The above picture is produced on the computer as a New Year card for 2003. Its theme is integration. Integration is a goal to be sought in Sufism, on many levels - and a gift to be gratefully treasured. Below is a short article exploring it in a little more depth.
The world is in a sorry and sad state as we pass from the festivities of the holidays (at least in some countries) to the hard realities of our working and daily lives. We find divisions and strife - between continents, between countries, between cultures, and between different ethnic or racial groups. There is separation and conflict between the rich and the poor, between the powerful and the powerless, between religions, between ideologies, between classes, between families and even between members of the same family or group. Perhaps it was 'ever thus' or perhaps it is, as it appears, even more dire and dreadful than ever before.
What is certainly true is that what applies to continents, and countries, and groups, and families, also applies within the individual's own self. So many people feel torn and divided within, they are not at peace with themselves or with their surroundings. They feel anxiety, stress and strain. They are in a state of war within themselves.
At every turn it seems they must face difficult decisions - they want inward peace but they want the conveniences and toys of the modern market place. They want happiness - but also the excitement of a hectic world and busy life. They want traditional values - but they also want modern 'freedoms'. They want an ordered society, but they also want to be free to do what they want regardless of others.
Integration implies something of a very different nature. It implies the reconciliation of opposing elements - not by taking one in favour of another, or by fusing all the elements into one mixture, but by bringing all the different threads into a single harmonious or integrated whole that does not exclude the independent uniqueness of its elements. As a rope contains many separate strands which nevertheless work together without losing their identity.
It may surprise you to know that Shah Wali Ullah of Delhi, one of the greatest Sufi saints and thinkers of his own, or any time, recognised that, even at the astonishing heights of spiritual development that he reached, there still remained choices between diverging tendencies of the soul to be made. He wanted to reach such a spiritual situation that those divergent tendencies were reconciled - a situation for which I use the word integration.
In traditional thinking you may know that there is a process for resolving theoretically conflict between opposites - in philosophy it is called 'dialectics' - but a short reflection will enable you to see it is a common experience. It means that the difference between two opposites are resolved by transcending them both - however this transcendence then forms a new entity which by the nature of things is then found to have its own opposite. The process is then repeated again and again. Each time transcending opposites creates a new set of opposites.
It appears that there is no end to this process, and it is in itself a valuable thing to enable the mind to move ever upwards in its search for ever higher levels of understanding. The period prior to finding the new level is often fraught with confusion of mind and doubt so perseverance is required.
Shah Saheb passed well beyond the thinking or the spiritual capacity of all but a very, very, few. What he himself sought was the goal of integrating 'divergent ' tendencies of the soul in such a way that a new dichotomy was not the result.
If you want to understand this at the level of Shah Wali Ullah then I recommend his wonderful little work which has been translated as 'The Sacred Knowledge' .
If it is the case for him that he experienced two distinct tendencies of the soul to pull in diverging directions then it is only natural that we find an underlying tension between alternatives or opposites affecting us at every level of our thinking and our life experience. One way we can deal with this at a practical level is to recognise and to accept this dialectic process as an inevitable state of affairs, and to find detachment within ourselves by recognising the contradictory forces and ever rising above them.
Good managers (whether they be housewives or business executives) will understand this - it means recognising that all situations have a dynamic - a number of competing but interrelated factors. Decisions must be made on the basis of what emerges from these factors as the best option. The good manager does not identify with one set of factors but rises above them to observe how they interact one upon another. The quality of the emerging decision depending, apparently, on the relative value the individual accords to each factor.
Thus a person who values moral factors more than political or financial expediency will make a different decision from one who does not give genuine emphasis to moral values. In both cases however the resulting decision will change the balance of factors and create a new dynamic which will again require resolution and decision.
Integration, although it has a linguistic opposite, actually implies finding a way of arranging divergent tendencies together so that the effect is to allow the coexistence of opposing tendencies without transcending them (and thus creating a new set of divergent forces).
At the level of the individual's spiritual development this implies finding a correct relationship between the aspiration towards a process of fusion or unification, and the legitimate separate rights, responsibilities and needs of the intellect, heart, and bodily souls of which a man is constituted.
This is achieved In the case of the one who is 'integrated' by a permanent unification at the core of his being which spreads throughout but is enfolded within the layers of his souls.
This integration no longer leaves a dichotomy between the 'saintly way' in which the adept is constantly driven towards seeking the fusion or unification of his souls through one or another of them; and the alternative deep rooted desire to follow the 'prophetic route' suspending his desire for unification in favour of conveying the divine inspiration to change society for it's own benefit.
At another level it resolves the dichotomy between 'spiritual intoxication' and 'sobriety' often met in Sufi literature. Effectively it allows 'sobriety' and 'intoxication' to coexist successfully.
To restate it slightly differently: what integration achieves is the illumination of all the functions of the separate souls - which allows the individual to act upon society - whilst fulfilling the need for unification otherwise achieved through the fusing of the souls initiated by the most dominant of them.
If you are not familiar enough with spiritual realities to grasp this fully then simply try to digest it in a general sense and allow it to work on you. We do not need to know all the ingredients or secrets of the chef to benefit from a good meal. I hope to provide a supplementary article later to meet the requirements of those who may wish to understand spiritual integration in more depth and detail.
In the social, domestic, religious, and spiritual life of the community the implication is that the spiritual qualities that inspire our society must be placed at the core of that community, and the religious, moral, social,practical, industrial, and financial or political spheres should be wrapped layer by layer around them, so to speak. The teachings of Lord Jesus, of the holy prophet Mohammed Mustafa, and indeed the known (and probably the unknown) prophets tend to this. So that the spirituality of the community, its focus on the eternal unity of God, on pure love, and on light, may be diffused throughout these other layers radiating outward from the inner core. "God is the light of the heavens and the earth. And the likeness of His light is as a niche wherein is a lamp"
Thus religion has its particular layer that incorporates different religious communities and practices within it. So does science and its many manifestations. The practical needs, such as acquiring a means of living, have their own field of influence. The moral, legal, financial and ethical layers also function within their own parameters. The family or other social relationships equally function within the layers appropriate to them. And so on - layer after layer surrounding the illuminating and unifying core that pervades their legitimate domains. It simply infuses them with a unifying spirit that permeates through them in such a way that their contradictions and conflicts tends to dissolve without affecting their independent functions, roles and values. Thus, rather than a specific religious interpretation or set of beliefs or practices, important as these are for their followers, it is the ever expanding essence, which can be called spiritual love, or truth, or beauty, or light, or unity, that emanates from its core, that radiates through the many layers of society. It resolves difficulties and conflicts, removes anxiety and fear, and allows man and society to become what they were meant to become, integrated.
The role of the integrated Sufi within society is thus simply to be what he is, a light within it and enwrapped by it - and by this means are effected such changes as it requires. The extra-social, or extra-religious, or ascetic practices that he uses are for his own satisfaction or benefit, or as an example to encourage other seekers, or for some other purpose which he deems significant to him personally. Thus he can drink as much of the divine inspiration as the Lord pours onto him, ('Am I not your Lord?'- 'Yea!'). This is possible since through him it is diffused to the benefit of his own society (whilst simultaneously satisfying his spiritual need for unification) - and that is something of which it is ever in need, and it can absorb whatever grace it receives.
Thus the truly integrated soul is the servant of the divine command 'Be and it becomes'. He becomes what he is by God's grace, and in his becoming society becomes what it can be.
This implies a more or less permanent awareness on his part, sometimes dim, sometimes powerful and radiant, of his spiritual core. Sometimes his specific consciousness is located in one or the other of his souls that enwrap his core, but an underlying awareness of the light that integrates them ever remains. At other times it radiates effusively throughout him and he becomes consciously aware of its abiding existence.
But God alone knows best.
In the year 2003, may we all benefit from the integrated souls, known and unknown, who are a blessing of God to us.
Jamiluddin Morris Zahuri (Southampton, December 31st 2002).
*This refers to the time outside of time when God created the souls and said to them 'Am I not your Lord' and some souls replied 'Yea' - It is said that the intoxicating effect of Sema on Sufis derives from the awakening of the deeply buried memory of this. (JMZ)