Monday, January 25, 2010

The origins of Evil -- A Sufi Perspective

All the great shaykhs of the way of tasawwuf - that is, the mystical science of love, truth, and Self-realization, have taught there is a huge difference in understanding between those who have, by the grace of Allah, attained to a station of Divine intimacy and those who, unfortunately, have not. This difference in knowledge, wisdom, and insight has a great many ramifications in the nature and quality of life, but, perhaps, one of the most critical differences revolves around the consequences of ignorance.

Individuals who have been blessed by unveiling know - in a profound, intense, intimate, varied, and on-going manner - that all of creation is woven together as a set of manifestations giving expression to an underlying Divine Purpose which is complex, yet, unified. The nature of this unity is such that whatever we do affects the rest of Creation ... for better or worse.

Our actions cannot alter or undermine the Divine Purpose being manifested through creation, but we serve as loci through which certain kinds of Divine transactions enter into the world of appearances. And, the sort of transactions for which we are the cosmic doorway can be affected, within certain degrees of freedom, by the way we filter what is being transmitted through us.

The 'Divine transactions' mentioned above have to do, in part, with the realm of 'rizq' which determines, from birth to the grave, what will be provided to us, as well as whether we will have to: (a) satisfy certain conditions in order to draw from the Divine storehouse, or (b) merely be given certain things independently of effort. Whatever comes to us - through efforts, or not - in the way of material goods, possessions, career achievement, health, family, monetary wealth, fame, physical qualities, intellectual abilities, talents, friends, and spirituality is pre-set, so to speak.

There are many things that we all receive quite apart from any efforts on our part. Existence, air, oceans, sun, mountains, the moon, earth, stars, rain, consciousness, seasons, weather, night, day, and a soul, are just a few examples of this.

Furthermore, each of us receives certain 'gifts' in life which find their way to us even if we do not seek them or try to acquire them. These sorts of things vary from person to person.

On the other hand, there are other facets of life for which conditions have been laid down. For these, aspects of life, efforts must be made.

Looked at from the foregoing perspective, life consists of an extremely large collection of rizq transactions, and you and I serve as so many loci of manifestation through which many, but not all, of these sorts of transaction are conducted. However, our intentions, attitudes, understanding, and spiritual condition can lend 'color' to these events.

More specifically, while Divinity establishes the parameters of conditions, gifts, and assigned portions which are destined for us in relation to every dimension of our lives, and while fundamental aspects of these parameters are entangled in struggle, you and I tend to filter the character of what is being transmitted through us in positive and negative ways. These positive and negative qualities are the ways in which we lend color to those facets of rizq transactions with which we are associated - facets, one might add, that give expression to part of our assigned rizq even as we are serving as loci of manifestation for rizq transactions that are being directed to others.

For example, if we are charitable - the positive way in which we serve as a loci for giving, is part of our rizq destiny, just as the giving that flows through us to someone else is part of the other individual's rizq destiny. At the same time, our charitable nature may be a gift of God for which little, or no, effort needed to be expended in order to be acquired, or we may have had to struggle long and hard to be able to act in a charitable fashion.

Alternatively, if we are selfish, resentful, and/or hateful with respect to various rizq transactions that are manifested through us and in which something we have (possessions, money, time, talents, and so on) is transferred to someone else to whom it has been assigned by God - at least on a temporary basis - then, although we serve as a locus of transference, we have colored the transaction with various sorts of negative attitudes, feelings, and intentions. In short, we have added a certain degree of malevolence, negativity, destructiveness, or evil, if you will, to the transaction.

The person who has been assigned, by Divinity, to be the recipient in the foregoing transaction is acquiring at least three portions of rizq. First, there is whatever money, material object, possession, help and so on which is being transmitted through the person who has been assigned to serve as locus of giving. Secondly, there is the negative coloring of the transaction which has been added by the one through whom the giving is manifested. Thirdly, there is the opportunity being extended to the recipient, by God, to deal with both the giving and the 'value added' coloring in a spiritually appropriate or inappropriate manner - and the choices made concerning the form that this 'dealing' will take becomes a locus through which further rizq transactions are conducted.

The individual who, by the grace of God, has been given knowledge of the Self, understands that all of existence is a theater of Divine manifestation which gives expression to Creation's Purpose by means of a woven mosaic of rizq transactions in which human beings - and, indeed, all created being - are rooted as loci of transmission and receipt with respect to the play of Divine Names and Attributes - a play which is for the benefit of all Creation. The individual who, through the blessings of Divinity, has attained to Self-knowledge understands her or his role in the scheme of things and seeks to be a loci - whether of transmission or receipt - that filters the rizq transactions through a pure process of submission to Divine purpose and a desire to serve all of Creation, not to rule over Creation. The person who, by the mercy of Allah, has had the nature of the Self unveiled, understands that God's Purpose intends nothing but good for all of Creation, including human kind, and such people dedicate their lives to doing whatever they can to share with others whatever they know concerning this good.

The individual who has not, by the grace of his or her own lower self, attained to knowledge of the Self, and, as a result, knows only the 'self', has not acquired something of the 'taste' of Divine purpose, and, consequently, fails to grasp the manner in which all of creation is united in the tapestry of rizq transactions for a common Divine Purpose. The person who, due to the ignorance in which such an individual is entangled, does not grasp his or her role in the scheme of things, and, therefore, tends, in a variety of ways, to resist and rebel against the rizq transactions which are being transmitted through that person - ways which may not serve the best, long-term interests of the individual but which do not deter the Divine Purpose from being given unfettered manifestation through a multiplicity of dimensions entailed by the complex set of rizq transactions that constitute Creation. The person who, through self-absorption, tends to undermine and sacrifice the Divinely-given opportunity to be opened up to spiritual unveiling, does not understand that God's intentions toward creation and human kind are beneficent in nature.

Ignorance sees though lenses of spiritual darkness. All events in the view of ignorance are filtered through, and colored by, those lenses.

Ignorance seeks to usurp the role of God, because the nature of ignorance is not to know any better since ignorance veils, and is veiled from, the truth of Divine Purpose. Ignorance, by 'virtue' of the very nature of ignorance, is steeped in impatience and wishes to place its own time table upon God's Plan. Ignorance, due to its essential lack of knowledge and understanding, seeks to impose its darkness on everyone else, and will not be content until all of creation falls beneath its shadow.

The shaykhs of the path of tasawwuf indicate that one must struggle toward repentance, sincerity, tolerance, patience, forgiveness, nobility, justice, kindness, love, compassion, and remembrance because the way to Self-realization is lit by these spiritual stations. Ignorance has little regard for such qualities and believes that, somehow, a lack of wisdom, insight, and understanding will be triumphant.

The nature of ignorance is to not understand its own presence. Ignorance is inclined to miss the fact that the shapes it sees are merely ones that have been superimposed upon reality by the character of the ignorance involved.

Ignorance kills. Ignorance destroys. Ignorance tortures. Ignorance distorts. Ignorance persecutes. Ignorance oppresses. Ignorance terrorizes.

To whatever extent we permit ourselves to filter the network of Divinely ordained rizq transactions that give expression to the Purpose of Creation through the lenses of ignorance, to that extent will we be inclined to kill, destroy, torture, distort, persecute, oppress, and terrorize - both others and ourselves. If we wish to understand the origins of evil, then let us look to the spiritual ignorance within us - for, that is where it all begins.

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