Sunday, September 06, 2009

Of Books and Men

‘Abd al-Karim al-Jili:

I say unto thee: The levels of certitude alluded to by the terms ‘knowledge of certitude’ (‘ilm al-yaqin), ‘vision of certitude’ (‘ayn al-yaqin) and ‘experiential realisation of certitude’ (haqq al-yaqin), which we have said are the ultimate benefit to be obtained from reading books (of metaphysics and spiritual realities), are almost impossible to attain – not the slightest amount of them – by means of even a lifetime of pious works.

I have seen young men of my brethren on the Path, by means of reading such books for even a few days, reach that which men devoted to pious works could not reach in forty or fifty years, even though they themselves were the cause for these young men to come to the Path; for when they limited themselves only to their way of action, whilst these young men read books of metaphysics and spiritual realities and understood them, they fell short of their full potential, and these young men became the true elders, whilst the elders became youngsters to them. One such as these said:

I adopted all my fathers in full trust,
And there is no doubt that I am the exemplar for all fathers
This verse was composed by a certain Sheikh’s disciple, whose works in the Path were known to us to consist of nothing more than reading books of metaphysics and spiritual realities, until he reached a level of knowledge in this field such as was not reached by a great many of his predecessors. His name was Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad al-Hakkak, and he composed many verses concerning the science of metaphysics and spiritual realities; and whoever finds his collected poems and recognises their worth is lucky indeed!

I have only related to thee all of these stories in the preamble of this book in order to make thee understand the value of this science and its great eminence, that thou might yearn to attain unto this noble art by reading these books, applying them, and discussing them with those who are experts in them wherever they might be; for a man such as one of them might benefit thee with a single word more than all the books in the world could benefit thee in an entire lifetime. This is because what thou takest from books is dependent on thine understanding, whilst if a man who ‘knows through God’ (‘arif bi‘Llah) wishes thee to understand the matter as it actually is, he imparteth unto thee his own understanding of it – and what a difference there is between thine understanding and his!

For those of deep understanding, to read books of metaphysics and spiritual realities is superior to the pious acts of the ‘Wayfarers to God’ (as-salikin); and to sit with the Folk of God and keep good conduct with them is superior to reading all the books there are. I counsel thee, and I counsel thee again, to keep reading books of metaphysics and spiritual realities, and to act in conformity with the knowledge they impart; for in doing this, thou shalt achieve thy purpose and attain unto knowledge of thy God – if He so willeth!

(Maratib al-Wujud wa Haqiqatu kulli Mawjud)