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Islam and Spiritualism ( 9 May 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Heaven Is A Space to Be Cultivated in This World

By Dr Muhammad Maroof Shah 

03 May 2020 

Everything can be taken away from us but not the power to contemplate, “to say I” and dwell in freedom or joy that is Spirit. 

In the wake of the kiss of death from current pandemic, it is urgent to ask why flee from the honoured angelic (Israel’s) embrace whose agent is Corona. And what do we really seek in this world that will be denied by abiding by laws of lockdown?  For those who were never attached to the world, Corona is not an issue as death is no punishment. Let us analyse our most basic existential commitment to faith and belief in paradise and ask why Corona disturbs.  God/ the Real/ Being is our Origin and End to whom/which is return and what is indestructible is the Face of God/the Real. It means that the fellowship of God is being in one’s home. But people have fuzzy and fantastic notions and even doubts about heaven, our real home. If a man succeeds in being loyal to himself or divine image on which he is created, he enters what has been called terrestrial paradise. Sheikh ‘Isa Nur ad-Din Ahmad (Schuon) writes: 

“What is paradise? It is the inward nature of pure Existence; to be in conformity with that nature is to be carried by the wave of becoming toward beatitude. To be in conformity with Existence is to submit; to submit ourselves to the celestial law, to conform to our own essence, the essence by which we exist and which is the innermost nature of things. Without Existence we would not be; how can we reasonably revolt against it and set ourselves against that by which we are, that, which makes us to be ourselves? The essence of Existence is blissful; opposition to that essence- the idolatry of contents or of accidents-leads us away from Beatitude and encloses us in the blind alley of our own contingency and in the measureless hell of our own absurdity.” 

Often, believers believe in Heaven but hardly mind it and it is so-called non-believers who take it seriously. How many people we know who are virtually living in heaven here and now or seeing them one recalls God/Heaven? If very few it means most people choose to dwell in hell. Darshan or Deedar of a saint or prophet is a vision of Heaven. It is prophets, saints, sages, artists – messengers of love and beauty – that invite us to exchange the hell of our own making for the Heaven. Heaven is accessible here and now, albeit partially, to all.  And if we haven’t found a semblance of heaven here, we can’t get it there. It isn’t a deal with insurance company that you pay premiums for life here and get returns there. Every moment is, to transpose Renan’s metaphor for nation, a plebiscite for heaven or hell. God has ordained self-determination. Every day we witness the Judgment, Ghalib would quip. Numerous writers including Kafka have, in their own way, expressed the same insight. 

This world is a shadow of heaven for those who have no greed. We all believe it is beautiful beyond imagination and aren’t ready to exchange it for anything. If this weren’t so we would consent to die. The oldest and poorest have tasted life’s joys – and continue to taste it – and that is why they aren’t ready to part with life. Aquinas in his Summa argued how the best joys life has to offer are all free. 

We need treasure taking Heaven seriously even though it may, paradoxically, not taking affairs of life too seriously as Plato would implore. Taking affairs of life in a playful spirit – but not our assigned or chosen roles in that play – is taking Heaven seriously. Praying with all one’s heart – praying not for this or that boon but just praying for the sheer joy of it – is entry to heaven to which five times believers are routinely called to visit. Engaging a ritual is participating in heaven in a way. Religion is performance. It is not loan account only that God maintains; to live in virtue is to be in heaven and that is why it is said that virtue is its own reward. All virtuous people know this. One here recalls Wittgensteinan insights on ethics. 

It is not that we don’t know Heaven at all and are condemned to resort to faith to take it seriously. Hayy bin Yazqan, the famous hero of Ibn Tufail’s great work in which is explored the possibility of intellectual and spiritual development without help of society or Revelation, experiences a sort of Heaven here and now.  Without necessarily taking any position on posthumous Heaven or wishing to deny it or claiming Heaven is exhausted by all the good experienced here on earth, it needs to be emphasized that the deepest interest of truly religious view is not in the pleasure garden of posthumous Heaven but living a virtuous life, a life of easy conscience, a life not debased by sin and one experiences a reward in the form of sweetness or joy of Halawat-I Iman/Ihsan. 

Every day we see Heaven in flowers, in human face, in loving embrace, in art,  in classics,  in solitude, in prayer or contemplation, in just being – the holy act of being. Those who have nothing, no worldly supports for contemplation of Heaven (like wives, children, parents, beautiful houses or work place) nevertheless have graces emanating from virgin nature, in imagination. QaedkhaneyKae Ander Bi Sooraj Her Roz ChamktaHae,thus notes Azad in his immortal essay “The Fountainhead of Joy.” AasmanHer Roz ShabnemAfshaniKertaHaeand clouds “bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers” and “bear light shade for the leaves when laid/In their noon-day dreams.” Everything can be taken away from us but not the power to contemplate, “to say I” and dwell in freedom or joy that is Spirit. 

There is a heaven here and a heaven there and there is some difference between the two. If we fail to cultivate the former, we fail to win the later. How seriously do we take God’s invitation to visit heaven or to create/cultivate a space called heaven? This can be known by the quality of lives we live. Very few people live life as if heaven is its constant horizon and depth dimension and thus “reserve” their seats in otherworldly heaven. All education and religion consist in learning how to experience this world as heaven. 

Other world is better described as higher world and the two worlds – here and there – are ultimately not separated. The Beyond can be within though too deep to be accessed ordinarily. None of us – not even among atheists – is ready to go for certain sins. It means all of us live lives with some consciousness of sin that costs us exile from heaven that is the serenity of spirit that accompanies clear conscience. It is implied in a prophetic tradition that all noble things that delight the soul are from heaven. 

Our greatest or most beautiful buildings are mosques/temples/cathedrals or tombs and all are modelled on the other world or seek to evoke that. Taj Mahal’s design, for instance, is copied from Quranic description and Ibn Arabi’s diagrams of heaven. Our houses, the sciences of vastu and its counterpart in Islamic tradition inform us, should be consecrated to God and be places where Heaven is felt. Heaven is a space to be cultivated in this world – “Ad-DunyaMazra’atulAakhira” – and unfortunately few succeed in the job. Very few can claim, like Bedil, that they have found it in their hearts. Every small act of gratitude and love and attention to beauty is nurturing this space. Whether one is religious or secular, the notion of sacred space we can nurture within and around remains a viable project. Dreyfus and Kelly’s provocative All Things Shining shows how there remain a lot of entry points to certain space that partakes of Heaven – a fulfilled or meaningful life is the life-giving shade of heaven we all seek here – open for those who don’ t know God as believers know Him. The world is indeed a ravishing bride or houri that chooses to unveil before all who care to see. Dostoveskyean insight “This very garden is the Garden of Eden” is shared by saints of all traditions. How challenging it is to feel this when one strolls in one’s garden. Recalling something of Hafiz as rendered by Landinskey, try: 

Now is the time for the world to know

That every thought and action is sacred.

This is the time

For you to compute the impossibility

That there is anything

But Grace.

Now is the season to know

That everything you do

Is sacred. 

All of us have been given some apartment in Heaven thanks to which we consent to live or enjoy life’s blessings.  And love is experiencing something of that heavenly perfection even now on earth. Prophetic traditions testify that good things here are shadows from there.  Isn’t life and our love of it something that commands us and we can’t do anything about it? This speaks we know something – are gripped – by that what is a gift. A sense of gratitude for this gift is life of faith that results in lightness of Spirit that is like travelling in the shade of trees in Heaven. The promised heaven awaits those who carry its image, its seeds in their hearts here. Indeed “Once you go to Heaven, you don’t live on earth anymore.” 

Swedenborg’s visions of heaven, dictated to him by the angels and gathered in the course of numerous astral voy­ages, fill numerous volumes and “were taken with the utmost seriousness during the 19th century by such as Blake, Emerson, Coleridge, Carlyle, Henry James Sr., Tennyson, the Brownings, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Thoreau, Goethe, and many others.” Muslim Sufis have made much of the experience of ascension that gives a peep into Heaven. Somerset Maugham’s encounter with a sage captured later in his novel The Painted Veil may be considered a preview of visit to Heaven: “I had a sense that a knowledge more than human possessed me, so that everything that had been confused was clear and everything that had perplexed me was explained. I was so happy that it was pain and I struggled to release myself from it, for I felt that if it lasted a moment longer, I should die; and yet it was such rapture that I was ready to die rather than forego it…” Further: “I have an idea that the only thing which makes it possible to regard this world we live in without disgust is the beauty which now and then men create out of the chaos. The pictures they paint, the music they compose, the books they write, and the lives they lead. Of all these the richest in beauty is the beautiful life. That is the perfect work of art.” Dostoevsky described one of hundreds of ecstatic experiences in his secret diary as follows: “I felt…that heaven had come down to earth and absorbed me. I really perceived God and was imbued with Him. Yes, God exists…I cried. And I can recall no more…” “I do not know whether that blessedness lasts seconds, hours or minutes, yet, take my word, I would not exchange it for all the joys which life can give.”  Note this is how encounter with houris in posthumous heaven is described for believers. Saints somehow witness this in this life. 

Original Headline: Understanding Heaven as Home 

Source: The Greater Kashmir