The reality of the ego

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Source: osmannuritopbas.com

By: Shaykh Osman Nuri Topbas

Man gives directions to his life depending on the exact nature of the battle taking place in his inner dimension between the animal and lordly souls. When the lordly soul wins the battle, man becomes inclined towards good deeds and morality. But when the animal soul takes the control, man becomes inclined towards all kinds of sin and immorality. Man’s responsibility for his actions is based on his preferences and decisions between good and evil deeds. Since man is given a capacity to perform his actions in accordance with his free will, and thereby take his animal soul under control to a certain extent, he is liable for what he does and eligible for both reward and punishment.

1. THE REALITY OF THE NAFS

The Almighty created Adam -upon him blessings and peace-, the father of all human kind, in Paradise and through him, made man the most honored created being. As a result of this heavenly privilege, however, the Almighty willed that mankind toil to deserve an eternal and blissful life in Paradise. As desired by the Almighty’s design in past eternity, Adam -upon him blessings and peace- committed that well-known blunder in paradise, as a result of which he was sent out from Paradise to this world; though paradise remained his original homeland, while this world a land of exile and trial. Man’s subsequent return to Paradise has thus become a matter of reward and merit, for which he has to successfully undergo a variety of tests.

For such reasons, among all creation, the Almighty has given human beings unique characteristics. The Almighty willed to design mankind in accordance with the quality of their praiseworthy and blameworthy deeds, ranging from “the lowest of the low (asfal al-safilin)” to “the highest of the high (a‘la al-‘illiyin).” In other words, being the pearl of all creation, man possesses an inborn capacity towards good and evil; and thus his high or low position among creation depends on the way he uses his will. The success of man in this undertaking is proportional to his personal success in enhancing his good qualities and, at the same time, curbing his evil aspects. The merit of a human being becomes evident in this battle ground where the good and evil features stake conflicting claims over the control of the person.

According to masters of Sufism, the negative and positive inclinations that exist in man have two locale or focal points in “the animal soul” and “the lordly soul”.

The animal soul is a subtle faculty that enables man to stay alive in this world and to keep his biological existence under control. It is also called “life” or “self”.  Since the animal soul keeps running its basic operations in the human body even while a person is asleep, most of the biological functions in the body are involuntarily carried on during sleep. But the lordly soul leaves the body during sleep, to return to it once again the moment a person wakes up. The animal soul sets the body in motion, makes it speak, and enables it to operate all the other basic bodily functions. The animal soul leaves the body by death. Its location is between the brain and the heart, from where it spreads out to the whole body and undertakes its main operations through the circulating blood. This soul is related to “the temporal and created world (alamu’l-khalq)”[1] and constitutes the starting point of human actions. If untrained, this soul may exercise negative influences over a human being.

The lordly soul refers to the human soul which the Almighty had breathed of His spirit. It is this quality that differentiates a human being from the rest of creation. The lordly soul belongs to “the world of unconditioned existence (alamu’l-amr)”[2] and accompanies the human body so that man may perform good deeds. By way of, and thanks to, this soul which the human body dresses, man leads a decent and observant lifestyle in servanthood and obedience. The lordly soul does not perish or disappear with the death of the body; though by death the effect of the lordly soul over the body comes to an end.

Man gives directions to his life depending on the exact nature of the battle taking place in his inner dimension between the animal and lordly souls. When the lordly soul wins the battle, man becomes inclined towards good deeds and morality. But when the animal soul takes the control, man becomes inclined towards all kinds of sin and immorality. Man’s responsibility for his actions is based on his preferences and decisions between good and evil deeds. Since man is given a capacity to perform his actions in accordance with his free will, and thereby take his animal soul under control to a certain extent, he is liable for what he does and eligible for both reward and punishment.

The human ego constitutes one of the biggest obstacles that stand in front of man in this world of tests and trial.  For this reason, in general, we think of the human self, or nafs, as a negative concept. In reality, however, the  self has positive qualities embedded in its essence. To make this essence appear in all its glory, man must instead polish the nafs from all kinds of dirt through spiritual purification.  Man should continually keep himself busy with striving for good causes in this world so that he could reach a blissful life in the world to come, as every man shapes his own eternal life in this world and reaps whatever he sows. Depending on the quality of his deeds, each person will attain a pleasant or an unpleasant life in the Hereafter. In one respect, we might even say that it is man himself who writes his own destiny in this life.

One of the essential conditions of eternal happiness and salvation for man is to mature the lower self or the ego to a proper degree of ripeness, so as to accustom it to offering good deeds. A self that lacks this ripeness is similar to an aggressive and untamed horse, which takes its rider to destruction, rather than to his intended destination. A saddled horse, on the other hand, properly trained and bridled, takes its rider peacefully to the destination, however dangerous the road might be. Likewise, an untamed and uncontrolled self cannot take its possessor to the sublime and celestial aims of life.

In fact, the self, or nafs, functions as a two dimensional vehicle. While it has a potential to elevate man’s value to the peaks of maturity and make him the pearl of all creation, it might also degrade his value to the lowest of the low. The  self, therefore, has a potential to head towards both directions, like a two-edged knife. When properly trained it heads towards the good; though if not, it recklessly heads towards evil.

Every human soul that remains deprived of spiritual guidance and control, functions like a dark curtain of ignorance that covers the surface of realities. But as mentioned above, despite the obstacle of the ego, if a person purifies himself by salvaging his soul from the hands of immoral characteristics, he can reach advanced points even higher than that of angels. For the merit of every end is proportionate to the level of difficulty experienced and of the obstacles overcome for the sake of reaching this end.

Immoral characteristics in the soul interfere with the communication between the Almighty and the servant. Only through the practice of the required spiritual methods can one remain firm against these relentless interferences; and this means an equally relentless struggle against the ego’s lowly temptations and desires. Such a course of action requires a persistent and determinate toil. In this context, the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- says,

اَلْمُجَاهِدُ مَنْ جَاهَدَ نَفْسَهُ

“[The real] struggler (mujahid) is the one who struggles against his own self.” (Tirmidhi, Fadailu’l-Jihad, 2; Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad, VI, 20)

Although the struggle against the lower self, or the ego, does not kill it, it nonetheless takes it under control. In fact, Sufism does not so much aim at utterly destroying the self, as withholding it from transgressing and immunizing it against lowly desires and inclinations. The Sufi way undertakes this operation in accordance with Divine instructions. In this regard, Ghazzali compares man’s position with a rider and says, “The nafs is the spirit’s saddled beast. If a person lets go of the bridles of the nafs and follows its direction, his destruction becomes unavoidable. If he tries to destroy the self (as it is in the case of certain Hindu religions and mystical philosophies), then he is bound to remain behind on the path of reality, without any saddled beast. Better you hold on tight to the bridles of the beast and make use of it.”

Following this course of action in dealing with the self is a requirement, and moreover, an essential part of the prophetic method in human education. The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- did not approve of the attitude of refraining totally from eating, drinking and living a family life for the sake of devoting the entire energy to worship. He repeatedly underlined the fact that such a monastic practice of complete self-isolation was not a part of Islam. The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- hence showed the possibility and methods of accomplishing spiritual progress whilst leading a life in society.

About Akhi Soufyan

If you see goodness from me, then that goodness is from The Creator. You should be thankful to The Creator for all of that. Cause I'm not the architect of that. I'm only the...the recipient. If you see weakness or shortcoming in me it's from my own weakness or shortcoming. And I ask The Creator and the people to forgive me for that. _______________________________ Website eigenaar voor een betere wereld en doel, niet gericht op verdiensten van geld maar goede daden. In de naam van Allah, de Barmhartige. Als je goedheid van mij ziet, dan is dat de goedheid van de Schepper (God). Wees De Schepper dankbaar voor dat. Want ik ben daar niet de architect van, ik ben alleen de ontvanger.

Posted on December 14, 2014, in ARTICLES and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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