Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Stations of the Heart by al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi

Someone went up to a madman who was weeping in the bitterest possible way.

He said: "Why do you cry?"

The madman answered: "I am crying to attract the pity of His heart."

The other told him: "Your words are nonsense, for He has no physical heart."

The madman answered: "It is you who are wrong, for He is the owner of all the hearts which exist. Through the heart you can make your connection with God."

~ A Sufi Tale


A Sufi Work on the Stations of the Heart

Translated by Nicholas Heer


The excerpt translated below is from the beginning of a Sufi work on the stations of the heart. In the original Arabic manuscript the work is attributed to al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi, a ninth century Sufi mystic and author. Some scholars, however, have questioned this attribution. Although the identity of its author may not be certain, the work is nevertheless of considerable interest because of its precise and detailed description of the heart and the elements which compose it.

These elements, or stations in the terminology of the author, are the breast (sadr), the heart proper (qalb), the inner heart (fu’ad) and the subtle or higher intellect (lubb). They are arranged in concentric spheres, the breast being the outermost sphere followed on the inside by the heart, the inner heart and the higher intellect. Within the subtle or higher intellect are yet other stations which, however, are too subtle to be described in words.

Each of these stations of the heart has its own characteristics and functions. Thus the breast (sadr) is the abode or seat of the light of Islam (nu ̄r al-Isl ̄am). It is also the repository for that kind of knowledge (‘ilm) required for the practice of Islam, such as knowledge of the Qur’ ̄an, the Prophetic traditions and the religious law (shar ̄ı‘ah).

The heart proper (qalb), which is within the breast, is the abode of the light of faith (nu ̄r al-im ̄an). Faith is the acceptance by the heart of the truth of God’s revelation. The heart is also the repository of what the author calls valuable or useful knowledge (al-‘ilm al- n ̄afi‘). This is an interior knowledge of reality (al-haqiqah) that can only be granted to one by God. It cannot be learned from books or from a teacher as can the type of knowledge associated with the breast.

The inner heart (fu’ ̄ad) is the abode of the light of gnosis (nu ̄r al-ma‘rifah). It is associated with the vision (ru’yah) of reality. Whereas the heart has mere knowledge of reality, the inner heart actually sees reality.

The intellect (lubb), the innermost sphere of the heart, is the abode of the light of unification (nu ̄r al-tawh ̄ıd). It is the basis of the three outer spheres and is the recipient of God’s grace and bounty.

Each of these four stations of the heart is associated with one of the four spiritual stages of the Sufi path. Thus the breast and the light of Islam within it correspond to the first stage, that of the Muslim. The heart proper and light of faith correspond to the believer (mu’min), the inner heart and the light of gnosis to the gnostic (‘ ̄arif ), and the higher intellect and light of unification to the highest stage, that of the unifier (muwahhid).

The self (nafs), on the other hand, is not a part of the heart but a separate entity in the stomach. It is like a hot smoke and is the source of evil desires and passions. When these passions are not kept in check through spiritual disciplines, they escape from the self and enter into the breast filling it with smoke. The light of faith in the heart is obscured by this smoke and can no longer illuminate the breast. The breast, in turn, being deprived of this illumination, is no longer able to perform its proper functions and becomes subject to the authority of the self. The self, however, is powerless to affect the heart, and the light of faith within it remains firm and constant even when obscured by the dark passions which have entered into the breast.

Through discipline (riy ̄ad. ah), however, the self may be brought under control and made to pass through four stages corresponding to the four stages of the spiritual development of the Sufi. Thus the self which exhorts to evil (al-nafs al-amm ̄arah bi-al-su ̄’) is the yet undisciplined self and is related to the stage of the Muslim. The inspired self (al-nafs al- mulhamah) is somewhat less evil and corresponds to the stage of the believer (mu’min). The blaming self (al-nafs al-laww ̄amah) is the self of the gnostic (‘ ̄arif ), and the peaceful self (al-nafs al-mutma’innah) is that of the unifier (muwahhid).

The main elements of the system can be summarized in the following diagram-table:




Know, may God increase your understanding in religion, that the word “heart” (qalb) is a comprehensive word and necessarily includes [in its meaning] all the interior stations (maq ̄am ̄at al-b ̄atin), for in the interior [of man] there are places that are outside the heart and others that are within it. The word “heart” is similar to the word “eye” (‘ayn), since “eye” includes [in its meaning] that which lies between the two eyelashes, such as the white and black [parts] of the eye, the pupil, and the light (nu ̄r) within the pupil. Each of these parts has a separate nature (hukm) and a meaning (ma‘n ̄a) different from that of the others. Nevertheless, some of them assist some of the others, and the benefits of some are connected with some of the others. Moreover, each one on the outside is the basis of that which follows it on the inside. Thus the subsistence of the light [of the pupil] depends on the subsistence of the other [parts of the eye].

Similarly the word “homestead” (d ̄ar) is a comprehensive word for what is contained within its walls, such as the gate, the corridor, the courtyard in the midst of its buildings, as well as what is within these buildings such as the closet and storeroom. Every place and position in it has its own nature different from that of its neighbor.

Likewise, the word “sanctuary” (haram) is a word which includes the sanctuary sur-rounding Mecca, as well as the city, the mosque, and the Ka‘bah (al-bayt al-‘at ̄ıq); and in each of these places there are stations (man ̄asik) [of the pilgrimage] different from those in the others.

Again, the word “lamp” (qind ̄ıl) is a word which includes the lamp-glass [and the other parts of the lamp]. In the lamp the position of the water is different from that of the wick, and the position of the wick is different from that of the water, since the position of the wick is within the position of the water. Moreover, it is the wick which contains the light, and in the position of the wick there is oil, which has no water in it. Thus the soundness of the lamp depends on the soundness of all of these things, and if one of them is missing, the others become unsound.

Similarly the word “almond” (lawz) is a word which includes the outer shell, which is above the hard shell, and this second shell itself, which is like bone, as well as the nut or kernel (lubb) within this shell, and the oil which is within the kernel.

Know, may God increase your understanding in religion, that this religion possesses guideposts and way stations, that its people are in [various] ranks, and that the people of learning in it are in [various] grades. God said: And we have raised some of them above others in grades. (Quran) He also said: And over every lord of knowledge there is one more knowing. (Quran)

Thus, as a science is more elevated, its position in the heart is more secret, more special, more guarded, more concealed, and more veiled. Nevertheless, among the common people, mention of the word “heart” takes the place of the mention of all of its other stations (maq ̄am ̄at).

The breast, within the heart, is that station (maq ̄am) of the heart that is analogous to the white of the eye in the eye, to the courtyard in the homestead, to [the sanctuary] that surrounds Mecca, to the position of the water in the lamp, and to the upper shell of the almond out of which the almond itself emerges if it dries on the tree.

The breast is the place of entry for evil whispering (wasw ̄as) and afflictions, just as the white of the eye is subject to the affliction of pustules, inflammation of the vein, and all the other illnesses of ophthalmia. In like manner, firewood and refuse are put in the courtyard of the homestead, and all sorts of strangers enter it from time to time. Likewise predatory animals and beasts enter into the open space of the sanctuary (haram), and moths and other [insects] fall into the water of the lamp, for although there is oil above the water, the lowest position [in the lamp] is that of the water. Similarly insects, gnats, and flies crawl into the outer covering of the almond if it splits open until even small vermin enter into it.

That which enters into the breast is seldom felt at the time. The breast is the place of entry of rancor (ghill), passions (shahaw ̄at), desires and wants. At times the breast contracts and at other times it expands. It is also the place in which the self which exhorts to evil (al-nafs al-amm ̄arah bi- al-su ̄’) exerts its authority, for the self has an entry into the breast where it takes charge of things, becomes proud and manifests power on its own. The breast is also the seat of the light of Islam (nu ̄r al-isl ̄am), as well as the place for the retention of knowledge that is heard (al-‘ilm al-masmu ̄‘) and must be learned, such as the legal prescriptions (ahk ̄am) and [Prophetic] traditions (akhb ̄ar) and all that which can be expressed with the tongue, for the first cause of attaining to it is study and listening [to a teacher].

The breast (sadr) was so named because it is the first part (sadr) of the heart and its first station (maq ̄am), just as the sadr of the day is its beginning, or as the courtyard of the homestead is the first place in it. From it emerge tempting desires (was ̄awis al-h.aw ̄a’ij), and distracting thoughts (fikar al-ashgh ̄al) emerge from it into the heart also if they become established over a long period.

The heart proper (qalb) is the second station (maq ̄am). It is within the breast (sadr) and is like the black of the eye within the eye, whereas the breast is like the white. The heart is also like the city of Mecca inside the sanctuary (haram) [which surrounds it], like the place of the wick in the lamp, or the house within the homestead, or the almond inside the outer covering.

The heart is the abode of the light of faith (nu ̄r al- ̄ım ̄an) and the lights of submissiveness (khushu ̄‘), piety (taqw ̄a), love (mah.abbah), contentment (rid. ̄a), certainty (yaq ̄ın), fear (khawf), hope (raj ̄a’), patience (sabr), and satisfaction (qan ̄a‘ah). It is the abode of the principles of knowledge (usu ̄l al-‘ilm), for it is like a spring of water, and the breast is like its pool, and just as the water flows out of the spring into the pool, so also knowledge (‘ilm) emerges from the heart into the breast. Knowledge, however, also enters the breast through [the sense of] hearing. From the heart arise certainty (yaq ̄ın), knowledge (‘ilm), and intention (n ̄ıyah), which then enter into the breast, for the heart is the root and the breast is the branch. And the branch becomes firm only through the root.

The Messenger of God said:  “Deeds are only according to intentions,” and explained that the value of a deed performed by the self increases according to the intention of the heart. Thus a good deed is compounded in value commensurate with the intention. Action pertains to the self; and the authority of the self extends only as far as the breast (sadr) in accord with the intention of the heart and its authority. The heart, however, owing to God’s mercy, is not in the hand of the self, for the heart is the king and the self is [his] kingdom. The Messenger of God said: “The hand is a wing [of an army], the two feet are a postal service, the two eyes are welfare, the two ears are repression, the liver is mercy, the spleen is humor, the two kidneys are cunning and the lung is latitude. Thus if the king is virtuous, his troops are also virtuous, and if the king is corrupt, so also are his troops corrupt.” The Messenger of God thus explained that the heart is a king, and that the breast is to the heart as the field is to the horseman.

He also pointed out that the soundness of the organs [of the body] depends on the soundness of the heart and that their corruption results from the corruption of the heart. The heart is like a wick, and the soundness of the wick [depends on] its light, which, in the case of the heart, is the light of piety and certainty, for if the heart lacked this light it would be as a lamp the light of whose wick has gone out. No act which originates in the self, without [the participation] of the heart, is taken into account in the judgment of the Hereafter (hukm al- ̄akhirah), nor is the doer of such act taken to task should it be an act of disobedience, or rewarded should it be an act of obedience. God said: But He will take you to task for that which your hearts have garnered.

The likeness of the inner heart (fu’ ̄ad), which is the third station within the heart, is as the likeness of the pupil in the black part of the eye, of the Sacred Mosque (al-masjid al-har ̄am) in Mecca, of the closet or storeroom in the house, of the wick in its position in the middle of the lamp, and of the kernel within the almond. This inner heart is the seat of gnosis (ma‘rifah), passing thoughts (khaw ̄atir), and vision (ru’yah). Whenever a man profits, his inner heart (fu’ ̄ad) profits first, then his heart (qalb). The inner heart is in the middle of the heart proper, which, in turn, is in the middle of the breast (sadr), just as the pearl is within the oyster shell.

The subtler intellect (lubb), which is within the inner heart (fu’ ̄ad), is analogous to the light of seeing in the eye, to the light of the lamp in the light’s wick, and to the fat hidden within the kernel of the almond. Each one of these outer entities is a shield and covering for that which follows it on the inside. Each is similar to the others, for they are similar forms working together and close in meaning one to the other, in agreement rather than in conflict; for they are the lights of religion (anw ̄ar al-d ̄ın), and religion is one, even though the ranks (mar ̄atib) of its people are different and varied. The intellect (lubb) is the seat of the light of unification (nu ̄r al-tawh ̄ıd) as well as the light of uniqueness (nu ̄r al-tafr ̄ıd), and this is the most perfect light and the greatest power.

Beyond this there are other subtle stations (maq ̄am ̄at la.t ̄ıfah), noble places, and elegant subtleties. The root of them all, however, is the light of unification (nu ̄r al-tawh ̄ıd), for unification is a mystery (sirr) and gnosis is a bounty (birr). Faith ( ̄ım ̄an) is the preservation of the mystery and the vision of the bounty. Islam is thanksgiving for the bounty and surrendering the heart to the mystery, for unification is a mystery [to which] God guides and directs His servant, for he could not comprehend it with his reason (‘aql) were it not for God’s support and guidance of him.

Gnosis (ma‘rifah) is a bounty which God gives to His servant when He opens for him the door of blessings ( ̄al ̄a’) and favor (na‘m ̄a), beginning without the servant’s being worthy of that and then granting him guidance (hud ̄a) until he believes that this is all from God, granted to him as a grace (minnah) and a favor (ni‘mah) from Him Whom he is unable to thank except by means of His assistance. And this, again, is yet another favor to him from God.

Thus he beholds the bounty (birr) of God and guards His mystery (sirr), for He is the bestower of success. The servant does not comprehend the modality of His lordship (rubu ̄b ̄ıyah). However, he knows that He is one and avoids making Him similar to anything else, or denying His attribute, or attributing to Him a modality, or making Him unjust. This, then, is faith, which beholds God’s bounty and guards His mystery.

Islam, however, is the employment of the self in devotion to God through obedience to Him together with thanksgiving and uprightness and the surrender (tasl ̄ım) of lordship (rubu ̄b ̄ıyah) to Him. It is turning away from the comprehension of the mystery, turning toward servanthood (‘ubu ̄d ̄ıyah) and persevering in that which brings one closer to Him. This is because Islam is practised only through the self, and the self is blind to the perception of the truth (haqq) and the vision (mush ̄ahadah) of it.

Moreover, the self is not obligated to perceive realities (haq ̄a’iq). Do you not observe that the servant of God was commanded to have faith in the heart but was not obligated to comprehend what he believes in with respect to modality (kayf ̄ıyah) His duty is only to follow and to flee from innovation (ibtid ̄a‘). Surrender (tasl ̄ım) alone is sufficient for the self. The ineffable stations (al-maq ̄am ̄at al-masku ̄t ‘anh ̄a), which lie beyond those stations of which [we] have mentioned some, are perceived only by the servant of God who has succeeded, with God’s help, in understanding those stations [which we have] described with these well-known analogies, for God helps His servant and assists him in understanding them. These stations, which are beyond those already mentioned, are like the increased purity of water should it remain [for a period] in jars. By such analogies is the way of the ineffable mystery comprehended.

Source:  The Stations of the Heart. An extract from the translation of Bayān al-Farq bayn al-Ṣadr wa-al-Qalb wa-al-Fu'ād wa-al-Lubb, a Sufi work attributed to al-Ḥakīm al-Tirmidhī. In PDF format. The full translation was published in Three Early Sufi Texts by Nicholas Heer and Kenneth Honerkamp, Louisville: Fons Vitae, 2003. A digital copy, in PDF format, of my 1958 edition of the Arabic text of Bayān al-Farq (بيان الفرق بين الصدر والقلب والفؤاد واللب) can be downloaded here. The 2009 Arabic edition of Yusuf Walid Mar`i can be downloaded from The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan.

~ Related Post at Tech of Heart ~

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Uncovering More Mysteries About Our Physical Heart

We often talk about “following the heart”, but it is only recently that scientists have begun to show that there is literal truth in the cliche

The physical heart remains still, even after so much medical advancements as one of the most enigmatic organ in the body. Human heart thus still baffles scientist, specially with newly uncovered truth about heart and intuition, heart and its mysterious intelligence.

In Islamic Tradition, the Venerable and Blessed Prophet Muhammad himself when spoke of heart, pointed to the physical heart itself when informed about divine consciousness, about purity of self, which traditionally was interpreted as that he was perhaps using physical heart as a parable to mean spiritual heart. But just as where the physical end and non-physical starts is a mystery, similar perhaps there are more mysteries in the physical heart itself than we can imagine.

In an article published in BBC Future titled The mind-bending effects of feeling two hearts published on 5th December 2014 the author David Robson features the story of a man who was fitted with a new heart. As a result his mind changed in unusual ways. Why? The answer reveals a surprising truth about our bodies. I am quoting here from the article where I am underlining some of the findings:

Every second or so, Carlos would feel a small “bump” hitting his tummy. It was the beating of his “second heart”.

The small mechanical pump was meant to relieve the burden of his failing cardiac muscles, but Carlos (not his real name) disliked the sensation. The beat of the machine seemed to replace his pulse, a sensation that warped his body image: as the device throbbed above his navel, Carlos had the eerie feeling that his chest had dropped into the abdomen.

It was a strange, unsettling feeling. But when neuroscientist Agustin Ibanez met Carlos, he suspected even odder effects were to come. By changing the man’s heart, Ibanez thought, the doctors might have also changed their patient’s mind: Carlos would now think, feel and act differently as a result of the implant.

How come? We often talk about “following the heart”, but it is only recently that scientists have begun to show that there is literal truth in the cliche; the heaving lump of muscle contributes to our emotions and the mysterious feelings of “intuition” in a very real way. Everything from your empathy for another person’s pain to the hunch that your spouse is having an affair may originate from subtle signals in your heart and the rest of your body.

“Cranial stuffing”

Ibanez’s work chimes with millennia of speculation about the heart’s role in cognition – which was sometimes thought to supersede the brain’s. Touching the cool, moist grey matter of the cortex, for instance, Aristotle assumed that the brain’s main function was to chill the passions erupting from the heart – which he considered the seat of the soul. For similar reasons, embalmers in ancient Egyptians made sure to leave the heart in the chest, but happily removed the mere “cranial stuffing” from the head.

We now take a more cerebral view of thought, even if the view of the heart as the font of our emotions has lingered; just consider the many metaphors we use to describe feelings today. William James, the founder of modern psychology, helped formalise these ideas in the 19th Century by suggesting that emotions are really a back-and-forth feedback cycle between the body and the brain. According to his theory, the brain might be able to register a threat intellectually – but it is our awareness of the racing heartbeat and sweaty palms that transforms an abstract concept into a visceral emotion.

James’ ideas also raised an important question: if everybody has different bodily awareness, would that shape the emotions they experience? The idea was difficult to test, however, but a hundred years later scientists are now on the case.

The studies first asked subjects to count their heartbeats based solely on the feelings within their chest; they weren’t allowed to put their hand on their heart or actively take their pulse. Try it for yourself, and you’ll see that this kind of “interoception” can be surprisingly difficult; around one in four people miss the mark by about 50%, suggesting they have little to no perception of the movements inside them; only a quarter get 80% accuracy. After testing their cardiac awareness, the researchers then gave the volunteers various cognitive tests.

James, it turned out, was spot on. People with more bodily awareness tend have more intense reactions to emotive pictures and report being more greatly moved by them; they are also better at describing their feelings. Importantly, this sensitivity seems to extend to others’ feelings – they are better at recognising emotions in others’ faces – and they are also quicker to learn to avoid a threat, such as a small electric shock in the lab, perhaps because those more intense bodily feelings saturate their memories, making the aversion more visceral. “It may quickly clue us in to the relative goodness or badness of the objects, choices, or avenues of action that we are facing,” says Daniella Furman at the University of California, Berkeley. In other words, people who are in tune with their bodies have a richer, more vivid emotional life – including both the ups and downs of life. “We may not be able to describe the particular physiological signature of a pleasurable experience, but we would probably recognise the sensations when they occur,” she says.

Emotional barometer

These secret bodily signals may also lie behind our intuition – the indefinable hunches that you have the winning hand in poker, say, according to an elegant study by Barney Dunn at the University of Exeter. The task was simple: the volunteers were asked to choose cards from four decks, and they would win money if it matched the colour of another, upturned card.

The game was rigged so that you were slightly more likely to win from two of the decks, and lose if you picked from the other two. Dunn found that the people who could track their heartbeat with the most accuracy would tend to pick from certain decks, whereas those with poor interoception were more likely to choose at random.

The bodily-aware people weren’t always correct – they were the worst losers as well as the best winners – but the point was that they were more likely to follow their hunches.

So the folklore may be right: people who are in touch with their heart are more likely to be swayed by their instincts – for good or bad. All of which prompted Ibanez to wonder what would happen when you are fitted with an artificial heart? If Carlos experienced substantial changes, it would offer important new evidence that our mind extends well beyond the brain.

And that is exactly what he found. When Carlos tapped out his pulse, for instance, he followed the machine’s rhythms rather than his own heartbeat. The fact that this also changed other perceptions of his body – seeming to expand the size of his chest, for instance – is perhaps to be expected; in some ways, changing the position of the heart was creating a sensation not unlike the famous “rubber hand illusion”. But crucially, it also seemed to have markedly altered certain social and emotional skills. Carlos seemed to lack empathy when he viewed pictures of people having a painful accident, for instance. He also had more general problems with his ability to read other’s motives, and, crucially, intuitive decision making – all of which is in line with the idea that the body rules emotional cognition. “It is a very interesting, very intriguing study,” says Dunn of the findings.

“A lifeless shell”

Sadly, Carlos died from complications during later treatments – but Ibanez now hopes to continue his studies with other patients. He is currently performing tests on people undergoing a full heart transplant to see how it could influence interoception. Damage to the vagal nerve should cut off some of the internal signals sent from the heart to the brain, which might then impact their cognition.

Away from the cardiac clinic, he is also looking at whether a fault in the link between body and brain could lead to strange depersonalisation disorders, in which patients have the eerie feeling that they don’t inhabit their own body. “I feel as though I'm not alive, as though my body is an empty, lifeless shell,” one patient told researchers. “I seem to be walking in a world I recognise but don't feel.” Ibanez has found that they tend to show worse interoception, and brain scans suggest that this results from a breakdown in communication across the anterior insula – a deep fold of the cortex that is, tellingly, implicated in body awareness, emotion perception, empathy, decision making – and the sense of self.

Dunn, who is a clinical psychologist, is more concerned about its relevance to depression. “At the moment therapy is very much in the head – we change what the client thinks and trust that their emotions will follow up,” he says. “But I often hit a wall: they say that they know these things intellectually, but emotionally they can’t feel it.”

Even after therapy has trained more positive thinking, the patient may still struggle to feel joy, for example – a problem that Dunn suspects may come from poor interoception. He gives the example that when you are walking around the park, your body might give you all sorts of pleasant feedback that shows you are relaxed and peaceful. “But depressed clients seem to walk around the park without being engaged with the sensory experience,” he says, “and then they come back and say it was flat and empty”.

Along these lines, Furman has found that people with major depressive disorder (but without other complications like anxiety) struggle to feel their own heart beat; and the poorer their awareness, the less likely they were to report positive experiences in their daily life. And as Dunn’s work on decision making would have suggested, poor body perception also seemed to be linked to measures of indecision – a problem that blights many people with depression. Furman stresses, however, that there may be many different kinds of depression, and poor bodily awareness may only influence some of them.

It’s not clear why some people may have reduced bodily awareness, but Dunn thinks it can be trained, with practice. He is currently looking into the use of mindfulness-based therapy, which encourages people to focus on the sensations in their body. He says the challenge is to try to recognise the feelings, even if they are unpleasant, without reacting to them in a knee-jerk way. You should then be better equipped to use the body as the “emotional barometer” to inform you about your state of mind and decide how to act. Another group has designed a rudimentary computer game that asks you to tap a key with every four heartbeats, and flashes red when you are wrong, offering feedback that should boost body awareness.

So what are you waiting for? You can enjoy a richer, more emotional life; tune into the sensory pleasures of the world, and make better decisions. And all you have to do is listen to your heart.

(Credit: BBC FUTURE)

The Sufis are the expert of the Heart and they have practices that deal with increasing awareness of the heart. There are hardly any other tradition except Islam where the heart is felt as a practice and energy is directed at the heart during spiritual practices such as Zikr or Remembrance. Certain Sufi school has it integrated as part of their regular practice to be deeply aware of the heart and to increase that awareness.

Here are three short videos of one particular Sufi circle. The kind of practice help increase bodily awareness, specially that of breath and heart. The repeated chant you will hear is the Divine Name, al-Hayy or the Ever Living. The sound itself has very powerful effect on the physical heart, lungs and breath.


# References:
* Listening to your heart: interoceptive awareness as a gateway to feeling
* The man who feels two hearts: the different pathways of interoception
* Listening to your heart. How interoception shapes emotion experience and intuitive decision making
* Arabic word for Heart is QALB and comes from the triliteral root of Qaf Lam and Ba which occurs 128 times in the Qur'an. Check here where and in what meaning.

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Thus is how Resurrection will be

In the Name of the Intensely Loving, Ever Loving One


And by the honored Qur'an

But they wonder that there has come to them a warner from among themselves, and the disbelievers say, "This is an amazing thing. When we have died and have become dust, [we will return to life]? That must be a far removed possibility."

We the Divine Authority know what the earth diminishes of them, and with Us is a retaining record. But they denied the truth when it came to them, so they are in a confused condition.

Have they not looked at the heaven above them - how We structured it and adorned it and [how] it has no rifts?

And the earth - We spread it out and cast therein firmly set mountains and made grow therein [something] of every beautiful kind,

Giving insight and a reminder for every servant who turns to the truth.

And We have sent down blessed rain from the sky and made grow thereby gardens and grain from the harvest. And lofty palm trees having fruit arranged in layers - as provision for the servants,

and We have given life thereby
to a dead land.

Thus is how the resurrection will be.

~ The Qur'an 50:1-11

* Word by Word Meaning of the 50th Chapter of the Qur'an - QAF

# Related:


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Friday, March 20, 2015

Alas No one Remembers You Here O Beloved! (Tomar Kotha Hetha Kehoto Bolena) ~ A Translation of Tagore Song

তোমার কথা হেথা কেহ তো বলে না,
করে শুধু মিছে কোলাহল।
সুধাসাগরের তীরেতে বসিয়া
পান করে শুধু হলাহল ॥

আপনি কেটেছে আপনার মূল--
না জানে সাঁতার, নাহি পায় কূল,
স্রোতে যায় ভেসে, ডোবে বুঝি শেষে,
করে দিবানিশি টলোমল ॥

আমি কোথা যাব, কাহারে শুধাব,
নিয়ে যায় সবে টানিয়া।
একেলা আমারে ফেলে যাবে শেষে
অকূল পাথারে আনিয়া।

সুহৃদের তরে চাই চারি ধারে,
আঁখি করিতেছে ছলোছল,
আপনার ভারে মরি যে আপনি
কাঁপিছে হৃদয় হীনবল ॥

তোমার কথা হেথা কেহ তো বলে না,
করে শুধু মিছে কোলাহল।
সুধাসাগরের তীরেতে বসিয়া
পান করে শুধু হলাহল ॥

Alas! No one remembers You here O Beloved!
sitting on the shore of this blissful ocean
they only choose to listen
to the noise of illusion

Alone at this ocean
I know neither how to swim, nor where is shore,
floating aimlessly day and night,
I am almost drowning

To whom can I go? Whom can I ask?
All will abandon me, all begone
leaving me at the end
at this clueless ocean of illusion

Looking for true guide and friend of heart,
I am now weeping
dying from carrying my own baggage,
this weak heart of mine is quivering

Alas! No one Remembers You here O Beloved!
sitting on the shore of this blissful ocean
they only choose to create and listen
to the noise of illusion

~ Tomar Kotha Hetha Keho to Bolena (None Speak About You Here), original by Rabindranath Tagore, English Translation (Noise of Illusion) by Sadiq M. Alam  ~

Every distraction is a veil and every veil is responsible for us being cut off from the Real. In the process of veiling, we first get cut off from our own real self, our heart and soul gets veiled and the joy within dies slowly as we become more and more distracted. Being joyless from within we look for cheap entertainment, intoxication, ten thousand more distractions outside. It goes on and on and feed back into the system. More distractions make us more joyless within, creates more void inside and mindlessly we look to fill that void with more distractions. Its a vicious cycle.

Then eventually we lose the connection with our real self and with the reality. But the biggest price we pay is that we forget the Beloved. Aqeemus Salat (establish prayer) is a call and reminder to re-establish that connection (of heart with the Beloved), that is an antidote against this perpetual culture of distraction.

The reality is such a mysterious mirror that it reflects us back everything so very nakedly. If we forget the Real, we are made to forget our own soul; if we forget the Source Light (Nur), we are made to forget our own light within.

Wala takoonoo kallatheena nasoo Allaha fa ansahum anfusahum...

And be not like those who forgot the Divine, so the Reality made them forget their own souls.

~ The Qur'an 59:19

Wa qeela alyawma nansakum kama naseetum liqaa yawmikum hatha..

And it will be said, "Today the Divine Reality will forget you as you chose to forget the meeting of this appointed Day.."

~ The Qur'an 45:34

On the other side of this reality, if we Remember Him, the Divine remembers us. Is there any news more joyful than that! - that the Beloved remembers you when you remember Him? That is the greatest gospel (announcement of good news). The greatest law / rule / mystery / reality of love.

Fazkuroonee azkurkum

So remember Me; I will remember you.

~ The Qur'an 2:252

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Aiming Happiness & Bliss: The Intersection of Science & Spirituality

Physical or material science try to explain the physical reality using physical or tangible evidences. Thats how the whole paradigm of science is based upon, on observable phenomena and verifiable logic and facts. On the other hand spirituality is often about things that can not be touched, observed with naked eyes or can't even be proven with material evidences. Spirituality has a very big component which deals with the unseen.

Never the less there is something common between the most materialistic person and the most spiritually oriented person and that commonness is to aim for happiness. This is like an universal demand of human mind and heart which is to be happy, to find bliss and happiness.

From a philosophical point of view it can be argued that all that God, the Supreme Architect of reality, wants is that sentient beings be happy. No matter what the believers believe, no matter how much they worship, they add nothing to the Master of the Universe because God already owns it all, He is the Supreme Inheritor. No amount of worship, adoration or the opposite of it, no amount of denial or doubt or indifference can neither add nor substract anything from God's Kingdom. Creation can give back nothing to the Creator, and yet the Merciful and Loving Creator wants happiness for His family, which is humanity and by extension for all sentient beings.

If you think about it you will perhaps come to this realization that every religious tradition aims at providing certain guidelines which if followed can ensure both a collectively sane society as well as sane individuals. So even behind all religious structure, its laws, ethics, guidance, scriptural teachings they all can be summed up to the same goal which is human happiness. Spirituality often teach how being charitable we are less attached and less attachment means less suffering which eventually leads to a happy life. Spirituality provide a number of guidelines for right living and end goal of all of them are less and less suffering, which is just another way of saying more happier life.

If we look at how things are in extremely consumer and materialistic society is that they tend to give constant feedback to people about how they can be more happy with material things. The world of advertisement and marketing use human psychology all the time to tap into the demand for happiness. So the message from an advertisement ends up being, how the latest gadget is the most beautiful device ever and those who have it are the most happy people. The latest car is owned and driven by the most successful people who have the most assuring smile on their face in the commercial and if we own that car, we surely will be happy - at least thats the subtle message.

Now physical science specially the field of medical science fairly recently did uncover some of the mechanism behind what makes people happy. So our physical body and particularly our brain is influenced by many chemicals and scientists have figured out what kind of chemicals are directly linked to happy feeling. For example: Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and Endorphins are the neurotransmitters (or hormones) mostly responsible for our happiness, at least from biochemical correlation point of view.

Here are some brief functionality of these important four neurotransmitters thought to be linked with happiness or our state of being thats related with happiness. 


Dopamine motivates us to take action toward goals, desires, and needs, and gives a surge of reinforcing pleasure when achieving them.


Serotonin flows when you feel significant or important. Loneliness and depression appears when serotonin is absent. Princeton neuroscientist Barry Jacobs explains that most antidepressants focus on the production of serotonin.


Oxytocin creates intimacy, trust, and builds healthy relationships. It’s released by men and women during orgasm, and by mothers during childbirth and breastfeeding. Animals will reject their offspring when the release of oxytocin is blocked.


Endorphins are released in response to pain and stress, and helps to alleviate anxiety and depression. The surging “second wind” and euphoric “runners high” during and after a vigorous run are a result of endorphins. Similar to morphine, it acts as an analgesic and sedative, diminishing our perception of pain.

Now since we now know these, you can easily imagine what will happen next in pharmaceuticals companies. They will come up with drugs that will trigger these happiness hormones. In fact anti-depressant drugs use this science.

So you can say there are two approaches to use this knowledge. One is to artificially creating a situation where these hormones / neurotransmitters are released or activated. This is more a materialistic approach where physical reality is changed using physical or material means alone.

But spirituality has a different approach. Its more likely to be opposite of material approach. Instead of relying on drugs, it relies on the heart and mind. Here are some practical tips how certain spiritual practice or simple techniques to achieve a certain state of mind can actually trigger these happiness hormones naturally, genuinely not artificially.

Be Grateful, its the Best Tool for Happiness

Gratefulness is a state of mind. It doesnt matter how much or how little you have, you can always be grateful. You can always find reasons to be grateful no matter what. Gratefulness is such a central core to many spiritual path. In Islam for example the daily prayer every time begins by saying "Thank you God and I praise you" (yes thats what Alhamdulillah approximately means, from Surah al-Fatiha the opening chapter, recited in every single prescribed prayer by Muslims).

What triggers gratefulness? It is triggered when we reflect and realize significance of our life, significant achievements or gifts in our life. Interestingly the hormone for happiness that most antidepressants focus is serotonin or the product of it.

Reflecting on past significant achievements allows the brain to re-live the experience. What gratitude practices does is that it remind us that we are valued and have much to value in life.

Spiritual life has ever encouraged contemplation and prayer. Contemplation helps reflect on our gifts and to be grateful. Prayer is also a way to channel that gratitude towards the Giver of all. Thus if you need a serotonin boost during a stressful day, take a few moments to reflect on a past achievements and victories, contemplate and give thanks while being genuinely grateful.

Meaning of Life is Important

Spirituality gives meaning to life, not only this life but the hereafter, the eternal life to come. A religious person with lots of faith find it much easier to move through life, specially when time is tough. On the other hand a life devoid of spiritual meaning end up depressed and tragic end can be fatal through suicide. A spiritual life is also filled with actions that have certain goal, certain meanings. Religious observances are meant for that as well.

It is Dopamine that motivates us to take action toward goals, and needs, and gives a surge of reinforcing pleasure when achieving them. We can recreate the effect of Dopamine release by being motivated towards goal and achieving them. When we do act of charity, when we act based on compassion, motivated by our faith and love of God, there are almost no action more motivating on earth than that. Motivation for God or the love of God is the highest motivation and hence highest cause for happiness. One simple tip towards Dopamine triggering effect is to breaking big goals into small ones and being mindful of achieving those small goals. This gives us sense of joy, happiness. The more important those small goals are, the more likely we will be happy.

Faith, Trust and more Faith

Interestingly enough the third neurotrasmitter that is responsible for happiness effect has a lot to do with faith, intimacy and trust. Oxytocin creates intimacy, trust, and builds healthy relationships.

It’s released by men and women during orgasm, and by mothers during childbirth and breastfeeding. Animals will reject their offspring when the release of oxytocin is blocked. Oxytocin increases fidelity; men in monogamous relationships who were given a boost of oxytocin interacted with single women at a greater physical distance then men who weren’t given any oxytocin. The cultivation of oxytocin is essential for creating strong bonds and improved social interactions.

People of faith, with intimate relation with God obviously are more happier people because they tend to have higher level of Oxytocin. People of faith also trust others easily, which is again linked with Oxytocin.

The hormone referred to as the cuddle hormone, a simple way to keep oxytocin flowing is to give someone a hug. Scientists explain that inter-personal touch not only only raises oxytocin, but reduces cardiovascular stress and improves the immune system; rather than just a hand-shake, go in for the hug. Some experts even recommends eight hugs each day.

Spiritual life encourage community and such community thrive on good inter personal relationship where people genuinely trust and have faith on each other. They hug more. 

In Islam in fact giving and exchanging gift is a recommended Sunnah and scientific research now shows that Oxytocin level increase when someone receive gift.

Suffer Consciously, it has rewards

Certain spiritual tradition will explain that this world of duality is composed of opposites. The Islamic Scripture, the Qur'an says that God created everything in pair. Interestingly our mind also works on contrast. We can not distinguish one without its opposite or absence. Our perception develops based on opposite. In fact without the opposite we wouldn't name things. There would be no day if there were no night or opposite of the condition of day.

So the opposite or duality is necessary for this reality to work. Similarly often time it is the opposite condition which helps achieve its counter part. Conscious suffering in spiritual practice is one such things which may seem difficult to enter in our mind simply because at the surface it seems counter intuitive. But here is an easy example. If we are really hungry, the next meal we will eat will taste so much delicious. Now if someone is never hungry, is never craving for food, his or her system is not even ready to in take food, digest food, enjoy food.

A common example of conscious suffering is fasting. Take for example the Muslim fast. From pre-sunrise to post-sunset, that is the time period when during the entire month of Ramadan, every able adult Muslim will observe complete fast. No food, no drinks, no sex. What does it do? It feels great once this gets into the habit. Body feel light, mind is light, surprisingly you feel energetic. Depending on physiological condition and body type, some people may experience otherwise, but those who enjoy fasting, though on the outset it appear a tool for suffering, yet it may produce very positive effect on body and mind. What is the explanation?

Think of Endorphins. Endorphins are released in response to pain and stress, and helps to alleviate anxiety and depression. The euphoric “runners high” during and after a vigorous run are a result of endorphins. Similar to morphine, it acts as an analgesic and sedative, diminishing our perception of pain.

Also aromatherapy release endorphins. In Islam its encouraged to use good fragrance / perfumes. Interestingly the smell of vanilla and lavender has been linked with the production of endorphins.

So spiritual practices that taxes the body and gives it relatively hard-time may end up make you feel happier. As a side effect probably you will also have a very good sleep and thus further reduce your over all stress and that again makes you more happier. "Indeed with hardship is ease" is a Quranic reminder to us.

So yes, scientific knowledge and spiritual wisdom can intersect and help us achieve a more balanced, happier and blissful life. May our capacity to be grateful be increased, may our capacity to have faith be increased, may the meaning of our life be made more meaningful to our heart and may our capacity to be more conscious be increased. May all sentient beings in the universe be happy and blissful.

// Sadiq M. Alam
// Dhaka, Bangladesh

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Miracle is a Release from Bondage


God exists in eternity. The only point where eternity meets time is in the present. "The present is the only time there is." A miracle is a shift in thinking from what we might have done in the past or should be doing in the future, to what we feel free to do right here, right now.

A miracle is a release from internal bondage. Our capacity for brilliance is equal to our capacity to forget the past and forget the future. That's why little children are brilliant. they don't remember the past, and they don't relate to the future.

One of the exercises in the Course Workbook reads, "The past is over. It can touch me not." Forgiving the past is an important step in allowing ourselves the experience of miracles. The only meaning of anything in our past is that it got us here, and should be honored as such. All that is real in our past is the love we gave and the love we received. Everything else is an illusion.

The past is merely a thought we have. It is literally all in our minds. The Courses teaches, "Give the past to Him Who can change your mind about it for you." To surrender the past to the Holy Spirit is to ask that only loving, helpful thoughts about it remain in our minds, and all the rest be let go.

What we are left with then is the present, the only time where miracles happen. We place the past and the future as well into the hands of God. The biblical statement that "time shall be no more' means that we will one day live fully in the present, without obsessing about past or future.

The universe provides us with a clean slate in every moment; God's creation holds nothing against us. Our problem is that we don't believe this. Let us ask forgiveness, not of God who has never condemned us, but of ourselves, for all we think we did and did not do. Let us give ourselves permission to begin again.

~ A Return to Love - Reflections on the Principles of A COURSE IN MIRACLES by Marianne Williamson. pg 70, 71, 72


In a certain Sufi Order this particular Remembrance as a Technology of the Heart is taught. It involves three sacred invocation. First is Astaghfirullah - this is the statement to free ourselves from the bondage of past, from every regret, every mistake, every act of oppression of the past. Astaghfirullah literally means 'I seek forgiveness from Allah'.

Second is MashaAllah - this is the statement to free ourselves from the speculation of future, from every unreal desire, every illusion about future or anticipation of future. MashaAllah literally means 'as Allah Wills', so with this sacred statement we surrender and submit everything in future as the grand Will of the Divine.

Once we are free from the bondage of past and the project of future, we are stabilized to the present moment and when we are stabilized in the present, all we as human beings embodied with the capacity to witness truth and beauty - all we can do is to be in awe, to be a witness. And then finally we say, SubhanaAllah ~ 'Glory be to Allah', Glory be to God, Glory be to the One.

So here they are again, Astaghfirullah, MashaAllah, SubhanaAllah. Thats all. May the utterance of these sacred matra with the correct attunement of mind and heart may we be free with the true freedom and may we be present in the true sense of it. May our life be touched by the Abundant Miracles that is always present.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Annihilation of Falsehood

Someone asked, in the Quran it reads in 17th Chapter, 81th Sign:
"Truth has come, and falsehood has departed. Indeed is falsehood, [by nature], ever bound to depart."

Does that mean all that leave by your side are things of falsehood?

Word by Word, the Revelation as example above reads:

jaa - Has come

al-haqqu - the truth

wa zahaqa - and perished

al-batilu - the falsehood.

inna - indeed

al-batila - the falsehood

kana - is

zahuqan - to perish.

The word BATALA - stands for - to nullify, to become vain, to render in vain, prove to be false, worthless.

The fabric of the reality is multidimensional. This Sign of the Qur'an also has multidimensional meanings.

From the highest vantage point, only God is Real, every thing else related to God is unreal. Can the tiny candle stand a chance in front of a Glowing Star ten thousand times bigger in size and intensity than our known Sun? Everything other than God is thus unreal, becomes annihilated, becomes nullified of its separate existence. Hence from that perspective anything other than Real is indeed vanishing away, always.

Keeping that perspective in mind we can also possibly appreciate that the existence of all things are only temporal, ephemeral, bound to decay and destruction, must annihilate at the end. The only existence they have because the Sustainer (ar-Rabb) is giving sustenance to it, for a limited period of time, and that is the only reason for its existence. Independent of God it has no existence. All things are thus dependent on the Lord of Sustenance, ar-Rabb. All such existence, including human beings with their ten billion made up personalities are bound to perish because they too are unreal in relation to the Real.

Ephemeral existence only exist for a tiny fraction of moments, then they vanish into nothingness, returning to the Source

Now from another perspective, that is our perspective, from the perspective of heaven and earth (this creation), God says in the Qur'an that everything in the creation is created with truth (bil-haqq). Here the pronoun bi or with provide a number of meanings including 'with truth' or also 'with purpose.'

Have you not seen that Allah created the heavens and the earth in truth?
~ Qur'an 14:19

So from Quranic communication, the paradox is, even the creation is created with truth and with purpose. It doesnt just categorically ask us to reject the creation as unreal or as maya or illusion, instead it uses the very term haqq, one of the Name of Allah (al-Haqq) to point to the Immanence of God.

Just as every quality of God is absolute so is the quality of Divine nearness. So from that perspective the Nearness of God to every object also lend them the quality of truth. Thus whatever we see around us reflect the truthfulness of the Grand Truth, al-Haqq.

So from this perspective, it would be not the best adab to say everything that leave from our side are falsehood. Its more proper etiquette to describe them as temporal or momentary than falsehood. There are elements of truth in everything including those who come and leave from our side- its better that we appreciate for what it is.

This is why the Messenger used to supplicated thus: "O Allah show me reality as they truth are."

When any one of us want to use our mind to understand the subtleness of the reality of existence, we have to come to terms with paradoxes. The paradoxes are facets of truth existing simultaneously that apparently seem to be contradictory. A generic example would be a glass half empty, half full. They are true at the same time but appear to be contradictory if taken separately. Paradoxes are contradictory only on the level of the mind, not on the level of heart and higher realms such as level of soul. We need an unified vision to understand the paradoxes. Tawhid is necessary. A continuum between seen world and unseen is possible through Tawhid, through Unity.

Example of such paradoxes are: 

God is Nearmost and yet We are Far from God.

God is Loving and yet God is Severe in Punishment to Purify.

There is Divine Spark within Us (Soul) and yet We are Not God.

Our body will die and yet Soul will not die.

God is Hidden (Batin) and yet God is Manifest (Zahir).

If you look for God, you can't find Him; yet those who found God, found only through seeking.

La ilaha - illa Allah (No god but God).

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