"Know Thyself"

That self-knowledge is not only the condition but also the very goal of the mystical quest is affirmed by the hadith of the Prophet, "He who knows himself knows his Lord" (man 'arafa nafsahu faqad 'arafa rabbah). 27 Such a knowledge obviously would not stop at the simply psychological level, since the human soul, the psyche, always makes up a fragmentary entity that veils the vision of the total Reality, of the Divine Self. However, the very existence of this veil allows, on its own level, for a seizure of the source of existence, and the concern of the faqīr must be to render the veil transparent so that the lights of heaven can illumine it and pass through it unhindered. This means first to recognize our shortcomings, which are displeasing to God and prevent Him from shining in us, and to work toward their elimination through ascetic discipline (al-mujāhadah). This is the purgative aspect of inner knowledge, the aspect that often predominates during the initial portion of the path. As for the positive aspect of this same knowledge, it consists in recognizing in oneself the reflection of the qualities and beauties of the Creator and of attributing to Him all glory; this increases the intimacy between the praiser and the Praised.

The practices recommended by the masters for better self-knowledge include notably the "setting of conditions" (mushāratah), which takes place in the morning upon awakening and consists in admonishing oneself and in reaffirming one's intention to consecrate oneself entirely to God. One then tells oneself, "Here is a new day which will be a test for you, so force yourself, oh my soul, to fill each instant with that which draws you nearer to God...." 28 The same evening, the faqīr must examine his conscience (muhāsabah, literally, an accounting), the object of which is not only the measurement of how the morning's resolutions were followed, but a "gathering up of time" (ittitād al-waqt) by evoking simultaneously a vision of the acts and the thoughts of the day in imitation of the man on the threshold of death who sees his entire life pass before him. 29

The two techniques are, in fact, only particular methods for maintaining a constant vigilance, which the faqīr must have in order not to waste time, not to be distracted by "that which does not concern him" (mā lā yughnīh) and in order to keep himself constantly attentive to the desire of the Beloved. This vigilance is called murāqabah, a word derived from the Divine Name al-Raqīb, the All-Seeing, and it is synonymous with "the guardian of the heart" (al-'assa 'ala' l-qalb). It is this same disposition of the soul that the Hesychasts, the recluses of the Eastern Orthodox Church, described as "the way of all the virtues and all the commandments of God, which consist of tranquillity of the heart and of a mind perfectly free from all imagination." 30 Its importance has been stressed by such eminent masters as Muhasibī, Qushayrī, and Ibn 'Ata' Allāh al-Iskandarni, 31 for reasons identical to those of the Christian mystics who were adepts in the "prayer of the heart." The reason is that only an innermost heart free from distractions and random thoughts can be illuminated by perpetual prayer.

The acquisition of murāqabah is the highest level of self-mastery, the victory on three fronts of the interior battle waged by the faqīr:

that of the external faculties, which implies scrupulous respect to the legal prescriptions and abstentions; that of the internal faculties, where the battle consists of dispelling evil thoughts and of remaining fixed on the Divine Presence; and that of the depths of the heart, in which no other concern must enter except that of the Adored. "Vigilance," wrote Ibn 'Ajibah, "is the source of all goodness and contemplation (mushāhadah) is in proportion to it; he whose vigilance is great will attain great contemplation." 32

 

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