The Spiritual Aspect of Life

The Spiritual Aspect of Life (N. J. Haneef) Introduction There is a dichotomy in the universe between soul and body. Body, or matter, and its properties are perceptible by the physical senses of man and/or fathomable by the intellect. Intellect itself is a property of the soul. Notice that we are making a twofold division rather than the threefold division of “body, mind and soul” that is sometimes made. One of the most frequent idioms of the Holy Quran (the scripture of Islam) is “the heavens and the earth” , which indicates this dichotomy. Also note that what we will refer to as the soul is also sometimes referred to as the spirit; hence the word “spiritual”, which directly relates to our topic. What we will present as our views in this paper is, as we understand it, the Islamic viewpoint on the spiritual aspect of life. However, that viewpoint has much in common with that of other major religions and also that of some scientific writers. We will use a couple of non-Islamic sources in our presentation and therefore we have not qualified its title as being specifically the Islamic view, but rather have kept it general. Although our paper was written for a general readership, we hope that it will be particularly informative for those who are sceptical about religion and spirituality. Since it is fairly obvious as to what we mean by “body” but it may not be so obvious as to what we mean by “soul”, we list below some ofthe properties or faculties of the soul: – The desire to acquire knowledge – The ability to acquire knowledge – The ability to preserve acquired knowledge – The ability to think and reason – The ability to feel i.e. experience non-physical conditions like joy, sorrow, pride etc. – The faculty to acknowledge the existence of God, the Creator – The faculty of mutual attraction, which might be designated magnetic power 24 THE SPIRITUAL ASPECT OF LIFE – The faculty to love and, specifically, the faculty to love God – The faculty to see visions (i.e. things and events which have no bodily existence – The faculty of receiving revelation from God – The faculty of establishing a relationship with bodies – The faculty of manifesting new qualities in combination with bodies and their shapes. Natural, Moral and Spiritual States Let us use the term “soul-related” to signify concepts related to the soul, as opposed to “physical” which signifies concepts that have to do with the body. The ultimate particles of which the universe is made possess both physical and soul-related qualities. Or, rather, they possess capacities such that higher forms structured out of these particles can possess both physical and soul-related properties. Just as there are physical forces and laws that govern them, so there are soul-related forces and laws that govern them. These two sets of forces and laws are mutually related and consistent. Thus all forms of life have a natural physical and soul-related disposition. The soul of man has been given the power to regulate itself and the body in which it is housed, and that regulation works according to the soul-related laws of the universe. As long as man does not use his soul power to regulate himself, he is said to exist in his natural, untempered state. We quote from the translation of a book by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (the Holy Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam), in which he has explained the Quranic theory regarding this topic. When a person is guided by reason and understanding and brings his natural state under control and regulates it in a proper manner, that state ceases to be his natural state and is called his moral state. At this stage man ceases to resemble the animals. . . . the beginning of the spiritual state of man . . . [occurs when he] establishes a relationship with God Almighty. (1, pp. 1-3]. Regulation and control of a man’s physical and soul-related urges, in ethical ways, make him moral but it is only when that regulation is done according to the direction of God and for the sake of God, that man starts to become what [1] refers to as “spiritual”. It was to save the word “spiritual” for this special connotation that we had to introduce the term “soul-related”. What we are saying is that although man has a soul, and may even have used its potential to develop it to the state of morality, he may not necessarily be spiritual, according to our terminology. Basic morality does prepare the soul for the higher, spiritual, state, but it is only when the soul is directed toward God that REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 25 its full potential and all its faculties begin to be realized. (This is somewhat analagous to saying that unless the mind is used for an intellectual task it cannot be considered intellectual.) Religious authors sometimes categorize every act that is not inspired by Divine contact as totally base and primitive. This tends to put off those who do not believe in or adhere to revealed religion since they know that very commendable ethical and moral qualities are found even in themselves and other non-religious people. We quote below from a book on ludaism to show that even though the idea of the dichotomy of body and soul is similar to that of Islam, some of the more subtle distinctions have not been made. “The tension between body and soul which so harrowed first the pagan world and then the Christian is relaxed in ludaism. To the age-old question: which shall a man gratify, his flesh or his spirit, ludaism answers simply, “both.” “The Tradition holds that a man should seek neither to thwart his body altogether nor to glut it, but to sanctify it.” “When God, that is hallowed and the ideal, is removed from the relationship of a man with a woman they are both transformed into consuming fires. ” [2, pp. 71-5]. Islam, as we have shown, acknowledges that a certain basic level of spirituality, i.e. what we have called morality rather than spirituality, is possible even without directly relating to God. In order to simplify the discussion we will sometimes use the word “spiritual” broadly, as it is generally used, rather than in our own strict sense. Interaction of Body and Soul Not only has Islam differentiated between the moral and spiritual states, it has also explained and emphasized the interaction of the physical and spiritual worlds. We quote first from a book written from a purely scientific point of view by a Western author, and later we will show that his observations confirm Islamic thought on this subject. In the introductory chapter of his book Alternative Medicine, Andrew Stanway writes: “In order to be able to grasp the significance of many of the alternative medical practices described in the book, the reader will have to steer his mind onto rather a different plane from the one he is used to.” “There is an increasing :}wareness of another dimension of life that is not commonly exp(~rienced from day to day.” [3, p. 24]. 26 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS Further on, in the chapter on “Naturopathy”, he writes of the “healing power” which is evidence of the relationship between the physical and spiritual forces in living creatures. “The concept of vis medicatrix naturae – the healing power of nature – is very ancient.” Unfortunately, for all our advances in science we are still no nearer knowing the true nature of this healing force, though isolated discoveries are beginning to point the way. Using Kirlian photography it is possible to show an aura around people’s fingers, notably around those of healers who are concentrating on healing someone. The most exciting phenomenon illustrated by Kirlian photography is the phantom effect. During high frequency photography of a leaf from which a part had been cut, the photograph gave a complete picture of the leaf with the removed part showing up faintly. This is extremely important because it backs up the experiences of psychics who can “see” the legs of amputees as if they were still there. The important thing about the Kirlian phantoms though is that the electromagnetic pattern can’t possibly represent a secondary phenomenon – or the field would vanish when the piece of leaf or leg vanished. The energy grid contained in a living object must therefore be far more significant than the actual object itself. [3, pp. 192-94] We now quote from [1]: “. . . the Holy Quran has laid stress on physical cleanliness and postures, and their regulation in relation to all worship and inner purity and spiritual humility. Reflection confirms that physical conditions deeply affect the soul. For instance, when our eyes are filled with tears, even if the tears are artificially induced, the heart is immediately affected and becomes sorrowful. In the same way, when we begin to laugh, even if the laughter is artificially induced, the heart begins to feel cheerful. It has also been observed that physical prostration in prayer induces humility in the soul.” “Experience shows that different types of food affect the intellect and the mind in different ways. For instance, careful observation would disclose that people who refrain altogether from eating meat gradually suffer a decline of the faculty of bravery; … This is reinforced by the evidence of the divine law of nature that the herbivorous animals do not possess the same degree of courage as do carnivorous ones.” THE SPIRITUAL ASPECT OF LIFE “As the soul is affected by physical conduct, in the same way sometimes the soul affects the body. For instance, when a person experiences sorrow his eyes become wet, and a person who feels happy, smiles. All natural actions like eating, drinking, sleeping, waking, moving about, resting, bathing, etc., affect our spiritual condition. ” (1, pp. 3-4). 27 The interaction between physical and spiritual faculties explains why the ultimate form of knowledge is that which is gained by experience and involvement in the object/concept being studied, rather than by reasoning or external observation. In such experience, man’s whole being, including his physical particles, participate in the knowledge. When we have experienced something we can understand it in a way that intellect alone cannot. That is why metaphor works – it tells us what something is like by relating it to something else of which we have had an experience. Almost all religious scriptures, and certainly the Holy Quran, convey spiritual truths in allegorical and metaphorical language, relating the abstract spiritual concepts to commonly experienced objects or situations. The Holy Quran exhorts Muslims to reflect upon the physical law of nature to understand spiritual realities. It explains that there are correspondences and parallels between the physical and spiritual worlds such that various aspects of the physical world are metaphors for the spiritual world. Rain, for example, is like divine revelation and its causing the earth to bring forth vegetation is like divine guidance causing spiritual growth in man. Within the spiritual world there are different levels and varieties and between these also there are parallels. For example, the relationship (including love) between a husband and wife is in many ways reflective of the relationship between God and man. These parallels help us understand the spiritual world. Metaphor, however, cannot be a perfect substitute for the actual experience. It is not possible to convey the full meaning of spirituality to someone, or even to convince him of its existence, if he has not experienced it himself. It is like trying to describe music to someone who has never heard it. One could present an analogous phenomenon that impacts another faculty (i.e. a faculty other than that of hearing), for example a dance or harmonic ripples in water. But it would never be the same as an experience of music. Similarly, if someone has not been given to learning and reflection and has only ben delighting in physical sensation, it would be difficult to describe intellectual enjoyment to him; he would have to use his intellect to see for himself. Conclusion Some of those who are sceptical of religion and spirituality may have this attitude because they have seen unattractive or even repugnant 28 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS manifestations of the religious instinct. We would like to point out that just like there are many degrees and varieties of intellectual, emotional and sensual pleasure, so are there of religious pleasure. Some varieties may even be tantamount to an abuse of the faculty concerned, or may not even be worthy of being called pleasure, or may be based on a pseudo or mutilated version of the object of pleasure. Thus we have faulty reasoning, useless and/or baseless philosophizing, tasteless music, decadent love and so on. Similarly, man sometimes seeks spiritual satisfaction in imperfect and sometimes even unholy ways. He tries to satisfy the urge of his soul to find his Creator but does so in misguided ways. You could hear discordant music and decide that harmony does not exist. Similarly you could be exposed to a distorted version of spirituality and may conclude that spirituality is all sham or imaginary or illogical or useless or pleasure less. But that would be a wrong conclusion. We urge those of our readers who are sceptical to investigate their own spiritual capacities more fully and thus believe in the dimension of spirituality by having experienced it. Reflect upon the meaning of conscience, and of the moral sense within you that is manifested in such qualities as justice and sympathy and shame and honour. Can you explain these intellectually, or scientifically fathom their sources? If not, then is it not possible that there is a plane, a dimension, an aspect of existence unknown to physical science? Once one comes to see the reality and the beauty of spirituality, all else seems secondary. This is similar to feeling that, although there is an independent pleasure in eating food, one basically eats so that one can stay alive and life is worth living because one enjoys its mental or aesthetic aspect. At an even higher plane of existence, one begins to feel that the mental and aesthetic faculties have to be used to further and promote the ultimate spiritual pleasure – the relationship with God. We believe that the spiritual aspect of life is its most important aspect – that is what life is all about. We have tried to show that although there is a dichotomy between the physical and spiritual worlds, there is also close interaction. In fact, we believe, that the physical world was made for the sole purpose of advancing the spiritual. References [1] Ahmad, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam, The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, translated, The London Mosque, 1979. [2] Steinberg, Milton, Basic Judaism, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York,1975. [3] Stanway, Andrew, Alternative Medicine, Penguin Books, 1982. THE SPIRITUAL ASPECT OF LIFE 29 .——–1’11 Try to Persevere——.. (N. Haneef) I. I hope to mend my ways Please don’t yet end my days Please help me God, my Lord. I want to shun excess And not succumb to stress Please help me God, my Lord. I’ll try to persevere To make You very dear Please help me God, my Lord. H. He lifts me up with Grace He fills my time and space I love the lord, my God. He beautifies my days And fills my nights with praise I love the Lord, my God. He does reward my strife With paradise in life I love the Lord, my God. Love for God (B. A. Orchard) I submit to Thy will, 0 God! Obedient to Thy law, Praying daily for Thy grace To love Thee more and more.