Why are prophets sent? To perfect ethics: 'I was sent to perfect your ethics,' the Prophet (SAW) said. As has been remarked “Not other things, only morality. He doesn't say 'your education, your medicine, your technology.’” Ethics is said to be the First Philosophy by philosophers from Socrates to Levinas. Hikmah may be understood as philosophy if this moral dimension link is kept in view. The end of art also converges with that of ethics.
How are sacred scriptures, wisdom traditions and ethics linked? How many books and commentaries on sacred texts should be read for right knowledge? What is the right path? Can’t we state it in clear terms and stop wrangling over niceties of doctrine? How to know the most important kernel of the Quran and Sunna or of other traditions? Iqbal says that “Qalandar juz do harfi la illa kuch nahi rakhta/tu qaroon huwa hae lugat haayi hijazi ka.” The kalima of Islam, like Upanisadic Great sayings (Mahvakyas) is simple and short. The Prophet (S.A.W) used to answer in one or two sentences the Companions who asked what will ensure their salvation. So what is that kernel, the heart of religion, the essence of wisdom traditions of the world? This is disciplining the desiring self. This is the sum and substance of Sufism as of Plato or other traditional philosophers from China to India to Muslim world. It is the commandment of religion. The following passage sums up essential Ibn ‘Arabî and the central message of all integral traditions as Isa Nuruddin and Abdul Wahid Yaha and other masters of Tradition formulate it. Here is the basis for ethics on which all traditions are united i.e., transcendence of lower self to subsist in the divine self. Here is his formulation of the theory and objective of mystical discipline. Here is also a manifesto for coexistence of traditions or plurality of modes of experiencing or relating to the divine.
Now you must know that if a human being (al-insān) renounces their (own personal) aims, takes a loathing to their animal self (nafs) and instead prefers their Sustainer/Teacher (rabb), then the Real will give (that human being) a form of divine guidance in exchange for the form of their carnal self... so that they walk in garments of Light. And (this form) is the sharī‘a of their prophet and the Message of their messenger. Thus that (human being) receives from their Lord what contains their happiness – and some people see (this divine guidance) in the form of their prophet, while some see it in the form of their (spiritual) state.
Ibn ‘Arabî says in The Kernel of the Kernel: “You will be all when you make nothing of yourself.” This is the golden rule that allows to know all truths and achieve all perfections and absolute certainty. Sheikh Nuruddin has stated this succinctly: “Desire is like the knotted wood of the forest/It cannot be made into planks, beams or into cradles;/He who cut and felled it, /Will burn it into ashes.” The desiring self or soul is worthless hard twisted piece of wood which needs to be burnt by self discipline of sha’riah. It is a dog which doesn’t leave oneself. It is like unchained mad elephant. It is hell. It deserves sword. “Nothing is burnt in the hell except the self will” as mystics say and that explains the Prophetic tradition that if an iota of pride is in one’s heart he can’t enter paradise.
Ibn Arabi’s or Sheikh Nuruddin’s advocacy of sha’riah is often perplexing for those who are committed to syncretism and attribute the same to the Masters. However this rests on a mistaken view of the object of sha’riah. Law is all for disciplining the self which is the royal road to God. What law condemns as sin is essentially an assertion of self will and thus creation of an obstruction in the Path. As Underhill explains in her masterpiece Practical Mysticism:
Seven Deadly Sins of Pride, Anger, Envy, Avarice, Sloth, Gluttony, and Lust. Perhaps you would rather call them–as indeed they are– the seven common forms of egotism. They represent the natural reactions to life of the self centred human consciousness, enslaved by the
”world of multiplicity”; and constitute absolute barriers to its attainment of Reality. So long
as these dispositions govern character we can never see or feel things as they are; but only as they affect ourselves, our family, our party, our business, our church, our empire–the I, the Me, the Mine, in its narrower or wider manifestations.
Underhill further explains why self must be killed:
Only the detached and purified heart can view all things–the irrational cruelty of circumstance, the tortures of war, the apparent injustice of life, the acts and beliefs of enemy and friend–in true proportion; and reckon with calm mind the sum of evil and good. Therefore the mystics tell us perpetually that ”selfhood must be killed” before Reality can be attained. When the I, the Me, and the Mine are dead, the work of the Lord is done,” says Kabir. The substance of that wrongness of act and relation which constitutes ”sin” is the separation of the individual spirit from the whole; the ridiculous megalomania which makes each man the centre of his universe.
So it is disinterestedness, the saint’s and poet’s love of things for their own sakes, the vision of the charitable heart, which is the secret of union with Reality and the condition of all real knowledge.
Mysticism is nothing but self discovery and there is no mystery mongering in this arduous journey that demands strict discipline and going within. Neither ritual nor mere mindless repetitions of certain formulae or mental gymnastics can do the trick for the seeker. God is not sold in the market places, in shrines or in music parties.
Remembrance of God is the royal road to mystical heaven or beatitude Zikri haq par zev dith tales/dev raz henz yi zales kun. (Remember God by joining tongue and palate/Perhaps the King would unveil Himself). Finding God needs perfection of ethical discipline and this is what is lacking in most of the would be travelers on the path. For finding God nothing is needed except attending to the basics, purifying heart, watching breath and keeping watchful eye over the desiring self. The Sheikh denies, in his reply to Bum Sad, that he had any formal guru and says that he only read kalima and took care of five prayers – a point that modern and Salafi critics of Sufism would be delighted to note. He realized the meaning of the fundamental doctrine of faith after sacrificing the self for the Existence, the non-self. “La illah ill llah sahee korum/wahee korum panun pan/wujood travith mojood sorum/hrmokh wuchum panun pan.” (I practized the shahadah/ Burnt myself/Abandoned the self (subject) to realize the Existent/ And everywhere I saw myself.)
We can thus sum up essential or highest common denominator of teachings of prophets, artists or poets, sage-philosophers and saints: Perfect your ethics. The rest – ecstasy, illumination, heaven, beatific vision, God’s rule on earth or Sacred centric world order – would follow. And here we all fall short. And the paradox is that one must never cease to cultivate humility to be true the demands of ethics and who claims to be holier than thou only betrays his/her ethical self.