by Ustadha Leila Adam
Imam al Ghazzali, may Allah have mercy on him, said: Know that the key to knowing God is to know your own self.
Therefore, says Imam al Ghazzali in “The Alchemy of Happiness”, you must seek out the truth about yourself: What sort of thing are you? Where did you come from? Where are you going? What is the purpose of your creation? What is happiness and where does it lie? What is misery and where does it lie?
The Four Natural Drivers
In the journey of self discovery, it is useful to find out some aspects of what to look for. For example, our nature will have one or more of the following four attributes as a major driving force in it:
- Bestial (pig-like)
- Predatory (dog-like)
A bestial nature will be preoccupied with satisfying the urges of sleeping, eating and copulating, and generally be driven by bodily pleasures. It uses the faculty of appetite to get what it wants.
A predatory nature will be dedicated to freedom of the self to think and do as it pleases. It uses the faculty of anger to get what it wants.
A demonic nature will derive pleasure from deception, treachery, slandering and corruption of truth. It uses the ego to get what it wants.
An angelic or lordly nature enjoys peace and contemplation, and has a sense of yearning for higher states. It uses knowledge to get what it wants.
The bestial quality is good for caring for and strengthening the body so that it is able to do good works, but it must be kept under careful check.
The predatory quality is good for self defence when attacked, but it must not be allowed to drive us to do injustice. The demonic quality will drive a person to think negatively about everything and everyone, valuing only their own self.
The angelic quality is that little voice in the head that suggests doing a valuable act, but one should also beware of the lordly tendency to be too clever and take advantage of others.
The Four Virtues
A person who has allowed their bestial qualities to dominate will be overtaken by greed, gluttony and passions. They will always be chasing their desires. A person who has their bestial qualities in good check will be contented, chaste; and moderate and balanced in behaviour and life habits. This can be termed ‘Temperance’.
A person who has allowed their predatory qualities to dominate will be overtaken by enmity, detesting, slandering and cursing others. They will always be arguing and getting angry at people who disagree with them. A person who has their predatory qualities in good check will be courageous, generous, chivalrous and patient with others. This can be termed ‘Courage’.
A person who has allowed their demonic qualities to dominate will be self-centred, and have a sense of superiority and arrogance over others. They will dislike others and look down on them. A person who has their demonic qualities in good check will be charitable and compassionate, having sincere concern for others. This can be termed ‘Justice’.
A person who has allowed their lordly qualities to dominate will be clever and might use cunning and guile to get what they want. A person who has their lordly qualities in good check will have insight and discernment, and a sense of certainty of what is good and right. This can be termed ‘Wisdom’.
From this understanding come The Four Virtues: Courage, Temperance, Wisdom and Justice. These are four virtues we should try to cultivate in ourselves.
The Heart is Our Kingdom
The heart is the kingdom of the person. We have to protect this kingdom from the ‘vandals’ that will capture and harm it. The heart was created for the Hereafter and its happiness is in knowing God. We get to know God through His Signs (His words and creation). The heart feels joy when it sees the wonder of what God does.
The heart ‘hunts’ for this knowledge of God through the 5 outward senses and the 5 inward mind processes. The body is the vehicle of the heart. It is the only way that the heart can access what it needs. The 5 outward senses are of course: sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. The 5 inward mind processes are: visualising (seeing something in the mind’s eye), cognitive thought and understanding, memory (remembering), recollecting and reusing (dhikr), and reflecting and pondering (tafakkur).
These 10 faculties can be thought of as the ‘armies of the heart’, and should be under its command. If the heart is overtaken with desires, passions or egotism, the armies will be misused. If a person doesn’t strive to develop the Four Virtues, the heart will get ‘captured and imprisoned’ by the base natures. It then has to ‘bow to the idols’ of dogs, pigs or demons.
Diseases of the Heart
If we let our behaviour go unchecked, the cumulative result of repeatedly following our desires, emotions or egos will be the development of diseases in the spiritual heart. Just as the body will get diseases if we don’t eat properly or sleep well or exercise regularly, so the heart will suffer if our behaviour isn’t controlled.
A person who submits to the bestial urges of appetite will manifest diseases of greed, shamelessness, foul behaviour, flattery, envy, rejoicing in other people’s misfortunes, and miserliness.
A person who submits to the predatory urges of anger and emotion will manifest diseases of hastiness, impulsiveness, impurity, lawlessness, loudness, boasting and flaunting themselves. They will also be scornful and attacking of others.
A person who submits to the demonic urges of negativity and arrogance will manifest diseases of treachery, deception, fraud, meanness and spoiling of the good, as well as callousness and lack of empathy.
The angelic or lordly nature of humans is linked with their superior intellect, over and above the animals. This quality makes us able to understand things deeply and drives us to aim for higher states. Human life provides a limited time to achieve the higher states that the heart yearns for. When we die there is nothing left of appetites, passions and egos, but the damaging effects of the disease and scars they leave on our hearts can last for eternity.
Purification of the Heart Video
SeekersGuidance free online courses:
Purification of the Heart & Praiseworthy Character (from Ghazali’s 40 Foundations of Religion)
The Marvels of the Heart