Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim
The truth of our individual existence is that we don’t exist as individuals. We are constituted by that which is not us. Every human being alive, in fact, you as you sit there right now are a collection of elements and energies and forces that have colluded and collided from various parts of the universe to make who you are now. To think that you exist somehow separately from and apart from and contra-distinct to the rest of existence is an illusion. To experience that you exist separately from the rest of existence is an illusion.
So, the question is, how is it that we experience ourselves as existing as separate beings from the rest of existence, and thereby suffer the consequences and the horror which is the necessary implication of existing as a separate creature? The universe that you are in is vast beyond description. If you experience that you exist as a deeply connected part of it you can have no more fear of the universe than what your little finger can have fear of you, because your little finger is part of you. But as soon as you experience that you exist separately from the universe, as opposite to the universe, that the other is on the other side of a deep gulf, separate self from other, then the problem that you are confronted with is a universe which is breathtakingly vast and you in the face of this thing are indescribably tiny and therefore under threat. So the root of all horror is the illusion that you exist as separate from the rest of the world; that the other and the self are disconnected; that the other is always on the other side of experience and that there is an unbridgeable gulf between self and other.
To experience that you exist separately from the rest of existence is an illusion.
This Path is a path which concerns itself with the escape from this horror. The escape from this horror is the escape from existing as a being that stands out, that is somehow separate from the rest of existence. This illusion that you exist separately from the rest of existence is based on a fundamental perversion of the essence of who we are; our attention, our wakefulness, our consciousness. You see, consciousness has been designed for other than you. Your attention has been designed for other than you. The part of your body that best symbolizes attention or consciousness is your eyes. Your eyes are designed to look at other. Every zombie movie in the world has the eyes of the zombie rolling inwards. In other words, the use of attention to get a view of self is fundamentally perverse.
So this idea that the self is significant, the self is worthy of attention, creates this darkness you see, because while your attention is orientated to other it is acting on the basis of its design; self and other are connected. And you notice with any compassionate conversation, in any compassionate conversation, where you are deeply listening to someone to the point where you kind of forget yourself being present – you feel that person’s life, you feel connected with that person’s life. As soon as you genuinely and sincerely give attention to anything in the situation you are in, it is almost as if you experience that being from the inside, you are connecting with it. So, every time you use your attention properly, you dedicate your attention to other-than-you, unconditionally and with compassion, you escape the prison of your individual existence, of existing as an individual. You literally transcend the gulf between self and other. You find yourself in the other. You find yourself there. It is like you are looking at an incredible sunset, that is truly breathtaking and truly enawing. There comes a point where you almost can’t work out whether the sunset and the awe are separate or the same. The experience of awe on the inside of your being and the sunset on the outside – are like one thing – not separate.
..consciousness has been designed for other than you.
So, this perversion of attention which makes ourselves significant, where the self makes the self significant, it is that which creates the darkness that you exist as a separate individual.
In all of the inner traditions of the world, existence, like the Absolute, ALLAH, is described as the sun. The ruh, the soul, is described as the moon, the symbolism of the moon. Now, it is the nature of the moon to reflect the light of the sun. But, in order to reflect the light of the sun the moon has to be orientated towards the sun. If the moon makes itself the point, if it orientates towards itself, that becomes a fundamental perversion that creates darkness. So, the Path that we are on is a path which is concerned with escaping the illusion of our own significance, because the self isn’t designed to be significant. The self’s nature is not significant. The self’s nature is to grant significance to the other, to apprehend the significance of the other, not to see itself but to see the other. Not to serve self but to serve other. So, the Path is a path of incrementally escaping our illusion of significance. The self cannot own significance. It is the same truth that the self cannot own power. Both power and significance are perennially and perpetually the property of other than self.
The self’s nature is not significant.
So, how do we escape this illusion of our own significance? We find the roots of competitiveness in ourselves and we root them out, element by element. As soon as you feel a sense of pique and annoyance because someone hasn’t recognized you for who you are, then understand this is an opportunity for work! So, you have a PhD and someone refers to you as Mr So-and-so rather than Dr So-and-so. And you feel affronted. “Do you know who I am?” As soon as you find that, there are always two ways of dealing with the issue – the one is to try and put them in their place and the other one is to suddenly have your “alert” sign on – “Ah! Isn’t that interesting! I feel affronted by this. I feel affronted because I’m not being granted the significance which is my due!” In other words, you are trying to claim your significance, to confirm your significance over other. When you find that, be honest with yourself that it is there. Wish to put yourself in the same position when the same absolutely gets given to you, so that you transcend it. Not avoid them or try and put them in their place.
..this annoyance that we all suffer from is an irresolvable itch..
So, the man is deeply affronted by being referred to as the driver! Now this is interesting useful material because from one point of view everyone is a driver. I drive, Fred drives, Sue drives. Everybody drives. So, at some point in their lives everybody drives. So why should you be affronted by this? Isn’t that interesting material? Another person gets annoyed when he gets mistaken to be a servant or a secretary. Or a woman gets affronted – “I’m an office manager. I’m not a secretary.” After all, aren’t we all secretaries? You know that we all spend at least a part of our lives trying to order the lives of others. So this, this annoyance that we all suffer from is an irresolvable itch because when you try and scratch this itch by having your significance affirmed, the problem is that the universe, ALLAH, has designed the universe in such a way where the thing that you want is exactly the thing that is not going to happen and particularly is this true for significance.
People find people who claim significance enormously irritating and laughable. The most offensive thing – and I don’t know if it is just my prejudice – but the most offensive thing for me is the man who preens. In Pakistan you experience this often when you go into a public rest room. There’s a young man preening and you think, “How have you been brought up? How is it possible that you can shamelessly make yourself the object of beautification – in public! Aren’t you ashamed?” This is an offensive thing. You see, the only reason why you make yourself acceptable is that it’s about other-than-you. It’s not because you are so beautiful.
..the only reason why you make yourself acceptable is that it’s about other-than-you.
The struggle with our own significance, this deep competitiveness we are cursed with as human beings is the thing we need to wrestle with till the day we breathe our last. I’ve yet to meet a person in all of the exposure to people that I’ve had, who has actually cracked this code fundamentally. There’s always a little piece of it under the stone. There’s always a little slice of this adder that seems to rejuvenate itself, even if it’s head is crushed, because, that is our nature. Our nature is forgetful. He has made us forgetful. Forgetful means inattentive. Inattentive means you give attention to self, because attentiveness is supposed to be for other-than-self. When you say – “Remember ALLAH” – and we are supposed to remember Allah standing, sitting and lying down – there is Allah – His Face is wherever you turn in the moment you are in. Allah is the totality of the other in any moment that you are in. Allah is anything other-than-you. And that is the thing that is really being remembered, the thing that is really worthy of attention and significance – not yourself.
May Allah grant us success in this Path.
May Allah grant us nearness to Him.
May Allah grant us annihilation in Him.
May Allah grant us death before we die.
This discourse was given by Shaykh Ebrahim after a dhikr session on the 17th of April, 2010.