One can describe human endeavour and human effort from the point of view of avoiding suffering and pursuing contentment. I’d like to examine the first this evening – this escape from suffering. It’s imperative that we understand that most of the things that people do under the assumption that this will decrease or alleviate this suffering, actually have the opposite effect. So you see a young man starting off in a career and if one were to a have mind video recorder that would play-off the film that was running in his mind of his future it would look something like the following: within the next ten years I’m going to make lots of money. I’ll have a beautiful wife. I’ll have a big car and I’ll be happy and I won’t suffer.
..suffering is about things that penetrate.
Why do we pursue privilege? Why do we pursue wealth? It is because we assume that the wealthy and the privileged don’t suffer. This is a key illusion and falsity. I mean, the wealthy and the privileged suffer more. Why should they suffer more? When you examine the root of suffering, if one just looks at a physiological description, a physical description, suffering is about things that penetrate. So I suffer when a thorn goes into my flesh, when a knife cuts my skin, when things come into me, when things break my boundary and penetrate. So too when you suffer psychologically, you suffer inwardly. It is because there’s a sense of you that’s under threat or there’s a piece of you that’s under threat. In other words, it is being penetrated. It feels violated.
Now the privileged and the wealthy have very strongly defined boundaries. In other words the skin of their being, the boundary of their being isn’t permeable. It’s rigid, because they are important. An example of this: There was this famous Indian actor Shahrukh Khan. He was detained and interrogated for two hours in New York this week and this man was incensed, that “I! Did they not know who I was?” I mean if I went there as a naïve South African nobody knew, they could lock me up for three days and nobody would care and I would still feel lucky to get out of their in one piece. I certainly wouldn’t – “Do they know who I was?”! In other words the privileged have this claim to being somebody. You know, you see it so often – Don’t they know who I am? I mean, why do they treat me like this? In other words the more you stand out the more you think you’re secure, the more rigid your boundaries become, the more there is of you to get injured. The more you can be penetrated.
..those who are underprivileged learn the practice of finding joy despite being violated.
The underprivileged, the poor have no illusion about their own significance. They have no idea that they somehow have – I mean, they are used to suffering. They are used to having the boundaries of their own self violated. In other words, those who are underprivileged learn the practice of finding joy despite being violated. If it requires a condition for your happiness, those conditions will be taken away. The privileged assume that they can account for all the outward conditions that will make them happy. The problem is that there are just so many potential things that could make you unhappy. Not all the wealth in the world could cover all the possible things that could make you unhappy.
So while your work is to achieve things in the world, with the assumption – this is where I’m going to stop suffering – you’re busy with a futile exercise because you’ll get those things and you’ll still suffer. You’ll get those things and you’ll suffer more. Why? Because everything that you own in fact owns you. You are not the master of what you own. You are its slave. Your car doesn’t care whether you go old, cough and get sick. But you care that your car gets a scratch. Your car has a greater custodial right over you than what you have over the car. So why do you want one? Everything that you own requires more of you that what you require of it. You are the servant. You are the maintainer.
So Allah Subhana wa Ta’ala has created our lives in perfect inversion, perfect opposites and we stupid people, we pursue that which we think will make us happy and ends us up in misery. So we pursue privilege because we want to be important. We think the privileged don’t suffer, we end-up suffering more. An event that a normal person has to take in their stride, a privileged person is offended and affronted by. We pursue wealth because people think wealth, our goods will somehow protect us and we end up discovering that the goods don’t protect you. You have to protect the goods. You have this image of being a master of all you survey and then suddenly you discover that all you survey is your master, you’re its servant and you have to maintain it.
..happiness lies in being able to cope with not having a full belly.
We are going into the month of Ramadan. It’s a month of doing without. It’s when we practice the skill of doing without, zuhd. We are told in Qur’an that the reason why we fast is so that we can learn restraint and that we can learn to identify with the suffering of the underprivileged, the poor. Maybe Allah Subhana wa Ta’ala’s secret plot is to put us in a situation that we begin to envy the suffering of the underprivileged. How often haven’t you heard people at the end of Ramadan saying, weeping, “Ah! It has come and it has gone. This blessing!” – this blessing of restraint, this blessing of not filling your belly and thinking that happiness is a full belly. This blessing is discovering that happiness lies in being able to cope with not having a full belly.
May Allah Grant us success on the 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 21st August 2009, the Eve of Ramadan.