The Alchemy of Happiness (Homes)/On the Love of God

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The Alchemy of Happiness by Abu Hamid al-Ghazālī, translated by Henry Augustus Homes
On the Love of God

CHAPTER V.


On the Love of God.


O traveller on the way and seeker after the love of God! know that the love of God is a sure and perfect method for the believer to attain the object of his desires. It is a highly exalted station of rest, during the journey of the celestial traveller. It is the consummation of the desires and longings of those who seek divine truth. It is the foundation of the vision of the beauty of the Lord.

The love of God is of the most binding obligation upon every one. It is indeed the spirit of the body, and the light of the eye. The prophet of God declares that the faith of the believer is not complete, unless he love God and his prophet more than all the world besides. The prophet was once asked, what is faith? He replied," It is to love God and his prophet more than wife, children and property." And the prophet was continually in the habit of praying, "O my God! I ask for thy love, I ask that I may love whomsoever loves thee, and that I may perform whatsoever thy love makes incumbent upon me."

On the resurrection day all sects will be addressed by the name of the prophet whom each followed, "O people of Moses! O people of Jesus! O people of Mohammed!" even to all the beloved servants of God, and it will be proclaimed to them, "O Friends and beloved of God, come to the blessed union and society of God! Come to Paradise and partake of the grace of your beloved!" When they hear this proclamation, their hearts will leap out of their places, and they will almost lose their reason. Yahya ben Moa'z says, "It is better to have as much love of God, even if only as much as a grain of mustard seed, than seventy years of devotion and obedience without love." Hassan of Basra says, "Whoever knows God, will certainly love him, and whoever knows the world, will shun it."

O thou who seekest the love of God! know that this love is founded upon two things: one is Beauty, and the other is Beneficence. Beauty acts as a cause to produce love, because the being, the attributes and the works of God possess beauty, and every one loves that which is beautiful. There is a tradition which says "Verily, God is beautiful and he loves beauty." And the prophet says, "Desire to transact your affairs with those who have beautiful countenances." It is on this account that the spirit in man has been created in accordance with the image of beauty, so that whenever it either hears or sees anything beautiful, it may have a propensity towards it, and seek for communion with it.

But you should also know, that beauty is of two kinds, one of which is beauty of form, and the other beauty of moral character. And know, beloved, that the reason why man must love beauty of form in his own species, and has an inclination to admire external beauty, is that God created the spirits of men out of a drop of his own light, as he says. "when I have breathed my spirit into him."[1] And as the spirit has thus been created out of the light of the Lord God, it is so essentially beautiful, that if man were capable of seeing the degree of its beauty, he would become bereft of reason and perhaps would perish from the effects of the impression.

This also should be known, that beauty of form belongs to the spirit, and not to the body. It is a proof that there is nothing agreeable in the body by itself, that when the spirit is separated from the body by death, no one has any inclination afterwards to look upon the face of the dead, but on the contrary his feelings repel him and he turns away from it. And however near a friend or relative the person may be, we have no disposition to approach his side again. The body of man is created of opaque earth, and the spirit by entering into the body is entirely veiled, so that it can neither be seen or known.

It is clear then that the beauty of form possessed by man and the beauty of many other things arise from their being created from the light of the Lord. Consider then, as far as human reason can reach, if such beauty and elegance exist in spirits formed out of one drop of the light of the blessed God, what must be the beauty and splendor of the Lord God himself. Since then the beauty of every beloved object is derived from his light, and that the beauty of every thing that is beautiful is from him, it follows that he who is wise, ought not to permit himself to be deceived by the soul which passes away, and to be attracted to that beauty which is fleeting, but that he should turn to the contemplation of that painter who is full of ail perfection, and of that maker with whom is no change, and earnestly seek after the vision of his beauty with his whole heart. Let him continue day and night with burning and consuming desire in humble prayer, longing after his beauty and after union with him.

I have made a home for thy love in my heart,
While affection for something else hovers around the home.
But it is folly to contract friendship, with aught else than thy beauty,
For there is none to be loved but the eternal Friend.
He who has made thee to be his happiness and refuge,
Has already joined himself to the perfect excellence.

O! seeker of divine love, that which renders man favorably inclined to persons of virtuous character, is the fact that God has created man after his own character; as it has come to us in the tradition that, "verily God created man after his own image." Hence whenever man sees or hears of a quality belonging to his own race and kind, as justice, generosity, forgiveness or patience, he will certainly have a sympathy with that quality and exercise love to its possessor. If we hear for instance that in a certain country there is a just sovereign or a just vizier, we heartily love that king or vizier, and we are always praising his excellence and worth, although there is not the least probability of any advantage accruing to us from his justice. Such a sovereign was Nushirvan, who notwithstanding he was an infidel yet as he was just, the heart of every man is drawn towards him. If again we hear of the knowledge, science, clemency or munificence of any persons, as of the Imam Abu Hanifé, of the Imam Shaféi, of Bayézid of Bistan, or of Junëid of Bagdad, the spirit of a man will be attracted towards them on account of those qualities, he will love them, and he will certainly desire to see them and to be with them. If we hear of a generous man, although he may be in a foreign country, and we have no hope of any advantage from him or of any token of his generosity to ourselves, yet still from necessity we will love him, and whenever his name is mentioned we will invoke blessings upon him and praise him. It is thus with Hatem Tai whose name, though he was an infidel, is upon every tongue, because he was a generous and benevolent man, and all hearts are irresistibly led to love him....

We see then that the love we bear to persons endowed with the virtuous qualities of man, is not bestowed by us for the sake of any fancied advantage from them or any hope of gain, but that on the contrary it is because the spirits of men are created in correspondence with the character of God, and when we see a trace or mark of a quality or affection of a kind like our own, we cannot help being attracted towards it, and must necessarily love it.

In this view of the subject, seeker of the truth, and friend who longs for the bright vision, when you consider what an impulse we have to admire and to love man who is encompassed with so many defects, and whose qualities are subject to decay,—be candid and reflect, that all the attributes of God are perfect, that all his titles are glorious, and that all his works are made in infinite wisdom, and how then can there be a man of such animal affections and propensities as not to love him with all his heart and soul! And how can a person having the appearance of a man, be such a stone, as not to be willing to make a sacrifice of his head and even of his soul, impelled by his absorbing affection for Him?

Separation from thee, would quickly destroy me,
Separation from one's friends is fatal.
If thou shouldst separate from me still would I
Be occupied with thee, ever active Friend,
Who art the object of my desires and my researches;
For thou wilt not turn away from him who loves thee.

You should know also that in the world of spirits, God had ennobled man with beauty and its qualities, and had made him sufficiently acquainted with Himself and His attributes; and the spirits continued for a long time participating in enjoyment in the land of affection, intoxicated and in ecstacy with the cup of love and the wine of celestial union. Afterwards in accordance with divine wisdom and by soverign decree, they fell from that exalted world to this lower world,—from the world of union to the world of separation. In this world of trial, having entered into bodies and become entangled with the things of sense and with worldly occupations, and shut out from the spiritual world, they forgot its intimate friendships and the joys of its society. Being so far distant from that world, the being and character of God became completely veiled from the view of some, and the love and union which had existed in their hearts from all eternity disappeared. None the less however, it is still the case, that when man sees beauty and perfection, the spirit cannot help admiring it. But as the intimacy and friendship which had formerly existed have been clouded over, and the animal impulses, passions and lusts have become predominant, they imagine that the love of pleasure belongs to the delights of religion, and regard it as a necessity of the soul.

The spirits of some men, however, in becoming attached to a body, retained the divine guidance, and the spiritual world in consequence was not concealed from their view, nor did they forget its friendly society or the attributes and qualities of its holy spirits. And as the glory of the infinite being and his attributes was not veiled from their eyes, their desire for the blessed union and longing for the vision of beauty increased daily. In accordance with this, it is related by Soheil Testeri (may God's mercy be upon him!) that "from the moment that the blessed God in the world of spirits and the assembly of holy union asked the spirits "Am I not your Lord?"[2] and they called out in an answer "yes!" that loving answer has never waned or decayed within my soul. When I was only three years old, I used to spend all night in the worship of the Lord God, without giving any slumber to my eyes."

O thou who longest after the love of God! the second cause of love in man which we have mentioned, viz: beneficence, operates through the state of poverty and need in which man has been created. Both in the affairs of the world and in the concerns of religion, man is in want of an infinite variety of things, as God says in his word, "Verily, God is rich, but ye are poor.".[3] Hence a man always loves and honors whatever person enables him to obtain any object of which he stands in need, or who makes it probable that he will obtain it. This will be the case especially, if the same individual has at various times supplied his necessities. He will then be enslaved to him, heart and soul, and whenever his name is mentioned will chant his praise and invoke blessings upon him. The proverb says, "man is a slave to beneficence."

In matters of religion, man has need of helpers of two kinds. The first class are the great expounders of doctrine,[4] who instruct him in religious precepts, and preserve him from the darkness of ignorance and the dangers of doubt. They also make him acquainted with the restrictions of the law, and the regulations and ceremonies of worship. They explain to him what conduct corresponds with rectitude, and what is improper,—what is lawful and what unlawful. The second class of helpers to man are the venerable preachers.[5] It is their province to throw light upon the nature of the way of life, and upon the true condition in which man is placed. They point out the means and methods by which the slave of desire may secure a change of his vicious inclinations, and by which the disordered soul may obtain a pure and virtuous character. They set forth the transitory nature of the world and the shame and sin of being attached to it. They endeavor to persuade men that the design of their entrance into the world is that they may love and know God; and they strive to turn them away from following the world, by giving them ideas of the joys and rest of the other world, and of the delight and preciousness of the vision of the beauty of the Lord, that so they may live as pilgrims to eternity. The whole reason why the apprentice loves his master, and every disciple loves his teacher, and why the wise and excellent love the experienced Sheikh whose lessons they hear, or love the doctors of the law and the saints of olden time is that they have been beneficent, and have supplied their wants.

In matters pertaining to the world, beloved, the necessities of man are of such kinds that there is no occasion for our entering into any details. Do you not realize for instance, through how many hands the food you put into your mouth passes, before it is brought to you, and how many persons have been employed in the service of preparing it for you? And man has, in short, the same kind of need of helpers in his clothing, home, and in all the arts and trades, as has before been mentioned. He needs, also, the winds and rain, the sun and moon, the earth and sky, as we find in the verses of Sheikh Saadi:[6]

The clouds, wind, moon, sun and stars are working ever:
Therefore if a loaf of bread comes into your hands, eat it not without gratitude.

And after we have eaten our food, how many agents we need to digest it, and to convert it into fat, milk and blood. We have before remarked upon the number of servants there are within your body, of which you have no knowledge.

And now, student of the celestial way, and seeker after the love of God, come and consider a little with the eye of reverence and the mind of thoughtfulness. If a person should give you a drachm of silver, or a suit of clothes, or serve you for a single day and conclude some business which concerned you, you would love him as long as you lived, and you would always speak well of him wherever his name was mentioned, although the service he had performed for you, and his act of beneficence was only effected through the will of God and by his power. Be sincere now and say, why should you not love and sacrifice every thing for the sake of God, who created the heavens and the earth, who has taken care of all your affairs long before you desired it of him, who has provided for all your necessities before you bad any notion of them, who gives you so many thousand mercies at every breath, who has not ceased to sustain you, even when you were disobedient to his commandments and rebellious, and who has covered your shame, for the sake of the Friend of God? Ought you not to praise him with your tongue, and love him with your heart? Is it right, overwhelmed as you are with his unfailing mercies and infinite bounties, that you should regard these mercies as coming from other source than God, and that you should thank some other one than Him for these services and favors, and that you should love some other one instead of him?

It is in vain that the eyes watch for any other love than thee.
It is a loss for the eyes to weep for any other friend.
Thou art the true friend! If thou deign to look upon me,
It will be well with me, as if my eyes had never wept.

What shall I do with that life which is not passed in remembrance of thee?
What shall I do with the eye that is not sad with longing after thee?
What shall I do with the heart that is not the home of thy love?
What shall I do with the soul that does not make itself a sacrifice in thy Way?

O inquirer after the love of God ! The love of God exists in every heart, though it lies concealed, just as fire exists in the flint stone, until it is drawn out. If you take the steel of desire and affection into your hands, and with it strike the heart, you obtain fire by the means, and your soul will be filled with light. The malice, deceitfulness, hatred, vileness, envy and strife that are in the heart will be burned up, and it will be freed and purified from sensual perturbations. But if you are careless and do nothing and pass several days without seeking, the heart will again become like fire covered over with ashes, which by remaining a long time unused, will finally be extinguished. So at last the heart, becomes encased with sensual impurities and with the blackness of the passions, and is no longer capable of being enlightened with the light of truth. Our refuge is in God!

O, faithful friend, who art worthy to be loved! know, that the love of God is a standard that leads to victory. Whoever seeks refuge under it, will be a sovereign in two worlds, and lord of a throne at the king's court. This love is a universal solvent to secure happiness. Whoever secures it, is richer than in the possession of both worlds. God is always rich, notwithstanding all the world is provided for through him. The heart which bears no traces of the love of God, is like a dead corpse, which knows nothing of its own spirit. Still there is no person among reasonable beings who will say that he does not love God, or who will not make pretensions to possessing a love for him. But it is like an empty claim, upon which no decision can be based and, unless the witness is a faithful one, no conclusion can be formed. If you should be asked, do you love God, beware and give no answer. For if you say I do not love him, (our refuge is in God), you would make yourself an infidel. And if you say in answer, "I love him," yet you have no signs or tokens of your loving Him.

Now know that there are seven signs of love to God. In whomsoever these marks are found, his pretensions to loving God are to be regarded as well founded.

The first sign of love to God is, not to be afraid of death, and to be always waiting for it. For death unites the friend to his friend,—the seeker to the object which he seeks. As long as attachment to and dependence upon the world cannot be broken off, the traces of love to God cannot be visible. If a person, however, is afraid of death and does not feel a readiness to go into the presence of God, and yet is making every provision for his journey into the other world, it does not follow that he does not possess the love of God. It is, on the contrary, an evidence that he does love God.

It is a second sign of love to God, when a man prefers the love of God to any worldly object, chooses whatsoever 'draws him near to God, and forsakes whatsoever has a tendency to turn him away from God. He desires always to act ill accordance with his will and with his approbation. But it is not an indication that a person is entirely destitute of love to God, because he is not in every circumstance submissive to the holy will of God. For, in some persons love may exist in perfection, while in others it may be in some measure defective. It is said, for example, that during the life of the apostle of God, one of his companions was a wine drinker, and he had oftentimes been punished for it. Another of his companions one day vexed at his conduct, cursed him. The prophet happened to hear him curse him, and knocked for him to come in. When he had come into his presence he said, "Why do you curse that man? He is both a friend of God and of his prophet, and loves them."

The third sign of a man's love to God is that the remembrance of God is always fresh in his heart. He never ceases to meditate upon God. Every man thinks upon and calls to mind an object in proportion to his love to it. If a person's love and affection is perfect he never forgets that object. If a person say, I love both God and a certain worldly object, attention should be paid to see which of them he loves the most. And then that object can be said to rule in his heart which he loves the most. Gradually from day to day, the object which preponderates will efface little by little all affection for the other.

The fourth sign of love to God is, to love and respect the powerful Koran, regarding it as the word of God. A man ought to praise and love the prophets and saints, as the friends of God. He should love all men, saying that they were all created by the will and power of God, Whatever person attains to this point, his feelings of envy and hatred and even his coldness of looks will be quelled and disappear, and he will treat all individuals as his friends.

The fifth sign of love to God is that a man will choose the closet and retirement and have an eagerness for secret prayer. He will long and wait for the night, that the avocations and hindrances of the world maybe banished, that he may be embarrassed by no distractions in his supplications to his incomparable and unique Friend, and that he may be alone in familiar intercourse with God.

It is reported that in the days of the children of Israel, there was a slave who prayed every night from evening until morning, but he went out and performed his morning prayer under a tree. God spoke by inspiration to the one who was the prophet at that time and said, "Go and speak to that slave my servant thus:—You abandon prayer to me in secret and come out here to pray under this tree, for the sake of the pleasure you derive from the music of the birds over your head. But in so doing you mutilate as it were my love and you will not again obtain it perfectly." It is also reported that God once said to David, "O! David, that man is a liar, who pretends to love me and yet goes to bed and sleeps the whole time till morning. For does not a friend desire to see the countenance of his friend, and is he not eager to have intercourse with him? Whoever wishes to see me, will seek me and will find me."

The sixth sign of love to God, is when a man finds the • worship of God to be easy, inviting and delightful. It is related that a certain preacher[7] used to say, "I have served God in worship sixty years with irksomeness and constraint. I afterwards served him yet sixty years more, and my devotions were to me spiritual food; and in the absence or disuse of them, I did not enjoy a moment's peace or quiet of mind."

The seventh sign of love to God is, that a man loves the t sincere friends and obedient servants of God, and regards them all as his friends. He regards all the enemies of God as his enemies and abhors them. And God thus speaks in his eternal word. "His companions are terrible towards the infidels, and tender towards each other."[8] A Sheikh was once asked "who are the friends of the exalted and blessed God?" He replied:" The friends of God are those who are more compassionate to the friends of God themselves, than a father or a mother to their children."

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  1. S. 15:29.
  2. S. 7: 171.
  3. S. 417: 40.
  4. "Ulema"—the learned in the Divine Law. See Note D.
  5. Sheikhs, i. e. elders, who are the preaching class.
  6. These Poetical Extracts were inserted by the Turkish translator.
  7. Sheikh.
  8. S. 48:29.