concepts may be acceptable up to a certain point, but the general consensus of the perspective of spirituality is that, ultimately, concepts lead one away from the truth, not toward it. This raises the problem of how one is to go about differentiating between, on the one hand, imagination or fantasy, and, on the other hand, truth or reality, but this is another matter.

2.) Religion often gives emphasis to issues of salvation. As such, one of the key motivations underlying many religious acts involves doing something because that action will help one gain heaven, while simultaneously helping one to avoid projected negative ramifications which come from sins of commission or omission.

Spirituality doesn't deny the metaphysical realities or issues of salvation which are associated with the positive or negative consequences of our actions. The motivational orientation of spirituality, however, is entirely different.

In spirituality, one's motivation should be to do things because of the intimate nature of our essential relationship with Reality or Divinity, and not because of what we might receive as reward or avoid in the way of negative consequences. The emphasis should be on doing things out of love, service, sincere worship and gratitude, rather than as a means to some further, personal end or desire.

In short, religion is about what human beings seek from God. Spirituality is about what God seeks from human beings.

3.) Generally speaking, religion operates on the basis of trying to change people from the outside in. Spirituality concentrates on helping people to change from the inside out.

More specifically, religion is concerned with imposing a doctrinal framework onto the individual. This framework must be internalized in order for the individual to be considered a properly functioning member of the religious collective.

Spirituality is concerned with the realization of one's true identity and essential capacity. Proper intention, thinking, understanding, awareness and activity all flow from a realized inner nature, not internalized external doctrines.

4.) Religion tends to place great emphasis on the exoteric. In other words, one usually is required to perform rituals, irrespective of whether one understands the nature and purpose of those rituals. The important feature is to comply with the ritual and, therefore, conform to the letter of what is perceived to be religious law.

In spirituality, the emphasis is much more on the esoteric dimension of whatever forms of practice one may pursue. One should try to be receptive to the spirit of a practice. One should seek to understand the nature and purpose of such practices, not just conceptually, but experientially.

5.) In religion, faith is, all too frequently, a matter of a blind, static, rigid, narrow acceptance of some belief, value or practice. In spirituality, on the other hand, faith is intended to be a dynamic, living, flexible, continuous growth of one's understanding of the nature of one's relationship with Reality or Divinity.

Religion often equates faith with an emotional or conceptual commitment to a belief system. Spirituality treats faith as a species of knowledge rooted in realizations drawn from personal experience.

6.) Religion often becomes entangled in politics. This is so both within a religious collective as well as in the manner in which a given religion relates to the surrounding world.

Spirituality, by and large, seeks to avoid the political sphere, preferring to contribute to society directly, and, where possible, anonymously. These contributions come through the beneficial effects of moral qualities such as compassion, patience, charitableness, tolerance, kindness, honesty, integrity, forgiveness and so on.

7.) Religion tends to gravitate toward a authoritarian modus operandi in which submission is demanded of individuals. Spirituality, on the other hand, is centered around the command and respect which a person's recognition of the authoritative nature of Truth brings. Submission is freely given.

8.) Generally speaking, religion is governed by rules, whereas, spirituality is governed by principles. In religion, one needs to know what the rules are before one can act, and in the absence of specific rules, one tends to become disoriented. In spirituality, once one understands the principles, one is able to deal appropriately with any situation even if none of the available rules seems to be relevant to the present situation.

9.) In religion, the participation of the individual often revolves primarily around interaction with an institution such as a church, temple, mosque or synagogue. Personal interaction with the leader of that institution tends to be of a secondary nature, if it takes place at all.

In spirituality, on the other hand, participation primarily revolves around one's personal relationship with a teacher or guide. Participation in some kind of institutional activity is of secondary importance, if it occurs at all.

10.) The term "deen" in Islam does not mean religion. Deen refers to those experiential processes which are directed toward helping the individual to realize various dimensions of the essential nature, or fitra, of human spiritual potential.

When Muslims are informed in the Qur'an about God having brought to completion their Deen, it is not a religion which has been completed. Rather, what has been completed is the establilshing of the Divine means, method or way which, God willing, can assist human beings to work toward fulfilling and realizing the purpose and nature of created existence

Friday, November 18, 2005

Becoming an Artisan (A Story)

There once lived a person who was sincere skeptic concerning the mystical path. In other words, although this individual was willing to allow for the possibility of truths and realities beyond the sensory, material realms, nevertheless, there were a lot of things concerning spirituality which didn’t make a whole lot of sense to him, and over which he puzzled.

For example, he questioned why mysticism seemed to be couched in so much secrecy. Moreover, he didn’t understand why there appeared to be such a hide-and-seek quality to the whole process –- that is, he didn’t understand why the truths of the mystical path just couldn’t be laid out for everyone to see so that those who were interested could obtain what they needed. In addition, he didn’t really see the need for a teacher, or, stated in an alternative way, he wondered why Divinity just didn’t approach people directly through either their rational and/or their spiritual faculties rather than seeming to channel things through a mystical guide.

This man also had a variety of questions about philosophy, government, and science. However, the questions to which he kept returning were the ones he had concerning the mystical path, and these sort of questions seemed, for him, at least, more important than the other questions which preoccupied him from time to time.

Life being what it is, such questions often had to be put aside as he went about trying to earn a living and support his family. In fact, although this person was a hard worker, he had been encountering considerable difficulty finding a steady job because of the condition of the economy.

This person had a college degree, but he preferred working with his hands. Over the years, he had become fairly proficient in a wide variety of skills -– from light carpentry, to electrical work, and, as well, he had a smattering of mechanical abilities.

Since he was a resourceful person, he often was able to scramble sufficiently well to earn enough money to pay rent, purchase food, and buy clothes for his family, but not much more. Nonetheless, through a combination of factors -– among which was the lack of a union card -– he always seemed to be engaged in a financial high wire balancing act in which he worked without a net, and, quite frequently, wondered if the would be able to stretch what little money he had to reach the end of the month.

He had learned to be flexible and adaptable with respect to the jobs he took. Furthermore, he always was looking out for new opportunities -– things that either would allow him to develop additional skills or which might open up new career possibilities that offered more permanent job status.

Currently, he was in between jobs and was scouring the Internet, the newspaper classifieds, and job agencies, looking for work. The only thing which was available involved using his hands -- an apprenticeship position in a pottery shop. The job was located within a reasonable distance from his house.

He called the indicated number, and after several tries, got through to the owner of the shop. She was an elderly woman who was getting too old for certain aspects of her business and was looking for someone who would help her out.

She couldn’t afford to pay much more than minimum wage, but the work would be steady for the foreseeable future, and, as a sort of compensation for the low wages, she was prepared to train the person she hired to become a potter. She even indicated that if she found the right person, she would consider selling the business.

Due, among other things, to an increase in relatively wealthy clientele who, on the one hand, were looking for original works of art, and, who, on the other hand, were searching for certain kinds of pots to use in cooking and baking, the woman’s business was more thriving than it had ever been. People were looking for products of
durability and quality, and they were quite ready to pay good prices for the right sort of pots.

The woman specialized in cooking pots. However, she was an expert craftsperson in all manner of pottery.

After talking with the woman, the man discussed the situation with his wife. He went over the pros and cons of the possibility, and, eventually, they both decided that the job seemed to have considerable potential -- both short-term and long-term.

He phoned the owner of the shop again and said he would like to apply for the job. They arranged to meet the next afternoon, and by the end of the day, he was hired as the woman’s apprentice.

The woman was very meticulous in her training methods, and there was far more to learn than the man originally had suspected. The woman wanted to impress on her newly hired apprentice that there were significant differences between pots which were mass-produced and those which were done in the traditional way. And, so, at the end of the first week, after he had been given enough information which would enable him to make a pot that would be similar in quality to the ones which were mass-produced, she had him fashion several baking pots. The process only took a short time, and when he completed the assignment, she had him set the pots aside, on a storage shelf, as a reminder of his first efforts.

The next day she continued on with his apprenticeship program. After a number of years, he had become quite adept in all facets of making pots, and the owner was quite pleased with his progress.

One day she informed her apprentice that she wanted to retire and, with certain reservations, might be willing to turn the whole business over to him. She knew he was not a wealthy person and said she was prepared to take regular payments for the business until such time as it was completely paid for.

However, before she retired, she wanted to make sure the man really had mastered everything he needed to know about the making of pots. Her shop had developed a considerable reputation, and she didn’t want to see all that hard work go to waste as a result of a decline in the quality of the pots which were sold through the store.

Consequently, she informed him that she wanted to be his first customer, and she commissioned him to make a special cooking pot -– one that was particularly difficult to make because, among other things, it had to impart a certain, precise taste to the foods which were cooked in it. This aspect of taste was very subtle, and if the pot was not made in just the right way, that taste would not be imparted,
even though the pot might be perfectly serviceable in every other respect.

The process for producing such a pot was very complicated and time-consuming. Among other things, not just any kind of clay could be used in making the pot. Furthermore, there were certain natural ingredients that had to be prepared in an exacting manner and which had to be added at precisely the right time during the process, and, finally, the pot had to kept in a kiln for an extended period at a
carefully regulated temperature.

She had taught him everything he needed to know to accomplish the task. Now, however, she wanted to determine if the appropriate lessons had been learned. If he was able to produce the desired pot, then, whatever reservations the woman had about turning the shop over to him would disappear, and she would be able to retire with a
clear conscience.

The man set about making the pot, and nearly six week later, the pot was completed. Now, the quality of the pot had to be tested.

The woman prepared some food to put in the pot. Since she had made more food than the pot could hold, she took several more pots down from the shelf, and filled them, as well. All three pots were covered and placed in the cooking oven.

An hour later, the oven was opened, and the woman set about removing the cooked food. Unfortunately, one of the pots had shattered, although the other two were intact.

After cleaning up the mess from the shattered container, the woman turned her attention to the other two pots. She took several wooden spoons and dipped each spoon into a different pot.

She tasted from the first spoon, and her nose wrinkled. She shook her head in a disapproving manner.

She tasted from the second spoon. A gleam came into her eyes, and her countenance radiated with approval.

Then, she invited her apprentice to dip the two spoons into the respective pots and taste the contents of the spoons as she had done. Upon tasting, the apprentice’s reactions were much as the shop’s owner had been.

The shop owner turned to her former apprentice and said: “The pot which shattered was one of the two you had made when you first came here. It was made in haste and, as a result, was not able to withstand the heat of the oven.

“The pot which yielded the distasteful food was the other pot you made shortly after you first arrived. Although it managed to survive the heat intact, nonetheless, it spoiled the taste of the food because of its poor quality. The average person might not have been able to notice the problem, but a true artisan would have detected the defect and its effect upon the food.

“The pot which contained the very tasty food was the one you just completed, and, I am happy to say it was made perfectly. So, you, obviously, have mastered everything which I tried to teach you, and you are no longer an apprentice, but, now you are an artisan. Furthermore, I see no reason why we can’t go ahead and draw up the
papers for transferring the shop to you.”

The man was very happy with the outcome of things and thanked her for all her help, knowledge, and patience across the years. He was excited and wanted to call his wife and tell her the good news.

The man was about to make the call when the woman stopped him, and said: “There is something more which I have to say to you.” The man put the phone down and waited for her to speak.

She said: “You not only know how to make pots, you also have the answer to some of your questions about the mystical path which you had when you first started working with me.”

The man was rather startled because he had never talked to the woman about such matters. While he was trying to figure out how she knew, she continued on.

“Many of the techniques which I have taught you are secret because if they were to fall into the hands of the wrong people who had little, or no, appreciation for the artistry of pot-making, they would exploit such knowledge by trying to cut corners and, in the process, produce pots which either were not able to withstand the
heat or which imparted an offensive taste to the food. The same is true in mysticism.

“Secondly, just as it took time for you to learn the intricacies of pottery through combining knowledge and an appropriate set of experiences, so, too, it takes time to learn the intricacies of the mystical path. One needs more than information in order to be able to accomplish this -- one also needs the right set of experiences, and,
as well, one needs to work with someone who knows how to utilize those experiences in order to help an apprentice develop a deeper understanding of what is needed to become an artisan.

“And, the former point leads into my final comment. There are many books on pottery which are available in trade stores. You could have read all of those books and still not have understood what you have learned by interacting with me over an extended time. The learning which takes place between an artisan and her or his
apprentice is much different than the learning that occurs when someone reads a book.

“You could not have made the pot you just did merely by reading books. There has been a special chemistry between the two of us which has developed over the years, and it is that chemistry which has found its way into this pot you recently made, and it is that chemistry which an artisan passes on to an apprentice and which transforms the apprentice into an artisan.”

The woman, paused for a moment, and, then, said: “The questions you have had about the realm of spirituality were sincere ones, and Divinity responded to that sincerity by sending you to me. If you are ready and interested, perhaps, I could use my retirement to help you learn about the real purpose of life -– which, by the way, is not to make pots ... even ones of quality. Rather, the making of
quality pots merely represents a worthwhile point of departure.”

Friday, November 11, 2005


Prayer has its roots in pre-eternity when the fixed forms of non-existence called out to God to be given created existence. Prayer permeates the realm of spirits in pre-eternity when they responded positively to God's inquiry as to whether or not the spirits acknowledged God as their Lord.

The sound of prayers praising God comes from every corner of created existence - from the smallest sub-atomic particle and even smaller, to the universe and beyond. Every manner of created being has its own unique mode of prayer.

Angels were engaged in prayer before human beings came into created existence. Indeed, there are some angels so engrossed in prayers of praise and glorification of God they are not aware human beings have been created.

Prayer was on the lips of Adam (peace be upon him) when he sought God's forgiveness for his transgression. Prayers seeking Divine guidance, support, deliverance, protection, favor, mercy and compassion have issued forth from the lips of all one hundred and twenty-four thousand Prophets and their communities who followed after Adam (peace be upon him).

Saints and ordinary people alike engage in prayer. Each praises God, or seeks from Divinity, according to her or his spiritual understanding, condition, intention and circumstances.

If one sincerely has faith in the reality of prayer, every manner of prayer raises one up to God. If one is absent to oneself in prayer, one becomes present to God.

Some prayers petition God for the satisfaction of material desires. Other prayers seek intercession on behalf of the poor, the sick, the homeless, the lost, the abused, and the wayward.

There are prayers for forgiveness and prayers of thanksgiving. There are prayers of loneliness and prayers of desperation.

Some people pray and ask: "Why?". Others pray and submit without knowing why.

There are prayers of separation. There are prayers of union.

Some people pray with certainty. Others pray with doubts and questions.

There are prayers of the true self. There are prayers of the false self.

Some individuals pray frequently. Others may pray only a few times in their lives.

Prayers are silent and voiced, hymned and chanted. Prayers come standing, sitting, kneeling, lying down and in prostration.

On the Sufi path, different prayers may emerge from different spiritual stations. For example, the prayers of those whom are going through the station of patience may be different from the prayers of those whom are in the station of patience. Alternatively, the prayers of those whom are wayfaring through the station of longing may be different from those who are in the station of gratitude.

The mind prays in one way. The heart prays in, yet, another way. The spirit prays in still another way. and so on.

Each aspect of our being has its own modality of praying. However, the best prayer is when all of these are combined together in a harmonious and united manner. In other words, one's prayer should be with one's whole, body, mind, soul, heart, spirit and essential capacity.

According to practitioners of the Sufi path, we should seek to pray with sincerity and for sincerity. Moreover, we should pray out of humility.

We should pray with the realization we are impoverished and have no resources of our own. We are dependent totally on God's mercy.

We should pray with the understanding there is no power or protection except through God. If we lack such an understanding, we should pray to God to remove our pride and arrogance.

Sufi masters indicate an individual should pray with tears of longing and gratitude and joy and repentance. If we cannot pray in this way, then we should seek this blessing from God.

In addition, we should pray out of renunciation of the world. In other words, all of our prayers should be out of love for, service to, and the pleasure of God.

From the perspective of the Sufi masters, we should pray without ceasing. Our lives should become prayer.

Our prayers should be done with the understanding that God is the trustee of all our affairs. Furthermore, God is the One Who, again and again and again, gives to us independently of whether we have done anything to earn or merit that for which we pray.

Sufi masters maintain we should be constantly seeking the welfare of our parents. Moreover, we should pray for others to receive what we are seeking for ourselves.

We should pray for both believers and non-believers. We should pray to be free of passing judgment on others.

Practitioners of the Sufi path indicate we should pray for the spirits of those who have passed before us. Furthermore, we should pray for the spirits of those who will come after us.

We should pray for the spiritual and material well-being of our families and the members of the community. We should pray for the well-being of the people of all nations and for the well-being of all creation.

Sufi masters indicate we should pray for God to enable us not to waste the precious gift of time. We should pray that, God willing, we do not squander our opportunity to realize our true identity. We should pray to fulfil the purpose of our life.

We should pray for God to show us things as they really are. We should seek release from all our illusions, delusions and spiritual veils.

According to practitioners of the Sufi path, we should pray that whatever enemies we may have become the friends of God. For, if they become the friends of God, then, God willing, they may become a source of blessings for all of humanity, including us.

We should pray our hearts become purified. We should pray our spirits become perfected.

Sufi masters advocate we pray that God permit us to overcome our spiritual weakness, rebelliousness, forgetfulness, and heedlessness. Furthermore, we should pray for God to forgive us our transgressions of omission and commission, both in relation to those transgressions of which we are aware as well as to those of which we are not aware.

We should pray for God to increase us in remembrance of Divinity. Moreover, we should pray for God to color us with the lights of Divinity.

The masters of the Sufi way urge us to never stop praying to God. We should never despair of God's mercy and generosity.

On the other hand, we should pray to God for patience while our affairs are being arranged in accordance with Divine will. We also should pray to God for submission and acceptance with respect to the Divine disposition of our affairs.

According to Sufi masters, we should pray that God fills our being with love of Divinity. Furthermore, we should pray that God permits us to express our love by, among other things, fulfilling our duties of care in relation to creation.

We should pray to God for us to become instruments of justice and not injustice. In addition, we should pray to God that we live a life of spiritual nobility and not ignominy.

Sufi masters encourage us to pray for God to increase us in levels of faith and spiritual understanding. Also, we should pray to God to be permitted to learn how to embrace sacrifice as a way of life so that we may, God willing, act in accordance with our spiritual understanding.

We should pray for God to teach us how to derive spiritual benefit from the trials and difficulties of our lives. Moreover, we should pray to God with gratitude for the countless blessings which have been conferred on us throughout our lives.

We should pray we come to worship and cherish God with every dimension of our being. In addition, we should pray that we return to our spiritual origins, both pleased with, and pleasing to, God.

The Sufi master of all Sufi masters has said we should pray to God as if we could see the Divine. However, even if we are not able to achieve this level of prayer, nonetheless, we should pray with the certainty that God sees us.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

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Which is it, of the favors of your Lord, that you and you deny? - [The Qur'an 55:13]


Never has so much been given to so many with less gratitude and appreciation. Never has so much been owed by so many to just One.

The former statement is not about modern pro athletes. The latter statement is not about the bank of one's choice. Both declarations are about the status of our collective relationships with God.

Like some Dickensonian character, we stand before God with bowls in hand pleading: "Please, Sir, we want more." No sooner do we receive, then we forget from Whence and from Whom it came.

We may even return to our respective groups with whatever has been placed in our bowl and boast about how through our: intelligence, cleverness, artistry, strength of character and, we might add, at some risk to our person, we have succeeded where others have failed. The tendency to try to take credit for that which is not our doing is part of the nature of being human.

Even without our asking, the blessings which God is constantly bestowing on us are so numerous that they cannot be counted. Sometimes, however, we become confused and limit what is, to what we experience sensorially or to what we permit into our awareness. As a result, we impose limitations on God's generosity and kindness concerning us due to the insensitivity of our instruments of apperception.

Medical practitioners have said one of the puzzles in need of explanation is not how we become ill but, rather, how we stay healthy. Within us, and on us, at any given moment, are an armada of viruses and bacteria constantly probing our immune systems for weaknesses.

How many times a day, or how many times in an hour or minute, are these probes and attacks repelled by our biological defenses? No one in medicine knows. No one in science has even a remotely informed guess.

Some say the difference between health and illness under such conditions is a function of: a balanced diet; a sufficient amount of the right kind of exercise; limiting, if not discontinuing, our intake of alcohol and tobacco; a stable emotional life; proper periods of sleep, and regular medical check-ups. Indeed, studies have been done which show a strong correlation between all of the foregoing factors and health maintenance.

However, with all due respect to the health industry, if the above recommendations were the entire story, most of us would be dead or in chronic care units. This is so because most of us don't run our life styles in accordance with what health care providers are advocating.

Our failure to heed the warnings is neither here nor there. We pays our money, and we takes our chances.

The issue being addressed here is that in most cases neither medicine nor science has been able to show a causal relationship between the absence of good health care practices and either illness in general or particular kinds of illness. The links are all correlational and statistical in nature.

Discussions are couched in terms of risk factors, statistical trends, epidemiological patterns, morbidity tables, prognosis and so on. No one can say what will happen to any specific individual, but what does happen to any given individual often, although not always, can be made sense of in terms of medical research and clinical experience.

The reason health care findings are largely correlational in nature is because the confluence of factors which lead to illness are too complex in their permutations and combinations for us to be able to reduce them to some nice, simple causal equation or principle. Our knowledge of how everything fits together is, despite all the advances which have been made in the last several hundred years, too meager.

God works both through what we know, as well as through what we don't know. Moreover, sometimes what we know-or think we know - blinds us to what we don't know, and since what we don't know is far more than what we do know, there is a potential for considerable blindness on our parts.

Without wishing to discount anything the health sciences have discovered, Sufi masters understand, in a very direct manner, that both health and illness come from God. God can keep people healthy, despite the presence of contra-indications in that person's life style.

Similarly, God can bring about illness, despite the fact the individual may be abiding by all the appropriate health care rules. Go figure.

Every second of health is, ultimately, a blessing of God. Every time our hearts beat, every moment we breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, every second blood flows through our arteries and veins, every instance in which the billions of cells in our bodies perform their assigned functions in a problem-free manner, we receive uncountable blessings from God.

On the other hand, from the perspective of the Sufi masters, illness can be as big a blessing, if not greater, than the blessing of good health. When we experience the pain and enervation of illness, we feel vulnerable and fragile. Consequently, we may be more open to humility than might be the case when we are healthy and have convinced ourselves we are beyond the grasp of God's will.

When our health fails, we sometimes understand, more clearly than in health, how little control we actually have over the affairs of life. As a result, when we are ill, there may be more of a sense of ourselves as dependent beings rather than independent creatures.

When our bodies are subdued by disease, we sometimes become more cognizant of the emotional and spiritual illnesses which have been ravaging our lives even when our bodies were healthy. Whatever problems are created by the disease process, opportunities for reflection are generated as well through the down-time created by the debilitating character of the illness.

Sufi masters have indicated that the spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical condition of the ill is conducive to drawing closer to God. Furthermore, the practitioners of the Sufi path have affirmed that God listens even more closely to the plaintive cries of the ill than to the entreaties of the healthy.

Illness is not necessarily a punishment. However, the rigors of illness may be necessary for the spiritual development of the individual. To contend with the infirmities, weaknesses, sufferings and humiliations of illness, is a struggle because these are all affronts to the ego which has a very high opinion of itself.

Yet, every struggle is also an opportunity to overcome our arrogance, pride and hardness of heart. Illness is an opportunity to repent. This is so simply because we are too weak to continue feeding energy to the parasitic ego which, during health, has been resisting the idea we have anything for which to repent.

The Sufi masters have noted how, sometimes, illness is the modality God has chosen to confer grace and blessings on the individual. In exchange for the individual's pain, suffering, and discomfort, the person is given gifts, of one sort of another, which may come to fruition later in this life, or in the life to come, or in both. God can give wages of grace for many types of work, effort, struggle and sacrifice.

Illness can be the means of bringing people together. Illness can be a way of taking one out of action temporarily so that some even greater trial or difficulty may be avoided.

Illness may serve to push one in new, better directions with respect to family, friends or the community. Illness may be the catalytic agent which helps bring about constructive transformations in attitude, intention or behavior.

In view of the foregoing, one might mention something to the effect that illness can be a blessing in disguise. In point of fact, however, our whole life is a multifaceted blessing in disguise to which, unfortunately, we have become inured.

As a result, we have a tendency to be a thankless, graceless lot who are always seeking to renegotiate our contract with God no matter how poorly we have performed previously. Furthermore, somehow we frequently operate under the misapprehension that because we may have been associated, in some way, with one, or more, positive deeds at some point in our past, therefore, God ought to be indebted to us.

In reality, the opposite is the case. Eternally, we ought to be indebted to God for permitting us to be associated, in even a minor way, with deeds which are the future source of, as well as give present expression to, blessings from God

Sunday, November 06, 2005

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The Gift

Earlier, a gift was given to me.
Beautiful, fragile ... but a mystery
Whose nature and purpose I did not see.

Its delicate features gave off a strange light
As if powered deep from within - a bright
Glow that illumined the surrounding night.

Mesmerized by its possibilities,
Awareness parted like ancient Red Seas
As, suddenly, it seemed to question me.

"Do you know who I am or why I'm here?"
Embarrassed, perplexed, and beset by fear,
My soul was in chaos.... I strained to hear.

Yet, nothing was spoken - instead I heard
Thoughts thundering across my heart - like herds
Of unicorns - unique, unreal, absurd.

First, 'faith', 'love' and, then, 'generosity'
Arose within, followed by 'empathy',
'Acceptance', 'openness', and 'simplicity'.

'Forgiveness' appeared, 'humility' too;
'Friendship', 'trust, 'peace' - each second, something new;
'Honesty', 'purity'... the thoughts ran true ...

'Strength', 'nobility', and 'integrity'
Passed by - then, a quiet came that was eerie...
The thoughts had stopped, but I did not feel free.

What value should be assigned to this event?
Did the fleeting visit mark my descent
Into madness, or was something else meant?

Reflections ceased when the gift seemed to speak:
"You don't recall me? Perhaps you're too weak
From that game with yourself called hide-and-seek".

"Or, maybe memory has been dulled by
Years of worldly seduction ... just one lie
After another ... 'til its time to die."

"You have needed my help every day
Of life, but there are others you obey.
So, alas, you have lost touch with my way."

"I am the portal through which you must go
To reach the truth of your being - to know
Who, in essence, you are. I'm not your foe."

"Yet, you resist and ignore my presence.
Those thoughts heard within your heart are my scents...
Reminders from God....I'm your innocence."

Saturday, November 05, 2005

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The Snake Charmer -- A Story

There was a certain boy living in a village who once had gone to
a carnival where one of the attractions was a snake charmer. This snake charmer showed the audience a great time by inducing the snakes in his charge to do all manner of amazing feats. In fact, the tricks were so incredible that they appeared to border on acts of magic rather than some form of animal magnetism.

The young boy was completely enthralled with the show put on by the snake charmer and from that moment on wished to become the world's greatest tamer of snakes. Consequently, after the performance was over, the boy approached the snake charmer, who was quite old, with a proposition.

The boy said: "Sir, I have greatly admired your demonstration of skills during the show, and I would like you to teach me the secrets of your profession. I mean no disrespect, but, sir, you are advanced in years, and I have inquired about you. Among other things my investigation has uncovered that you are without any family, and, when I discovered this latter fact, I thought that, perhaps, you might be willing to pass on your knowledge to me if I promised to work for you during my period of apprenticeship.

"I am an orphan who has been living in the stables, doing whatever odd jobs are available to earn my keep. So, you see, there really is nothing tying me to this town, and if I must work for someone, I would just as soon be in your employment while I learn a trade in which I am deeply interested."

The old man smiled when he heard the boys words and replied: "I long have been looking for someone to whom I might pass on whatever little I know about the charming of snakes. I always had hoped that I might have a son or daughter to whom I could bequeath this knowledge, but, unfortunately, marriage and children have passed me by, yet, now, it seems we both are in need of one another, and, therefore, I accept your proposition."

For many years, the two traveled together, sometimes putting on their shows as independent tradesmen, and sometimes doing so in conjunction with carnivals that wandered from location to location. During these years, the two became very close and developed great affection for each other, the man serving as the father the boy never knew, and the boy being the son the man never had.

The man's knowledge about the charming of snakes was extensive. Nonetheless, the boy was very astute and paid close attention to everything the older man said and did. As a result, gradually, the boy absorbed every lesson his teacher had to offer.

In fact, the boy's interest in, and aptitude for, this profession was such that he began to excel his mentor in many ways. The old man could not have been happier if the boy were his own son.

More and more, the old man gave the boy, who was now a young man, top billing and was content to just do a few snake charming tricks here and there during the show. He preferred to watch his student go about the process of charming snakes for the young man was so skillful and graceful at his trade that the older man was filled
with pride and gratitude for having had the opportunity to pass on his knowledge to someone, as well as to have had such enjoyable, devoted company for the last decade.

Eventually, the young man became known far and wide as the greatest snake charmer in the world. The boyhood wish had been realized.

Soon, thereafter, the old man passed away. This greatly saddened the young man, but he was determined to keep the promise he had made to his teacher just prior to the latter's death.

More specifically, the young man had promised his teacher that he would not rest on his own already considerable laurels, and the young man would continue to learn all he could about the charming of snakes. As a result, the young man traveled far and wide, not only putting on exciting and amazing exhibitions of snake charming, but,
also, always looking for opportunities to enhance his knowledge and skills.

In one location, where the young man was conducting a number of number of shows, he happened to hear about some man who was described as being an individual of deep knowledge and wisdom. The young man decided to seek out this man of wisdom and see whether, or not, this person, about whom he had heard such wondrous tales, might be able to add to the young man's skills and knowledge in the area of charming snakes.

After chasing down a few leads, the young man finally discovered the whereabouts of the alleged wise man's residence. Next, he sought an audience with the man and was very happy when this was granted. The young man was told to return the next day at
noontime for some lunch.

The young man was so filled with the excitement of anticipation he hardly could sleep the whole night. For some unknown reason, the young man felt he might obtain some information or understanding during his meeting with the wise man that would help bring his skills to the perfection he long had sought.

The following day, at precisely noon, the young man knocked on the door of the indicated house. The door opened and the young man was escorted into a study where he was received by a friendly looking gentleman who was, maybe, ten years, or so, older than the snake charmer.

After exchanging pleasantries and a few pieces of life history, while eating a lunch which had been prepared, the slightly older man said: "I have gathered from some of my friends that you are billed as the World's Greatest Snake Charmer. Is that correct?"

The young man was proud of his skills but he also had some humility and, therefore, replied: "Well, I don?t know about being the world's greatest snake charmer, but in all my travels I have not come across anyone or heard of anyone who surpasses the knowledge which has been given to me by my teacher and which I have been able to augment with my own studies."

The host smiled and nodded his head approvingly. He said: "Do you think you could provide me with a demonstration, for, I must admit to not having witnessed such things in my life, and I would be grateful to you for filling in one of the many holes which populate my experience."

The snake charmer was somewhat hesitant and responded: "Well, I would love to comply with your kind request, but I don't have any snakes with me, and rather than merely use the snakes which I use in my show, perhaps, I should go out into the forest and obtain some truly wild snakes. This general region is rather infamous for the many species of poisonous snakes which inhabit the area, and I am sure that with a little effort, I could supply us with some useful specimens with which to demonstrate something of the nature of my profession."

The host accepted this idea, and the two agreed to meet the next morning at nine o'clock. So, the young man went off in search of the biggest and most poisonous snakes he could find.

For whatever reason, the young man had some difficulty in finding the species and size of snakes he would have preferred. Nonetheless, he was able to get a fair variety before nightfall, and he took his catch back to his lodging and prepared for his visit the next day.

When morning arrived, the young man collected together all he would need to provide a demonstration of his skills and knowledge. He, then, proceeded to return to the older man's residence at the appointed time.

Once, again, he was warmly received. After a brief conversation, while drinking tea, the older man asked: "Are you ready to give your demonstration? Should we adjoin to the patio, or can you do things right here?"

The snake charmer indicated: "Here is fine, unless, of course, you may have fears of some of these poisonous snakes escaping into your house."

The older man laughed and replied: "If you feel safe from them, then, I also feel safe from them. So, please, proceed."

The young man began to go about his trade. He went through his whole repertoire, and even added a few, new tricks which he had been working on recently.

After he was done, he placed all the snakes in protective baskets. After completing these tasks, he sat down.

The older man began: "Well, I am quite impressed with your skills, but, you know, I couldn't help noticing that the snakes you used were not all that big, and I also noticed that some of the region's more poisonous varieties were missing from the snakes with which you were working. Does it make any difference how big the snakes
are or how poisonous they are? Could you still charm them?"

The young man apologized and agreed with the older man that, yes, the snakes which had been used were not all that big and, yes, he had been hoping to find some particularly dangerous snakes, but due to time constraints had to cut his expedition of the previous evening short. He added, however: "In answer to your questions, neither the size of a snake, nor the virulence of its poison, makes any difference.
I would be able to charm any snake you might care to show me."

The older man considered the young man's reply and, then, said in a very loving way: "Well, let me tell you about a snake whose venom is so poisonous and whose size is so large that if you are able to tame that snake, you will be a real sage, and that snake is the ego."

Friday, November 04, 2005


Normally speaking, when the term "idol" is used, we tend to think of naturally occurring objects or crafted artifacts. Furthermore, to 'qualify' as an idol, these objects and/or artifacts should be treated by the idol worshipers as gods or goddesses to which the individual directs his or her worship, praise, and supplication.

From the perspective of practitioners of the Sufi path, the worship of idols constitutes a fundamental spiritual error. The nature of the error may vary from case to case.

For example, idol worship often involves a confusion of a surface manifestation with the Source and Creator of that manifestation. The surface manifestation may be a sign, in some sense, of the presence of Divinity, for nothing can exist without having a relationship with Divinity. However, the surface manifestation is just that - a manifestation. It is not in essence the Essence of Divinity.

A second kind of error often surrounding idol worship is the following. The infinite, unlimited, lasting, uncreated, non-physical, incorruptible and formless nature of Divinity is collapsed and reduced to the finite, limited, ephemeral, created, physical, and corruptible concrete form of an idol of whatever description.

Thirdly, idol worship tends to impose a purely conceptual or theoretical network of meanings onto the nature of Divinity. This network of meanings or interpretations distort and obscure the true reality of God's presence. As a result, people are led not to God, but away from Divinity, although they may believe this is not the case.

Fourthly, idol worship involves an ascribing of partners to God. In effect, the idol worshiper has isolated some particular form of manifestation from the underlying unity of Divinity. In addition, the idol worshiper claims such an aspect has, in and of itself, the capacity to help or hurt us.

The Sufi masters indicate only God has the ability to affect us. Yet, God may choose different modalities of Divine Names and Attributes to bring about such effects.

The foregoing four characteristics of idol worship have extensive ramifications concerning the way many of us live our lives. In fact, according to Sufi masters, idol worship may be far more pervasive, entrenched and insidiously entangled in our lives than we might like to think is the case.

Idols need not be restricted to naturally occurring objects such as the Sun, the moon, fire, water, and so on. Moreover, idols may not just be a matter of some sort of, say, stone artifact which has been fashioned by human hands.

Our desires, opinions, ideas, values, and beliefs can be idols to which we bow down in adulation and worship. The pursuit of physical pleasure also can constitute an idol, as can the pursuit of power, status, fame, money, material possessions, and fashion.

Political systems, ideologies, science, philosophy, literature, art and culture can constitute idols. The raising of athletic, political, business, artistic, scientific or academic figures to positions of praise, is to forget Who is the One really responsible for whatever good or benefit may be coming through a given locus of manifestation.

Even religion and mysticism can become nothing more than idol systems. Heaven, spiritual states, guides, mystical insights, Divine gifts, gnosis and teachings can all be calcified into idols to be worshiped, praised and loved in and of themselves, and quite independently of God.

To be pre-occupied with, focused on, striving for, committed to, or desirous of other than the pleasure of God, is to be engaged in a form of idol worship. Consequently, if one worships God out of a fear of hell or a desire for paradise, one may be engaged in idol worship.

Alternatively, if one worships God out of a desire for miraculous favors or strange experiences or spiritual elevation or mystical unveilings, then one is pursuing a form of idol worship. Moreover, if one worships God out of a desire for worldly success of whatever kind, then one is caught up in a form of idol worship.

The common thread running through all of these potential forms of idol worship is the manner in which loving, serving and obeying God does not play the central role in one's intentions and motivations. God really has been reduced to being a means to an end which serves the desires of the ego. The individual is worshiping God for what God is going to do for him or her.

In the foregoing circumstances, the individual actually is bowing down only to his or her own concept of God. The worship and praise are all directed toward the projections of the false self.

We have a tendency to interpret the spiritual activities of our lives as due to our doing and causing and accomplishing and achieving. Prayers, for example, are said, and our ego immediately exercises its inclination to appropriate these actions as its own.

Prayers are given expression through being, consciousness, will, hearing, seeing and speech, none of which belong to us. These qualities are manifestations of various Names and Attributes of God.

In claiming prayers as our own, we are maintaining we are the cause of those prayers. Furthermore, we are contending our prayers are the reason why benefit comes to us in this world and/or the next life. In effect, in both instances we are ascribing partners to God.

According to the masters of the Sufi way, fasting, night vigils, prayers, seclusion, remembrance, association and so on, are of value only if they are rooted in an intentional framework seeking detachment from: the false self, the world, expectation, reward, and personal accomplishment. Indeed, one of the fundamental values of the aforementioned practices is that, God willing, they bring about such detachment if engaged with sincerity.

Spiritual practices of any kind, whether exoteric or esoteric, are of essential value only if they are expressions of a desire for complete submission to, and love of, God, as ends in themselves. In fact, the essential value of spiritual practice, of whatever kind, is to help us realize what is involved in submitting ourselves to, and having love for, God to the full extent of our spiritual capacity.

If our intentions are shaped and colored by the false self, then we run a serious risk of sliding into idol worship of one description or another. Unfortunately, the hydra-like properties of the ego are such that very few, if any, of our intentions are not being seduced toward the slippery slope which leads to idol worship. Only the mercy of God prevents this from happening

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Autumn in Quebec Posted by Picasa


Heedlessness is a quality of our spiritual darkness. To be heedless, is to be a servant of the ego.

Heedlessness is to prefer our own ideas to Divine meanings. Heedlessness is to favor our own opinions over the teachings of the Prophets, saints and spiritual guides.

To be heedless, is a clear sign of our deep addiction to our false self. To be heedless, is to be preoccupied with the whims and fantasies of the ego.

Heedlessness entails denying the rights which God has over us. Heedlessness involves denying the rights which our families and neighbors and all of creation have over us.

To be heedless, we must reject the call of our spirit. To be heedless, we must abandon our hearts to the decay and corruption of our egos.

Heedlessness gives expression to criticism of God's creation. Heedlessness exists in our finding fault with God's way of handling and managing our affairs.

To fail to realize the purpose of our existence, is to be heedless. To continue to allow the activities of our passion and anger to transfix us, is to be heedless.

Heedlessness blinds us to the signs of God. To be heedless, is to be mute in our praise of God.

To be heedless, is to not realize God is closer to us than life itself. Heedlessness means we do not understand our essence is rooted in Divinity.

To ignore the countless forms of kindness God extends to us every day, is to be heedless. To fail to cherish the spiritual opportunity which this life offers, is to be heedless.

To fail to assume our responsibilities with respect to the care and protection of nature, is to be heedless. To allow the soil of soul to remain fallow, is to be heedless.

Heedlessness is to treat love as if it were a four letter word. Heedlessness is to be attracted to hostility, hatred and malice.

Heedlessness is to have lost access to our capacity to distinguish between the real and the illusory. To be heedless, is to savor the taste of worldly things.

To be heedless, is to be willing participants in the spread of the diseases of the ego. Heedlessness is to be inactive in helping the poor, the hungry and the homeless.

To believe we are independent of God, is to be heedless. To prefer gratification to sacrifice, is to be heedless.

Heedlessness consists in placing trust in ourselves rather than God. To be heedless, is to prostitute our spiritual potential.

To separate ourselves from Divine guidance, is to be heedless. To go through life intoxicated with our own likes and dislikes, is to be heedless.

Heedlessness is to show inadequate respect for sacred ground. Heedlessness is to confuse our false self for our real self.

To be heedless, is to take license with God's forgiveness. To be heedless, is to seek worldly knowledge rather than gnosis.

Heedlessness is to believe we will not be held accountable for what we omit and commit in this life. Heedlessness is to waste our lives worshiping the idols of the ego.

To not understand the depth of our vulnerability to the forces within and without us, is to be heedless. To believe we are awake when we are fast asleep, is to be heedless.

To ridicule, and show contempt for, the servants of God is to be heedless. To take the world as a friend, is to be heedless.

Heedlessness is to prefer rebellion over obedience in relation to God. Heedlessness is to betray one's essential identity.

To be caught up with the diversions of avocations rather than the work of our spiritual vocation, is to be heedless. To treat time as if it were a renewable resource, is to be heedless.

To consider truth to be relative to one's point of view is to be heedless. To believe there are no absolutes, is to be heedless.

Heedlessness is to object to the imposition of constraints on the activities of the ego. Heedlessness is to suppose we are the source of our rights and not God.

To be heedless, is to rest our hope on other than God. To be heedless, is to suppose that our successes are the direct result of our efforts.

To be indifferent to the misery and pain we cause others, is to be heedless. To believe God is not intimately aware of all that we do, is to be heedless.

To suppose the answers to the problems of life can be found in science, medicine, economics, psychology, politics, mathematics, theology, and/or philosophy, is to be heedless. To set about changing the world, before we transform ourselves, is to be heedless.

To mouth spiritual platitudes, without sincere commitment to implementing spiritual principles in our lives, is to be heedless. To be preoccupied with finding fault with others rather than ourselves, is to be heedless.

To believe a life of spirituality can be gained without struggle, is to be heedless. To assume one's struggles are sufficient for spiritual success, is to be heedless.

To be heedless, is not to be immersed in the remembrance of God. To be heedless, is to consider our death to be far away.

To be heedless, is to assume anything can occur without permission of God. To be heedless, is to blame God for what we permit to come into our lives.

Heedlessness is to believe we can realize Divinity in our lives while holding on to our false selves. Heedlessness is to be inattentive to the fact all things pass away.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Sunset over Copeland Hill Posted by Picasa

A commentary

Authors are incorrect when they assert that "intoxication is the fruit of finding God." There are several reasons for this.

First, spiritual intoxication - on whatever level - is a gift of God. Irrespective of how hard an individual may search for Divinity, no one receives the disclosures of one, or another, variety of intoxication unless Divinity permits this.

In other words, no one ‘finds’ God unless God wishes to be found. The trials, tests of conduct, and striving within this world are nothing more than the offerings of candidates applying for grants of Divine Favor, but the One Who possesses the "keys of the heavens and earth" (42:12) is Independent and dispenses Favor in accordance with Divine Himma or Aspiration in conjunction with the Purpose underlying and permeating Creation.

We may be seekers, but we are not the primary Seeker. In fact, we are the sought, and the one who understands this seeks to accommodate the interests of the Seeker, and, then, God willing, waits in a condition of repentance, as well as with qualities such as: patience, sincerity, gratitude, taqwa, trust, hope, and love.

In the Qur’an, God instructs the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to: "Say: ‘This is my way. I call to God upon insight - I and whoever follows after me.’" (12:108) Those who, by the Grace of God, have been granted the gift of such insight, understand, at least, two fundamental principles: (1) "God is never unjust toward his servant." (3:182); (2) "To God belongs the conclusive argument." (6:149)

Consequently, if a person does not receive intoxication, no injustice has been done to that individual. On the other hand, if someone does receive intoxication, then, there is no court of appeals for those whom might object, since the Supreme Source of all "conclusive arguments" has issued the edict concerning the conferring of such intoxication.

Secondly, intoxication is not ‘the’ only modality through which Divinity dispenses Favor. Unveiling can assume many different forms, and intoxication is only one of them - and, as indicated previously, even in the case of intoxication, there are many kinds and levels of this condition.

All of the instruments of spiritual potential contained within ‘fitra’ are capable, under the appropriate circumstances of, God willing, serving as loci of manifestation for Divine disclosure. All of these possibilities provide different, but complementary, engagements of Reality, and, in fact, all of these modalities are required to be operating properly in order for the individual to be fully realized.

Spiritual intoxication is important. However, it is not the be all, and end all, of spirituality since not only does a great deal depend on the nature of the intoxication in any given case, but ‘fitra’ contains an array of potentials for engaging Divinity that are capable of coloring, orienting, modulating, and shaping the condition of intoxication being experienced.

In addition to the foregoing, authors are not quite correct when they contend that love is the most intense and profound of human experiences. They would be closer to the truth if they were to say words to the effect that: ‘love is ‘one’ of "the most intense and profound of human experiences," but most human beings have never experienced love in the way that the ‘People of Allah’ do.’

A Hadith Qudsi states:

"Whoever seeks Me, finds Me.
whoever finds Me, comes to know Me.
whoever comes to know Me, loves Me.
whoever loves me, that person I slay,
and whomever I kill, I owe that person blood-money,
and to whomever I owe blood-money, I am the
recompense for that blood-money."

Although the love of those who come to know Divinity is never left behind, the fact of the matter is, there are two conditions, in addition to love, which are alluded to in the foregoing Hadith Qudsi - namely, being slain (i.e., fana), and recompense for the one who is slain in this fashion (i.e., baqa), and these conditions are both different from, and, yet, complementary to, the dimension of love, as well as being every bit as intense and profound as the condition of love.

In truth, the language of love tells only part of the spiritual story - albeit, a theme of fundamental importance to the story of Creation’s purpose.

Furthermore, there is a reason why the dimension of love is often given emphasis in Sufi literature. Aside from its central importance, love is the last outpost of familiarity through which spiritually unrealized individuals can experience some degree of resonance with the ineffable, mystical realms that transcend the nature of everyday sorts of experience.

More specifically, there is nothing in the ‘normal’ lives of spiritually unrealized individuals which can serve as a ‘likeness’ to the conditions of ‘fana’, ‘baqa’, and any number of modalities of unveiling which may take place through such spiritual instruments as the heart, sirr, ruh, kafi or aqfah. However, many people have had some sort of exposure to love - at least in a limited way.

Therefore, rather than speak about that which is not only beyond language and concepts but also which needs to be directly experienced in order for an individual to have any sense of even some of what is involved - and, as a result, is beyond the comprehension of spiritually unrealized people - Sufis use the language of love to serve as a medium of communication since there is a certain degree of overlap between the love of spiritually unrealized individuals and mystical love.

Nonetheless, irrespective of whatever degrees of commonality may exist in the understanding of spiritually unrealized and realized individuals with respect to the nature of love, the latter group tends to experience love in a very different way than do most people in the spiritually unrealized group. Moreover, the nature of the former sort of experience will vary, God willing, as an individual proceeds along the Sufi Path.

For example, there is a dimension of the heart which concerns love of both particular individuals, as well as humanity, in general. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is reported to have said: "You will not enter Paradise until you have faith, and you will not complete your faith until you love one another." In addition, on another occasion the Prophet is reported to have said: "If you love your Creator, then, love your fellow beings first."

In addition, there is another dimension of the heart which revolves about love for the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is reported to have said: "None of you can have perfect faith till I become dearer to you than your father, children, and all humankind."

There is a further dimension of the heart which gives expression to a love that is focused exclusively on Divinity. Thus, the Qur’an indicates: "Say: ‘Surely, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death are all for Allah, the Lord of the worlds.

An important aspect of this Divine love is that it is not a means to an end. In other words, one does not love Divinity because God is the One Who, for example, can grant Paradise or other Divine Favors, but because one has been created with not only a capacity to give all that one has, and do all that one does, for no other purpose than as a result of an intense love for Divinity, but one has, as well, by the Grace of God, acquired a niyat (intention) and himma (aspiration) which seeks to give expression to the aforementioned capacity for Divine love.

Beyond the love of the heart, there also is a dimension of love within the potential of the ruh or spirit. The Qur’an says of those who love through this facet of the ruh: "He loves them, and they love Him." (5:54) With respect to such love, Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddiq (may Allah be pleased with him) says: "He who has tasted of the pure love of God will have no desire for the world and will avoid one and all."

In a Hadith Qudsi, Allah says, via the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): "My servant does not cease to draw nigh unto Me through free-will offerings, unto I love him." In another Hadith Qudsi, cited earlier, love of Divinity arises out of coming to know Divinity, and since God is the One Who has brought one to a condition of such knowledge, God is the One Who has induced love in the individual through such knowledge of Divinity - and the giving of such knowledge is an expression of God’s love for the individual.