Life with all its weal and woe is the book which we need to learn to correctly read. Nature, the Quran-i-takweeni, is the book of books. Life as experienced in all its hues is what books seek to discuss. Now some lessons are so crucial for us mortals that God bypasses the need of earthly teachers or ink and pen to teach us. God sometimes needs to directly speak to each one of us and he does speak in many ways including suffering. We have suffered; all of us may have stories to tell that can rip apart hearts and minds. But do we know how to read the symbolic message of all kinds of sufferings that are inflicted on us or invited by us. (In one sense all suffering is invited, invited by our own souls for their progress. Even our time of birth and death are chosen by that higher principle in us). Experiences of suffering are like events of a dream which need to be interpreted. Suffering is not only to be endured but interpreted. Eckhart, the great Master who teaches the art of reading the book of suffering comes handy here. Reading him we can well judge and grade ourselves regarding our qualification or degree in the great school of suffering. Willy nilly all of us are schooled in the school of suffering. We learn from the traditionalists critics that the task of a critic to present the best that has been thought or said. Reading great masters is what a critic can recommend. He need not comment. What Arnold called touchstone lines with which to judge other writings I present today such lines from Meister Eckhart without comment. For me the essence of Islamic ideal of surrender to God is conveyed in these lines with such force and lucidity that I wish if we could only remember them and teach them to our children we hardly need any other precept while spending few loaned days on earth. Let us not forget that, as a proverb goes, if God had some other means of perfecting humans he would have used them instead of suffering.
One of Eckhart's stories needs to be recalled whenever our mood is off or feel like complaining for something.
A great teacher once told a story in his preaching about a man who for eight years besought God to show him a man who would make known to him the way of truth. While he was in this state of anxiety there came a voice from God and spake to him: Go in front of the church, and there shalt thou find a man who will make known to thee the way of truth. He went, and found a poor man whose feet were chapped and full of dirt, and all his clothes were hardly worth two pence-halfpenny. He greeted this poor man and said to him, God give thee a good morning. The poor man answered, I never had a bad morning. The other said, God give thee happiness. How answerest thou that? The poor man answered, I was never unhappy. The first then said, God send thee blessedness. How answerest thou that? I was never unblessed, was the answer. Lastly the questioner said, God give thee health! Now enlighten me, for I cannot understand it. And the poor man replied, When thou saidst to me, may God give thee a good morning, I said I never had a bad morning. If I am hungry, I praise God for it; if I am cold, I praise God for it; if I am distressful and despised, I praise God for it; and that is why I never had a bad morning. When thou askedst God to give me happiness, I answered that I had never been unhappy; for what God gives or ordains for me, whether it be His love or suffering, sour or sweet, I take it all from God as being the best, and that is why I was never unhappy. Thou saidst further, May God make thee blessed, and I said, I was never unblessed, for I have given up my will so entirely to God's will, that what God wills, that I also will, and that is why I was never unblessed, because I willed alone God's will. Ah! dear fellow, replied the man; but if God should will to throw thee into hell, what wouldst thou say then? He replied, Throw me into hell! Then I would resist Him. But even if He threw me into hell, I should still have two arms wherewith to embrace Him. One arm is true humility, which I should place under Him, and with the arm of love I should embrace Him. And he concluded, I would rather be in hell and possess God, than in the kingdom of heaven without Him.
A few quotes that emphasize the points made here are in order.
"All that a man bears for God's sake, God makes light and sweet for him." "If all was right with you, your sufferings would no longer be suffering, but love and comfort." "The quickest means to bring us to perfection is suffering…Nothing is sharper than suffering, nothing is sweeter than to have suffered. The surest foundation in which this perfection may rest is humility; whatever here crawls in the deepest abjectness, that the Spirit lifts to the very heights of God, for love brings suffering and suffering brings love."
The Prophet of Islam (S.A.W) said that prophets suffer the most and in decreasing order saints and those below them. The sweetest songs recount the saddest thoughts as has been said. Watching suffering in a tragedy is also a joy. All great heroes have a measure of their suffering. What makes Imam Hussain inimitable? Why do we honour our mothers the most? Because they suffer for us as Bodhisatva does and don't complain. John Donne called suffering God's megaphone and Imam Ghazzali God's lasso. We need no mantra or wazifa if we learn the art and virtue of suffering for God's sake. What makes reading Dostovesky so important? Lessons in the art of suffering. We need no other book if we can let God lacerate and decimate us – our sense of ham haen or separate autonomous self – through suffering. To be truly humble is to be enlightened. How many genuinely humble people you know? How many you can drag on ground or abuse unprovoked or defame and they don't feel the agony of insult? The Man of God can't be insulted because he has no ego that can feel the pain of insult. Do you ever think that the other should have taken a lead in greeting you? Then beware of ego the devil. Remember the secret: God is or is in the other. God alone deserves kibriyayi, real honour.
The concluding Eckhart quote here recalls the prayer of Hazrat Ayub (AS) who said "God I am afflicted with illness and you are the best amongst the merciful."
The man who abides in the will of God wills nothing else than what God is, and what He wills. If he were ill he would not wish to be well. If he really abides in God's will, all pain is to him a joy, all complication, simple: yea, even the pains of hell would be a joy to him. He is free and gone out from himself, and from all that he receives, he must be free. If my eye is to discern colour, it must itself be free from all colour.