Praise is due to God, the Giver and Originator of Reason, Ordainer and Institutor of the Transmission. His are the grace and the might; from Him are the power and the strength. There is no God save He, Lord of the Tremendous Throne. And may the peace and blessings of God be upon him in whom are established the signs of guidance, whom He sent with the light by which He guides-and misleads -whom He wills; and upon his noble family and pure companions, until the Day of Judgment.
I shall answer your question, 0 noble friend and intimate companion, concerning the Journey to the Lord of Power (may He be exalted) and the arrival in His presence, and the return, through Him, from Him to His Creation, without separation. Certainly there is nothing in existence except God Most High, His attributes, and His actions. Everything is He, and of Him and from Him and to Him. If He were to be veiled from the world for the blink of an eye, the world would vanish at one stroke; it only remains through His preserving and watching over it. However, His appearance in His light is so intense that it overpowers our perceptions, so that we call His manifestation a veil.
I shall first describe (may Allah grant you success) the nature of the journey to Him, then the procedure of arriving and standing before Him, and what He says to you as you sit on the carpet of His vision. Then the nature of the return from Him to the presence (hadra) of His actions: with Him and to Him. And I shall describe absorption in Him, which is a station less than the station of return.
Know, 0 noble brother, that while the paths are many, the Way of Truth is single. The seekers of the Way of Truth are individuals. So although the Way of Truth is one, the aspects it presents vary with the varying conditions of its seekers; with the balance or imbalance of the seeker's constitution, the persistence or absence of his motivation, the strength or weakness of his spiritual nature, the straightness or deviation of his aspiration, the health or illness of his relation to his goal. Some seekers possess all of the favorable characteristics, while others possess only some. Thus we see that the seeker's constitution, for instance, may be a hindrance, while his spiritual striving may be noble and good. And this principle applies in all cases.
The Realms, although they are many, are all derived from six. The first Realm is [the pre-existence in which we were asked the question] "Am I not your Lord?" Our physical existence has removed us from this Realm. The second Realm is the world we are now in. The third Realm is the Interval through which we travel after the lesser and greater deaths. The fourth Realm is the Resurrection on the awakening earth and the return to the original condition. The fifth Realm is the Garden and the Fire. The sixth Realm is the Sand Dune outside the Garden. And in each of these Realms are places which are Realms within Realms, and the realization of them in their multiplicity is not within human power.
In our situation we only need an explanation of the Realm of this world, which is the place of responsibilty, trial, and works.
Know that since God created human beings and brought them out of nothingness into existence, they have not stopped being travelers. They have no resting place from their journey except in the Garden or the Fire, and each Garden and Fire is in accordance with the measure of its people. Every rational person must know that the journey is based upon toil and the hardships of life, on afflictions and tests and the acceptance of dangers and very great terrors. It is not possible for the traveler to find in this journey unimpaired comfort, security, or bliss.
For waters are variously flavored and weather changes, and the character of the people at every place where one stops differs from their character at the next. The traveler needs to learn what is useful from each situation. He is the companion of each one for a night or an hour, and then departs. How could ease be reasonably expected by someone in this condition?
We have not mentioned this to answer the people fond of comfort in this world, who strive for it and are devoted to the collection of worldly rubble. We do not occupy ourselves with or turn our attention to those engaged in this petty and contemptible activity. But we mention it as counsel to
whoever wishes to hasten the bliss of contemplation in other than its given Realm, and to hasten the state of fana', annihilation, elsewhere than in its native place, and who desires absorption in the Real by means of obliteration from the worlds.
The masters among us are scornful of this [ ambition] because it is a waste of time and a loss of [ true] rank, and associates the Realm with that which is unsuitable to it. For the world is the King's prison, not His house; and whoever seeks the King in His prison, without departing from it entirely, violates the rule of right behavior (adab), and something of great import escapes him. For the time of fana in the Truth is the time of the abandonment of a station higher than the one attained.
Revelation corresponds to the extent and form of knowledge. The knowledge of Him, from Him, that you acquire at the time of your struggle and training you will realize in contemplation later. But what you contemplate of Him will be the form of the knowledge which you established previously. You advance nothing except your transference from knowledge ( 'ilm) to vision ( 'ayn); and the form is one.
[In contemplation] you obtain that which you ought to have left to its proper Realm, and that is the House of the Other World in which there is no labor. So it would be better for you if, at the time of your contemplation, you were engaged in labor outwardly, and at the same time in the reception of
knowledge from God inwardly. You would then increase virtue and beauty in your spiritual nature, which seeks its Lord through knowledge received from Him through works and piety, and also in your personal nature, which seeks its paradise. For the human subtle nature is resurrected in the form of its knowledge, and the bodies are resurrected in the form of their works, either in beauty or in ugliness. So it is until the last breath, when you are separated from the world of obligation and the Realm of ascending paths and progressive development. And only then will you harvest the fruit which you have planted.
If you have understood all of this, then know (may God grant success to us both) that if you want to enter the presence of the Truth and receive from Him without intermediary, and you desire intimacy with Him, this will not be appropriate as long as your heart acknowledges any Lordship other than His.
For you belong to that which exercises its authority over you. Of this there is no doubt. And seclusion from people will become inevitable for you, and preference for retreat (khalwa), over human associations, for the extent of your distance from creation is the extent of your closeness to God outwardly and inwardly.
Your first duty is to search for the knowledge which establishes your ablution and prayer, your fasting and reverence. You are not obliged to seek out more than this. This is the first door of the journey; then work; then moral heedfulness; then asceticism; then trust. And in the first of the states of trust, four miracles befall you. These are signs and evidences of your attainment of the first degree of trust. These signs are crossing the earth, walking on water, traversing the air, and being fed by the universe. And that is the reality within this door. After that, stations and states and miracles and revelations come to you continuously until death.
And for God's sake, do not enter retreat until you know what your station is, and know your strength in respect to the power of imagination. For if your imagination rules you, then there is no road to retreat except by the hand of the shaykh who is discriminating and aware. If your imagination is under control, then enter retreat without fear. Discipline is incumbent upon you before the retreat. Spiritual discipline (riyada) means training of character, abandonment of heedlessness, and endurance of indignities. For if a person begins before he has acquired discipline, he will never become a man, except in a rare case.
When you withdraw from the world, beware of people coming to see you and approaching you, for he who withdraws from the people does not open his door to their visits. Indeed the object of seclusion is the departure from people and their society, and the object of departure from people is not leaving their physical company, but rather that neither your heart nor your ear should be a receptacle for the superfluous words they bring. Your heart will not become clear of the mad ravings of the world except by distance from them. And everyone who "withdraws" in his house and opens the door to people visiting him is a seeker of leadership and esteem, driven from the door of God Most High; and for someone like this, destruction is closer than the shoelace of his shoe. For God's sake, for God's sake, protect yourself from the deceit of the ego in this station, for most of the world is destroyed by it. So shut your door against the world; and thus the door of your house will be between you and your people. And occupy yourself with dhikr, remembrance of God, with whatever son of dhikr you choose. The highest of them is the Greatest Name; it is your saying" Allah, Allah," and nothing beyond "Allah."
Protect yourself from the misfortunes of corrupt imaginings that distract you from remembrance. Be careful of your diet. It is better if your food be nourishing but devoid of animal fat. Beware of satiation and excessive hunger. Keep your constitution in balance, for if dryness is excessive, it leads to corrupt imaginings and long, delirious ravings.
If there should be an influence which alters the constitutions-and that is desirable-distinguish between
angelic and demonic spiritual influences by what you find in yourself when they come to an end. That is, if the influence is angelic, it is followed by coolness and bliss. You will not be aware of any pain; you will not undergo any alteration of form; and the influence leaves knowledge. But if it is
demonic, physical disorientation, pain and distress, bewilderment and vileness ensue; and it leaves mental disorder. Protect yourself, and do not cease repeating the dhikr in your heart, until God drives the demonic influence from it. That is what the situation calls for.
Be sure that you articulate what you intend. Let your covenant at your entry into retreat be that there is nothing like unto God. And to each form that appears to you in retreat and says" I am God," say: "Far exalted be God above that! You are through God. " Remember the form of what you saw. Turn your attention from it and occupy yourself with dhikr continually.
This is one covenant. The second one is that you will not seek from Him in retreat anything other than Himself and that you will not attach your himma, the power of the heart's intention, to anything other than Him. And if everything in the universe should be spread before you, receive it graciously but do not stop there. Persist in your quest, for He is testing you. If you stay with what is offered, He will escape you. But if you attain Him, nothing will escape you.
If you know this, then know that God tests you through what He spreads before you. What He first discloses to you is His gift of command over the material order, as I shall discuss.
It is the unveiling of the sensory world which is hidden from you, so that walls and shadows do not veil you from what people are doing in their houses. However, if God has informed you of anyone's secret, you are obliged to preserve it from exposure. For if you were to expose it and say this one is a fornicator and this one a drunkard and this one a slanderer and this one a thief, you yourself would be the greater sinner and indeed Satan would have entered into you. So act in accordance with the Divine Name aJ-Sattar, the Veiler. And if this person were to come to you, warn him privately about his actions and counsel him to have shame before God and not to transgress God's limits. Turn away from this type of perception as much as possible, and occupy yourself with dhikr.
We shall explain [the means of telling] the difference between sensory and imaginational subtle perception. That is, when you see someone's form or some created action, if you close your eyes and the perception remains with you, it is in your imagination; but if it is hidden from you, then your
consciousness of it is attached to the place in which you saw it. [If it is perception of the latter kind] when you tum your attention away from it and occupy yourself with dhikr, you will move from the sensory to the imaginal level. And there descend upon you abstract intelligible ideas in sensory forms. This descent is difficult, since no one knows what is meant by these forms except a prophet , or whomever God wills among the righteous. So do not concern yourself with this. If you are offered something to drink, choose water.
If there is no water among the offerings, choose milk. And if both of them are presented to you, combine the water and the milk. This also applies to honey: Drink it. Be careful of drinking wine unless it is mixed with rainwater. Refrain from drinking it otherwise, even if it is mixed with the water of
ri vers and springs. Occupy yourself with dbikr until the world of imagination is lifted from you and the world of abstract meanings free of matter is revealed to you.
Occupy yourself with dhikr, remembrance, until the Remembered manifests Himself to you and calling Him to memory is effaced in the actual recollection of Him. However, this [vanishing of dhikr] is the essence not only of contemplation but also of sleep. The way to distinguish between them is that contemplation leaves its evidence and is followed by bliss , whereas sleep leaves nothing and is
followed, on awakeni ng, by remorse and the asking of forgiveness.
Then Almighty God spreads before you the degrees of the kingdom as a test. This is appointed to you as an obligation. First you will discover the secrets of the mineral world. You will become acquainted with the secret of every stone and its particular harmful and beneficial qualities. If you become enamored of this world, it will trap you, and you will be exiled from God. He will strip you of everything you held on to, and you will be lost. But if you let go and occupy yourself with dhikr and take refuge at the side of the Remembered, then He will free you from that mode and unveil the vegetal world.
Every green thing will call out to you its harmful and beneficial qualities. Let your judgment be what it was before. At the time of the unveiling of the mineral world let your nourishment be what increases heat and moisture, and at the unveiling of the vegetal world let it be what balances heat and moisture.
And if you do not stop, He will reveal the animal world to you. [The animals] will greet you and acquaint you with their harmful and beneficial qualities. Every sort of creature will acquaint you with its proclamation of majesty and praise. Pay attention to this: If you become aware of all these worlds as engaged in the same dhikr which occupies you, your perception is imagination, not real. It is your own state which is called up for you in all existent things. But when you witness in them the varieties of their own dhikr, that is sound perception. This ascent is the ascent of dissolution of the order of nature, and the state of contraction (qabJ) will accompany you in these worlds.
Then after this, He reveals to you the infusion of the world of life-force into lives, and what influences this has in every being according to its predisposition, and how the expressions [of faith] are included in this infusion.
And if you do not stop with this, He reveals to you the "surface signs, " You will be admonished with terrors, and many sorts of states will befall you. You will see clearly the apparatus of transformations: how the dense becomes subtle and the subtle dense. And if you do not stop with this, the light of the scattering of sparks will become visible to you, and there will be a need to veil yourself from it. Do not be afraid, and persevere in the dhikr, for if you persevere in the dhikr, disaster will not overcome you.
If you do not stop with this, He reveals to you the light of the ascendant stars and the form of the universal order. And you will see directly the adab, the proper conduct, for entering the Divine Presence and the adab for standing before the Real and the adab for leaving His presence for Creation; and the perpetual contemplation by the different aspects of the Divine Names (al-asma ' aJ-iJahiyya) " the Manifest" and " the Hidden"; and the Perfection of which not everyone becomes aware. For all that passes away from the aspect of the Manifest comes under the aspect of the Hidden. The essence is one. Nothing has passed away.
And after this, you will know the means of receiving divine knowledge from God Most High, and how one must prepare oneself for its reception. So know the proper conduct of receiving and giving, contraction and expansion; and how to protect the heart, which is the place of the arrival of states,
from burning destruction; and that all the ways are circles. There is no straight line. This letter is too brief to deal with matters like these.
And if you do not stop with this, He reveals to you the degrees of speculative sciences, sound integral ideas, and the forms of perplexing questions which confuse understanding. He reveals the difference between supposition and knowledge, the birth of possibilities between the world of spirits and the physical world, the cause of that genesis, the infusion of the Divine Mystery into the domain of His loving concern, the cause of abandoning the world by effort or otherwise and other related matters which require long explanations.
And if you do not stop with all of this, He reveals to you the world of formation and adornment and beauty, what is proper for the intellect to dwell upon from among the holy forms, the vital breathings from beauty of form and harmony, and the overflow of languour and tenderness and mercy in all things characterized by them. And from this level comes the sustenance of poets, while from the one before comes the sustenance of preachers.
And if you do not stop with this, He reveals to you the degrees of the qutb. All that you witnessed before is from the world of the left hand, not from the world of the right hand. And this is the place of the heart. If He manifests this world to you, you will know the reflections, and the endlessness of endlessnesses, and the eternity of eternities, and the order of existences and how being is infused into them. You are given the divine wisdoms and the power to preserve them and integrity to transmit them to the wise, and you are given the power of symbols and a view of the whole, and authority over the veil and the unveiling.
And if you do not stop with this, He reveals to you the world of fever and rage and zeal for truth and falsehood; the foundation of apparent difference in the world, the variation of forms, discord and hatred. And if you do not stop with this, He reveals to you the world of jealousy and the unveiling of the Truth before the more perfect of His faces; sound opinions, true schools, and revealed traditions; and you will see as a knower that God Most High has adorned them, among the holy knowledges, with the most beautiful adornments. And there is nothing that pertains to a station which He reveals to you that does not greet you with honor, reverence, and exaltation; its degree of the Divine Presence is made clear to you, and [each one] loves you in its essence.
And if you do not stop with this, He reveals to you the world of dignity and serenity and firmness; the ruse (makr), the enigmas and the secrets, and other matters of that sort. And if you do not stop with this, He reveals to you the world of bewilderment and helplessness and inability and the treasuries of works; and this is the highest heaven. And if you do not stop with this, He reveals to you the
Gardens: the degrees of their ascending steps, their blending into one another, and how they compare to one another in their pleasure. And you are stopped on the narrow path and brought to the brink of Hell, and look down upon the degrees of its descending steps, how they blend into one another and how they compare to one another in their rigor. He reveals to you the works connected to each of these two abodes.
And if you do not stop with this, He reveals one of the sanctuaries where spirits are absorbed in the Divine Vision. In it they are drunken and bewildered. The power of ecstasy has conquered them, and their state beckons you.
And if you do not stop with this beckoning, a light is revealed in which you do not see anything other than yourself. In it a great rapture and deep transport of love seizes you, and in it you find bliss with God that you have not known before. All that you saw previously becomes small in your eyes, and you sway like a lamp.
And if you do not stop with this, He reveals the [original] forms of the sons of Adam. And veils are lifted. And veils descend. And they have a special praise which upon hearing you recognize, and you are not overcome. You see your form among them, and from it you recognize the moment which you are in.
And if you do not stop with this, He reveals to you the Throne of Mercy (sarir al-rabmaniyya). Everything is upon it. If you regard everything you will see the totality of what you knew in it, and more than this: no world or essence remains that you do not witness there. Search for yourself in everything: If it is appropriate, you will know your destination and place and the limit of your degree, and which Divine Name is your Lord and where your portion of gnosis and sainthood exist-the form of your uniqueness.
And if you do not stop with this, He reveals to you the Pen, the First Intellect, the master and teacher of everything. You examine its tracing and know the message it bears and witness its inversion, and its reception and particularization of the comprehensive [ knowledge] from the angel aJ-Nuni.
And if you do not stop with this, He reveals the Mover of the Pen, the right hand of the Truth.
And if you do not stop with this, you are eradicated, then withdrawn, then effaced, then crushed, then obliterated. When the effects of eradication and what follows are terminated, you are affirmed, then made present, then made to remain, then gathered together, then assigned. And the robes of honor which [your degree] requires are conferred upon you, and they are many.
Then you return to your path and examine all that you saw in different forms until you return to the world of your limited earthly senses. Or [you will hold fast] there where you were absent; and the destination of every seeker depends upon the road which he traveled.