The alchemy of happiness (Al-Ghazali)

Introduction

Kīmīyā-yi Sa’ādat (Persian: کیمیای سعادت English: The Alchemy of Happiness) is a book written by Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī, a Persian theologian, philosopher, and prolific Sunni Muslim author, often regarded as one of the greatest systematic and mystical thinkers in Islam. The Kimiya-yi Sa’ādat was written towards the end of his life just before 499 AH/1105 AD. During the period prior to its writing, the Muslim world was considered to be in a state of political as well as intellectual turmoil. Al-Ghazālī, noted that there were constant disputes over the role of scholastic philosophy and theology, and that Sufis were castigated for their neglect of the ritual obligations of Islam. At the time of its publication, the Kimiya-yi sa’ādat allowed al-Ghazali to greatly reduce tensions between scholars and mystics, and by emphasizing the importance of observing the requirements of Islam, the actions that would lead to salvation, and avoiding sin. The factor that distinguished the Kimiya-yi sa’ādat from other theological works of the time was its mystical emphasis on self-discipline and asceticism.

Structure

The Kimiya-yi Sa’ādat and its subsequent translations begin by quoting some of the Prophet’s advice. Overall, the Kimiya-yi sa’ādat has four main parts of ten chapters each:

  1. Hebādāt (religious duties)
  2. Monjīāt (salvation)
  3. Mu’amalat (human relations aspect of Islam)
  4. Mohlekāt (damnation)

Author

Al-Ghazali (full name أَبُو حَامِدٍ مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ ٱلطُّوسِيُّ ٱلْغَزَالِيُّ or ٱلْغَزَّالِيُّ, Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad aṭ-Ṭūsiyyy al-Ġaz(z)ālīy; Latinized Algazelus or Algazel; c. 1058 – December 19, 1111), known in Persian-speaking countries as Imam Muhammad-i Ghazali (Persian: امام محمد غزالی), was a polymathic Persian, one of the most important and influential philosophers, theologians, jurists, logicians, and mystics of Islam.

Some Muslims consider him a Mujaddid, or a renewer of the faith who, according to prophetic hadith, appears once in a century to restore the faith of the ummah (“the Islamic community”). His works were so acclaimed by his contemporaries that al-Ghazali was given the honorary title of “Proof of Islam” (Hujjat al-Islām).
Al-Ghazali believed that the Islamic spiritual tradition had become moribund and that the spiritual sciences taught by the first generation of Muslims had been forgotten. This belief led him to write his magnum opus entitled Iḥyā’ ‘ulūm ad-dīn (“The Revival of Religious Sciences”). Among his other works we find the Tahāfut al-Falāsifa (“Incoherence of Philosophers”) is a significant landmark in the history of philosophy, as it advances the critique of Aristotelian science developed later in 14th century Europe.

Relevant Quotes

“Know that the key to knowing God Almighty is self-knowledge, as God Almighty said: (We will show them Our signs in the horizons and in themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth). And the Prophet, may God’s prayers and peace be upon him, said: (He who knows himself knows his Lord). Nothing is closer to you than yourself, so if you do not know yourself, how do you know your Lord? If I say: I know myself! You only know the outward body, which is the hand, the leg, the head, and the corpse, and you do not know what is inside you of the matter by which if you are angry you ask for quarrel, and if you desire marriage, and if you are hungry you ask for food, and if you are thirsty you ask for drinking.”

 

“…a man should say to his soul every morning, “God has given the twenty-four treasures; take heed lest thou lose anyone of them, for thou wilt not be able to endure the regret that will follow such loss.”
The 24 hours we have available of another day that is about to begin. Those who are wise and live happily never takes for granted or waste any of the 24 hours they have each day.

“If a man knows not his own soul, which is the nearest thing to him, what is the use of his claiming to know others? It is as if a beggar who has not the wherewithal for a meal should claim to be able to, feed a town.”

“Shame upon you, O soul, for your overweening love of the world! If you do not believe in heaven or hell, at any rate you believe in death, which will snatch from you all worldly delights and cause you to feel the pangs of separation from them, which will be intense just in proportion as you have attached yourself to them.”

“The body, so to speak, is simply the riding-animal of the soul, and perishes while the soul endures. The soul should take care of the body, just as a pilgrim on his way to Mecca takes care of his camel; but if the pilgrim spends his whole time in feeding and adorning his camel, the caravan will leave him behind, and he will perish in the desert.”

 

“Man has been truly termed a “microcosm,” or little world in himself, and the structure of his body should be studied not only by those who wish to become doctors, but by those who wish to attain to a more intimate knowledge of God, just as close study of the niceties and shades of language in a great poem reveals to us more and more of the genius of its author.”

“In truth, the man in this world is extremely weak and contemptible; it is only in the next that he will be of value, if by means of the “alchemy of happiness” he rises from the rank of beasts to that of angels.”

“The deceitful character of the world comes out in the following ways. In the first place, it pretends that it will always remain with you, while, as a matter of fact, it is slipping away from you, moment by moment, and bidding you farewell, like a shadow which seems stationary, but is actually always moving. Again, the world presents itself under the guise of a radiant but immoral sorceress, pretends to be in love with you, fondles you, and then goes off to your enemies, leaving you to die of chagrin and despair. Jesus (upon whom be peace!) saw the world revealed in the form of an ugly old hag. He asked her how many husbands she had possessed; she replied that they were countless. He asked whether they had died or been divorced; she said that she had slain them all. “I marvel,” he said, “at the fools who see, what you have done to others, and still desire you.”

“The Prophet said, “Live with each man according to his habits and disposition,”

“A person in whom the desire for knowledge has disappeared is like one who has lost his appetite for healthy food, or who prefers feeding on clay to eating bread.”

“An important part of our knowledge of God arises from the study and contemplation of our own bodies, which reveal to us the power, wisdom, and love of the Creator. His power, in that from a mere drop He has built up the wonderful frame of man; His wisdom is revealed in its intricacies and the mutual adaptability of its parts; And His love is shown by His not only supplying such organs as are absolutely necessary for existence, as the liver, the heart, and the brain, but those which are not absolutely necessary, as the hand, the foot, the tongue, and the eye. To these He has added, as ornaments, the blackness of the hair, the redness of lips, and the curve of the eyebrows.”

“A saint said, “During one space of thirty years I performed my night-devotions with great difficulty, but during a second space of thirty years they became a delight.” When love to God is complete no joy is equal to the joy of worship.”

“Firstly, there are some who, failing to find God by observation, conclude that there is no God and that this world of wonders made itself, or existed from everlasting. They are like a man who, seeing a beautifully written letter, should suppose that It had written itself without a writer, or had always existed. People in this state of mind are so far gone in error that it is of little use to argue with them. Such are some of the physicists and astronomers to whom we referred above.”

“Some of thy attributes are those of animals, some of devils, and some of angels, and thou hast to find out which of these attributes are accidental and which are essential.”

“The aim of moral discipline is to purify the heart from the rust of passion and resentment, till, like a clear mirror, it reflects the light of God.”

“God said to David, “Be not too intimate with men; for two kinds of persons are excluded from My presence: those who are earnest in seeking reward and slack when they obtain it, and those who prefer their own thoughts to the remembrance of Me. The sign of My displeasure is that I leave such to themselves.”

“The pleasure and happiness of the son of Adam is knowing God Almighty. Know that the happiness, pleasure and comfort of everything are in accordance with its nature, and the nature of everything is what it was created for. The pleasure of the eye is in beautiful images, and the pleasure of the ear is in good sounds, as well as the rest of the prey in this characteristic. And the pleasure of the heart, especially the prey knowing this characteristic. The pleasure of the heart is specific to knowing God Almighty, because it was created for it.”

“People only see the outward, while God sees both the outer and the inner man. He who really believes this will have both his outer and inner being well disciplined. If he disbelieve it, he is an infidel, and if, while believing it he acts contrary to that belief, is guilty.”

“Everything that the son of Adam did not know, if he knew him, he rejoiced in it, is like a game of chess. Likewise, if he falls into the knowledge of God, glory be to Him, and rejoices in it, and is not patient with watching; Because the sweetness of the heart is knowledge. The greater the knowledge, the greater the pleasure. Therefore, if a person knew the minister, he would be happy, and if he knew the king, he would be more happy.”

 

“All the pleasures of the worldly desires are related to the soul, and they are nullified by death. The pleasure of knowing God is related to the heart, so it is not nullified by death. Because the heart does not perish by death, but rather its pleasure is greater, and its light is greater. Because he came out of the darkness into the light.”

 

“If you know this glory, honor, perfection, beauty and majesty, after you know the essence of the heart that it is a dear essence, it has been given to you, and after that it is hidden from you… If you do not seek it, neglect it, and neglect it, that will be a great regret for you on the Day of Resurrection; So strive to seek it, and leave all the work of the world and every honor that does not appear in this world, for in the Hereafter it is joy without grief, survival without perishment, power without disability, knowledge without ignorance, and great beauty and majesty.”

 

“Abdullah Ibn Dinar relates, “Once I was walking with the Caliph Omar near Mecca when we met a shepherd’s slave-boy driving his flock. Omar said to him, “Sell me a sheep.” The boy answered, “They are not mine, but my master’s.” Then, to try him, Omar said, “Well, you can tell him that a wolf carried one off, and he will know nothing about it.” “No, he won’t,” said the boy, “but God will.” Omar then wept, and, sending for the boy’s master, purchased him and set him free, exclaiming, “For this saying thou art free in this world and shalt be free in the next.”

 

“Another dangerous property of worldly things is that they at first appear as mere trifles, but each of these so-called “trifles” branches out into countless ramifications until they swallow up the whole of a man’s time and energy. Jesus (on whom be peace!) said, “The lover of the world is like a man drinking sea-water; the more he drinks, the more thirsty he gets, till at last he perishes with thirst unquenched.”

 

“Death is a bridge which unites friend to friend,” and “The world is a paradise for infidels, but a prison for the faithful.”

 

“Love is the seed of happiness, and love to God is fostered and developed by worship.”

 

“Man in this world resembles the guest who was invited to partake of the hospitality of a rich man. In token of respect, the servants set before him silver washing-basins, vessels of costly stones, perfumes of musk and amber with chafing dishes. The poor guest is overjoyed at the sight of these things, thinking that they have been made his own property, and belays hold of them with the intention of retaining them. The next day, when he is upon the point of departure, they are all taken from him by force, and the measure of his disappointment and regret is clear to every person of discrimination. Seeing that this world is itself a mansion built for travellers, by the road over which they are to pass, that they may make a halt, and lay in provisions preparatory to leaving it again, he is a wise guest who does not lay bis hand upon other things than his necessary provisions, lest on the morrow when about to move on, they take them out of his hands, and he expose himself to regret and sorrow.

 

“Strive to know your origin; So that you know the way to the Divine Presence, and you reach the witnessing of majesty and beauty, and rid yourself of the bondage of lust and anger”

 

Ibrahim Ben Adham, in his prayers, said, “O God! In my eyes heaven itself is less than a gnat in comparison with the love of Thee and the joy of Thy remembrance which thou hast granted me.”

 

“Knowing the soul is very difficult; Because there is no way in religion to know it; Because there is no need in religion to know it; Because religion is striving, and knowledge is the sign of guidance.”

“And the senses are his spies. Each one entrusted with a world from the worlds brings him the conditions of the worlds. The power of imagination in the front of the brain is like a captain who collects news of spies with him, and the power of memorization in the middle of the brain is like the owner of a map who collects patches from the captain’s hand and keeps them until he presents them to the mind. If this news reaches the minister, he sees the kingdom’s conditions accordingly. If you see one of them disobeying you, such as lust and anger, then you should watch, and do not intend to kill them; Because the kingdom does not settle without them. If you do that, you will be happy, and you will fulfill the right of grace, and you will be required to take the khula on time, otherwise you will be wretched, and you will have to suffer and be punished.”

 

“The saints have said, “Even suppose God, should forgive thee, after a wasted life, thou wilt not attain to the ranks of the righteous and must deplore thy loss; therefore keep a strict, watch over thy tongue, thine eye, and each of thy seven members, for each of these is, as it, were, a possible gate to hell. Say to thy flesh, ‘If thou art rebellious, verily I will punish thee.”

 

“When Zuleikha tempted Joseph she cast a cloth over the face of the idol she used to worship. Joseph said to her, “O Zuleikha, thou art ashamed before a block of stone, and should I not be ashamed before Him who created the seven heavens and the earth?”
She is allegedly the wife of Potiphar, a minor character in the Bible and the Quran, the captain of Pharaoh’s guards at the time of Jacob and his twelve sons. According to the Book of Genesis, she falsely accused Joseph of attempted rape after he refused her sexual advances, imprisoning him. She is given no name in Genesis, but in later medieval Jewish sources and in Islamic tradition, she is identified as Zuleikha (Hebrew: זוליכה; Arabic: زُلَيْخَا, romanized: zulayḵā)

 

“God’s greatness immeasurably transcends our cognitive faculties, and that we can only form a very dim and imperfect idea of it.”

 

“But if passion and resentment master reason, the ruin of the soul infallibly ensues.”

 

“The highest function of the soul of man is the perception of truth; in this accordingly it finds its special delight.”

 

 

“The reason of the human spirit seeking to return to that upper world is that its origin is from thence, and that it is of angelic nature.”

 

“Thus he who slandered will see himself in the guise of a cannibal eating his dead brother’s flesh, and he who envied as one who cast stones against a wall, which stones, rebounding, put out the eyes of his own children.”

 

“The Prophet said, “He who seeks a wife for the sake of her beauty or wealth will lose both.”

 

 

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